Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Robert Nelson Willing R.I.P.

This was our first meeting in 1959. He wore a black hat, black suit, white shirt and black tie, socks and shoes. He was a seminarian from Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin. Tall blond, handsome with a mischievous smile, he was an high-church Anglo Catholic Episcopalian preparing for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. While he was away at seminary, I had become the rector of The Church of the Holy Nativity in the Bronx, New York City. That was Bob’s sponsoring parish and the church he had grown up in. I was a bit taller and a five years older than he. My churchmanship was broad and hazy, liberal and relaxed. Bob was interested in a firm theology, elaborate liturgy and disciplined spiritual and sacramental life. We could not have been more unlike. We sparred good-naturedly about our differences and became easy and friendly with one another.

It galled Bob a bit at first that I would present him to the Bishop for his ordination as deacon and priest. It was the custom in those days that the rector of the sponsoring parish presented candidates for ordination. He graciously accepted his fate and I gladly presented him for ordination.

He went on to marry, have a family, serve parishes in the inner city of the Bronx. He told me that he trained a young boy named Colin Powell to be an acolyte in his church. (Yes, that Colin Powell.)

Bob became an activist in the civil and Lesbian-gay rights movements. Marched on picket lines and showed up at demonstrations.

He was appointed an Archdeacon of the Diocese of New York where he supervised non-self supporting mission churches in the upper part of the diocese. He ran for Bishop of New York and lost in a close vote. He was ship chaplain on several round-the-world cruises on the Queen Elizabeth2. He taught classes on board in the Old and New Testament and Theology.

I had read of Bob’s career but had lost track of him personally. I met his daughter Terri and her husband Mario here in California where they live in the 1990’s. It was through them Bob and I got in contact by email and resumed a friendship, exchanged ideas, jokes and outrages about republicans. In the late 90’s he visited California to visit Terri and he came to Trinity where I was rector and we had a pleasant lunch together. I could see he was not well and he told me he had cancer.

He loved being a New Yorker. Of German background, he told tales as a young man hanging out in Yorkville, the old German part of Manhattan. His mother was a member of Holy Nativity. She was tall, fair, sturdy and doted on her son, the soon-to-be priest. She was at his ordinations.

Several times when I visited New York we tried to see each other but he was becoming too sick to drive many miles to Manhattan where we were staying. We swapped emails for a few years and then he stopped.

Bob died on February 20, 2009.

Bob was a true human being, priest, father, friend and advocate for the rights of minorities, the poor and homeless. He wore his piety lightly, asked us to pray for him and I know he prayed for us. He wanted a requiem with all the smells and bells of the tradition he loved. His daughter Terri has made it so.

I regret that we had not stayed close over the years. I moved to California and he stayed in the east. I grew to like and love him in our email correspondence and occasional phone calls. I already miss his wit and charm and commitment to the full rights of all people.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday 2009

Today begins the 40 days of Lent. I have never liked Lent very much. It is trivialized by bad jokes about giving up lettuce, celibacy or other insignificant items. Many have ashes put on their foreheads indicating that they are dust and ashes, unworthy and full of sin. I may have received ashes once or twice in my life but it is not a habit of mine.

We Christians and people of western culture are arrogant, self-righteous, self-centered, greedy, gluttonous, violent, wasteful, cruel, prejudiced, racist and lacking in sensitivity, caring and compassion. We are all of those things and more.

We need reminders that or human nature is engulfed in evil. We mostly acknowledge that it is so and blithely go along doing the same old bad, evil and wicked things we have always done.

The church has proclaimed the season of Lent as a time of self-examination and repentance in preparation for the great new life that comes to us in the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.

The late Horace William Baden Donegan, Bishop of New York in the 50’s and 60’s said he thought 40 days ws too long and should be shortened. It was unrealistic to think people today could sustain 40 days of fasting and penitence. I agree. (Bishop Donegan ordained me Deacon and Priest in 1956)

In church we have six Sundays of purple or blue vestments, somber hymns, no alleluias, hosannas, weddings (usually), nor flowers at the altar. There are weekday programs usually poorly attended.

The leaders of one parish in San Francisco believe every Sunday is a feast day and have done away with traditional colors and music for the Lenten season.

When I was a rector, I always permitted weddings and flowers at the altar during Lent. Often people wanted to give flowers as a remembrance of a parent who died in the Lenten season. Circumstances may demand people marry during the 40 days of lent. Why should rigid churchy rules interfere with human living?

In Lent we are usually reminded of the seven deadly sins, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, lust, pride and sloth. I suggest sermons and teaching on the seven virtues, faith, hope, charity, justice, prudence, fortitude, temperance be expounded.

While many Christians think they are free from the old church teaching against sex, alcohol and pleasure in general. I know deep in the hearts of many homosexuals there is deep fear of going to hell, a sense of being evil because of their sexual practices. In the heart of many people who have had non-marital or extra-marital sex a deep sense of shame and pain persists.

When sexual relations have hurt other people, those sins need to be confessed, contrition made and forgiveness received. But the church has to go a long way on being a sex positive teacher Sex is a natural and normal and joyous and life-giving part of human life, a gift to us from God. Same gender sex is natural and normal for a large proportion of the people on this plant. Lent can be a powerful time to face our sinful nature but also to proclaim the joys of being human, the positive and powerful parts of our human nature, creative, pleasure loving, generous, caring and loving.

The positive part of our nature is best expressed in serving others, voting for measures that bring healing and prosperity to the poor and needy. It means doing simple acts of love and mercy.

My 83-year old friend tells me how much he enjoys the weekly visit of his friend who drives down from Sacamento to San Francisco once a month to visit him.

I heard of a woman named Katherine who visits a 93-year-old neighbor woman each evening and thy have a martini together.

I let a car go ahead of me in busy traffic yesterday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Legalize Marijuana

To the Editor of the SF Chronicle:

Tom Ammiano' bill joins the call by three Latin American ex-presidents in calling for legalizing marijuana. Ex-presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico also call upon the U.S. to treat drug abuse as a health problem rather than a crime. (The News, Mexico City, February 12, 2009) Ammiano's bill would not only bring in a billion dollars a year but relieve the over populated penal system. I hope clergy, educators, businesspeople, doctors and politician could make a bipartisan and humane effort to legalize marijuana.


I sent this letter today after reading Ammiano had introduced the legalizing bill into the state legislature. I have long held this view that marijuana should be legalized. I cannot expect church leadership to take such a view seriously and they certainly should.

Marijuana is part of the creation. Like alcohol it has positive and negative qualities and be used and enjoyed and abused and can be abused.

M. can be used to help relieve the pain of cancer patients and others. Legalizing the drug may open new avenues for research for its use elsewhere.

M. can be a recreational drug to provide relaxation and pleasurable feelings.

M. legalized can be taxed and provide money for the government.

M. legalized means abusers can legally seek help for their unhealthy use of M. and other drugs.

M. legalized will put an end to street crime whose intent is to get money for heavily over-priced M.

M. legalized means the price could be controlled.

Friday, February 20, 2009

John Updike Died in January

We all want God to exist: “to be our rescuer and appreciator, to act as a confidant in our moments of crisis and to give us reassurance that over the horizon of our death, we will survive.”
-John Updike

Well, now he knows if he has survived.

I always loved his novels, stories and reviews. He was always, fair, kind and humane even when he disagreed with authors and events. Not everyone liked his works. A good friend of ours always referred to him as John Upchuck and she did not like his books.

I always felt a peculiar affinity for him as a friend in seminary roomed with Updike in that year they spent together at Oxford in England in the 1950’s. I don’t think my friend said anything about him except the fact of being roommates. In fact I read in a post mortem piece that Updike’s first wife was with him at Oxford. So maybe my friend didn’t room with John. Nevertheless that story, true or not, made me feel close to Updike.

His novel Couples spoke to me directly as I was in the midst of wrecking my marriage by being sexually involved with other women. I enjoyed his graphic depictions of sex and detailed observations of the smallest details of a person, a room or a setting.

He was one of a very few modern writers who took his religion and religion in general seriously, without sentimentality or explanation. So many writers blandly dismiss religion as something they gratefully gave up at thirteen or in college and never looked back. Neither did most of them study the Bible or religion beyond a sophomoric self-righteous rejection of it. Ian McEwan in the February 23, 2009 The New Yorker joins the list of theological illiterate novelists.

Updike like Philip Roth had hard philosophical passages in their novels that confused me, made me think, and exasperated me in their complexity. While telling a really good story, they also made me think.

I did not know until I read post mortems that he had supported the Vietnam War. I was disappointed to read that, but it does not diminish my admiration for him and his work.

He spoke in San Francisco just late last year and I did not go to hear him. I do regret that now. I am told that Updike interviews on Charlie Rose can be heard from Rose’s website archives. I have enjoyed some the aired interviews that were played after his death at only seventy-six years old.