Whole Trust

By Maris Kramer

I was baptized this February, the sole candidate in front of a cathedral full of bodies on the first Sunday of Lent. Much of the experience is a holy blur, but one thing sticks out. In the examination part of the baptismal service, when the bishop asked, “Do you put your whole trust” in Jesus? Complete with skeptical eyebrow raise. Well, I’m not about to be a runaway bride. I say, “I do,” and I’m trying to be honest. And then he signs my Book of Common Prayer, “God is trustworthy.” I’ve been found out.

So I have some trust issues. If someone else makes a mistake, then I could become resentful. So I should just do everything myself! If I make a mistake, I can just sit back and resent good ol' Maris. It’s a really healthy approach to life. And how about romantic relationships? I seem to have discovered that if I don’t remind him to check in for his flight, respond to that email, and set two alarms for the morning, THE WORLD WILL COME CRASHING DOWN. I am, as they say, the worst. Perhaps the best example of the grace and trustworthiness of God is that I have any healthy relationships at all.

Trust is another thing entirely when it relates not to an action but to a belief, a value. It is one thing to entrust someone to review and correct some files before the end of the week. Because as much as I thrive on deadlines and spreadsheets and color-coding, life goes on if others do not. But when I hear my friend say, “He deserves the death penalty for what he did,” how can I possibly trust?

Then, on last month’s pilgrimage through the Holy Land of the Civil Rights Movement, my walking partner said, “I have found it is important to trust first.” If there is anything you have to figure out, figure it out later. The sentence rang like a bell in my heart, clanging against the iron walls that prefer to sound out, “Keep your defenses up.” Trust the person first, without conditions, before data and rhetoric. Where might such openness and candor lead our society? It could usher in a political climate not marked by ignorance or malice and but by a shared understanding that we all want our nation to be better, and that we deeply need one another in order to make that a reality. It could lead us to hearing voices of the poor and broadcasting them with a loudspeaker rather than drowning them out beneath the clamor of budget cuts or, in the case of Georgia Medicaid, refusing funding in the first place.

Where might I be drawn if I trusted my friend’s feeling that “He deserves the death penalty” rather than trying to fix it? Would I come to know fear a little better, and hurt, and grief? Perhaps I could even be led to ask for help from my friends. I could be led to follow God wherever God wants me to go. Wherever. What an incredible thought.

Montgomery, Alabama. Photo by Maris Kramer.


The Road Hits the Road: A Special Edition Post

On Friday, The Road embarks on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a pilgrimage recreating the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, organized by the National Park Service (NPS) in the form of a “walking classroom.” We’ll march 54 miles, hear from NPS Park Rangers about historic markers, share simple meals and prayer, and come away with full hearts.

Last night, the fellows and Laura (Rev. Laura Bryant, priest and program director and compatriot and planner and dreamer) met to ask ourselves some important questions: What is pilgrimage? Why are we marching? We stormed our brains and came up with some ideas:

  • A pilgrimage is a journey of healing and restoration in which we walk in the footsteps of martyrs. We will tread holy ground.
  • Pilgrimage is a bodily experience. The marchers put their lives on the line on the Edmund Pettus Bridge that Bloody Sunday. Perhaps our bodies need to be involved in the call for justice. Moreover, as walkers, we are a body of many members, united.
  • March is a form of speech. It is a responsive political act. “We’re here because there’s so much yet to do. Let’s talk. Let’s listen.”
  • Five days of marching in the footsteps of freedom/peace fighters. Five days of walking prayer.

How might we look back and say we’ve had a successful journey? It’s hard to say, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope that we will:

  • Leave equipped with more knowledge about the Selma to Montgomery March and its people, such as Lynda Lowery.
  • Be inspired to action.
  • Connect in a meaningful way with folks from around the country, rallied together in common purpose.
  • Carry their stories with us on our own journeys.

The Road will share its story with you, dear reader. Follow us on Instagram (@theroadatlanta) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/theroadatlanta) to get visual and verbal snapshots throughout the adventure. But don’t worry. We’ll be back on the blog soon enough.

Last thing. How do you view pilgrimage? Do you have any advice before The Road embarks? Comment below.

Peace and love,

The Road Fellows

People I Used to Consider "Crazy"

By Maris Kramer

My day was filled with all the people I used to consider crazy*:

Young man sees me putting gas into a Catholic Charities cargo van. Yells, “I’m Catholic! I go to Holy Cross! I love the work you do!”

  • Old me: why are we talking about this

A group of people holding an anti-death penalty banner in the rain outside the Georgia State Capitol Building. Two men shout Psalm 146 into a megaphone. All change the lyrics to sing, “Lethal injection is still murder, down by the riverside.” Everyone “mmmm”s and “amen”s.

  • Old me: walk faster and don’t make eye contact

Bus-stop Pat asks me, “How was your day? Why are you hesitating?” Work was good. Andrew Brannan is being executed tonight. “Do you believe in God? Well, that’s my bus! Is it okay if I put him in prayer?”

  • Old me: ???

Unfortunately, my every day is filled with me, who’s now crazy:

  • “Thank you. It is good work!”
  • I’m holding a banner. I’m singing about lethal injection. I’m saying amen.
  • Yes. Please.

The only reasonable response to crazy—child conscription, denial of mental health services, political imprisonment, the death penalty, deportation of children—is to be crazy[1] enough to believe that awful things can change, and that human beings can change, and that human beings can change these awful things. Hopelessly tethered to the judgmental, irritable humbug I’ve been known to be, there can be an “old me.” I can be new.

                                                                                                                                                                   

*I intentionally used “crazy” in this post. I acknowledge the stigma and hope you see anything but stigmatization in my words.

Making a Meal Out of It

By Maris Kramer

Refugee resettlement office. Wednesday. 3:00 p.m. It can only mean one thing: lunch time. Oh? You eat lunch at 12:30? That’s funny.

To be fair, the previous day I ate lunch at 11:00 a.m. The day before that I did not at eat at all. There really is no lunch “time” when work is a dash between setting up two apartments for arriving families, practicing interview questions with a client, and sifting through a stack of green files that appears to have grown while you were away from your desk. The green files.

But now it is Thursday, and the Road fellows have gotten off a flight, navigated the Boston T, and found ourselves on the doorstep of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Fresh off noonday prayer, Brother Curtis warmly welcomes us to the refectory. Commoners may call such a place a dining room, but not in the monastery. (Wikipedia tells me, and I tell you, that the Latin origin of refectory means “a place one goes to be restored.” Ahhh, poetry.) Take my description of Wednesday’s meal, put it in a bag, shake it up, let it marinate overnight, bake it in the oven, and you’ll come close to what a monastic meal is like. Twenty contemplative faces sit in silence over a wholesome meal as one of the brothers reads from a book. About bird behavior.

It was like occupying two separate planes of existence, that Wednesday and Thursday, until I recognized the love that formed the foundation of each meal. Because what other than care for others motivates my coworkers to eat when they can, not when they want? What other than love for self/others/God allows us to give and receive the gift of listening when the opportunity to shovel food into our pie holes is in front of us, taunting?

The table is a holy space if you look hard enough at the times our parents had to work, so we ate quick meals in front of the TV. The times we sat next to someone and shared a plate of something too wonderful not to share. The times we labored over a feast for just one because we deserved more than Ramen that night. The times in a grade school cafeteria when our 300 voices silenced simultaneously to allow Mrs. Kelley to be heard. The times when a quiet meal was overtaken by moans of delight in the provisions before us.

I want more silent, smiling, book-filled meals. But I want a heart that recognizes the beauty in standing over a Tupperware full of cold rice and beans that gives you the energy for your next meeting with Jesus in the conference room.

Be Adaptable, My Friend

By Maris Kramer

Imagine that you have scheduled a meeting with staff from an organization. You have never visited their office before, and you want to make a good impression. You dress in a suit and shake hands with your receivers, who take you through a door and lead you toward your meeting place. And as you weave through aisles stuffed to the brim with boxes, stockings, gift cards, and bicycles, you begin to realize: things work a little differently here. 

Meet Refugee Resettlement Services, a department of Catholic Charities Atlanta (CCA). Catholic Charities is one of many refugee resettlement agencies in Atlanta and cities across the country. Unabashedly committed to serving persons who have been persecuted throughout their lives, persons who have been uprooted from their home country and replanted in Northeast Atlanta, things can get a little crowded in the office. At Christmastime, CCA partners with local parishes who adopt refugee families and provide them with individualized gifts. The rest of the year, you might find yourself stepping over boxes of rice, squeezing around some kitchen chairs, and catching a lamp that you accidentally knocked over on your way out the door. Life moves pretty fast here, and sometimes the hallways have a purpose more meaningful than being a mere pedestrian thoroughfare.  

That's not to say Catholic Charities is messy or disorganized. These words are here simply to convey that CCA does not need to put up any fronts; the work says enough. Here is a brief rundown of the team's daily efforts.

CCA receives word that, for example, a Burmese family of five will arrive on a flight into Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport next month. The mobilization begins. Finding appropriate housing, scheduling health screenings, and as the day gets closer, buying groceries, a cell phone, and arranging appropriate interpretation for the 11:30 p.m. airport pick-up. Is it cold out? Make sure you have jackets for all family members! Are they Muslim? Only buy meat from that place down the road. There are numerous everyday considerations that go into making each person of any ethnicity feel as safe and welcome as possible. And then the fun begins: cultural orientations, employment orientations, travel workshops, English classes. If I had to learn as much as these folks had to learn in a ninety-day period, there would not be enough sleep in the world to make me feel rested. 

At the refugee resettlement office, I am an employment specialist. (It's okay. I laugh at the "specialist" part, too.) This means that I schedule and conduct job training sessions for our clients, search for appropriate employment and transportation options, and assist them with filling out applications. Well, that's the job description, but at CCA, everybody helps everybody. "Can you go with me to move a couch today? Do you have time to get seven pillows and four floor lamps from Walmart? Will you knock on my client's door and give him this check?—He hasn't answered my phone calls this week." Be adaptable, my friend. Be adaptable. 

Of course, I've left out some amazing programs and astounding people. The staff who teach parents about American public schools and assist them at parent-teacher conferences. The interns who help clients manage their brand-new prescriptions. The volunteers who take the time to explain how to clean a counter top and a toilet, objects foreign to a camp dwelling.  

Can you see how much life happens here? Hopefully I get to speak to you again. There's so much more to say.