Last week, I talked about my mother’s friend Shirley Kramer. In this week’s post, “All Deserve Service,” I want to tell you about her husband Jim. Jim and my mother were active members of the John Birch Society, which met in the basement of the Milton Hotel.
As I shared last week, my mother and I spent a lot of time at the Kramer home. I watched Shirley and the girls tenderly care for Shirley’s mother Bessie, bed-ridden from a debilitating stroke that left her speechless but not expressionless. But, I also saw the compassionate care of Jim towards the vagabonds who wandered into the Milton Hotel looking for refuge. Since my hometown is right on Interstate 94 and the first town going west in the State of Montana, we had our share of people coming off the interstate looking for help.
The Milton Hotel’s Father Teresa
Many men over the years came into the Milton looking like the hobos we saw riding the Burlington Northern freight trains: hungry, cold, and asking for a warm place to stay. I never saw Jim Kramer turn anyone away even though he knew he was accepting a person who did not have any capacity to pay.
I remember watching Jim take the men to their own hotel room. He would take off their socks, more often than not, just shreds of fabric, and would wash their feet with warm water and put on new socks. I have this image in my mind of Jim tenderly rubbing their feet as he washed off the dirt which was dark and hard.
Without exception, Jim would always ask Joy (his daughter and my classmate) and I to leave the room. Over the years, I have thought a lot about Jim’s compassionate care and his desire to protect the dignity of the marginalized persons who came his way. Jim allowed us to watch what he was doing long enough to see his compassionate care but not too long because he did not want the person to feel like they were a “project,” and he was always careful to protect the dignity of the men.
Jim Kramer was my first “Mother Teresa.” Full of compassion, he treated each one as if they were Jesus. When I think of Jim Kramer, I think of Jesus saying, “Whatever you do for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done unto me.” Matthew 25:31-46
All Deserve Service: Each Person Is An Image of God
The Wisdom from Wibaux as reflected in the person of Jim Kramer has many expressions. First, in a spirit of confession, I have thought a lot about the stereotypical John Bircher not being known for compassion and concern for the marginalized. My stereotype wants me to believe that John Birchers are ego-centric capitalists with no regard for the poor. Even though it is true for some, not necessarily for all. I have learned again how dangerous my assumptions and stereotypes can be.
Secondly, the Wisdom from Wibaux is a reminder. God created all people in his image and likeness. Therefore, we must always preserve the dignity of what God created and called, “very good.” Every human being, no matter who they are, is a person of sacred worth and is worthy of help, whether we think they deserve it or not.
And finally, we must always remember that in serving others we do so not to make ourselves feel better but to genuinely and sincerely help other people because that is what good people do. Jim Kramer taught me this critical difference. That is why Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
More to come next week.
–Pastor Jeff Gannon