Breadcrumbs, Part III

Much to his annoyance, a thought popped into his mind. It was very clear and very distinct, and he had now come to recognize these thoughts for what they were. His instinct was to resist them. (Douglas Adams)

Since September, I’ve been sharing some of the walk I’ve been on, trying to grow my discernment skills. I am in little doubt that I am being called into a deeper relationship with Christ; what I’m still struggling with is, what, exactly, is that supposed to look like? I’ve been doing a lot of reading and conversing on the topic, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far. In no particular order:

  • Absolutely, every one of us has a calling. We are all called to do some work to the glory of God. Some are called to be budget analysts, some are called to be nonprofit execs…and some are called into ordained ministry. None is “better” or “higher” than another. And they may not be permanent: it’s where God is calling us to be now. The key thing is to discern what it is, and then to respond.
  • Yes, we are all called to a deeper relationship with Christ. Some of the keys for whether a calling is to an ordained role, versus a more-committed lay member, are the extent to which people turn to you for spiritual guidance, or look to you to be a leader in spiritual matters.
  • It isn’t just about a given skill set. Sure, I can string words together and speak the English goodly. But as Paul wrote, “I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but [if I] didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) Yes, I can ride a bike: it doesn’t mean I should become a pro cyclist and enter the Tour de France.
  • Sometimes what’s obscure to us is brilliantly, painfully obvious to others around us.
  • I still struggle with what Walter F. Kerr called “delusions of adequacy.” Or, as the inimitable Zaphod Beeblebrox put it, “Hey, I’m just this guy, y’know?” Why should it be that the God of all Creation would be asking me to do anything special?
  • Sometimes the answer is just as simple as, “when you can’t do anything else, preach.” In other words, when your thoughts are nothing but about bringing about the Kingdom…

Happy Mother’s Day?

My mother has had Parkinson’s Disease since she was 42. For the most part, the last three-plus decades were fairly benign to her, but this year finds her in a nursing home and wheelchair-bound. In photos from her high-school days in the late 1950s, she sits demurely, legs crossed at the ankles; today, that lifelong habit means she trips on trying to stand up, or walks unsteadily instead of with a firm base.

Each year for the past few, our Mother’s Day tradition has been to go out–I’ll take her clothes shopping for a new summer wardrobe, then we’ll get lunch or dinner out. And each year, it’s gotten progressively more challenging to accomplish: first adjusting to using the wheelchair, then, as her voice has gotten softer and her words less distinct, trying to listen for what she wants among the racks of clothes at Kohl’s.

This year’s wrinkle was that she hasn’t been as hungry, and so she didn’t want to get a meal after shopping. And while we never did anything extravagant–maybe just going to a diner, or out for a burger–it was still something I missed being able to do this year, and one more piece of evidence of how her long, slow fade continues.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

With each passing year, my mother becomes more a reflection of her former self. It’s painful to her, and to me, to know she is fading. And yet I can take heart, that while outwardly she is wasting, one day, Jesus promises, he will make all things new, and all the brokenness will be stripped away, and she will be like that teenaged girl once again.

Until then, we wait, we help her in and out of the car, we struggle to maneuver, and while we are sad at what changes each Mother’s Day brings, we can at least take some joy in being able to share one more holiday with her.

Love is Patient and Kind

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Happy Valentines’ Day!

Before leaving the office, I texted my bride and my daughter to see if I could treat my two valentines to takeout dinner tonight. I received word that S. wanted Panera, and Mary wanted Indian from the place we like in Kingstowne. So I dutifully navigated to Kingstowne to pick up the Indian–man, the traffic was atrocious! It was as if everyone else in Northern Virginia, for some reason, wanted to go out for dinner tonight. Imagine that!

So it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get there, and of course the restaurant was mobbed–I couldn’t even get in the front door for a minute. Scooped up the takeout, headed back to the car, and started off for Panera. Now, 99.9% of the time we go to the one in West Springfield, so I drove there, enduring every red light known to man, with our dinner cooling in the back.

Only to find…huh. There’s no order here for us. On texting to find out what was up, only then did I learn…she’d put in the order for the Panera in Kingstowne. Yep, the one about 50 feet away from the Indian place. The one I never think about because we almost never ever go there.

So, backtrack another 15 minutes, park, await food, drive again… It’s late, I’m getting thirsty and hungry, I’m tired after a long day, and I have to backtrack and drive all over because she didn’t tell me which Panera to go to?!?!? Like I’m supposed to read her mind?!?!?


I can feel Jesus shushing me. This isn’t about you and your inconveniences, you dope. This is about an evening sharing love. And yes, even though everything good gets opposed, the love of your marriage is worth far more than the inconvenience of driving an extra half hour. In these moments of frustration or annoyance, we have a choice: we can react, or we can choose to respond in love.

The Indian was a bit cool by the time we got to it, but it still tasted good. And being able to spend a positive, loving evening together, instead of getting angry or blameful, is worth far more than the ability to be “right,” or to put on an injured face. Because love is patient and kind, and refuses to keep score. And that’s more important in the end.

“Let There Be No Divisions In The Church.”

appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. […] All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is part of it. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11, 12:27)

In the middle of the 19th century, one Daniel Keenan emigrated from Ireland to America where he set up his young family in eastern Vermont. Six generations later, his four-times-great-granddaughter said Yes to my proposal, and became my bride. Twenty-plus years on, and we are now in Ireland touring with the kids to show them the place where mom’s family came from, as part of our son’s graduation celebrations from high school.

According to what Mary can find, Daniel hailed from “Greencastle Parish, Belfast, County Antrim.” We made it a point to try to find Greencastle, to see if we could find the church or the town hall and see if there were any more records we could locate about Daniel, because her trail grows cold here: we don’t know his parents, or any other relatives. According to Google, Greencastle Parish is on the north side of Belfast, and this morning we went for a look.

On driving into Northern Ireland from the Republic to the south, one notices almost immediately the plethora of flags and symbols of Northern Ireland’s connection to the UK. But it’s when we got into the neighborhood that things really got intense. Greencastle, in a word, felt intimidating, with its superabundance of Union Jacks and Northern Irish flags, and not least a huge mural (see photo) on the side of a building overlooking the main street: “North Belfast: Prepared for Peace, Ready for War.” It gave every sign of being a neighborhood ripe for sectarian violence, and it appears to be a Protestant neighborhood in some proximity to a Catholic one to the west.


I had really hoped to have avoided this on the visit. I had hoped we could find a pleasant place, where we could find some kindly soul to help us through dusty archives to find more about Daniel. But instead, the apartment blocks glowered with their flags, the mural threatened with its armed figures, and the whole stretch of the place seemed completely, utterly uninviting. We drove the main street, Shore Road, two or three times, looking for anything that could have been helpful. We didn’t find a thing.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing in that my wife wasn’t able to find anything to help in tracing her family roots. All the more, it’s a shame the kids had to see such rawness and intimidation on display. But worst of all, it demonstrates the continuing utter failure of Christ’s people to come together as one.

Paul had had it with the pettiness of the divisions of the young church at Corinth. He wrote passionately in his first letter to them, trying to convince them that there is only one church, and that we are all called to be part of it. Unfortunately, it looks as if two millennia on, we are still wrestling with the shattering divisions that started even then. From our nice, comfy, adjusted perches in the States, we don’t see Greencastle as our reality: we mix well with Baptists, Lutherans, Episcopals, Methodists, and yes, Catholics. Unfortunately, however, Greencastle is real, and seeing it on display this morning deeply disturbed me.

We try to make our divisions a laughing matter. Comedian Emo Phillips tells a wonderful story about coming across a man about to jump off a bridge. Emo talks with the man and as the story goes along, discovers that they share so much of an identity: just as the story climaxes, they are not only Christians, but Protestants, and Baptists, and Northern Baptists, and Northern Conservative Baptists, and Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptists, and Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptists Great Lakes Region. But it’s when the man says he is from the Great Lakes Region Council of 1912, instead of the Council of 1879, that Emo yells “Die, heretic!” and pushes him off the bridge.

We laugh, but as Greencastle shows, it’s really not funny. Christ came for each of us. He came to die for your sins, just as much as mine. He didn’t come to establish a range of religions, he came to preach repentance and that the Kingdom of God is here, now, available to everyone. My heart broke a little today for what his must do each day we go on putting up walls between us, instead of uniting to truly become his hands and feet in the world.

May we find our way, Lord, may we come together and truly be at peace, never ready for war in your name. Amen.