Finding Home: Beauty and Wisdom in Louise Penny’s Three Pines

At or near the top of the list of things saving my life these days is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series.

I don’t know how I discovered the books – I suspect it came as recommended reading from Sarah Bessey’s blog. But I do know this, I have since become an evangelist for all things Three Pines. These are books to be read and books to be savored.

There are thirteen books in this series, with a fourteenth due in November. The books center on the investigative work of Armande Gamache, the head of homicide for the Surete de Quebec, the second largest police force in Canada. The mysteries unfold in an out-of-the-way hamlet called Three Pines – a community you won’t find on a map but one with a penchant for discovering murders.

These stories, however, are more than compelling whodunits. In these tales Louise Penny reminds us of wisdom too easily forgotten. We remember how truth emerges not from speaking but listening. Her characters teach us, much like Ignatius, that discovery comes by attending to feeling and emotion. In a world fueled by quick-tempered rage and snap judgments, Three Pines reminds us how failure isn’t the end of the story but often is only the beginning of a surprising new journey.

There is much more going on than simply chasing a murderer. Louise Penny narrates the life of a community formed for refuge seekers. Three Pines isn’t a place you stumble upon. When you show up, you do so for a reason. And often that reason is that you are looking to start over.

There’s Ruth, the crotchety poet laureate with the mouth of a sailor who people have come to love even though she never makes it easy. There’s Olivier, an antique collector who still has a place in his neighbors’ hearts despite ripping off half the town. There’s Clara, the clumsy artist whose paintings showcase her true gift – the ability to see and render the hearts of her friends and neighbors.

There’s Myrna, a psychologist who left a thriving practice behind after realizing the pain of others was destroying her. She came to Three Pines and opened a book store in an out of the way town where people more often borrow the books than pay for them. And finally, there’s Armande Gamache – who after enduring a lifetime of heartbreak and grief made his way to Three Pines in search of the healing he couldn’t find anywhere else.

The village is a haven for people longing to be found after they’ve lost their way. It’s a place where people can find rest after they hustled and hurried only to arrive at a damning dead end. It’s a place for people who zigged when everyone else said they should have zagged. It is a home for people who have deep wounds that need binding.

Truth isn’t only found in works classified as non-fiction. One of life’s certainties is that there will come a time when circumstances demand a change of direction when things have not gone as planned. For many of us that will involve the realization that those who said, “I told you so”, may have had a point. Those who never fail never learn, but the lessons that come from failure often come screaming with a question that does not abide easy answers: Stay where you are or cross the bridge into somewhere new?

There is, Louise Penny wants us to know, a way back from that which you thought ensured your destruction. What seemed like a dead end could be the beginning of a new path. The mistakes that haunt you don’t have to foreclose your future. Decisions you made at 25 don’t have to set the course for your life at 40, 60, 80 or even beyond. Life isn’t found and it certainly isn’t lived, she reminds us, by stubbornly persisting in who you used to be or who people have decided you are.

You can find your way home, even as you discover that home has a surprising address. You can even find it with misfits in a community beyond the pines and a place off the map.


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Don’t Mind Me, I’m Just Here to Meet Jesus

A good friend and I had one of those conversations a few weeks ago.  It wasn’t one of the quick ones where you catch up on where the family is headed on summer vacation. No, this was one of the real ones, you know the type, where you dive into the stuff that really matters; your hopes and dreams and the questions and ideas that you really want to shape your life. And it was in this conversation we voiced something we’ve both known for some time – we are weird.

It’s true. It might not be obvious at first glance. We’re both in our 30’s, we’re both overeducated, and on our better days we both are professionals. But where it gets weird is this – we are both still in the church. As if that wasn’t enough, we both spend most of our waking hours not just attending worship but serving in church leadership.

IMG_0037To be located between the ages of 18 and 35 and also committed to living your life in the church of Jesus Christ in 2015 is by definition to be weird.

This isn’t anything really new, of course.  We heard it again with the latest Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Study which was released a couple of weeks ago. You probably saw it online or on your morning news as pretty much anyone with any perspective on church had their say on it. The truth is that the numbers revealed what a lot of us already know by observation or experience – that more people are struggling to stay connected with the Church and the people struggling the most are those are around my age and younger.

Both my chat with my friend and the Pew Report brought to mind the Ascension. It comes in Acts 1, when Jesus leaves the Apostles and tells them to wait. They are left alone, staring at the sky, awestruck at what has just happened and what it will mean for their lives. While they are looking skyward two messengers appear with an obvious question, “Why do you stand looking towards heaven?”  Put another way it goes something like this, “What are you still doing here?”

That’s a question people like me and my friend get a lot. When it comes to church, a lot of our friends want to know what keeps us here and why we invest so much time and energy and passion in something plenty of folks claim to be doing just fine without.

I’ve given a lot of answers over the years, some I thought were helpful and faithful and some that weren’t. But while reading Rachel Held Evans’ new book I came across some words that answer that question better than I ever have: “We do church this way, because people are looking for Jesus.”

IMG_0318A lot of days that feels like a crazy thing to say.  Like anyone who has ever been a part of church, there are things about it that drive me crazy and leave me disillusioned. In spite of all that, however, the reason I am here and the reason I keep coming back every Sunday is that some how and some way it is in the church where I have met and continue to meet Jesus.

It has been in the church where my imagination has been sparked about how to live a faithful life in this world. It has been in the church where almost all of the most important relationships in my life have been formed.  It has been in the church where I have been able to most fully use my mind to engage important real world issues. It has been in the church where I have done the hard work of facing my own sin and brokenness and also received the beautiful gifts of forgiveness and grace. It has been in the church where I have come to believe and experience firsthand the Kingdom truth Becca Stevens teaches us – that love is the most powerful force in the world for social change.

Believe it or not, I am here because this is where I meet Jesus.

I meet Jesus as a saint in my church pours over his Bible Study Lesson in the hopes that his brothers will experience the same grace he did in a video he is presenting. I meet him as young adults give their lives to serve the poorest of the poor – not because it is the cool thing to do but because Jesus meant what he said when he said when you do it for the least of these you do it for me.

I meet Jesus when busy people give time to share the Gospel as they understand it in hopes that someone else might experience the new life that they have. I meet him when people sacrifice not to earn a tax credit but to help someone who is hungry be fed.

I meet Jesus by being part of a group that doesn’t allow me to share life only with people who think like me.  I meet him when I have to listen and learn and grow together with people who often see the important issues of the day in ways that I find mind-boggling. And I meet him at the table, where hungry and hurting and broken and divided people are made one and made whole by the selfless love of God and the gift of life we receive in bread and cup made holy.

I am here because this is where I meet Jesus.

The church has plenty of problems. There are days when the beautiful bride of Christ looks bullied and battered and seems like the last place you would meet the lamb of God.  And yet, there is something special here.

Despite everything else, when I come to church I still meet Jesus.That’s what I am looking for.  And that’s enough to keep me here.

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