{It’s day #5 of Lent 2017. I’m using mugs found in the Kellam kitchen cupboards to write some reflections for this 40-day season. Why? Why not.}


This mug serves as a reminder of my roots in the Netherlands. I guess not just my roots, but those of my ancestors, on my mother’s side. My wife Joan reports that my maternal 8th great-grandfather was Mathys Hooghteeling, born in Holland about 1639. He wound up in Coxsackie, Greene Co., NY where he died in 1706. Joan’s book on my family genealogy tells of Mathys buying some woodland from three Mohawks in 1691 for three cloth duffels, apparently one for each “Indian.” I was pleased to learn that my ancestor and his wife Maria were members of the Albany Dutch Reformed Church.

Exactly a century later, less than a mile from the house where I grew up, my home church Union Presbyterian in Endicott had its roots in a small Dutch Reformed congregation. This bit of history came as a revelation to me as Joan delved more deeply into my family’s past. When we traveled to Dordrecht a couple of years ago, I took the photo on that mug, knowing that I had ancestors who had walked the cobblestoned roads of that city four hundred years ago, perhaps buying goods from one of those storefronts, worshipping in the Grote Kerk, or stumbling away from a tavern.

It turns out that all four of my grandparents had ancestors who came from Europe well before 1700. One can imagine the hardships they endured, not only on the ocean voyages, but even in the circumstances that led to their emigration. One of my forebears was an orphan who came to America as an indentured servant. As we read their stories we realize that some came with dreams of new beginnings and some came because of nightmares they wanted to escape.

Not everyone is interested in genealogy. Some of the research is murky and frustrating, all of it is detail oriented, often tiresome. As I was growing up, I had absolutely no idea where my family roots were. I just knew where my grandparents lived. But now? I’m fascinated. Truth be told, I don’t know that it makes much difference in my daily life that the Hubbles (you know that telescope?) or the Oles (a variation of Olds as in the car) or Chief Massasoit (who helped feed Pilgrims) were in my family line. It’s kind of cool to type that though. (And Kool is an old Dutch family connection too; cabbage farmer, not the Gang with the band!) But I wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon or an inheritance passed down from prior generations. The closer generations that gave birth to mine were farmers, laborers, ministers, and others of hard work and modest means.

The roots of most significance to my life were loving parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, people whose lives touched mine directly. Their lifestyles were models for mine. Their teachings and stories, the music they shared, and the food they served, the jobs they worked at, the games we played in the yard, the parks and schools we had in common — those connections shaped me. Maybe those Ancestry.Com DNA searches might produce something genetically curious or generationally surprising. But I know who I am mostly because of Bev and Harry, my parents. And among their rich contributions to my life…they were the ones who first led me to that off-shoot of the Dutch Reformed Church that started in 1791, now the present day Presbyterian congregation where Joan and I worship each week.

Speaking of genealogies, the Gospel of Matthew begins with one that goes back some forty generations. Its purpose was to present Jesus as a man with the proper credentials, or credibility. Or, in today’s vernacular “cred.” An on-line dictionary defines cred as “the quality of being believable or worthy of respect, especially within a particular social, professional, or other group.”  Looking for a connection to Abraham or King David? Well, there you go! Um, you might do well to pass by the names of those four women of questionable reputations, including Tamar and Rahab? How’d they get in there anyway? Well, they are part of the story of Jesus’ line. (Best not try the DNA thing with Jesus. It’s very, very complicated.)

As Matthew’s gospel unfolds and Jesus’ ministry is about to begin, he comes to the Jordan and look: there’s his cousin John, doing his baptism thing. Roots and relatives. They do contribute to who we are.

As I walked the streets of Dordrecht, I knew those probably weren’t the sdsc00640ame cobblestones as Mathys Hooghteeling had trod. When people go to the Holy Land and are told they are walking the same roads as Jesus, I assume they know better. Time covers our trails very quickly. Yet, there is that feeling that we are somehow still connected with those who went before us.

Could that be why we continue to “walk that lonesome valley” that is the Lenten journey? To follow the path through the wilderness, admittedly in a small way. I know my Dutch Reformed ancestors didn’t “keep Lent.” But even they tried to walk with Jesus in their own way, facing temptation, having more or less the same success resisting as their descendent Jeffrey has.

Here’s to our spiritual DNA !