Easter, delayed.

It was the morning after Easter when I heard that my dad was dying, and that I should come home.

Of course, my Holy Week and Easter were a bit different than normal. I wasn’t leading multiple services over multiple days at my church, as I would have at home. Called months earlier into active duty service with my National Guard unit, I was at a mobilization station getting ready to deploy overseas. I ended up traveling over Holy Thursday and Good Friday, canceling a liturgy I had planned to lead at the mobilization station chapel.

Dad holding my son, Naaman, 13 months-old at the time, at my ordination in 2008.

When I arrived overseas on Good Friday afternoon I struggled to stay awake just late enough to go to bed by 8pm. I didn’t make it to chapel that night, the first Good Friday service I’ve missed in memory. With travel and time zone lag, my sleep was off for those first few days, resulting in me waking up an hour or two before the ridiculously early sunrise here.

On Easter Monday I woke up crazy early, my sleep still off, and I noticed a text message from my brother. Please call. It was around 3am. I promptly called him, still Easter evening back home, and he told me the news. Dad was dying. Hospice was called.

There we were, in the wake of the resurrection, preparing for our father’s death.

The military post is largely quiet at that hour. Most people are asleep. I wandered from my bunk to the laundry room to an amphitheater where morale events are held, talking on the phone, crying, and shaking my fist at God.

You know, I always thought that was a metaphor, to shake your fist at God. But that night, it wasn’t. After getting off the phone with my brother and then my dear wife, and unable to go to sleep, I went for a predawn run. And on that run I cried and I yelled some more. And I shook my fist at God. Literally. I shook my fist toward the sky and shouted out. And sobbed. And ran some more.

The predawn sky that received my anger and grief on that morning run,
and responded to my shaking fist with a gorgeous array of color.

I wish I could tell you that I felt joyously comforted in that moment by the promise of the resurrection. That, like the disciples walking the road to Emmaus, my heart was warmed by the presence of Jesus by my side. But that really wasn’t the case. Jesus was by my side, I have no doubt, but it felt more like Jesus of the cross than Jesus of the empty tomb.

I know my Bible, and I know the church year, and that knowledge helps. A lot. Because in that fist-shaking, tear-streaming, ugly-crying moment I wasn’t feeling the joy of the resurrection. Not at all. I was in the depths, crying out.

Now, I know how the story progresses from the cross to the empty grave, and that knowledge comforts me. I know that Good Friday’s lament leads to Easter Sunday’s joy. Death is no more – this is what the church has taught me. And it didn’t just teach me, but the church embedded this truth deep within me with by drawing me into its liturgy and hymns and prayers and public witness and caring presence and persistent hope. And early on that Easter Monday morning as I faced my father’s death, I knew this to be true – death is no more – even if I wasn’t feeling it in that moment.

Easter was delayed for me this year. And while part of me feels robbed, I’m also at peace. Because I know that Easter will come again. I know that death is no more. That is what the church has taught me, and I know it to be true. And when my feelings recover, I’ll feel that truth again. Though, probably, it’ll feel a bit different. And that’s ok. Because faith is not the same as feelings.

Settling In

I’ll admit to a rush of emotions as we turn the calendar today to March 1.

As of today, we will have lived in our current home longer than we’ve lived anywhere else in our 13+ year marriage – 2 years, 7 months, 1 day … and counting.

Tali on the lawn of our married student housing apartment, Princeton Theological Seminary

Tali on the lawn of our married student housing apartment, Princeton Theological Seminary

We’ve moved quite a bit in our 13+ years of marriage. Philadelphia. Princeton, NJ. Doylestown, PA. Fairfax, VA. Arlington, VA. Saint Paul, MN. And now Carmel, IN.

Some of the moves felt temporary – such as the married student housing apartment at Princeton Theological Seminary, our rented townhouse in Fairfax near my internship site, or even when we moved to towns where we were called as Associate Pastors (when you’re called to a congregation as an Associate Pastor, as my wife and I each were in our first congregations, there’s a sense that longevity isn’t necessarily in the cards).

Yet even in these temporary places, great things happened. We brought our first child home to that apartment in Princeton, our second child home to Doylestown townhouse, and our third child came home to that townhouse underneath the approach to Dulles in Fairfax, VA. While we lived in Arlington, my wife was awarded her PhD and I was ordained.

Our townhouse in Doylestown, PA.

Our townhouse in Doylestown, PA.

Great things can happen in temporary places.

Some of these places had the feel that they could have been longer-term. In both Arlington, VA and in Saint Paul, we lived in church-owned homes (a parsonage and a faculty home). Even if we didn’t expect to live long-term in those houses, I certainly envisioned many years in those communities. I found myself investing emotionally, imagining my kids’ first dates or prom photos or, gasp, becoming an empty-nester with my wife in those places.

Yet the call of new opportunities kept us moving, and we went from the Philadelphia area (my family homeland for generations; my wife’s home since she was in middle school; and, where most of our extended families still live) to the DC area, where my wife went to college and with which I was already very familiar. Also, it was just a few hour drive from family and Philly food and Phillies games.

Tali and Cana on the stoop of our townhouse in Fairfax, VA.

Tali and Cana on the stoop of our townhouse in Fairfax, VA.

We loved the DC area. The energy, the political and governmental culture, the Presidential helicopters flying overhead, the church members who work in jobs they can’t tell you about, the cultural diversity, the restaurants, the Metro, the monuments, the history, the wonderful other side of a city that most Americans are told is terrible but which we saw as beautiful and filled with faithful public servants.

The move to Saint Paul was bigger – in terms of distance from family, culture shift, and climate. Still, we adjusted well to this – our fifth – move. We got used to the weather, became fans of The University of Minnesota Women’s Ice Hockey team, I loved my long runs along the Mississippi River, and we simultaneously enjoyed and scratched our heads at the way Minnesotans plow on even during crazy weather. The rule that kids had outdoor recess unless the temperature was below zero? Awesome. But then there was the day when schools were open on time 12 hours after a 14-inch snow, even though half of the teachers couldn’t get to school on time. Overkill.

Kiddos playing on the lawn of our parsonage, Arlington, VA.

Kiddos playing on the lawn of our parsonage, Arlington, VA.

After two years in the faculty home, we signed a purchase agreement on a home not far from my church on the East Side of Saint Paul. We owned snow shoes. We were eyeing cabins to rent up on a lake. I tolerated the designated hitter for the sake of cheering for the Twins. We were going to make the Saint Paul area our home for years to come.

 

A once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity came our way, and we couldn’t say “no.” So after two years in Minnesota we moved to Indiana.

On the steps of our home in Saint Paul, MN

On the steps of our home in Saint Paul, MN

We bought a house, our oldest enrolled in her fourth elementary school, we got new cell phone numbers (again), and we went about the task (again) of meeting new neighbors, finding new grocery stores, and getting acclimated to a new culture and climate (living at the far western edge of the time zone means really dark mornings and late evening summer sunsets). The kids started playing basketball (it’s a thing in Indiana) and we settled comfortably into a church family, a neighborhood teeming with children, a wonderful school system, meaningful workplaces, and a new calling for me as a Chaplain with the Indiana Army National Guard.

 

 

I give thanks to God for the people we’ve met and the places we’ve lived.

Hours after becoming homeowners. Carmel, IN.

Hours after becoming homeowners. Carmel, IN.

Never in a million years would I have imagined that we would have settled in Indiana. And while my taste buds, penchant for booing at ballgames, and my accent may betray my Philly roots, I am thrilled to be home here in Indiana. I am thrilled that we’re not up and moving again, but instead that my youngest may yet get through his all of his schooling in one school district. I am thrilled that I am serving a church where I can expect to see a generation or more grow in faith. I am thrilled to have raised my right hand and sworn an oath not only to serve our nation but also the State of Indiana.

I am thrilled to be home with my family, to have settled in, to be in a place where my kids will grow up, and where Jessicah and I will grow old. Together.

At home.Indiana_Home_Throw_Camel_1024x1024

Ditching Father and Resisting Gender Roles

There are other reasons I am leaving Father behind.

[See my previous post, Relationship: Parent, my most-viewed blogpost ever, for my initial explanation of why I’m leaving this term behind.]

For one, I increasingly reject gender roles. The terms Mother and Father are filled with notions of parental responsibility and care (good!), but are also laden with narrowly defined, culturally contrived gender roles (not good). I want to minimize the extent to which I emphasize gender roles  – consciously or subconsciously – in my parenting and in my life in general. Defaulting to the gender-neutral Parent is one, albeit small, way to do just that.

gender roles

Culturally defined gender roles dangerously limit our understanding of who we are and who God created us to be. Men are supposed to be tough and emotionally barren. Women are to be pregnant with care and emotion. Men like sports. Women like crafts. Men hunt and protect. Women gather and nurture.

Hogwash.

Read More

Relationship: Parent

I recently completed a marathon of paperwork for my children’s elementary school. It is my annual handwriting workout. I write more by hand at this time of year than at any other time of the year.

  • Emergency contact forms.
  • Medical forms.
  • Tell us about your child forms.
  • School policy forms.
  • How your child gets to and from school forms.
  • Acknowledgement of receipt of homework and discipline policy forms.
  • A form to confirm receipt of forms (ok, not really)

Many of these forms ask for the names of adults and their relationship to the child.

Name: Chris Duckworth
Relationship to student: Parent

I write Parent. Not Father. But Parent.

room mom Read More

Fitness for Ministry

Today I begin resume a new journey, a journey of fitness for ministry. You see, I’m not fit for ministry.

For the ministry of National Guard Chaplaincy, that is.

On and off for the past several years I’ve been discerning service in the National Guard as a chaplain. [In a future post I’ll write more about my discernment on this issue, which goes back to high school and to conversations with my grandfather, who was a Marine in the pre-WWII era]. National Guard Chaplaincy is a part-time ministry – the proverbial “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” – with a population of part-time soldiers that is mostly young, culturally diverse, and service oriented. It is a population that needs the comforting Good News and presence of our God. It is a population that is largely absent from our pews.

When I lived in Minnesota I had several conversations with the chief of chaplains for the Minnesota National Guard, and I was about to start the process of formally interviewing with Guard leaders and discerning this call within my congregation. But then an unexpected opportunity led us to Indiana, and that process was put on hold. While I have yet to reach out to the Guard leadership here in Indiana, there is one thing I need to do before I give this much more consideration.

I need to get in shape. I need to get fit for this ministry. There are fitness standards for members of the National Guard, including chaplains. And while I can pass the running requirements fairly easily, I cannot yet pass the sit up and push up tests, and I am not at the target weight. I have some work to do.

So today I will meet with a trainer at my city’s fitness center. I will begin a training program designed to get me into good enough shape so that, if I ultimately do decide to enter the Guard, my physical fitness will not be a barrier. I am told that my trainer is a veteran, and/or has done fitness training with soldiers. Either way, I’m in for a workout.

My hope is that this time of focusing on my fitness will be a time of discernment of my call to this ministry, a time of personal and spiritual growth, and a time of improved physical well-being. Keep me in your prayers, please.

“That was fun. Are we doing it again next week?”

This past Sunday the children of our congregation gathered toward the end of the worship service to bless the Sunday School teachers, who were being installed as part of our Rally Day celebrations. After the blessing, we gave the kids tambourines, shakers, and maracas, and they led us out of the church as the whole congregation sang, "We Are Marching in the Light of God." It was very nice way to start the Sunday School year, and a great way to celebrate the ministry of children in our congregation.

Later that evening, my 5 year-old daughter said to me, "Daddy, that was fun, playing with the maracas in church. Are we doing it again next week?" We were not planning on doing it again, of course, but her question got me thinking about consistency in worship. Kids get routine. In fact, they need routine. Preschool and elementary school teachers know that routine is essential in creating a learning and nurturing environment for children.

Many years ago I wrote about the importance of routine in worship, with a blogpost entited "Variable (or Vagarious?) Liturgical Texts." I do believe that we are formed in life and faith through repeated action. This is especially true for children. How can we offer a consistent, patterned, and participatory environment for children in worship? Children's sermons are good, but are often a passive experience for children. Assisting with communion might be appropriate for one or two children, as would be serving as a lay reader, but these are not ways to include most of the kids most of the time.

However it is done, I believe that weekly worship should include a regular element that actively includes children in doing something they are capable of doing, and which engages them in some sort of repeated, ritual action. It might be a song that is sung weekly, becoming familiar and allowing even non-reading children to fully participate. It might be a liturgical gesture or action, such as the procession we did this past Sunday, that kids can perform week after week. Whatever it is, a repeated action gives our kids something familiar to do, a chance to develop comfort and even expertise at performing an act of worship, and thus allows them to feel more "at home" and at ease with the worship life of the church.

Doctor’s Orders: No Running for Four Weeks

Earlier this spring I returned to running for the first time in 17 years (thanks to the wonderful Couch-to-5K running plan). I began losing weight and feeling better about myself, but most importantly I just really enjoyed running. After a little while my days felt incomplete without a run, and during the day my mind would often wander to thinking about my next run. I can't overstate what my return to running has meant to me. I even blogged about the joy of getting reacquainted with running. It's been an amazing, life-giving experience.

Thus I can't overstate how disappointed I am that, on doctor's orders, I've been shut down for four weeks.  No running, he said.  Get on your bike instead.

But I'm a runner. Not a biker.

You see, by early August I was getting comfortable running 7+ miles twice/week. My last long run was an 8-miler to the Washington Monument on August 9.  After a day of rest, I went for a short 4-miler on August 11, but didn't even last 2 miles.  I felt a shooting pain in my left shin, and a throbbing pain in my right. After feeling this horrible pain on another run following several days of rest, I went to the doctor, who told me to stop running for two weeks.  Two weeks came and went, and I went out for two short runs – 1.5 miles – on Monday and Tuesday of this week.  While I felt better, the sharp pain persisted in my left shin.  And so I called the doctor back, and that's when he gave me the four-week extension to my running moratorium.

I went to the running store last week, before the call to my doctor, and in hopeful anticipation of a cautious return to running this week. The guy at the store looked at my shoes – purchased in May at another running store – and said, "they're shot." "But they have less than 200 miles on them," I said. He then told me that they had a 180 lb limit (I weigh, ahem, a bit more than that), and that he himself had prematurely blown through a few pairs of this brand.  So while I don't want to blame my current predicament entirely on a poor choice of shoes, there's part of me that wants to find the guy who sold me those shoes and have a word or two with him.

Well, I bought new running shoes, the pair I wore on my two short runs earlier this week. They feel great, and hopefully I'll be running with them in a month or so.

So my hopes and plans to run the Army Ten Miler in October and the Richmond Half Marahon in November are shot.  For even if my shins feel great after four weeks, there is no way that I could get my body ready for the Ten Miler in less than a month, or for the Half Marathon in about five or six weeks.  These goals are now out of reach. For this year, anyway.

So today or tomorrow I'll take my bike to the shop, get it tuned up, and pretend to be the kind of person who likes bicycling. And tomorrow I'll go to the gym for a training session to learn how to use the machines properly, and pretend to be the kind of person who likes the gym. Let me be clear: I'm not the kind of guy who really likes cycling or the gym. Bikes and gyms don't come close to matching the simplicity and purity of running. Cycling is complicated – special shoes, helmet, gloves, and a bicycle with hundreds of parts, riding on busy roads or crowded paths where you've got to dodge pedestrians, runners, and cars, stop for cross traffic, and so forth. The gym is equally compliclated – what machines to use, how to use them, what is the proper weight? – not to mention the stale, sweaty air inside.  Running is so much more straight forward – strap on your shoes and run according to some plan. Running is the only kind of fitness I've ever really liked or enjoyed. Running is so meaningful for me (see that blogpost I referenced earlier). Shifting gears is going to be hard.

Well, this is the test, isn't it, to see if I'm so dedicated to this running thing (and to my general fitness) that I'll do anything – even ride a bike and do gym workouts – to get my body ready for an eventual return to running? I hope and pray that I can do this. I may even come to like it. But like it or not, it's my only option.