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

Oaths of Office

On Friday I received my commission as a Chaplain (First Lieutenant) in the US Army and in the Indiana Army National Guard. Here are the oaths I swore.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and Governor of the State of Indiana, that I make this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of First Lieutenant in the Army National Guard of the State of Indiana upon which I am about to enter, so help me God.

I, Christopher Thomas Duckworth, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of First Lieutenant do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; SO HELP ME GOD.

April 25, 2014
Lawrence, Indiana

Bible Verse in a Box with a Majestic Nature Scene

Have you ever noticed that so many of the inspirational Bible-verse-in-a-box images that get passed around on Facebook and Twitter superimpose the words of Scripture over a majestic nature scene?

A mountain peak reaching into the skies. “I will set my eyes to the hills – Psalm 121”

Ocean waves crashing on rocks as the sun rises. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold – Psalm 18:2”

An endless plain blowing with amber waves of grain. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. – John 14:27”

The message from these images (and from their ancestors, the inspirational Bible verse poster sold at Christian bookstores) sends an indirect yet clear message – God is found in the far-off, in the majestic, in the distant nature scene.

This is terribly sad, of course, for a people who follow a Lord whose name is Emmanuel – God with us. God might be with us in our theology, but in our popular imagery we see God as far off, in nature, away from people.

To be sure, Scripture uses nature imagery to describe God, and even Jesus and Moses ascend mountains for moments of retreat and prayer. Yet, such imagery is neither the dominant nor the only metaphor or model found within Scripture to describe the community of faith and its relationship with God.

The preponderance of majestic nature scene images in our popular expression of faith reinforces an unhealthy sense that we must “get away” from human community in order to commune with God. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul’s discussion of the Body of Christ and of the importance of the Christian community, in 1 Corinthians 12, attests to that.

Take a look at the next several inspirational Bible verse in a box images you find on Facebook or Twitter – how many of those images include people, include the “us” with whom our God is?

We are a people whose hope-filled imagery of God’s promised future is one of a holy city descending from heaven, and a bold declaration that “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21). Jesus spent lots of time among crowds, and from the beginnings of the salvation story we see God choosing and acting within a community of people.

I think our popular imagery should reflect our theology.

I like beautiful images from nature, but our collections of faith-inspiring imagery should also include pictures of people, of urban and small town landscapes, of the communities that God so loved that he sent his only Son into them. I’m sure some such images exist, but in my experience they are few and far between. We can change that.

I’m not a very creative person when it comes to graphics, but I dabbled with some photos on Flickr to see what it could look like to superimpose words from Scripture on images of people. Here are two that I created.

Keep Watch

Light shine

What can you create? Find photos with people, or take your own photos of friends, family, neighbors, and join them with words of Scripture.

Tag the photos #photoverse and share on FB, Twitter, your blog, or wherever else you share photos. Let’s expand how we see, imagine, and share God among us.

Learning How to Give

You’d think it wouldn’t take much to learn how to give. Just reach into your pocket and give, right?

franpitre-boysfightovertoy2Of course, if you’ve ever spent time in a preschool, you know that there is often a reluctance in giving and sharing. Sharing toys doesn’t come naturally. Giving that toy to Bobby is even harder.

I was raised by parents who, each in their own way, were generous with their time and treasure. They modeled giving. As a young adult I strived to follow their model, often volunteering for and giving financial gifts to those organizations that were important to me, particularly the church.

But I didn’t start giving in a more significant, sacrificial way, until I met Larry. Larry hired me to work in the development office at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. I was young, about to get married, and this was my first job where I was expected to wear a tie to work every day. I was working in fundraising, and after a few weeks on the job Larry asked me for my pledge.

My pledge?

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Do it now. Go say Thank You.

Larry House died last week. He was my first boss, hiring me for my first wear-a-shirt-and-tie-everyday job at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in the development office. I will be forever grateful that he took a chance on me, a young, not-ordained, 20-something fresh out of seminary with lots to learn.

Larry was a real mentor to me. He taught me three things that I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time, but which have proved essential in my ministry several years later:

  1. Larry taught me how to be a professional.
  2. Larry showed me how to give, and he expected me to do so.
  3. Larry modeled a great love for the church and its people.

A few years later, after I left the seminary and was working elsewhere, I called him on the anniversary of my hire date and thanked him for giving me my first job. He was touched and surprised by the call. Yet,  I’m not sure that even then I truly appreciated how much he shaped me. As a pastor, I am grateful for the lessons Larry taught me, and I am continually trying to learn those lessons and practice them in my daily work. And I wish I had fully expressed this to him before his unexpected death early last week.

Who is that person in your life who gave you a chance when perhaps you didn’t deserve it? Who taught you life lessons and professional skills that have proved helpful over the years? Who shaped you into the person you are today?

Figure out who that person is, or who those persons are, and track them down. Give them a call or, better yet, write a letter. Write a letter describing what they did for you and how appreciative you are. In fact, write the letter, copy it, and send two copies – one for that mentor, and one for their spouse or safety deposit box or otherwise for safe keeping. Not to be morbid, but if this person is that important to you, you want these words to be available to their family upon her or his death. And, you want to write and send this letter now, if for whatever reason your death predates hers or his, so that she or he and their family has the chance to know what they mean to you.

I have three letters to write – for starters, anyway. The first letter is to Larry’s family. Though I’ve shared some of these thoughts in person, I want them to have it in writing. I only wish I had done this earlier.

I’ll also be writing letters to two men with whom I have little regular contact these days but who were deeply influential in forming me into the man and pastor that I am today. Indeed, not a week goes by in my life and ministry when I do not think of them. They need to know that. And I need to tell them that.

I have three letters to write. How many will you write?

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.

Worshiping Elsewhere

Yesterday with members of my church’s outreach committee I attended two churches for worship to experience how these churches welcome visitors and newcomers. One church was a campus of a large, multi-site evangelical church, and the other church was a large congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (my denomination). At the Lutheran church, we attended a contemporary service.

What follows are some observations, particularly about the nuts and bolts of the worship experience.

  • Both places were warm and welcoming, though one church in particular was amazing in this regard. I was greeted no less than 10 times. Not high-pressure tactics, but simply a warm greeting. Looking me in the eye. Saying hello. Opening a door. Asking if I’m new. Answering my questions. I was acknowledged, greeted, welcomed, and thanked for attending. It felt nice to be welcomed in such a way.
  • This church didn’t have a “Welcome Center” or a “Visitor’s Booth,” but instead the whole place was welcoming. Hosts at the curb, at each of the double doors, inside the gathering area, at the doors to the sanctuary, and just inside the sanctuary. There was always a helping hand, ready to open a door for me (I didn’t touch a door once at this place) and help me find where I was going (but, I didn’t need help to find anything anyway. The flow and signage was very clear.)
  • Trained church members stood in the gathering area, and greeted people entering the space. Upon learning that it was my first time there, one of these people gave me a new visitor packet. He didn’t have to go fetch the packet. He had it in his hands, expecting to see newcomers.
  • I didn’t have to open a book at either service. Nor did I have to look in a bulletin. It was nice. No juggling an unfamiliar book or unfamiliar bulletin and inserts and whatnot. The projection, and the words and gestures of the worship leaders, kept me moving along the way. Nothing in either service was assumed. Everything was very, very clear.
  • Thanks to the projection and the generally-engaging worship leadership, I was looking up the entire time. Not down at books and papers, but up at the worship leaders, the text and graphics on the screen, and at any ritual action taking place. I was never confused as to what was going to come next, or what I was supposed to do next. It was easy to follow along and participate in these services.
  • Signage is important. One church had small a-frame signs on the street, directing cars to the church, and then to the parking lot or to the drop-off area. Inside both churches, signs clearly marked literature racks, information stations, and so forth. One church had, among other things, well-placed restroom signs in the gathering area. (The signs were about 7 or 8 feet off the floor, a foot or so from the ceiling, sticking out from the wall, so as to catch your eye. A foot or two lower, and a tall person could have whacked their head on the sign, and/or blocked it from view.)
  • At both churches worship was prompt and tight. Worship was well-led. Worship began on time, segues between different worship actions (prayer and song, for example) were smooth, and technology always worked. The music – guitar bands in both places – was very good. Clearly the music, the worship leaders’ actions, and the message were rehearsed.
  • The worship leaders were personable. They led prayer and made announcements without reading notes verbatim, and shared a small (yet not annoying) level of banter with the other worship leaders. The worship leaders were accessible and relatable.
  • The worship leaders dressed casually (the pastor at the Lutheran church did wear clerics, but no robe). The overwhelming majority of worshippers dressed casually.

I will have more to share, particularly after meeting with members of the outreach committee tomorrow – two of whom visited two other churches – to gather all their insights. But this was a great experience, not just for what we observed but for having the experience of being a visitor, a newcomer to an unfamiliar worship space.