My wife and I have a joke. We tell it when we are out in public, at an airport or a restaurant or concert, and I need to use the bathroom. When I stand up to find a restroom I say to her, “Okay, honey, if I’m not out in five minutes, come look for me.” We always laugh but, actually, it’s not that funny.
When I was in middle school and high school I wanted to go to one of the service academies. In order to help secure an appointment, I joined a military cadet program in seventh grade. In many ways it was a good experience, and so I am not naming the specific program here, as I believe it does teach many young people about leadership, self-discipline, and teamwork. But it was also through this program that I had an experience that taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.
It has become almost a cliché for preachers to focus on the older brother of the Prodigal Son. Too often, not even our churches let us be the fallen brother who desperately wants to come home.
I love the United Church of Christ. I do. After growing up a “spiritual but not religious” “none” at the tail end of Generation X, I found my way into Christ’s church at the age of 17 and was baptized.
Last week Caitlyn Jenner’s picture appeared on the front cover of Vanity Fair. Immediately people online began to juxtapose her photo next to photos of veterans and first responders, saying that “real bravery” looked like the latter, and that Caitlyn was not brave. I reject that false dichotomy.
About six months ago I started a new call as the senior pastor of a church in New Hampshire. I truly loved the congregation I previously served, but with a wife who had just graduated from seminary herself, and a feeling that God was nudging me to something new, I began the long discernment that comes with a pastoral search process. Unlike my first search process, where I sent my profile (the UCC version of a pastor’s resume) to just about every church that was searching, I was more selective.
After a childhood spent envying the boys on the football team, I joined my college’s rugby team. My first night I learned how to throw a tackle. More importantly, I learned how to be tackled. The idea was this: you’re going to fall. You’d might as well learn how to fall safely, so that you can stand back up.
My wife and I are flying out today, over Boston, the city where marriage equality got its start. We are flying out over Old South Church, the place where we were married. We are flying into California, a place where yesterday morning our marriage wasn’t legal. And we are flying to General Synod, the biannual meeting of the United Church of Christ, the church that recognized our marriage before the federal government ever did.