Several months later, I gave a presentation on my summer in Israel to the people of my home church, and sitting in the front row was Nancy Freeborne. She sensed my excitement about the discoveries I had made—about both religion and myself—and we began to date. Although her focus was biology, she supported me as I went to Yale Divinity School and prepared to work as a Presbyterian pastor.
Nancy and I married while I was a student, and she went on to get a Doctorate in Public Health, which she uses in her work as a health consultant and CEO of Freeborne Health Advising. We moved from Connecticut to Virginia, and along the way our family grew to include two children, Sadie and Sam, who are now young adults in New York City and Washington, DC.
The work of ministry has always been attractive to me because it puts me in touch with stories that are real: People in homes, offices, and schools who struggle to overcome challenges with relationships, jobs, money, spirituality, and the chaos of current events. I love trying to make sense of it all through writing, whether I am crafting a sermon or a lesson or a church newsletter article. I have also been fortunate to write for a community far broader than the congregations I have served, through essays on religion and culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Huffington Post.
One conviction that has become stronger for me over the years is the importance of Christian hospitality, which is embedded deep in the wisdom of the ancient world. I am convinced that the key to overcoming divisions in church and society is to find ways to welcome and include people, just as Jesus did, around shared meals and community experiences.
Not that hospitality is limited to Christianity. The practice is central to Judaism and Islam as well, and has potential to break down barriers between people around the world. After visiting a number of congregations that do a particularly good job of welcoming people, I wrote the book The Welcoming Congregation: Roots and Fruits of Christian Hospitality, and have been able to speak on the topic in numerous workshops and conferences around the United States.
But life is not all ancient wisdom for me, as much as I like writing and speaking about it. As an endurance athlete, I compete in marathons, sprint triathlons, and Century (100 mile) bike rides, although one cycling event sent me to the hospital in 2015. I also enjoy rooting for the Washington Nationals and boating on the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers. Nancy and I live in historic Occoquan, Virginia, a small town outside Washington, DC, which is charming enough to lure our adult children home for an occasional visit.