Archives For Weddings

Mike, my brother-in-law, I’ve known since he was 9, grabbing my huevos in the pool, cackling, and swimming away. LP was a 6th grader when I came to Aldersgate, and 13 years later I count her one of my best friends. It’s nice to write a wedding sermon where I don’t need to prove to anyone I really do know the bride and groom but where I can instead just get to it.

Texts: Ruth 1 and 2 Corinthians 5.16-21

     Last Saturday marked the Festival of Pentecost, or, as my people call it, Shavuot, the celebration where Jews recall the giving of the Torah to Moses by God on Mt. Sinai. 

     You goyim might not know it, but Jews don’t read from the Book of Exodus on Shavuot. For Pentecost, Jews don’t actually read from the passages where God gives Israel the Law- probably because it’s not a very pleasant, flattering story. 

     No sooner does Yahweh command Israel to worship no others gods but God than Israel starts to melt down their gold teeth and grandma’s silverware and pour them into cow-shaped molds, an impious infraction for which the recently-paroled Moses orders the Levites to draw their swords and kill approximately 3,000 of the idolaters. 

     The Exodus story doesn’t exactly have any of the trimmings for a jolly holiday story so, perhaps not surprisingly, on Shavuot a week ago Jews read instead from the Book of Ruth. 

     Every 50 days after the Passover, at Pentecost, Jews read from the Book of Ruth in order to remember that their inclusion into God’s People, as for all of us, comes by way of adoption not accomplishment. “Once we were no people,” we pray with bread and wine, “but now we are your People.” 

     Your people only by your doing, we leave implied. 

     Whereas God elects the Israelites out of Egypt more or less against their wishes, Ruth actually chooses to be a part of Israel by declaring “Where you go, I will go…your People will be my People.” 

     If marriage vows, as Robert Capon insists, are when bride and groom give each other an overdose of self-confidence, then perhaps this assertion from Ruth is the perfect wedding declaration. 

     But then again, at this point in her life, Ruth’s situation doesn’t look much more promising than Israel’s in Exodus, whom, prior to their betrothal to Yahweh, were in bondage to Pharaoh, so maybe Ruth’s lines about going wherever the other goes aren’t so much born out of naiveté as they are desperation. 

     In other words, it’s not that Ruth has high hopes for where their relationship will take them; it’s that she doesn’t really have any other hope. The other to whom she speaks her vow is her last card to play.

     For those of you who, like the government agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, don’t remember your Sunday School, Naomi and her husband Elimelech are Jews who had fled the Promised Land because of famine, winding up in a pagan place called Moab where they made a home and started a family. They had sons who took wives, including a Moabite pagan woman named Ruth. 

     All was the stuff of the Colin Firth romantic movies that Mike is loathe to watch with Laura Paige until famine struck Moab too. 

     First, Naomi was left a widow. 

     Then she was left childless. 

     The Book of Ruth opens with Naomi determining to die back in the Promised Land with no one but this pagan daughter-in-law, herself a widow, dead-set on making the trip with her. 

     Long story short, they make it to Israel. Naomi plays matchmaker. Ruth takes their future into her hands (double entendres are everywhere here in the Hebrew) and marries a rich guy named Boaz and they become the great, great, great….grandparents… of Jesus. 

     So, nicely done you two. 

     The love song you’ve chosen for your wedding concludes with the conception of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate God, Maker of the Universe— way to set expectations ridiculously high! And here, all this time, I thought Taylor was the Mertins with the Messiah complex! 

     I mean, most couples settle for “Love is patient and kind…” Not you and Mike! Apparently, you two are aiming for Messiah-making love. Talk about gongs and clanging symbols. 

     For God’s sake, don’t tell your kids you chose this passage for your wedding. We chose a passage that ends with the couple giving birth to Jesus who was without sin and perfect in every way is a hell of a burden to lay on a kid. 

    Except, no. 

    Actually, when Ruth pledges these vows, she has no expectations at all. 

     Or rather, she has every reason to expect the worst. Both of them- they’re penniless. They’re both widows in a world so cruel to single women that Jesus will outlaw divorce altogether. And Ruth is a pagan about to journey to the Promised Land where she has every reason to assume the Chosen People will choose to send her packing. 

     So Ruth’s vows are vowed from the vantage of low expectations. 

     And from those low expectations comes a love that begets the Love which remakes the cosmos. On the assumption that we are all incredibly unique and yet all shockingly identical, I want to offer that there’s a lesson here to be gleaned. It’s this one: 

     When it comes to relationships, pessimism is a Christian virtue. 

     All of us are creatures marked by expectations. Constantly, we carry with us images of how things are supposed to be, where life is supposed to go, what I’m supposed to do. And our expectations are never higher- and, therefore, more fraught- than when we are in love. 

     In love, we just expect: 

That the other will easily, intuitively understand us. 

That we won’t have to explain things to the other. 

That they won’t make too many demands. 

That she will always be up for watching Predator. 

     We’re creatures who carry expectations, never more so than when we are in love. This is why (remember this, you two) we say the meanest-ass shit to the people we love. It’s precisely because we’ve invested higher expectations in them than in anyone else in our lives. 

     That’s the risk of marriage, right?

     The more you love another, the higher your expectations for the other; thus, the more intense your frustrations and your disappointments in the other. 

     But- notice now:

     The problem is NOT in the other. 

     It’s in your expectations. 

     We see people all the time who have difficulty in their relationships, but we discount it. We think the problem is with those particular people. We think that we’ll be different in our relationship. And we miss it: the problem with people’s relationships is relationships. 

     Here’s a prediction I can make- 

     Whatever problem you have in your relationship, whenever you have a problem in your relationship, the problem in your relationship will be relationships in general. Your problem will be with expectations as such. 

     And I think that’s a good word because it’s easy to think when things get hard that you’ve just placed your expectations on the wrong person, that you’re in a relationship with the wrong person, when, really, the problem is relationships. 

     Every relationship is fraught and folly because we never fully understand another person. “Expectations,” as the philosopher Alain de Botton writes, “are the enemies of love.”

Expectations are the enemies of love because expectations overlook one central fact about people in general:

Everyone has something substantially wrong with them once they become fully known. 

     This is why, says de Botton, every marriage would be made better by both spouses frankly acknowledging to each other that they’re both in certain ways crazy. I mean, just see what happens when you eat all of Mike’s Sour Patch Kids- he’s 50% Crazy Rob. 

     Instead of high and lofty expectations, it’s better for you to expect that it’s completely normal and unavoidable that people do not understand each other very well because the witness of the New Testament, born out by the Old, is that we do not understand even ourselves very well (because we’re all more than one self). Such is sin that we’re a mystery even to ourselves. 

     As St. Paul confesses, “I do not do what I want to do, and what I do not want to do is the one thing that I do.” And so do you. And, as perfect as she seems, so does Laura Paige.

     Look-

     There will be occasions when he understands and empathizes with you 100%, times where she gets you totally and what’s going on with you, but these should not be your expectations because they are, in fact, the exceptions. 

     The pop songs get love all wrong. The real heartache of love is not in finding someone; the real heartache of love is learning to tolerate the person you love once you’ve found them, or, at least, that’s what Ali tells me.

     Take tonight’s text as your clue. 

     Naomi wishes to change her name to Mara, for Mara means ‘the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.’ The name Mara, Naomi thinks, better reflects her most recent past and what she anticipates that the future will bring. Naomi/Mara, in other words, has low expectations, yet from these low expectations comes the Love which made all things and in which all things hold together.

     A better expectation for love than the expectations the pop songs and princess weddings give us is this one: 

No one can live up to your expectations. 

     Being disappointing is a universal phenomenon. This is why the marriage rite tonight cares not at all why you two want to get married; it only wants to know what you propose to do about each other henceforth, leading you to anticipate sickness and poverty and reasons why you might consider forsaking the other. The wedding rite, in other words, is calibrating your expectations towards pessimism.

Marriage is about the two becoming one flesh goes the pious cliche, but, really, only Christ can become our flesh. Marriage, as a Christian vocation, is the process of discovering and accepting that the two are two, that the other is other, with you, yes, but not you. 

Jesus, after all, tells Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom we must be born again. And Jesus tells the disciples, who were busy elbowing past each other, that anyone who would enter his Kingdom must become like children.

If marriage is a sign and sacrament of the mystery of Christ’s Kingdom, then it follows that married people need to become like babies.

And babies, as St. Augustine notes, take time to realize that their mother is not just an extension of themselves.

Little children take time to learn that their mother is someone else. 

     Thus, married love is not about finding your high expectations met by another with nary a conflict along the way because conflict is actually what happens when love succeeds. Conflict is what comes when love prevails, for it means you’ve done what Nicodemus couldn’t do. You’ve been born again. You’ve become like a child again; in that, you’ve gotten to know another as other. Conflict is what happens when love wins; it means you’ve gotten to see someone else across the full range of their life. It means all their different selves have been revealed just as all of yours have been made vulnerable to them. 

     It’s only when you’ve seen all that is unloveable in another, yet choose to love them anyway that you’ve loved in the way Christ loves us- Christ, who does not count our trespasses against us; Christ, who became all of our wrongdoing so that we might become his righteousness. 

     St. Paul says elsewhere that this righteousness of Christ’s is given to us through baptism; that is, in baptism we are clothed permanently in Christ’s perfect score. Despite our abundant and obvious pockmarks and imperfections, Christ’s perfection is reckoned to us as our own. 

     This is why, before he asked you to make any promises tonight, Taylor asked you to remember your baptism. 

     What makes a wedding an act of faith?

Your willingness to believe that the other is already and always will be perfect.

Made so, not by you and your love for them.

By Christ ’s own perfection.

Even though every day your life together will appear to contradict this conviction. 

     What makes a wedding beautiful is your willingness to trust that the other will do the same for you-  you trust that they will believe that you are already and always perfect even though you know they will have access to see much to the contrary. A God who reveals his power through weakness, his glory in suffering, is a God who loves to hide behind paradox. The paradox of pessimism, when it comes to love, is that a low anthropology is in fact the way God makes us to be what God in Christ has already declared us to be. 

     This way of love, which chooses to love even what it knows to be unlovely, is how God makes holy. 

     

     

I’ve often thought the NY Times wedding pages are a good harbinger of the trends to come. Long before ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ died a relatively quiet death and well before a seeming cultural consensus settled about homosexuality, the NY Times posted wedding announcements celebrating gay couples like they we just ordinary couples.

That’s not a comment on the rightness/wrongness of the issue; it’s just a comment that the Times foreshadow future trends.

So here’s another trend.

Those same wedding pages this week wrote a story about the ever-increasing trend of couples getting friends, duly vested in made-up online religions, to preside over their ceremony.

As much as I refuse to pimp myself out to marry couples who are just treating me in the same way they do the caterer, it’s also depressing that an increasing number of people prefer to circumvent any faith element in their wedding altogether.

This is the cultural climate in which we’ll need to figure out how to do Church into the future.

Here’s the article…and before you get your friend to perform your wedding after a few minutes on Google make sure he/she is legal.

IN the days leading up to their August wedding at the Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island, Kinara Flagg and Paul Fileri chose Andrew Case, a friend and former law school classmate of Ms. Flagg’s, to officiate.

In some places, online ministers may need backup.

In the eyes of the couple, Mr. Case, who had become a Universal Life minister through a quick online ordination, was the right man for the job. In the eyes of the law, however, Mr. Case, who was not a part of an active ministry, was officiating in the wrong county.

An increasing number of couples are steering away from traditional religious and civil wedding officiants in favor of friends and relatives who become ordained through online ministries. But many couples are unaware that while New York State recognizes marriages performed by those who became ministers by the power vested in a mouse, there are five downstate counties where such officiants are not technically legal.

Ms. Flagg and Mr. Fileri, who knew that Suffolk County on Long Island, which includes Shelter Island, was among the handful of no-online-minister zones in the state, obtained their marriage license in Monroe County (where Mr. Fileri grew up and which recognizes online ministries), making their wedding a legal union after all.

“It’s surprising that Suffolk County does not recognize these online ministers,” Ms. Flagg said.

Neither do the counties of Nassau, Westchester, Putnam or Dutchess, owing to a 1989 ruling by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in a case involving a Suffolk County couple who were then embroiled in a divorce. In that case, the court ruled that the couple’s marriage and prenuptial agreement were void because their officiant was a Universal Life minister.

Though Ms. Flagg speaks for many married couples when she says “we wanted a friend to marry us, someone who could speak about us to our friends and family, rather than a person who doesn’t really know us and recites a lot of formulaic vows,” it remains that Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia, Tennessee, a part of Pennsylvania and (of all places) Las Vegas do not necessarily recognize the credentials of officiants who were created, for better or worse, through such online ministries as the Universal Life Church, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, Rose Ministries and the Temple of Earth.

For many years, New York City also did not recognize online ministers, but in 2006 began allowing them to officiate at weddings in the five boroughs. But the appellate court’s ruling still holds for the other counties. (In September 2007, a couple in York County, Pa., who had been married two months earlier by an online minister received a call from a county clerk who told them that a judge had ruled that ministers who do not have a “regularly established church or congregation” cannot perform marriages under state law. Their marriage, they were told, might not be valid. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union advised them to seek help from the organization if the legality of their marriage was ever challenged.)

New York Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, a Westchester County Democrat, who has been trying since 2005 to pass a bill in Albany that would give online officiants legal power to marry couples throughout the state, said, “We need to change the law so that people everywhere can be legally married by online ministers.”

“I have had lots of conversations about this issue with the Judiciary Committee staff in Albany, and everyone knows something needs to be done,” Ms. Galef said. “I’m not quite sure what is blocking this bill. Is there opposition from priests, rabbis and other clergymen who see this as both a competitive and economic thing? I just don’t know.”

The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, who once served in a no-online-minister zone at the United Community Church of Wantagh on Long Island, in Nassau County, and is now pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kan., said that he understood why some states still do not recognize online ministers.

“In some places, there is still an understanding that certain qualifications have to be met by a minister or a justice of the peace before they are legally able to perform marriages,” he said. “And I agree with that.”

Here’s the rest of the article.

Three things I hate about religious work:

1.) Joel Osteen

2.) Clergy Meetings

3.) Wedding Coordinators

Actually, there’s a whole lot I don’t like about weddings, such as, the entire wedding industry. Wedding coordinators (at other churches, not mine) are very often pushy, patronizing and think they’re managing a show of which I’m a prop. Wedding coordinators aren’t the worst part of weddings. They’re only frequently the last bitter pill I have to swallow in a whole string of annoyances and, thus, they’re the ones who unfairly suffer my ire.

I hate how, for so many couples, the minister is somewhere at the bottom of the priority list when making arrangements for the ceremony. I hate that most couples nail down the caterer, photographer, DJ, wedding party, stationary and honeymoon venue before ever calling to see if I’m even available, which betrays, for all our talk about the sanctity of marriage, how most weddings are not- in the felt experience of the couple- a religious worship service.

I hate how many couples- or their parents- want to limit the “religious stuff’ in the service as much as possible, and I hate their surprised irritation when I refuse.

I hate how many couples, church members or not, Christian or not, just assume that I will perform their wedding, and I hate their surprised outrage when I say no.

And, most of all, I hate that everyone wants to sit the pastor at the ‘grandma table’ for the reception.

I’ve done a lot of weddings, and I do a good job when I do agree to do one. But to this day, the best wedding I’ve been a part of has been my own. I think it’s because, due in equal parts to our sensibilities and to our lack of money, our wedding was simple, spare and small. None of those factors kept it from being elegant or beautiful.

Friday is Ali’s and my 11th Anniversary. Since we got married, I’ve seen weddings whose price tag comes in over my annual salary. Somewhere such a wedding, I think, goes from Cana-like joy to ugly (pagan?) decadence.

It’s only natural I suppose for the next generation of couples to push back against that trend, as the article in the NY Times this Sunday highlighted, but I wonder if Christians are morally obligated to do so: to opt out of the wedding industry because its completely incongruent with vows anchored in ‘forsaking all else…’

In fact, I’ve toyed seriously over the last year with surrendering my wedding credentials, which now reside with the Clerk of Court. Doing so would mean I’m no longer able to perform ‘legal’ weddings. In other words, couples would be married in the eyes of God just not the State. Couples would have to get a justice of the peace to do that for them.

While I realize it would be another hoop for couples to jump through but would it really be any more time than, say, taste-testing wedding cake? And anyone who did jump through the hoop would be that much more likely to treat their wedding not as a prom but as a covenant.

Here’s the article from the NY Times on the trend towards simpler, smaller weddings.

Three things I hate about religious work:

1.) Joel Osteen

2.) Clergy Meetings

3.) Wedding Coordinators

Actually, there’s a whole lot I don’t like about weddings, such as, the entire wedding industry. Wedding coordinators (at other churches, not mine) are very often pushy, patronizing and think they’re managing a show of which I’m a prop. Wedding coordinators aren’t the worst part of weddings. They’re only frequently the last bitter pill I have to swallow in a whole string of annoyances and, thus, they’re the ones who unfairly suffer my ire.

I hate how, for so many couples, the minister is somewhere at the bottom of the priority list when making arrangements for the ceremony. I hate that most couples nail down the caterer, photographer, DJ, wedding party, stationary and honeymoon venue before ever calling to see if I’m even available, which betrays, for all our talk about the sanctity of marriage, how most weddings are not- in the felt experience of the couple- a religious worship service.

I hate how many couples- or their parents- want to limit the “religious stuff’ in the service as much as possible, and I hate their surprised irritation when I refuse.

I hate how many couples, church members or not, Christian or not, just assume that I will perform their wedding, and I hate their surprised outrage when I say no.

And, most of all, I hate that everyone wants to sit the pastor at the ‘grandma table’ for the reception.

I’ve done a lot of weddings, and I do a good job when I do agree to do one. But to this day, the best wedding I’ve been a part of has been my own. I think it’s because, due in equal parts to our sensibilities and to our lack of money, our wedding was simple, spare and small. None of those factors kept it from being elegant or beautiful.

Friday is Ali’s and my 11th Anniversary. Since we got married, I’ve seen weddings whose price tag comes in over my annual salary. Somewhere such a wedding, I think, goes from Cana-like joy to ugly (pagan?) decadence.

It’s only natural I suppose for the next generation of couples to push back against that trend, as the article in the NY Times this Sunday highlighted, but I wonder if Christians are morally obligated to do so: to opt out of the wedding industry because its completely incongruent with vows anchored in ‘forsaking all else…’

In fact, I’ve toyed seriously over the last year with surrendering my wedding credentials, which now reside with the Clerk of Court. Doing so would mean I’m no longer able to perform ‘legal’ weddings. In other words, couples would be married in the eyes of God just not the State. Couples would have to get a justice of the peace to do that for them.

While I realize it would be another hoop for couples to jump through but would it really be any more time than, say, taste-testing wedding cake? And anyone who did jump through the hoop would be that much more likely to treat their wedding not as a prom but as a covenant.

Here’s the article from the NY Times on the trend towards simpler, smaller weddings.