Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Weddings

It seems that I have either recently officiated or will soon officiate several weddings, so I've been thinking a lot about what it means to get married, especially in the church. Here are a few thoughts I have compiled.

  • If you are a religious person, get married in a church, temple, synagogue, etc. I understand that it is cute and fun to get married on a beach, in a park, or in a baseball stadium, but the ceremony of marriage is a religious ceremony. If the ceremony occurs in a sanctuary of some sort, you will be surrounded by religious symbolism that will set the ceremony, and the ensuing marriage, in the proper context. I know I write this at the risk of sounding like an old fogey traditionalist, but believe it or not, there is oftentimes a good reason that a certain tradition forms.
  • Since the wedding ceremony and marriage are religious acts, don't get married if you aren't religious. Somehow, what was once considered religious and sacred has bled over into the secular and state world, as the media propounds marriage as a simple fact of life that is needed if you don't want to be lonely and since the government has decided to get into the marriage business. These are only recent inventions to commandeer the religious for other reasons (see next bullet point) and, if you aren't religious, there are certainly more convenient and cheaper ways to show your commitment to your partner.
  • Weddings are big business. According to Wikipedia (a reliable source, I know), the wedding industry reaps $40 billion a year. Your wedding is not that special to your florist, caterer, photographer, etc. They do not care if you will have enough money to eat dinner your first week of marriage. You are a big source of revenue to them and they will try to upsell you on everything possible (I'm speaking in generalities here). And this is only a recent phenomenon. For example, the idea of the engagement ring has only been around about 100 years or so (Thanks, Cecil Rhodes). What is supposed to be a meaningful celebration of God's gift of marriage has been grossly bastardized into brides obsessing over the most extravagant bridesmaid dresses, grooms tearing up friendships over who will be the best man, and stressing over what party favor to give guests. This is not what God had in mind.
  • Marriage is not for everyone. Movies, novels, and the sentiment at the country club may indicate that your life is nothing without marriage. If you don't get married, then you must be useless and undesirable. But both Jesus and Paul were very cautious about marriage (cf. Luke 20:34-38 and 1 Cor. 7:38... not exactly passages you will hear proclaimed at the next Royal Wedding). The Bible does not see marriage as some fairy tale come true, but as a serious union with serious ramifications.
  • Marriage is a serious deal in the church because, well for one, Jesus definitely wasn't a fan of divorce (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:7-9, and parallels). This is not because Jesus was looking for a way to punish us. Instead, he was concerned to create a community in which God's people would not see the brokenness of divorce unfold. Your marriage is not a vacuum and it greatly affects parents, friends, and children, whether we want to admit it or not. We pastors, as leaders of faith communities, do our best to make sure that divorce does not result from a marriage. We usually try to spend several hours in counseling with couples on the front end to make sure that couples know the seriousness of marriage. This, in my opinion, constitutes a good reason (and one that I think is more important that getting married in a church building) to be married by a serious clergyperson who has your spiritual interests in mind.
  • How much should you pay your pastor? This question always comes up when I officiate a wedding. Our pay is somewhat arbitrary for officiating a ceremony and, sometimes, we pastors are too sweet and sugary to be firm in saying how much our time is worth. The standard for our church is $200. If that seems high, consider how much you pay for the dress, caterer, florist, honeymoon, etc. You can have your wedding without them. You cannot have your wedding without a pastor. And your pastor's time away from her or his family is worth something. Also, don't underestimate the amount of time your pastor spends in preparing for premarital counseling, the ceremony, and the homily. And also, unlike these vendors, your pastor has an enormous workday ahead of him tomorrow.
  • If any of this sounds bitter, then I apologize for the tone. Every couple I have married has done come to the altar with the intent to grow in their faith together and has understood my fairly strict interpretation of the ceremony and marriage. But I do cringe every time I see an ad on TV for a jewelry store, a "wedding episode" of a TV show, or a thick bridal magazine on the grocery store rack without a single word of God. God deserves better than this and, frankly, you do too.

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