“Perfect Weddings” and Jesus

dog eats wedding cakeGoogle “Perfect weddings” and you will get about 100 million hits in all manner of categories: perfect wedding ideas, planners, colors, pictures, gowns, flower arrangements, cakes, settings etc…

Who doesn’t want to think of their wedding as being perfect?  Who goes around saying, “I hope my wedding is a bust or I hope it turns out to be a disaster or I hope I am disappointed, or, worst yet, I hope I get really embarrassed or shamed at my wedding?”  Most of us can tolerate the image of a blunder or funny mishap but not humiliation. Nope, no sane person would wish that for themselves.

Sure, we get carried away with obsessing over goofy details and expectations that should have stayed in childhood fairy tale books. And sure, stressors can mount to the point of bridezilla outbreaks or stupid groom stupors.  But, all in all, there is nothing wrong in longing for “the perfect wedding.”  The wedding is a momentous occasion of promise and commitment rivaled by no other kind of relationship ceremony. Within that ceremonial show of pomp and circumstance there is a public announcement that speaks to a new life anchored in the mystery of “two becoming one.”  And we, the spectators, are judging.  Yes, we are judging, not in a petty superficial way (hope not).  We are asking ourselves, “What is the basis for this wedding?”  If the couple are believers then the answer is straight forward.  The couple is sanctifying their union before God and that comes with promises that include martial faithfulness, and a commitment to support each other for better and for worse and for richer and for poorer.  If there are to be children then they will be raised in the context of faith and safety. This is a big order and is not always fulfilled.  Nonetheless, these are the time-honored promises and we, the guests, are celebrating the couple’s willingness to undertake such a risky and hard commitment.  For the marriage veterans who know the rocky bumps ahead we rightly view the seriousness of this event.  The couple is undertaking an amazingly mature path; one of life’s greatest risk-reward ventures.  We ask ourselves, “Does this couple have what it takes?”  The wedding couple believe they do and so we get behind them and we whoop it up with them as the love and wine flows at the reception.

But for those who are not “religious” or perhaps have lived together for years; why the longing for the “perfect wedding”? I would suspect for basically the same reasons – thinking themselves mature enough to take on this commitment of faithfulness, love and partnership in all matters of life together. Placing their commitment on the time/space continuum of human history. On such and such date at such and such a place a public and legal commitment of fidelity and love will be made and thus the reason for celebration. And we their guests are hoping that the marriage proves their hope correct in spite of grim statistics.  We humans are forever hopeful and love the chance for love.  And so we celebrate.

Weddings for millennium have been the grand community or village event; better than the celebrations surrounding royalty or political governing powers. Why? Because weddings are celebrations among peers.  There is reciprocity.  Weddings are even a transaction, so to speak, between the wedding party and the attendees.  We, the guests, are expected to show up, dress appropriately, celebrate enthusiastically and give gifts.  And our expectations as guests are rather primal. We want something to see, eat and drink.  And that something should not be the banal everyday fare. We want to be honored witnesses. Food and drinks is how it is done.  A wedding is everyone’s party pronouncing family and community legacy and bonds.  Weddings tell us that we are not alone – we belong to the gathering.

The meaning of food and drinks:

The bride may trip and fall into a pool (watch this:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIbegxOwwpI  ), a groom may badly sing his wedding vows, or the wild flowers picked for the reception begin to release hidden unwanted crawly things.  But if the food and drink run out before every guest is served then you have it – a wedding humiliation! A funny story can be made out of the bride falling into the pool – even the bride has a great story to tell (and a viral video) as part of her wedding legacy but running out of food and drink does not bring the chuckles at family reunions when stories are being told and retold to children and grandchildren.  We would rather forget this poor planning. Giving out of food and drink at a wedding is a major embarrassment, and in some cultures a shame to the wedding party and a great offense to the guests.

All this wedding talk leads me to one of my favorite Jesus stories.  Early in John’s gospel Jesus performs his first miracle, or sign as John calls it.  Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding in Cana.  His mother tells him that the wine has run out and Jesus turns water into wine; in fact, really good wine.  This story is rich with gospel imagery and metaphor that foreshadows Christ’s grand cosmic performance-his death and resurrection. Read a few bible commentators to understand how deep this event truly is.  So, don’t make the mistake of reducing this wedding story to one that endorses getting sloshed at parties.  Nor should it be over-spiritualized to the point that it has no real connection to a real wedding and real wedding-goers.  Jesus responds to a potential emotional crisis. He rescues the bridegroom from one of life’s most common and distressing emotions: shame. Think about it. Jesus’ first sign could have been something so spectacular that everyone at the wedding is left slack-jawed; making him the center of attention.  Jesus, albeit reluctantly at first, due to timing factors of revealing His glory and purpose; does not want to stand around and see the bridegroom and his family put to shame. He changes mega stone water jars into a choice merlot and does so with no one knowing but the servants, who follow his instructions, his mother and his disciples.  And that is that. Later Jesus reveals power by healing the sick, facing off demons and controlling natural forces thus becoming the center of attention wherever he goes; but in this first miracle we have an understated Jesus understanding the pitfalls of a shame-based culture. Unwilling for shame to hijack this joyous occasion Jesus insures a “perfect wedding”.

 

 

 

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5 Books that Helped Me Grow Up:  “Good News about Injustice”

The list of 5 books that helped me grow up has to include Gary Haugen’s, “Good News about Injustice.”  Reading this book deepened my prayers  and convinced me that  even I could play a small role as a justice advocate for the global poor.

When my first daughter was born David and I were over the moon as we would be for our second daughter’s birth. We received the typical comments of well-wishing and congratulations.  One comment however surprised and alarmed me. “Maybe next time you will get that son.” From that moment forward I would be set on a course of paying attention to the worldwide preference of sons over daughters. The preference of sons over daughters I would learn was shared by women as much as by men.  I grappled with the implications of such a bias and found it hard to understand. As the only child of Dom and Marie I never picked up that a son would have been their first choice. I was never sent a message that my gender precluded me from doing anything I wanted to do and that included staying single if I so desired.  I enjoyed exceptional family acceptance.  Listening to an NPR report a year after my daughter’s first birthday explained this preferential inequality. Interviews of women in the developing world described their desperate need to be validated as a human beings. Producing sons seemed to be their only ticket to enter the human race as worthwhile people. The voices of these women in conjunction with the sociological and economic narrative made sense to me, albeit tragically sad.

When Maria, my oldest daughter, was a freshman she heard Gary Haugen speak at her college. She recommended that I read his book, “Good News about Injustice.” I did and I knew I could no longer be just a whiner about the injustice meted out to girls and women.

I prolonged the impact of my response to the book by leading a women’s study. The book came with a study guide that included biblical justice verses that would build our biblical justice literacy. I downloaded and showed a dateline special that featured Gary Haugen’s social justice ministry, “International Justice Mission” doing what they do best: exposing the evils of sexual and indentured slavery and human trafficking. This particular dateline special would reveal a sting operation that virtually brought down a popular sexual deviant destination in Cambodia that preyed on children.   The young girls who had either been kidnapped, sold or deceived into sexual slavery by a “Madam” and her minions validated the fear that in many places of the world being female was not only an undesirable gender preference but also a liability. They could and were commodities to be exploited.

I found that my prayers were more intentional for those caught in the web of poverty and sexual exploitation.  And, for the first time I was involving myself in political advocacy work. I was taking baby steps. No, I was crawling.  Off and on for the next decade I would meet with congressional staff members to get important anti-trafficking legislation passed, organize a seminar with an IJM staff worker to speak at my church, write letters to politicians, and work with other members in my church who wanted to push forward the cause.

In other words, “Good News about Injustice” helped me to grow up a little bit more into how one participates within the context of Micah 6:8.  “What does God require of you, but to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly before your God.”

Let me be clear.  I am far from being one of those at the forefront of justice movements.  And I don’t know if my meager involvements in the US or Middle East have made a tangible difference.  But I will say this: my conscience had been pricked and continues to be jolted. I take Christ’s example seriously and I am grateful for all those who work to end the terrible exploitation of the vulnerable for greed and lust. Especially, I am grateful for how God uses Gary Haugen and those he has inspired at the International Justice Mission to make a difference.

Gary Haugen recently gave a “Ted Talk”. He explains a new way of looking at poverty and its relationship to everyday violence.  Believe it, this 22-minute video is a must-see.  Once you watch it read Good News about Injustice and Haugen’s latest book, The Locus Effect.

https://www.ted.com/talks/gary_haugen_the_hidden_reason_for_poverty_the_world_needs_to_address_now?language=en

 

Nepal Earthquake: Thoughtful Eyewitness

The following was passed along by my friend, Justine, who worked many years ago in Nepal serving the medical needs of the under-resourced . It is a ‘must-read’……  Continue on and see why.

“The below is  from our friend, and former co-worker, Mark and his wife Deirdra. Mark is a physician in Nepal and at this time works with an organization to train physicians and health workers. They live on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. Mark and Deirdra  been in Nepal for about 30 years. Deirdra is from Ireland and is a nutritionist.

Please pray for Nepal, that this catastrophe would open peoples’ hearts to the ONE who heals and that all the aid pouring in can help the right people in a timely fashion.”

Justine

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Kathmandu,

30 April 2015.

Dear friends,

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Is.54.10

It was a cooler-than-usual morning for April in Kathmandu, more like spring in Ireland with heavy clouds threatening rain and a gusty breeze bringing a nip to the air. As Mark opened his sermon at our local Nepali church, he made mention of how several friends in the congregation had donned jackets and windbreakers again that morning, after several weeks of warm temperatures. The congregation of 120 or so, seated in rows on the carpeted floor, chuckled. I was sitting back towards the door into the main room of the church, having arrived a little late for the service. My mind, a bit tired after a busy week, wandered over various tasks that needed organising: a youth club meeting the next afternoon, a field trip for nutrition training the following weekend, birthday celebrations for both our boys in the month of May.


I suddenly felt a ripple beneath me, as if a snake was sliding through the concrete floor. Instant realization gripped me…


Mark was giving an illustration in his sermon that involved an escalator, and was struggling to explain these moving stairs to a congregation that had rarely encountered them. I suddenly felt a ripple beneath me, as if a snake was sliding through the concrete floor. Instant realization gripped me and, as the congregation collectively gasped, I pressed myself and Zachary down onto the floor, urging him desperately to cover his head with his hands. Standing on the dias, Mark took a couple of seconds longer to understand, wondering why someone had yelled out “earthquake” in response to his question about the Nepali word for “escalator”. He leapt down, joining a huddle of men, as the voices of the panicked congregation rose in prayer and pleas for God’s mercy. For over a minute, the entire room on the second floor of a four-storey building bucked and heaved as if we were in a dinghy on a stormy sea. I can still feel the concrete slab floor rising up and down as the pillars swayed all around, and the terrible acute sense of waiting for the ceiling to start falling in chunks on our heads has my heart thumping again as I write this.

Finally, the heaving slowed and then stopped. Our heads still swimming, we slowly looked around as prayers continued to fall from many lips. A couple of single girls began to whimper, and I felt myself close to tears. I quickly looked for Benjamin who had been sitting further away with a friend; he seemed a little dazed, but nodded that he was okay. Stunned at the severity of the earthquake, and equally by the fact that we all seemed to be okay, it took a few moments to decide to leave the building and with amazing control the congregation moved down the stairs, collected theirs shoes and regrouped out on the street. There we joined crowds of people, all evacuated out of their homes, all in shock at what they had just experienced. We stood in groups, at a distance from any wall and well-clear of overhanging electric lines. Individuals watched wires and hanging bells for any sign of further swaying. Amazingly, mobile phone networks remained functional and news quickly filtered in as people connected with loved ones. Clustered around a smart phone, we saw the first photos of an iconic nine-storey tower in the city centre that was now reduced to huge pieces of rubble. News that many houses had collapsed in an older part of town shook those who had travelled from there to church, and the crowd seemed to become more dazed as the enormity of what had happened sank in further. Then a rumble, and suddenly a strong aftershock sent us all crouching down into the dust of the road again. A short while later, our congregation tried to muster more prayer and a hymn, but it was difficult for folks to move beyond their acute shock and anxiety.

It was ninety minutes later before we felt safe enough to leave our church friends and attempt the cycle back to our home, 30 minutes away. Roads were empty of traffic, but lined with groups of people waiting, not sure what would happen next. In many places boundary walls had keeled over, spilling bricks and creeping vegetation out in front of immaculate middle-class homes, but we were amazed at how the buildings themselves were still standing remarkably unmarked. Arriving at our own lane, neighbours were sitting out in family groups in the street and our landlord’s extended family greeted us from garden chairs they’d gathered in the courtyard. Leaving the boys outside, we cautiously entered our apartment, wondering what awaited us. More amazement: no structural damage, most of our possessions intact and in place, a minor mess in the kitchen from a few broken bottles and some spilled water.

During the next 36 hours, frequent aftershocks kept us outside for much of the time. Some started as a low rumble before physically shaking; others occurred without warning as a loud bang and sudden, sharp jolt. As tiredness and tension built, it became difficult to differentiate true aftershocks from the swimming of our heads. Our boys constantly asked when and how bad the next aftershock would be and became quite agitated whenever Mark or I went indoors to collect anything. The vast majority of the city’s population set up camp under tarpaulins and plastic sheeting in the streets outside their homes and, 3 days later, remain there, too afraid to sleep indoors. However it is now clear that, after years of dire predictions, this city of 2 million perched on the edge of the tectonic plates that form the Himalayas has experienced a devastating earthquake…and in large part survived. Old crumbly housing in inner city areas was severely damaged with many deaths, and many historical buildings collapsed…but despite irregular and corrupt planning implementation, the vast majority of modern buildings remain standing. Total deaths in the city are only 1% of the previous predictions of 100,000 deaths. We await restoration of our electricity, water and internet services, numerous buildings need surveying for safety, and much of the city’s population remains very shaken. Nevertheless, we are profoundly grateful for how much we have been spared.

The earthquake that drove through the central hills of Nepal on Saturday April 25th, at 11.56 am, measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. It was followed by a separate earthquake measuring 6.9 just 24 hours later. The day and the time of the initial quake were significant. Schools and offices were closed. People had been up and out of their beds for some hours. Families were together.  Significant numbers were outside doing chores or for leisure. Nevertheless, unlike in Kathmandu, the outcome in the surrounding rural districts was catastrophic.

2 days later, Mark made a reconnaissance trip to the district of Sindupalchowk at the suggestion of the Ministry of Health. Just 3 hours northwest of Kathmandu, 30 miles by a damaged but open road, it is probably the worst affected district. Perhaps just 10% of buildings here are constructed with concrete and pillars. The remaining 80-90% of traditional stone and mortar homes are devastated: walls caved in, upper floors collapsed, gable ends blown out. Livestock, food grains, family members are buried under great piles of rock; grocery stores, workshops, livelihoods all destroyed. Mass cremations are taking place where bodies have been recovered; in other places the stench of death emanates from collapsed houses. Families and community groups are gathered in open fields with little in the way of food or shelter. The weather is colder than normal with frequent heavy rain.

The emergency response is enormous and chaotic as huge amounts of aid and personnel arrive into the country. Our windows continue to tremble night and day, only now with the roar of foreign military transport planes arriving. Predictably, a government which struggles under the best of circumstances is now overwhelmed with both the need and the response, and much of the aid is log-jammed in Kathmandu. In Sindupalchowk, Mark observed local health care workers responding tremendously to deal with the many injured, with severe cases being ferried efficiently to Kathmandu for advanced treatment. Yet little in the way of any aid has reached the tens of thousands of people huddled around their devastated homes and villages. Much wisdom and prayer is needed for the coming days, weeks and months as communities start to rebuild, that assistance will effectively and efficiently reach those most in need.

We thank you all for your many, many prayers and messages of concern and support. We again emphasise with appreciative hearts how little we have personally suffered in this terrible disaster. We ask you of course to continue to remember the people of the central hilly districts around us who have experienced so much loss and will need extensive support in the months ahead to recover.

Sincerely,

Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin.