“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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“I said I was sorry, what more do you want?”

My husband and I had just exhausted an unpleasant argument several years ago when he said something that became a ‘click-moment’ for future apologies.  I have taught it to others-clients and friends.

The argument was unbalanced.  Neither of us were innocent but I knew and he knew that this time I was the over reactor and the unfair wordsmith-er.  (He just now read this part, and says that he has no idea of what I am talking about but is getting mad on principle. He also guessed that the phrase that I am soon to reveal is not, “love is never having to say you are sorry”- made famous by 70’s movie and book, “Love Story”).

Aside:   I’m amazed this phrase actually stuck in our collective consciousness even though none of us have ever believed it.  In fact, I got married about the time that movie was still popular and even I, a love-struck young woman, knew that “love is never having to say you are sorry,” was a bunch of hooey.  In fact, once again, before I leave this teaser, I actually included in my wedding vows something about “needing to forgive and ask for forgiveness” (Those were the days when we thought we were too cool and clever to use the traditional vows and now we are too embarrassed to reread what we actually said to each other.)

Back to the argument that taught me what more was needed to be said to mend a broken-hearted fence.

After I came to my humble senses, I confessed to my husband that I knew I was the major provocateur and was sorry.  I even went as far as to say, “Will you forgive me for saying what I said?” He said, “Yes,” and I extended the apology with more words of contrition.  It took me a few minutes, however, to realize that the fence was not mended and it was not because he was still angry with me. He was still smarting and feeling the burden of the offense. Finally, he took a leap of trust and vulnerability and asked me the question that showed me the true nature of the hurt I caused.

“I sense you are sorry but I need to know whether you actually believe what you said about me during the argument.”

My surprised reaction to this question led into a new insight of what it takes sometimes for relationship reparation and healing.  My response was surprisingly a new one for me and possibly a God-inspired one as I witnessed the relief that my sincere words brought to my husband.

“No, I do not believe what I said about you.  I said it because I was angry, hurt and verbally undisciplined. You did not deserve those comments because they are not what I fundamentally believe about you and again I am sorry to have put you through that.”

So, are you wondering what I said that caused the hurt? I am not really sure as it happened awhile I go but I can guess from knowing how thoughtless arguments go among folks that it was probably in the vein of some kind of “you are” character slam like, “You are selfish, or you are thoughtless, or you have to always win or be right, or you are immature,  or you are always judgmental or you always only care about yourself or any number of careless,  lousy communication statements thrown around when disagreements arise among spouses, friends, children, parents, and, more rarely because we don’t take them quite for granted, co-workers and employees.

We have all heard that when we argue we must stay away from the “You are” statements or the “you are always or never” statements and stick with the “I am feeling this or that when you do or say this or that” statements. So, I am not going to bore you with what you already know about good communication practices but maybe don’t always practice!  But I do want to explain why the apology I gave my husband may be necessary for reconciliation.

When we launch a character slam statement something deep and rarely examined is triggered in the offended party and this is so, even if the offended one knows that the statements are over the top and spoken in anger and poor judgment. In every criticism, regardless of its unreasonableness, there is a part of us that thinks there is truth to it.  And you know why? Because there is, even if that truth is only true 1 percent of the time.  None of us are always virtuous all of the time giving unconditional positive regard and love to those we care about.  So, even the one percent truth of the “you are” statement stings and dregs up self-doubt and self-condemnation. The offended one has two hurtles to navigate: one: the unfairness and hurtfulness of the statement, and two: the anger and hurt resulting from a wounded self-worth. An apology that restores respect (“I am sorry, forgive me”) and healing (“you did not deserve that because it is not the big truth about you”) is restorative and therapeutic.

Theological understanding for the offender:

“Don’t judge lest you be judged with the same measure of behavioral standard that you are judging the other “- roughly paraphrased, “For every finger you are pointing at someone there are 3 fingers and a thumb pointing back at you.”(Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7:1-5)

“No one but God is perfect in love and righteous judgment.”  Show respectful humility about who you are and who God is. Muster up empathy and humility to admit that someone did not deserve your harsh judgment. (1 John 1:5-8)

Psychological understanding for the offended – two points and commentary:

When the shame of being exposed by hurtful comments from a loved one arises, wait for the dust to settle and ask for clarification.  (“Is this really what you believe about me?”)

Claw yourself out of self-denial and self-condemnation and humbly realize with gratefulness that true self worth is found in being a forgiven child of God through the sacrifice of Christ not in some attempt to be always well thought of in some feature of appearance, performance or status

Jesus is the perfect one; not me, not you, not anyone.  And after countless generations He is still being loved by many.  He, unlike us, is undaunted by criticism, accusation or even flattery.  He is the perfect self-possessed being and therefore, unlike us, has the only love that “never has to say I’m sorry.”