I got married a week ago Saturday. For my fiancée and me, a wedding is neither a performance nor an escape from reality into a romantic fantasyland where “all your dreams come true.”
Rather, its center is the making of promises of faithfulness. Sure we’re “in love,” but we both understand that, with the wedding, we were stepping up to a higher level, which includes the keeping of promises no matter how romantic we may happen to feel at any particular time in the future.
For that reason, it was important for us to make those promises in a place where we would be aware of the presence of a God who keeps promises, surrounded by friends and family who love us.
And that is what happened. We were showered with love in the form of hugs, song, prayers and many “I love yous.”
But something else happened that made the day remarkable; you might call it an unintended consequence.
Person after person — after hugging and saying, “I love you” — added, in one way or another, “I wish our country would be more like what happened in this little corner of the world today.”
Here, I think, is where they were coming from. The prelude was performed by three white musicians playing classical music on piano, oboe and cello, followed by Pastor Pongsak Limthongviratn welcoming everyone to St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church. Next came three beautiful Thai young women doing a classical Thai dance of thanksgiving to a soundtrack of traditional Thai music.
The gathering sang a chant from the Taize community in France, a Native-American pastor gave the sermon and the Hope Tabernacle Praise Team — five African-American women dressed in African skirts who sing in powerful harmony — sang “Nobody Knows Me Like You” by Benny Hester.
And then there was the buffet at the reception in the social hall after the ceremony: Pad Thai, egg rolls, chicken satay, fried rice, pizza from Jimmy’s, arroz con gandules brought by Puerto Rican friends, rice and beans contributed by a man from Uganda and his wife who was born in Kenya.
And in that little community, which lasted three hours, was an 88-year-old and three toddlers, two folks using walkers, three gay couples, two trans persons, two homeless people, a couple from London (Canada), a woman who had been crowned Miss Manila, people with graduate degrees, and folks who hadn’t graduated from high school.
And the music included a hymn from the Lutheran Book of Worship, chants from a semi-monastic community, a popular contemporary Christian song, and the O’Jays’ hit “Love Train.”
Why did all of these different voices blend in harmony, causing so many people to remark that it felt like a fleeting glimpse of Dr. King’s dream?
I’ll use a metaphor to convey my sense of what happened. When I was growing up in northeastern Wisconsin, I spent a lot of time hiking and camping in the woods. In the forests in which I roamed, there is a large variety of trees all growing side by side — maples, oaks, cedars, white pine, Norway pine, birch, poplar. Some are deciduous. Some are conifers. Some lose their leaves in November while others remain ever green.
Two things they have in common — they are all rooted in the same rich soil and all reach toward the same life-giving sunlight that makes photosynthesis possible.
You see where I’m going with the metaphor, of course. Everyone who planned and/or led worship was rooted in the same spiritual soil and all were reaching, each in their own way, toward the same light. Their differences in no way got in the way of growing together side by side. That, in fact, is the natural way, the way the Creator intended it.
Right now I’m reading The Sin of Certainty. Author Peter Enns puts into words the kind of spiritual soil I’m referring to. It’s not a set of beliefs but a trusting, lifegiving relationship. A bucket [i.e. doctrine] may be necessary to carry water, but it’s the water that gives us life.
Enns writes, “Our beliefs about God [as well as our political ideologies] are precious to us because they give us a sense of who we are and our place in this chaotic world. And we often can’t imagine any other way of being ‘us.’ And so when we feel our beliefs are threatened, the instinct, understandably, is to guard them fiercely, to resist any move as long as possible. … But in resisting, we may be missing an invitation to take a sacred journey, where we let go of needing to be right and trust God regardless of what we feel we know or don’t know.
My wife and I wanted to begin our married life together rooted in and striving for a love greater than ourselves, a love that moves us forward on a “sacred journey.” As it turned out, that desire made the day special not only for the two of us but apparently also for many of the 80 folks who surrounded us.