Before last Saturday, the previous three weddings I'd attended were in Pakistan and India. You know the setup. Weddings that go on for days. Dancing that goes on late into the night. Gold jewelery and glittering precious stones practically lighting up the room. Women wearing more makeup than a corpse. Hordes of cousins and aunts and uncles and family friends and children dressed up in little suits. The bride and groom sitting patiently on a stage having their photo taken with never ending waves of relatives.
A tiny fraction of the diamond and gold jewelery worn at an Indian wedding earlier this year
I'd never been to a wedding in the Southern U.S. before. When I found out that my peace studies classmates Jonathan and Diana were having a part of their wedding celebration in Atlanta, Georgia, I welcomed the chance to attend. Since Jonathan is from Atlanta, and Diana is from England, their marriage is a mixed marriage -- one of those where people think a little differently from each other beyond what color to paint the bedroom. The weddings in South Asia had been among identical couples -- the same religion, ethnicity, nationality, and socioeconomic class. Only the gender was different. Di and Jonathan are both Christians, and their education is naturally as close to the same as you're ever going to find, but here Di was marrying someone in whose church people speak in tongues. That's just not done in England.
Di and Jonathan exchanging vows in Jonathan's church
The service was held in Jonathan's church. Near the church entry, scenes from their wedding proper in Oxford played on a couple of monitors. The back wall was dominated by a large sign that said "SEEING THE UNSEEN" and an American flag. People sang songs about Jesus their savior. The atmosphere was relaxed, caring and inclusive. Anyone who wanted to could participate during the prayers for the couple. Jesus's name was proclaimed loudly and regularly. The very high esteem felt by Jonathan's community for him marked every prayer. None of this was surprising. What was surprising -- shocking almost -- was when one of Di's family friends, a tall silver bearded Englishman in his fifties, spoke of Jesus and the couple so enthusiastically that he ended up shouting loudly into the microphone. He out evangelized the evangelicals on their own patch. I never thought I'd live to see that.
A light hearted moment during prayers
Another peace studies classmate of ours, Elizabeth, had already married her sweetheart, Dylan. Dylan is from rural Kentucky. Elizabeth is Mexican, and proud of her indigenous heritage. They both attended the wedding. Dylan was wearing a sweater from the University of Notre Dame. On it the coat of arms of Sorin College was proudly displayed. A local asked him if he was one of the English guests.
Elizabeth and Dylan. Their marriage was in Mexico City. Elizabeth is Mexican and Dylan is from Kentucky.
Dylan and I had a chat about mules. Mules are what happens when a male donkey and a female horse have a good time together. They're prized for having the best characteristics of both animals. The Wikipedia entry for a mule observes it "possesses the sobriety, patience, endurance and sure-footedness of the donkey, and the vigour, strength and courage of the horse." They make wonderful working animals. I confess that I might be one of the few people on Earth ever to have contemplated the mule as a metaphor for the benefits of mixed marriages. But it's true. I did for a while.
There's only one problem with mules: unlike a horse, who mostly kicks backwards and occasionally forwards, a mule can kick in all directions. Another characteristic of mules is that they're almost always sterile. That's not so much a problem for the farmer -- they can always breed some more. But it can be problem for the mule. They can feel the desire to get laid but lack the reproductive equipment needed to act on it. Dylan told me a story from rural Kentucky some forty years ago. A female horse was in a field beside a male mule. The horse was in heat. The owner of the mule didn't stand a chance. This mule did more than just kick. By the time his body was found, the mule had taken out his rampant sexual frustration by using his powerful jaws to almost sever both of the unfortunate farmer's arms from his body.
I know what tragedy is. That's when you get a kick in the guts, get up after a while, only to get another one before you've had a chance to fully recover, and so on. Repeat until death. But I've never seen anything try to chew a person's arms off. That's a new one.
So much for the mule as a metaphor for countless the blessings of mixed marriages. Still, there must be a metaphor in there somewhere, right? After all, there is the "elephant in the room". Everyone knows that. Perhaps there could also be "the frisky mule in the field". Hmm. That probably won't work either.
Performing a religious song in front of an American flag
It often seems to me like a good mixed marriage is a miracle of sorts. The miracle is not that they work. Cultural differences pose no insurmountable barrier when the love is true. The miracle is that they work in spite of the skeptics and naysayers who sometimes make it their eternal mission to sow the seeds of doubt and division. In these two peace studies marriages, even if such thinking did exist somewhere, it wouldn't have stood a chance, given the loving support the couples received.