A little over a year ago I officiated the wedding of a young couple. They have been together a long time and came to this decision to get married intentionally and unhurried. (Unlike Tom and I who were 21, barely formed embryos!) The bride was raised as a Christian protestant and the groom’s family heritage is Persian, Islamic. The couple is not particularly religious but wanted to get married by a Christian pastor and to honor both of their family heritages. When we met to discuss the service they told me his family wanted his uncle to do a traditional Persian blessing and they thought maybe it could happen as an add on after the Christian service. The more we talked the more I realized the golden opportunity we’d been given. This needed to be one wedding service in which both cultures and faith traditions could be recognized, honored, and celebrated. I really sensed this was important but I wasn’t sure how it was all going to work. Walking in to the rehearsal the day before the wedding I worried how this would go. Would the uncle and groom’s parents resent a Christian woman officiating the service? Would the bride’s family think the way I handled the service be Christian ENOUGH? How would the pieces fit together in a way that would honor the love these two felt for each other, their families, and the diverse heritage they brought to the marriage?
Grace, like cream, rose to the top. A joyful partnership developed as we all prepared the service together and, in doing so, all present had an opportunity to experience love of God and love of neighbor. The venue was lit with beautiful candles. During the wedding ceremony passages from the Bible were read. Passages from the Koran were read. Christian prayers were offered. As the Persian blessing was offered, the couple sat at a table set exquisitely with candles, fruit, and sweets. Each faith tradition was celebrated with integrity and each was respected by the other. It was a little chaotic in places, maybe even a little awkward in moments as eyes and hearts were opened to the rhythms of each other’s traditions. And, Love was present. Peace was present. God, the Divine, was present. From the response of many there, I surmised it was a welcome moment of connection at a time in history when there is so much disconnect. A respite from the all too often violent polarization of the world. Connection in our joy for these two as they pledged their lives in love to one another.
In recent days I have watched in sadness the result of fear of the “other” in the world and the negative impact it has on us all. My hunch is we all participate in it in one way or another. Recent actions and events force me to look in the mirror. I am confronted with my own wall building fear of the “other”. I fear the “other” because I don’t want to be hurt, to lose, or to be outsmarted. I want to be safe. And I want these things for my family. I suspect the “other” fears me for the same reason. And, tragically, increasingly we are being conditioned to fear each “other”. Instilling fear of the “other” is a powerful tool of oppression. The “other” way of thinking. The “other” way of believing. The “other” way of seeing and living in the world. What better way to weaken us than to divide us by our fears. Whether that be with physical walls and bans, or with ideological constraints and the silencing of voices, the results are devastating to our shared humanity.
I know, in my heart, there must be a better way than following fear. I remember back in the 1980’s (I’m an old old dog!) there was a woman in an aerobic class I taught who practiced Islam. (Did I, by admitting to wearing leg warmers for a living, just lose whatever little credibility I had with you?) We struck up a friendship based on something we saw in each other that was appealing in our shared humanity. Maybe it was our common desire to be fit, or love of 80’s music. Whatever it was, we intentionally moved closer to the “other”. We talked about the difference in the names we used for the Divine, but in a way that sought connection not division. I’m not sure why she came to mind today but I guess it is God’s way of reminding me that curing the fear of the “other” begins with intention.
These fear induced and pride filled divisions in the world are complicated and I know there are no quick solutions. And yet, as a living breathing creation of God, breathing the same air with all “other” creations of God, I believe it will take each of us and all of us setting our intention and moving beyond our fears and angers, not being ruled by them, to establish any kind of lasting connection in the world. I guess many would disagree with me but I saw sprouts of this in the women’s march and in the presence at airports. Yes, there were angry speeches and ugly signs. And yet, in spite of hate, I saw the fragility of the collective human spirit taking beautifully awkward steps of love toward and on behalf of the “other”, an awakening of sorts.
Regardless of our differences, many as they may be, we already have the common ground set before us. We are all human, created in God’s image, given breath and purpose for connection. We all have the capacity for fear and hatred. We all have the capacity for pride and stubbornness. We all have the capacity for remorse and forgiveness. We all have the capacity for courage and love. And, we were all created by Hope. Hope that we would find a way to love one an-“other”.
Something to chew on….