A couple of days ago, Rowan Williams addressed the matter of weddings becoming ever more extravagant events:
Speaking at a debate entitled “Marriage: Love or Law” in London, the former Archbishop of Canterbury said that the “marketisation of marriage” must be curtailed.
He labelled the idea of “the perfect relationship crystallised in the perfect wedding day” as a farce, suggesting that it was nothing more than the product of “immense economic advertising investment in this massively fantastical experience … after which, of course, nothing is ever quite so good again”…
According to Lord Williams, who is now master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge, the way in which weddings have become hugely aspirational “experiences” as opposed to a simple public declaration of commitment is having a detrimental effect on the stability and longevity of marriages.
Reading this made me think of some similar remarks made a while ago by Duke Divinity School ethicist Amy Laura Hall:
The way that young Protestant couples plan their weddings bodes very ill for the kind of family they are hoping to become. You watch what a wedding is often about these days—it is about displaying one’s wealth to those one is eager to impress. If you think instead about the scriptural wedding itself, about being the open banquet that one hopes one’s marriage will be, I think weddings would look a lot different than they do. I think they would be on a Sunday morning service where everyone is invited. I think they would look more like a potluck than the kind of catered extravagances toward which even the middle class is climbing. I think the image of the banquet where the blind and the lame are invited, and those who cannot repay us, that image would be one in which to start a marriage.
As we’ve discussed at SF before, in a few recent posts and comment threads, heaping up expectations for weddings and marriages not only prevents us from thinking well about marriage; it also does single people no favors insofar as it paints an unrealistic picture of what they’re missing. Far better—or far more Christian—to think of marriage as an ascetic pursuit, and plan weddings accordingly.
But, of course, “ascetic” doesn’t mean “joyless.” When I read Williams yesterday, and then went back to the Hall interview, I was reminded of a wedding I attended in Portland several years ago. The reception was held in a converted barn. In lieu of a cake, the bride’s grandmother had made an assortment of fruit pies. Guests had been encouraged to bring their favorite board games, and we sat at round tables eating the pies and playing the games. The bride and groom made their way to each table, sitting with us and catching up with those they hadn’t seen in a while. Leaving the reception that night, the picture I had in mind of what they wanted their marriage to be was one that spoke of hospitality, of the fun that could be had with homemade food (rather than, as Hall has it, “catered extravagances”) and with the games that were already stacked in their home closet, rather than, necessarily, a night out. It’s a picture I wish more of us were attracted to.