Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Open Letter to parents, children and various sundry relatives

Church Weddings: Spiritual experience or just the same ol' "Bling?"
By Paul Dion, STL

I am taking the liberty to write this because I now feel that after I had a close-up experience of the topic, I have to be considered a superbly qualified expert in the field.
Some 18 months ago a young man, whom I know well, asked the parents of his girlfriend if they would consent to his marrying her. They agreed. He then proposed marriage to the lady and she accepted his proposal.

These two rather commonplace events caused a tsunami of universal economic proportions. I must confess that I did not in my wildest dreams ever imagine the lava flow of red hot details that were unleashed on that fateful Valentine's Day of 2005. (Please note that I am leaving out the surreptitious, "what if" gawking excursions in front of the jewlery stores to "check out her taste in diamond rings.)
Bright and early on February 15th the search for the dress began, followed by, guest lists, registries, restaurants, halls, limousine services, dress colors, number of witnesses, age of ring bearer, number of candles, church, time schedules, trimming back the guest list, honeymoon packages, wedding ring shopping, flower color, species and size, clothing for the men, best rental rates, food menus, invitation styles and printers, winery tours, countless hours of merciless advice talks from relatives who hadn't given them the time of day for years, the incessant reminders from certain parents not to forget cousin so-and-so who was the Godfather of your mother's second cousin three times removed, the seating arrangement at the reception, how much alcohol to serve and for how deep into the evening, the constant flow of recommendations of providers of photography services, not to speak of video services, what music to have, live band, electronic music, where to have the rehearsal night dinner and whom to hire as the event coordinator for the day, just to name a few of the gory details.

Some of you are now questioning my right to think of myself as an expert in these matters because I have left out, chosen to omit or just damn clean forgot a lot of the "essential" details. The above only qualify for the title, "secular" details.

The religious details go something like this: Her church or his church. (N.B. The two I know share the same religion) He's real active and has clerical friends. She sleeps-in most Sundays or goes to work, so maybe it might be better to use his church.
Well, I wouldn't jump to that conclusion so quickly, after all her great uncle from Spain bought the statue of the Virgin that's near the sanctuary, and her mother's Godmother is a member of the women's rosary club. You have to check it out. Then you audition singers, you spend hours selecting the Bible readings, the hymns you like, the pitch of the center aisle, who is going to clean up after the ceremony, is rice throwing allowed (The church they used has an Asian pastor, so you know the answer to that one), who is going to read the Scripture, how many candles are going to be lit, do the Godparents get to march in and out and who is going to impart the nuptial blessing.

This is only the first few paragraphs and I'm tired already, and so are they and they are still seven months away from the date.

There is a lot more that I could tell you about the myriad of material details that engulf the couple preparing for marriage. It's worse than Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day all rolled into one.

Even the religious preparations are mandated and "essential" to being eligible for a church wedding, and they too are, like everything else, expensive. I am convinced that the personality changes that I observed in the groom to be during this time were directly related to the social pressure under which he and his fiancée were operating.  And this was supposed to be a religious experience. In my opinion, it wasn't, not by a long shot. Oh, the church officials and dignitaries were there, reciting their nostrums and waving their hands, but no one in attendance really paid any attention.
I attended the church ceremony and was rather jarred by the reading from the Scriptures of the Jehovah Witnesses version of the story of Genesis 2. The person sitting at my left is a very knowledgeable person in Theology and she didn't notice a thing!
How could such a thing happen in our church? Easy, no one really cares. As long as the eye candy is there, IT is more important than the spiritual experience, both for the participants in the pews and the couple taking the vow.

The paparazzi were floating around during the ceremony and of course after the ceremony the picture taking went on for an hour. This, I am sure, was a continuation of what had more than likely started at the bride's house as she went through the process of waking up and getting herself ready for the big day. Just how important can all this be?  Is it a concerted effort to assure that the bride will arrive at the church late? Why is she late? Can't she be on time like polite and respectful people? Is it more important to be late and be noticed than to be on time for a religious experience?

Then of course we move to the reception site. More eye candy, gleaming table settings and more $1,000 suits and dresses. Expensive whiskey, signature beer and top label wine, loud music, silly little speeches, garter and bouquet throwing, money dance and a few more details that escape me for the moment.

My father would have been proud of the couple. They stayed at the party for the entire time. They didn't slip out to catch a plane and they were accessible to all the guests. Give them credit, they were there.

I'll tell you this, I've been to funerals that have meant the same to me as this wedding. They lasted three days. There was no doubt, the person who caused it all wasn't around to enjoy it, question it or fight it. There was no doubt, the family "celebrating" the deceased was enjoying the "bling."
Maybe funerals are good occasions for that sort of thing. But in both cases there is something that I find immoral.

Is it moral to spend forty percent of the family's annual income for such an event? Is it moral to put the family's willingness to spend lavishly on display in front of the recognition due the religious experience of the couple? Is it moral to kidnap the life of a family for over a year to focus on one event through a morass of energy sapping details?

Mothers and fathers, tell your marrying sons and daughters that you are not spending yourself into debt that will take longer than six months to overcome. Tell that to your relatives too. That means that you're planning a very small event indeed and that it is none of their business to tell you to do differently.

Sons and daughters, tell your mothers and fathers that if they have $50,000 to spend on making themselves look good at your wedding, tell them to make you look good by giving you $40,000 of it for your "settling-in" allowance and spend the other $10,000 for whatever they wish. If your parents cannot afford a lavish event, be reasonable, remember who got you there through blood, sweat and tears and be happily convinced that a marriage vow is a marriage vow in a $100.00 ceremony and celebration as well as in a $1,000,000.00 one. Your parents and family can help you more to a successful married life than 500 guests at a glitzy reception.
Parents, remember that it is not you who are being married, it is your children. Support them, but don't overwhelm them by your desire to impress the world.
Children, don't expect your parents to impress the world for you. Chances are, real life is waiting for you just around the corner, and real life doesn't operate on "bling".  If you need real help then, your parents will be there. If you've worn them out by having them fulfill your Cinderella dream, then neither they nor you will have anything in reserve for "real life."

I have already told my family not to spend more than $500.00 on my funeral. I won't be around to hold them to it. My marriage cost me the price of the license and a fifty dollar tip to the priest, thirty years ago.

I try to stay out of my son's wedding plans. I figure that they are none of my business. I will not buy him a gift out of a registry.  If I opine that a well planned album of family heirloom pictures is the right thing, that's what he's going to get. Neither he nor his intended, nor her family will dictate to me what I wear for the occasion, because that, I figure, is my business.

There are many of you reading this and not agreeing. There are those who agree, but are not the type to dare convention. There are those who agree and who will get it done. Those who succumb to either personal temptation or social convention to "bling" their way through, will start to cry long before my funeral.

Those who are careful and follow my prescription will have every reason not to cry at my funeral. In fact, they're the ones who will throw the party: cheese (Camembert and Gorgonzola) and crackers, local beer, two-topping pizza (spicy Italian sausage and prosciutto, anchovies on the side) all brought to a resounding close at about 9:30 PM with a round of VSOP Hennessy and Cuban cigars smuggled in through Vatican City.

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