How To Talk About God, And Your Wedding, With Your Future In-Laws

Posted: February 6, 2015 at 2:48 pm


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This past June, I got married. It was one of the best days of my life, and I hope to never have to experience it again. As anyone who has been through one knows, weddings are a deeply magical experience festooned with deeply unmagical questions: inside or outside? Who pays for what? Is beet salad an "appropriate" main dish? Should we rent these ponies? Behind which bush do I need to crouch to smoke my cigarettes, and do I need to wait to play "Big Pimpin'" until after dark?

But never were the conversations with my fianc more tendernever was the pink belly of Us more exposedthan when discussing the ceremony. As it should be, I thinkthe ceremony being the formalized articulation of the union, the part that should ideally express your private identity as a couple and yet serve as something that your friends and family can feel included in, too. Having been to a handful of priestless, DIY-type occasions before (and having officiated one myself), I was inclined to script the ceremony ourselves, in collaboration with an officiant picked from our friends or family. After some good, long conversations, my now-wife and I settled on our target: her dad.

Some background: Both my wife and I are Jewish. For those who don't know, Jewishness, the identityas opposed to Judaism the religionis one of those unavoidable technicalities of birth: You either are or you aren't. (There's a good David Cross bit in which he tries to tell a rabbi that he doesn't feel Jewish, to which the rabbi keeps askingin his placid, rabbinical wayif Cross' mother's vagina is Jewish, a fact he can't talk his way out of.) As a kid, I went to Hebrew school and got Bar Mitzvah'ed; in college, I came home for the high holidays and led my family's Passover Seder. Jewishness was never something I enjoyed or felt close to, but I performed it the way I mowed the lawn or cleaned the house: Dutifully, with a tinge of grudge that always dissipated into mild boredom. Setting aside the specifics of my own beliefs for a minute, I can say that Rabbi Silverman would probably be disappointed, and yet as someone fully indoctrinated to Jewish guilt, I feel compelled to tell Rabbi Silverman publicly that I'm sorry.

My wife had a better experience, and still maintains a kind of abstract commitment to the idea of it"it" meaning "being Jewish." Her parents are more formal in their practice. You can see the conflict taking shape here, regarding the wedding: We wanted to be true to ourselves, fair to each other, and respectful to her parents, especially considering that it was her father who would be doing the spiritual and legal business of putting us together.

I concede that this situation could have been infinitely worse: Her parents didn't consider me a heathen or think I was going to burn in hell for what I did or didn't believe. (My wife's sister had the very sad experience of having her childhood rabbi decline to marry her and her husband because his family was vaguely Christian, despite the fact that her husband personally wasn't religious one way or the other and made his peace with raising his children Jewish cleara miserable, disillusioning situation.) Still, the friction was there. Would we say prayers? Would they be in English or Hebrew? Would we invoke God, and if so, would we invoke God as such?

At first, I tried to register my feelings in the most general terms possible: I didn't want to have a religious ceremony. It turns out that what constitutes a religious ceremony is up for some seriously passive-aggressive debate. Then I tried to register my feelings with bureaucratic specificity, as though programming a microwave: I'd prefer if there wasn't Hebrew, I'd prefer if we didn't use the word "god," etc. Mostly this served to escalate things to their inevitable head: a conversation with my almost in-laws about god. Humbly, some tips.

1. Know what you believe.

If this seems like an insultingly easy step, congratulations: You're probably already living on top of a mountain, breathing deeply of the aspens and firs, spending your mornings riding a bicycle and your afternoons embedded in haiku, with a few minutes of checking up on investments before dinner, which you will take amongst the elk. For most people, though, I sense that this is a process that takes one's entire young life to work out, with plenty of paralyzing moments of questioning afterward. (I can't say for sure, because I don't think I'm old enough just yet.) It wasn't until I considered dissenting from my wife's parents' beliefs that I realized I wasn't entirely sure of my owna realization that I probably should've made on behalf of my own parents, but I've already apologized to Rabbi Silverman, and I risk dignity if I get too loose with my regrets.

What I'm trying to say here is that maybe you need to take yourself into a dim corner and ask yourself what it is you really want out of this religion-and-spirituality thing. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's everything; in any case, when entering a space in which such topics could be of interpersonal consequenceplanning a wedding, for exampleit would serve you well to have been seriously honest with yourself, outside the shadow of your parents, outside the shadow of your community, etc. I joke with my wife that if she wants our children to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah'ed, I'm fine with it, as long as I can drive them deep into the desert with a gun and a huge sack of marijuana after the ceremony, because in god's eyes, that's the day they become an adult, and in turn should be given the adult privilege of making adult decisions. (They could shoot the gun or bury it in the ground; they could smoke the marijuana or feed it to a horse. This is one of the many ways I undermine my rearing.) Point being that if you're getting married, there's a good chance you're already an adult whether you realize it or not, so do yourself a favor and treat yourself like one. Ask yourself: How do you feel about the metaphysical world?

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How To Talk About God, And Your Wedding, With Your Future In-Laws

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February 6th, 2015 at 2:48 pm