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Celebrating Easter in a Mixed Belief Marriage

Celebrating Easter in a Mixed Belief Marriage

The spring sun is streaming through the sliding glass door as I write on my yellow legal pad. Outside, I can hear the prairie dogs giving their early morning squeals of delight. Spring always washes over my soul with a combination of exuberance and relief. This has more to do with the short days of winter than actual cold—our winters have been so mild lately, we barely get to play in the snow, much less become sick of it. But the short days and deep, dark nights wear me out in a way that defies explanation.

It’s no wonder we celebrate Easter at this time. It would be nearly impossible to rush into spring without some celebration of God’s grace complete with all the symbols of new life. I know, we’re all a little confused about what eggs and rabbits have to do with Jesus but you know what, I just don’t care. I’m in love with the whole shebang. Resurrection tinges our whole life with new meaning and if that lets us see an ordinary breakfast food as a riotous celebration of creation then I’m in favor.

My husband, well, that’s a different story. I suspect Easter marks for him the occasion of being dragged to church and forced to sit through a boring service in uncomfortable clothes. Unlike the children, who probably experience it the same way, he doesn’t even have the lure of a post-service Easter egg hunt to get him through. There is no whispering to a grown man, “Sit still, there’s cake after church!”

But there we’ll be on Easter Sunday, me in front corralling the Sunday School children and him in the pew, corralling our child and smiling through it all. This is the dance of our marriage: I’m religious and he’s not. By “I’m religious,” I mean, “I’m actually ordained” so it’s not just that I’m more spiritual than my husband in some amorphous way, my calling requires some real commitment from all of us.

Usually at this point, I’m asked “how does that work!?” with perhaps an incredulous gasp. The short answer is that it works fine. We’re far more likely to argue about my vegetarian cooking tendencies and his need for meat (and lots of it) than our differing theological views. Our faith differences are simply something we exist in.  

Of course, there’s still a part of me that envies the adorable church couples I know, the ones who serve on all the committees together and then go out for Sunday brunch afterwards. But then I also envy the adorable non-church couples I know, the ones who spend Sunday mornings sleeping in and reading the paper on their couch with large mugs of coffee. The grass is always greener on the other side and right now, I’m in the middle of two fields.

Our field is a little muddier, I suppose. We straddle the ditch, soaking up the run-off from both sides. It’s messy, yes. But it’s also fertile ground. Living with someone whose faith (or non-faith) differs from your own makes you both humble and brave. I am stopped daily from assuming that my white-suburban-woman-Christian way of viewing the world is the one and only way of seeing the world. Yet, I am also learning to hold my beliefs proudly, even when not safely ensconced among “the church crowd.” Spend 18 years with an atheist and you’ll discover they’re not all out to get you.

I don’t need to point out to any of you that our world is increasingly polarized. By all appearances, we’ve lost the ability to disagree without demonizing each other. We categorize ourselves into neat little boxes, seeing everyone outside those boxes as “the opposition,” and believe that anything short of getting exactly what we want is losing. We’ve lost the entire art of conversation and inquiry.

At the same time, our world is shrinking. Diversity in America is on the rise as we become a more mobile world. We’re connected to people across the globe through technology—being exposed to their views, needs and hopes virtually if not in person. Clearly, shutting down and refusing to acknowledge “the other” is not a viable option. And, I would argue, neither is fighting tooth and nail for “the other” to become more like us.

This is the gift of mixed-belief marriage. It’s also the gift of interfaith marriage, mixed-political marriages and mixed-race marriages. These are the places where people are given the opportunity to learn what it is to love across boundaries. More than that, the waves of people they touch are given the opportunity to love across boundaries. Given the increase of mixed-belief marriages in recent years, I’d say we’re all standing on the edge of a transformation. We’re witnessing to and creating a changing world, one in which the rules of both love and religion are changing.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more about mixed-belief marriage. I’ll be delving into a little bit more of the nitty-gritty. What’s hard? What’s works? How do we navigate holidays, spiritual practices at home, raising a daughter, career issues? And what about that Bible passage about being unequally yoked? For now, though, I’ll leave you with this: I believe in an Easter God. I believe in a God who is working through bunnies, colored eggs and empty tombs. I believe that in the hands of this God, all sorts of mundane and messy things become holy. And I believe that’s equally true of our relationships with one another, whether they fit into a neat box or not.  

A Beautiful Thing: Turning the Table on Wastefulness

A Beautiful Thing: Turning the Table on Wastefulness

FlowerWith another holiday around the corner, my family is in full swing getting organized for An Event.  If you’ve ever watched “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or any other movie about families, you know what this looks like.  You might even live it yourself.  Yesterday I had 3 multi-step conversations about who was bringing what for Easter dinner.  That sounds reasonable until you know that each of these people had also talked to other people and we were all just going around talking to each other, confirming with this person, talking to the original person.  This is why conference calling was invented.

Here is my confession: I am sometimes drained by these conversations.  (Again, if you have family, you know what I mean.  Other members of my own family feel this way.  I am not unique in my observations.)  Family get-togethers can be hard for all the usual reasons.  In my family they’re also hard because everyone gives too much.

I know, it sounds crazy on paper.  You know what, though?  It’s really true.  Our gatherings have so much food that we cannot fit the leftovers in the freezer.  The kids will end up with stockings, Easter baskets, trick-or-treat bags or whatever we’re celebrating from multiple grandparents, in-laws, friends, aunts and uncles.  On Christmas, my daughter came home with enough stuff to start a small toy store and I wondered with no small amount of irritation where I was supposed to put it all.

Plus, you know, the waste.

In each conversation I’ve had about Easter dinner, I’ve cautioned restraint.  I plan things with an eye for economy and efficiency.  I am cheap and do not enjoy eating leftovers for days.  In this respect, I’ve always identified with the disciples and their frustration over Mary’s extravagant “anointing” of Jesus with an expensive pitcher of perfumed oil.  In Mark’s account, this act is even the tipping point for Judas, the event that propels him into betrayal.

“Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.” (Mark 14:4-5)

No joke.  I would want to rebuke someone harshly too.  I have, indeed, rebuked people harshly.  “You didn’t have to do that.”  “That’s too much.”  “There’s always plenty of food.”  “The kids will be happy just to play together.”

Sometimes the irrationality of generosity makes my head spin.  A years worth of wages!  Let’s donate to charity instead.

Even as I type this, I’m resistant to say what I’m about to say.  I’m stuck on these ideas I have.  I want to take this reflection in a direction that inspires us all (me included, because I need the inspiration) to go live perfectly austere lives where we give everything to the poor, save the earth and welcome the prisoner.  I want to say that this expensive oil-bath was only ok because it was Jesus, and he was about to die.  I really, truly do.  Especially in the middle of Holy Week, which is all about somberness and reflection and the awareness of suffering that still exists in our world.  This week in particular, as I participate in a beans and rice fast to remember that many people do not have enough to eat, as I plan to wake up in the middle of the night on Friday to take my turn at our prayer vigil, as I long for wholeness in our world, I want to craft a lecture about responsibility and stewardship.  And many of you are reading this and thinking the same thing.  You’re waiting for that, ready to close the browser window if I don’t say something–quick!–about making the world a better place by simplifying our lives.

But then this scripture is here, nestled right in the middle of Holy Week itself.  It is a mystery to me.  I want Jesus to say something other than, “Leave her alone.”  I want him to appreciate Mary’s good heart but then gently guide her toward a better use of her money.  I want him to say, “”whatever you do for the poor, you do for me.”  Instead, he just sits here, asking us to ponder the miracle of this love, in all its materialistic, extravagant wasteful ways.  He says, instead, “love those in your midst while you have them.  Love them and love them lavishly.”  After all, the ever-present reminder of Lent is that we will all die.  From ashes you came and to ashes you will return.  In other words, no one will be with us forever.

So for this week, just for this one week, I’m going to stick with the mystery of this story.  I’m going to remember that out-of-control generosity is a blessing.  When Easter comes and there are 20 pounds of potato salad, 10 desserts, a ham too big to fit on the table and the kids are covered in melted chocolate from their 7th Cadbury egg, I’m going to remember that the ability to give big is indeed a virtue.  After all, these things–the too-many dishes, the planning, the excitement, the very wastefulness of it all–are a generosity born out of love.  It is a beautiful thing.

Love grafitti