I’ve just returned from a road trip out West to attend a Mormon wedding.
OK, I guess maybe I should explain a bit…
A family member got married last weekend. He married a beautiful young lady who happens to be LDS. (Mormon). A year or so ago, he announced his engagement…at least that’s when I heard about it… and that he had become a Mormon. Having received an invitation and wanting to wish the happy couple well, I ventured off to the wild west. What follows are my impressions of this odyssey…
I realize that in putting my thoughts and impressions down, I am placing myself into a tight little spot. This blog is not about being negative toward any group of people; far from it. I an striving to give a neutral account of the facts as I see them and experienced them. I will not get into theological, eschatological or doctrinal differences in this post; I don’t see that as being necessary. Christians and Mormons have different views on things; I think everybody knows that already…
The groom’s family are mostly Christian, the bride’s Mormon, this is important to grasp. In addition, most of the groom’s family had not previously met the bride’s family, so the bride’s family invited the groom’s family members whom they had not previously met to an overnight dinner in the Sacramento area where the wedding would take place the following day. The reception would be in Reno on Saturday afternoon.
For this gracious invitation, I must give them all the credit in the world; these things can always be a bit awkward at first and to go so far out of one’s way to break the ice and make visitors feel welcome is a gesture of good will that many would feel nervous about, and to put up several complete strangers overnight in a private home with your whole family is hospitality seldom seen these days.
Some in our group thought that the host family was a little ‘stand offish’ but personally, considering that we were strangers and not everyone is gregarious by nature, I can’t really say that myself; it was a challenging social situation, and the invitation speaks volumes. There was one little gaffe late that evening when I was referred to as “that dog” but it was quickly turned into a joke: nice save. I’ve heard that Mormons see non-Mormons as gentiles (dogs) and this could have slipped into this remark. Of course it was late, and a weary person might just have intended to say “guy” and misspoken… no big deal either way. As a kid growing up in LA, I had many Jewish friends whose grandparents called me a goi which means the same thing. I always responded with good-natured Yiddish and as a result was an ‘honorary Jew’ in several families.
The challenge came the next day: A Mormon wedding in a temple has restricted attendance. Many Mormons are not permitted to attend, and it goes without saying that non-Mormons are prohibited. Without question, this didn’t go over very well with the groom’s family since none of us were allowed to attend the wedding we had traveled to. Of course, we were encouraged to stand out in the parking lot during the ceremony, but we passed on this opportunity and returned to Reno. It may be that for us not to wait outside would be considered impolite… For the record, we all knew that we were not welcome at the actual wedding ceremony. You can just imagine how the groom’s mother felt. Did we behave badly?
On Saturday we attended the reception. I’ve never before been to a wedding reception that was so lacking in energy, if that’s the word for it. It might just have been me, but it seemed like there was an invisible wall in the room. In fact, my impression was that the room was ice until the very end. The best man was the groom’s twin brother, who also was not permitted to attend the wedding itself; sort of a culture shock to those not used to all of this. That little fact seemed to me to demonstrate the entire atmosphere in the room for most of the duration of the two-hour event. Other than visiting with old friends and acquaintances in more or less hushed tones, there was an air of “us” and “them” in the place. Even the bride and groom were not expressive in their happiness and joy, and they were seldom seen together. After about an hour and a quarter there was a “ring ceremony” in which the bride and groom exchanged their rings. As you might guess, this is where the groomsmen and bridesmaids stood with the bride and groom along with the Bishop in front of the room. The Bishop began by explaining that the marriage ceremony was a sacred thing that binds the man and wife together for all eternity rather than until death… this, he informed us is what Jesus Christ taught. He went on to say that the wedding ceremony was not secret, just sacred. (Nobody was interested in telling me about that non-secret ceremony, but I digress.) It was indeed interesting to note the expression on the groom’s face at this point; he knows that we know… The best man, a graduate student training to be a Christian minister of the Gospel did a wonderful job of maintaining a poker face through the ring ceremony.
The Bishop concluded his remarks with a short dissertation on the importance of family!
The climax of the reception came right after the ring ceremony when the best man, the father of the groom and the father of the bride gave their toasts (with sparkling cider). The best man’s toast was short and to the point, and included a joke that went back to one made in a toast at his wedding two years earlier by his brother (today’s groom). This was followed by the toast of the groom’s father, and then the bride’s father announced that he was the groom’s Dad.
If that last little bit went by a little too quickly, you might want to re-read it: The bride’s father announced that he was the groom’s Dad… right in front of the groom’s Dad!
The groom’s Dad, a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer, less than amused blurted out, “Hey! I’m his Dad!”
The bride’s father retorted, “I didn’t say I was his father, I’m his Dad.” and went on with his toast.
Ice becomes glacial.
To be entirely fair, I think he meant this to mean that the groom was welcomed into the family, not as an affront to his father. Even the most experienced public speaker can misspeak… and this was not said by a professional public speaker…
Immediately thereafter the party broke up, and we were informed that the groom’s family was to meet outside for a photo with the happy couple. The photo went off as wedding photos always do: smile!
After the photo, a young man who was best friends with the best man and groom while they were growing up, and who’s father is also a Mormon Bishop, was talking rather loudly about how the three guys had been each other’s best men. He was curtly interrupted by the bride’s father who told him: “That is too much old family history!” The young man appeared to me to react as a child who has been rebuked.
Later that evening, the groom’s family party met for dinner, the bride and groom came, but were too tired to stay and left before we ate. I’m sure that after several days of events and travel they were exhausted. Sunday was the day that they opened the wedding gifts at the bride’s parents’ home. The groom’s family were not on the invitation list as far as I know. Many of us were leaving for airports and train stations anyway, and frankly I’m sure that everyone was glad for the excitement to be over with…
In the final analysis, I’m sure that the awkward moments were unintentional, in light of the initial effort to be gracious and hospitable. People sometimes say the wrong thing to be funny, I do sometimes, and it’s only natural for people to hang out with folks they already know. Maybe my perception of ice had more to do with just being tired than anything else. Maybe we were not as polite and gregarious as we should have been, and the view from the other side is that we were jerks, and if that is the case I’m truly sorry for it. Maybe I see too much in a theological context and over think things; it wouldn’t be the first time.
But I have been to mixed religion weddings before. One in particular was a Catholic wedding that had a Jewish groom: The atmosphere was altogether different: Festive! Maybe this is because everyone was welcome to the actual wedding and there was no pall of exclusion in the air; I don’t know.
As I have been writing this, rather too long post, a commercial came on the radio. You might have heard it before; heaven knows I hear it about ten times a day…
It’s about a father and son doing the laundry. They are spending quality time, and it is from the LDS Church. I can’t help thinking about it after this past weekend and wondering if there might somehow be more than one definition for the word “family”. Have I just witnessed someone being pried out of his family? Time will tell. That commercial has a wonderful tag line that I will conclude with, and you dear reader can decide for yourself whether or not you agree with me that it is strikingly ironic::
Family: isn’t it about… time?