Columnists > Voices
Krieg Barrie

Wedding bills

Marriage | Finding the meaning in matrimony, and other forms of commerce

Issue: "Surviving Syria," June 1, 2013

I’m thinking a lot about commerce these days because our family is engaged in more than its reasonable share of it. Among my children are two weddings this year. You may congratulate me, because it’s some of the best news to arise in any family, and our hearts are glad. 

But it’s also true that we live in a culture that silences our hearts, as my pastor said recently. Even in this happiest season, a time to celebrate love. Many things we take “to heart” are actually passions of the flesh—and that’s why Peter warns us “as sojourners and exiles” to abstain from those passions because they “wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). 

Through months of planning and anticipation I’ve had more encounters with “passions of the flesh” posing as must-haves, and with forces in our culture ready to silence my heart and numb my soul to the deeper, lasting joy of these sublime occasions. To put it another way, the to-do list reigns, the budget-busters rule, and the meaning of marriage gets lost.

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Wedding commerce has made a booming secular market of what once was a church-centered event and, in many Christian communities, a sacred rite. The Knot, Pinterest, and Martha Stewart—not to mention we who know better—can turn weddings into commercial fetes and drain them of their purpose: To seal before God and men that “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:31) when a man leaves his father and mother to be united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.

In the United States today’s betrothed couple or their family, according to one extensive survey, will spend on average $25,660 for their wedding (honeymoon not included). That’s what my parents spent on their first family home. For many newlyweds that signifies another concrete slab-sized debt layered onto a matching pair of college loans, a car loan or two, and a mortgage. 

After an immersion in this alternate universe—venue and vendor shopping, rental this and that, guest lists and per guest pricing—I was not only in sticker shock but weary of the meaninglessness and impersonality of it all. It’s not for nothing that Steve Martin in Father of the Bride lost it in the grocery store over hot dog buns and yelled: “George Banks is saying NO!”

Thankfully, Christians living in a vibrant community have ways out because fellow believers are ready to help. My church has a kind of lending library for weddings—down to tablecloths, vases, and candle holders—and keeps an active list of church members who are ready to assist, from baking to serving to carting things. 

But bringing the meaning back is about more than cutting costs. It’s about being “the makers of manners,” as Shakespeare would say. That means we can let go of things for pure show and instead serve those who surround the bride and groom on their wedding day, reflecting for a wider world not only a happy marriage but a happy community too. And that’s about investing not only in the wedding day but also in the process of getting there, and making it all good. 

I started asking people who’ve known my children, and a few who just know me, to help with things I know they enjoy doing (and are good at). This was the universal response: “I’d be honored to do that.” 

To ask and to receive is humbling. But freeing. It opens the door to a wider conversation about the state of American commerce, and its heart-silencing, independent (and expensive) tendencies. 

Successful early American enterprises, led by John Winthrop and other Puritans, insisted on careful planning and, for that time, a flagrant disregard of social classes. They depended on habits of thrift, hard work, and interdependence. Cotton Mather, the Puritan pastor, would later complain that the work ethic of the Puritans “begat prosperity and the daughter devoured the mother.” It worked so well we could forsake first principles and rest in our riches.

Weddings, and other occasions, are a great time to return to first principles, then enjoy the riches.


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