From the Basement

September 3, 2010

And the Bride Wore… ?

Part of the reason I’ve not been blogging (on top of spiritual lethargy) is due to the fact that it’s a very, very busy time in my life: I just got engaged! My fiancé visited a few weeks ago, and he popped the question in a bookstore – very romantic. Suffice to say, we’ve been working on wedding planning.

My future father-in-law is a pastor, which means he’s doing the ceremony. He’s been wonderfully flexible, given that his son and I are not likely to pursue a traditional ceremony, but he raised the issue of the bride wearing white. This has sparked an inner debate for me, as I do not have strong feelings about wearing white and indeed am quote open to a variety of colors. Consider this my personal exploration of the issue.

To be sure, there are scriptural foundations for the bride wearing white. The basis for the claim is that the relationship between the husband and wife mirrors that of Christ and the church, and that as believers (the “bride of Christ”), we are washed “white as snow.” White symbolizes purity; the wife is, as it were, a pure gift for her husband. (Obviously, I start thinking, why doesn’t the groom wear white? Because shouldn’t the groom also be representing himself as pure for the bride?)

Of course, white dresses are supposed to be the mirror of an inward state: that is, a clean, pure heart before God. And I think we all know that plenty of brides who wear white do not have that inner heart attitude, just as many brides who wear color (in some form) surely do.

I think that if this has meaning for the bride and groom, it can be a beautiful thing. My main issue is that this is a suggestive tradition, not a prescriptive one. Just because sin leaves that crimson stain doesn’t mean that Christians refuse to don red, or indeed, that red isn’t found as a decorative color in many churches. And black is the powerful symbol of death, and yet we find black in churches and the clothing of churchgoers. And I know of many bridesmaids who have been dolled up in red and black by their friend, the Christian bride. So I can’t help but wonder if we take this color thing a little too far.

It seems like we pick and choose. Because the church is described as white, and because the bride represents the church, well then, we think, she should wear white! It seems we forget that the church is not literally white (whether we’re talking about the building and the people who fill it). Rather, it’s a beautiful metaphor, a visual clue for our limited human minds to help us fathom the greatness and wonder it is that God can look at us and, in Christ, find us clean and pure.

Incredible. Utterly incredible.

I think that the bride wearing white is a lovely symbol. (I think that a groom wearing white would be an even lovelier compliment, but, curiously, the church doesn’t seem too hung up on what the groom wears.)

But it’s dangerous to get so caught up in symbols that we forget what it is they’re representing. It can lead to thinking that if the symbol isn’t portrayed, then the purpose behind the symbol is also lacking. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The important thing for a Christian couple on their wedding day is not what they’re wearing. It’s the attitude of their hearts, towards each other and towards God. Christian weddings can – and do! – happen without the trappings of tradition: the dress, the flowers, the cake, the fancy readings. And those weddings are no less Real before Christ than are the ones that seek to include every tradition.

Here’s my question: if the bride’s heart is in a right condition towards Him and her future husband, is Christ displeased if she is not wearing white?

I cannot help but answer no. It is her heart and her faith that please him. Let us not be fooled into thinking that abiding by the traditions – however lovely they are – renders us obedient. Devotion to traditions can flirt with the line of legalism, of being bound by self-inflicted “rules.” (It is also worth noting that white wedding dresses are a largely Western custom.)

There are some subjects on which scripture is unfailingly clear (salvation, grace, “no one comes to the Father but through Me”). But on others, there is much silence, a point that has also been made by my future father-in-law. There is much said of marriage, but little of weddings.

Indeed, on the subject of weddings, the word of God leaves much room for interpretation. And just as there are Democrats and Republicans alike who are devout followers of Christ, so too are there “traditional” and “non-traditional” weddings which honor Christ as the center of that marriage.

The white wedding dress, then, is a choice – a beautiful choice, not a rule to be inflicted on every bride who follows Jesus. To those who defend its necessity, I feel compelled to ask a few questions:

  1. What shade of white? Are cream, off-white, ivory, and champagne acceptable choices?
  2. What color should the groom wear?
  3. There are some colors that have powerful symbols in scripture (red = sin, black = death) – are these wise choices, if we are considering the symbology of colors in a Christian wedding?
  4. Is it acceptable to have a color accent on the dress – for example, a blue sash or a gold lace overlay?
  5. There are explicit injunctions to modesty in both the Old and New Testaments. Where do we draw the line? There are many dresses on the market that are backless, have slits, or that are tea-length or shorter – not to mention the mermaid/trumpet styles, which hug the curves before flaring out below the hips or knees. And what necklines are acceptable? Are strapless, sweetheart, portrait, halter, or otherwise “low” necklines modest?
  6. There are also injunctions against extravagance. The following could be considered extravagant adornments: trains of any length, elaborate beading, antique lace, expensive fabrics, crinoline, lace overlays, fancy veils and headpieces, etc.
  7. The cost of the dress. We are called to be wise stewards of our money, which begs the question of whether a four or five thousand-dollar dress that will be worn once is a wise investment.

A few things to consider.

(Please note that I’m pushing those questions and issues as far as I can – I don’t think tea-length dresses are immodest anymore than I think a blue crinoline is extravagant.)

Last but not least is the question of beauty. It is readily assumed that most brides, regardless of creed, ethnicity, political belief, sexual orientation, or lifestyle, want to feel beautiful in a way that is authentic to themselves. Why do I bring up the question of beauty? Because, and this is so important, I don’t think you can read the Song of Solomon and say that Christ does not want the bride to feel beautiful, spiritually but also physically. The state of her heart is important – but so too is feeling content in her beauty before her future husband and Creator. Indeed, He extols His bride as beautiful time and time again.

Song of Solomon 4:1, 7, 9

How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are doves.

Your hair is like a flock of goats

descending from Mount Gilead….

All beautiful you are, my darling;

there is no flaw in you….

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;

you have stolen my heart

with one glance of your eyes,

with one jewel of your necklace.

On my wedding day, I will promise lifelong commitment, fidelity, and love to my beloved. We will make vows to each other before witnesses and, most importantly, our savior, Jesus Christ, the third (and central) cord of our relationship. And we will become one, man and wife, united in this life until we are parted.

What I’m wearing is really not that important.

June 4, 2010

It’s Wedding Season! (break out the Xanax)

I have four – count them, four – friends getting married in the next 15 days. I can only attend one of the weddings, which breaks my heart, but as a result of this nuptial frenzy, weddings are on the mind. I was discussing them today with a good friend and once again was faced with the fact that I am quite possibly the only woman in the world who does not like weddings.

Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled for my friends who are getting married. All four of them are with good men, and I don’t say that flippantly. And marriage itself, the institution at its heart, is something to be celebrated. But for reasons unknown to me, I find wedding ceremonies to be voyeuristic and rather awkward. I don’t know why. I feel like I’m – snooping? – into someone else’s intimate moment. I know that guests are meant to be witnesses to one of the most beautiful moments in someone else’s life, but still …

Strange though this predilection is, I’ve come a long way, baby, over the last two years. I used to be anti-marriage as well as anti-wedding, but a good man (and a savior with a great sense of humor) helped (is helping?) cure me of that … phase. I’d still rather elope than face a crowd of 200 loved ones in an embarrassingly tight white dress, but my boyfriend is stubborn. I figure that if I have to go through relationship Purgatory, it may as well be walking down an aisle.

This propensity may be why I enjoy movies such as Wedding Crashers. Don’t click that back button – stay with me. Notwithstanding Bride Friend #1’s amazing commentary for this movie, I truly enjoy the way the film pokes fun at weddings. The premise of the film is that two guys go to weddings to get laid by women who are supposedly floating on a sexual high (clearly, they never met me). Sleazy though that premise may be, the film does an excellent job of showing how predictable, commercialized, and non-personal weddings can be. They integrate themselves into the wedding experience, making toasts and dancing with flower girls.

In short, they show how overdone and predictable weddings can be in our culture. How focused on the tradition, on the ceremony, rather than on the couple. And this may be my issue at its core: is it necessary to have a bridal party? To have 200 guests? To have a champagne toast, a DJ, an ungodly enormous cake, ridiculous floral arrangements – is all of that necessary? Weddings, and the marriages that lie beneath them, have been turned into commercial affairs when, really, all they need to be are simple vows between a man and a woman, with the witness of an officiate and perhaps a few friends.

This is not meant to insult anyone, and it’s certainly not meant to upset my friends who are getting married over the next few weeks. I’m simply questioning the necessity of the ceremony, of the pomp and circumstance. Not of marriage, not of love, and certainly not of a couple’s genuine desire to share their day with their loved ones (however many hundreds there may be). After all, why should any two weddings be identical? Shouldn’t they be as unique as the people who are getting married?

I’ll end my thoughts here, because this is starting to venture off into rambling, but I just want to say: I think that weddings are awkward and at times over-commercialized, but love is supercalifragalisticexpialidocious (or however Mary Poppins said it) and marriage is something our culture has forgotten how to value. And beneath everything, buried under all that pomp that I can’t seem to ignore, marriage is what weddings are about. And I need to remember that. I think we all do.

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