Saturday, December 29, 2012

Catholic wedding traditions that aren't actually Catholic

1. The white dress.  That dress actually came into fashion after Queen Victoria's wedding, though I've heard white had been used in Jewish weddings, as it is the color of light and of purity.  For Christian weddings however, white only came into fashion due to it being a luxury. White cloth is very hard to keep clean and beautiful, so it was a sign of wealth to afford a dress you'd really only be able to wear once.  As time went on, we came to see as a symbol of virginity and of purity, which is why it is the color of choice for Western, Christian brides and especially Catholics, due to our strict sexual morality.

2. "Obeying" your husband. Of course, due to one verse in Ephesians, another in Timothy and some Old Testament ideals, groups of conservative Christians believe that a wife must submit to and obey her husband. People often mistakenly believe that, during a Catholic wedding ceremony, a bride has to promise to obey her husband.  That's actually a tradition that came from the Anglican church. Interestingly enough, the Catholic Church teaches that both a husband and wife must equally consent to the marriage and actually abolished arranged marriages under the Council of Trent.  Unfortunately, that is not always practiced correctly but we do believe in spouses acting as equal partners, even if our more conservative brothers and sisters still hold that the roles of each gender are different.

3. Being "given" away.  This tradition relates to the previous one, in the sense of our religion not always having the best reputation when it comes to seeing women as equals.  Further, in America, brides of all Christian denominations and in some non-religious weddings (haven't been to any other types of religious weddings to be able to comment) tend to walk down the aisle with their fathers, with a belief that he's "giving his little girl" away.  Most would be shocked to learn that the Catholic Church only reluctantly allows this practice, which actually originated in Protestant churches.  Because the bride and groom act as ministers of marriage (the priest doesn't "marry them", he serves as a mere witness) and our strong belief that men and women hold equal consent, the Church isn't comfortable with the idea of women being "given." That's why, even if a bride walks down with her father, the priest isn't allowed to ask, "Who gives this woman in marriage?" Instead, they recommend couples to walk together or at least walk separately with both of their parents but, because this tradition is entrenched within our customs, they allow it, but they describe it as the bride being "escorted."

4. Changing her last name. Most brides in the U.S. change their surnames to their husband's.  In very traditional Christian circles, including Catholic ones, it's recommended to show it as your husband being the head of the house.  Especially when a woman is devoutly Catholic, it can sometimes shock people to find out she has decided to keep the surname she was born with.  Interestingly enough, on Church documents, they still refer to the woman by the surname she born with, even if she has legally taken her husband's surname.  Further, in Latin American and other Catholic countries, women tend to keep their surnames and children are born with two surnames (and known by all of the surnames of their grandparents).  Like walking with her father and promising to obey her husband, this tradition also emerged from northern European and Protestant traditions, which is why it is so predominate in the U.S.

There are aspects of the wedding ceremony that the Catholic church is very strict about and a couple is bound to fidelity, entering a marriage freely and being open to the possibility of children.  The rite is regulated to ensure that these conditions are met and that God is given due glory in the ceremony.  Other than that, they really don't care what color the dress is, whether she's a Mrs. His Name or a Ms. Her Name, how she and her husband structure their marriage, etc. Now, individual couples, families, and priests may have their preferences but that's it.  So, if you know a Catholic bride who wants to shake things up with these traditions, remember that they aren't as enshrined in Catholicism as the public likes to think they are. 

You don't have to be rich to get married

I'm going to say this loud and clear. There are many things you should be and do by the time you are ready to commit to a life long partner.  But first, I'm going to tell you what you don't have to be.

You don't need to be rich to get married. You don't need to be settled in a career. You don't need to be thirty. You don't need to be ready to have kids. You don't have to have kids. You don't have to have a car, a house or any serious assets (though an IRA you contribute $50 a month to wouldn't be a horrible idea).  You don't have to live together to "try things out" before you get engaged. You don't have to have a huge, borderline ridiculous event or a magnificent diamond (especially considering environmental or conflict implications).  You don't have to be religious.  You don't have to believe in gender roles. All of those expectations were based on traditions that largely have no meaning anymore except for the meaning we, as individuals and as a society, give them.

We tend to view marriage as a step in maturity. It is and it should be.  You need to be financially supporting yourselves or able to support each other (and not living, as a married couple, in a parent's basement).  You should talk to each other about finances and come to a reasonable agreement about spending and saving money. You should negotiate and problem solve through tricky minefields such as familial relations and expectations for you individually and as a couple.  You should come to an agreement about sharing household responsibilities and understand why the other person comes to the conclusions they come to.  You should at least be on the same page about children, whether you decide to have them or not have them. You shouldn't be surprised if your partner changes or doesn't and above all, you need to recognize that marrying someone is a gigantic leap of faith and trust that one should carefully consider and take seriously.

Otherwise, do what you want. Start a business, join the Peace Corps, backpack across a continent of your choice, get your Master's, write a book, have a kid, buy a house, live on a boat, study with monks,  adopt a kid, run a campaign, raise sea monkeys, own a farm, the choice is yours. Marriage doesn't have to mean anything other than an intended lifelong commitment to each other and to whatever deity you profess, if you indeed profess one (understanding the obligations of your faith if you do).  It's your destiny. Do what you feel would fulfill your life and leave the opinions of your life to those who wish theirs were more exciting. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

TFA, celebrities, and a career in social justice

It should be a good thing that so many celebrities would want to use their fame and fortunes to help others.  It should be a good thing that young, bright college students would want to teach underprivileged youth in the hopes of solving the education gap, even if they have no intention of teaching beyond their mandatory two years.  It should be a good thing to devote your time to good causes, especially when it's easy to get caught up in life's comforts.

However, I am not sure that these are the people who should be considered the experts, the primary advocates of social justice.  Yes, they may have some experience in the field. They may have the heart and soul to do it.  They may have gained knowledge. All the same, if you had a serious illness, would you want someone who barely spent time working on your specific disease taking care of you, but was simply doing a brief fellowship? Or would you want a doctor who spends their life working on that condition taking charge of your care?

If your choice is the latter, as it would be for most, then shouldn't we want life long teachers helping to solve our educational crisis?  For social work, international development, education, for careers that demand your heart, brain, perseverance and extensive levels of education and credentials, do we really want to turn it over to those who might have the heart but likely not the experience or stamina to make it their lifelong career?

When we prepare people for the sciences, the health professions, engineering, and other such fields, we acknowledge that these careers involve extensive preparation and training as well as a lifelong commitment.  However, we choose to forget that for people who enter education, social work or international development.  We treat those fields as if anyone can do them, never mind that the people who choose these fields bust their butts to get the necessary credentials and experience. In addition, these same people have to justify their jobs and careers in the face of budget cuts and misplaced priorities, as they realize that our society does not particularly care about these same problems.  Portraying these fields as careers anyone can pursue with little training is dangerous to our society and shows that we truly do not prioritize these great needs.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Marriage = Settling Down?

When I announced my engagement, I remember seeing a lot of shock.  I'll admit, our courtship was quite a whirlwind and, while we had talked about marriage several times, we had also talked about postponing an engagement for two years.  As it turned out, we've been engaged longer than we were dating!  On top of that, we're in a bit of a transient state.  Unlike generations past, where couples were expected to stay in the community and raise children, we are still trying to achieve some measure of job security.  We have no immediate plans to have children, don't foresee having the ability to buy a house soon and aren't even ready to buy a car.  On top of that, we are lately fantasizing about saving money and taking time to simply see the world.  

To us, being married doesn't mean we have to settle down and live a "normal" life. It simply means that, when either of us travel and explore, we have our best friend with us. It means we can enjoy being young together.  It means we can still indulge our appetites of adventure and our thirst for life and learn to stretch outside our comfort zones together.  It means we can learn together and understand how we both can contribute to the world. To us, it doesn't make sense to stay rooted until we've figured out how to plant those roots.

The day my companion first told me he loved me, I made him promise me something. Before I would return his ardor, I made him promise to travel with me.  He said yes, which allowed me to say I loved him back.  For both of us, taking these steps put us in vulnerable, but rewarding positions.  We look forward to seeing how our adventures help us to grow stronger by putting us through the same experiences. 

Pray for Sandy Hook

Everything profound has already been said. I just ask for prayers and good wishes for this community.  I grew up very close to Newtown so it does hit quite close to home.  I can't imagine what it's like to be one of those children or one of the parents that has lost a child.  I only ask that people take a moment to remember.