Friday, September 21, 2007

Dad's homily

It's not every day that a daughter gets to be married to the man she adores by her dad. My dad sure outdid himself with his homily for us on Sept. 1. Here is the closest approximation of it that my dad has:

I’ve had too long to ponder what I might say today! A father runs into that difficulty at his daughter’s wedding. This homily’s been changing every day. I finally came to comfort myself with the realization that a bottle of good wine will taste different tomorrow from today, and like a bottle of wine, this is what’s being served today.

I settled on a word, a name actually. “Thurber.” James Thurber. Until recently, Thurber was Dana’s favorite author and I recall reading a paper she had written on Thurber back in her college days. As for Paul, well, you did buy a house on Thurber Street.

One of the essays in The Thurber Carnival is called “The Secret Life of James Thurber.” He claims he wrote it just after dipping into the autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Thurber admits his own life story is rather mundane and even boring beside the bizarre incidents of the celebrated artist. He does admit, however, to some excitement in what he called “my secret world of idiom.” Thurber describes the imaginations his mind conjured up when he heard a realtor tell his partner that the lock to a certain house is a common one and “can be opened by a skeleton.” He writes about the picture in his mind when hundreds of thousands of business men call their wives every day to say they will be late for dinner because they’re “tied up at the office.”

Just imagine the picture of Dana and Paul bringing family and friends together to watch them “tie the knot.” Or since we’re all here at a horse farm, to see them “get hitched.”

The trouble with idioms, of course, is that they are difficult for people outside a given culture to understand. Either they conjure up all kinds of strange images (ala Thurber) or they are completely incomprehensible. Idioms need not apply for entrance today.

According to the words Alice read us from Genesis 2, marriage is not unique to a particular culture or language or even religion. It’s for all humans, and therefore idioms won’t work. No matter what view you take about human origins, that ancient biblical story involving Adam and Eve is about meaning for humanity. Specifically it’s about human relationships, and it announces for all the world to hear that the first human relationship—and the one that’s foundational for all human society—is marriage.

The story, I think, is every bit as comical as James Thurber’s essays. God had just created Adam, and after watching him streak around the Garden of Eden all morning, God decided something was wrong. “Oops! Not good that the man should be alone,” God decided. “I’ll make a partner for him.” And then in Thurber-esque fashion, the storyteller informs us that to provide a partner God created the animals and paraded them past Adam to see what he would name them. But he named none of them “partner.” Another “Oops!” And so God performed this nifty surgical trick, and one of Adam’s ribs became the desired partner. Adam now could name her “woman” because she was made, he said, from “man.” Honestly, I think it’s a very funny story.

But beyond funny, this story of the first marriage is also a classic comedy! Dana, do you remember some years ago, I called you on the phone and told you I had just read how a literary critic defined “comedy” and I wanted you to tell me if it was accurate. Without my reciting it to you, you told me that comedy was a story that ended with the major character(s) coming together in a community. You confirmed my source.

“Not good to be alone.” Alone is a tragedy. God saw that clearly. Community is a comedy. And the foundational form of that comedy for the human community is marriage That’s the message of the humorous story in Genesis 2.

And 43 books later in the Bible, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus defines the content of community. Every relationship screams for content. Jesus was gathered with his community of disciples the evening before he died, and he wanted them to understand what would keep the comedy going, what would keep the community alive. He said it clearly, without idioms: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” It wasn’t funny, really! His love for them and for the rest of us would mean his giving his life.

Jesus was not talking specifically about marital love. He was talking about self-less love, giving love that sustains a community, that keeps the comedy alive.

But if that’s the kind of love we are all to give to one another for the sake of community, how much more is it the kind of love that holds together the basic form of human community, marriage. Today you vow to each other that kind of unconditional, self-less, life-long love. And when you do, you’re committing yourselves to a life of comedy!

Some years ago I spent a lot of time in the Upper Midwest. I learned from many folks up there about the typical Norwegian Valentine. “I told you when we got married twenty-one years ago that I love you. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

Now there’s another book I’ve been reading this summer. Perhaps you’re familiar with it. It’s called The New Influencers. There’s one word the author of that work uses over and over: “Update” At one point the author quotes someone else: “be willing to yield control of the message in favor of a rich dialogue, in which you learn by listening… and commit to updating as you learn more” (p. 129).

Yield control. Dialogue. Listen. Update. It’s all part of “loving one another, as I have loved you.” Now that’s good advice to hold any community together, the blogging community, the communities we live in, the communities we work in, the global community, and most especially the community you make today called marriage.

In fact, today you make your vows without idioms so that everybody understands. You decided not to make this event part of the secret life of Dana and Paul. You’ve invited a larger community of family and friends to witness the promises you make.

Now here’s the benefit to you of going public. All of us—friends and family—will make this promise to you: we will provide a constant updating of love and support to keep your comedy alive and to remind you to have some fun besides on Thurber Street or wherever else you might be.

It was actually a bit longer than that, but you get the jist... It was good! :-) Thanks (for the billionth time), Dad!

No comments: