Today, I'm celebrating 15 years of marriage with my husband Dan Kirk-Davidoff, and the occasion has given me reason to reflect on my shifting views on the importance of unity and the importance of difference.
I met Danny in college when he was 19 and I was 20. At the time, I really thought nothing of the fact that he is Jewish and I'm a Christian. I didn't occur to me as a problem because (1) I had grown up in a very Jewish neighborhood and had dated a number of Jewish guys, (2) he had so many positive characteristics (smart, kind, good politics, very good looking) it was hard to focus on anything else.
For a long time, when people asked me how I could be married to a Jew as a Christian minister, I had to explain that I had known and loved Danny way before I became a minister, or a serious Christian for that matter. I didn't become a minister despite my relationship with Dan, but rather, I became a minister (and have continued to develop as a Christian) in the context of my relationship with Dan. I never really had a way to step outside of that relationship or my calling and consider if the two things "worked" in combination with each other.
But that being said, I do know that for a long time I understood our interfaith marriage as grounded in the fact that the things that united us, the things we shared, were greater than the things that differentiated us. It's no accident that I saw things that way. The liberal, Presbyterian church that I grew up rejected Christian triumphalism and emphasized the connections between Christianity and other religions of the world. Back in those days, the Cold War arms race was nearly constantly on my mind, and I had a strong sense that the future of the world depended on our ability of people all over the world to see each other as brothers and sisters and not aliens or enemies.
I remember telling Dan during my senior year in college that I was probably going to end up a Unitarian. But that didn't happen. In fact, I've become more and more connected to Jesus over the past 15 years, more connected to the very aspects of Christianity that make it different from other religions. As I've continued to grow as a Christian, I've wondered at times about how my life would be different if I wasn't married to a Jewish guy. Was Dan holding me back in my discipleship to Jesus? At times, the answer to that question seemed to be yes. For a while I was sure that if it weren't for him, I would be living in intentional Christian community or join the Mennonites or the Catholic Workers.
But my understanding of difference has continued to develop. Working at Interfaith Families Project for a couple of years certainly helped. I loved the families I met there--they were some of the most interesting, dynamic couples I knew, and all of them were intermarried. And while some of the couples really tried to subvert their religious differences and just focused on uniting themes, many did not. One woman said to me over coffee, "I don't really believe in unity. It always seems to involve the oppression of opposing viewpoints. Unity is imperialist. In our marriage, I want to highlight our difference and let the kids live in the midst of contradiction." Her words really shocked me--but I've thought about them for years.
Here's the truth of the matter: I am a better Christian for being married to Dan. Part of that has nothing to do with his religion--it has to do with his support of me, his wisdom, his curiosity, and the fact that he has been "game" for a lot more church than he ever has wanted. But being married to Dan has also led me to examine the connections and differences between Christianity and Judaism on a much, much deeper level than I could without having an insiders view of Judaism. Being married to Dan has kept me from becoming insular, and has pushed me to keep making connections between my Christian beliefs and the rest of the world. Being married to Dan has made me "safe" to many people who would normally stay clear of ministers or Christians. Being married to Dan has made it completely clear to me that Jesus does not consider my marriage a barrier to him or his call on my life.
So Happy Anniversary, sweetheart!