Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch!
Reflections on "Her": Falling in Love with the World Wide Web

More Thoughts on Love and Community

We're snowed in today after a last night's storm dumped a little under a foot of snow on our part of Maryland.  Up and down our block, neighbors are helping each other dig out their cars and clear their driveways.  It's a good day to continue reflecting on the love that connects members of a community and romantic love.

This is an issue that I've completely changed my mind about since I was in my 20's.  I spent a lot of time in high school arguing with my parents about their restrictions on my social life, so it seemed to me that romantic love was something that was often--perhaps always--in conflict with the community that surrounded it.  If I was going to vote, I would pick romance over community every time.  Just like Romeo and Juliette, I believed interpersonal attraction is more powerful, more important than any community more or value or vendetta.  

So, the fact that at the age of 20 I fell in love and married someone from a culture (Jewish New Yorker) quite different from my own (Protestant mid-westerner).  The influence of culture and tradition pales in comparison to the power of our love story!  Right?

Well, I'm older and wiser now.  I still believe in the power of love, but I don't make the stark distinctions I used to make.  Romantic love, if it is going to last for any time at all, needs to be sustained by the love of a community.  

It's a bit embarrassing to recall now, but when I was thinking about getting married to Dan, I made a list of "pros and cons".  Of course, I can no longer recall any of the cons (!) but I do remember one of the pros: "Strong family which I feel like I'm a part of."  I had no idea at the time how important it has been to both of us to feel like we are members of each other's families.  I give both of our mothers credit for making our spouse feel loved and included and not merely tolerated.  That does more than make family holidays a pleasant experience.  I think it replenishes our own supply of love--we have more to give to each other because we've received so much.  The same is true of the love of friends, of my congregation, of our community--and ultimately, the love of God. 

When I perform a wedding, I give the bride and groom a "standard" order of service that they can adapt for their own service.  While I've added some wording of my own, the liturgy mostly comes from the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ, the denomination in which I was ordained.  Instead of asking the father of the bride, "Who gives this woman in marriage?", the U.C.C. service takes a more egalitarian approach.  The question to the father is replaced by a question to the entire gathered congregation.  In my usual wedding service, it goes like this:

PASTOR:  Friends, by inviting you here today, GROOM and BRIDE have invited you to be witnesses to the vows they make to each other.  Legal agreements require witness, but this agreement is much more than a legal arrangement, and your presence here is more than as one who could certify that this event has occurred. 

Marriages are like plants that can grow stronger and bear good fruit when they are rooted in a community that is rich in love, which is to say, rich in trust, forgiveness and compassion.  GROOM and BRIDE have learned what is means to love first by growing up around people who loved them, and then by forming friendships and building community with loving people.  GROOM and BRIDE will draw on their roots in your love in order to love each other faithfully, through good times and bad. 

And so, as before they exchange their vows with each other, I ask you:  Do you pledge your support and encouragement in the commitment that GROOM and BRIDE are making together?  If so, please say, “We do.”

The moment when everyone gather responds with a hearty, "We do!" is my favorite moment in every wedding I officiate.  What an amazing thing to go into a marriage with a promise from all the people closest to you that they will support and encourage you!  That's a kind of love that has power.

So, on this snowy Valentine's Day Eve, I'm feeling grateful not just for the man I married twenty years ago, but for all the people who have poured love into us and made it possible for us to love each other.  Perhaps the best way to celebrate tomorrow would be to thank each and all of you.

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