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Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Wedding, An Ocean, Two families of Eight, Ten Friends, And Feasting Galore: Luke and Abby Myhre, 15 June 2019

Luke and Abby shone this week. They created community as they brought their families together, pulled a handful of their friends into the event, added generous piles of good food and music, and reveled in the natural beauty of a New England beach. The context was wind, sun, waves, lights, stories, grills, toasts, songs. The event was a traditional recital of vows in the eyes of God and humanity, pledging to forsake all others and cling until death pried them apart. The joy spilled liberally to all of us.

Each couple's wedding is unique, and this one reflected Abby and Luke's desire for a longer deeper intimate time with a handful of people. Abby's parents will also gift us with a larger reception in November, after Abby's grueling fellowship in trauma care is completed, which will be more like a normal wedding reception. But for the marriage itself, Luke and Abby wanted a meaningful setting and a small group of people. They are both embroiled in probably the most demanding year of their work-lives (let us pray it gets better!) and only managed a long weekend to spend on the event (honeymoon will have to wait). Given those limits, they asked their parents and siblings and a small representative number of high school, college, and med school friends to come. And the only two surviving grandparents!  Since Abby's family has a vacation home in Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusettes, and she's spent some of her summer there every year of her life, they decided to make the party there.  Nantucket has been a whaling and fishing base since before recorded history, and became a refuge for indigenous Americans when European settlers dislodged them from the rest of the coast. Soon English whaling ships were coming there too, and dumping their ballast of rocks to make cobblestone streets, building their weather-worthy homes of cedar shingles that turn grey over the years of wind and rain and sun. There were small farms, and a good harbor, a few roads, gulls and seals and sharks, dunes and moors and pines. In the last century the island as become a resort destination but maintained its natural spaces, uniform cottages, and coastal flavor.

I can't possibly give a full and adequate account, the time was so rich. Abby's mom put us in contact with her neighbor, and we were able to rent the house next door for the week. The sheer logistics of managing two families, 26 people (two of whom were over 80), arrivals and departures by ferry and airplane, two extra locations (an air bnb for the friends and a beach-side house with a deck for the parties), rentals of tables and plates and cutlery, decorations, music, grills, food . . . all with one pick-up rented by Luke plus the Harries' vehicles, was daunting.  The audacity to make it all fairly DIY and outdoors given the blustery winds and frequent cool foggy clouds in June did give everyone some pause. But it all came together in a memorable and beautiful way.

Highlights include:

  • Radiance. The bride, in our humble opinion, simply sparkled, and confirmed minute by minute how good God has been to our family to cross her path with Luke's. She is cheerful, competent, brave, firm in her foundations, sticks to her beliefs, looks out for others, and turned an event in which the bride is traditionally a bit passive into one where she went out of her way to engage and serve. She baked her own wedding cake! A six-layer carrot-cake marvel.  She sang a solo! She danced her heart out, laughed, and walked determined to enjoy the weekend in spite of gloomy weather forecasts. Oh, she also looked stunning. I think seeing her there by the ocean gave us a fuller picture of her beauty, in her natural habitat.
  • Conviviality. The groom set the tone, and the entire group followed. Luke, as we who have loved him his whole life know, is a force of nature. He has a wonderful ability to pull a group together, to get a dozen people into a cold ocean to ride waves, to have the idea of his church being chairs in the sand on the beach and make it happen, to envision seared tuna and perfectly grilled steaks and citrusy drinks and jovial music, and it wa-la, there it is. He was up early and late, picking up the rentals, meeting people at the airport, shuttling food and drinks, telling stories, listening to friends. Did I mention the colored disco strobe lights that transformed the kitchen into a dance party? He's a person who thinks outside the box and pulls us all to a better level, whose zest and faith and kindness and sharpness make things fun.
  • Feasting.  Can I mention the food again? We had two dinners at our rented house, the Harries had us over too, then there was the rehearsal dinner, the wedding day brunch, and the wedding dinner. One night Caleb and Jack rolled out probably 50 or more fresh flour tortillas. Another Julia and Jack did dozens of date-goat's cheese-bacon appetizers. Friends and dads were often at the grill, friends and moms were making salads and sides. There were bottles of wine and a champagne toast. Some items were brought in catered and others made from scratch, but each event included savory flavors in a setting of cheer and conversation. Luke requested Caleb to read in the ceremony one of our favorite passages from one of our favorite books, the Supper of the Lamb, a culinary and spiritual reflection on the Kingdom of God. This was appropriate to the wedding and also to the entire long weekend of fellowship.
  • Wind and Waves and Sun and Stars.  June 15 fell on the full moon, and nearly the summer solstice. And in spite of a rain-cloud prediction, the rehearsal-dinner day and the wedding-day turned out to be sunny.  There were bike rides and runs, dips in the ocean, surfing, paddle ball, even a little soccer. This wedding weekend reflected Luke and Abby's love for the outdoors, for activity, for natural beauty, for the environment. And as a special gift: just as we set up the chairs and the beautiful wooden arch that Dr. Harries, Abby's dad, had made for the ceremony down on the beach, a seal pup came up in the waves and waited for his mom.  We were a bit nervous about him being distressed or abandoned right in the middle of the wedding ceremony, but by the end there was a burst of squeals and his mom came back and swam off with him. Pretty cool. How many weddings have you been to attended by a junior seal??
  • Siblings. I can't say enough about how awesome the siblings were.  Abby's two brothers did a lot of set up and take down. And they made such moving speeches about her.  They were ages 11 and 16 when she was born, so they have always been part-brother part-parent in their protective relationship with her. Luke's siblings (and I may be a bit biased here) threw themselves 100% into this week. Long difficult travel, late nights and early mornings, cooking, cleaning, errands, hammering nails, building structures, setting up chairs, washing dishes and more dishes, whatever needed to be done. Caleb wrote and performed a spoken-word poem-rap that did not leave a dry eye. Jack and Julia gave deeply personal and genuine tributes. A wedding is a focus on the bride and groom for sure, in this case the only-girl by-a-long-gap youngest and the super-confident-by-a-short-gap take-charge-oldest. It would be easy for siblings to roll their eyes and withdraw, but these five entered in with all their hearts. And Abby's two sisters-in-law too! 
  • Friends. As mentioned above, Luke and Abby know how to choose them. The handful that represented at this event (the original plan was immediate family only, and the hardest part for Luke and Abby was probably limiting themselves to 3-4 friend invites each when they have so many others they would have loved to celebrate with . . .) were not just fun and articulate and interesting, they were talented cooks and eager workers. This was an all-pitch-in event, and they did. They made our parental enjoyment even greater with their enthusiasm and help. And when we were talking after, several mentioned that the invitation to participate was actually a highlight and not a burden. 
  • The over-80 crowd. My mom and Scott's mom were champs. They hung in with the literal and figurative whirlwinds of activity. They walked on the beach and even climbed a ladder, and my mom briefly joined the dancing. They were determined to participate, and they did.  Ruth had been gone from her home since before Jack's graduation, so it was quite a long stretch for her of travel and time with us. My mom had her to Charlotte for a few days so they could fly together. They both did so well, and everyone loved having their generation participate.
  • The details.  In the end, a lot of a wedding boils down to details. And Abby's parents excelled in the details.  Her dad Tom made a fun sign with the origins and mileage of each traveler, put up strings of lights, built the wedding arch. Her mom Rhonda created beautiful tables, lights, fabrics, photo displays. Even matching t-shirts for everyone! She ordered  L and A m&m's, had sweet personalized details at every turn. I scoured our boxes of stored stuff to find childhood photos and Scott made fun slideshows, one for Luke and one for Abby to kick off the memories at the rehearsal dinner. He also worked very hard with Luke and Abby to write a traditional ceremony and a short but glorious sermon. We created a liturgy for the rehearsal gathering too. The flowers contained herbs as a nod to Abby's love of gardening. 

In short, we had a blast. 

Our first time to have a child married. Scott's first time to perform a wedding ceremony (he got a one-day license for the state). And not the first but the most extensive time for Scott and Jack to do wedding photos together. The official pictures are yet-to-be seen from the hired photographer, but we've been enjoying the spontaneous shots that Jack and Scott took, some of which are highlighted in this post.

I wish I could post Caleb's poem, which was far better, but I don't have a copy or permission. So I'll end with the sonnet I wrote for the occasion:

A Wedding Sonnet
For Feasting with Disquietude
Honoring Luke and Abby
15 June 2019

Let this nights marriage feast defy death.
For where two cross wills, then choose one
The serpents stings another step undone-
Fierce faith exhales a resurrecting breath.

A breath, a taste, a glimpse, but not yet cure
Though fangs pulled, the bite inflicts a bruise
On heel and hearth. Every cup a drop must lose.
Almost heaven, almost home, almost happy, almost sure.

So close reveals so far. Feasting, we feel disquietude.
YET FEAST WE CHOOSE. A table laid now shines
Shadows into retreat, invites all to dine
A cheery, glorious, inclusive, messy multitude.

This is the redemption of the damned.
This is the supper of our LAM(b).

Monday, June 03, 2019

Martyr's Day, Uganda: making Christianity African

Today Uganda commemorates the boys and men burned to death in Namugongo for their faith, on June 3, 1886. The year before, the Kabaka Mwanga had already killed a missionary James Hannington and a Ugandan Catholic leader Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, and up to 45 were killed between 1885 and 1887. But the sheer scale and public spectacle of the 32 martyrs burned on June 3, combined with their courage and conviction as they died, shook perceptions of the new faith. Prior to this event, Christianity could have appeared to be a Western religion associated with the colonial interests of Europe. A perception which no doubt held some truth. What angered the Kabaka to the point of such mass cruelty? The loss of his power over his people. The same thing that angered the rulers of Jerusalem, and Rome, and a thousand places before and since: faith in Jesus took priority in the believers' lives, even over loyalty to the king. They would now weigh their actions, right and wrong, priorities, obedience, on a standard that was outside of and higher than the opinion of the Kabaka. This included the tradition that young male court pages were also the sexual partners of the Kabaka, a practice they realized they could now resist. Jesus always sounded political to those who took his words seriously. Kabaka Mwanga understood that. He felt threatened, and he struck back. The resistance to his sexual exploitation no doubt left him feeling disempowered, but there were also likely good reasons he was worried that if his citizens sided with the new religion they would also side with the British.  It was complicated. But the result was not a whole-scale embrace of European rule; it was an eye-opening grass-roots ripple that turned into a wave that said, this is something real. Something African. These 32 went to their deaths singing and praying to God to forgive their oppressors. And their death caused all around them to confront their faith, and to say, this is not a way to gain the world, this is a way to gain your soul.
The Uganda Martyrs: Their Countercultural Witness Still Speaks Today by Bob French
Uganda's recognition of this event includes two major memorials (one Catholic and one Anglican/Church of Uganda), parades, a University, the national public holiday. Martyr's Day forms a central place in Uganda's story, self-perception, strength. Which is interesting in the 21rst century's obsession with the so-called prosperity gospel, with the constant world-wide fallacy of equating faith and power, Jesus and wealth, right and might. Martry's day preaches the cross. The 32 chose a freedom of conscience that was more valuable than life, an integrity that cost them a horrific painful death. In stark contrast to preachers with personal jets or promises that belief produces health and wealth, the martyrs arrest the attention of the world with a stark holiness: theway of the Kingdom of God is the way of the cross. 

This is not a naturally appealing story in any culture. But the improbability provided key evidence that the followers of Jesus transcend any national identity.

Within my lifetime, this story had another Ugandan chapter.  Another ruler, Idi Amin, felt threatened by the clergy who questioned his excesses of power. He also sent Christians to their death, notably Archbishop Janani Luwum in 1977.

Uganda's witness to the world powerfully questions blind obedience to the powers that be. Followers of Jesus in many times and cultures have had the conviction and courage to stand up to injustice in the political sphere, and in doing so have met the suffering.  Just as Jesus did.