Preacher Man, or, What I Was Doing in San Francisco

“Joe, will you marry us?”

I thought the question rather odd, to say the least. I mean, I’m totally okay with open relationships, polyamory, swinging, etc., but these were my friends and it would be kind of weird to… Suddenly I got it.

“You mean perform the ceremony?”

“Yeah.”

I thought for several seconds. More than five but less than ten. After that time, I said

“Yes.”

That was last August. Two weeks ago I found myself in San Francisco, and suddenly, very suddenly, it was all much more Real. Prior to that, the idea of officiating the wedding of my friends seemed like a fun/quirky enough idea, something that I could do that would add to my overall Resume of Weird Stuff I’ve Done. The fact that can now (in a technical and legal sense) append “Rev.” to my name seemed just sort of charming and odd. That all changed two days prior to the wedding.

Oh shit, I thought to myself, there are going to be grandmas here. Grandmas. Grandmas and uncles and parents and smiling family members who want to see something sincerely beautiful. And it is, really. This was not to be something frivolous and interesting. This had to be something filled with genuine feelings beauty, love, etc.

Starting the ceremony by saying “Mawage! Mawage is what bwings us to-gether today!” would probably be unwise.

My friends, Robin and Greg, had jokingly told me that one of the reasons they’d chosen me to perform the ceremony was because I “don’t believe in marriage.” That’s not quite true, but I am generally not a solemn person, and don’t stand on ceremony very much. I’m completely atheistic, I try not to feel constrained by tradition, am ambivalent about monogamy, and am generally uncomfortable around nice old people who enjoy things like weddings.

While I don’t disbelieve in marriage, or weddings, etc., I did need to shove aside a certain amount of my personal philosophy aside to pull the whole thing off, which was an interesting mental exercise, to say the least. My biggest hang up was the wording that the bride wanted to use for the ring exchange- the words “holy” and “soul” were included, and in a phone conversation beforehand she asked me if I would be okay with intoning such things. I said yes, I would. In fact, I did so happily.

To eject a bunch of unnecessary detail, I ended up freaking out two days before the ceremony, wondering how everything would go, and then eventually everything went great. Robin and Greg got hitched without a hitch.

During the whole thing, I became very cognizant of the importance of ceremony, ritual, and public demonstrations. Not because ceremony does anything supernatural or whatnot, but because it is a public and undeniable demonstration of fact, in this case, how much my two friends loved each other. Doing the whole thing, I realized that I had no philosophical problem with it. At all. None. I was sort of astonished to find that my worldview is consistent with things like wedding ceremonies. In fact, I’m quite in favor of them. What’s more, presiding over it actually is meaningful. Being the guy up in front who presides over it isn’t all that trivial. While I don’t share their philosophy, I think I have a better understanding of how preachers and priests must feel, and I kind of get while judges still wear those robes. Outward expressions of ceremonial authority are (somehow) meaningful.

Anyway, I had a great time. I still wish that I had a teleporter that could zot me between Portland and the Bay Area. That would be awful nice. As for being a sort of new-model preacher man… I could do it again, given the right circumstances. It was a fantastic privilege, and I really did learn that ceremonies, because they are invested with emotional value, can be much more than the sum of their parts.

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