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Zan & Stephen


Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

Today long time reader, Zan, is here with her excellent wedding on the farm where she lives and her husband works (no random rustic-chic wedding here). It was shot by APW sponsor Katie Jane, so the pictures are gorgeous. You guys will remember Zan from her incredibly compelling story about marrying her cowboy husband at the courthouse  when immigration issues suddenly loomed. Today, I’m deeply grateful to Zan for talking about building an interfaith wedding and an interfaith life. As someone who is part of an interfaith family, I think these issues are important and not discussed enough. Interfaith families and weddings come in many forms. Ours involved two deeply religious people, one faith, and two families’ traditions. Zan’s is different. It’s a way more complicated story and a profoundly good one.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

I was raised Jewish, complete with Hebrew School, Bat Mitzvah, and tribal last name. My father is strongly attached to his Jewish “culture” but has always maintained that he can’t stand the “religion part.” This is not an uncommon stance among liberal American Jews but often elicits a confused eyebrow raise from non-Jews. My mom was raised as a good Catholic girl in Mexico with absolutely no intention of marrying a gringo, much less a Jewish one. She ended up converting to Judaism in order to marry my dad, also eliciting many confused eyebrow raises. I wound up studying critical theories of religion as an undergrad and am currently working on my Ph.D. in anthropology where I often explore the ways religion and cultures are so inextricably bound up with one another.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

Then there’s Stephen, my dashing husband, born an atheist but raised by evangelical Christians in the kind of church where women cover their hair in the tradition of 1 Corinthians 11:2-13. My in-laws are not huge Charles Darwin fans and have had a lot of trouble accepting that their oldest son is gay. After he left home to be a cowboy, Stephen left his parents’ religion behind, too. Spending most of his time alone with his horse meant that working cattle became his religion. There aren’t many Jews in the part of England where he was raised, and there are even fewer in cowboy country. When he met me “challah” made as much sense as, “holla!”

Clearly we were meant for each other.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

As it happens, I’m an atheist too. If either one of us was a person of faith, I doubt we would have ended up together. In practice, then, the biggest “religious” difference between us is that I’m strongly attached to both my cultural and philosophical Judaism and to my Mexican Catholic heritage, but Stephen has no desire to maintain ties with his religious past. So the challenge in constructing our wedding ceremony was for me to integrate the elements of myself that I felt were important without leaving out Stephen or his family. How was I going to do that if the things that were important to me had absolutely no resonance for him?

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

First things first, I explained each tradition or custom that I had in mind. After that, if there was something he still couldn’t get behind, we didn’t do it. This was a good exercise for me too, since it forced me to really think hard about why I felt an emotional pull towards certain practices or symbols. Once we decided which elements we both wanted to incorporate, a large dose of creativity was called for. Case in point—our ketubah. It was important to me that we have one, but it wasn’t going to be meaningful for us to sign a piece of paper filled with Aramaic (though for some people, this is precisely what they like best about their ketubah!). Instead, we took education, a Jewish value that we both feel passionately about, and went from there. We used the structure of a page of Talmud (the quintessential Jewish book of learning) and filled in the blanks with writings we loved. We included a Wordsworth poem that Stephen knows by heart and loves deeply and is a nod to his English soul, a Yiddish poem that beautifully expresses how both of us feel about the natural world, bits of wisdom from the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and Pirkei Avot (Jewish sages), and last but not least, our “contract” with one another—that’s what a ketubah is—in English.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

Our chuppah was built by my dad and topped with a quilt made by Stephen’s mom. We included Stephen’s dad by having him open the ceremony with a reading from the Old Testament. We carefully selected a Bible passage with no God in it, which only confused my father-in-law. In order to compensate he threw an extemporaneous “Amen!” into our otherwise secular ceremony. Before we gave our declaration of intention or said our vows my maternal grandfather draped us with the family lazo. The lazo is a Mexican tradition—a double-yoked rosary that is used to physically bind the bride and groom during their wedding ceremony. The one we used is the same one that my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, and cousins all used at their weddings. Yes, the lazo has a giant, golden, crucified Jesus on it. No, I could not imagine getting married without it.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

As is often said around APW, the wedding is really only the beginning. You know what’s more complicated than planning an interfaith ceremony? Planning an interfaith life, thinking of how you’re going to live, grow, and build a family in a way that’s meaningful to both of you and the paths you come from. For me that is the big-picture message of an interfaith wedding because it is just one of the many times in our lives when we have to figure out how to best cultivate meaning for ourselves.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

A lazo is just a string of beads unless it’s a chain that links you to four generations of your family. The rosary itself is just a string of beads unless you believe that it represents a connection to God. A chuppah is just a canopy structure unless you feel that it speaks to nearly six thousand years of cultural heritage and testifies to how much your mother-in-law cares for you, even though she doesn’t always understand you.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

In putting together our ceremony we didn’t worry about the authenticity boogeyman, and I think that was a crucial part of the process. The most important thing I’ve learned about religion in my many years of education—and this goes for all religions—is that, no matter what you do, there will always be someone who scoffs and says, “You’re doing it wrong!” No doubt there are plenty of rabbis who would have lost their minds at seeing our mish-mash wedding and lots of priests who would have wagged their fingers at us; but those people are just people! Not one Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist has a lock on what’s right even though they all have their own (valid) perspectives. Have you ever heard the expression “five rabbis, six opinions”? It’s a personal favorite of mine. Incidentally the Catholic priest who attended our wedding, Stephen’s cousin, thought it was great.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

We did things that were meaningful and authentic for us because it was our wedding; that meant incorporating the Mexican and the Jewish, the conservative in-laws and our commitment to marriage equality. It’s not impossible to make these combinations work, but I won’t pretend it’s seamless either. It’s plain to see where things were stitched together, but I actually think it’s nicer that way.

What I am happiest about is the way our interfaith ceremony is helping to carry us through our interfaith life. Our ketubah is now proudly framed and hanging on the wall. When I read it I think about all the care went into making it and feel revitalized about this complicated, bewildering, heady and wonderful thing called marriage. The chuppah quilt hangs in our bedroom, and we plan on taking it down only to wrap up our newborn children when they enter the world. In my daydreams we have a little row of pictures hanging in our house, of each child as a newborn, wrapped up in this quilt.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

Oh, and those newborns? They’re proof that the interfaith-authenticity conundrum doesn’t end (or even start!) with the wedding, and that’s okay too. Our as-yet-imaginary children will be raised Jewish and we’ll have a Jewish home—granted, what that means is a whole other bag of bees—so in a way, they won’t be interfaith at all. Except that Stephen doesn’t plan to convert, we haven’t changed our position on God, and we are going to be open about all of that with our kids.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding
At the end of the day no matter how Jewish our home might feel or which Hebrew school we choose, there will be some people who will deny that our children are Jewish at all because of my own mother’s conversion; some of those people are members of my own family on the Orthodox Jewish side. That’s okay. These are decisions we are making because they are right for our little family. We don’t need, and can’t expect, everyone else to agree.
Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding
Whether it’s your life as a single person, your wedding ceremony, your life as a committed but unmarried couple, how you decide to raise your children, your choice not to have children, whatever it is—someone will look at you and just know that you’re doing it all wrong. This is especially true for anything religion-related and yet, in the great filing cabinet of the universe, I believe all of us are lumped together under the “fallible and limited” tab. My only advice is to try not to worry too much about doing it wrong; when you are fumbling with how to shape meanings for yourself, remember that all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.

Zan & Stephen | A Practical Wedding

Photos by: Katie Jane Photo (APW Sponsor)

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  • http://www.soulwanderings.com/ one soul

    This is all wonderful good sense, but I especially love the attitude of not worrying about what others will think, but just doing what is authentic and right for *you* in a wholehearted way. Sounds an excellent way to go through life, far less a wedding.

    Also, SO PRETTY.

  • http://www.queerskiesahead.com TheQueerBird

    Zan, I love this post! Such good insights on all the religious stuff… not something that comes up in a big way in my marriage, but something I am watching unfold in my sister’s relationship, and this gave me a little bit more understanding. Thank you. Also, your pictures are stunning.

  • http://engineerbaker.blogspot.com Caitlin

    Is there some way of locking this in as a must-read for everyone who visits APW? Because the things Zan talks about hold true for basically every issue that could come up during wedding planning or marriage. So, so wise.

    And as a nonpracticing Catholic who had a Catholic wedding with her unbaptized partner and plans to raise any children Catholic despite my issues with the Church hierarchy, it was wonderful to have someone put into words why one can feel attached to a tradition or a thing without necessarily being invested in the religious aspect. Lovely.

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    Great post! As a fellow athiest-but-respectful-of-religion, I appreciate when the two are not at odds. Practical, rational discussion that’s well written and compelling? Yes please!

  • http://fromasmallstep.blogspot.com/ Kinzie Kangaroo

    Oh my goodness, I love love love that idea of wrapping newborns in a quilt from your wedding. That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever pictured. Love it. (PS Nice post, Zan!)

    • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

      Me too, I totally welled up at that part imagining all baby Zans and Cowboys, and how proud his mum will feel :)

      • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

        Aw, thanks guys. It’s lucky (and wonderful) that Stephen’s Mom can quilt since I’m sort of a disaster with a sewing machine (I can do function, but not beauty). For those who are not like me an CAN quilt you can check out my blog if you want information on the fabric and pattern that she used.

  • Kelly

    Whether it’s your life as a single person, your wedding ceremony, your life as a committed but unmarried couple, how you decide to raise your children, your choice not to have children, whatever it is—someone will look at you and just know that you’re doing it all wrong. This is especially true for anything religion related and yet, in the great filing cabinet of the universe, I believe all of us are lumped together under the “fallible and limited” tab. My only advice is to try not to worry too much about doing it wrong; when you are fumbling with how to shape meanings for yourself, remember that all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.

    THIS. Sage words, excellent advice, and so well written! Thank you Zan!

    • Suzanna

      Yes, “act in the direction of love” pretty much sums it up, no matter what your beliefs are! That line really stuck with me as well.

  • http://happysighs.com liz

    zan, i came expecting the loads of SMART, but did NOT anticipate the loads of PRETTY WEDDING.

    i really love the last paragraph and the image of this universal filing cabinet.

    • http://www.mysanfranciscobudgetwedding.wordpress.com Sarah

      In addition to smart and pretty, I half expected chickens. I love this entire post. I love the way you described feeling connected to your culture and past without feeling connected to a belief in an almighty.

      • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

        I am truly sorry not to deliver on the chicken factor. I did consider including them in wedding portraits but then got paranoid about one of them deciding to drop a crap-bomb on my dress so we stuck with the cows instead.

        The chickens were pissed.

        • Aims

          hahaha! Awesome.

  • http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com Lauren

    Zan, you write so beautifully about what is such an important issue to struggle with, wedding or no wedding. This is a fantastic post- thank you for such a personal view!

  • Kim

    Yes! Such a good post, and for my fiance and I, so well timed! We are just beginning to explore the stitching together an interfaith ceremony (conservative Christians, Buddhists and atheists just in the immediate family trees), and so this is so good to read. Thank you for sharing some encouragement, and lovely insight into your wedding!

    And also, I have to ask– WHERE did you find that dress?? It’s gorgeous, I love it!

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      There is a long story to the dress, which I won’t novelize in the comments, but yeah it’s pretty great! It’s nearly impossible to find a dress with some kind of allusion to “sleeves” without being “sleeves”.

      I got the dress at Kleinfeld’s but it isn’t quite the way it sounds. It had been shoved in the back of some forgotten sample sale box so I got it for a relative song (I had to alter it extensively to fit me — I’m a street size 0 — and that was expensive). It’s by Kleinfeld’s in-house designer Alita Graham.

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    Yay Zan! Stellar advice (and stunning pictures), as always :) I’m agreeing with the ladies above who said that this is a must-read for everyone, interfaith or not, wedding or no wedding.

    Even as a pretty culturally/philosophically well-matched Jewish couple (probably conservaform and reformative, if you want to split hairs), we’re wrestling with the customs, traditions, and ketubah wording. That’s been an enriching process. And our fairly traditional ceremony still isn’t Jewish enough for an Orthodox rabbi friend to attend. All we can do with that is shrug and keep doing what’s right for us.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Ain’t that just the way? All of my Orthodox friends were ready to bend space and time to be at our wedding (we also had it on a Sunday) and yet my Orthodox cousins didn’t even think about attending for a split second.

  • http://www.thefamiliarwilderness.com Erin

    I love how you composed your ketubah, and how you incorporated all those disparate traditions that had meaning for you, and most certainly for your families, and wove them in to your ceremony. This is beautiful, Zan!

  • Maggie

    “all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.”

    Can I give this a non-religious “Amen!” ;) And can I get a pillow with the filing cabinet sentiment cross-stitched onto it?

    I love your insights on this topic, and I always enjoy hearing about your and Stephen’s backgrounds and how you’re grappling with these issues (and the “authenticity boogeyman”) in everyday life–makes me feel less alone in my confusing, but richly mixed religious/cultural heritage and the way I’m muddling through what it means for my life now and for the Us of which I’m now a part. You have such a beautiful way of describing the truths you’ve discovered for your life, and you always have me nodding along.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    This, well, this just blew me over. This speaks to so many things.

    I love that you’re addressing the way that traditions, history and ceremony taken from religion can be important to people who don’t identify as religious. Because whether you believe in the faith that inspires them there are still centuries of human tradition that built them, and it can be so important to honour them.

    The lack of faith doesn’t necessary indicate a lack of connection with the traditions.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      The ways that culture and tradition get mixed (and mixed up) is something I think we don’t talk enough about in the public sphere. As an anthropologist it’s also something I feel strongly about. But yes, one’s non-belief in God doesn’t inevitably or necessarily diminish the potential for a connection to “religious” things.

      • http://highdivingboard.wordpress.com Morgan

        THANK you. As someone who got married by a pastor in a relatively religious ceremony, despite having no actual religious feelings, this really resonates with me. We picked the pastor because he was a friend’s dad, and you can’t have lay people officiate in my province. Plus, the *traditions* of a Christian ceremony resonated with us, even as we did our best to pick readings that didn’t mention Jesus or God. He wasn’t even our familys’ type of Christianity (Lutheran instead of United), but it didn’t matter.

        Because it was perfect for us. He started the service with the old Anglican words that I love (the ‘dearly beloved, we have gathered here today’ stuff) and really brought the weight of history and tradition and connection to all those who have gone before us. And the sacred feeling that we were doing something momentous and old and powerful? Was amazing, and I don’t think *we* would have got that without a religious ceremony, no matter what my beliefs in God or the Church are.

      • http://discerningdilettante.blogspot.com/ KA

        EXACTLY. It’s funny, it never even occurred to me that I could consider myself “culturally Catholic” until this very post. (Thank you!) In fact, that was actually something I would envy about Jews—that they could hold on to the cultural elements of Judaism even while identifying as atheist or agnostic. But being culturally Catholic explains a lot—like my love of churches, and how I had to add the old Irish blessing to our completely secular ceremony at the 11th hour even though it had the word God in it. And how yes, I did once go visit the remains of the saint whose name I took when I was confirmed.

        So thank you Zan, for delivering a whole life epiphany under the guise of a wedding-grad post. :-D

        And you know all the pretty, etc. The photos get better every time I see them.

  • http://amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com LPC

    Wonderful, true, intelligent. Despite all that, you can tell how truly shallow I am because I kept thinking, “My god they are good looking those two.”

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      HA! I had to respond because this made me laugh. I feel like one day someone is just going to slap me and say, “Will you just SHUT UP ALREADY about how hot your husband is?!” He’s pretty foxy, I consider myself very lucky. Did I mention that he’s a model in NYC Fashion Week for the second time this year? I’m just waiting for someone to option me for the movie — Cowboy meets City Girl and Becomes Super Model. Needs a zingy working title though…

      • http://www.thehandmadeevent.com Kari

        I guess the title “All the Pretty Horses” is already taken…but I am sure you can come up with a name somewhere! You are right, your husband is hot, but you are pretty gorgeous yourself and these pictures are fantastic, yay Katie Jane.

        As an agnostic from a Catholic family who married a Buddhist from a Universal Church of Christ family, this is a wonderful conversation to have and I don’t think I have read anything so spot on about blending tradition and faith and family. I think you should write on APW all the time (though I guess in a way you do!) Wonderful post.

      • http://www.minnesota-chic.com/ PA

        “Roaming the Runways”?

        I’m now making my, “That was horribly over the top, please still love me” grin…

        • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

          Roping the Runway … of LOVE.

          • http://www.sarahhoppes.com Sarah

            Just read “Roping the Runway….of LOVE.” Now I have to clean up the water I spit all over my desk from laughing.

          • http://www.minnesota-chic.com/ PA

            “…of LOOOOOOOOVE” makes everything better, y/y?

            *laughing*

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    Thanks for writing this! I loved the last paragraph especially and the second picture is just gorgeous….

  • http://www.Actsofbeauty.co.uk ActsofBeauty

    “in the great filing cabinet of the universe, I believe all of us are lumped together under the “fallible and limited” tab. ”
    “all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.”

    These words touched me greatly – thank you!

  • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

    This is my favourite wedding grad post in a long, long while. Beautifully written, Zan, and just full of sense and goodness. I wish you both so much happiness building your little family, as you call it, and navigating these oft-treacherous waters with grace and style (and what style!).

    (But I can’t believe you didn’t mention your ketubah falling under a train.)

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      My ketubah DID fall under a train! I would have mentioned it, but there was a word limit Kirsty, so forgive me. :) The whole story of the runaway ketubah is over on my blog in any case. Lest anyone think that wedding planning was totally serene for me they can go check out how I wound up sloppy-crying in Grand Central terminal. Not one of my finer moments, but definitely a good story!

      • Rymenhild

        Under a TRAIN? Oy vey! I’m running to check out the link now, but in case the information isn’t there, who was your sofer/calligrapher for that beautiful and meaningful ketubah?

        Your descriptions of building an interfaith family through an interfaith wedding are lovely and thought-provoking. I really enjoy the syncretism of an atheist Jew and an atheist from an evangelical Christian background joined by a rosary!

        • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

          We used a Jewish artist, but I don’t think she’s formally trained as a sofer (you wouldn’t know it though, her Hebrew lettering is flawless). She has a lot of beautiful ketubah designs available at her etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/jerise

          • Rizubunny

            I thought I recognized the style…Jerise did our ketubah too!! She is amazing. Thank you for sharing your story – it was really beautiful to read and think about.

      • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

        Okay, I forgive you ;)

  • http://elissarphotography.com Elissa

    I’ve been waiting for this grad post for a while, but didn’t see it coming … so I was really happy to see it pop up this morning! What a beautiful post, and so thoughtful. I love how you incorporated so much of your background into your wedding. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  • http://ribbonsandbluebirds.blogspot.com Jenn

    “A lazo is just a string of beads unless it’s a chain that links you to four generations of your family.”

    This is perfect and beautiful. Love this way of thinking about religion and traditions. It has to be meaningful to you, or it doesn’t work.

  • Trisha

    Zan your post is beautiful! I love that you talk about thinking deeply about the meaning behind of traditions, and being deliberate with what traditions you do use. Wise words, as I expected.

  • http://www.robyntheblogedition.blogspot.com Robyn

    Thank you so much for this! We’re currently in the midst of trying to plan an interfaith ceremony and in the background of that, trying to figure out what part religion will play in the lives of our future children. I have to say I am rather envious of people who end up marrying someone with very similar religious views (and when both families have the same views as well).

  • http://bettencourtchase.blogspot.com Helen

    I love this. We didn’t have to deal with any of this between my wife and I, but we DID have some issues between us and our families. (See: family wanted us to have the wedding in a church; we very much did NOT want to.) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience!

  • http://emiliajanephotography.com Emilia

    Such a beautiful post Zan!! I love how you two approached everything. Also, you’re gorgeous :-D

  • http://bigweddingsmallbudget.wordpress.com Barbra

    I really love and appreciate this post. We are also a couple made up of two atheists, with one being Jewish (me) and the other being English with a super-Christian family. Teaching my fiancé about how you could be Jewish without believing in God was also a challenge.
    It’s so helpful to hear how others have approached this. We have a while until the wedding, so we haven’t even tackled the ceremony yet, although we have struggled with finding Jewish clergy who is comfortable with an interfaith couple and a non-theistic ceremony. So, we’ll probably go with a friend, which I am still trying to wrap my head around.
    And forget about figuring out the kiddos. Ours will also be raised Jewish, with our beliefs in God, and probably some specific Jewish traditions left out that my family will freak out about.
    “Whether it’s your life as a single person, your wedding ceremony, your life as a committed but unmarried couple, how you decide to raise your children, your choice not to have children, whatever it is—someone will look at you and just know that you’re doing it all wrong.”
    This is what I need to remember as we go forward planning a wedding that is perfect for us, but probably the most untraditional wedding either of our families have ever seen.
    Thanks, Zan!

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      You’re welcome! And who knew?! Maybe your fiancé and mine can form a two man support group for English Guys Who Married American Jewish Atheists And Are Still Pretty Confused. They can meet over beers (or tea) and commiserate!

      • http://bigweddingsmallbudget.wordpress.com Barbra

        That would be awesome! Too bad we live in Florida. :(

        • Hypothetical Sarah

          Hah, well, they could always Google Hangout (can that be a verb?) and drink tea/beer “together”.

          There are definitely Jewish clergy out there who will do interfaith weddings — you might be better off looking for ones who advertise online about doing weddings and don’t really have a congregation. Even a religious Jewish wedding doesn’t require a rabbi, though. Good luck!

  • http://twitter.com/barnswallowkate barnswallowkate

    I love this post!

    I think from the outside our ceremony probably seemed fairly religious but while planning it we did our best to make it work for me (an athiest) and my husband (I call him “culturally Catholic” – he has the same attitude as Zan’s dad). I didn’t want to feel like a stranger at my own wedding and he wanted to feel that connection to tradition and his family’s weddings that Zan writes about. We had an outdoor cermony with a laid back Catholic priest, used non-Bible readings and the traditional vows, and it worked out fine.

    I worry about sorting this out for our theoretical eventual children but coming up with a ceremony that made us both really happy gave me confidence, and this post reminds me why. Zan’s point that “no matter what you do someone will think you are wrong” is incredibly freeing (because it’s so true!), and I’m inspired by the end of the post to just be open with my someday-kids about what we both believe – their beliefs won’t be an either/or set-in-stone one-time choice.

  • Hlockhart

    Beautiful post, Zan. Thank you for having the courage share something so personal, on a topic that so many people have to deal with.

  • http://www.katiejanephoto.com Katie Jane

    This is good stuff, Zan. I wish I’d read something like this before my wedding – we struggled with ways to incorporate our traditions but somehow extract the religious part out of them. In the end, we threw the baby out with the bathwater and just came up with something new for ourselves.

    I LOVE this: “A lazo is just a string of beads unless it’s a chain that links you to four generations of your family.”

    And I love how I look like a sweaty troll in that photo of us, from running around in the heat, and you look so classy and pretty. ;-)

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      You do not look like a sweaty troll! Also, I LOVE that picture so I was pumped to see it there.

    • http://ddaykapow.tumblr.com d-day

      you do not look like a sweaty troll!! it’s such a cute picture.

      I too wish I’d had this post when we were planning our ceremony. ok I wish we’d had a lot of the content that has appeared here over the past 2 years, but, yes. This is a must-read for anyone planning a ceremony, or just a marriage in general. or, well, just planning to live.

  • http://theambershow.net Amber, theAmber Show

    This is my favorite post on APW, ever. Thanks, Zan!

  • http://www.3upadventures.com Beth

    Zan! You did it! This post is just…it’s just, well, perfect.

    “In putting together our ceremony we didn’t worry about the authenticity boogeyman, and I think that was a crucial part of the process.” YES. Because in not worrying about it, you created something that was authentic to the two of you and your marriage and family. THAT is more important than 1.2 opinions from a rabbi (because that’s how you get 6 there, right?).

    This whole idea of taking the things that are meaningful to you and your partner is just so important to any couple whether you share a religion, have different religions, or are passionate atheists.

    P.S. Freaking gorgeous! GORGEOUS! That and the chuppah quilt idea makes me tear up every time I think about it.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Indeed, in the Talmud it dictates that every Rabbi must have 1.2 opinions on any given issue, at minimum.

  • Shiri

    This spoke so deeply to me (me, raised Jewish in a Holocaust family, agnostic, deeply culturally Jewish, with my super atheist born-Lutheran fiance and his born-again mother) that I don’t even know how to respond, except to say I sent it to my fiance, I wish you both more than even all the best, and also wish I could sit down for coffee with you. Oh, and mazel tov.

    • http://bigweddingsmallbudget.wordpress.com Barbra

      You don’t live in Florida, do you? Because I’d like to have coffee with you. :)

      • Shiri

        If that was aimed at me, and not Zan, boo, I don’t! But I do go to the Tampa area sometimes…

  • http://www.koruwedding.com Koru Kate {Koru Wedding}

    Stellar advice AND beautiful photos! I heart APW.

  • Cassandra

    For one, I love the follow-up to your half-grad post last year! Two, I love the pictures – it looks like your big happy farm wedding was gorgeous. Three, very interesting look at the dynamics of combining faith and family, in all the combinations it comes in.

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  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

    YAY Zan! This is so smart, and so necessary. It’s important to use your traditions in the new way that inevitably comes out of combining traditions that come out of previously combined traditions and individualism.

    So smart, so gorgeous.

  • http://ohioonpurpose.blogspot.com Evie

    I think you’ve done more reassuring and comforting of interfaith couples both married and otherwise than you could imagine today. Congratulations, dude.

  • http://www.essential-images.com Essential Kate

    Oh Zan, this was such a special, necessary post! You hit all the right notes about family and culture and religion all being wrapped up in a glorious tangle. I find it particularly touching that you, wise, wise you, treated all cultures, religions and families with care and such utter respect — for this a medal! And the babes wrapped in the quilt is just too wonderful, may you have many happy days with those babies.

    Oh, and the photos? Awesome! The dress? (how shallow am I?!) Stupendous! (even better the back story of the dress — isn’t it always like that)

  • rachel

    “My only advice is to try not to worry too much about doing it wrong; when you are fumbling with how to shape meanings for yourself, remember that all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.”

    I love this post! It’s really one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking posts I’ve read about interfaith (or, really, any) weddings. Zan really shows that it’s the thinking and process that counts most. Love it, love it, love it.

  • Laura Mc

    I think this is my favorite wedding graduate post, ever.

    I am a practicing Jew and my fiance is a practicing Catholic. Faith is very important to both of us so it has been interesting to figure out how that will play out as our baby family grows. Thank you for showing us that it can be done with elegance and grace.

  • Lturtle

    So very much exactly! Thank you Zan for verbalizing things that I have been struggling to explain to my mister. He is an atheist, I consider myself culturally Jewish (mostly). It has been interesting choosing which traditions to hold close and which to let go while planning the wedding and raising the kid.
    Also, congrats!

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Amanda

    Finally your post is here. You are so right about someone always saying that whatever it is you are doing it is not the “right” way. I loved how you talk about blending traditions, and you guys did it so well.
    On a side note, as a mexican, we also had a lazo (imagine the face of the dutch priest that had no idea what it was) and it is the same lazo that Mark and me will pass to my sister, who is getting married this Saturday (!!!). We felt so honored that they asked us.
    And yes, blending traditions, beliefs into your own family is hard, but like you say we are all together in the “fallible and limited” and if there is God, he is the same for all of us. When you analyse religions, they have more things in common than they don’t at least on the important stuff.

  • http://townhousetohome.blogspot.com adria

    “You know what’s more complicated than planning an interfaith ceremony? Planning an interfaith life, thinking of how you’re going to live, grow, and build a family in a way that’s meaningful to both of you and the paths you come from. For me that is the big-picture message of an interfaith wedding because it is just one of the many times in our lives when we have to figure out how to best cultivate meaning for ourselves.”

    100% yes to that.

    And also, the part about how, no matter what you do, someone is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong? No joke. At our rehearsal I was surrounded by three women from my husband’s (now my own) family, telling me how to do something, all of them saying something completely different and contradictory to the other. If I didn’t have my wits about me, I would have had a breakdown, but instead I said “Well, since each of you expressed your own way to do this, I’m going to do it my own way, okay?” It might have been greeted with blank stares and surprised faces, but I did what felt right to me…and, it was perfect.

  • http://chilingwang.com Chi-Ling

    Wow, that last paragraph. “Fallible and limited,” I will try to remember that the next time I want to pick a fight about the messy kitchen.

  • http://www.christytylerphotography.com Christy T

    Oh goodness. Again confirming why I love Zan so, and showcasing (again) Katie Jane’s amazing talent, and so on and so forth! So beautiful. So meaningful. So touching. I absolutely loved it.

    I especially liked the end, “My only advice is to try not to worry too much about doing it wrong; when you are fumbling with how to shape meanings for yourself, remember that all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.”

  • LifeSheWrote

    Excellent topic and beautifully written. You are in a unique position to study the ways culture and religion are so intertwined, but I love that you can separate and take a break from all that study and choose the best choices for your life and your baby-family. I mean, obviously, your study informs your decisions to some extent, but I mean that you can disconnect from what EVERYONE OUT THERE is saying and listen to yourself, your partner, and your family for what’s right for you. Thanks for sharing, Zan!

  • http://theroadto92912.blogspot.com Molly

    “A lazo is just a string of beads unless it’s a chain that links you to four generations of your family. The rosary itself is just a string of beads unless you believe that it represents a connection to God. A chuppah is just a canopy structure unless you feel that it speaks to nearly six thousand years of cultural heritage and testifies to how much your mother-in-law cares for you, even though she doesn’t always understand you.”

    This was my favorite part. I think that paragraph is really helpful to people trying to reconcile the use of traditionally religious objects that are important to their culture and who they are when they or their partner doesn’t believe in the religion the objects support. I sent this to a friend of mine who was raised Catholic, is dating an atheist, and is concerned about blending these 2 traditions if they ever get married.

  • http://lizziesayssparkysays.tumblr.com Liz

    SUCH great insight! Three cheers to Zan and The Cowboy!

    This post speaks to the broader issue of reconciling our hertiage with our new baby families. It reminds me of Meg’s insight in the book about the engagement period being a time for emotional growth and exploration. Taking the time to explore and explain why these traditions mean something to you is oh-so-hard but oh-so-worth it. I often find myself using religiously-tinted words (like “covenant”) to explain why marriage is so important to me even though my better half and I are die hard athetist reds. Both of these experiences (13 years in Catholic school and my politics) have shaped who am I and what I bring to my relationship. While its often difficult to reconcile those two things, they are both important and to deny one of them would be to deny part of my life experience.

    Thanks Zan, lots to think about here.

  • http://cheaperthanwisdom.com emily rose

    ZAN! We have got so much in common. Who knew. Jewish, Christian, Hispanic-Catholic, athiest, agnostic, Buddhist, and more between our parents alone; similarly, it was no wonder I majored in Religious Studies! And I grew up on a farm! No chickens though. Speaking of, WHERE WERE THE CHICKENS?

    I love the image of the future babiez wrapped in that quilt, bundled up in the crazy mishmash of heritage that hung over you two in representation of house and home. They are blessed, not burdened, by your backgrounds. What an empowering reminder that our families can be whatever we make them.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    The most important thing I’ve learned about religion in my many years of education—and this goes for all religions—is that, no matter what you do, there will always be someone who scoffs and says, “You’re doing it wrong!”
    THIS.
    At the end of the day no matter how Jewish our home might feel or which Hebrew school we choose, there will be some people who will deny that our children are Jewish at all because of my own mother’s conversion; some of those people are members of my own family on the Orthodox Jewish side. That’s okay. These are decisions we are making because they are right for our little family. We don’t need, and can’t expect, everyone else to agree.
    AND THIS.

    I’m an ethnically Jewish, very devout Anglican Catholic. My fiance is an ethnically Jewish soon-to-be Roman Catholic. To most people, that wouldn’t sound like the makings of an interfaith wedding, but, oh, it is. Making just the wedding planning worse, but life in general better, almost all my friends are very devout Roman Catholics, ready to pounce on us for our Anglican Catholic ceremony, among other things, despite our careful consultations with clergy from both churches. Day by day, I’m learning to care less what everyone else thinks – in wedding planning, and in all of life.

  • A A

    I am SO glad we have opened up the interfaith marriage discussion on APW. A wonderful post, thank you for sharing your beautiful wedding!

    • A A

      P.S. Someday when I’m through the thick of things in my interfaith wedding/marriage planning, I would like to share my experiences too.

      • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

        Wonderful! It’s always great to add more perspectives to the conversation :).

  • troubles

    Zan,
    Thank you for such a lovely, thought-provoking, well-written post – I can see from the comments that I’m not the only one it seemed to speak to directly!
    I am culturally Jewish and marrying an atheist – my parents are not thrilled despite our plans to raise our kids Jewish (which as you mention, is open to definition). My fiance has been wonderful about almost everything, but here’s my question. You say:

    “First things first, I explained each tradition or custom that I had in mind. After that, if there was something he still couldn’t get behind, we didn’t do it.”

    What if there’s something you can’t agree on? Circumcision, to me, is an integral part of Jewish identity and something I can’t do without. He’s willing to go with it but – as he constantly reminds me – is not happy about it.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Well, circumcision didn’t come up in the process of wedding planning, but it’s definitely one of those hot button issues. Personally it is important to me and I want to do it for our sons (if we have any). Thankfully Stephen is supportive of that, so we don’t have this same problem, but I don’t think there’s a good one-size-fits-all solution on what to do when you disagree — especially not when it’s something as personal as circumcision.

      In that situation things are zero-sum, someone will get what they want and the other person won’t. It’s up to you how you handle the dynamics of that playing out in your relationship.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

      • Maggie

        I’ve known situations where circumcision was a hot-button issue between parents, even when religion played no part in their decision. So… I guess there’s a point where these differences simply have to be dealt with head-on? Not helpful, I know. But “What if there’s something you can’t agree on?” is pretty much an inescapable question, whether you’re an interfaith couple or not. :-/

    • http://bigweddingsmallbudget.wordpress.com Barbra

      Circumcision is a huge issue for us as well. My fiancé is super against it, I think partly because it is just not that common where he’s from (and he’s not Jewish). I feel really ambivalent. It doesn’t seem right to push him into something he’s not comfortable with when I don’t believe in it 100%.
      So, we will probably not do it. And my family will definitely FREAK OUT. And I’ll have trouble getting my sons bar mitzvahed, although I’m determined to find a work-around for that. I feel anxious about it already.
      My solution? Hope for girls. ;)

  • Ana Maria

    Zan I feel like I know you, because I sort of do, because I work with Robin in Ecuador and when I got engaged she told me to look at your website for info, and then I found APW and now I’m here because of you! And your post is great, were intercultural/interfaith and I’m hoping to use your advice as we wade through all the wedding craziness! Robin says hi!

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Any friend of the Great Robino is a friend of mine. Please give her a big squishy hug for me — and I’m glad you’re here! This is a wonderful community!

  • http://rachael-maddux.tumblr.com Rachael

    “Five rabbits, six opinions”! Love that, love this post.

    • http://www.thehandmadeevent.com Kari

      Rabbis, I think you mean. Though I will tell you my Rabbit is opinionated (and disapproving)

      • http://rachael-maddux.tumblr.com Rachael

        Oh my god. I totally read it as “rabbits.” And that totally made sense, somehow. I was like, “Yeah, those rabbits, just like humans, they don’t know WHAT they think!”

        • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

          What makes this amazing is that the rabbit thing was NOT a typo. Indeed, of all the non-dog/cat animals I think pigs are the most expressive, but you’re right — rabbits probably are the most opinionated.

          It’s probably all in the nose twitch. Doesn’t that just scream, REPROACH! to you guys?

          • http://www.asafemooring.blogspot.com Kirsty {a safe mooring}

            I am laughing at my desk right now. This exchange is hilarious. Those rabbits!

  • http://laurenmcglynnphotography.com Lauren

    Leave it to Zan to write one of the best wedding grad posts ever. The gorgeous pictures don’t hurt either.

  • http://www.bridesanstulle.com Sharon

    Zan, as someone who is deeply, joyously religious and part of an ethnic group that often sees its traditions and trappings appropriated/represented in harmful ways, I love, appreciate, and respect how *thoughtfully* you approached the use of religious and cultural traditions in your wedding. Brava to a fabulous grad post.

    The beautiful pictures of your happy faces don’t hurt either. ;)

  • L

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. My fiance and I are both agnostic humanists and his parents are devout, fundamentalist Christians. I feel like our engagement has helped us bridge our differences with his parents even while it sometimes magnifies them. I don’t know yet how they will react to our very secular ceremony, but I am hopeful. It’s lovely and encouraging to read about how well you have been able to deal with a similar situation. I hope I can weave our families’ traditions together with half so much grace.

  • KH_Tas

    Wonderful post, Zan. Your words about people thinking you’re doing it wrong really resonate with me, as it is something I struggle with a lot. Thankyou for writing this. :)

  • Moz

    What a beautiful grad post. We need more talk about interfaith marriages please. Lots more.

    Congrats on your marriage Zan.

  • sarah

    “My only advice is to try not to worry too much about doing it wrong; when you are fumbling with how to shape meanings for yourself, remember that all any one of us can hope to do is think deeply, and then act in the direction of love.”

    I really love that.

    We’re just starting to think about planning the ceremony, and it’s already hard: my father is Catholic (like, used to be a monk but dropped out Catholic), my mother is avowedly and fervently Congregationalist (is that even possible?); my fiance’s grandmother is a trained spiritual healer, his mother swears that she worships trees, and his father really can’t be bothered. Oh, and part of my family are born-again Christians. But the fiance and me? Well, I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. BUT describe it we must, because it’s time to unpack our beliefs and figure out what’s really meaningful for us so that we can craft a ceremony that speaks to us. It’s hard. But it’s most certainly time to “think deeply and move in the direction of love.” So thanks for your story. <3.

    • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

      Well that’s a doozy! (A time to use the word ‘doozy’ if there ever was one) I hope you decided to come back and let us know how it goes! Best of luck, and I’m sure that whatever you come up with will be wonderful and worth it!

  • Saskia

    Zan–this is just SO beautifully and thoughtfully written. Although my husband and are both Jewish, I think how we ‘live’ our Judaism as a couple and family will need some serious thought–especially once we expand our brood (right now, brood=2 cats). He doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be reading this post too!

  • Lisa

    I can’t thank you enough for this post! I’m in a very similar situation: my fiance is an observant Conservative Jew (whose mother converted to marry his dad!) and I’m a non-religious former Catholic with a very Catholic mother and a non-religious father. So trying to figure out what our ceremony will be like is tricky to say the least. We’re certainly going to have some Jewish elements because they are important to my fiance and his family, but I don’t want my family, especially my mom, to feel alienated or left out. Your post has given me a lot to think about, I’m emailing it to my fiance right now!

  • Cindy

    I found this entire “adventure” quite interesting..As an old married woman, I enjoyed all the careful preparations & especially found the discussions compelling…Loving each other and realizing that truly love does conquer all will see you through the valleys to the next mountain top. I have found it essential & a necessary key to success in any relationship to have respect one for another…that often will cease any disagreement. My best to Zan!

  • B

    Zan, love your writing! I’m in a similar situation with planning my wedding at the moment, and so your post has come at just the right time. I wanted to ask which reading you used from the Old Testament? I’m struggling to find one.

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