May 30, 1981. Trinity Lutheran Church. The contrast of white uniforms on the red carpet is at the same time, stark and charming. To our right, my groomsmen, Naval Academy classmates, are wearing the same Navy Full Dress White uniform that I wear. To our left, the black tuxedo pants of the young ring-bearer, and the rose-colored floor length gown of the Matron of Honor, are the only exclusions to the ‘White on Red’ rule; that is, except for the red and gold cloak Jesus is wearing on the crucifix.
Leigh kneels beside me. The train of her wedding dress, carefully fanned out behind us, looks like a giant seashell on a red sand beach. Pastor Dowhower, bedecked in his white vestments, raises his right hand and begins the ritual of marriage ceremony. There is really no need for me to tap my toes, calling attention to the three-inch blue lettering on my white soles, boldly declaring, “HELP ME”. The message is quite clear. I tap them anyways, reveling in the stifled laughter that catches my unwitting, nervous bride off guard.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all”, begins the Pastor.
Looking up, from my kneeling position, Jesus, on the crucifix, appears to be standing on the Pastor’s head. Why is Jesus smiling? And in a loincloth? Fueled by too many pre—wedding beers, I replay my father’s discomforting, gut-twisting interrogation during the seemingly endless ride to the church, just an hour ago. “Are you sure you want to go through with this wedding without a Priest?” he asks several times, each instance more stern than the one before. “Are you SURE?”
“The Lord God in his goodness created us male and female, and by the gift of marriage founded human community in a joy that beings now and is brought to perfection in the life to come.”
In all those years of being shuttled off to CCD classes and Catholic schools, certainly I should have picked up this would be a big deal before now. Am I sure?” Really? Now you bring this up? Do Catholics and Lutherans share the same Jesus? I wonder if this crucifix with a clothed Jesus offends his Catholic sensibilities?
“Patrick and Leigh do you intend to share with each other your joys and your sorrows and all that the years will bring, with your promises bind yourselves to each other as husband and wife. If so say “I do.”
It would be 6 months before he would speak with either of us again. It would take ten years for me to rationalize and accept his unassailable clinging to Catholicism. It is uncanny how this event so keenly foreshadowed the underlying contentiousness that defines our relationship with my family until this day.
“HELP ME” should have been written on the soles of Leigh’s shoes as well.