There is an old saying in the religion-beat world that goes something like this: You can always find interesting news trends if you keep looking at what happens when each generation moves through the symbolic crossroads of life -- being born, getting married, having children and dying.
During this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I talked about a number of different trends linked to marriage in this day and age, spinning off from two New York Times stories. One was about people flocking to New York City for secular weddings in a state-run marriage bureau chapel. Yes, "chapel." The other was about the trend toward very sexy -- but still white -- wedding dresses.
All kinds of issues came up in this discussion. For example: Lots of churches have had to establish policies on how to handle couples who have been "living in sin" -- that's what people used to call it -- before marriage. There are still interesting stories to be found linked to that topic. But times move on. I am curious. In the age of R-rated wedding dresses, are religious leaders going to have to have wedding dress codes for brides? Do priests and rabbis need to approve wedding dresses in advance?
Truth be told, there is a big, big subject looming in the background during this chat. We are talking about radical American individualism and its whole "this day is all about you" wedding ethos that produces both gigantic, break-the-bank church weddings and all of those destination weddings on beaches, mountain cliffs and who knows where.
The bottom line is even bigger than the financial bottom line: Is the wedding a sacrament or not? Is the rite defined by individuals or by worshipping communities?