Day One without a Washcloth

I know this boarders on tmi, but why is it that Europeans and Turks don’t furnish hotel patrons with a simple washcloth? I get it that Americans are not in the habit of outfitting bathrooms with bidets — but neither are the Irish or the Turks. So what is the aspiring ablutionist to do? When it comes to the handy devise of said washcloth, I am willing to use that dreaded phrase, “human flourishing.”

That said, this morning’s rituals in Dublin (where I am doing some research while not crawling from pub to pub — kidding, dear but you’re probably not reading) included a full Irish breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. There I brought along a recent issue of First Things (to keep away the friendly tourist) and found a readable discussion of Robbie George’s proposal that churches should get out of the civil marriage business (April 2014). As a side point, I was struck by the number of appeals to the deeply theological accounts of marriage and how the secular version is merely an inferior copy. For one, Scripture itself doesn’t say that much about marriage, though the analogy of the church and Christ does give lots of wiggle room — yet it is only an analogy, like a piece of bread and a thimble of wine is a meal. For another, complaints about the inferior nature of secular marriage strike me as yet one more version of Christians bellyaching about the loss of Christendom — oh, how inferior a secular republic is to the deeply textured presence of faith in medieval Europe. Put not your hope in princes, their territories, or their marriages.

None of the Protestant contributors to this discussion picked up on what George’s proposal would do for Protestant ministers. Since Protestant churches know nothing of marriage as a sacrament, since marriage is a common institution not reserved for believers, the only kind of marriage that Protestants offer is a secular version. In our records we don’t keep a special class of members who are married. We have no instruction from Scripture that pastors are supposed to perform marriages (and I can’t think of any explicit cases or instruction from the Old Testament that would have led the apostles to think they needed to perform marriages, though I didn’t score high on my English Bible exam). And we have nary little instruction from Scripture about a happy home except for that impossible stuff about wives submitting and husbands loving (what pastors cover in marriage counseling before a ceremony is a true mystery — do ministers really know anything about finances or balancing a checkbook?).

So I’ll take the challenge. I propose that Reformed churches encourage their pastors to get out of the marriage racket. At the very least, it puts us out in front of that difficult situation when a gay couple wants to make an example of one of our congregations. At the most, what do we lose? So we as a body of believers accompany a couple and their witnesses (the signed ones) to the city courtroom to observe a civil marriage ceremony. Would that be so bad? Imagine the savings on flowers and wedding party attire.

On the other side, I could see abandoning the wedding ceremony for its inclusion within a Sunday morning worship service, sort of like the vows that new members take before the observance of the Lord’s Supper. So the couple would go forward, the pastor would offer some brief instruction about marriage, bride and groom would take their vows, return to their seats, and participate in the rest of the service. The reception? Coffee hour.

Imagine the even more savings!

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27 thoughts on “Day One without a Washcloth

  1. What do you need a washcloth for? It’s the most pointless bathroom accessory. Whatever one would require a washcloth for, hands suffice.

    Man you Americans are high maintenance.

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  2. “Imagine the even more savings!”

    You’re seriously tempting the Dutch with this one…

    Some say the state should get out of the marriage business and now you say the church should perhaps get out of it as well. If it becomes purely an agreement between the bride and groom (and perhaps their families) does the church lose the ability to become involved in marriages when it comes to church discipline? Other than people who just outright quit coming to church it’s probably the biggest area that people do face church discipline over (spousal abandonment, seeking divorce, adultery, etc.). Perhaps we don’t need to be involved in the ceremony to be involved in policing the marriage vows later on, though.

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  3. Alexander, just the American metrosexuals. On top of washcloths, some of us also require a bit of moisturizer.

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  4. Darryl, this proposal is attractive for various reasons. But on the one hand locating it within a Sunday morning worship service seems a little too close to suggesting something sacramental, yet on the other there remains something weightier about a church wedding over against a courthouse ceremony. I’m not sure why that is (since marriage is grounded in creation). Maybe it’s just my inner Constantian.

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  5. An unprogrammed Quaker wedding ceremony is like unprogrammed Quaker First Day worship. Much silence, and hopefully only a few people speak. The bride and groom seated at the front of the meetinghouse, the room filled with relatives who are not Friends. Plus the bonus–no sacraments. And no “means of grace”, with no assumption that the marriage of two human creatures to each other is about the favor of God to sinners.

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  6. I believe I recall a PCUSA church that sometimes did a low-key, three-minute marriage rite at the close of Sunday service. Seemed sensible to me. The one I recall was male-female, at least.

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  7. Marky Mark, but the Shrutes (Mennonites) have their own traditions. They usually marry standing in their own graves. Makes the funerals very romantic, but the weddings are a bleak affair.

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  8. As for washcloths, I remember traveling in Europe several times when other members of our party were distressed by the lack. I quit them years ago. I’m guessing DGH likes to exfoliate though to keep that healthy facial glow.

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  9. I am ALL about this post!

    1. I’m with Alexander; washcloths are pointless

    2. “Full Irish Breakfast” is fantastic, but no different than Full English Breakfast, Full Scottish Breakfast, or Full Welsh Breakfast: sausage, bacon, eggs, butter-fried-toast, and cooked fresh tomatoes.

    3. Chortles, exfoliation for men happens by shaving. It’s why men are generally less wrinkle-prone than women. (and why those who don’t shave suffer from “beard-cheese”)

    4. I am all for getting pastors out of the marriage business (where they have no biblical mandate or even example), and so is Ryan Guyer

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  10. Erik, I don’t think the early church had any power to issue a marriage license but Paul and the apostles knew what married Christians were supposed to do. I don’t the church loses power. It doesn’t have any (earthly).

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  11. D.G. – It doesn’t have any (earthly).

    Erik – How does this square with Reformed Churches telling Magistrates (who are all about earthly power) how they are supposed to do their jobs?

    Sounds like earthly power.

    And if you deny it, you could be brought up on charges.

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  12. My in-laws just returned from the British Isles and my mother-in-law remarked about how hard it was to get ice cubes. How can that be called civilization?

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  13. Pub crawl in Dublin?! I may have caused a few folks to soil themselves as they fell into the street while I was blazing through in my rental, but you can’t be late for the Friendly Sons Of St. Patrick. Thank goodness for breakaway mirrors.

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  14. You mean courthouse wedding? But, yes, that was one of the various reasons I had in mind. Like Franck Eggelhoffer says: “Ev’ry pahty ‘as a pooper, that why we invited you, George Baaanks!”

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  15. Re: “If it becomes purely an agreement between the bride and groom
    (and perhaps their families)…”

    The fact is that such an arrangement would make marriage MORE permanent & binding than it is at present. It is much harder to get out of a contract to buy a car or rent an apartment than it is to get out of a marriage.

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  16. Of course, we could go all the way back to original Old Testament marriages – sexual intercourse at the man’s tent, or apartment / house, and presto! You’re a married couple, no clergy even required.

    No church service, no fuss… In countries with common law like Canada, the State considering you married as soon as you move in together… Kick out any members who fornicate; otherwise, no need for the church to even officially acknowledge a thing!

    Would there be anything intrinsically wrong with such?

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  17. Hmmm. I was not aware of the washcloth issue in Europe. I travel extensively in Europe for work and my hotel rooms always have washcloths. Then again, I rarely stay in any place that’s not within the Starwood group. Otherwise, you can end up with pretty spotty internet connectivity.

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