Successful Hindu and Christian Interfaith Marriage: Saffron Cross

The Saffron Cross

What the world needs now is inspiring models for interfaith families. Because love is essential, but not sufficient. This month sees the publication of my book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. But I am thrilled to be sharing my publication month with two other books on interfaith families (our books were featured together recently in Publishers Weekly). Rabbi Michal Woll and Catholic writer Jon M. Sweeney are publishing Mixed-Up Love (I look forward to appearing on a panel with them in the spring). And today is the publication day for Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, a memoir by Southern Baptist minister J. Dana Trent, about her marriage to Fred Eaker, a devout Hindu.

A lively read, Saffron Cross describes how the couple met through the Christian online dating site eHarmony. We then follow Dana as she and Fred attempt to figure out how to fit their religious lives into one marriage. The couple is determined not to “water down” their respective traditions in order to find common ground. Dana and Fred live and breathe theological debate and do not shy away from addressing differences. On a trip to India to gain deeper understanding of her husband’s religion, Dana lives with Fred in a temple compound and struggles through her own doubts, culture shock, and hilarious religious blunders. She proves a humble and charming guide, even when at times she is gripped by insecurity and tears.

But the point of this book is not how hard it is to be in an interfaith marriage. Unlike books warning couples away from intermarriage, Dana celebrates the rich texture of the life she creates with Fred, and the joy they experience exploring religion together. One of the secrets to their success is the “no separate worship” rule, which they developed after considering and discarding the rather lonely alternative as the “interfaith version of segregation.” So Fred goes to church with Dana. And Dana goes to temple with Fred. Yes, this requires a lot of time and they each have to compromise, as do any two people in a marriage. But when you agree to study and celebrate and worship together, you grow together, even, and perhaps especially, when studying and celebrating and worshiping in two different religious languages. This couple is new and young, their interfaith journey just beginning. Someday, I hope Dana and Fred will write a sequel on raising their (future) interfaith children. But for now, I am grateful for a new book celebrating one of the infinite possibilities for successful interfaith marriage.

 

Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, from Beacon Press. She works as an interfaith families consultant, speaker, and coach. Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

Successful Interfaith Marriage: In a Blizzard

Boston Snow, photo by Susan Katz Miller

I spent a lot of time worrying this week about my pioneering interfaith parents (88 and 82) braving the New England blizzard. More than two feet of snow covered their home, the house I grew up in. But miraculously, the power and heat stayed on. My mother, an artist, finds the snow thrilling, gorgeous. As the storm approached, I heard excitement, not fear, in her voice. I suppose there’s a reason she loves a February snowstorm.

Fifty-three years ago today, my parents got married in my mother’s hometown in upstate New York. A brave rabbi presided (few rabbis would perform an intermarriage in those days). My mother’s Episcopal minister from across the street said a blessing. And then, a blizzard descended and the guests got snowed in at the hotel. An epic pyjama party ensued.

The next morning, on Valentine’s Day, my parents consumed a giant chocolate heart for breakfast–a wedding gift sent by a friend. To this day, my parents are chocoholics. My father hides chocolate espresso beans and nonpareils in his sock drawer. And every year, my father sends all of his children and grandchildren heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, with handmade cards drawn on shirt cardboards.

I don’t usually give my parents anniversary or Valentine’s gifts. But exactly sixteen years ago this morning, I gave birth to their first grandson (in a hospital just a baseball’s throw away from Fenway Park). The next day, a nurse put a foil heart sticker on my son’s tiny hat for Valentine’s Day.

These are the themes of February in my family: snow, chocolate, love. The snow reminds us to slow down, experience awe, and snuggle. The chocolate represents the sweetness between grandparents and grandchildren. And the love of my parents for each other continues like a powerful blizzard, sweeping away all objections, blanketing our family, our world, with beauty.

 

Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, from Beacon Press. She works as an interfaith families consultant, speaker, and coach. Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

Successful Interfaith Marriage: Cokie and Steve Roberts

Those of us living over here in the parallel universe of happy interfaith families continue to sigh and shake our heads at the persistence of the myth that interfaith marriage is, by definition, fraught with peril. In fact, there are no robust statistics on the current rate or incidence of success or divorce in interfaith marriages.

At the moment, we have only anecdotes. And so, I plan to continue to profile the many interfaith couples happily balancing two religions. For intermarried Jews and Catholics raising children with both religions, Cokie and Steve Roberts have served as inspiration ever since at least 2000, when they published From This Day Forward, a memoir of their own intermarriage. Last year, they followed up with Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families. Together, these books build a portrait of a marriage marked by deep love and mutual respect, even as it approaches the 50-year mark.

Yesterday, our interfaith families community welcomed Steve and Cokie to a regular Sunday morning at the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington (IFFP). Our rabbi and our minister reflected on the theme of compassion on the first Sunday of Lent, Steve led us in our interfaith responsive reading, we all shared bagels and coffee, and then Cokie and Steve spoke during our adult group about their interfaith journey.

Cokie described her love of Catholic liturgy and ritual, her faithful attendance at mass. Steve described his secular Jewish family roots, and his own shift towards deeper Jewish practice, prompted by his Catholic wife. For many of us, this story is more familiar than exceptional: in choosing partners of another religion, we are forced to contemplate our own religion, and to be very purposeful about our own religious intentions. Could this lead to tension? Or course. Could it be creative tension? For some of us, yes. Could another result of religious difference in marriage be improved communication and mutual appreciation, as well as more profound connection to our own religion? Many of us think so.

I had heard Steve and Cokie speak several times before about their marriage, and I even appeared last spring on a public radio show on intermarriage, following an interview with Cokie. But somehow, welcoming this couple into the midst of our community of interfaith families, hearing them speak to an audience of hundreds of people who share their delight in partnering across religious boundaries, gave their stories new resonance.

While acknowledging that choosing both religions is not the right path for every family, Steve and Cokie explained why they chose to celebrate both religions with their children. Each partner had a strong identity, and neither partner ever considered conversion. “I must say it would have helped to have had a community like this when we were raising them,” Steve told us, yesterday. “Because there was an absence of encouragement and support for families like us, and like you, at that time.” Today, interfaith families are encouraging and supporting each other, as we educate our children in both religions, in DC, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and beyond. And our families, and marriages, are strengthened by these grassroots communities.

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and a workbook, The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).