My favorite thing about Oberlin is the Big Parade. I love the combination of people, the bicycle riding pizzas, the way someone will walk up to you as you’re milling about and say, “Excuse me, sir, will you wear this giant carrot costume?”
It represents a lot of what was great about Oberlin for me. The way the liberation theology I was getting at Peace Community Church bumped into the liberation theology I was learning in the College Religion Department. The way physicists and classicists and economists got to argue and plan together in the cafeterias and dorms. The way the retired people worked together with the campus radicals. Bizarro and joyful connections.
So, when it came time to get married, my fiancee and I thought a lot about when and where to have our wedding. We’re both pretty grounded in the Christian tradition, and we’re big on the rhythm of the church year. When, we asked ourselves, was the best time for a wedding? Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit is rolling around? Easter, when we’re celebrating new life? Lent, in solidarity with those who are in despair, whose relationships are not recognized by too many churches and states? Holy Saturday, in between Lent and Easter? Good arguments could be made for each of these.
In the midst of trying to make a decision, we came back to Oberlin to visit friends - and it happened to be the weekend of the Big Parade. If you’ve never seen it, you are hereby commanded to come to Oberlin the first Saturday in May. It is a parade without a drum major: a cooperatively organized anarchist-flavored community festival and party. High school marching bands, girl scout troops, and the retirement community’s Precision Lawn Chair Drill Team. Also, the aforementioned two guys dressed as a pizza riding a bike. Crazy bike co-op contraptions. Roller skaters and dogs and children dressed as vikings. Such a parade.
Yes, I went to Oberlin, and so I’m an idealist, but I also ended up being a pretty pragmatic guy. And my fiancee was likewise pragmatic, and likewise idealist. Therefore, watching this chaos and glee, she turned to me and said, “Let’s get married in the Big Parade.”
Liturgical holidays are all well and good, and it’s important to think about where one’s tradition fits into all of this. But one of the things I articulated at Oberlin, and have always articulated since Oberlin, is the importance of actual eruptions of what I would call “the kingdom of God:” movements, events and families that create a space without borders, that let people live in freedom and joy. Parades do not a just world make. But good parades remind us of what a just world might look like.
So we got married there. 9:00am hymn sing, 10:00am ceremony, 11:00am parade. Everybody who was invited to the wedding was invited to wear costumes and join the surging flood of the parade right after. (We got hitched in a back yard on the parade route.) Nothing about it was legal. It was by laying on of hands, and by the Spirit. Under the holy trees and the holy blue tarp from Watson’s hardware, in the bountiful back yard of a physics professor and a poet, and of their children, a political organizer and a painter. A friend from church and a guy I had never met before built us a parade float. A thousand people threw birdseed at us from the sidewalks, and another thousand marched in the parade with us. I believe in this. It takes that many people to make a community; it takes that many people to sustain a marriage.
Oberlin is a fine college. But it is also a great, great town.