The Washington Post, ever with its finger on the cultural pulse, offers “8 Tips for Officiating at a Wedding” for when one of your non-religiously-affiliated friend (i.e. a “none”) asks you. The author seems to get asked to do this regularly, perhaps because she is a yoga teacher and therefore the most spiritual person some folks know. In any case, her tips contain some good advice for presiding at any wedding (e.g. take charge, get to know the couple a bit, write out whatever remarks you are going to make). But some of the advice strikes me as an interesting window into contemporary attitudes toward life-cycle rituals.
In particular, the idea of “writing a liturgy” in which one picks and chooses among different traditions, along with the encouragement for the couple to write their own vows, reveals a highly voluntarist approach to ritual and tradition in which the role of ritual is solely expressive and, seemingly, not at all formative. This helps explain why some couples react so badly when confronted by a wedding officiant who adopts a these-are-the-rules-take-it-or-leave-it approach. I don’t think we should bow to people’s whims, but it can help us deal pastorally with couples if we recognize that there is a dominant cultural presumption that a wedding is more an exercise in creative free expression, and less an incorporation into a ritually-shaped tradition.