Reverend J. Dana Trent is a Christian minister who was ordained in the Southern Baptist tradition. She met her husband Fred Eaker on eHarmony.com in December 2008. Their first date was at a small café in Durham, NC, where they chatted endlessly about philosophy and religion. Fred began studying Eastern religion in college. He became a devout Hindu and lived as a monk for five years. He is ordained in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition. Though no longer living in a monastery, Fred is very active in the Gaudiya Vaishnava community and provides service to his guru. This fall Dana will be be finishing up her book, Saffron Cross, about their interfaith marriage. We caught up with her in Durham, NC to learn more.
The Recollective: What do you think distinguishes your interfaith marriage from other interfaith marriages?
Dana: There are two distinguishing factors. First, the paradox of Southern Baptist minister and a Hindu monk falling love. It’s much easier for us to imagine a marriage between two persons of Abrahamic faith (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) in relationships, as they would at least begin with a common denominator of some shared Scripture and religious figures. For the Christian-Hindu couple, there is no Abrahamic connection. It takes a real effort to forge those connections, and therefore the interfaith challenges hold greater consequences if they are not addressed with love, good communication, and understanding. The second: Fred and I are each ordained in our traditions. This means that each of us has a deep investment in our traditions and ministries. Because of that, neither one of us is willing to live a watered-down religious life of infrequent practices, which is how some interfaith couples have chosen to compromise and make it work for them. While we are extremely committed to our own traditions, we live a mutual, connected spiritual life; we worship, read Scripture, practice rituals, pray, question, and struggle together. These two themes, the sheer intrigue of two fundamentally different religious paths coming together in one household under two ordained persons place Saffron Cross apart from other interfaith memoirs. Fred and I believe that the most successful interfaith resources are those who encourage a shared, not separate journey.
The Recollective: At what point did it occur to you to write about your interfaith marriage?
Dana: When we returned from our two-week Indian ashram honeymoon and we were interviewed by the Herald-Sun newspaper in Durham, NC, I realized how important this message is. Each day, humans are inundated with messages of intolerance and hate. A message of love and understanding seems like an anomaly. As our country becomes more pluralistic, it will be imperative to develop empathy and relationship skills to interface with people who have different beliefs. There is great beauty in that space. We wanted to share that story.
The Recollective: Tell us about the process of writing something so autobiographical.
Dana: It’s a difficult process. There is tension about wanting autobiographical writing to be real, vibrant, and connected to the reader, but also not therapeutic. There’s a risk of dragging the reader through the muck of the writer’s struggles. I’m committed to wrestling with that myself, and then inviting the reader in once things seem clearer. Fortunately, that almost always happens naturally through time, writing draft after draft, and good editing.
The Recollective: How did you discuss it with your family?
Dana: Everyone has been very supportive. There are still members of our family and close family friends who do not know about the book. If it comes up, we are happy to discuss it, but realize it’s a sensitive matter with those for whom interfaith topics are still new. In those cases, we tread lightly with love and care. You have to meet people where they are. Invariably, not everyone will get the idea of interfaith marriage—but it doesn’t mean it’s not a message worth sharing.
The Recollective: What were their reactions initially?
Dana: People often ask us how we make it work, and that’s why family and friends encouraged us to pursue the book project. They thought it was particularly poignant because readers want to know how a Christian-Hindu marriage could possibly be successful, inside and out. Christians have such dreadful reputations for being close-minded and hateful towards other faith traditions. Fred and I want to change that conception. We want readers to know that this can work—and the foundation that makes it work is love, which is Gospel of Jesus Christ in action.
The Recollective: Who is publishing the book?
Dana: Upper Room Books in Nashville, Tennessee. Upper Room Books has an imprint called “Fresh Air Books” that offers spiritual resources that are outside the traditional Christian box and appeal to a more general audience of spiritual readers. Saffron Cross is a good fit for this publisher and that imprint because of its appeal to finding commonalities in spirituality. This memoir also encourages readers to embrace and enjoy the circumstances that we encounter each day in our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, and communities. If we look closely, there’s no shortage of interfaith situations in our daily lives.
The Recollective: Where can the book be purchased?
Dana: The book will be available via Amazon (print and Kindle), http://www.upperroom.org/bookstore, Barnes & Noble (for nook), and local bookstores. Expected publication is fall 2013.
All photos for this post are provided by Franklin Golden.