Sunday, October 14, 2018

Conquer Anything, Together

Saturday evening, Reverend David Harry and I co-officiated Natalie and Dave’s wedding ceremony, at the Brik Venue, in Fort Worth Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Doing what I do, I hear many different stories about how people met. Usually, I do not need an elaborate explanation of the mode of transportation they were using at the time. I usually understand what you mean, if you tell me you met on a train, a plane, or a cruise ship. Though I may be not as well versed in the intricacies of how these machines work, as my grandfather, the airline mechanic, was, I understand them well enough, that I can concentrate on the story. But a Pedal Hopper? Seriously?! What on earth is a Pedal Hopper?

Dave, in describing how he and Natalie first met, helpfully clarifies what this is: “Natalie and I met on a Pedal Hopper bar crawl in Denver, CO. It is essentially a street car that you can rent for a group of 10-12 friends, and it is powered by the group’s ability to pedal across town from bar to bar.”

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Recently, I did marry a couple of serious bike riders, who found in each other kindred spirits, and fell in love through biking. That is even how they met the – I am not making this up – Disciples of Christ pastor, who co-officiated their wedding with me. Natalie and Dave, are, um, different… 

Listen to Natalie: “The physical element of the bike crawl turned out to be a real pain… so I made sure to find the broken seat on the contraption and pretend to pedal in an effort to not get called out…” Dave shared her lack of enthusiasm: “Natalie and I both found each other through a mutual distaste for pedaling, and struck up a conversation while the rest of the group picked up our slack.” 

You might think that shared slacking off wouldn’t be strong enough a spark to light a relationship. You would be wrong, because Natalie says, “I’ve never felt so connected to another person so quickly on our first date. From that point forward, we were never apart.”

Now, you may be thinking that I shared that story, just for humor’s sake. To that I would say, shame on you. It wasn’t JUST for humor’s sake. I really believe that this activity, or inactivity, as the case may be, has some really important lessons for marriage. 

Some people like to speak of “traditional marriage,” as if marriage has been static through the generations. In actuality, marriage has changed with every generation. 

Fortunately, like most things we take for granted in modern life, and contrary to the naysayers, marriage today is better than it was in the past. Marriage today has the potential to be a true partnership, like a riding a tandem bike, at first, and eventually, when you have a family, like driving a pedal hopper, where the couple needs to all the pedaling. (Sorry, Natalie and Dave.)

However, we should not misconstrue what the word partnership means. It does not, and I would even say, almost never is, a 50/50 proposition. Sometimes one person does more of the pedaling, sometimes the other does. Sometimes, both individuals might be pedaling, but one of them directs where the vehicle is going, say to Texas, and the other obligingly follows. And, sometimes, the couple needs to take their feet off the pedals, and let their family and friends pedal for them. That is why Pastor David just asked all of you to commit to uphold and support the couple in their marriage. 

The most important thing, friends, is to continue to be there for each other, like these two have throughout their relationship, whether you can pedal or not. If you play your cards right, the moments when one or both of you cannot pedal, will strengthen, not weaken your relationship. As Natalie says, “I thought I loved Dave as much as I possibly could; the way he unequivocally cared for me without hesitation or pause, made my love for him grow deeper.” And, as Dave says, “With Natalie, it never felt like it was too much. Every challenge felt achievable, and every problem felt solvable… We have worked so incredibly well together… I feel no fear looking into our future together, because we have already proven our ability to conquer anything, together.”  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Listening is Where Love Begins

Thursday afternoon, I officiated Lacy and Jeff’s wedding ceremony, at the Murphy Community Center, in Murphy, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Lacy and Jeff have each lived such interesting lives, and have accomplished so much. They are both great conversationalists. You really can learn a lot just from talking to them. They each have fascinating stories to tell. 

I believe, though, that that might throw you off in discovering the secret of their relationship. I wanted, therefore, to steer you back in that direction. 

You see, there is a danger in having lived an interesting life, and having the gift of telling a good story. You might begin to think, that it’s all about you. That can be lethal, not only to a romantic relationship, but to any relationship, period. 

Two Jewish comedians, twins who refer to themselves as the “Sklar Brothers” touch on this in their comedy. They claim that many celebrities’ downfall stems from this problem. The remedy they suggest is that each celebrity have a designated “No Man”. This person’s task would be, when everyone else tells the celebrity that because he is the greatest, there is nothing he should not do, is to say, “Dumb idea; not everything is about you.”

This is, actually, an ancient Roman idea. When a victorious general would parade down the streets of Rome, in triumph, there would be one slave, whose job it was to stand with him in his chariot, and whisper that this is all fleeting. 

The common element to these ideas is listening. It is through the act of listening that one realizes and remembers that it’s really not all about you. And, you have to listen even when the other person is not speaking. 

That last part might sound odd. How can you listen when the other person isn’t speaking? Jeff recounts a simple act on Lacy’s part, that clarifies what I mean. They were about to meet for the first time. “We agreed to meet at a Starbucks in Wylie. Shortly before the time selected, she texted me saying she would be late. That showed me that this was an intelligent person with feelings for the other (unmet) person - me”. 

Lacy tells us about this first meeting too: “In our first meeting, I was drawn to his interesting life, knowledge and travels, and he listened to me.” There it is, again. 

They went on a great first date, and when he called a few days later, here’s what happened: “Lacy told me she was sick and feeling terrible. I thought that she needed some Jewish penicillin (chicken soup), and I made her a pot (from scratch) and brought it over to her. She was just amazed...” Again, Jeff listened, and listened deeply, focusing on Lacy’s needs, because he had inculcated himself to realize, that in life, in general, it’s not all about you. No wonder Lacy says about Jeff, “He cares for me like I have never been cared for. 

The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, once said that “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” And, perhaps the most famous Presbyterian minister ever, Mr. Fred Rogers, wrote once, “Listening is where love begins...” 

Lacy and Jeff, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep listening, keep caring, keep loving, and you’ll go the distance, as you embark on your next shared adventure.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

More than Worth It

Saturday evening, I officiated Nicole and Harlan’s wedding ceremony, at Latrobe's on Royal, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching me, and indeed us? So, I ask each person I marry to write an autobiographical essay to help me answer just that question.

Nicole and Harlan’s essays were strikingly different, not in content, so much as in form. Harlan’s essay is very orderly and sequential. It’s divided into five short paragraphs, corresponding to the five points I ask each couple to address. It’s almost like this physician used to write code for a living... Nicole’s essay is more free form, stream-of-consciousness-like.

However, taken together, I found their essays to be a fascinating meditation on marriage as a vehicle to a life of greater meaning. In that sense, Nicole’s description of Harlan’s future plans at one point can be deceptive: “Harlan had been telling me that he never wanted to get married - to anyone - and he wanted to live alone in a trailer on the beach and surf and read books.” Lest you think I she is making this up, allow me to quote Harlan: “I assumed I would be a bachelor, probably a reclusive one, reading and living near a beach.”

Now, though there is some humor in this, Harlan touches upon a great truth. There IS a tension in marriage, as there is in any relationship, but more so. Marriage does mean sacrificing a little bit of yourself, your autonomy, your independence. Ignoring this is not a great recipe for a successful marriage. However, there is a reason that every hero myth, every origin story of religions and of nations contains sacrifice at its heart. It is good for the soul.

And so, when Harlan adds, after discussing his original plans for hermitage, four words, “Then I met Nicole,” you can sense that this origin story will be heading in a very different direction. Not surprisingly, here’s what Harlan says next: “The more I learned about her, the more I cared about her, and I eventually fell in love... Trading my independence for a real relationship and commitment... was more than worth it, because she loved me so much.”

Nicole picks up the story, with words prominently featured in every romance novel and every bodice ripper, “So, I moved to North Dakota.” Wait, what?! Seriously, though, with their plans for marriage set, and with their medical careers still developing, Nicole and Harlan were set for a long engagement. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the beautiful thing about marriage: You get to do you. There are many different ways to get it right.

However, as Nicole spent that year on the frozen tundra of the Dakotas, with Harlan back in sunny California, they reflected on an important truth. Nicole says, they, “decided that it was better not to wait.” Glib as it may sound, sometimes you just realize that life is too short and too precious. This is not true of every marriage, but when you have committed to marriage as a vehicle for a deeply meaningful life, as Nicole and Harlan did, this becomes evident pretty quickly.

When that happens, it makes sense to get to it. As Harlan says, “I cannot imagine my life without Nicole. I want to share my life with her, and I know it is more meaningful because of her. Marrying her is my way of confirming my commitment to her. It... is a symbolic gesture to her to show how much I love her and that no matter what happens I want us to be together for the rest of our lives.”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Play Ball!

Saturday evening, I officiated Kaylea and Jack’s wedding ceremony, at the Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas, in Irving, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Baseball has not only played a large part in Jack’s family’s life, it was key to Kaylea and Jack coming together, in the first place. Listen to Jack: “I was at a party where some of my baseball teammates lived, standing in the doorway when I looked up and saw the most beautiful girl I had ever laid my eyes on. Her smile was something I would never forget. We ended up talking for just a few minutes before she had to leave, but I knew I wanted to get to know this girl.”

Wow. Now, I didn’t grow up in a baseball playing country, but I think that one might say that Kaylea hit a home run.

Kaylea seemed no less smitten: “I remember that first time I laid eyes on him. My girlfriend invited me to a party at ‘the baseball house’ and there was this extremely good-looking man, with the most amazing dimples and smile, in the doorway, just standing there by himself. My friend had left me at this point and so Jack and I started talking and really HIT it off.”

Baseball and marriage have more to do with each other, than you might think. In fact, one sociologist has posited that more baseball in a region correlates with higher chances of staying married! The region with the most baseball teams and lowest level of divorce? The Northeast, where Kaylea and Jack live!

BTW, how long have Kaylea and Jack been together, now that they are going up to the relationship major leagues? Jack tells us, “We have now been together for 9 exciting years.” That’s right, 9. You just can’t make this up!

Now, you may think that my allusion to minors and majors is just a turn of phrase. Not so. In baseball, perhaps more than in any other sport, you need to learn and grow, regardless of how much talent or innate giftedness you think you may have. Kaylea and Jack know that. Kaylea pointedly says that they didn’t just mark time in their relationship, rather, “9 years we have also just been able to grow with one another.”

Jack elaborates on this: “We've had so many great experiences we have shared together. We have also shared difficult times together. It's the tough times, I feel, that made our relationship that much stronger.”

This is such an important truth. Sure, everyone wants to win every day. No one sets out in spring training not wanting to make it to the World Series. But, even the best team, which at this wedding is the Pirates, doesn’t win every game, and arguably you learn and grow from the games you lose, as much you do from the games you win.

This is why I feel the advice of Rick Gabrielly, in Why Marriage is Just Like Baseball, resonates, “In reality maybe we should look at each game (each day of marriage) as an opportunity. An opportunity to play on a team. To be in the game. To enjoy the experience for just that. A chance to play the game we love... To be a part of something bigger than ourselves... Some days you win, some days you lose, but you always want to play again.”
With due respect to Rick, Kaylea makes it sound more romantic, “Words cannot express how excited I am to marry Jack. He is my best friend, my soulmate, and the love of my life. I can't wait to see what the future holds. I know it will be great, because I will have Jack by my side.” And Jack is no slouch either when he says: “I can't wait to see what the world brings us, but I know having my beautiful bride next to me will make me the happiest man alive.”

Well, Kaylea and Jack, all that’s left for me to say, before you do some of the talking, is that immortal phrase, usually obscured by a protective face mask, “Play ball...”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Heart and Soul

Saturday evening, I officiated Angeline and Justin’s wedding ceremony at the Emerald at Queensridge, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Clark County government officials were recently confronted with a true problem, the kind that bedevils local governments, and keeps county executives awake at night. You might think it was a lack of affordable housing or the plight of low income workers, or gambling addictions due to Las Vegas’ major industry. Of course, if you thought that, you would be a fool.

No; the problem the wrestled with was much more serious. Sure, they said to themselves, we have a number of marriage license offices, even one on the Strip that is open seven days a week. That means, though, and I don’t mean to bring up such an upsetting issue at such a joyous occasion, that couples flying in to Las Vegas who want to get married, have to leave the airport!

So, Clark County’s government officials opened a new pop up marriage license office at McCarran International Airport, and of course, they put it at baggage claim. USA Today did caution, “Keep in mind that getting a marriage license doesn’t mean you’ll be legally married. You’ll still need to find Elvis or another legally authorized person to perform a proper marriage ceremony.” Still, I would not entirely dismiss the rumors that Lynn Goya, the Clark County Clerk, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, you might be asking yourself, did he think of using that story because it inherently has something to do with Angeline and Justin, or did he just have that one chambered for his next Las Vegas wedding? To that I would say, shame on you. I will show you how it is all connected.

See, you need to remember that Vegas, in the eyes of most of us, is the Strip, weddings in the backseat of the pink Cadillac, and the first and what should have been the only Hangover movie. To the real people of Las Vegas, though, there is actually a real city that they live in, work in, play in, and fall in love in, just like Angeline and Justin did.

In fact, they met in what might seem to outsiders the very antithesis of the Strip, the university lecture hall. That’s right, they came to UNLV to study, or at least that is what they told their very skeptical families…

As Angeline tells us, “I sat behind him in class because I thought he was pretty cute!” That was a key time in Angeline’s life; it was anything but the kind of carefree existence we associate with this city. “The semester I met him was my first semester back… I had an unfortunate medical issue where I was in and out of the hospital… for… months… I was quite possibly the most depressed I had ever been in my life. I felt like I wasn’t living… like I wasn’t myself anymore.”

Enter Justin. “I felt a sense of happiness that I had not felt for a very long time. He was funny and smart, and knew what to say to make me laugh. As the semester went on, we grew closer and began to date. It was on those dates that I felt like I finally got back a part of me that I thought I had lost for good. Justin made me feel alive again, and it ultimately felt like he truly saved my life.”


Justin describes the genesis and the evolution of their relationship, um, well, differently, shall we say, “We started dating and somewhere along the way, before we even dated, my exact thought was: ‘Oh [expletive deleted], I’m going to end up marrying this girl. Oh, well, it's about damn time.’” This kind of statement, as well as the next, is music to any County Clerk’s ears, here in the Great State of Nevada: “I decided I would like to keep her around permanently, as she was awesome.”

Seriously, though, listen to what he says about why he wants to spend the rest of his life with her: “When I am with her, I can do anything. She helps me be the person I want to be… I know I never want her to go away… I know that she is the best thing that ever happened to me. I know that I love her.” 

And, Angeline adds her two cents, “It’s his dedication to not only my happiness, but to my family as well, that makes me confident that he is the one I want to spend my life with… I know deep down in my heart that he is the man I am meant to be with, and I can only hope that I can bring him the same happiness he has brought me.” And, she too says something that would make our friend, Lynn Goya, Clark County Clerk, very excited, “I don’t want to spend another moment where I am not fully committed to him, heart and soul, as his wife.”

Friday, August 24, 2018

Live the Life of Love

Thursday evening, I officiated Sue and Raphael’s wedding ceremony, at the Munro Boutique Hotel, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I was born and live in the United States, but I grew up in Israel. Last month, on American Independence Day, I posted this observation on Facebook: The great thing about being a dual citizen of both countries is that, unlike my fellow Americans, I have personally met many people who resisted British tyranny, and fought in the War of Independence

One of the most interesting characters of early Israel was Golda Meir, who became Israel’s prime minister. My favorite thing about Golda was her acid tongue. That’s characteristic of us American Israelis. Her best one-liner, in my opinion was something she once said to Israeli bad boy and much feared general, Moshe Dayan. Reportedly, since she had ice in her veins, she kept it together during the dark hours of the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, while he lost it. And, so on another occasion, exasperated with his pompous behavior, she said, “Don’t act so humble; you’re not that great.” I know it took a while to tell that one, but you have to admit, it was worth the payoff!

Why do I bring this up? Well, because I have had the privilege of interacting with Sue and Raphael over these past few months, and the first thing that comes to mind about them is their humility; not the fake kind exhibited by Dayan, the real kind. What’s the difference? Well, the Talmud, the foundational book of Judaism, tells us. It quotes a source that says that, “When Rabbi [Judah, the Patriarch] died, humility and fear of sin ceased.” Then it says that “Rabbi Joseph said… Do not include the word 'humility', because there is I.” Did you get that? Humility is still alive and well, he says; just look at how wonderfully humble I am!

Now, though the Talmud does include jokes, this is not one of them. Rabbi Joseph is being serious. A later sage clarifies what he means. Humility does not mean thinking you are dirt. True humility means knowing your worth exactly, not more and not less. So, Rabbi Joseph was not bragging; he just felt like he knew his true worth. And that quality of Rabbi Joseph is the quality that I saw in both these people, Sue and Raphael.

In fact, one of the first things Raphael said about Sue is how humble she was. Like every brash American, one of my first questions was, “What do you do for a living?” Sue explained what she did, nothing more, nothing less. Raphael made sure to point that out, that she was kind of a big deal at her company. You know what he then did, though? Described what he did, nothing more. Since, I have every person I marry write an autobiographical essay, I discovered later, that a less humble man would have made a very big deal of the success he has had, with his careers, plural. Raphael is very level-headed about it. He truly realizes his good fortune in having had two great mentors, who helped him get to where he was.

Now, you might wonder why I am harping on their professional success? Isn’t this supposed to be about their love story? Well, it is. At the core of their love story lies the same humility, in the sense of truly and accurately understanding your worth and who you are. It is the secret of their relationship. The ideal love story is one where you fully know yourself, and this realization helps you understand how lucky you are to have that special someone in your life.

Listen to what Sue says, and you’ll see what I mean: “I love Raphael with my entire being and I want to continue to grow with him emotionally… He brings out the best in me and makes me very happy. I know that he loves and cares for me… Marriage takes two individuals to spiritual depths that can't be achieved by any other means. I believe that to make a commitment in the eyes of God is the ultimate union between a man and a woman and I want to do this with Raphael as I want to share the rest of my life on earth with him.”

What can you say to that, but wow.

Now, listen to Raphael, “I now know the meaning of love, how it feels to love and be loved. Words do not express the emotion of our love for each other… Sue and I revel in the intense spiritual depth of our togetherness… I… want to share everything that life has to offer with her. We enrich each other’s life so much and bring out the very best in each other… We have both waited all our live to find each other, now is the time to live the life of love, passion and romance that eluded us both for so long.”

I can’t top that; there is no use even trying.

Sue and Raphael, what we wish for you is that you continue to exhibit and practice this true humility that has made you what you are, as individuals and as a couple. With that, your bond will truly be unbreakable.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Overwhelmingly Grateful

Saturday evening, I officiated Rachel and Mark’s wedding ceremony, at the Renaissance Dallas Addison, in Addison, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In fact, in Rachel and Mark’s relationship they continuously emphasize not only how they try to learn from every circumstance they find themselves in, as individuals and as a couple. They emphasize how much they learn from each other.

The Ancient Rabbis said, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” True enough; but I found the use of the word “person”, specifically, interesting. Why? Because of something Rachel relates about their first anniversary of being a couple: “He took me to his parents’ house where he made me dinner and we ate outside a secluded area in the background surrounded by string lights and yard lanterns. I knew from that moment that I couldn’t lose him. He was, and will always be, my person.”

(Gentlemen, could you hear the barely perceptible groan from the ladies here, about this guy being formally taken off the market in just a few minutes? We better step up our game!)

Seriously, though, it’s the use of this term “my person”, on Rachel’s part that caught my eye. Faith Fishkin writes, “The term ‘my person’ originated from the show ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ My own personal definition is the person you go to for everything, the person you can’t live without, the person you can’t stay mad at, and the person that supports you in everything that you do. Being someone’s ‘person’ is a commitment. There is a very big difference between being someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend and being someone’s person. When someone is your person, you have such a deep connection and understanding of one another -- you pretty much know each other like the back of your hand.”

Now, again, true enough, your “person” need not necessarily be the same as your romantic partner. However, what Rachel is telling us is that sometimes like in her case, you hit the jackpot, and you get both in one tidy package.

Now, conceivably, you could be someone’s “person” without a whole lot of mutual learning occurring. So, what do you need to do to take it to that next level, where you mutually learn from your “person”? You need a specific ingredient. Which one? Well, the quality Mark exhibited when he first met Rachel, “We met at a fraternity party a couple times and whenever I talked to her while I was a freshman I always thought that she was a senior, so I kind of thought she was out of my league.” What Mark is telling us is that you need humility.

Humility, a quality that both Rachel and Mark exhibit, is a prerequisite not just for recognizing how pivotal relationships can be in our lives, but a prerequisite for any learning. After all, if you think you are perfect and know everything already, why try to learn?

So, Rachel and Mark, what we wish for you is that you continue to be each other’s “person”, and continue to learn from each other. Continue to think about each other the way Erin Parker writes about her “person”:

“I feel completely and utterly indebted to you for the part you’ve played in my life, but what’s even greater is that I know you’d say the same. What you do for me is exactly what I’d do for you, and that’s what sets us apart... We do for each other because we want to, never for something in return. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t feel overwhelmingly grateful that you’re on my side.”