Saturday, May 11, 2019

It Will Only Get Better

Saturday evening, I officiated Diana and Damian’s wedding ceremony at Prospect House in Dripping Springs, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes the temptation is just too great, that one must succumb to it. After all, there is no guarantee that I will ever be able to say this again: We are here today, because of what sounds like the set up to a joke: An Argentinian Jew and a Vietnamese Buddhist walk into a bar...

Seriously, though, roll back the tape, and one could hardly predict this. After all, Diana says, “You typically can’t find me at a bar during the week.” And, as a rabbi, you’d be kind of disappointed if I didn’t look for the deeper meaning of that chance occurrence bringing us here today, five years later. You would definitely expect me to go a tiny bit deeper than Damian who says, “I went to Marquis II to get a Long Island Ice Tea and met the love of my life. The moral being that Long Island Ice Teas are good for you!” You would expect me to agree with Diana who says, “I believe fate brought Damian and I together.”

Well, disappoint you I will. I will also do something you usually should never do: Disagree with a bride at her own wedding; at least somewhat. It’s not that I take Damian’s ice tea related lesson to be true; it’s that I feel that fate is not enough to explain what is happening here today. I think Diana is being too modest.

Something she says not about that original meeting, but about their shared life since, is instructive, “I feel like I have been on the best roller coaster of my life and it will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.”

Not to engage in pop explanations of a 2600 year old religion, but I believe that there is something “very” Buddhist about that depiction of life. Life is a roller coaster. There are ups and inevitable downs. Sometimes your world turns upside down, and the only thing holding you in your seat is the inertia of life and a safety bar. That’s life as fate. That is going to be true regardless of what choices you make.

However, and this may be more existentialist than Buddhist, you can still choose how to relate to that ride, and one of the smartest moves you can make is to find someone you can experience it with. That is what this couple did. They did not just accept their fate; they chose their destiny, to hold on to each other on this roller coaster ride.

Damian is pretty explicit about this: “Diana is my support group. Whenever I had a bad day or when I need to make a tough decision at work or life, she is there for me.”

Diana says this is mutual: “Damian has been my pillar of strength for the past 4 years. He is constantly rooting for me and my biggest supporter. He has been there for me during low and high points in my life.”

This is why Diana says, “It will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.” And this is why Damian says, “I cannot wait to have my best friend with me every day for the rest of my life.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hineni – I’m Ready

Sunday afternoon, I officiated Rachel and Will’s wedding ceremony, at the 1899 Farmhouse, in Princeton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Spend enough time with Rachel and Will, and you might forget their age. They have a level of wisdom, that seems beyond their years. You might say they are old souls. For me, this is particularly disconcerting, since I taught Rachel in high school! Don’t worry, though, just ask them where they met, and you snap right back, well conscious of their age cohort. That’s right, Jasmine’s Hookah Bar. Damn millennial hipsters…

Seriously, though, what really stands out about Rachel and Will, what makes me think of them as not only old souls, but kindred spirits, is the level of self-examination they have engaged in. Their honesty in following their minds and their hearts to where that self-examination took them is noteworthy and commendable.

I always try to be mindful of Alice Roosevelt’s description of her father, Teddy, of whom she said, “He was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral”. I try to keep it about the couple. However, one of the reasons that I admire Rachel and Will and feel like we are kindred spirits is that I, too, went through a journey that has many similarities to theirs. They are just a little smarter than me, since they went through similar philosophical transformations much earlier in life than I did! Apparently, unlike them, I’m just a little slow.

Why is this important? Many people go through life, accumulate degrees, titles and prestige, but never really get to know themselves. They are too busy running the rat race, acquiring that one additional shiny object, reaching for one more brass ring. Try to have a meaningful conversation with them, though, and there is no “there” there. It’s all surface deep. And they keep running and running and running.

Then, one day they hear a voice. The Bible imagines such instances. Abraham hears a voice. Moses hears a voice. Notably, they are 75 and 80 years old, respectively, which is fine if you live to 175 and 120, respectively. In the world of reality, however, it’s a little too late. In this world, you may have won the race, acquired the shiny object, and the brass ring is firmly in your grasp. Meaning, however, has eluded you.

The Bible imagines Abraham and Moses using a specific single word, to signify that they understood what the voice was calling on them to do: “Hineni”. It’s difficult to adequately translate that single Hebrew word. In its most simple translation, it means, “I am here.” However, the context tells us that this not simple, but simplistic. In his haunting song, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen is more accurate, in his translation: “I’m ready.”

Hearing that song, and those words, I could not help but think of Rachel and Will. They each heard a voice, an internal calling, and they each said, “I’m ready,” embarking on a journey to think, contemplate and probe their truth. This journey took each of them to some uncomfortable places. Through this, though, they each found themselves and their meaning in life. They know themselves, deeply and thoroughly.

And, as these individual journeys proceeded, they embarked on a journey together, trying, along with their individual truths, to find their shared path in the world. Not surprisingly, this shared journey, which could not be separated from their individual journeys, was a little more complicated, and took a little longer.

They stand before you today, having completed their individual journeys and their shared journey. They know themselves and each other, as very few individuals and couples their age do. Now when they say, “I’m ready,” It is a very different, much deeper, much more mature statement.

Rachel speaks for both of them, when she says: “I know the person I am and the person I want by my side. The same person who stole my heart ten years ago… He is my knight in tin foil, my gentle giant, my companion, my best friend, and so much more. Words cannot do it justice. There’s no one else I’d want to go with on this adventure called life… We are ready to take that final step forward in solidifying ourselves to one another.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Value of Balance

Saturday evening, I officiated Rachael and Tony’s wedding ceremony, at the Canyon Creek Country Club, in Richardson, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay. In all the 800+ essays I have read, only one has included clearly demarcated subsections, as well as clearly demarcated italicized asides. She did not -- and I hope you hear the disappointment in my voice -- include footnotes, endnotes, or citations. I prefer APA style, for the record.

Now, you might think I mention this, just to get a laugh. How dare you?! I promise, I do have a point. This level of detail and order in writing about oneself indicates a high level of self-awareness. Self-awareness, wow. That may be one of the hardest to find commodities in today’s world.

There is a Hasidic tale about someone you might not expect to show up in a Hasidic tale: Napoleon. Bonaparte, not Dynamite. It is said that early on in his martial career Napoleon decided he would conquer the world. Then he says to himself, I should probably make sure I control Europe first. After thinking about it a little more, he decided it would be wise to make sure he thoroughly controlled all of France. He kept thinking, and he realized, that absolute control of Paris was vital before he tried to take possession of all of France. Finally, it hit Napoleon: He needed to make sure that he was in full control of himself before he went any further...

This logic is true not only for 18th-century revolutionaries, seeking to upend the world order. It is true for every relationship; and most of all for marriage. However, there is one big difference, aside from the fact that in marriage you don’t have to violate the Treaty of Westphalia. If you find the right person, you can become more self-aware through your relationship, and you can have an effect on your partner too.

Rachael illustrates this effect in her essay as it has played out in their relationship. She tells us that, “Antonio has a very straightforward approach to problems and situations, [which] helps him make quick and effective decisions, a skill which I admire and respect as it is not a skill I have myself. I am very concerned with making sure that no details or nuances are forgotten when making a decision. These approaches are complementary; when we make decisions together, I can help him slow down and think things through, and he can help me to reach a decision or resolution.”

Antonio seems to agree, as he tells us: “I will most often... jump into fixing [an] issue without thinking too long over it. Rachael, on the other hand, thinks about many different outcomes. We play off each other well.” Interestingly, these quotes side by side, illustrate, in their form, the very dichotomies they discuss: Specificity vs. brevity, accuracy vs. efficiency, and the great value of a balance between these qualities.

That’s why Rachael says: “Antonio is the person that I want to share the rest of my life with. I want us to approach our goals and challenges together, and share celebration in our successes, and raise the next generation of our family together, and when we’re both old and blind and senile, annoy the nursing home staff together.”

That’s why Antonio says, “I love adventuring with Rachael, exploring new places and... experiencing new things together. The joy on her face when she finds something she likes perfects even my worst days.” We should all be so lucky.

Friday, April 12, 2019

And You Shall Love

Tuesday afternoon, I officiated Wynter and Eric’s wedding ceremony, at Eric’s parents’ ranch, in Weatherford, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I sat down to write these remarks, I could not help but think of a fascinating passage in the Talmud, the foundational book of the Jewish faith. What the Ancient Rabbis of the Talmud often did was interpret or even reinterpret a biblical verse, and find in it additional meaning.

In this passage, they discuss a verse Jews recite twice a day: “And you shall love the Lord your God.” Now, on its surface, the verse seems pretty straightforward and simple. Love of God is foundational to the faith. One would expect devout adherents of the faith, like Wynter and Eric to love God. And, I think those who know Wynter and Eric, can attest to their love of God.

The Rabbis say that it has an additional meaning, “that you shall make the name of Heaven beloved.” How should one do so? One should do so, “in that he (should) read and learn.” OK, those are really important in Judaism, but how does that help make God beloved? The Rabbis continue, “And he should be pleasant with people...” OK, that sounds nice, but how does that make God beloved.

Simple, say the Rabbis. Whether justified or not, people connect your faith to your behavior. If you are an unpleasant person, they say, “It must be his faith.” Conversely, if you are a pleasant person, they say, “It must be her faith.” So by behaving well towards others you cause your faith and by extension your God to be loved or conversely not so.

When Wynter and Eric contacted me, before I even met them, I knew they were the type of devout people who cared for others, and it showed. They were planning their wedding, but they were thinking not just of themselves, but of others too.

While it was important to them to have a Jewish wedding, it was as important to them to have a wedding that their guests would feel comfortable attending. This is how you make God beloved.

What we hope and wish for you, Wynter and Eric, is that you continue to make God beloved, not only today, but throughout what we pray will be a long and love-filled marriage.

Sunday, April 7, 2019


Saturday evening, I officiated Ramsey and Lorens’s wedding ceremony, at Sanders Hitch, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry, not only why they want to get married, but why now. Lorens’s answer is, um, interesting: “To me Ramsey is like Wasabi.” This may be the first groom of more than 400 to analogize his bride to a condiment. Stick with him, though. He explains that what he means is that she has a spicy nature, which keeps him on his toes, and “makes things interesting and joyful... Her kindness and genuine heart, and joi de vivre would win any man over.” And then like every good Jew he answers a question with a question, “Why wouldn’t I want to marry her now?”

When I asked Ramsey to write about herself, she did so in a way that very few people do. She wrote in the third person. To me this is very telling. I believe that it says that the person is able to step outside of herself, see the world from others’ points of view, and understand that there is something greater than what meets the eye. That type of thinking is crucial to a successful marriage, because central to marriage is the understanding that it’s not all about you.

Lorens embraced this wise idea early on, and it strengthened inside him, as he matured: “Since I was a kid, I always questioned why things are the way they are... I always enjoyed talking with men of science or of faith – especially Rabbis, trying to figure out why something was the way it was. I always felt the presence of God, but when I went to engineering school, I... had a new-found appreciation of existence.”

It is this shared deep consciousness that moves Ramsey to say, I didn’t seriously date for years because I was sure it was impossible for me to find someone a quarter of the man my dad is. I was lucky enough to find this in Lorens.”

This is why Lorens says, “I always tried to figure out who the right one was... life guided me to the answer I couldn’t have dreamt of.”

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Extraordinarily Lucky

Saturday evening, Reverend Barron Bell and I co-officiated Renee and Jake’s wedding ceremony, at Parker Manor, in Weatherford, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have a split professional personality. I officiate interfaith weddings, and I work for a nonprofit charged with ending homelessness. In the latter role, I spend much time thinking about the idea of luck and privilege, and recognizing that you have it.

This is why I love what Jake says about you, his family and friends: “I have lived an extraordinarily lucky and blessed life. (I have) amazing friends and (a) loving family. I have so so much to be thankful for. (Pause for affect) Actually… so do they, because I am pretty great myself.”
Renee recognizes how lucky and blessed she is too. I got to see this with my own eyes, since the first time I met Renee and Jake in the flesh, as opposed to by FaceTime, Renee’s parents joined us too. You could tell from watching and listening to Renee, how appreciative she was of her parents, and how much she values them and her family.

Recognizing your privilege and your luck in life is tremendously important in any relationship, but especially in marriage. Marriage is the most intense relationship we have, and raising a family makes it only more intense, especially if your idea of a family is Renee’s. I am not making this up; here is what she wrote: “I can’t wait to be his wife and have 4 kids and a ranch with horses and cows.” Jake, I don’t know if her not mentioning the number of each animal is good or bad news. I won’t be around to find out… You will!

Fortunately, Renee and Jake recognize the privilege and luck they have in having found each other, and have formed their unique relationship that today they take to the next step. To wit, Jake says, “I love Renee. She is beautiful, smart, fun, kind, and generous. She inspires me and makes me better every day. She’s the life of every party, even though she always gets there late.”

And Renee says, “He can always turn my frown upside down. He has always been there for me. He supports me, teaches me, encourages me, and most importantly, loves me with all of his heart.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Experience Every Moment

Sunday evening, Reverend Ernest Myers and I co-officiated Lindsay and CJ’s wedding ceremony, at The Springs McKinney, in Anna, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Something Lindsay wrote really caught my eye. I think she expresses a feeling, that is not at all uncommon: “I have always been one of those people who feared ‘adulting’ and growing up because there is no way for me to predict what will happen.” 

Lindsay not only highlights this challenge, however; she addresses it too: “Knowing that I will get to be with CJ for the rest of the life, I am excited for the unknown because I know that I will get to experience every moment with my partner, my soul mate, my best friend – my husband.”

That phrase, “experience every moment,” reminded me of something CJ, in turn, wrote about Lindsay, “It has been amazing experiencing life with her. She is everything I have ever wanted in a partner. The years we have been together have only strengthened my belief she is the only person for me.”

Lindsay and CJ touch upon something really deep here. The best way to address the feeling of precariousness that today’s world sometimes induces is to slow down a little. Live a little more in the present. 

This is the basic idea at the core of Curtis Mayfield’s immortal song, It’s Alright: “It's all right, have a good time… We're gonna move it slow… When you move it slow, it sounds like more…” Curtis assures us, “When you wake up early in the morning, feelin' sad like so many of us do, hum a little soul, make life your goal, and surely something's got to come to you… It's all right, have a good time…”

And Lindsay and CJ speak to the fact that one of the best ways of doing just that is when you find that perfect person to experience life in the present with you.

Old Curtis agrees, so he ends his song making that exact point: “Someday I'll find me a woman, who will love and treat me real nice, then my woe's got to go, and my love, she will know, from morning, noon and night… It's all right, have a good time… now give yourselves a chance…”

That’s why Lindsay says, “Being with CJ makes me a better person… I used to be so cynical about love, but I know now that real love really does exist… When I am with him, no matter where we are or what we are doing, I am home…”

That’s why CJ says, “I can’t imagine my future without her… I am ecstatic knowing I get to spend the rest of my life with my soul mate, and I cannot wait to tackle the challenges of life together as a team of husband and wife. I want to be the best husband I can possibly be to cherish and support Lindsay for the rest of our lives together as a couple.”