Sunday, September 1, 2019

Forge Your Destiny

Saturday evening, I officiated Alix and Amit’s Jewish wedding ceremony at the Fort Worth Club, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Here’s the fascinating thing about Alix and Amit’s love story: Circumstances that would have felled lesser couples, not only did not stand in their way; they brought them closer. 

Take the most obvious fact: You would think that as a Jew and a Hindu, they would have less in common than, say, a Jew and a Christian. And, yet, they both found much in common due to this very fact. In America, the most religious country in the Western World, if you are a non-Christian (and sometimes even if you are a Christian), you may find folks actively trying to convert you. This happened many times to Alix and Amit. This is not a criticism, incidentally. If you truly believe that the road to heaven lies in adopting your belief system, exclusively, how could you not attempt this?

When they met, they were both at the tail end of long-term relationships. That is usually a less than ideal time to build a new relationship. However, it was in talking about their experiences and reflecting on those relationships, that they grew close and eventually became a couple. 

When they made that move from friends to romantic partners, it was as members of a small cohort of students, where this was not without its drawbacks. They did not allow this to hold them back, because as Alix says, “Secrets can be fun!” Amit explains, “We started a relationship but told no one but a couple of our closest friends: sharing a secret and speaking in code at times was a blast, and almost certainly brought us even closer together.” 

Now, at that time, Amit was in his fifth year of graduate school, while Alix had just begun. So, as Amit says, “We always thought it had an expiration date, since I was moving to Dartmouth to start my first faculty job.” Well, that supposed expiration date came and went, and their relationship continued. The travel became almost matter of fact, “I would take the 9-hour train ride to see him; he would do the 6-hour drive to come see me,” says Alix. 

Then, Alix and Amit took Calum Scott’s line in his popular song, You are the Reason, as a challenge, rather than a lament: “I’d climb every mountain, and swim every ocean, just to be with you,” so Amit moved to the Netherlands… Once again, this might create insurmountable problems for other couples. How did this couple respond? Alix says, “We joked... (that this) long-distance was ‘better,’ because it was only a 6-hour flight, (which is) better than the 9-hour train.”

In surmounting these obstacles, Alix and Amit show us that what matters is not the circumstance you are in, your fate, if you will. What matters is how you choose to relate to that circumstance, and through that you can escape the clutches of fate and forge your destiny. That's why what Amit says really rings true: “Not sure what the future holds, but if we're working together, we can handle anything life throws at us.”

Monday, August 26, 2019

Do Justice, Love Goodness, Walk Modestly

Sunday morning, I officiated Emily and Elliot’s wedding at the Filter Building in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

There’s nothing really instructive about how Emily and Elliot met for the first time. I mean, he was stacking Stella chalices, and she threw her phone at him. That’s just what a Wildcat does when she sees a Jayhawk, who later became a member of the Wolfpack. And, since it was at SXSW, they had to do their part in keeping Austin weird... 

One of the best things about weddings is that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate your wedding, and certainly there is no right or wrong way to plan it. So, the following should not be construed as criticism of any other couple. 

During our preparation for this ceremony, Emily and Elliot really talked a lot about the importance of the Jewish faith in their relationship, and in the family they are building together. That is not something that always comes up in wedding planning discussions. Clearly, this is an important aspect of their life together. And, if you know anything about Elliot’s professional and volunteer experiences, in the U.S. and Israel, you can understand why. This guy is one hardcore Jew! 

Now, here’s where a note of caution is in order: Sometimes people describe a person as religious or very religious, and you sense they are automatically equating that with good or very good person. You really shouldn’t equate the two. Look around you in today’s world, and you will see too many examples that will show you why. 

That’s why I love what Elliot says when he speaks about the core of his faith, what it means to him, and how it shapes the lives of this couple, this budding family: “I try and do the best I can and show my true faith in how I treat and love Emily, my family, and my friends…” 

In these words, but more importantly in how Emily and Elliot live their lives, they embody the true message of our faith, its daughter faiths and the faiths of all men and women of good will, as spoken more than 2,700 years ago by the Prophet Micah: “He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Travel the Word Together

Saturday night, Reverend Aaron Teague and I co-officiated Alexis and Logan’s wedding at Marie Gabrielle in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

This couple, actually, teaches us two important lessons, and they are of the unconscious variety, and boy are they deep!

First Alexis’ lesson for us. Here is what she says about Logan: “I want to spend the rest of my life with him, I want to start a family with him, I want to grow old with him. He brings so much color to my life, color I had no idea I was missing. The sun shines brighter when we’re together, food tastes better when we’re together. Everything is better when we’re together.”

Now, the romantics among you are going, “Awwwwwww!” The rationalists among you, conscious of the fact that usually your verbal insights are not appreciated at events like these, perhaps winced a bit. “Food tastes better when we’re together?” Really?!
Well, I am no scientist, and I don’t even play one on TV. However, I believe this is quite rational. We think that taste is something in the tongue. It is not. It is in the brain. The entire food restaurant industry makes that quite clear. 

Now to Logan’s lesson for us. Here is what he says about Alexis: “She has helped make me a better person every day we have been together. I am so lucky to have met such an unbelievable caring, kind, and loving person. I want to spend the rest of my life with her to grow together, to experience life together, travel the word together, and raise a family together.” 

Now, you are probably thinking to yourself, “Oh boy, he’s a rabbi, and he can’t read. How sad.” Because, surely, I should have read, “travel the world together.” Here’s the thing, I am not misreading. Logan accidentally typed “word” instead of “world.”

However, through this he teaches us an incredible lesson. You see, there can be two ways to approach our differences in the realm of faith. And, you will see examples of this among interfaith couples, among friends who are members of different faiths, and even among faith communities. One way is not to really talk about faith. Let’s just play it safe. We don’t want to argue or disagree, so let’s talk about anything else.

Well, that may be safe, but it’s really boring, and it is not conducive to learning. Guess what, if you think your tradition has a monopoly on the truth, and that you have nothing to learn from other faiths, you are wrong. So, the smarter move is to, in Logan’s words, “travel the word together.” Learn about the other person’s faith, learn about their traditions. You will become richer for it, we all will become richer for it, just like Alexis and Logan.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Slow Dance with Me

Saturday morning, I officiated Chris and Ari’s wedding ceremony at BRIO Tuscan Grille, in Allen, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I made a false assumption about Ari. I assumed that his Hebrew name was Ari, which means lion in Hebrew. He corrected me, and said his Hebrew name was Avraham or Abraham. That, actually, made more sense to me. 

Why do I say that? Well, one of the things the Ancient Rabbis tell us, by reading between the lines of the biblical text, is that Abraham was a doer, not a talker. And, in the short time I have known Ari, that seems like a good description. 

(By the way, I say this as someone who is rarely accused of being too quiet. This might be a generalization, but clergy do usually like the sound of their own voices...)

When you are a doer, not a talker, that allows you to slow down a little, take the world in, and even notice things others don’t. More than that, you can have a profound effect on those you love. 

Just listen to how Chris describes Ari’s effect on her: “He makes me smile, laugh and makes me think. I am a feeler and hate to think. He slows me down, when I am mad or lost he doesn’t have to say a word he just hugs me and kisses my head. My whole demeanor changes in seconds.”

Now, we are “package deals” most of us, and so those of us who are quieter and take things slow, sometimes need a nudge from our loved ones. Ari gets this. He says, “I have many endearing qualities; my hesitancy is not one of them...” 

This makes Ari appreciate the passion that Chris brings, not only to their relationship, but to the way she lives in the world:  He says that, “she has become my best friend... I love her smile, how she dances around me, and her spirit of generosity and love to help others less fortunate than herself...

What Chris and Ari show us is the importance of balancing each other out, and complementing each other’s differences, which is core to any lasting relationship. 

This is why Chris says, “I love that no matter where we are or what we are doing, Ari grabs me and starts to slow dance with me and we are dancing to a song that is not playing but we hear.”

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wonder Woman

Saturday evening, Cory Reinhardt and I co-officiated Steph and AJ’s wedding ceremony at the Blue Dress Barn in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things I ask every person I marry to tell me about is how they met their beloved. Some of the answers I get are downright vivid. You might assume that especially these ones would be consistent between the two people. This is not always the case, especially with regard to the ongoing internal monologue we all have going on in our heads. 

Just listen to Steph: “My second semester of grad school, I had a Disability and Physical Activity class that I was so excited for because that’s literally my niche in the field I work in... I have a tendency to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, and I was coming from my assistantship on a different floor, so I came into the class a few minutes late. I remember I was wearing my work uniform and cheetah headband, and I came into the room hurriedly and saw AJ and thought, ‘Oh wow, now he’s handsome.’ He was wearing all white and a hat.” 

Now, listen to AJ, and do keep in mind – and I hope you can hear the disappointment in my voice – that this professor did not have a copy of the Oxford University Press Dictionary of American Family Names in the classroom. This page turner clarifies that some names are shared by those of Germanextraction, not only those of Jewish ancestry. This will become highly relevant in just a moment: “Dr. Rowland, our professor, began roll call as she did at the beginning of each class. Sure enough, when we got down to the S’s, the name Stephanie Steiner graced my ears. And in that moment, the door swung wide open and in came Steph, in her disheveled frantic manner, stated ‘Present! Sorry I’m late,’ and took her seat. It was in that moment in looking at her, dressed in her Adidas capri leggings, Chicago Athletic Clubs employment shirt, Nike shoes, and a cheetah headband tying the ensemble together, that I knew that I was in trouble... I had found my Jewish Wonder Woman.”

AJ, this might be the worst time for this, but I think you need to know something... 

Seriously, though, I actually like the fact that that was his thought, and not only because that and Black Panther were the only comic book movies I have liked in the recent onslaught of comic book cinema. It is because the characters in that movie sound like Steph’s description of her and AJ: “AJ and I are a case of opposites; furthermore, we come from opposite worlds.” 

And, yet, the movie’s message is that if you are willing to take the time and do the work, the payoff can be unparalleled. Two people coming from two entirely different worlds can not only work together but thrive, make each other better as individuals, and together make up a team in which together they become even stronger than the sum of the team’s parts. 

That is Steph and AJ’s story, in its essence. 

That is why AJ, who still maintains Steph is his Wonder Woman, says, “She gives me the drive and purpose to be a better man and to wake up every morning with the intentions of doing Godly work that will have lasting effects.”

That is why Steph says, “He’s the best person I know. He’s made me a better person and encourages me in all aspects of my life. He’s my number one teammate and I’m lucky he’s on my team.”

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Fundamental Truth of This World

Sunday evening, I officiated Rachel and Rosendo’s English-Spanish-Hebrew wedding ceremony at the Monroe Pearson in Denton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Patience is one of the most important virtues in life. Why do I say that, specifically, now? Without patience, we would not be standing here. Listen to Rachel: “Rosendo and I met online... I was actually about to give up on that site until he messaged me. I responded and we messaged back and forth for a couple weeks until we exchanged numbers and then messaged some more and then finally ended up meeting and [we] have been together since our first date.” Like I said, patience, my friends, is what brought us here today…

What was it that kept Rachel from giving up on that site? What premonition did she have? I like to think that Rachel recognized deep in her soul that Rosendo was out there, and that through meeting him she would discover that in the words of the Indian Nobel laureate, poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, “Relationship is the fundamental truth of this world.”

Rosendo certainly had this premonition, and he agrees with Tagore. He says, “I feel like I have found my better half… Rachel makes me be a better man and she’s the one I have been searching for.”

“Relationship,” tells us Maria Popova, “is what makes a forest a forest and an ocean an ocean. To meet the world on its own terms and respect the reality of another as an expression of that world as fundamental and inalienable as your own reality is an art immensely rewarding yet immensely difficult — especially in an era when we have ceased to meet one another as whole persons and instead collide as fragments.”

Relationship is what brings ultimate happiness. That is why Rachel says, “Three years later and we are now engaged, and I couldn’t be happier.  I want to get married now… because I’m so excited and ready to start this next step in life and start a family with Rosendo.”

Rosendo agrees, “The reason I want to get married is [that] since I met Rachel, I’m the happiest man on the face of the earth, and I could have never been in this happy if it wasn’t for Rachel being in my life. I want to spend the rest of my life with the person that I love the most.”

Sunday, June 16, 2019

New Purpose

Saturday night I officiated Melissa and Nick’s wedding ceremony at the Joule in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I realize this is going to sound cheesy, but if you can’t be cheesy at a wedding, where can you be? One of my favorite songs is You Are the Reason, by Calum Scott, specifically, the duet version with Leona Lewis. I have listened to it/watched it on YouTube numerous times. Thinking about Melissa and Nick, their relationship, their journey, their unbelievable growth, I couldn’t help think of this song.

The song fits them on so many different levels. Just listen to a few words from the crescendo of the song, which I will read, not sing (don’t worry):

… I'd climb every mountain
And swim every ocean
Just to be with you
And fix what I've broken
… Cause I need you to see
That you are the reason…
(I don't wanna fight no more)
(I don't wanna hurt no more)
(I don't wanna cry no more)
(Come back, I need you to hold me closer now)
You are the reason…
(I need you to hold me tonight)

I want to ask what might seem like an odd question: Who is the, “You”, in “You are the Reason”? You might scoff at the question. You might say, it’s obvious. The “You” is the person’s romantic partner.

On one level that is true, and you can see this in what Melissa and Nick say about each other, in a fashion reminiscent of the song. Nick says, “We have had one heck of a ride the past six years. We have been through so much together… We put everything aside and forgave each other, and figured it out… I really see what’s important to me in life, and I understand more… now than ever what it is to be married to someone you love.” And Melissa says, “Nick and I had a picture-perfect relationship on the outside, but for many years, we really struggled... Nick stuck with me through the worst…  I will be forever grateful for the way he has loved me through my darkest times... He is a true example of unconditional love.”

Melissa and Nick, however, clarify that there is another level here, another You, if you will. Nick says, “A wedding (now) means something totally different than it did before… We have God in our relationship guiding us, and with that there is nothing we can’t do.” And Melissa agrees, “I believe that God put us together for a reason… God has re-invented our relationship. Today it is better than I could have ever imagined.”

Still, if you just stay at that level of understanding, you are missing something extremely significant. After all, we have all seen some version of the t-shirt I saw once in the French Quarter, with these words: “God loves you. Everyone else thinks you’re not a really nice person.” (That’s not really what it says, but you get the idea…) And we certainly have seen folks that we wanted to gift that t-shirt to...

In the Ethics of Fathers, Rabbi Hillel, the Elder, clarifies the highest level of You, “If I am only for myself, who am I?” The highest level of You, the best way to find your purpose, is through making others people’s lives just a little better. As Melissa says, but really as we all should say, “Today we live for giving… We have found a new purpose in life, helping others.” That is the highest level of purpose in life. And both Hillel and Melissa use the present tense, because you should be doing this, not just have done this or commit to doing it sometime in the future. Because as Rabbi Hillel adds in a final admonition that Melissa and Nick do not need, but some of us may, as we follow their example, “If not now, when?”