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?”

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Patience

Saturday afternoon Father Mannie Pierre and I co-officiated Danielle and Mikey’s wedding ceremony at the Waterville Estate in Sante Cruz, Trinidad and Tobago. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple not only why they want to get married, but why now. I emphasized to Danielle and Mikey, that I ask every couple to address this, just so they wouldn’t take this question as an indictment. Because I’m sure they have heard the question, with just that in mind. 

I say, let’s indict the question, not the couple. I think there might be something to learn there. And I think this speaks to a larger phenomenon in our society. 


One of the most pernicious phenomena in my nation, the United States of America, is our lack of patience. We want it now. And now has become such a standard that we have come to assume it to be the norm. Naturally, I am writing this in a Starbucks, and the barista literally apologized three times, because they were low on blonde roast, and I had to wait five minutes for my coffee. It’s six weeks later, and I have only begun to recover...

Unfortunately, we have exported this pernicious phenomenon not only to our neighbor to the north, but to our neighbors here to the south. Just listen to Marissa Williams, a Trinidadian writer, whose family was very close to the great Trinidadian poet, Anson Gonz├ílez: “We have become a society that seems to reject beautifully crafted prose and lyrics in lieu of attention grabbing headlines and one paragraph sensationalized stories and pictures. Our voracious informational appetites has (sic) us almost addicted to ‘Google’ searches and social media outlets, spending more time skimming headlines and pictures and less time appreciating and digesting well written prose and poetry.”

This is why I appreciate the fact that Danielle and Mikey have taken their time, and carefully crafted their love story. Listen to how Danielle describes the result of this patience:

“Our relationship is one that has been built on communication and mutual respect. We work at listening to one another... We bring out the best in one another. We work as a team. When one of us has a success, the other shares in it and when one of us is saddened, the other shares in this burden. We offer each other support, comfort, laughter, and tough love when it’s needed... We share the same values and strive daily to embody these. We give each other space to grow and to evolve. We know and appreciate one another’s vulnerabilities.”

Mikey highlights the fact that their relationship was long distance for much of those ten years. He emphasizes how much it was worth the wait:

“We had... to make it through the long distance, keep doing what was best for us individually... and be patient to allow our relationship to succeed for the rest of our lives and not just for a couple years. It was not easy and we both struggled... But we never gave up because we couldn’t; she was everything to me and continues to be.”

This patience makes today so much more meaningful. As Danielle writes: “Now, after nearly 10 years, after having seen each other through so many life phases and so many highs and lows, I have never been more sure of anything… he is the love of my life, my most treasured gift, and the greatest life partner I could ever ask for.”

And Mikey sums it up: “I am ready to commit to her, her parents, her family and friends that I will be there for her and support her for the rest of my life.”

Monday, June 3, 2019

More and More Every Day

Saturday evening, Reverend Steven Fricke and I co-officiated Samantha and Riley’s wedding ceremony at The Joule, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

We almost didn’t make it here. Not because of something that happened recently, but because of what happened 12 years ago. Listen to Riley:

“Back when we were growing up, we would ride our bikes around the neighborhood in the summer for fun. During the summer of 2007, Samantha and her friend were riding bikes in the neighborhood and stopped by my parent’s house. I was playing basketball outside with a friend and noticed these two girls ride up on their bikes. They looked young so I went inside and grabbed my little brother and told him two girls were out front for him.” Wow, so this whole story almost never started!


Fortunately, Riley realized his mistake, and he course corrected. As Samantha says, “Fast forward a year, and we started hanging out... I thought Riley was the COOLEST boy in town because he was 16 and could drive a car. The rest is history.”

Now, you might think that this is but a meaningless anecdote. I don’t think so. This is emblematic of an important quality these two people possess, adaptability. There is great evidence of this, in how each of them has lived their scholastic and professional lives. They are better and happier for it.

In fact, they have harnessed this quality to enhance their relationship. As Riley says, “We have very different personalities and I think that makes us mesh together even better.”

Adaptability may be the most important quality for any lasting marriage. Because, it is not only the “I” of today that is making a commitment to the “you” of today. It is more importantly the “I” of tomorrow who is committing to the “you” of tomorrow. Those two people will be very different from the two people standing here. It is the ability to adapt, which will not only bind them together, but further enrich their marriage.

Samantha sees this in Riley, which is why she says, “Riley is the perfect life partner and is going to be the most incredible dad. He is patient, kind, funny, understanding, loving.”

This is why Riley says, “I grow to love her more and more every day... no matter what happens... we want to be together.”

Monday, May 27, 2019

Life, Love and Joy

Sunday evening, I officiated Emily and VJ’s wedding ceremony at Winfrey Point, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Many a romance novel, a play, even a movie, involve secret, even forbidden, relationships.  Emily and VJ’s relationship began this way. Emily writes:

“David and I had found new employment and were both thinking of moving. I asked David if he would move into an apartment with me, and he said that VJ had already asked him. I responded and told him that was fine, that rent was cheaper 3 ways. He said he thought VJ might decline, because he thought VJ might have feelings for me. I replied that that was just stupid, that we were and always had been friends... David talked to VJ, and, voila, we all moved in together.

Things went well for about 6-8 weeks... (Then) VJ and I began seeing each other discreetly. Our connection and affections grew strong quickly, and by the end of February, we told David that we were together. David was simultaneously overjoyed and terrified that his two best friends were romantically involved, and serendipitously declared that if we were going to date, we couldn’t break up, and so we would have to get married.”


Now, actually, their mutual feelings began long before that period of forbidden love. They were not based on any shallow interactions, mere looks, or random attraction, either. VJ writes:

“I met her three years before we would, actually, start dating. We were both seeing other people at the time, but I remember meeting her for the first time in front of a Cinemax movie theatre, and experiencing a moment that took my breath away. This story has always been one of my favorites of ours because we both experienced it similarly simultaneously. When I first met Emily, what blew me away the most about her was not her beauty, or smarts, or cleverness. It was how clear, it was that she had lived a life without a veil like me and that we were alike. Also, how focused she was on the interactions she was having with others.”

When Emily and VJ share their stories of growing up, you understand what VJ is referring to. They have each had challenging experiences, and have used these very experiences to build a life full of meaning. They first did so as individuals, and in recognizing in each other kindred spirits in this regard, have continued to do so, as a couple.

Their connection is so deep, that it leads VJ to say, “I feel like me and her coming together was decided long before I came into existence, because whenever I make a choice to further my life with Emily it has always felt like I was remembering a time that already happened. The want to try to live a life with her was something already so purely real in my mind.”

Is it any surprise, therefore, that Emily writes: “Wherever we go, and with whatever life brings us, I have endless confidence that we will find immeasurable happiness and solace in difficult times... I could not have been blessed with a greater love. VJ has made the impossible possible. He gives me strength and confidence to embark on our greatest adventure. I know I’ll never be alone. I’ll always have a safe place in him when dark times find us. I know, more deeply than I’ve known anything before, we will build a life and home full of love... I’m eternally thankful that I get to share the rest of my life, love, and joy with him.”