Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Worthy Code to Live By

Saturday evening, I officiated Ashley and Aaron’s wedding ceremony at the Boot Ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The way Ashley and Aaron's relationship began is indicative of how the Mars and Venus dynamic between men and women is, shall we say, interesting...
Aaron recounts how he got the ball rolling: "I thought joining an organization would give me the opportunity to make some new friends. At this one particular meeting, the committee chairmen were trying to get some volunteers for different events. Ashley was the head of the Construction Student Association Banquet committee. I thought she was cute, so I decided to volunteer for this particular event. After a few gatherings and me talking to her casually, I mustered up the courage to ask her out on a date.  Our first date lasted four hours, so I would say it went pretty well."

Ashley describes her initial perceptions a little differently: "We had a couple of classes together… until he volunteered for a banquet fundraiser that I was heading up for our department. There he volunteered for about everything I needed help with. Being naive I thought he was just an eager student volunteering for everything to build his professional resume. After a couple fundraiser meetings he mustered up the courage to ask me out on a date." From there they dated for the rest of college, went their separate ways after it was over, reconnected in Dallas, and brought us to this joyous day.

So, what is it that caused that initial volunteering gig there turn into a lifelong commitment? Aaron explains it simply and beautifully, "I believe the reason that we decided to take this life journey together is simply because we are in love with each other.  I believe that we both make each other better people. We both have each other's back no matter what the situation is, and we push each other on many different levels."

Ashley agrees, but she elaborates and adds something fascinating: "I want to marry Aaron because he is not only my best friend but he is my person. I feel that he makes up for my shortcomings, and together I feel that we complement each other and push each other to do our very best. "When I think of how to describe him to others, the very first thing that comes to mind is that he is a good man. He will always stands up for what is right, be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do, and when he cares about someone, he puts their needs before his own and he protects them like family..."

My friends, that would be a worthy code to live by, a code that both Ashley and Aaron have shown they are committed too:
• Stand up for what is right;
• Be truthful even when it’s not the easiest thing to do;
• Put the needs of others before your own.
Let us all strive to live up these ideals.

Monday, April 10, 2017


Sunday morning, Rev. Randy Dicken and I co-officiated Eve and Derek’s wedding, at the Stonegate Mansion, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Eve and Derek might just have chosen the best week for an interfaith Jewish-Christian marriage. On top of that, this might just be the best week for a wedding that unites not just two individuals, but two young families. Why do I say that? Well, this week, our faiths celebrate two holidays, Passover and Easter.

What are Passover and Easter all about? I don't mean the minute details of the stories we tell. I mean what overarching themes are embedded within these celebrations? What is at the core of these holidays that are not just central to our religions, but critical to their founding myths?

Simple; they are all about renewal. They are, after all, Spring holidays. As such they draw on aspects of the human experience that have their roots deeply embedded in the human psyche, that precede the dawn of our great faiths.

Let's think about that word for a moment, renewal. What does it imply? Renew is different from just new. It implies both something new, but also a continuation of something that existed before. Spring, after all, does not, if you will, spring out of nowhere. It emerges from Winter, as the physical world renews itself.

That is what bringing two families together, as we do here today, is all about. That is why earlier in this ceremony, we took a moment to acknowledge the three important individuals that share the stage with Eve and Derek here today. That is why later this week both Christians and Jews will incorporate eggs into their rituals. Because, regardless of the philosophical abstract question regarding what came first, the Easter egg and the egg on the Seder plate were both definitely preceded by the chicken.

This spirit of renewal is what Eve draws on when she says, "Our love and commitment (will) allow us to build a solid foundation and a happy home for our children... It is important to us to show our children what a happy, healthy marriage is." And it is what Derek draws on when he says, "My desire to marry is because I would like to share my life with Eve... I love Eve and want her to know that I want to spend my life with her. It is time... to officially tie the knot."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Keeping It Real

Friday afternoon I officiated Carol and Elliott’s wedding ceremony at the Marty Leonard Chapel, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Carol and Elliott have each spent time exploring their own identity, and searching for their place in the world. The depth to which they have engaged in such contemplation strikes me as something that is beyond their chronological ages. Carol says: “I took to church strongly and was soon heavily involved with the children’s special needs ministry, found the lord and was baptized in the Guadalupe River… Spirituality did a lot for me…” And Elliott says: “As a young teen… I struggled to find my own real spiritual identity… I more or less had to find my own spirituality and beliefs. What I was left with best resembles Reform Judaism, yet not strictly Reform.”

Now, one of the perils of being such a searcher, is that you might take yourself and your beliefs too seriously, to the exclusion of others' beliefs. Not Carol and Elliott. As Carol says, “I wholeheartedly believe that spirituality is a journey that you are never done with, despite the religion one identifies with.” And, Elliott adds a humorous tone, or at least that is how I took it, when he says, “I rarely eat pork.” This reminds of the groom years ago, who shared with me that his grandmother was so religious, that she never ate pork, but would eat bacon, because bacon is just so good!

It is this "keeping it real" approach that made such an impression on Carol. She recounts their first date: We... walked around downtown for around ten or eleven hours. It was amazing. We talked about everything. The conversation was real, unfiltered, and sincere. He acted goofy, told bad jokes, sang and even skipped. It was a breath of fresh air being around someone so real with their opinions and able to be themselves without worrying of judgment."

And, in his recounting of it, Elliott once again emphasizes the depth of thought he found they shared, and the humorous side of it too: "We walked for miles all over town, just talking about everything and anything. Our past, the things we'd been through, the things we wanted in life. There was also an incredible amount of silliness involved as well, with a lot of laughter, I still remember that date vividly."

Carol and Elliott are able to continue to preserve that sense of depth, openness and humor to this very day, and they believe that that is the source of their ongoing bond. As Carol says, "My favorite thing about our relationship is that it mimics everything our first date was." This is why Elliott says, "We're choosing this time to marry because we think it's time, we love each other and we know nothing is going to change that."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Our Better Selves

Saturday morning I officiated Parker and John’s wedding ceremony at the Ashton Depot in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

The idea of constantly seeking to learn from every person and every situation is one that has the potential to tremendously enrich your life. This idea was central to Parker and John's upbringings, and they brought this approach to their relationship.

The very birth of that relationship came from the desire to learn. Parker emphasizes the unique setting for that special learning, that led us all here today:

"John and I met the same way my parents met: In an emergency room. Very romantic. I was a first year resident and he a first year medical student. He was working with one of the senior doctors in the ER who did not seem interested in actually teaching him. I wanted to be a teacher longer than I wanted to be a doctor, so I invited him to see patients with me, and we stayed there all night together talking about physiology and taking care of people. I later found out that he stayed hours later than he was supposed to have gone home."

Now, John agrees that that fateful night, "I was eager to learn, and Parker was eager to teach what she knew." However, in addition to that, a plan hatched in his mind, one, notably, Parker does not admit to having shared at the time, "I was attracted to her enthusiasm and kindness, and that night I made it an eventuality that I would ask her on a date in the future. 'Now' intuitively did not feel right. Having decided that, I spent the rest of the night trying to focus on learning medicine from her."

So, about two years later they reconnected, and John was ready to move forward. Parker was hesitant, "Not knowing whether I could get in trouble for any romantic entanglements with a student, I turned him down three times when he asked me out for really fun sounding dates. However, over the following months we kept in touch, and I fell for him." Once again, this man's patience paid off, "Once we started, there was no stopping, and despite her upcoming departure from Seattle back to Texas, we decided a life temporarily apart would be better than a life without each other at all."

Lifelong learning is not just about discovering new things. It is about bettering yourself, becoming the best person you can be, and creating a virtuous cycle where you want to learn more.

This is what Parker and John have found in each other. As Parker says, "I have been looking for John my whole life. He is obviously an impressive man: he is smart, kind, thoughtful, and incredibly capable, he surrounds himself with wonderful people, and I love and fit well with his family. But our relationship brings me so much more than just having a good man in my life. I feel the most myself when I’m with him. He brings out my best qualities. He encourages me to try new things and to rely on myself and to have confidence that together we can accomplish anything we set our minds to."

This is exactly why John wanted this day to hasten and arrive. As he says, "She and I are our best selves and strive to develop into our better selves when we are together... we have learned and will learn from each other and about each other... I want to continue to fulfill her life. (and) I can no longer imagine my own life without Parker."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Age-Old Lesson of the San-San-Kudo

Saturday evening, I officiated Leah and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Museum of Art. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests, which drew on an aspect of Daniel’s heritage:

One of the oldest Japanese wedding traditions is the San-San-Kudo. In this ritual the bride and groom take turns sipping saki three times from three different cups for a total of nine sips. Hence the name of the ritual, which literally means "three-three-nine." Odd numbers, specifically three and nine, are considered very lucky in Japanese culture. This ritual's symbolism is simple, yet profound. The hope is that the couple will find good fortune in life, but as all couples also have challenging moments, it contains an implied prayer that they be blessed with a spirit of understanding and cooperation.

When you first meet Leah and Daniel, you might notice, that they are a little different. I mean, for one thing, with Daniel, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, and Leah, well, I hope she eventually comes out of her shell. (Not really…)
Seriously, though, what Leah and Daniel exhibit is really no different than any other couple. If you think about, if you didn’t know better, the idea that two people, from different households, with different backgrounds and having had different life experiences could come together and become one unified unit, might seem preposterous. So, how do you make it work?

Well, you do what Leah and Daniel did. You learn. You put some elbow grease into your relationship. You talk, you listen, you work on yourself, and you learn together. Why? Because, as Leah and Daniel will tell you, that makes you both better for it, as individuals and as a couple. In this context, I love how Leah describes Daniel’s effect on her. Listen to this; it’s like poetry. “Daniel is grounded and calming. He keeps me based solidly in reality… He validates me… He clarifies my world view and does it with infinite patience, humor, and love. I'm lucky. And now I'm crying. Damn it.”

Years ago, one of my mentors shared an insight with me: The ideal marriage does not really create anything new. It validates what is already there. It makes it official. This is what Daniel says, “Marriage… declares… a partnership which already exists... We’ve been together long enough that I know that I love Leah…” Ah, but listen to the rest of what he says; this is the kicker. What is marriage, in fact, if it is not creating something new? It is, in Daniel’s words, “making a promise to Leah in front of friends and family to continually work on and nurture our relationship…”

Leah and Daniel understand that the work they engaged in before, does not end today. They make a public promise to nurture everyday what they began creating seven years ago. That, my friends, is the age-old lesson of the San-San-Kudo. That is the lesson of Leah and Daniel to all of us here today.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Man Plans and God Laughs

Saturday evening, Deacon Keith Boswell and I co-officiated Jordana and Eric's wedding ceremony at Villa Siena in Gilbert, Arizona. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One approach to interfaith relations, between spouses, between friends, even between communities, is to gloss over differences. There are even couples that choose to strip their wedding ceremony of any religious traditions, and have an officiant who is not identified with any religious tradition. Now, if you know anything about Jordana and Eric, you know that is not them.

One fascinating but easy to overlook difference between them is how they each speak of their coming together in relation to any preconceived planning they had in finding a soulmate. Eric, as a staid Midwestern Catholic, simply says that falling in love with Jordana was God's plan for him. The red headed New York Jew standing here beside him, with a twinkle in her eye, does not necessarily dispute this. She does, however, invoke an old Yiddish aphorism, der mentsh trakht un got lakhtדער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט, man plans and God laughs.
Seriously, though, recognizing that planning for your relationship is necessary is one of the best lessons that Jordana and Eric teach us. As Eric says, "We needed some extra time due to our different religious backgrounds to make sure we could have a happy and fulfilled life together." Now, once you don't gloss over your religious differences, and instead acknowledge them, that has the potential of helping you plan for and deal with the host of other differences EVERY couple will (not may, WILL) have. As Jordana say, "I think our pre-marriage differences have helped prepare us for all the unpredictabilities before us in marriage."

Now even if you don't gloss over your differences, religious or otherwise, you can still think of differences as obstacles to overcome. Some view differences in many types of relationships, personal and professional, in just that way. Not Jordana and Eric, though. They see their differences as tools they can use for growth, as individuals and as a couple. As Jordana says, "We have grown to have a deeper appreciation of our differences, and instead of letting those differences divide us, they have only enriched (us)..."

And a funny thing happens when you follow this approach. The very recognition and embracing of our differences often shows us that in their essence, the cores of our ideas are actually closer than we thought. As Eric says, "We came to realize there are many similarities in the foundations of the two religions in regards to how they teach you to lead your life and... treat others." 
This allows us to form bonds much closer than we could ever have, as Jordana says, "My relationship with Eric has grown to be quite different from (the) early days. Today, I feel that I have a lifelong partner, a friend, a silly fool who can always make me laugh, right by my side." And it allows us to recognize the very core of those we love. As Eric says, "Jordana has such a big heart and has so much love to give... She’s... thoughtful and compassionate… She’s beautiful inside and out. I know she will make a great wife and a great mother... This is exactly the kind of person I want to be with for the rest of my life and I feel blessed to have found her!"

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Amazing Grace

Saturday afternoon Father Bruce Nieli and I co-officiated Jacqueline and James’ wedding at the Chapel of St. Basil on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Marriage is about two people, in this case Jacqueline and James, coming together. However, as mentioned before, in this case, as in many, there is that additional, shall we say, "element", grace. Grace is central to this union. 

One of my favorite hymns is John Newton's Amazing Grace. Now, I realize, that due to its popularity in modern culture, that is somewhat like saying that I like chocolate. Still, you must admit that a rabbi saying that a song rooted so deeply in Christian theology, is his favorite, is more man bites dog, than dog bites man. And when you do listen carefully to the words, you not only understand the deep Anglican roots of the hymn, in general, you realize that as it was written, it speaks to the concept of grace, as understood in Christianity to be one of its most central theological ideas. 

So, why does this rabbi, along with many non-Anglicans, and for that matter non-Christians, so love this hymn? I believe that this may be attributed to the malleable nature of the words, and specifically the concept of grace. It may have been written by John Newton with specific theological connotations, but even those of us who differ from Newton in our theology can still identify with the words and the broader meaning of grace in our lives. 

That broader meaning could be defined roughly as an ineffable sense of hope. Grace, in that sense means to us that even when we think all is lost, we need not give up. Hope can pull us through. And the hymn tells me, that that is not a one time occurrence. Life is not easy, it includes struggles along the way, and grace, hope, the triumph of the human spirit, are there to pull us through it all. 

You see that quiet resolute triumph in what Jacqueline says, "We come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, different educations and religions. We (still) work because our souls (I have truly come to believe) are bound to one another... You are my soul mate, my other half, my best friend – anyway you cut it, you are my person."

You see that hope in what James says, "She is truly everything I have ever wanted in a partner. Her kindness, passion, heart, selflessness, beauty and unwavering love are just the beginning of all that she brings to our relationship and I am as happy as I have ever been and so incredibly excited for our future together."

Poignantly, the hymn speaks of the need for grace as a constant:

'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
'tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.

Why does it speak of the need for grace as ongoing? Because life's challenges and triumphs are ongoing, are often intertwined. They stretch across time. 

You can hear this in how Jacqueline speaks of the genesis of their relationship, but also in her ongoing devotion to it, "You met me when I was at many crossroads – I was ready and lost all at the same time. As you have discussed with me before – you were too... Whether you believe it or not – you are one of the most amazing men. I would redo every sacrifice and exception that I ever made for you – time and time again."

James also echoes the idea of the ongoing need for and power of grace in his words about Jacqueline and her mom as ongoing forces in his life, "Her daughter... brings tremendous love and passion to our relationship and is a guiding force behind many of our most important decisions and plans. They both have brought incredible joy and happiness to my life and I cannot imagine a life without them."

Indeed, grace unearths in us feelings of hope, love and strength, just like it did in the soul of John Newton. As James says, "I have never felt the way that I do now and I always want to continue and further this feeling of undying and unwavering love and happiness." Or, as Newton might put it, "Unending love, Amazing Grace."