Sunday, August 12, 2018

Nothing in Life That Feels More Right to Me

Saturday evening, Lorca Smetana and I co-officiated Sara and Pete’s wedding ceremony, at the Yellowstone Club, in Big Sky, Montana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Some of you have been to Montana before, and a few of you, like Lorca, live here. So, this magnificent view might be something you are used to. Having spent the last 14 years of my life in Dallas, the Big D, and having never been here, in Big Sky, before, allow me to just say, wow! Northeast Texas is fairly flat, and we have pretty much covered as much of it as we could in concrete, and we have a lot more of that stuff available to us. Y’all here in Montana seem to be differently inclined.

This view being what it is, if someone asked you why this couple chose this location, a verbal response might not even be necessary. You could just snap a picture with your phone and text it to them. Asked and answered. However, if you know anything about these two and their relationship, you know there is a deeper answer. This type of setting is really symbolic of Sara and Peter’s relationship, from the very start. Listen to what Sara says:

“From the beginning it felt easy and it felt right. I was completely myself and it felt great... After our first dinner, we randomly went clubbing (which I never do), and just had the best night together. I realized quickly that we had so much in common and that we both could just go with the flow and were always up for an adventure.”

It sounds so, what’s the word I am looking for? It’s on the tip of my tongue... Hmmm... Ah, well, it’ll come back to me... Listen to Peter’s description of that very beginning of their relationship: “So we met for dinner, I don't remember exactly what we talked about, but we had a great conversation, and everything seemed to just be natural.” That’s the word I was looking for, natural. Kind of like this setting Sara and Peter brought us all to today!

The beauty of nature is that unlike the concrete kingdoms many of us live in, it is here not because of anything we have done. It preceded not only us as individuals, but our very species. We can admire it, we can protect it, we can affirm it, but we are not its cause. This wedding celebration is much the same. We are here not as a cause of this union, one or two Facebook friends 4.5 years ago notwithstanding. We are here to admire, protect and affirm what these two lovers choose to do today.

Finally, this setting is so apt because the natural nature, if you will, of Sara and Peter’s relationship has pervaded their relationship to this very day, and it characterizes the reason for this next step in that relationship.

I always ask every couple not only why they want to get married, but why now. Sara’s answer is, “I want to marry him now because there’s nothing in life that feels more right to me.” And Peter further clarifies, “It is a large milestone, but I see it more as a progression then a start or an end of something. Getting married just affirms what Sara and I already have going together.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Maybe All We Need is Just a Little Faith

Saturday afternoon, I officiated a celebration of McKenna and Michael’s marriage, at the Southridge Lakes Clubhouse, in Southlake, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that most fascinated me about McKenna and Michael’s relationship is their different paths in life, that eventually brought them together. Roll back the tape, and it’s not at all obvious that we stand with them here today. What are the odds of this girl from Fresno and this boy from Southlake, meeting in Italy, becoming friends, and eventually, back stateside, becoming a lot more than friends, leading them to this very celebration?

Interestingly, when I was writing this ceremony, I just happened to be listening to “Destiny” by Jim Brickman, which I had not heard for years. He asks the same question:

What if I never knew
What if I never found you
I'd never have this feeling in my heart
How did this come to be
I don't know how you found me…

Being the nice Jewish boy that he is, Jim actually answers this, unwittingly, with an answer from the Talmud, the foundational book of Judaism. (That’s right, it’s not the Bible, actually; the foundational book of Judaism is the Talmud!)

The Talmud tells us that 40 days prior to the formation of an embryo, a heavenly voice proclaims, “The daughter of so and so, shall marry so and so.” Or as Jim puts it:

… You’re my destiny
You and I were meant to be
With all my heart and soul
I give my love to have and hold
And as far as I can see
You were always meant to be my destiny

Essentially, Jewish tradition tells us that, yes, McKenna and Michael were destined, from before they were even born, to stand with us here today. There is actually a word for this in Yiddish, bashert, which means “meant to be”, or match made in heaven.” Is that incredible or what?

Incidentally, if you continue to listen to the song, Jim, I am sure unwittingly, reflects something that we find not in the Jewish tradition, but in Mormon theology, where marriage is, “for time and all eternity”:

I wanted someone like you
Someone that I could hold on to
And give my love until the end of time
But forever was just a word
Something I'd only heard about
But now you’re always there for me
When you say forever I'll believe

Pretty wild, huh?

So, what was it that did the trick for McKenna and Michael? We need not guess. McKenna tells us: “Since I was little, I knew exactly what I wanted to find in my future husband… I knew I wanted someone who was always kind and gentle, and that I could depend on for anything. I knew I wanted someone who loved God more than he loved me.”

This fascinated me, because it reminded me of a story from the Midrash. The Midrash is not a book, but a genre of Jewish literature. The Ancient Rabbis in the Midrash fill in gaps in the Biblical narrative. One of the most dramatic moments in the soap opera that makes up the latter part of Genesis, is when Jacob, who thought his favorite son, Joseph, was dead, gets to see him, again. The teenager he thought long lost, twenty-two years prior, is now the sagely viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, the god-king of the mightiest country on earth.

It is a very emotional moment. The Rabbis tell us the strangest thing, though. They say that right before they embrace, Jacob recites the Shema, the proclamation that is first and last on the lips of devout Jews every day; the same words that are supposed to be the final words uttered by every Jew, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Through this legend, the Rabbis wish to express the idea that McKenna expresses, that the love of God must precede everything.

Even if you are not a Mormon, not a Jew, and yes, not even a theist, this is an important idea. It is paramount that your values, your beliefs, your convictions precede everything. And, guess what, THAT makes you even more lovable! That makes you even more ready, in Michael’s words, to “take on all of life’s adventures together.”

And in the final words of Jim Brickman’s song, he speaks of embracing his beloved and loving her, “with all my heart and soul,” the exact phrase used in the second verse of the Shema. However, once again, he precedes that with these words, “Maybe all we need is just a little faith…”

And, then Jim unites the two complementary ideas we started with, one from the Jewish faith and one from the Mormon faith, which come together in McKenna and Michael’s union:

I believe that love will find a way
Baby you’re my destiny
You and I were meant to be
With all my heart and soul
I give my love to have and hold
And as far as I can see
From now until eternity
You were always meant to be
My destiny

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Do Justice, Love Goodness, Walk Modestly

Saturday night, I officiated Paige and Zach’s wedding ceremony at the Balcony Ballroom, in Metairie, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I began by introducing myself as a rabbi, and hopefully by this point in the ceremony, I have backed up this claim. What if I told, though, that one of the other people standing here could have ended up in my place? No joke; listen to what Zach says: “As a boy, my Judaism was a large part of my life. I went to Hebrew school on Saturdays, Judaica [classes] on Wednesdays and I sang Hebrew around the house for fun... My family… thought that I was going to be a Rabbi!” Now, many kids barely last through their Bar Mitzvah, but Zach continued through Confirmation, and attended weekly Hebrew High School classes for his entire time in high school.

Paige was no slouch either. She says: “Both my sisters and I went to catholic school from kindergarten until senior year of high school. During this time, I was taught all about the Catholic religion… in school and during my daily life. I received the sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and Confirmation.”

Now, you might wonder why I am emphasizing these parts of Paige and Zach’s biographies. I’ll tell you why. Because for Paige and Zach it didn’t stop there. They understood the message of their upbringing, that the ritual aspects of their faiths were a starting point, not an end point. They absorbed the underlying imperative of our faiths, so beautifully stated by Pope Francis, “Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty that we have for all: We are all children of God, we believe in love.”

Paige and Zach understand that this is not just a statement of faith; it is a call to action. What action? The prophet Micah told us 2,700 years ago. The people ask him: “With what shall I approach the Lord, do homage to God on high? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings… Shall I give my first-born?” And Micah simply answers, “He has told you… 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.”

The values of justice and goodness and modesty are what Paige and Zach absorbed, as they grew and matured spiritually, and this is what they brought to each other and to their relationship. This is why Zach says, “I feel she makes me a genuinely better person… I am so happy when I am with her.” This is what causes Paige to say, “I love this man and I count myself lucky to have him… He is everything I… ever wanted… I look forward to the coming years together.”

Monday, June 11, 2018

It Was Love

Saturday evening, I got to witness Ariela and Gerardo’s fascinating shamanic wedding ceremony, conducted by Mary Coba. I then officiated their Jewish wedding ceremony. Both ceremonies took place on the beach of Villa Chenera on Isla Mujeres outside Cancun, Mexico. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask couples to review about a list readings, and see if they want to incorporate any of them into their ceremony. I always recommend that they NOT incorporate a reading, just to have a reading. Rather, I encourage them to see if they connect with any reading, if they feel like it describes their love story. In Ariela and Gerardo’s case, not only did they find such a reading; they so “hit the nail on its head”, in describing their love, that I felt like I had to incorporate it into my remarks, something I rarely do.

First, though, what is Ariela and Gerardo’s love story all about?

Listen to Ariela describe it, “It’s all about seeing things in a mindful way, understanding others and having compassion. It’s about unconditional love for yourself and others.”

Now, you might be scratching your head right now. That’s not about THEIR love story, you might be thinking; that’s about how they feel about the world. THAT my friends, is entirely the point. If this unique ceremony is telling you anything, it is that THAT is Ariela and Gerardo’s approach to spirituality. It is about mindfulness, but not a mindfulness that just looks inward. It is about a mindfulness that takes in and cares for the world. Their mindfulness is about one word, love, in its broadest sense.

So, now, listen to this reading from The Alchemist. Not to belabor the pun, this is pure gold:

“When he looked into her eyes, he learned the most important part of the language that all the world spoke — the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love. Something older than humanity, more ancient than the desert. What the boy felt at that moment was that he was in the presence of the only woman in his life, and that, with no need for words, she recognized the same thing. Because when you know the language, it’s easy to understand that someone in the world awaits you, whether it’s in the middle of the desert or in some great city. And when two such people encounter each other, the past and the future become unimportant. There is only that moment, and the incredible certainty that everything under the sun has been written by one hand only. It is the hand that evokes love, and creates a twin soul for every person in the world. Without such love, one’s dreams would have no meaning.”

Wow. Is that powerful or what?

OK, so you may again be wondering: Wait a minute, sure the reading starts with a universality of love, but doesn’t it then veer towards a uniqueness of the love between two lovers? Well, yes it does, and once again, THAT is the point.

The ideal love is one that bears within it that contradiction. It comes from, “an unconditional love for yourself and others,” as Ariela described it, in a language that everyone can understand, as the Alchemist author puts it. Yet, at the same time, such love causes one to feel like one is in the presence of the only other person in the world. Everything and everyone else melt away.

Finally, this is the same message expressed through the Seven Marriage Blessings, which come a little later in this ceremony. The first five don’t even talk about marriage! They talk about love for the world, humanity, and redemption. The final two talk about marriage, and invoke the Adam and Eve story, the only love story where two lovers really are the only persons in the entire world.

Monday, June 4, 2018

I Am So Lucky That This Person Has Chosen Me

Sunday evening, I officiated Megan and Rozen’s wedding ceremony, at the Cotton Mill, in McKinney, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I sat down to write these remarks I thought of this verse: “A woman of valor who can find, her worth is greater than pearls.” I thought of this not only because Friday night it is customary for Jewish husbands to sing this verse to their wives, but also because of something that Megan taught me about two months ago. She shared with me that her Hebrew name was Pnina. I asked why. She told me that Megan means pearl, which is Pnina in Hebrew. Simple, beautiful, and simply beautiful.

Now, this idea of worth or something being “above worth of” is actually a theme in Megan and Rozen’s relationship. Rozen’s first reaction to seeing Megan was, “Wow that girl is way out of my league.” Megan’s description of her smitten first interaction with Rozen is similar to his first impression of her, “He was this confident, handsome, intelligent boy with the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen.”

Now, the word translated as “worth” could be translated as “price”. I find that interesting in light of the backstory of Megan and Rozen’s first seemingly random interaction in Sociology class. Rozen says, “At the beginning of the semester, our teacher placed everyone into groups. His method of deciding the groups was by handing out little toy frogs of different color. She was given a purple frog, and I had been given a green frog. I was not okay with that, so I took out all the money I had in my wallet at the time (it was like 20 bucks) and asked the guy sitting next to me (who had gotten a purple frog as well) to trade me frogs for 20 dollars, no questions asked. We were now placed in the same group; my plan had worked!” We agree, Rozen, it definitely did!

And, Megan thinks that investment paid off for her too. She says, “Rozen has always pushed me to pursue my dreams no matter what they may be. He has been a constant support through all of the ups and downs that life has brought, and I am truly grateful for someone as understanding, patient, and loyal as him.” That is why she says, “I knew many years ago that Rozen would be the man that I was going to marry.”

Rozen knew too. He says, and gentlemen, be forewarned, you are about to wince when you hear what he did, “I knew that I wanted to marry Megan about 2 years into our relationship. But I was broke and didn’t think it was the right time to propose. Fast forward to November 2014, I felt like the timing was right, so I sold my motorcycle and used that money to purchase an engagement ring.” Wow. The man sold his motorcycle. Now, THAT’S true love.

Humor aside, the formula that Megan and Rozen have adopted is the formula for a lasting marriage. When two people wake up every morning, and say, “Wow, I can’t believe this; I am so lucky that this person has chosen me,” that relationship’s worth, truly cannot be measured. We should all be so lucky.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Scream from the Rooftops

Saturday evening, I officiated Allison and Adam’s wedding ceremony, at the Omni Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the great things about being a rabbi is that I can ask questions that coming from other people might sound like an inappropriate question, and people will just chalk it up to my being a rabbi. And, I’m staying for the reception, so watch out... Seriously, though, I always ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay, and I always ask that they articulate why they want to get married and why now?

Allison says she wants to marry Adam because, “He is the other half of my soul. When I am with him I am my best self. He challenges me daily to be better mentally and emotionally. He is my best friend and I can’t imagine my life without him.” And why now? “Because the term boyfriend or fiance are not enough to truly describe what Adam is to me. I want him to be my husband and be able to use that term because that is exactly what Adam is, my husband, my soulmate, my partner in life. Allison says the love she feels for Adam falls nothing short of wanting to, “Scream from the rooftops.”

And, why does Adam want to marry Allison? He says, “I want to marry Allison because I can’t imagine experiencing life without her. She has this unique passion and energy for life that is contagious. (That may explain the screaming part! - DSG) Allison shares the same values as I do, and she supports me in all aspects of life. She makes me want to push myself to grow individually and as a partner (while loving me with all my faults), and at the same time wants to keep growing in those aspects herself. Allison is kind, thoughtful, compassionate, warm, capable and, the icing on the cake, she just so happens to be incredibly gorgeous.”

What Adam is telling us is that together they make up something that is greater than the sum of its parts, because they make each other want to improve. And Allison adds this, “We know that we need to take care of ourselves and our relationship in order for it to grow.” There, she hits the nail on the head. A successful marriage depends not only on caring for each other and bettering each other. It depends on both people working to care for and better that third entity: the marriage itself. If you are cognizant of that fact, and you keep it front and center, the inevitable trials become easier, and the good times become great. And that, my friends, is most definitely worth screaming about from the rooftops...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Take the Next Step

Sunday evening, I officiated Meredith and Michael’s wedding ceremony, at The Veranda, in San Antonio, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Marriage, like it or not, involves if not a gamble, at least an educated guess. What do I mean? Well, if you are even marginally self-aware, you realize that you will change over time, and, spoiler alert, so will your spouse. By committing to the bond of marriage, you are saying that you know that not only do you of today love the him or her of today, but that the you of tomorrow will love the him or her of tomorrow.

Sounds daunting, I know. So, how can you make sure this is more of a grounded decision than a baseless bet? It helps to remember that past is usually prologue, and that history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

Listen to Michael’s observation about Meredith: “Over the course of our college experience, I noticed that a lot of people changed. Having just finished medical school, I noticed that a lot of people change. While Meredith has grown through her experiences, she remains in a lot of ways the same girl I met freshman year. She knows where she came from, remembers the people that were there along the way, and bends over backwards to help those around her...”

And, it’s important to take the time and analyze not only that person in isolation, but that person, yourself, and how you work together as a unit.

Listen to Meredith’s observation, “When we moved to San Antonio in 2014, we both took a big leap of faith. We knew that it would be tough on our relationship – we were moving to a new place where we knew no one. Michael was starting medical school and I was starting a job with a steep learning curve as well. We were leaving behind friends, family and jobs we both loved. It was difficult and lonely for a while, but we relied on each other and I never regretted moving to San Antonio with him. It solidified for me that the two of us were a team and I would be happy wherever we were, as long as we were together.”

And, it helps to go one step further, and pay attention to how that person treats others, because counterintuitively, the you of tomorrow, is not really the same person, but an other.

Michael has paid attention, and says, “Fundamentally, I feel we share the desire to be part of a larger community, to take pride in our work, to take care of ourselves, to continuously better ourselves, and to help others.” And this might be one of the things Meredith admires the most about Michael. She says, “Time and time again I have seen Michael go to great lengths to help or do something kind for the people he loves.”

This takes time and patience, but is really all there is to it. If you have taken the time to contemplate, to observe, to do your homework about yourself and your partner, you are ready, like Meredith and Michael, to take the next step.

In deciding to take this next step, Meredith and Michael have thought a lot about how important the concept of “family” is to them. They say: “We will never forget the love, patience, sacrifice and devotion that our parents have invested in us since childhood. They taught us by example to work hard; to be loyal and honest; to find meaningful life’s work that we are passionate about; and to embrace life with compassion, joy and love. As we look ahead to our future as husband and wife, we hope to honor the legacy of life given to us by our parents. We will strive to give our own children the same kinds of ‘roots and wings’ that have brought the two of us both to this moment.”