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.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Single Loop Learning, Double Loop Learning and Marriage

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Janece and Grant’s wedding ceremony at the Bella Donna Chapel, in McKinney, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

If you think about it, marriage is an organization, in the sense that is organizes individual human beings into one organizational unit. This is especially true, when it is not just two individuals coming together, but two families, like in this case. So, there are important lessons we can and should learn from organizational learning theory, when we set about to organize these six persons into one unit.

One of the most useful concepts in organizational learning theory is the idea of single-loop learning and double-loop learning, first introduced by Chris Argyris and Donald Schon in the 1970s.

According to Argyris and Schon, an organization engages in single-loop learning, “when the error detected and corrected permits the organization to carry on its present policies or achieve its present objectives... Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.”

In other words, in single-loop learning, we do not question the underlying assumptions under which we operate, only the strategies and techniques in use, whereas in double-loop learning, we question the actual underlying assumptions.

If you know Janece and Grant, but I mean really know them, you know that this is how they have lived their lives, especially these last few years as individuals and as a couple. That says something, because to many the idea of challenging the governing variables, under which we operate, can be extremely disconcerting.

Janece and Grant have not shied away from this. They have asked hard questions of themselves and of each other, and they have followed the answers where those answers led them, making the requisite changes they felt they needed to make.

I have spent the last few months getting to know these two, and they are unique. Do not underestimate their commitment to each other. They are brutally honest and vulnerable with each other, and put everything on the line for each other and their kids. This is a bold, loving couple that is making a difference in the world. There is not a single person who has spent time with this couple, and has not left feeling good. If there are family or friends who are not here because they may disapprove, it is only because they haven’t seen the magic of these two up close.

I will end with words Grant wrote about this subject, but I feel Janece could have written too: “I have the rare opportunity to spend my life with the woman I fell in love with, like I’ve never fallen in love before. And the bonus is, we have both learned so much through our past failures and mistakes that we are now ready to see our love story finish out, to commit until the end.”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

You Do You

Sunday night (5/13) I officiated Jorie and Ryan’s wedding on the roof of their building in the Knox Henderson neighborhood of Dallas. It was just them, a photographer and a videographer. Oh, and their canine tuxedo clad ring bearers, Sammie and Zoe! Here are the remarks I shared with them. (Honestly, Sammie and Zoe could have paid better attention…)

Jorie and Ryan, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning, and learning from everyone. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can I learn from them, what lesson are they, consciously or maybe even unconsciously, teaching?

I always preface my remarks with that short intro, because I really believe in this idea with all my heart. You, though, Jorie and Ryan, really stand out in this regard, because this idea has been central to your relationship. You may have been together for just five years, since 5+8=13, but you have packed more experiences, more learning, more personal growth into those five years, than other couples might in ten years.

It would be difficult to cover even just the most important lessons you learned, but one lesson really stood out to me. This is not a bad lesson for others to learn, either, though it is by no means an easy one. I’ll go a little further in saying that this might be the most important lesson for the broken world we live in today.

You decided to celebrate this milestone in your life your way, without any judgement towards others who do it their way. This is right for you. Here is how you put it, Jorie, and, wow, I hope I can get through this, without my voice cracking: “I’m so excited to have a special day that is JUST Ryan and me, I can’t fully explain it. There’s a lot of ways to justify it, but ultimately, we are going to leave this world alone together, so it feels fitting that we should start our journey alone together.”

Interestingly, there is something “very culturally Jewish” about this. What do I mean? Well, while our two main daughter religions believe that everyone should join their “club”, even traditional Judaism does not share that sentiment. If you’re not Jewish, even an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi will tell you, that you are just fine the way you are. If you’re Jewish, though, he’ll tell you that you have to do things his way.

Secular or cultural Judaism takes that original Jewish sentiment, and applies it across the board. It might sound simple, almost simplistic, but its message is revolutionary: Not just do unto others, as you want done to you, but also, you do you. As long as you are being moral and ethical, it’s all good.

I remarked to you in one of our meetings, that something Ryan wrote sounded like poetry. There was no way I was going to leave this out, because it sets the course for where you go from here, as you continue from 5+13=18, to do you:

“It has been a wild five years and it is incredible to think back on just how much we have experienced together. All of those experiences have brought us extremely close and strengthened our relationship immensely. Because of the challenges and obstacles and experiences we have already been through together, I know that this next chapter of marriage will be a successful one. And I can’t think of a more beautiful or perfect woman to do it with.”

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Embrace Difference

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Nicole and Mike’s wedding at the Pearl Hotel, in Rosemary Beach, Florida. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the last adjectives that might come to mind regarding Mike is “indecisive”. This man knows where is going, and how he is going to get there. It kind of comes with the territory when you do what he does for a living.

So, it might strike you as that odd that he says, “When it was time to move on to college, I was unsure of what to do.” This led him to do what many people in other developed countries do, but Americans don’t do enough of, spend a gap year abroad. Like many who do this he calls this a “life changing experience, introducing me to new people, new cultures, and gaining new insight into myself and the world around me.”

Nicole also experienced the eye-opening education that only travel can bring about, as an Air Force brat. In fact, she owes her existence to it! Here are the places she has lived: Guam, Michigan, Colorado, Alabama, South Korea, Washington, Azores, Illinois, North Carolina, Illinois (again), and now Texas. She treasures what she calls, “the opportunity to travel to different countries and states while learning and growing up with various cultures.”

Isn’t that interesting? Where others might see hardship, these two saw opportunities for growth. Where others might see threatening differences, these two saw diversity that was to be embraced.

That kind of outlook prepares you very well for one of life’s most exciting adventures, marriage. Our Ancient Rabbis pondered what God busied himself with, now that he is no longer parting the Red Sea, raining down fire every now and then, and other assorted heavy lifts. Their answer, matchmaking. Because marriage is about taking two very different people and turning them into one unified entity.

Nicole and Mike recognize this. They told me so: “We always tell each other that a relationship is not all sunshine and rainbows and isn't a given or an obligation. It is a choice and it is something you have to work at...” It’s worth working at, because, it is through marriage that you can become what Nicole calls, her “complete self”.  That’s probably why the Rabbis imagined God spending so much time on this endeavor.

When you have lived your life in a way that embraces difference and diversity, you are able, like Nicole and Mike to say, “We embrace and utilize each other's differences to make us a stronger team...” This is why Nicole says, “He is who I choose every single day... I have never been more sure about something or someone in my life...” this is why Mike says, “I always knew she was the one...”