Sunday, November 17, 2019

Down Pat

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

This is hardest part of writing a wedding ceremony around and with a couple. Julie and Adam made it easy though, because they address the reasons for why they want to do what they are about to do so cogently. Interestingly, and if you know them this will not floor you, they both include lists. (By the way, Adam’s list utilizes numbers and Julie’s utilizes bullet points, and I’m sure some doctoral student in psychology could explain that part…)


Adam, helpfully, cautions that this is just a teaser, since his vows and toast will include more. And he admits, “There was no single moment when I knew I had fallen in love with Julie, when I knew I wanted her to be my life partner. It, sort of, snuck up on me, and one day, I just knew that I was in love. I had several epiphanies that made me realize it.” Here comes the list, and I am abridging parts here, or we’d be here all night:

“1. Nothing makes me happier than when I’m able to make Julie smile or laugh. I get so much joy from seeing her be happy. Realizing this was perhaps the #1 sign that told me I was in love and ready… The rewards from seeing that smile are endless 
2. As someone who travels Monday-to-Thursday every week, I started to realize: I missed her… I became so excited to come home on Thursday evenings, not just to be home, but because I would get to see her. I couldn’t wait to walk in the door and give her a hug. It’s a feeling I’ve never had with anyone else. 
3. Julie loves me for who I am. I’m a quirky person, but Julie has never tried to change that. She indulges my love of board games and Game of Thrones. She tolerates – and even supports – my 5am wake-up calls so I can run for 3 hours on Saturday mornings. She attends my reunions with my business school crew… She embraces my quirks and passions…” 

Now, I am probably not the only one who has observed that Julie and Adam are mature beyond their years. So, the first thing Julie says won’t surprise you: “I used to think that the definition of love was infinite closeness—knowing everything about another person and intertwining your lives completely. I’ve realized since that partnership requires some distance, to appreciate each other’s gifts and give each other room to grow as individuals… I don’t feel like I need to know everything about Adam before committing to spend my life with him... (because) Adam is extremely consistent. He has a strong moral compass and lives by these beliefs.” Then she lists four examples in bullet points: 

“• Adam is a feminist. He once turned down an opportunity for additional visibility and recognition at work and insisted that the opportunity be offered to a female colleague. 
• Adam thinks it’s important to show up for his friends. At any birthday or bachelor party, Adam can be counted on to fall asleep on the floor or couch, because he wants to stay until the bitter end with the guest of honor. 
• Adam is an environmentalist. He wrote an essay in middle school about why gas-guzzling SUVs should be banned, and is a Prius driver today. 
• Adam believes in putting the needs of others above his own. When I was flying out to Cuba after we’d been dating for a few months, he insisted on driving me to the airport at 4am, even though he had barely slept all week. When I travel for weekend trips, I have several times come home to find that he grocery shopped for me and made my lunches for the week…”  

That last part might be the most important lesson for marriage. The Ancient Rabbis ask what commandment one fulfills simply through the act of marriage. They answer, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the essence of which is putting the needs of the other, in this case your spouse, above your own needs. Sounds like Julie and Adam have that one down pat.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Journey Together

Saturday evening, Father Bryan Shields and I co-officiated Malise and Adam’s wedding ceremony, in the Academy of the Sacred Heart Chapel, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay, which serves as the raw material for these remarks. Sometimes, what they write is so powerful, the remarks almost write themselves. This is one of those cases. 

Listen to how they describe their feelings for and gratitude towards each other. Malise says, “I have never met a man like Adam. He is one of the most patient, understanding, and kind people I have ever met. Having only met him three months after I moved to New York, I was unsure if I wanted a boyfriend at that time, but he quickly became a constant in my life and provided a sense of comfort and support I cannot live without…” 


And Adam says, “I want to marry Malise because she makes me a better and happier person… She makes me laugh, accepts all of my quirks, stimulates me intellectually, and forces me to always try to improve myself… I…  can tell she'll be an incredible mother…” 

How do you get there? The answer is almost too simple: Open and clear communication, coupled with respect for the other person’s autonomy. Malise and Adam are explicit about this. Adam says: “We… have had a very upfront and communicative relationship… (We are) both… fairly opinionated and stubborn… but… we… discuss things openly and calmly with one another and respect each other’s thoughts. To me this is one of the key reasons we get along so well.” 

Malise agrees: “We have talked a lot about our future life together… how we want to keep open and constant communication… neither of us expect the other to change… who they are for each other.”

That’s why Adam says, “Given how open we have always been with each other… I believe we're ready to get married now… we look forward to embarking on that journey together really as soon as possible.” 

And it is this clarity that drives Malise to say, “I believe it wholeheartedly when each of us says we will be together forever… He is simply the perfect match for me… There is no better time than now to start our next chapter.”

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Every Day is a New Adventure

Friday evening, I officiated Annat and Weslyn’s wedding ceremony, at Remi's Ridge at Hidden Falls, in Spring Branch, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Some people think that during personal remarks at a wedding, I should talk about how marriage is all about sunshine and butterflies, about unending happiness, about constant perfection. That would make zero sense, because this is real life and not a fairy tale. And, one of the things that I love about Annat and Wes’ relationship is that they have no time for this either.

Annat is very open about the fact that, in her words, “Weslyn and I are both so similar and different from each other at the same time. I can tan, and he can’t; he’s patient, I’m impatient; he’s good at putting his thoughts into words, I’m not.”

Wes too tells us that they, “record each other dancing and send it to friends to purposely embarrass one another. We correct each other, push each other, compete with each other, and sometimes drive each other to the brink of madness.”


Annat and Wes recognize the truth in what the author, Mary Wright, writes, “There is no perfect relationship. That would be boring, right? Relationships should be complex and challenging, because a relationship that is not growing is dying. And it takes two emotionally strong and mature individuals to overcome any difficulty that may come their way.”

You do sense that these two are indeed quite emotionally strong and mature, in a way that belies their relatively young age. This is why Annat says, “I have never met anyone else that I align so great and effortlessly with. Although we may butt heads with each other from time to time, we always… turn arguments into discussions.” This is why Wes says, “We’re always real with each other. All of this… I have found in no one else.”

It is this realness, which I was surprised to discover is a real word, that leads Annat to say, “I know I can always be myself around him and will always be able to rely on him to be there for me, regardless of the situation. He is truly my best friend… He makes even the most boring days entertaining and fun. I truly believe we can encourage each other to accomplish anything we want, as long as we do it together.”

It is this same realness, that leads Wes to say, “Every day is a new adventure… she embodies everything which my soul desires, and I firmly believe that she always will. Together, we choose to live our lives the way we want, with the things we have worked for, and with the people we love. That is why I want to share my last name, share who I am, and share everything I’ll ever have and ever be, with her.”

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Courage

Saturday evening, I officiated Lindsey and Ian’s wedding ceremony, at the La Cima Club in Irving, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I always ask people how they met. However, really what I am looking for is the relationship’s origin story. Sometimes, that origin story is not in how they met, but in something else that happened down the road. To set the stage, Lindsey and Ian had known each other for a few months, had been hanging out and enjoying some real chemistry, followed by a somewhat anti-climactic first date, and Lindsey fleeing the country. (Not really, but it sounds way more dramatic that way, doesn’t it?) Here’s Ian:


“Throughout the whole time she was in the Galapagos, hardly a day went by that we didn’t talk to each other. When Lindsey returned to St. Louis, she let me know that she would like to come down to Rolla and see me, and she promptly loaded up her car to drive to a place she had never been. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it is one of the most romantic moments that I cherish. Of course, my roommates used the next hour and a half to clean furiously. Lindsey and I have been together ever since.”

Now, you might think this daring caper came out of the blue. Not so. In fact, months earlier, Ian had told Megan up here that he would marry Lindsey. He then set about to make that happen. Lindsey picks up the story: 

“As the weeks went by, Ian befriended my roommates. He found reasons to hang out at our house or meet up with us. He fixed things, he tutored people and he cooked. He came to game night, poker night, and parties. By the summer, Ian made himself a constant fixture in my life without even asking me on a date, and so logically the next thing he decided to do was have me meet his parents and all of their friends in another state. 

Ian told me that there was going to be celebration at his parent's house in Arkansas (4 hours away) for the 4th of July. He told me that he invited all the other co-ops and that I should come too. However, in reality he never asked anyone else to join--not that he told me that. I agreed to go and stay the weekend at their house. It was a wonderful weekend…”

Think about the courage it takes to do the things that Lindsey and Ian did. Resolve to act similarly. As they say in the business world, the return on investment is clearly worth it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fun and So Much More

Sunday evening, I officiated Lauren and Joshua’s wedding ceremony, at the Orion Ball Room in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You’ll have to forgive me. Though I sport a very convincing General American Accent, I only moved back to this country when I was 26. That means that some things are still foreign to me, a fact I sometimes try to hide. 

One instance when I had occasion to do this was when Lauren and Josh told me how they met. Lauren writes, “Josh and I met through a mutual friend when I was around 17 and he was around 18. We went to a party with him and I made fun of him for drinking a summer shandy when it wasn’t summer.” I had no idea what a shandy was. I have since looked it up. I am still unsure as to why one such drink must be drunk only in the summer months. 


Regardless, somewhat anti-climactically what happened next was, well, nothing. Josh picks up the story: “We saw each other a couple times over the fall and then mostly fell out of touch. Almost six years later we ran into each other on the way to a show during SXSW. Lauren yelled my name as I sped by on my bike. We talked for a minute but eventually went on our separate ways. Through the wonder of social media, we reconnected a few weeks later and talked on and off through the summer. One night I invited Lauren over to watch Rushmore (one of her favorite movies) and, while I joke about it, she basically hasn’t been out of my life since then.”

Life can be like that sometimes. One chance meeting leads to nothing, while another chance meeting leads to where we are today. And, you know what? That’s a good thing. 

Lauren and Josh each feel like they had some individual growing to do as human beings. That growth enabled them to slowly build a relationship on a solid foundation of understanding and friendship, which gradually matured into a love story. 

That relationship, in turn, helped them continue to grow. As Josh says, “I’ve grown so much as a person with her. I just cant imagine spending my life with anyone else.” 

This growth changed Lauren’s entire perspective on marriage itself. Listen to this: “I didn't really picture myself getting married but then along came Josh and we make it work in a way that I hadn't really thought I would get to experience. I want to continue to experience things I didn't think I would that my relationship with him provides, things like security, love, compassion, gentleness, fun and so much more.” We should all be so lucky.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Lady Love

Monday afternoon, I officiated Jordana and Dave’s wedding ceremony at the Surrey House and Gardens, in McKinney, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

David is a much better writer than he gives himself credit for. Check this out: “My bodacious babe... messaged me out of the blue, which is ironic because she had blue hair at the time.... Our screen names were both pop culture references, so this made our eventual first date a must. We went out for a couple drinks and queso. I knew I wanted to see her again, so we promptly followed that up with miniature golf, street pizza, and pool. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Jordana elaborates on some of those pop cultural references: “I saw a cute bald guy who’s profile pic was him in front of a Doctor Who Tardis... and his username was the title of one of my all time favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes – and Buffy is my all time favorite show, so I was intrigued. He said he liked redheads, but my hair was blue, so I made a little joke about it and he asked me out for drinks the next night. We stayed out until almost 4am and when he asked me for a second date, I was ecstatic.”


OK, that is a lot of pop culture. We’ve got Bill and Ted, Dr. Who, and Buffy. So, I just assumed that the phrase, “lady love”, was an intentional reference to the 1977 Lou Rawls song. Nope. Maybe it was unintentional, David having heard it somewhere, since to this day, of all Lou’s songs this may be his most played. 

Regardless, I’ve listened to how Jordana and David talk about each other. I’ve watched them interact with each other. I’ve read what they have written about each other. It’s almost, Bill and Ted-like, they traveled through time, talked to old Vonghn Gray, who wrote the lyrics for Lou, and he had them in mind:

Lady love, your love is peaceful
Like the summer's breeze
My lady love, with love that's tender
As a baby's touch
You give me all of the things
That I need so much
You're my world, lady love

Lady love, your love is cooling
Like the winter snow
My lady love, with love that's cozy
As a fire's glow
And I keep on needing you, girl
A little more and more
And I thank you, my lady love

You know, it's not easy to keep love flowing smooth
People are people and they all have their moods
But it's so nice just to have someone like you
Who wants a smooth and easy thing
And all the good times that it brings

My lady love, you've been with me
Through all of my ups and downs
My lady love, I once was lost
But now with you I'm found
You got the love I need
And I want to stay around
Heaven sent you down, my lady love

Let me tell you that it's not easy to keep love flowing smooth
You know, people are people, they all have their moods
But it's so nice just to have someone like you
Who wants a smooth and easy thing
And all the good times and the joy that it brings

My lady love, you've been with me
Through all of my ups and downs
And my crazy turn-arounds
My lady love, you got the love I need
So stay around
Heaven sent my lady love

Lady love, sweet lady love
You are so good to me
Lady love, like a warm summer breeze
(So glad I found my lady love, lady love)
(So glad I found my lady love, lady love) 

Jordana reflects these very feelings when she says, “Our relationship is so strong and so loving and it just feels right. I love him and I’ve never felt surer of anything in my life.” And David too channel’s Voughn and Lou, when he simply states, “I want to marry my lady love because, well, she’s my lady love.”

Monday, September 23, 2019

Lessons of Your First Date

Sunday evening, I officiated Roman and Brittany’s wedding ceremony at One Preston Events Venue, in Gunter, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Roman’s telling of his first date with Brittany is the kind of account that makes you go, “Awwww.”: “I was so excited to first meet her. When we first met, I was nervous. Her beauty was mesmerizing.” That is, until you hear the record scratch, “I had homework to do, and she was very understanding. She let me do it on our first date!” It’s not exactly the stuff of bodice rippers...

Let’s get serious for a second, though. Brittany provides some further context: “Our first date was at Buffalo Wild Wings and was rather spontaneous as we weren't supposed to hang out that night. Roman had just started school at UNT and even though he had homework he agreed to meet me for a drink as long as I didn't mind him finishing up a quiz on the date.”


I think there are actually a number of great lessons for life and marriage in this very first IRL interaction of Brittany and Roman. First of all, the easiest lesson, context matters. Second, and more importantly, as the journalist David Plotz, has said, other people’s marriage is like a foreign country. What doesn’t make sense in one country makes total sense in another. 

Third, and most importantly, Brittany and Roman teach us that this world is much less about imagined idyllic ideal interactions, than it is about real messy down-to-earth living. The best parts of any relationship, as well as its true test, are found in just those moments. 

Brittany and Roman, keep those lessons of your first date in mind, and you’ve got it made.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Tradition!

Saturday evening, I officiated Sarah and Sam’s wedding ceremony at Arlington Hall at Oak Park, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to answer two essential questions: “Why get married and why now?” I am, actually, one of the only people who can ask them that question. Anyone else asking this question would be exhibiting extremely rude behavior. Just imagine your co-worker strutting into the office Monday morning and offering her hand, so you can see her new engagement ring. Now, imagine her reaction if instead of, “Congratulations,” you responded with, “Why?” That’s one awkward day at the office! And, yet, in all seriousness, we need to be able to answer these questions, so someone – yes me – needs to ask them.

I love how Sarah and Sam answer these questions, especially because they are layered answers. Sam says, “’I want to get married because I… couldn’t see my life without her.” He is very realistic about human relationships too: “I’ve realized relationships will always have issues… and it’s about working through those issues with someone whose positive moments and attributes outweigh the negative ones.” Now, you might question why I mention that quote; I mean it is not about to be printed in any Hallmark cards. Because I truly believe what Sam says is true, and Sarah does too. She says that marriage is about having, “a true life partner to experience everything with – the highs and the lows,” and both are equally important, in reality.


Sarah and Sam are also very clear about why now. Sarah says, “I knew Sam was the one pretty early on. After a month or so of dating I decided I wanted to bring him on a family trip with me in Mexico, which was absolutely unheard of to my family because I never brought guys around, much less on a vacation. I think they knew then too. Even though I knew I loved him early on we clearly weren’t ready for marriage then but couldn’t be more ready now.” That self-awareness is very lacking in today’s world and is invaluable to the success of any relationship.

Now, Sam does one more thing that threw me for a loop in his discussion of why marry and why now. He pulls the ultimate Jewish power move. He answers my question with a question. Do you know why a Jew will answer a question with a question? Why not?!  

Seriously, though, he asks, “Why marriage vs. just living together?” This is a question that is not asked often enough. In Europe, for instance, it is quite normal to have an extremely long-term partner, without formalizing the arrangement through marriage. Even in Texas, which is not very European, once a certain time elapses, common law allows for some type of sui generis marriage. 

Interestingly, about 830 years before Sam asked this question, the great rabbi and philosopher, Maimonides, implicitly asked the same question. His answer is intriguing. He says that before the giving of the Torah, something akin to common law marriage was perfectly acceptable, with nothing else required. However, says Maimonides, “Once the Torah was given, Israel was commanded,” to marry in the presence of witnesses.” Or, as Sam puts it channeling both Maimonides and the Fiddler’s Tevya, “Tradition!” It is indeed our tradition that calls on us in Sam’s words to, as we will do in a moment, solidify, “our bond in front of family, friends, and God.”

It is with this type of solid bond in mind that Sarah says, “I couldn’t imagine not coming home to him every single day. We… realize how big a step this is, and we’re excited for the journey ahead.”

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?”

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.”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Profoundly Lucky

Saturday afternoon I officiated Elizabeth and Edward’s wedding ceremony at the Myriad Botanical Gardens (Lower East Lake) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I was thinking of Elizabeth and Edward, I was reminded of an interesting linguistic quirk in the first creation story in Genesis. The text says, “And God created man (adam is the word in Hebrew) in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created THEM.” Them, not him. So, adam refers to both partners.

The second creation story completes the picture. We are told that God removes not the adam’s rib (that is a mistake in the King James Version), but one of the adam’s sides. He basically split the adam in two.


The ramifications of this story are multiple. First of all, it clarifies that men and women should be treated equally, something we conveniently forgot for most of history. However, and this is why I thought of Elizabeth and Edward, the idea of Adam and Eve coming from one being tells us that seeking out an identical partner would be folly. Adam has his own personality and Eve had her own personality. They were different people.

Elizabeth and Edward are different people. She’s a nurse, he’s an attorney; she’s from Oklahoma, he’s from California; he went to parochial schools, she went to public. And those are all good things, because, if we play our cards right, like Elizabeth and Edward did, our differences have the potential to greatly enrich our relationships.

For that to work, each person has to be comfortable in their own skin, and still have a desire for self-improvement. It’s a delicate but vital balance, and Elizabeth and Edward had and have it. They each had developed themselves into their own independent personalities, before they met each other. Still, they were able to become even better people, through their knowledge of each other, and as their love story progressed.

It is this threading of the needle that has allowed them not only to become even better people, but also provide comfort and support for each other in difficult times. That is why they feel profoundly lucky to have found each other. We should all feel pretty lucky that we get to witness this next step in their relationship.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It Will Only Get Better

Saturday evening, I officiated Diana and Damian’s wedding ceremony at Prospect House in Dripping Springs, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes the temptation is just too great, that one must succumb to it. After all, there is no guarantee that I will ever be able to say this again: We are here today, because of what sounds like the set up to a joke: An Argentinian Jew and a Vietnamese Buddhist walk into a bar...

Seriously, though, roll back the tape, and one could hardly predict this. After all, Diana says, “You typically can’t find me at a bar during the week.” And, as a rabbi, you’d be kind of disappointed if I didn’t look for the deeper meaning of that chance occurrence bringing us here today, five years later. You would definitely expect me to go a tiny bit deeper than Damian who says, “I went to Marquis II to get a Long Island Ice Tea and met the love of my life. The moral being that Long Island Ice Teas are good for you!” You would expect me to agree with Diana who says, “I believe fate brought Damian and I together.”


Well, disappoint you I will. I will also do something you usually should never do: Disagree with a bride at her own wedding; at least somewhat. It’s not that I take Damian’s ice tea related lesson to be true; it’s that I feel that fate is not enough to explain what is happening here today. I think Diana is being too modest.

Something she says not about that original meeting, but about their shared life since, is instructive, “I feel like I have been on the best roller coaster of my life and it will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.”

Not to engage in pop explanations of a 2600 year old religion, but I believe that there is something “very” Buddhist about that depiction of life. Life is a roller coaster. There are ups and inevitable downs. Sometimes your world turns upside down, and the only thing holding you in your seat is the inertia of life and a safety bar. That’s life as fate. That is going to be true regardless of what choices you make.

However, and this may be more existentialist than Buddhist, you can still choose how to relate to that ride, and one of the smartest moves you can make is to find someone you can experience it with. That is what this couple did. They did not just accept their fate; they chose their destiny, to hold on to each other on this roller coaster ride.

Damian is pretty explicit about this: “Diana is my support group. Whenever I had a bad day or when I need to make a tough decision at work or life, she is there for me.”

Diana says this is mutual: “Damian has been my pillar of strength for the past 4 years. He is constantly rooting for me and my biggest supporter. He has been there for me during low and high points in my life.”

This is why Diana says, “It will only get better from here, as long as I have Damian by my side.” And this is why Damian says, “I cannot wait to have my best friend with me every day for the rest of my life.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hineni – I’m Ready

Sunday afternoon, I officiated Rachel and Will’s wedding ceremony, at the 1899 Farmhouse, in Princeton, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Spend enough time with Rachel and Will, and you might forget their age. They have a level of wisdom, that seems beyond their years. You might say they are old souls. For me, this is particularly disconcerting, since I taught Rachel in high school! Don’t worry, though, just ask them where they met, and you snap right back, well conscious of their age cohort. That’s right, Jasmine’s Hookah Bar. Damn millennial hipsters…

Seriously, though, what really stands out about Rachel and Will, what makes me think of them as not only old souls, but kindred spirits, is the level of self-examination they have engaged in. Their honesty in following their minds and their hearts to where that self-examination took them is noteworthy and commendable.


I always try to be mindful of Alice Roosevelt’s description of her father, Teddy, of whom she said, “He was the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral”. I try to keep it about the couple. However, one of the reasons that I admire Rachel and Will and feel like we are kindred spirits is that I, too, went through a journey that has many similarities to theirs. They are just a little smarter than me, since they went through similar philosophical transformations much earlier in life than I did! Apparently, unlike them, I’m just a little slow.

Why is this important? Many people go through life, accumulate degrees, titles and prestige, but never really get to know themselves. They are too busy running the rat race, acquiring that one additional shiny object, reaching for one more brass ring. Try to have a meaningful conversation with them, though, and there is no “there” there. It’s all surface deep. And they keep running and running and running.

Then, one day they hear a voice. The Bible imagines such instances. Abraham hears a voice. Moses hears a voice. Notably, they are 75 and 80 years old, respectively, which is fine if you live to 175 and 120, respectively. In the world of reality, however, it’s a little too late. In this world, you may have won the race, acquired the shiny object, and the brass ring is firmly in your grasp. Meaning, however, has eluded you.

The Bible imagines Abraham and Moses using a specific single word, to signify that they understood what the voice was calling on them to do: “Hineni”. It’s difficult to adequately translate that single Hebrew word. In its most simple translation, it means, “I am here.” However, the context tells us that this not simple, but simplistic. In his haunting song, You Want It Darker, Leonard Cohen is more accurate, in his translation: “I’m ready.”

Hearing that song, and those words, I could not help but think of Rachel and Will. They each heard a voice, an internal calling, and they each said, “I’m ready,” embarking on a journey to think, contemplate and probe their truth. This journey took each of them to some uncomfortable places. Through this, though, they each found themselves and their meaning in life. They know themselves, deeply and thoroughly.

And, as these individual journeys proceeded, they embarked on a journey together, trying, along with their individual truths, to find their shared path in the world. Not surprisingly, this shared journey, which could not be separated from their individual journeys, was a little more complicated, and took a little longer.

They stand before you today, having completed their individual journeys and their shared journey. They know themselves and each other, as very few individuals and couples their age do. Now when they say, “I’m ready,” It is a very different, much deeper, much more mature statement.

Rachel speaks for both of them, when she says: “I know the person I am and the person I want by my side. The same person who stole my heart ten years ago… He is my knight in tin foil, my gentle giant, my companion, my best friend, and so much more. Words cannot do it justice. There’s no one else I’d want to go with on this adventure called life… We are ready to take that final step forward in solidifying ourselves to one another.”