Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Number One Job of Every Faith Community

When someone asks me to officiate their wedding, I first ask the person to tell me about him or herself, and his or her partner. Second, I ask the person to tell me about their vision for their wedding. Third, I ask why it is important to them that a rabbi officiate their wedding. I get many different answers to this last question. Many times the Jewish partner will tell me that there is no way it could be different for them; it just feels natural. This was the answer that Renee gave me, right after she told me that technically she was not really Jewish since she never converted! She definitely piqued my curiosity. I had to hear more!

Last week I officiated Renee and Brian’s wedding at a very special location, the Jewish wing of the historic Main Post Chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. This building was dedicated in 1909 by then President Howard Taft. It has plaques commemorating chaplains, officers, and servicemen and women of the recent and not so recent past. You really feel a sense of the past of our armed forces in the building. Renee and Brian, veteran and current service member respectively, felt just right in this hallowed building, as they are a very special couple. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Once you hear Renee’s story in detail and Renee and Brian’s story together, it all makes sense, and has a deeper lesson imbedded in it too. Renee was attracted to the Jewish scene in her youth, and felt very comfortable and supported there. She felt so welcome, that when she joined the army she put down her religion as Jewish. Once again, she felt welcome and supported by fellow Jewish soldiers. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury early on, and had to do a fitness test to move to a different unit. She was very fearful that she would fail the test, or even reinjure herself. Then the Jewish chaplain showed up unannounced, took the test with her, and cheered her on the whole way, till she passed. Obviously, this event made its mark on Renee, and deepened her sense of connection to the Jewish People. This is what brought Renee and Brian to attending their local synagogue today together. They both feel very much at home there. So, of course, it was going to be a rabbi, who would marry them!

In their story Renee and Brian highlight an aspect that is tremendously important for every faith community. Before we think about theology, before we talk about religious practice, before we even mention worship, we must bring comfort. Our most important function as faith communities is to make people comfortable, to bring comfort, to support others. The cool thing about Renee and Brian, is that this is the way they both live their lives. You may not hear them say it, because these are two very modest people. However, if we were able to talk to that chaplain, who ran with her, and her fellow Jewish soldiers, you just know that they would say that Renee is one of the most supportive people they knew. If you would ask Brian’s airmen, and for that matter, if you could ask his canine colleagues over the last 15 years, you just know they would say that this is a guy, who just puts people and animals at ease, and makes them feel comfortable. This is a guy, who will have your back.

Renee and Brian, we are blessed as a community to have you as part of it. We encourage you, as individuals and as a couple to continue growing, to continue setting a great example, and to continue to provide aid, comfort and support to each other and to those around you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lauren and Martin - Lovers, Best Friends and Creative Partners

The second wedding I officiated this last Saturday was the wedding of Lauren and Martin. These are two of the most creative people I have ever met. Lauren is a filmmaker and Martin is a writer. They have had to live in two different states for the last few months due to Lauren’s acceptance into a prestigious filming program, while Martin finishes up his exclusive MFA program, hundreds of miles away. On a personal note, when I was thinking about not only their love, but also their creative partnership, I was reminded of my parents’ creative partnership. I can actually tell which parts of the introduction to my dad’s magnum opus were written before my mom’s death, and which after, because that partnership was so pronounced. Likewise, Liat’s touch can be seen in my writing too. So, what I saw in Lauren and Martin was something warmly familiar. Here is what I shared with them and their guests:

What struck me about Lauren and Martin is that these are two people, who in their lives as individuals and as a couple, were not afraid to take that road less traveled. They have repeatedly shown that if you take the time to figure out what you really want to do, and then you relentlessly pursue that passion, you can live a dream that is truly your own. When you live your life like this, when you follow your dreams, it takes the edge off of difficulties, and it makes each success sweeter. Not only that, it makes it clear that true meaning, that true happiness can be found when your dream is not only wrapped in the destination you seek, but in the journey you travel.

Now, many couples share love and happiness, while their professional lives may not be an integral part of their shared journey. And that is OK. There is nothing wrong with that. Lauren and Martin, however, have a different and additional dimension to their relationship, one that makes it run deeper, one that causes their lives to be more deeply intertwined, even when a few hundred miles separate them like in the last few months. Their journey is one of mutually influenced creativity. Lauren’s filmmaking is better because Martin is in her life, and Martin’s writing is richer because Lauren is in his life. Many future spouses may describe their future mates as their lovers and best friends, as Lauren and Martin do, when speaking of each other. Lauren and Martin add something that only a few future spouses mention. They talk about how they serve for each other as muses, as inspirations, as creative supporters, nay, creative partners.

So, Lauren and Martin, thank you. Thank you for reminding showing us how deep a relationship can run. Thank you for setting a great example in your personal and professional lives. Now, look into each other’s eyes. As the years go by, take a moment here and there to do what you are doing right now, to look into each other’s eyes, and realize your fortune, that you have made your dreams a reality, that you have found and continue to have by your side, your best friend, your lover, your creative partner.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lori and Matt – They Didn’t Just Go With the Flow

This last Saturday I officiated two weddings in Austin, Texas. The first was Lori and Matt’s. Lori and Matt are really special people. Lori is an attorney, who works for a non-profit, and Matt grew up to actually work in one of those fields all little boys dream about working in, firefighting! They both have a rather humanistic bent, which is what I tried to bring out in my personal remarks:

One thing that struck me from my very first discussion with Lori and Matt is that really the phrase “interfaith couple” did not fit the bill with regards to this couple. “Intercultural couple” may be a more apt term. Indeed, each of them sees their religious heritage more in the context of culture than religious belief and practice. You see - Lori and Matt come from different backgrounds, and have had different life stories; however they have more in common in terms of faith and belief, than many other couples out there.

This is not due to coincidence. This is due to the fact that these two did not just go with the flow. They chose to really think about these issues of faith and belief. They continue to choose as individuals and as a couple to carefully examine their lives spiritually, figure out who they are, and what they want out of life. Most importantly they recognize that need to continue to grow together in this sense, and to focus on the joy, happiness and meaning that such growth can bring to a couple’s life.

Lori and Matt, thank you for reminding us of the importance of truly figuring out one’s spiritual path. May you continue to learn and develop separately and together, and through this may your happiness increase and your bond strengthen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Natalya and Bret – Let’s Be Explicit Here

One of the great things about living in Texas, and I have personally lived on three continents, is that people are really really nice. Criticism is rarely heard, people tend to have a smile on their face, and cashiers still address you (or me) as “Hon(ey)”. Of course, the flip side of that is that understatement is king, even when it should not be. So, you will hear, “Oh, Jimmy (question mark, voice going up), his heart is in the right place,” which really means he is hard to get along with. Other times you will hear, “Oh, Mike (question mark, voice going up), he is a really hard worker,” which means he is not the greatest family man. You might even hear, “Oh, Susie, she comes from a great family,” which means that she, the apple, has unfortunately fallen a little far from the tree.

Now, you may be asking yourselves at this point, well, so what, and what does this have to do with what we can learn from Natalya and Bret. Well, I am glad you asked. You see, the downside of softened criticism is that when you have individuals who really have their hearts in the right place, who really treat their families and friends exquisitely well, and who really make their families and friends proud just to be associated with them, your praise of them might sound faint. You see, I believe anyone who interacts with Natalya and Bret, comes away thinking, “Wow, these are good people, these are two individuals who I can count on, these are people who show how a loving couple should behave to each other, this is a couple, who I can point to my kids as a positive example to my kids.”

Let us, therefore, not be shy. Let us point out to others, what a great, compassionate, humble and kind couple Natalya and Bret are. Let us learn to continue practicing what might be called Texas nice, but let us not forget that that means we need to be more explicit in our praise, if we and our families are to look up to positive examples of behavior like the loving couple we celebrate with today.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kristin and Brian – Their Differences Strengthen Them

I wanted to point out two facts about Kristin and Brian, that when juxtaposed, remind us of something fundamental and important. Anyone who knows Kristin will tell you how devout she is, how her faith in Jesus permeates her daily life. Anyone who knows Brian will tell you how growing up with few Jews around him strengthened his commitment to the Jewish People, and made Judaism central to his identity.

Now listen to what each says about the other. Brian says, “I love her passion for what she does and that no matter how bad of a day we might be having, all we need is to hear each other’s voice and we begin to feel better. Kristin makes me laugh all the time and has many of the same priorities that I do. We both are very family oriented. We both enjoy just having a nice quiet relaxing evening together… We both love to travel and experience new things in new cities… I am so excited to have Kristin be a part of my family and have me be a part of hers.” Kristin says, “Brian is… is my best friend. When I look at him, I see someone that I am excited about spending the rest of my life with. Even when we are just hanging out at my apartment watching television I am excited to be with him. I also see the man that I want to be the father of my children. I am ready to marry Brian now because I am excited to take our relationship to yet another level and grow together as husband and wife.”

Kristin and Brian remind us of something that should be obvious, simple, almost simplistic, yet so missing today. We can agree to disagree. We each can have strong beliefs that we are passionate about, and still share love and happiness together. More than that, as Kristin and Brian will each tell you, our differences can actually strengthen our bond, our spirituality, and our individual faiths. So, I feel we owe you, Kristin and Brian, a debt of gratitude for reminding us of this important idea. Let us all heed your message and follow your example in our private and public lives, and through that make this world a better place.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Iris and Ben – Even a Hurricane Couldn’t Dampen Their Celebration

This last weekend I co-officiated Iris and Ben’s wedding at the beautiful Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, Mexico with Father Benito Aguilar. Hurricane Rina endeavored to disrupt the celebrations, but she didn’t stand a chance. BTW, this is one of the smartest couples I have ever met. Iris has an MBA from Harvard, and Ben has an MBA from MIT. They are not only intelligent, but really fun too. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Iris and Ben share a very deep bond of love with each other. At the same time they are two very different people. They come from different backgrounds, cultures and faiths. Not only that their basic demeanor is strikingly different. Iris says that people often tell her that she is the happiest person they have ever met, while Ben could have written the old telegram once set by a Jewish mother in a hurry, “Start worrying now, details to follow…” So, how do they make it work? What is the secret of their deep abiding love?

Well, first, the premise of the question, though natural for us as human beings to ask, is slightly mistaken. If we are to imagine that there is someone out there that would be perfect just for us, why on earth would that person be like us? After all, each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and if anything, that person, who is best for us, ideally should help us, as we help them, become mutually complete. In that sense, that person would almost have to be very different.

There are, however, two important components that need to be there for all these moving parts to work – communication and planning. This is where, I believe, Iris and Ben excel and teach us a valuable lesson. Though they may sometimes disagree regarding who has the better approach, Harvard or MIT, these two know a thing or two about solving problems and managing projects. As such, they took time, constantly and openly communicating, as they developed their relationship, to deeply think about how to make it successful, and accordingly to carefully plan their future together.

Iris and Ben, as you embark on this new phase in your life, continue to embrace your differences, revel in how you complement each other, and keep excelling at lovingly communicating. Through this, may you find complete and ongoing happiness.