Monday, April 30, 2012

It's About the Journey, Not the Destination

April and Jason love Vegas, and so that is where I officiated their wedding. In this case what happened in Vegas will certainly not stay there. Here is what I shared with them:

When April and Jason explained to me what they did for a living, I knew I would learn a lot from them. That is mainly because I, a non-techie, honestly could not really understand what it is they did...

In fact, from the way Jason described the development of their relationship, you could tell that this couple was from that Valley of Silicon. Here's Jason, describing what followed the initial phase of their relationship, after they met at a conference, and each went back to their respective cities, "Over the next several weeks, we’d chit-chat over Twitter, becoming more friendly. Twitter led to Facebook, Facebook led to instant messaging, instant messaging led to SMS texts." Bring back a 20th century Rip Van Winkle, and he would not understand a word of that quote...

Seriously, though, there is, in fact, something really deep here. You see, these two describe each other as not just lovers, but best friends, not just a couple but a team. How did they get there? By being deliberate and methodical and gradual in developing their relationship. By understanding that their relationship is not about the destination, but about the journey.

I love how April puts it, "That’s what love and marriage are supposed to be – finding that person that you want by your side for no other reason than they make you happy and you want to see what they do next." You want to see what they do next. Wow.

April and Jason, thank you for reminding us of this important lesson. May you continue to enjoy together a journey full of happiness for many years to come.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Aval Zeh Shelanu…

One of the last Sundays I officiated a baby naming for Hillary and Kevin, whose wedding I officiated back in December 2009. This is one inspiring couple. Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Her Hebrew name is Tovah Moriah. She is named Tovah, which means good, for Kevin’s grandmother Thelma, whose Hebrew name began with a T. She is named Moriah, which is the name of the bedrock mountain upon which King Herod built the Temple Mount in Jerusalem for Hillary’s grandfather Robert, whose Hebrew name began with an M. This is the mountain the Torah imagines Abraham himself first offering a sacrifice.

Whenever I am asked to officiate a baby naming, I ask mom and dad to share their hopes for their child with me. Hillary and Kevin shared that they hope Peyton will be a learner, be happy with what she does in life, find things that she be passionate about, find groups she feel part of, find a soul mate, and last but not least live a life infused with Jewish values.

I wanted to touch specifically on the idea of a life infused Jewish values, what that means to the modern liberal Jew, and how that connects to Peyton's name. About 15 years ago, as the rabbi of the Wellington Hebrew Congregation in Wellington, New Zealand, I was privileged to host one of the most eloquent orators of our time, Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and he told a fascinating story. He and his wife were touring Israel a few years prior to that, and they went to Eilat, the southern tip of Israel. One of the popular attractions there is to take a tour in a boat with a glass bottom, so you can see all of the corals and fish unique to that part of the Red Sea. The boat captain asked them where they were from, and upon hearing that they were from Britain, told them at length about all of the places he himself had traveled to in Europe, and how impressed he was with that continent's great beauty. When he finished, he paused, and a wistful look came over his face, he looked down at the beauty beneath them, smiled and said, "aval zeh shelanu", still, THIS is ours...

A modern liberal Jew recognizes that there is great culture, wisdom, wonder, and beauty in the world. So she seeks to live in that world and be part of it in every possible way. Still, she feels a need to infuse her life with Jewish values. She seeks to do this not because we are better than anyone else. No, she could be a good Christian or Muslim, and live a worthy life. She chooses to be a Yehudiyah Tovah, a good Jew, because zeh shelanu, THIS is ours. THIS is our heritage. Through THIS we reach back to the bedrock of our history to Moriah, where it all started in the days of our mythical forefather, Abraham.

Hillary and Kevin, and Tovah Moriah, may the three of you indeed be inspired to live your life in such a fashion, through which this child will make our People proud.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Answers to Life's Most Complicated Questions

Kelly and Colter are two of the most gentle souls I have met. They are really deep thinkers too. The rest you can read ahead in my personal remarks to them at their wedding yesterday:

There is a great and holy book called, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". In it we are told of a supercomputer, which is asked, "What is the meaning of life?" After working on the question for 7.5 million years, it comes up with the answer. Now, the geeks in the audience already know the answer. That's right. 42. BTW, if you do not get the humor, that's OK. During the reception, just ask one of my fellow geeks. About 45 minutes later, you may actually be able to start eating.

What the Guide is tackling here through satire is the very quandary most religions have dealt with for eons. Seriously, what is the meaning of life? We, as humans, ask that question, in general. We ask that about specific things too. What is the meaning of this or that specific occurrence? What many of us often forget is that there is no app for that. It isn't that there are no easy answers. There are many, and they are quite popular. It is just that none of them are true.

This is an area that I find that Kelly and Colter, are a little bit ahead of the rest of us. To put it simply, they don't "do" easy. They don't succumb to the popular. They have no use for the one size fits all answers. They realize that there is nothing wrong with the complicated and the messy. In fact, they realize, the true essence of truth is only to be found there within the contours of the complex.

Kelly and Colter realize that though there are some black and whites in life, most of it is gray. They understand that the implication is that each of us has to look deep into our hearts to find the answers to life's most complicated questions. They understand that that is why each of us may reach slightly different answers, and that that is not only OK; it is actually kind of wonderful.

This is why their relationship is so loving, so close, so special. You see for any relationship to work, especially marriage, one has to realize the following: Sure, there are some universal truths out there. Reading a book or two about marriage from the self help section of the bookstore is certainly a great idea. However, don't try to find the recipe for a successful marriage with a supercomputer. There is no app for that. The secret to a successful marriage is in your heart, not your handheld. It is mostly complicated, and it can get pretty messy. That said, if you embrace its messiness, if you can revel in its complexity, just like Kelly and Colter do, you just might have the secret to the true meaning of marital life.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Self Reflection is Key

Angie and Jonathan are such a sweet couple. They are quiet and contemplative, and have fascinating stories. They reside and married right here in our beloved Frisco. Here are my remarks to them:

Angie and Jonathan exhibit a fascinating mix of qualities in their relationship that we all can learn from. They were very methodical about their relationship from the moment it began, and they have been methodical all along in carefully developing and nurturing it. Sometimes, and this is probably Hollywood's fault, method and planning in a relationship get a bad rap. In the real world, however, and any married person will tell you this, those who are methodical come out ahead, as long as one includes a large degree of flexibility in the mix. Indeed, one of the things that struck me about Angie and Jonathan is just how flexible and adaptable they have been throughout their lives as individuals and as a couple. It seems, therefore, that they have that important aspect covered too.

How are they able to be so methodical and flexible, an all too rare combination, I might add? I believe that this is because they both are very good at self reflection. Throughout their lives they have been able to step outside themselves, and reflect on who they are, where they are going, and where they want to be. It is this rare ability that enable one to take a relationship to the next level. It is this quality that, in Angie's words, enables us to share not only our lives with our lovers, but to share our very selves with them.

Angie and Jonathan, you are both not persons of many words. You speak rather through your actions. May you continue to inspire others through actively living your lives the best possible way a loving couple could.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Awake and Alive

Jami and Steven know each other from childhood. Their paths intersected many times in life, until a few years ago they fell in love. Their wedding was planned by them and their kids, and they call themselves the Spalvisairowans, which a combination of all of the last names their eight person clan shares. Here are the remarks I shared with them:

One of the things Jami and Steven emphasized time and again was that this wedding was about way more than just them. It was about them and their kids coming together as one big blended family. So, I tried to think about all the things they told me about how they live their lives as individuals and as a couple. I asked myself what might be their message for you not in words, but in that very way they live together and come together today to make your being one big family official.

What struck me about Jami and Steven is that they truly savor life, as individuals and as a couple. This reminded me of a song I heard, since I share an iTunes account with my 17 year old daughter. It's called Awake and Alive by Skillet. Here are a few words from the song:

... When my faith is getting weak
And I feel like giving in
You breathe into me again
I'm awake, I'm alive
Now I know what I believe inside

... Waking up in the dark
I can feel you in my sleep
In your arms, I feel you breathe into me
Forever hold this heart that I will give to you
Forever I will live for you.

What does it mean to be awake and alive? Being awake and alive is not about being perfect. It is not about not making mistakes. It is not about never having challenges. Being awake and alive is about being imperfect and making it work. It is about making mistakes and using them as opportunities to learn. It is about grabbing challenges by the horns, and having them propel you forward.

So, what is it we wish for you, all of you Spalvisairowans? That you indeed live your lives in such a fashion, that live awake and alive, as one big happy family.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

To Life!

Last week I was fortunate enough to officiate a baby naming for Stephanie and Steven's little guy in Allen, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Chaim's Hebrew name made me think about a little anecdote told by John Lennon: "When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life."

Stephanie and Steven, you clearly understand life. When I asked you what your dreams were for Chaim, you talked about how important it was for you, that he find love, and comfort and happiness.

How does one find love, and comfort and happiness? Well, I believe that the best way is through the other hopes you had for Chaim, namely, that he be his own individual person, that he accept everybody, that he be good and caring. I believe that it is through these attributes that one may find happiness.

This reminded me of a Yiddish word, that conveys those attributes, Mensch. What is a mensch? Well, like many Yiddish words it is way too rich to explain in one or two words. According to Leo Rosten in the Joys of Yiddish, “A mensch is someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible.”

Stephanie and Steven, we all hope and pray your dreams for Chaim will come true. Through this may you and he find complete, utter and true happiness, and make the world a better place too.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trying to Make the World a Little Better

Alex and Brian are a very special couple. Alex is a teacher and Brian works for a health-related non-profit. They are both not only devoted to helping people, but are really positive people too. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests at Old Red in Dallas, Texas this last Sunday:

Capitalism, to paraphrase Churchill, is the worst economic system, except for all of the rest of them. Still the financial crisis has taken the bloom just a little bit off of the rose. It is in this context that we understand how much we should admire people like Alex and Brian, who have devoted their professional lives to a higher calling than capital in the non-profit world. They spend their every working day, just trying to make the world a little better. Heck, they even decided to celebrate the best day of their lives, today, at Old Red, a non-profit!

Not surprisingly, one of the most important dimensions of their mutual relationship is how they themselves feel they are better individuals because they have each other. Indeed, Brian says "I am a very lucky man to have met her and I’m even luckier that she fell in love with me." Alex says it in a similar vein, "Brian challenges me and pushes me to be a better version of myself."

It is this very approach towards bettering the world and themselves that causes Brian to reflect about Alex, in words that in my eyes really epitomize them both, "I think she puts so much positive energy into the world that it leaves everyone she encounters with positive ions buzzing around her."

Thank you, Alex and Brian, for setting such a great example for how to make the world a much better place. May you continue to serve as an inspiration for the rest of us.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Fall in Love With Him Every Time I See Him!

This last Saturday I officiated Ben and Sean's wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota. Now, Minnesota may be cold, in terms of climate, but this wedding was full of energy, love and warmth. It also had the biggest Chuppah I ever officiated under. Here are the remarks I shared with this special couple and their guests:

I wanted to let you in on a secret regarding my creative process. When I want to write personal remarks like these, I find that listening to music is helpful. (Maybe it is similar to figure skating in that sense, Ben...) Now, sharing an iTunes account with my 17.5 year old daughter means that sometimes hitting shuffle on my iPod is shall we say, an "interesting" experience. I know this will make me sound like the quintessential dorky dad (which is what my daughter is sure I am), but she is into some songs that I would not ever find on my own... In all seriousness, though, that can be a wonderful thing, like it ended up being in this case.

When I sat down to write these remarks, the song that came on was one by a German techno artist, who goes by the moniker, Cascada. Here is what I heard:

'Cause everytime we touch, I get this feeling.
And everytime we kiss I swear I could fly.
Can't you feel my heart beat fast, I want this to last.
Need you by my side.
'Cause everytime we touch, I feel the static.
And everytime we kiss, I reach for the sky.
Can't you hear my heart beat so...
I can't let you go.
Want you in my life.

This reminded me of something Sean wrote in describing his love for Ben, "I fall in love with him every time I see him." How beautiful is that! Isn't that what we all hope for in a relationship with a spouse?

Now, it is important to clarify how genuine this sentiment is. You see, Ben and Sean have not only been together for a good while; they have withstood the ultimate test, one that usually will separate the men from the boys, so to speak, a lengthy long distance relationship. Ben and Sean not only endured through this challenge, they thrived through it.

Set upon that background, the feeling of falling in love every time you see your lover is a deeply meaningful and genuine one. This tells you that what Ben and Sean have here is tremendously unique and special. This tells you that they are indeed in Ben's words, "ready to pronounce and announce [their] love and commitment to each other in front of all of the people [they] most love." Not only that, it tells us that we can, by observing them, their love and their relationship, learn a thing or two.

So, Ben and Sean, thank you for this wonderful lesson. May you and we continue to cherish our lovers and fall in love every time we see them.