Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hold Them by the Hand

Saturday evening, Father Milt Raybould and I co-officiated Ali and Bob’s wedding at The Milestone in Krum, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Something Bob said about Ali reminded me of a story from the Hebrew Bible that I have been thinking about a lot lately. Here is what he said: "I love Alison… because she respects and loves me so much that even though we differ in our spirituality and faith beliefs, she loves me for who I am and doesn’t allow that to get in the way of what we share."

That reminded me of this story from Genesis: Abraham's eldest son, Ishmael, and Ishmael's mother, Hagar, wander through the desert. In the absence of water, they are dying of thirst, and have given up hope. Suddenly, just as all seems lost, an angel appears to Hagar, and says: "Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy, where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand... Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She... let the boy drink." (JPS Translation of Genesis 21/17-19)

What does this mean, and how does it relate to what Bob says? We should not deal with people from our vantage point, from where we are, from the standpoint of our personal view or judgmental standard of what should be. We must deal with each person, non-judgmentally, where he or she is. And that is what Bob is talking about, and that is how Ali and Bob consistently treat each other.
However, that is not where the lesson of the story of Ishmael or the lesson of the story of Ali and Bob ends. In the story Hagar is told to lift Ishmael up, and to hold him by the hand. It is important, whatever you may, to make sure you are lifting people up and holding them by the hand. This can take on different forms, for each of us is different in what we bring to the world.

Ali and Bob embody this in their lives. Bob spends his days, sometimes literally, always figuratively, holding children by the hand, as he helps them on their journeys. Ali creates amazing personalized pieces of art, rich with meaning, that lift people up.

So, let's learn from these two. Let us resolve to lift each other up, to hold our fellow person's hand on their journey. A special thing can happen when we commit to this. We find it is our hand that is being held too, and our spirit, it too is lifted up, higher than we could ever have hoped for, on our own. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

I Am That Someone

Sunday midday, Reverend Ken Savage and I co-officiated Tori and Alex's wedding ceremony at The Chapel at Ana Villa, in The Colony, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I love stories, particularly origin stories. There seems to be a very human need to tell origin stories, so much so, that many times, like Washington and the cherry tree, or any number of other presidents being born in a log cabin, if they didn't really happen, we just make believe they did... Speaking of made up, don't even get me started on religious origin stories, where I could really get in trouble...
So, when an origin story is not only memorable, but also true, that makes it extra special. Like this couple's origin story. Listen first to Alex: "I met Victoria when I was a freshman in college. We both stayed in the same residence hall, Bruce Hall, and the residence hall staff always put together a program that allowed students to meet each other. The program was called 'Pajamarama,' and it usually had a very high attendance rate, so meeting new people was definitely probable. The program was a combination of musical chairs and "Never Have I Ever" where players would talk about common interests and swap seats with other players. As the game progressed, the comments became more in-depth and personal. During those moments, a beautiful woman in a lion onesie walked into the middle of the circle and said quietly, "My name is Tori, and I want someone to love me for me." In that moment, I ran up and gave her a hug. It was short hug, but it made such an impact on me. So much that I knew that I wanted to get to know her, be with her, and ultimately spend the rest of my life with her."


Now listen to Tori for further clarification on why she said what she said. She begins with a sentiment many of us have felt at a new school, certainly at the very beginning of college: "I was not in the best state of mind.... At one point, I got up to the center, and before this, I was feeling distraught. I stood there and said, 'My name is Tori and I wish I could find someone who loved me for me.' The first person to get up and hug me was Alex who told me that, 'Someday I would find someone.' Ironically enough it is him."

OK, I am not sure that is the proper use of irony, as a literary term, but who cares. That is one cool story!

The thing is, it is not just a cool and memorable true story; it is rich with meaning. If you think about it, what Tori says is really a universal truth, that lies at the core of every soul. We are all different, but at a very deep level, we all desire two things: the ability to live authentically, and to be loved.

Now, the fact is that sometimes, and maybe often, these two things are in conflict. If you are 100% authentic 100% of the time, your, shall we say, fan base, is limited. Just ask your average film or food critic. And, if your goal is to be loved by 100% of the people 100% of the time, your life is probably pretty bland. Just ask Queen Elizabeth. Or, actually, don't. She is not allowed to tell you what she really thinks. So, in fact we settle. We make accommodations, living our lives, as authentically as possible, while still getting along with as many people as possible.

However, once again, in the back of our minds, and at the core of our spirits, we need there be a person, who we can be authentic with, and still find perfect love with. We each need to be able to say, "My name is Tori and I wish I could find someone who loved me for me," and know that there is that someone who will, without irony or hesitation, just give us a strong hug, and say, "I am that someone," which is what Tori and Alex say to each other today.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Praying with Their Feet

Friday night, I officiated Romy and Tim's wedding ceremony, at Shirley Acres, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I was reflecting on Romy and Tim's love story, which, of course, because we are in Tejas, began with Tacos. (Sorry, Patricia and Oscar, it was not empanadas...) The stories they told about each other, the way they held hands, even their body language, it all got me thinking about a fascinating idea from Genesis (the book, not the band...)

The first creation story in Genesis tells us that the human was created in the Image of God. Now, that sounds good, but especially if the God of the Hebrew Bible is non-corporeal, what does it really mean? My father, Dr. Mayer Gruber, a noted scholar of the Bible and Ancient Near East, explained about thirteen years ago, that this must be understood in the context of a forgotten practice of a few ancient monarchs. These men, seeking the constant protection of their deities, would erect statues or images of themselves in worship, and place them in temples before these deities. That way, even when they were busy, be it with the affairs of state, or entirely personal matters, they could still be seen as being present in the temple in worship.
In that context, when the author of the first creation story uses this language, he is purposefully referring to and reversing this dynamic. The God of Genesis has no desire for idle statues or images of worshippers standing in temples. Instead, He places countless images of himself, i.e. you, me and every one of us, out in the world. And the task he gives these images is to never stand idly. Rather, we are to go out, and act like He would in the world. In essence, He asks us to, in the words of my father's teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, after marching with Dr. King in Selma, "to pray with our feet."

Listen to how Tim describes how Romy has prayed with her feet, with her actions, with her patience, in building a relationship with him: "Being a single dad for this long I have gotten very stuck in my ways. I want to do things how I want them and I am very protective of Jonah (both physically and emotionally). I just had some very big walls built up around both Jonah and myself. Gradually, and patiently, and tenderly, one brick at a time, Romy has helped me to tear them down and let her love both of us. It is funny how time and love can change things...”

And Romy recognized how profoundly impressive Tim was in how he led his life, working hard and caring for others, stepping up to the plate, not only when others would not, but even in instances, where no would have blamed him if he did not. Tim just kept on silently, resolutely, without fanfare, doing what needed be done, praying with his feet. "What I really liked about Tim," she says, "was that he is a down to earth type of guy... friendly, caring, a gentleman and polite. (However the) one thing I liked the most, was how he was family oriented and how he was involved in Jonah’s (life)."

Romy and Tim, continue to live your lives just this way, continue to reflect the Image of God, as reflected in Genesis, and your bond will be unbreakable.