Sunday, December 24, 2017


Saturday morning, I officiated Gia and Bayo’s Jewish-Muslim wedding ceremony, at Brenner’s Restaurant, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the most beautiful things about weddings is that there are no right ways or wrong ways to celebrate this occasion. Every couple is different, and they may make different decisions and choices, depending on any number of variables. In interfaith and intercultural weddings, specifically, some couples choose to build a ceremony that minimizes and deemphasizes their differences, while other couples choose to highlight their differences, and celebrate them.
Now, if you know anything about Gia and Bayo, you know what choice they would gravitate towards. They both come from interfaith and intercultural families themselves, after all. This figured into their relationship before they even met. As Bayo says, “I was curious about her Jewish-Italian heritage because it reminded me of stories my dad told of the ancient Roman Empire and the journey of the Israelites from Egypt.”
And, whatever differences they had, they were very much in sync from the start. Gia says, “I knew after talking with him that we shared the things that mattered most, and our values and ideals were so similar. We both value family, spirituality, compassion, and optimism. We both love adventure… and are very determined to reach our goals. These things are so important to share with your partner…”
And Bayo acknowledges that, though he “was captivated by her beauty and brain”, what sealed the deal for him was much deeper. He saw in Gia, “a woman of high moral standing. In my culture, good morals, trump material things. My mom always told me her prayer, was for ‘the Lord to bless me with a good woman.’ I believe she can consider her prayers answered, because Gia is the definition of a good woman.”
Once you have established that you share what is most important, values, morals and character, you can use your different characteristics to enhance your relationship. A Jew and a Muslim, for instance, can bond not despite, but because they begin their relationship during the holy month of Ramadan. As Gia tells us, “Bayo and I started dating during Ramadan… We would meet in the evening after sundown during the non-fasting period of Ramadan. Ramadan teaches Muslims how to practice self-discipline, self-control, and empathy for others who are less fortunate… Although I was not observing Ramadan with Bayo, my respect for his practices… taught me these values as well…”
Bayo shares his recollections from that time: “Gia was quite supportive and respectful of my religious beliefs and practices during the entire period.” He adds what will surprise no one who knows anything about Jews’ and Italians’ eating practices,” She sometimes brought additional refreshment to supplement my meals for added nourishment.” By the time Ramadan came to a close, Bayo says, “It felt like we had known each other far longer than a month… Our relationship grew from there… We began to see each other more often, and grew fond of each other… I soon realized that I could trust her with my vulnerabilities as a lonely immigrant trying to find his path and place in the land of the free.”
I recently heard a moving interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims, who talked about her upbringing and her journey growing up in American society, straddling different cultures and identities. Her voice cracking, she summed up what she felt was at the root of many of our challenges today, in this land of the free: “We are suffering from a lack of compassion.” It is in this context, that Gia and Bayo give me great hope, because the strength of their relationship lies in the compassion their faiths taught them, the compassion their families instilled in them, and their shared compassion for others. Let us heed their call, and follow their call, and follow their example.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lovin’ You

Saturday afternoon, I officiated Heather and Octavio’s wedding ceremony at Hotel Mazarin, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
I ask every person I marry to write an essay about themselves. This enables me to get to know them better, and shape their entire ceremony. And their words also serve as the raw material for these personal remarks.

I can’t tell you how much I loved reading Heather and Octavio’s essays. They are so evocative and rich, and you can really feel the depth of their love for each other. With such beautiful writing, remarks like these almost write themselves.

Listen to Heather:
“I want to marry Octavio because I can’t imagine the rest of my life without him. After eight years, I feel like I know him as well as I know myself... He’s extremely caring, patient, honest, hard-working, and romantic.
He’s helped me be more patient, understanding, strong, and open to new experiences and cultures. We’ve both been ready to get married for at least a few years now.”
And listen to Octavio:

“I feel lucky and blessed to have her in my life, and have the opportunity to call her my wife and start a family together is a dream come true.
She’s honest, funny, and beautiful, but most important, she has a big heart, not just for me or her family, but her friends, co-workers, and any person who she thinks needs help.
Para dios, nos casamos la primera vez que estuvimos juntos. In the eyes of God, we have been married from the first time we met. To love her is easy, marrying her is going to be one of the happiest days of my life.”
Wow. See what I mean. Their writing is almost like poetry!
What Heather and Octavio say about each other, coupled with that phrase Octavio used, “To love her is easy,” reminded me of one of the most unique songs of my childhood, “Lovin’ You”. You owe it to yourself to go back and watch it on YouTube. When I did, I said to myself, this is exactly what Heather and Octavio’s love story is all about!
The song was written by another interfaith and intercultural couple, Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph, and produced by Rudolph and a young man named Stevie Wonder.
To millennials, like Heather and Octavio, Minnie and Richard’s claim to fame would be that they are the parents of the great comedienne, Maya Rudolph. In fact, baby Maya’s name is in the unedited version, because mom was trying to calm her.
“Lovin’ you is easy cause you're beautiful... Lovin’ you is more than just a dream come true. And everything I do, is out of loving you...
No one else can make me feel the colors that you bring. Stay with me while we grow old, and we will live each day in spring time.
Cause lovin’ you has made my life so beautiful. And every day of my life, is filled with lovin’ you...”
Heather and Octavio, may every day of your lives be, indeed, be a dream come true, filled with mutual love.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Not?

Saturday afternoon, Rev. Grady Roe and I co-officiated Shelby and Alex’s wedding ceremony at Ma Maison in Dripping Springs, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
When I was thinking about how Shelby and Alex have lived their lives, as individuals and as a couple, I was reminded of the well-known saying of Robert F. Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
I don’t know if RFK, who was a great friend of the Jews, knew this, but he was channeling a very Jewish sentiment. After all, the answer to the question, “Why do Jews always answer a question with a question,” is just that, “Why not?” Seriously, though, there is something quintessentially American about the willingness to push the envelope. It might be the most pronounced marker in our cultural DNA.
We see this in Alex, who out of the three choices available to Jewish children, doctor, lawyer or accountant, entered college to pursue that money-making juggernaut, film... But we also see it, perhaps because his parents were wise enough to let him learn and develop his own ideas, in how he adjusted course and chose marketing, allowing him to continue pursuing his passion for creativity in a very practical fashion.
We see this in Shelby, who coming from a family of lawyers, naturally vowed she would never be one... She opened up to this idea, when she discovered she had a knack for the law. Still she kept her options open by studying business too, and working in the business world for a little while, which solidified her passion for the world of law. 
Where we really see it, though, is in Shelby and Alex’s love story. Because Alex had a “Why not?” attitude when he moved out to California to pursue what looked like a great professional opportunity. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. (Spoiler alert: Something else did…) Now, knowing he was about to return to New England, dating a Pepperdine student was a little risky, all things being equal. As Alex says, “Before Shelby and I met, I was apprehensive to even go on a date, because I knew I would be moving back to the northeast so soon. It took some convincing… We went on a date, and then another date, and another… We had such great chemistry right off the bat. We couldn’t stop spending all of our free time together… We both knew that what we had was something different, something special.”
Shelby poignantly talks about her feelings when Alex left California, “When Alex moved 6 weeks later I was crushed, because I had developed strong feelings for him and I thought I might never see him again… After he moved, we talked to each other all-day every day… I went to visit him in Boston for New Year’s Eve and I think that’s really when we both realized how special this was… After I graduated, I moved to Boston to be with him. This was a risky move… However, I had a gut instinct that this was the person that I was going to marry…” If you are listening to this, you know the rest of the story.
There is a great lesson here for all of us, in life and love. Objectively, at many different times in our lives, there is a strong argument to just go with the flow. No one could have argued with Shelby and Alex had they, as individuals and as a couple, chosen not to heed that advice when it seemed that the odds were stacked against them. Happily, they did, deciding to just give their relationship a chance and see where it went. In each and every one of the pivotal moments in their relationship, they said to themselves and to the world, “Why not?”

Monday, November 13, 2017

Greece and Judea – Inseparable

Saturday evening, I officiated Stacey and Dean’s Jewish-Greek wedding ceremony at the Samuel Lynne Galleries, in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

What struck me about Stacey and Dean, is that if you didn’t know otherwise, you wouldn’t believe they had only been together for three years. In that sense, they are reminiscent of their respective cultures. To us, in the 21st Century, it might seem like the interactions between the Greek and Jewish cultures are fairly new. However, when you look a little closer, you discover that our relationship goes back a very long time, and our cultures mutually influenced each other, across history. 
Our cultural relationship began through a brief introduction, just like Stacey and Dean’s did, with the Persians likely serving as the Karen of Stacey and Dean’s story. We each liked what we saw. There were clear similarities in our Mediterranean ways of life.
With Alexander’s conquest and the advent of the Hellenistic Culture across the empires founded by his generals, came one of the most significant events in Jewish and Greek history, the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. And, so while Jews throughout the world were exposed to Greek ideas, the Hellenistic world was exposed to the ideas of Judea.
None of this would have been possible without mutual respect, patience and understanding. The same was true in Stacey and Dean’s story: Just like Judea and Greece, Stacey and Dean came together from different backgrounds and each had busy lives, but together they found common ground. 

The relationship between Greece and Judea continued to grow. From acquaintances, we moved on to become friends. Eventually, we became so close, our lives became so intertwined, that you couldn’t even picture us apart. And guess what? That is exactly what happened to Stacey and Dean!

Now, like Stacey and Dean, Greece and Judea were different. We came from different places, had slightly different accents, sometimes spoke very different languages. However, like Stacey and Dean, we were confident in our relationship. We knew we were inseparable. 

Eventually, a strong succession of rabbis came along and affirmed something fascinating: If you are just Greek, without that relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you’re not the best Greek you can be. And if you are just Jewish, without that relationship to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, you’re not the best Jew you can be. 

If you know Stacey and Dean, you see that same sentiment not only in their verbal interactions with each other; you see it in their body language. Stacey is essentially saying, I am not the best Stacey I can be without Dean. And Dean is essentially saying, I am not the best Dean I can be without Stacey. 

That is probably why Stacey told me a few weeks ago, and I quote, “Now marry us. The girls and I can’t wait for Dean to be my husband and (their) step dad.” And if have learned anything in the last decade, it’s this: Don’t argue with the bride, Jewish, Greek or otherwise, so let’s get to it!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Fluid Properties

Saturday evening, Reverend Kip Gilts and I co-officiated Jenn and Ian’s wedding ceremony at Moffitt Oaks, in Tomball, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay. I think Jenn is the first person who included the title of her thesis. Don’t get me wrong; it does sound like a page-turner: the Influence of Fluid Properties on Geometric Complexity and Breakdown Pressure of Hydraulic Fracture. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to read it...
Seriously, though, this title might surprise you, once you discover that she started off as an English major. She says she was in it for the money. (Not really.) Interestingly, the way she started dating Ian reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, just the other way around.
I, unlike Jenn, never studied English that seriously, so my understanding of that book is largely based on the acclaimed BBC miniseries. One of the themes that comes up again and again is the complex set of rules surrounding asking people out. And, of course, we heartily laugh at the wacky situations that result from those arcane ways.
Except, we do the same today too! Listen to Jenn: "I met Ian when he was working at the corporate fitness center at Noble. The group I was in at the time worked until 6 or 6:30pm, and afterwards some of us would go to the gym to blow off steam from the long workday. Ian and I would have casual conversations when he’d be at the front desk, and we always made each other laugh. Eventually I started taking longer in the locker room after the workouts so that we could talk more as he was closing up the gym and we’d walk together to our cars. I could tell that he was enjoying this, because he would nervously talk nonstop, and he also does a high-pitched laugh when he’s happy/nervous. I figured that he probably wasn’t allowed to make a move because of his job, so after a few weeks of this I gave him my phone number..."

Another theme in Pride and Prejudice is the utter and non-ironic seriousness with which the characters take themselves, and with which they feel a need to present themselves. We, as the audience, get to laugh at this, because we never do that, right? Well, this is not a humorous statement when it comes to Jenn and Ian!

Listen to Ian, "​I desire to marry Jenn because I truly believe she is my perfect match and soul mate. We complement each other in almost every way. Things I am not great at she is great at and vice-versa. We have different personalities in a lot of ways but we both view that as a good thing. Dating ourselves would never work. I love her quirks and oddities, the things she is passionate about and the things she does not like. She makes me laugh constantly and also laughs at my jokes (or just at me in some cases). She keeps me on my toes."

Now, there is one other important theme in Pride and Prejudice, as well as in modern adaptations of it, like Bollywood's Bride and Prejudice or Hollywood's Bridget Jones' Diary. Most of the characters' neurotic behavior has to do with the fact that they live entirely in the future, and not in any positive way. They spend most of their time worrying about what will be, and assuming the worst. This is an area where these fictional characters could really learn from this very real couple.

Listen to Jenn, as she looks back on the entirety of their love story. This really needs no further commentary from me: "Ian took me on fun and thoughtful dates, and pretty soon into seeing each other I could tell he was something special. He has this fun-loving and easy-going nature that I admire so much, and he’s so passionate about everything he does. It’s rare to see someone who is equally laid back and passionate about life. He’s taught me that it’s okay to relax and not rush things, because you miss out on the entire experience in the process. Being with Ian has helped me enjoy and appreciate more of the individual moments, rather than just focus on the end game. I’ve never been a big risk taker because I’ve always been afraid of not knowing how things would turn out. But when I’m with Ian I’m not afraid of the unknown – I’m excited."

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

In Love with My Best Friend

Sunday evening, I officiated Evonne and Roberto’s wedding ceremony at Ma Maison, in Dripping Springs, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
At a recent wedding I officiated, the groom walked out to a string version of one of the best songs about romantic relationships, in my opinion, Lucky, by Jason Mraz. When I sat down to write these remarks about Evonne and Roberto, I couldn’t help thinking about this song, not just because of the name, but particularly because of one specific line. I think it speaks to the deep love these two share. Jason sings a duet with Colbie Caillat, and it’s kind of a dialogue between two lovers:
Do you hear me, I'm talking to you
Across the water across the deep blue ocean
Under the open sky, oh my, baby I'm trying
Boy, I hear you in my dreams
I feel your whisper across the sea
I keep you with me in my heart
You make it easier when life gets hard

I'm lucky I'm in love with my best friend…
Why did this remind me of Evonne and Roberto? Well, the last line I just quoted tells us that the characters in the song didn’t just have a fling, or some type of superficial love at first sight nonsense. No, this is a deep relationship, where the lovers have a deep connection based on a foundation of friendship. That, my friends, is Evonne and Roberto’s story. Luck may have brought them together, but they took it from there.
Evonne says, “Roberto and I met through a summer internship program… I can still remember the very first day we met and it wasn’t long until I knew that him and I were something very special – two old souls…” Roberto says, “I could tell there was depth there. We started dating shortly after when I asked her out to dinner, [and] we… designated Wednesday nights as our date nights away from the group. Through these dates we built a bond of friendship…” And what did this bring about? Evonne tells us, “I remember the very last day of the program when Roberto’s flight was hours before mine. He calls my cell phone to say hello and not long into the call we became emotional. I believe in this moment I knew – he was for me as I was for him.”
Wow, is that cool or what?
There is one hazard, not often thought of, connected with this type of thinking, and that is that you might take yourself too seriously. Not Evonne and Roberto, though. Roberto says that they “always keep… life together interesting,” and he adds, “If there’s one thing I know [it] is that we strive to always remember to enjoy life.” And Evonne tells us, “There is nothing that compares to the joy this man brings into my life. He makes me laugh until my stomach hurts, and this to me is his greatest quality.”
Evonne and Roberto, what we wish you is that continue to follow this path of deep love and friendship, continue to recognize how lucky you are, and continue to laugh together as often as possible. Do that, and you will have this “marriage thing” made… 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Successful Campaign

Saturday afternoon, Father Steve Cook and I co-officiated Allie and Alex’s wedding ceremony at The Guild, in Kansas City, Missouri. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:
The beginning of Allie and Alex's relationship was, how can I put this, interesting. Here's Alex describing their first interaction: "On her first day, I was driving to lunch and almost ran into her as she was walking around the corner in our campaign parking lot. I like to say that I was so enamored by her I got distracted, but I’m also a klutz."
And, here's Allie describing their first date: "Alex spilled pizza sauce on his shirt... I knocked into the table as I slid out to go to the bathroom. I should have realized then and there that I would always be able to be myself around him and vice versa.
Seriously, though, there is something deeper here that Allie and Alex's relationship is emblematic of. You see, Allie had studied well, and was working not one, but two internships. She knew what she wanted to do, and where she wanted to work. Alas, there were no openings there, so she went to work on the McCaskill campaign, just for the meantime.
And Alex? He knew what he wanted to do too. He needed a change of pace in his work, and he saw that in working on the McCaskill campaign. And, he very specifically was putting his dating life on hold.
Care to guess what happened next? Alex's plans to put his dating life on hold got pizza sauce all over them. Allie's plans to quickly return to the place she had planned to work, knocked hard into a restaurant table. Alex says it succinctly, but than again you would expect that from a marketing guru, "As these things so often happen, the moment I stopped looking for a partner I found one."
So, why did Allie and Alex upend their lives, and change their plans? They followed the maxim, "Seize the day!" This does not mean don't plan. Plans are a great thing to have. The best type of planning, though is looser and ongoing. It's planning that still allows you to, "Suck the marrow out of life!" Come to think of it, this is the flexible type of planning that makes for a successful political campaign. Just ask any successful politician.
Wonderful things can happen, when you live your life this way. You can find someone like Alex, who Allie describes as, "the kindest, most selfless person I’ve ever met. He is incredibly smart and hardworking... He allows everyone, not just me, to be their true, genuine selves. He makes people feel at ease and comfortable... What an amazing partner to find and to have."
And you can find someone like Allie, who Alex says, has made him a better person: "Being with Allie has opened my eyes to the importance of slowing down and spending time with the people you love... I’m much more emotionally available than I was five years ago and that is entirely because of her. Allie and I make a great team..."
With that in mind, Father Steve, I think the phrase used in the Royals' dug out would be, "Batter up!"

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Hans vs. Severus

Saturday evening, I officiated Sharon and Tim’s wedding ceremony at the Trophy Club Country Club, in Trophy Club, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the most iconic movie villains in the history of American Cinema is the villain in Die Hard, a man named Hans, who arguably had the best last name a movie villain could have. That's right, Gruber. Hans is up against the hero of the film, played by Bruce Willis, a New York City cop.

One of the reasons that this movie was so popular and remains iconic today, even though it has not aged well, and is barely watchable, is that it is SO American, and not in a good sense. It portrays a battle between good and evil, as one between two quintessentially flat male characters, full of bluster and bravado. Good is absolute, evil is absolute. All other characters are mere props.

And, so, naturally, even though the whole plot rests on the fact that the hero and his wife are estranged, largely due to the hero's behavior, all he has to do is vanquish her captors, and she, the prize, falls into his arms.

It is almost poetic that later in life the same man, who played my erstwhile and flat cinematic relative in that forgettable film, played one of the most complex figures in modern popular literature, Severus Snape. And the world Severus Snape inhabits is as rich, as Die Hard's world is flat. Perhaps that is why Alan Rickman said, "When I am 80 years old, and sitting in my rocking chair, I'll be reading Harry Potter. And my family will say to me, 'After all this time?’ And, I will say, ‘Always.’"

Now, if you know Sharon, you know that she could have uttered those very same words. That is why Tim proposed to her at, that's right, Nakatomi Plaza... No, not really. He proposed to her at Harry Potter World.

I, like, Sharon, and so many others across languages, cultures and borders, love this world, because of its complexity, its depth, and its characters' struggles. This makes so much of what happens in that world much more realistic than the world of Die Hard, and certainly more applicable to our lives.

Harry, and his friends, are introduced to us and to each other through a world of magic. You might not know this, but Sharon and Tim were introduced to each other through magic too. After all, as Arthur C Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." You have to admit that the complex array of electrons and algorithms that brings people like Sharon and Tim together in our world is hardly distinguishable from the Sorting Hat, that brings people together, in a slightly different way, in Harry's world.

What makes that world so easy to identify with, though, is the realism of the internal lives and interpersonal relationships of the characters. Few can see themselves in John McClain from Die Hard, but magic aside, we can see ourselves in Harry, Ron, Hermione or Ginny. And the friendships and romantic relationships in that world are very very real, with all of the messiness and beauty that comes with them.

And so, we know that Hermione and Ron could truly identify with how Sharon describes her relationship with Tim, "He is my best friend and there is no one that I'd rather share all of life's experiences with." And, as we see the closing scene in that magnificent series, in just the body language, we know that Harry and Ginny could identify with how Tim describes his relationship with Sharon, "We are a team, which is one of the things I love most about her. Together we are unstoppable!"

Unlike the characters in that closing scene, we don't get to see where life will take us. And, even in that scene, the lesson is that the future is not predetermined. However, interact even a little with Sharon and Tim, and I believe you can see them in that scene, years ahead from now. You know that Tim can see that, when he says, "Sharon is the love of my life. I want to spend the rest of my life and grow old with her." And you know that Sharon can see that too, when she says, "Ultimately, Tim is everything I could want in a life partner, and my life is better with him in it."