Sunday, February 26, 2017

Man Plans and God Laughs

Saturday evening, Deacon Keith Boswell and I co-officiated Jordana and Eric's wedding ceremony at Villa Siena in Gilbert, Arizona. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One approach to interfaith relations, between spouses, between friends, even between communities, is to gloss over differences. There are even couples that choose to strip their wedding ceremony of any religious traditions, and have an officiant who is not identified with any religious tradition. Now, if you know anything about Jordana and Eric, you know that is not them.

One fascinating but easy to overlook difference between them is how they each speak of their coming together in relation to any preconceived planning they had in finding a soulmate. Eric, as a staid Midwestern Catholic, simply says that falling in love with Jordana was God's plan for him. The red headed New York Jew standing here beside him, with a twinkle in her eye, does not necessarily dispute this. She does, however, invoke an old Yiddish aphorism, der mentsh trakht un got lakhtדער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט, man plans and God laughs.
Seriously, though, recognizing that planning for your relationship is necessary is one of the best lessons that Jordana and Eric teach us. As Eric says, "We needed some extra time due to our different religious backgrounds to make sure we could have a happy and fulfilled life together." Now, once you don't gloss over your religious differences, and instead acknowledge them, that has the potential of helping you plan for and deal with the host of other differences EVERY couple will (not may, WILL) have. As Jordana say, "I think our pre-marriage differences have helped prepare us for all the unpredictabilities before us in marriage."

Now even if you don't gloss over your differences, religious or otherwise, you can still think of differences as obstacles to overcome. Some view differences in many types of relationships, personal and professional, in just that way. Not Jordana and Eric, though. They see their differences as tools they can use for growth, as individuals and as a couple. As Jordana says, "We have grown to have a deeper appreciation of our differences, and instead of letting those differences divide us, they have only enriched (us)..."

And a funny thing happens when you follow this approach. The very recognition and embracing of our differences often shows us that in their essence, the cores of our ideas are actually closer than we thought. As Eric says, "We came to realize there are many similarities in the foundations of the two religions in regards to how they teach you to lead your life and... treat others." 
This allows us to form bonds much closer than we could ever have, as Jordana says, "My relationship with Eric has grown to be quite different from (the) early days. Today, I feel that I have a lifelong partner, a friend, a silly fool who can always make me laugh, right by my side." And it allows us to recognize the very core of those we love. As Eric says, "Jordana has such a big heart and has so much love to give... She’s... thoughtful and compassionate… She’s beautiful inside and out. I know she will make a great wife and a great mother... This is exactly the kind of person I want to be with for the rest of my life and I feel blessed to have found her!"

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Amazing Grace

Saturday afternoon Father Bruce Nieli and I co-officiated Jacqueline and James’ wedding at the Chapel of St. Basil on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, in Houston, Texas. Here are the words I shared with them and their guests:

Marriage is about two people, in this case Jacqueline and James, coming together. However, as mentioned before, in this case, as in many, there is that additional, shall we say, "element", grace. Grace is central to this union. 

One of my favorite hymns is John Newton's Amazing Grace. Now, I realize, that due to its popularity in modern culture, that is somewhat like saying that I like chocolate. Still, you must admit that a rabbi saying that a song rooted so deeply in Christian theology, is his favorite, is more man bites dog, than dog bites man. And when you do listen carefully to the words, you not only understand the deep Anglican roots of the hymn, in general, you realize that as it was written, it speaks to the concept of grace, as understood in Christianity to be one of its most central theological ideas. 

So, why does this rabbi, along with many non-Anglicans, and for that matter non-Christians, so love this hymn? I believe that this may be attributed to the malleable nature of the words, and specifically the concept of grace. It may have been written by John Newton with specific theological connotations, but even those of us who differ from Newton in our theology can still identify with the words and the broader meaning of grace in our lives. 

That broader meaning could be defined roughly as an ineffable sense of hope. Grace, in that sense means to us that even when we think all is lost, we need not give up. Hope can pull us through. And the hymn tells me, that that is not a one time occurrence. Life is not easy, it includes struggles along the way, and grace, hope, the triumph of the human spirit, are there to pull us through it all. 

You see that quiet resolute triumph in what Jacqueline says, "We come from different backgrounds, different parts of the country, different educations and religions. We (still) work because our souls (I have truly come to believe) are bound to one another... You are my soul mate, my other half, my best friend – anyway you cut it, you are my person."

You see that hope in what James says, "She is truly everything I have ever wanted in a partner. Her kindness, passion, heart, selflessness, beauty and unwavering love are just the beginning of all that she brings to our relationship and I am as happy as I have ever been and so incredibly excited for our future together."

Poignantly, the hymn speaks of the need for grace as a constant:

'twas Grace that taught,
my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
'tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.

Why does it speak of the need for grace as ongoing? Because life's challenges and triumphs are ongoing, are often intertwined. They stretch across time. 

You can hear this in how Jacqueline speaks of the genesis of their relationship, but also in her ongoing devotion to it, "You met me when I was at many crossroads – I was ready and lost all at the same time. As you have discussed with me before – you were too... Whether you believe it or not – you are one of the most amazing men. I would redo every sacrifice and exception that I ever made for you – time and time again."

James also echoes the idea of the ongoing need for and power of grace in his words about Jacqueline and her mom as ongoing forces in his life, "Her daughter... brings tremendous love and passion to our relationship and is a guiding force behind many of our most important decisions and plans. They both have brought incredible joy and happiness to my life and I cannot imagine a life without them."

Indeed, grace unearths in us feelings of hope, love and strength, just like it did in the soul of John Newton. As James says, "I have never felt the way that I do now and I always want to continue and further this feeling of undying and unwavering love and happiness." Or, as Newton might put it, "Unending love, Amazing Grace."

Sunday, February 5, 2017

How Lucky They Are

Saturday evening I officiated Rachel and Drew’s wedding ceremony at the Historic 512 Building, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the first questions I, and many others, ask Rachel, when they first meet her is if she is related to "those" Rothschilds. For a question she constantly has to answer, she is surprisingly good humored about it. She told me that though the answer is no, that name can still help you get a good table at a restaurant...

Now, interestingly, that idea touches on in an important concept in all our lives, one we are sometimes loathe to think about, the power of luck. Because, if you think about it, really the only difference between the heiress, Charlotte Henriette de Rothschild, and Rachel Rothschild is just that, luck. And paradoxically, research shows that the Charlottes of the world are less likely to recognize this, and more likely to see themselves as self-made.

I believe that discounting the power of luck is not only factually wrong, but you can really miss out on a lot, if that is your approach. This might sound unAmerican, but attributing what you get to your own careful planning and hard work can lead you astray, if you think that is the WHOLE story. Recognizing your good fortune makes you humbler in character, and more grateful for what you have.
The origin story of Rachel and Drew's relationship is illustrative in that sense. Rachel tells the story well: "Drew and I met the first week of our freshman year of college at Oklahoma State University. OSU has one of the largest Homecomings in the nation that the Greek community is heavily involved in. Each sorority gets paired with a fraternity. I rushed Alpha Delta Pi (ADPi), and we were paired with Farm House my freshman year... We were handed a tie, and as we walked to the front, the tie’s owner would be our ‘Buddy’.  Well my tie’s owner just happened to be Drew. I remember thinking how cute he was when he walked up, and I was pretty excited that he would be forced to be with me for the next few months." Some people flip coins, other draw sticks, this couple ended up here because of a lucky tie!

That lucky break led to a long relationship. Though still fairly young, Rachel and Drew have been together for a long time. And they have put in the hard work necessary to form a lasting foundation, and it shows. As Drew says, "I know everything about her and she about me. We have been best friends since our freshman year. We have had our ups and downs but no matter what we both truly love each other. I get to be my goofy self, make stupid jokes and she still laughs... (We) just have a good time.... When I have a bad or stressful day at work I know that the second I see her face everything else won’t matter."

Rachel feels the same, when she says, "Drew is my best friend and better half... He tells me I’m beautiful everyday, even when I’m not feeling my best. He’s the only person that I can be goofy and act like a kid with. Everything is fun with him around. Sitting on the couch doing nothing is 100% better if we do it together. I know that there will never be a dull moment with him."

But they never forget how lucky they are, and this makes them so much more grateful for what they have. As Rachel says, "He is the type of man I always dreamed about." And as Drew say, "She is the love of my life and I am extremely lucky to have her."