Friday, November 25, 2022

God Rolled Out the Red Carpet

On Friday, November 18th, Minister Joseph Devlin and I co-officiated Janelle and Chris’ wedding ceremony at The Club at Garden Ridge in Garden Ridge, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Janelle’s first thoughts about Chris, before she actually met him are, um, interesting: “I initially thought I don’t know, this dude looks like a major hippie, but it says he’s a therapist so he must be a pretty good person. I guess I’ll give him a shot, haha.” Low bar, but OK!

Chris describes what she didn’t know at that point but would bring them together: “Janelle and I have both taken our knocks from life to this point. We can both attest to profound experiences of hurt and isolation and a disappointing experience of trying to find love and connection… I feel that God wrote a hell of a harrowing story for us both and that we were meant to find each other now when we did.” Wow, pretty deep major hippie!

I always ask couples to tell me about themselves as individuals and as a couple and to tell me about their spirituality. With Janelle and Chris, the subjects are intertwined. When I asked Janelle why she wanted to marry Chris and why now, she answered in spiritual terms:

“Chris is the sweetest, most caring, thoughtful, funny, smart goofball I’ve ever met. He is my twin soul and completes me in every way. He’s the Yin to my Yang. His philosophical approach to everything balances my hard science approach… He brought me back to God and made me believe again. Because only God could have created a soul so perfect for me and influenced the random sequence of events that allowed us to meet at the time, I was finally ready for him. It took 32 years and a lot of tears and tough times, but I would go through it all again to find Chris.”

Chris speaks in similar terms: “I feel it’s the right connection every time we laugh together or build a new goofy inside joke (our lives are already filled with these), or in moments where it feels like we’re really able to understand each other, or in moments where we’re able to be doing mundane stuff but feel enhanced by the mere presence of the other person.

We both feel like this marriage is an invitation to a bigger and better layer of life, where we have a renewed focus on giving and sharing love… It feels like God has rolled out the red carpet for both of us to be living the lives we’re meant for, and that that path for me is named Janelle.” 

Wow, I really can’t add to that.

Revealed In a Dream

On Sunday, November 13th, I officiated Rebekah and Kaya’s wedding ceremony at the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, Texas. Every wedding I officiate is special. This one was rather unique. The bride and groom dressed as king and queen, most guests were in costume, and I was dressed as a wizard.

For the opening remarks, I shared these words:

Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today

To get through this thing called life

Electric word life it means forever and that's a mighty long time

But I'm here to tell you there's something else…

Now, at this point, you might be wondering a number of things, in no particular order: (a) Why did they circle each other before the wizard started talking? (b) Is it legal in Texas to have a wizard marry you? (c) Isn’t it illegal, outside of his native state of Minnesota, to begin a wedding ceremony with Prince lyrics?

Allow me to ignore b and c and explain a. As Oren, known by most as Kaya, and Rebekah, known by most as Rebekah, came forth, they followed an ancient Jewish tradition and circled each other seven times. This rather theatrical custom was originally designed to ward off evil spirits. Good thing, too, because some of you definitely scare me. It also symbolizes the mutual commitment of Rebekah and Kaya to make each one the center of the other’s world. Indeed, the scholars of Jewish mysticism write that this circling helps the lovers enter the many spheres of each other’s souls.

Friends, the bond and covenant of marriage is an ancient one. It is so old that often the relationship between God and Israel is analogized to the union of lovers. 

Now, this covenant is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly but reverently. That reverence is only enhanced by having your ceremony officiated by a powerful wizard.

Now, I hate interruptions once I really get wound up, so just to ensure there are no shenanigans if any of you can show just cause why they may not be lawfully married, speak now, or else forever hold your peace. (Pause)

Speaking of shenanigans, Rebekah and Kaya, I require and charge you both, if you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, you do now confess it. (Pause)

OK, great, I didn’t travel all this way from Dallas in my wizard costume only to return empty-handed. Let’s keep going. Considering that I am not just a powerful wizard but a very wise rabbi, too, I should probably chant something in Hebrew before we move on.

Here are the personal remarks I shared with them and their guests. I modified my standard intro a little:

Friends, our shared traditions embrace lifelong learning and learning from everyone. Now, I know what you are wondering: Is there anything a powerful wizard like me does not already know? No, there isn’t. I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you. You still have much to learn. So, whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask myself, this couple being unique individuals, what can normal mortals like you learn from them, so listen up. I don’t want to have to repeat myself.

Growing up in an academic household, I attended academic conferences and even read academic papers from a very young age, so I assumed that, naturally, everyone reads footnotes. I was well into my mid-forties when I discovered this was not the case. 

Now, there is little doubt as to the very best footnote ever written. No one comes close to Nicholas Berdyaev in his 1949 essay, The Divine and the Human. Often footnotes will include sources for the ideas the scholar is sharing with their readers. However, rather than citing a specific work, this footnote reads, and yes, it does sound better in the original German: “This was once revealed to me in a dream.” 

Now, you might be wondering why, standing here in a wizard costume, I chose to speak about the absolutely riveting subject of footnotes. It’s a fair question. And, no, the idea to do this was not revealed to me in a dream. It’s totally Rebekah’s fault.

Rebekah says, “I met Kaya in probably the most spiritual way possible. I had a dream about them. Yes, a dream. About two months before I moved to L.A., I had a dream about this bearded tattooed guy, and we instantly connected, and it gave me a lot of insight into where he was in life… 

Right after moving to L.A. I got this message from a circus company, asking if I would be interested in doing a performance… I agreed to meet with them, and I was expecting a girl or a couple, but then in walks the literal man of my dreams…” 

Kaya picks up the story from there, “I recall her face turning white. She seemed stunned. I assumed it [was] because I mentioned via texts jokingly that I was wearing a purple dress so she could [easily] spot me. We had not yet spoken by phone, and apparently, she assumed Kaya was a girl. My joke and her assumption together were a perfect setup for when a bearded and tattooed man introduced himself as Kaya.” Only later did Rebekah reveal to Kaya that he didn’t know the half of it. As you already know by now, like Nicholas Berdyaev, this was, in fact, revealed to her in a dream…

Kaya elaborates on even more magic and wonder that was involved in that first encounter: “One way in which… magic… has manifested in my life is the gift of having met my angel and queen, Rebekah… I [had] reached out to her asking if she would like to play the role of Cleopatra in an upcoming immersive theater project I was directing. What she didn’t reveal to me at the time was that she had an affinity for Cleopatra growing up, and her grandmother even handmade her a beautiful Cleopatra costume as a child…”

I believe that these phenomena are what we call foreshadowing. Here is another bit of foreshadowing for you. Close your eyes (yes, now) and think of what Cleopatra looked like. Now, Kaya simply pictured Rebekah, but you probably pictured Elizabeth Taylor. 

Here is a fascinating fact about the famous actress. She, like Rebekah, fell in love with Judaism. In fact, the classic 1964 movie was banned in Egypt because Gamel Abdel Nasser’s government was outraged that Cleopatra would be played by a Jew and a fierce advocate of Israel like Taylor, no less. 

The Ancient Rabbis believed that foreshadowing played a huge role in love and marriage. They also had a real knack for theatrics. The Talmud is constantly mentioning incidents in which, it claims, a heavenly voice makes a dramatic proclamation. And they maintained that forty days before the conception of every fetus, a heavenly voice proclaims who that individual will eventually marry. 

(As an aside, this is somewhat surprising because contrary to the view held by some that a fetus should be considered viable from the moment of conception, we, Jews, believe that a fetus becomes viable only after it graduates from medical school.)

Seriously, though, at the same time that we value foreshadowing, we are not naïve. We recognize the truth of these words written by a great playwright, in his native German, "Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen" which we usually translate, “If you will it, it is no dream.” 

These words, written by one Theodor Herzl, who we refer to as the Seer of the State of Israel, convey a great truth not only about the life of nations but about the life of individuals in love. It is vital but not sufficient to have a dream. You must will it into existence, in word and deed, and never stop willing it. Just like Rebekah and Kaya.    

Finally, I altered my pronouncement a little for this wedding:

Rebekah and Kaya, all of us here rejoice in your happiness, and we pray that this marks only one of many more blessings you will share in the days and years ahead. Now that you have spoken the words and performed the rites that unite your lives, I do hereby, with all my wizardly powers granted to me by the Great State of Texas, declare you husband and wife. Kaya, you may kiss your queen!

The Golden Rule

On Friday, November 11th, I officiated Tori and Gabe’s wedding ceremony at The Vintage Rail in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I have officiated over 530 weddings, but Tori and Gabe’s wedding is a first in a very special way. One of Tori’s relatives was gifted a prayer book on her wedding day by her groom. That custom is quite common. It is the inscription, however, on the prayer book that is special. 

It was written in 1938 in then Palestine, which was under the rule of the King of England, by a great rabbi named Rabbi Abraham Samuel Finkel. Now, that last name, Finkel, is a dead giveaway in the world of Jewish scholarship, for this man’s father was a founder of a prominent school of the Mussar movement, whose goal was to “foster peace of mind, humility, tolerance, thoughtful consideration of others, self-examination, and purity of mind.”

Tori and Gabe’s relationship origin story exhibits Gabe’s thoughtful consideration of others, as there can be no greater consideration than saving a damsel in distress. Gabe says, “How we met was definitely out of a romantic comedy. The owner of the company I was with had a housewarming party, and Victoria's best friend got hired to work the bar.” 

Tori explains that since the company was mostly made up of men, everyone was asked to bring a girl or a houseplant. Fortunately, Tori’s friend brought her and not a houseplant, or we might not be here today. 

Gabe continues, “I was walking around the party and saw Victoria talking with this goober, and I felt the need to interject. I put my arm around her.” The guy asked then asked Tori, “Is this your boyfriend?” Tori started to correct him and say, “Friend.” Gabe interrupted and said, “Fiancée.” Though Tori insists she was in no need of saving, the rest is clearly history.

Now, though the Mussar movement in Judaism was new, it was not introducing anything that, at its core, was not already part of all great traditions. The movement’s teachings simply elaborate on the idea taught by Hillel, Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, and more, which scholars refer to as the ethic of reciprocity, and laymen refer to as the Golden Rule. As Tori wisely observes regarding all religions, “It’s hard to… take them at face value, but underneath them all, the golden rules and foundations are… so closely related.”

Here is the thing about the Golden Rule. It is really easy to abide by it in isolation, especially in its negative form, as expressed by Hillel. If you don’t interact with anyone, well, you can’t do anything to them that you would not want to be done to you. 

Living in isolation, though, is not possible, arguably, it leaves a person’s moral development stunted, and it means that you will leave this world not much better than you found it. Conversely, through a great romantic relationship, the Ancient Rabbis tell us, not only does one get to regularly practice the Golden Rule, but one also gets to fulfill the commandment to love one’s fellow as oneself in its highest form. 

Tori expresses these ideas beautifully: “I couldn’t imagine my life without this man. It would be dull and less stimulating. I would survive, of course, but it would hold so much less meaning. After six years together, life with him is home, and I’m ready to share a life together in meaning and name, to take on the world as a unit, and to be a family.”

Gabe adds, “We have been together six years now. She has made me a better man and only wants to see me succeed. It would be hard to find another woman as kind, smart and caring as her.”

And Tori speaks for both of them when she says, “I want our children to see us as a united guiding force, not just two individuals passing through time… It takes strength and love to make a relationship withstand the test of time and feel like not only do we bring out the best in each other; being together helps us bring out the best in ourselves.”

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Empower Other People

On Saturday evening, November 5, 2022, I officiated Beth and Bryon’s wedding ceremony at their home in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

May you live in interesting times, is said to be an ancient Chinese curse, though it assuredly was invented by an Englishman, Sir Austen Chamberlain. Ironically, his better known brother who ascended to the prime ministry, assured that times got way too interesting. 

Now, most of us do not control an island nation ruling over an empire, so our decisions will not factor into the times being more or less interesting. We, are, though, each and every one of us, tasked with responding to what the times lay in our path.  

As modern Stoic philosopher, Ryan Holiday, reminds us, expounding on the words of another man who ruled over an empire, Marcus Aurelius, “We don’t control when things get hard, but we always control how we respond.”

One thing we do have in common with the ancient philosopher-king, is that we have lived through a pandemic, and not one of us has been left unaffected, nor have our relationships. I say this with no judgement; just as many individuals suffered and some individuals succumbed to the pandemic, so it has been with relationships. 

What is beautiful to see are the individuals and the relationships that have not only survived but thrived, and often these relationships strengthened the individuals. 

Bryon explicitly says, “If not for our partnership, I don’t know that I would have made it through that time. My family, the core of everything in my life, dissolved. I couldn’t see my parents, my brother, the people that I loved and respected the most… But Beth and I were there together every single day. We loved each other deeply, always knowing and understanding those dark times and what they meant. She was my rock.”

Now, as anyone who has seen The Gladiator can tell you, Marcus Aurelius had a few more challenges beyond the Antonine Plague, and all of us have challenges that extend beyond COVID-19. If we are lucky enough, we as individuals and our relationships will not only not be broken by these experiences but be strengthened through them. 

Beth says, “Bryon and I are the strongest team. When we first started dating, I [experienced some medical challenges]. He stood by my side, literally… The pandemic made us sturdy, almost impenetrable. A year ago, in a period of three months, we suffered the loss of Bryon’s father, Mike, our beloved pets, Bailey and Isabella, followed by my unbelievably amazing Nana. Through everything, I have become kinder, better, sturdier. Never weaker. I have continued to laugh, and smile. I know this strength is in me, but also very much because I have my life-long partner, Bryon, beside me.”

What is at the core of reacting this way to hardship? I believe it is rather simple. Empathy for ourselves and others, and the compassion that flows from that. 

In preparation for this ceremony, I had the opportunity to speak to one person who is very close to Beth and Bryon, Sam Mahool. She shared with me that among the things that stand out to her about this couple is that fierce compassion: “They go out of their way to make people feel special, as a team. They really care about… and empower other people.”

Beth and Bryon, may you continue to embody this mantra from fellow Texan, Dr, Kristin Neff, in your relationship with each other and with others: 

May all beings be safe and free from harm. 

May all beings be peaceful and happy. 

May all beings be healthy and strong. 

May all beings live with ease.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Everything Fell into Place

Sunday afternoon, October 30th, Reverend Steven Fricke and I co-officiated Hilary and Echo’s wedding at the River Road Chateau, in Anna, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple to tell me why they want to get married, and I get many good answers. The answers these two gave me may be some of the deepest I have ever gotten, because they are very deep themselves. 

Hilary says, “I know that no matter what could happen in our lives… I could never love anyone as much as I love Echo… I know I could never find anyone else who knows me as well as Echo does, understands me as completely as Echo does. I could never feel as comfortable and safe and open and honest and able to be my true self with anyone else. I know I will never find anyone who loves me as much and completely as Echo does… Not being together is a non-option.”

Echo says, “This October will mark six years together, and during that time we’ve been through all kinds of difficult and amazing times together. We’ve regarded each other as wife through most of that and want to “seal the deal” as it were. This has been a major goalpost for our lives, and we want to mark our progress with an official joining.” She mentions one more point we can all identify with about our crazy times, “After the past two years of hardship and strife, we want to open a new chapter and refresh our relationship.” 

What Hilary and Echo both says echoes one of the deepest passages in that deepest of books, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Dr. Viktor Frankl, “The salvation of the human is through love and in love… a human who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of their beloved…through loving contemplation of the image they carry… achieve fulfillment.” 

Indeed, Hilary says, “I believe that we are soulmates, not because Fate has made it so, but because we choose to be… I feel as though I have been searching for someone, something, for ages and ages. Then when I met Echo, everything fell into place, everything feels right. I will never let her go again.”

A Beautiful Interfaith Ceremony

Saturday afternoon, October 29th, Reverend Robyn Michalove and I co-officiated Natalie and Ike’s wedding at the Horseshoe Bay Resort, in Horseshoe Bay, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Ike describes the beginning of this love story thus: “I first met Natalie… interning… We… didn’t connect again until… we both started [working]… We… became fast friends... bonded over music, food, and sports, and after about 8 months of friendship… recognized that there was something more to our feelings for one another... Natalie was the coolest person I knew… I was slow to do anything about my feelings…”

Natalie elaborates a little bit more. Brace yourself, Ike: “Ike and I first interned together… I always thought he was very funny… fun, and cute. When we started work… I still thought that… We ended up becoming very good friends… A minor crush… turned into a major crush… But I was convinced that he wasn’t interested in me...

There were also several opportunities for him to make a move and he never did… On St. Patrick’s Day 2016, I… found an old fortune cookie. It said, ‘Your heart will get what it desires.’ I… decided… to make it clear how I felt.” The rest is history.

The great muckraker and social reformer, Upton Sinclair, once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” So, you will understand how difficult it is for me to acknowledge the truth of this next quote from Natalie: “I don’t think that marriage is a necessary part of a successful life or relationship.” So, I imagine I can hope for a somewhat limited number of referrals from this bride. Noted… 

Seriously, though, she continues: “I’ve sometimes brushed off people[‘s]… congratulations… I’m very excited and happy that we’ve chosen to get married, but it’s a choice we’re making, not a prize we’re winning or something major that we’ve accomplished.” 

She clarifies, though, “I do think there is something incredibly moving and valuable about deciding (if you want) to commit your life to a partnership with another person and to stating that commitment to your community.” And Ike agrees: “I want to confirm our commitment to one another and make our partnership an even more solidified and tangible thing.”

Natalie and Ike are 100% correct. Legal benefits aside, this is perhaps the ONLY reason one should marry in the modern world. It is not that marriage is just a piece of paper, but when a couple marries, they should basically have a relationship that is already so strong, that they are merely adding that piece of paper to what is already a rock solid partnership.

A beautiful interfaith ceremony like this one offers a couple one more unique opportunity besides just publicly proclaiming their love and commitment to each other. As Natalie says, “I want our community to see how we are choosing to weave together our faiths and values and traditions, that we’re not putting one person’s… over the other’s, that we’re not watering down… but… tak[ing] the elements of both that we truly value… to serve as a foundation for us…

And Ike adds, “I love Natalie with my entire heart, and I’m excited to declare that to her in the tradition of both of our faiths and families, legally, and in a way that’s unique to us through our wedding ceremony. And I’m equally excited for her to do the same for me.”

Take Your Relationships Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Friday evening, October 28th, I officiated Jamie and Zach’s wedding at Chandler's Garden, in Celina, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

When I was thinking about these remarks, I remembered a brilliant story about two historical giants, Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan. Both of these figures were central to the story of the modern State of Israel, both were members of the same labor movement, both were brash and swashbuckling revolutionaries, one ending up as prime minister, one as army chief of staff, defense minister, and foreign minister.

The thing is that though Dayan had been a war hero from World War I onwards, Golda seems to have always had his number. In the early days of the Yom Kippur War, Dayan famously lost his nerve, predicting that Israel would not survive the conflict, while Golda, amidst arming planes with nuclear weapons and readying them for attack, remained as calm and collected as ever.

At one point during their work together, Golda, who had an acid tongue, was exasperated with Dayan’s never-ending antics. She took a drag on her cigarette, turned to him, and in her heavily American accented Hebrew wryly remarked, “Don’t act so humble, you’re not that great.”

Golda, who likely had one true love and belonged to one political party her whole life, was trying to teach Dayan, the famously philandering thrice divorced cad, whose political allegiances changed with the proverbial wind, a lesson he would never learn, but one that we should heed, in all areas of life, but most importantly in love and marriage: Take your relationships seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. 

This is a quality that I see in both Jamie and Zach. They get this, which bodes well for their marriage. You see this in how Zach answers the double question I ask every person I marry, why do you want to get married and why now? 

“We have been dating for 5+ years, have lived together for multiple years, and now own a house together. We have seen each other in many positive and negative lights, from taking cross country road trips together, driving up tall mountains, learning to live with each other’s habits around the house, and taking care a dog together. We, basically, see ourselves as already married, and see the ceremony as basically a formality. As far as why now, the time just seems right.”

You see this in how Jamie answers and elaborates upon another question I ask every person I marry, how did you meet? “I was slower to warm up and a little more shy. The first time we met in person was at The Gingerman which is a local bar, and I had a LOT of questions for Zach when we first met in person. Zach answered every question correctly and cared a lot about how I feel and my perspectives. Zach and I have been together for 5 years and I love the life we have created. We also have a fur-child named Toby and I have loved seeing the love Zach has for Toby and the way he takes care of him. Toby usually sleeps in his own bed, but when I am out of town Toby sleeps in the bed!! Zach is also adamant that Toby should have 3 meals a day instead of 2 because he lives for food.”

More importantly, you see this not only in their words but in their actions, indeed in how Jamie and Zach are celebrating this very wedding, under a tree in Celina, Texas, with the smell of pizza wafting through the air. They will never forget today, but they know what really counts, all the days after today, their marriage, their love story, their relationship.

Ready and Excited

On Saturday evening, October 22, 2022, Father Michael Mills and I co-officiated Allison and Jordan’s wedding ceremony at the Dallas Arboretum in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I’ve always been intrigued by couples’ origin stories. The way Jordan tells the story of how he met Allison is, well, I’ll just quote him: “Allie’s probably going to tell you a story of how we met at her birthday, and then eventually over time we finally started dating and the rest was magic from there. She will be lying! She did not remember me after the first two times we met. Crazy right?

I met Allie twice before she remembered who I was, although I couldn’t forget her. One of my roommates… was invited to [attend] her birthday and [asked] to bring friends. In her defense, it was her birthday, drinks were flowing, and I was just a stranger who showed up through a friend…

The second time we met was at a bar. We were chatting briefly, and then my other friend started venting to her about this girl he was in love with, etc., etc., and Allie being kind and empathetic listened to it for what must have been over an hour. They did end up getting married, so I guess Allie gave some good advice, but like c’mon, I’m trying to talk to this pretty girl. 

Finally, next time we were at a sports bar for the big Texas vs OU football game.  Here, we hit it off, and I think there’s even a photo from our ‘first’ time meeting.  Finally, I made an impression!”  

Allison is quick to defend herself: “Jordan and I met in April 2016 at my birthday party… My best guy friend from UT, Scott, brought his three roommates along to the party. Jordan was one of the roommates.

Maybe it was the nice spring air, the fresh crawfish, or the round of tequila shots we took but after the party was over, Jordan told Scott that he thought I was “cute” and might ask me out. Turns out there was zero urgency behind that statement because it took several more times meeting each other before we finally went on our first date in December of 2016.”

Let’s get down to brass tacks, though. I love Allison and Jordan’s answers to the most important question every person standing before a group like this needs to answer, why do you want to marry this person? These answers are simple and deeply profound at the same time. They clearly reflect not only the deep love they have for each other, but their extremely realistic understanding of what marriage is all about.

Allison says: “Having Jordan in my life makes me lighter. As someone who is easily weighed down by anxiety and everyday worries, Jordan is my constant source of light and happiness. He is funny, goofy, sarcastic and we laugh together every day. He always has my back and supports me but is also the first person to call me out when I’m wrong (and I need that, trust me). He has helped me become a brighter, more confident version of myself and I will always be grateful that we found each other.”

Jordan says: “Minor reason, because she said we can’t get a dog until we’re married.” OK, funny guy. Don’t worry; he quickly redeems himself: “Mainly because I love Allison and want to spend the rest of my life with her. It had been four-ish years of dating, living together, not killing each other during a quarantine/pandemic, and I still loved her just as much as I did when I first met her. I knew the joy it would bring her, and I was ready to take the next step. I don’t think I woke up one day with an epiphany of “I want to marry this girl”, but to me it’s something you decide on over time by going through the ups and downs of a relationship. I felt ready and excited for the next step, and the day I proposed to her – the joy, happiness, surprise, and tears – it was the best day of my life.”