February 14th, 2010

religion is a queer thing

[Transfiguration Sunday] Tiffany's last day as pastor of CWM

So, we're about ten minutes into service, and Tiffany's doing the Children's Time, and she talks about how the people after Jesus were sad that they didn't know Jesus, and something about the way she says it, even before she gets to the, "And Paul said to them ... [2 Cor. 3:17-4:1]," I realize that yeah, this is about carrying on in the absence of your leader, and I start crying.

(Tiffany's sermon illustration was a mirror -- we see God in ourselves and each other.  In her sermon, she emphasized Paul's "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Divine as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" -- all of us.)

Scripture Lessons: 2 Cor. 3:17-4:1 and Luke 9:28-36a
Contemporary Lesson: the song "For Good" from the musical Wicked (which Cassandra performed -- piano and vocals).  Marla cried.

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?  But because I knew you -- I have been changed for good."

Tiffany said, "Note to self: No emotional musicals right before you preach."
She talked about the Pacific Northwest road trip she and Julie took after she graduated from seminary.  Their last stop was Rialto Beach, and she was so struck by the profound beauty, by being in the Presence of the Holy -- it literally took her breath away.  It's misty, and the beach is shimmering, and she stuffs her pockets with the rocks to take it with her. 
But of course the rocks dried out. 
And Julie said to her: "You know we can't keep captive moments like these."
Tiffany: "But here's the good news [and she looked right at me as she said that] we can be transformed by them."
She quoted Alan Culpepper [on "The Gospel of Luke" in The New Interpreters' Bible] -- "Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced" -- and said, "I believe it -- don't you?  Believe it with me a little bit."
"Transfiguration is the eternal process of the divine itself revealed in humanity."
"We need each other to call out the divine in us."
"Alone, the divine beauty is locked inside; with each other, we glisten and shimmer and glow."
She said that if she ever doubted that God is real, she doesn't anymore, because she has seen God in us.  I choked up.  [I am literally crying writing this up now.  It probably didn't help that I pulled up the Wicked song on YouTube.]
"Christ is present."  [I cried.]
She said that in her eight years with us, she has been "transformed into a pastor and a preacher, and sometimes a prophet and a priest."
"I don't get to stand in front of you every week anymore -- and this is where I'm gonna lose it."  [And she was choked up as she went through that part of the sermon.  I wanted to sob -- but I only quiet-cried the whole time, wiping my face with the sleeve of my black knit shirt.]
"Look around."  [My vision was so blurry with tears.]
"As your memory of me fades -- and it will -- don't forget the lessons of who you are and whose you are."

During Passing of the Peace afterward, she said to me, "You didn't interrupt my sermon.  You cried -- which I think is worse."

In the "Ritual of Farewell to our Pastor" litany, she says, "I release you.  I release you from turning to me and depending on you.  I encourage your continuing ministry here and will pray for you and your new pastor."  I was really struck by, "I release you."

Doing the Words of Institution during Communion, Tiffany has Jesus refer to it as a "covenant between me and you and God and us."
I saw Marla crying as she communed Tiffany (after communing everyone else, the Communion co-celebrants commune each other), and I thought, "Oh yeah, this is the last time they'll get to do this.  So of course it would be the two of them doing Communion today."  [Marla's not just one of the co-lay leaders, she's been with CWM since before its founding, and has been friends with Tiffany since before its founding.]
After dinner, Marla was talking with me and Samuel and she said that it was partway through Communion that it hit her that she would never get to do this with Tiffany again, and she just started crying, and she was so grateful that Samuel was the one standing in front of her at that moment.  They literally held up the line.  And they giggled until Marla was okay to go on.  (Marla said she was glad that it wasn't someone she would feel like needed her to be a strong non-crying leadership presence -- or someone like Tallessyn where they would just both be sobbing.)

On the altar, Tiffany put a basket of rocks from Rialto Beach and invited us to each take one.  I wanted to take one that felt rough, but it seemed like they were all smooth, but the one I took has a chip broken off (though that's not immediately obvious), which I liked.

Because it was Tiffany's last Sunday, I didn't really want to leave until I absolutely had to.  So it was after 9pm (church started, I dunno, quarter past 5, and ended around, I dunno, 7) and it was me, Marla, Samuel, Michele, Tyler, Paul, Rob, Sean -- and Tiffany, who usually isn't here that late since the baby, but again, her last Sunday.

We reminisced some, and Tiffany talked about how much she would miss us -- how she wouldn't have nearly the same experience or group of people at Syracuse.
Samuel said he was sure there were queer Christians in Syracuse.
Tiffany said yes, she's already been in touch with the LGBTQ campus group.
Marla said that LGBTQ does not equal us, and I said, "Remember the conversation we were just having about RMN?  There's queer, and then there's us."
Michele: "Well-said, Elizabeth."

Tiffany's facebook status from ~10:02pm is "still finds it hard to believe it's over."

Marla's, from a few minutes later, is: "Thank you, Pastor Tiffany! That was a pretty incredible 8 years, and a beautiful service tonight. I hope Syracuse is ready, and I hope they know how fortunate they are. Here's to the next 8 years! In some ways we're all right back where we started: we can't even imagine what the future will be like, but here it comes!"

Edit: And Sean: "Amazing night at Cambridge Welcoming! Relived incredible moments of prophetic power, joyous love, and belly-ache-inducing laughter... May our paths ahead be marked by the same guideposts of audacious action and unceasing compassion. Thank you, Pastor Tiffany, thank you."

Edit2: Marla said that David P. said: "She's not dying -- she's just going to Syracuse. I think of all the people I have known over the years who have died, and I think, 'Why couldn't they have just gone to Syracuse instead?'"

We talked about The Wizard of Oz and how we never did a sermon series on that.  Someone said something about doing one followed by one on Wicked, and Michele suggested The Wizard of Oz, The Wiz, and Wicked.  Tiffany was like, "That's 12 weeks..." and said something about the lectionary, and Marla said of course we'd use the lectionary -- "That's what makes it challenging."  I said, "You said you wanted us to do fun and exciting things after you left."

Tiffany was wearing her maroon(?) high heels, and Marla said, "You know where you go if you click your heels three times?"  Tiffany looked confused and said, "Hell?"  Marla said, "No, right here."  I said, "Because it takes you home."