Opinion

Mixing glitter into ashes is an act of profound love and respect

The Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman, left, distributes glitter ashes near Stonewall Inn in New York City for Ash Wednesday on March 1, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna

NEW YORK (RNS) When I shared the idea of mixing glitter with ashes on this Ash Wednesday, I would typically get one of three general responses:

1)    “That is AWESOME!” 

2)    “Whaaaaaaa…?”

3)    “Ash Wednesday is a somber day of repentance, and glitter is inappropriate.”

Many people are invested in the meaning of Ash Wednesday. Some are concerned, and a bit offended. To these people, my fellow Christians, I’d like to explain a bit more about what we are trying to accomplish. 


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Ash Wednesday is deeply important to me. So is Good Friday. These liturgical days demand that all Christians tell the truth about violence in our world and repent of our role in perpetuating it. As a queer woman, I know what it is to face spiritual and physical violence. On these two days, my Christian faith helps me make sense of the struggles of my people. These days have helped me survive. 

Mixing glitter into ashes is an act of profound love and respect. Glitter is an inextricable element of queer history. It is how queer people have long displayed our gritty, scandalous hope. Making ourselves fabulously conspicuous, we have refused to surrender to those who, in the name of piety or power, have worked overtime to keep us invisible. 

Glitter + Ash Wednesday was conceived as an effort to draw on this history and make queer Christians visible. What became rapidly apparent is that the need for visibility extended far beyond queer Christians. At this moment in time, when so many people are taking to the streets to uphold values that we feel are under attack, progressive Christians as a whole need to stand up and be counted. 

The Rev. Marian Edmonds, left, and the Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman distribute glitter ashes near Stonewall Inn in New York City for Ash Wednesday on March 1, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cathy Renna

As I wrote in my book, “Queer Virtue,” it matters immensely for progressive, queer-positive Christians to come out publicly. When you have the option to stay in the closet, you may be tempted not to stand in solidarity with people who don’t have that option. But closeted Christians need to recognize that there are people who are being thrown under the bus, crushed by hateful proclamations of a false gospel, while we rest in the comfort of our tiny personal sanctuaries.


RELATED STORY: ‘Glitter Ash Wednesday’ sparkles for LGBT Christians and others


Queer people have for years been visibly harmed by the ambivalent proclamation of progressive Christianity, but queer people are not and never have been the only ones to suffer while the left wing of the church waffles for the sake of false peace.

The Glitter Ash Wednesday logo. Image courtesy of Queer Virtue

Glitter + Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for every one of us to come out as Christian and end our complicity in this spiritual violence perpetrated against queer people. We believe that doing so is an act of faithfulness to God.

It is not just the tradition of Christianity that is often misrepresented as colluding with oppression. God is misrepresented. God does not “hate fags,” as some earnest churchgoers have asserted. Declaring your faith in this God is precisely how you witness to the truth that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar — that is, that God is a God of love and not of coercive violence.

Glitter + Ash Wednesday aims to energize exactly this kind of public Christian witness — to resist forces of violent control and invest in the powers of love and faith, fueling their capacity to shape our world. Wearing both ashes and glitter on our foreheads, we will witness to a gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that is both utterly queer and deeply Christian.

(The Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman is an Episcopal priest and a political strategist who served as an inner-city hospital chaplain to people with HIV/AIDS from 1989 to 1995. She lives in New York City)

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Elizabeth M. Edman

27 Comments

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  • Eh, why not?? People long stopped actually Fasting as is proper during the Lent period so it’s not like the people opposed to this are following their traditions anyways. So I don’t see a reason why not too, the meaning of Lent has long been discarded, so why not do whatever you want with it??

    But then I read onward and…

    “Glitter is an inextricable element of queer history.”

    Yeah, how about no. I for one don’t want to be associated with glitter.

  • How about people come to receive ashes because they are humbling themselves before God, denying themselves during this time of Lent, lifting up our sorrows and sufferings to God to be as He has always desired us to be. Can co-opting a Christian observance by furthering a cause be considered honoring God (it does not matter what the cause is either). Are we to add pink to the ashes next year for cancer awareness, or any other symbolic color to cover over the ashes, to change them into something besides what they have meant for the past millenniums.

    I find it troubling that not only do people think this is appropriate, but those who are suppose to have studied the bible, have chosen to preach the Word, that they refuse to give God what is due Him and have turned it into something else. They will not even attempt to see how their agenda really defiles what Ash Wednesday is.

  • I did.

    But seriously, no one observes the Fast as the Scriptures want these days. For HUNDREDS of years the Fast has been watered down to simple abstinence from meat. And fish became allowed because of a corrupt Pope’s interests in the fishing industry. And now-a-days people just “give up” something for Lent, losing for themselves the benefits of Fasting and replacing the ritual with a shell of its former self.

    Sure, I think this glitter practice kind of defeats the whole point of Lent, but I know that pretty much ALL forms of modern Lent observance defeat this point. No one Fasts anymore!! The original practice is almost long dead, which is unfortunate. I personally don’t see the difference among those who are mixing glitter with ash for whatever reason they do so and those who substitute proper Fasting with some other hollow imitation. BOTH groups are twisting the original meanings to have meanings they prefer.

    This glitter practice is no different from the countless other ways people have changed this observance from its original meaning. If a person doesn’t Fast during Lent I don’t really think they have any business telling other people they are doing it wrong. Do you Fast, actually Fast, Mr. Balloon??

  • “Are we to add pink to the ashes next year for cancer awareness, or any other symbolic color to cover over the ashes, to change them into something besides what they have meant for the past millenniums.”

    Sounds like a good idea. Make the ceremony have a contemporary meaning beyond tradition for its own sake. Pretty much your argument was passe when church services and Bibles were done in vernacular languages. There will always be some old tradition which is abandoned because it lacks relevance or distances people from a faith unnecessarily.

  • another example why women should not be pastors – she doesn’t have enough respect for Jesus that she cannot try to up Him one with “glitter” because her sin is more important to her than He. Instead of celebrating Him, she needs to involve immorality with Him. Shameful.
    I looked up the significance of Lent online: (gotquestions.org) Lent is a period of fasting, moderation, and self-denial traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 46 days (40 days, not counting Sundays). During Lent, participants eat sparingly or give up a particular food or habit. It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies. It’s six weeks of self-discipline.
    “Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance. The austerity of the Lenten season was seen as similar to how people in the Old Testament fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3).”
    So this “pastor’s” observance of Lent entails rubbing her sin in the Lord’s face.
    He died for our sin, sin was so grievous to Him, and she feels it is appropriate to worship it, alongside Him.

  • “Another example why women should not be pastors.”
    Because every time a man says or does something silly, we fire them all.

  • I find it problematic that someone who had to look up the significance of Lent is taking it upon herself to lecture anyone else about how it should be celebrated.

  • This is an outrageous affront to the idea of Lent. Instead of humbling oneself before God, in awareness of our sinfulness, now we are supposed to revel in it? Utterly ridiculous and offensive.

    The article itself is shallow and ignorant, with no other opinion expressed than undisguised glee at another opportunity to be “fabulous.”

  • “It’s not uncommon for people to give up smoking during Lent, or to swear off watching television or eating candy or telling lies.”

    That practice is as much of a disrespect as glitter is.

    FASTING is the original intent for this period. Fasting is mandated by Christianity. Not giving up tobacco, TV, candy, or dishonesty. FASTING. If you do the above instead of FASTING, then I don’t see how you are ANY different from those who mix glitter with ash.

    “another example why women should not be pastors”

    Sandi’s a woman’s name, right?? If this above is how you feel, why do you repeatedly assume to preach authoritatively on matters of religion?? Especially as you seem to be no good at it, thinking abstinence from television an acceptable substitute from Fast.

  • Meh. It’s no different then all those people, like Sandi below, who feel that doing something like giving up TV or candy or some nonsense is a suitable substitute for the Fasting that is mandated by Christianity.

    It’s not at all the meaning of Lent, but so few people actually observe Lent with Fasting as is proper. It’s no more abominable than anything else that is being done to “observe” Lent these days.

  • I’ve never participated in any Lent activities but certainly flaunting your sin before the Lord – who does not approve of it – is worse than heathen.

  • So, you deny Christ, refuse the Fast he wants for us, and presume to lecture others who do the same??

  • Christ mandates Fasting. Mathew 16-18 is Christ directly on the subject, but there’s a whole host of bible verses about the importance of Fasting.

    http://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-fasting/

    There’s nothing that explicitly states that Fasting should be done on Lent, but that’s what early Christians used the period for, and the original meaning of the Lent observance was FASTING, not “giving something up”, which is just as much a perversion of the original intent as anything else.

    And you make it sound like you do not Fast at all, denying the commands of God. Am I wrong and do you Fast on some other schedule??

  • Where does the Bible discuss fasting for Lent? That was your original assertion, so, where does the Bible instruct such?

  • Do you Fast at ALL??

    If you Fast outside of Lent, that’s fine. There’s no fixed period in the Christian Scriptures for that act. But if you don’t Fast at all, I don’t see how you aren’t rejecting the commandments of God.

    And if you DON’T Fast, as God commands, then I don’t see how you are ANY DIFFERENT from those who took the original meaning of Lent (which is Fasting) and turned it into something else.

  • You wrote: “So, you deny Christ, refuse the Fast he wants for us, and presume to lecture others who do the same??” As there is no Biblical teaching on fasting for lent, are you not just trying to be argumentative and insulting?
    Decide what you want to argue about before bothering me again, please.

  • The Bible mandates Fasting. It doesn’t have to be Lent, but it is clear. Again, it’s ~Mathew 16-18~ among countless others I listed.

    So my question, which you seem to be avoiding:

    Do

    You

    Fast??

    Note I did not ask “do you Fast for Lent” but “do you Fast AT ALL”?? Because God is clear on the fact Fasting is mandatory and if you don’t Fast, then I find the idea ridiculous that you (a woman who doesn’t believe women should give religious instruction, and who doesn’t even Fast herself) presume to lecture others on how they do Lent, which traditionally, is a Fast.

    I just find it absurd if you ~don’t~even~Fast~ as God commands that you would presume to criticize OTHERS for doing weird things with their own Fasting/Lent.

    So again. Do you even Fast?? Not specifically during Lent, but at ALL?? Because I want to know if you actually follow the commandments of God before I weigh your opinions on other people’s Lent observances.

    I’ve asked this a number of times now. I want to know if you’re serious about your Faith and have any business weighing in about Lent in the first place.

  • No, you’re avoiding responding to the fact that I caught you trying to insult, rather than discuss. You have no idea of whether I fast or not, yet, again, you just are trying to pick a fight.
    Decide what you want to discuss as an adult, please, before bothering me again.

  • You also don’t celebrate him with blatant hatred and judgement for anything you don’t happen to like. I suggest that you use this Lenten season to do some prayerful consideration of Jesus’ commandments to love others as you love yourself, and to love your enemies. I’ll also recommend some meditation on Proverbs 16:18.

  • ChrisKid and Sandi deserve each other; they’re both using an invisible Friend in the Sky to beat each other over the head with.
    The sooner their respective versions of this idiocy lose their tax breaks and housing allowances, the better.

  • Matthew 28:16-20English Standard Version (ESV)

    The Great Commission

    16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

    James 5:20
    New International Version (NIV)
    20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

    Ezekiel 3:18-19English Standard Version (ESV)
    18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for[a] his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

  • I’m curious. Since you obviously don’t share a belief in God, why do you find it necessary to comment on an article that’s about people’s belief in God? It always fascinates me when people jump into comment threads like this just to yell about how foolish the whole thing is. I haven’t joined any groups of atheists just to witness to them.

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