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!”
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.
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.
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.
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)