A Personal Reflection on GLITTER
Rev. Elivette Mendez Angulo
I hate glitter. It is a truth that pervades every sense of my heart. I know that as a Christian soon to be ordained member of the clergy I am called to love…but, glitter “is the herpes of the craft world.” Glitter gets stuck on everything. When my Sunday school classroom has an art project and the parents offer craft materials, they are always happy to share glitter. And I promptly proceed to throw it away.
Two years ago I attended my first Creating Change Conference, during which I saw glitter in an entirely new way.
After a night of revelry I returned to my room, showered and left all things ready for the next day. When I dressed in the morning and looked in the mirror spots on my face shined bright from specks of gold dust. GLITTER! Later in the week I found bits of glitter stuck in my curls, a constant reminder of a night of merriment in the midst of creating a community of justice workers. Don’t we who scream of a need for justice require that it be found over and over again...?
Still later in the week walking through the exhibit hall I found a shirt that read: “Throw Glitter NOT Shade.” Imagine throwing Glitter at systems of oppression, systems set up to keep some in and some out: churches that are open, so long as you look like them and think like them; institutions that welcome you, so long as you don’t make waves! Imagine throwing glitter all over them. The glitter might highlight tough things that need changing, it might become a fleck that sticks and comes back over and over again, slowly calling attention to a system that needs changing. I guess my feelings about glitter may be changing.
This year at Creating Change I met an awesome person named Ann Craig who introduced me to another awesome person named Marian Edmonds-Allen, because after all: awesome people know each other!
Marian and I talked about many things and she mentioned a project of Parity.NYC called Glitter Ash Wednesday. Before she said another word I shared my complicated emotions surrounding glitter. I told her how my feelings had evolved and how I was thinking that Throw Glitter NOT Shade would be my ordination theme because as a Black-Latina-mostly Heterosexual-Pansexual I am a witness that knows that God’s called have always gotten into trouble and, “not only that – [we should] count ourselves blessed every time people put [us] down or throw [us] out or speak lies about [us] to discredit [God]. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable” (Matt5:11-12 MSG). God’s love is often too big for others to consider and it makes them uncomfortable.
Marian explained what they intended as a national campaign, and I wondered what it might sound like to hear different experiences of Glitter Ashes. I imagined some in my Latinx-Open and Affirming congregation would be very uncomfortable. I considered some would be fully opposed to what they might see as an exclusive ideology behind Ash Wednesday. I wondered what a theology of Glitter might become. And I was really curious how I might still create a space for glitter ashes based on the many stories of the Latinx community.
A few weeks later when I met with Rev. George E. Oliver of Christ’s Congregational Church in Chicopee, MA (C4) we discussed his congregations’ perceived need for a Progressive Latinx community of faith in their neighborhood. This led to a deep conversation of the discomforts around how to intentionally invite the “unchurched” to church! We cringed together at the idea of Glitter Ash Wednesday as a standalone moment… but then we laughed at the realization that Ash Wednesday is a commencement to the Lenten Season of fasting that is also the ending of a season of feasting.
Rev. Oliver reminded me that before the fast comes the feast, and we the church have been so quick to fast that we have omitted the conversations around feasting. We forget that Mardi-Gras and Carnival occur as the last feast day before Lent. These have a tradition of costumes and glitter that ensure that all participants have fully reveled before the Lenten Season.
And so was birthed a Glitter-infused Midnight Ash Wednesday Service to follow a Tuesday Night Masquerade Ball!
Intentionally we went into the community and invited people in English & Spanish: we visited clubs and malls, libraries and colleges, restaurants and bars. And to all we said, “you are welcome here, just as you are!”
We invited clergy to be available to listen, to speak, to assist in processing the pain of a community that for many reasons was/is in exile; a community for whom the space that I consider sacred and holy has been a purposely closed door. We offered glitter ashes, not for the LGBTQ community, but rather for the community of revelers, partiers, dancers, revolution starters, justice and pleasure seekers and workers. Because God travels with us into our many sanctuaries, and cries alongside us in our times of grief and those are way too often. And if God is always really with us, and I believe God is: then glitter and tears and smell goods and stale messes all mixed into what became our sacred ashes.
Yeah, that is why I offered up Glitter Infused Ashes, because God is with us in all of our truth. Because, when the text says that God tattooed us on the palm of God’s hand it does not have a list of who was excluded, rather it reads, thus says the Lord: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16a). Just each of us, without exception, without conditions: we are loved just as we are and that love transcends all and every identity marker because it is not your identity that is imprinted on God’s hand, it is all of you! That is LOVE!
And if Ash Wednesday is a day when we who are Christian can boldly-fiercely-publicly call out our faith, reclaiming it, pointing people in the direction of Christ, we must be intentional as we see our neighbors and hear their stories with our own hearts wide open. And often that means being quiet and listening:
Spoken from the door frame of the church: “Are you sure that God won’t smite me? I just had sex and we ain’t planning to be married…”
I like to have fun, to party, to dance…my more conservative family said I am going to hell as long as I keep this up... Most people think I am succeeding at life, except (according to my family) God can’t love me as long as I don’t acknowledge that I am living a life of sin. How can that be true?
My sister and I served as Altar Boys across the street… when my sister came out as trans she was kicked out of the Altar Boys… and made unwelcome in the church… and in our parents’ home. Are you sure that it is okay for us to be in this building?!
They said my job was against God. I quit. They said gay is against God. I tried not to be. They said no church would accept me… and they still don’t know that I found one that does.
I am here for my sister…she likes women.
Do you know what I learned about sex growing up..? I learned my body parts with their proper names AND I learned that my virginity was something men/boys would “trick me out of.” Cajoling and convincing me… I did not learn that my virginity was mine and could be shared by me. I learned that it would be better to get rid of it by choice than by thievery or by trickery.
My heart broke as I heard these and many other stories. We had created environments for people to enter into. Did they sit in those quiet spaces and share their stories, no! But still they found ways to be heard. And like a bit of glitter, days and weeks later, we are still finding unexpected glimmers.