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Lent & The Greatest Love Of All

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

— from ‘The Greatest Love of All’ [1](Creed/Masser)

In the spring of 2004, I went to a press screening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, two days before Ash Wednesday. The film tore me to bits. I went to Ash Wednesday services at my local Catholic parish (I was Catholic then) ready to don sackcloth and ashes and repent. The priest’s homily that day centered on how Lent was really a time for us to learn to love ourselves more.

After that, I knew that this priest had nothing useful to teach any of us about the spiritual life. It was about nothing more than coddling the bourgeoisie.

I thought about that moment when a friend yesterday sent me a link to Glitter + Ash [2]. It’s a movement to encourage churches and penitents (“penitents”) to smear glitter on foreheads instead of the traditional grey ash. Here’s why:

Glitter is an inextricable element of queer history. It is how we have displayed our gritty, scandalous hope. We make ourselves fabulously conspicuous, giving offense to the arbiters of respectability that allow coercive power to flourish.

Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance. During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.

Glitter+Ash exquisitely captures the relationship between death and new life. We do not live in fear of ash – of death – we place it on our foreheads for the world to see. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God specifically calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst. God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another. This Ash Wednesday, we will make that spark easier to see. We will stand witness to the gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that exists in the very marrow of our tradition.

What a complete trivialization of the sacred, an emptying-out of holy tradition to serve the Almighty Self and its sexual desire. Not even Lent is free from LGBT cultural politics. It’s all about them, all the time.

74 Comments (Open | Close)

74 Comments To "Lent & The Greatest Love Of All"

#1 Comment By El Anciano On February 16, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

These poor deluded souls are slaves to their sinful appetites and sexual addictions.
Those who will never receive the approval of God will demand the approval of man.
Thanks be to God for His gracious provision of reconciliation through repentance of sin and faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.

#2 Comment By Joey On February 16, 2017 @ 6:48 pm

What’s interesting to me is that, from the snippet of their statement that Rod included, they don’t even seem to know how to connect this to Ash Wednesday themselves. They say that the day is about repentance, so…wear glitter for gay pride? How does repentance = gay pride? Is this connection so obvious to people in their bubble that they don’t feel the need to explain it? (Probably because, in their minds, everything = gay pride?)

#3 Comment By The Autist Formerly Known as “KD” On February 16, 2017 @ 7:08 pm

Should the Priest make a Lenten “+” or an “*”?

#4 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On February 16, 2017 @ 7:24 pm

homosexuality = narcissism.

#5 Comment By Liam On February 16, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

“homosexuality = narcissism.”

That’s no more congruent than other similar distorting equations.

#6 Comment By Gentillylace On February 16, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

Joey, I suspect that gay activists who believe that repentance = gay pride silently put in the phrase “for homophobia” after the word “repentance”. Renouncing thoughts, feelings and actions that are against same-sex sex would be approximately equal gay pride, I suppose.

#7 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 16, 2017 @ 8:09 pm

What a complete trivialization of the sacred, an emptying-out of holy tradition to serve the Almighty Self and its sexual desire.

Agreed. Its even worse than the Bushfish.

I can’t agree that homosexuality = narcissism. Rather, it takes a great deal of narcissism to advance that homosexuality is a vital political issue.

#8 Comment By MichaelGC On February 16, 2017 @ 8:43 pm

The pagan sex cult of the rainbow compulsively corrupts everything it touches. I guess they are smug and satisfied now that they have glitter-bombed a day on the Christian calendar.

#9 Comment By Gerrit On February 16, 2017 @ 8:45 pm

Sigh. So you read about this and you pass it along and the gang all contribute their outrage. And then in a few days you’ll do it again with some other gay outrage against your belief system.

How does this help me to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? Why, it doesn’t. It seems like you folks need to ingest gay outrage several times a week. How that helps you be a better person or Christian is difficult for me to figure.

I read this article and it makes me wonder why some small segment of gay folks would do this. I don’t know, but it must speak to them somehow. Then I think, well, if a person’s sexuality runs counter to standard human plumbing, it would be a massive problem to live with 24/7/365. Of course they’d be obsessed with how to live a human life in their situation. Sexuality is so basic, and so very complex even when things are running according to the plumbing schematics. So when gay folks act out, I don’t see people attacking my belief system; I see humans in emotional pain dealing with their stuff and I feel compassion for fellow human beings who are struggling like I do with my stuff.

When our Anglican priest marks my forehead with the sign of the cross in ash, it is a reminder that I am dust and to dust I shall return. It reorients my soul towards my Maker and the cross of Christ and it reminds me that only in losing the self could I serve God on this human pilgrimage.

I think that if I were to obsess over what a few gay folks do somewhere else it would be a sure way to keep the self front and centre. It seems like a guaranteed way to miss the whole point of Lent.

Jesus once told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10 ff. NRSV)

#10 Comment By Shameless Woman On February 16, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

Beth said she can’t imagine this in any but some “liberal” Episcopal churches. No–sorry–if you go to the parity website it is connected with PCUSA. And even the liberalest, gayest pastors I know in the Episcopal church take Lent seriously. The issue with the glitter ash is that they mix repentance and resurrection. You can’t. You have to die first–only after death is resurrection possible. The young clergy I know in the Episcopal church take the creed, the sacraments and the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ very seriously. They would never play around with Ash Wednesday.

#11 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On February 16, 2017 @ 10:07 pm

Liam, Siarlys

I admit that the mathematical equivalence is a bit strong. Let me reformulate like this.

homosexuality ≈ narcissism

To support this view, I could quote this

[3]

But, of course, as so called “Social Sciences” are epistemically worthless (or, in other words, just empty babbling with an air of academic relevance) I’m not.

Don’t take me wrong, I love and appreciate Sociology and Psychology – I even love Economics. But only when they present themselves for what they are: branches of Applied Philosophy. The sight of them struggling to present themselves as natural sciences and failing miserably is deeply demoralizing.

So, I’d rather refer to Freud (more a philosopher than a doctor), to the safer compass of life experience and to the even safer guide of mythology.

To get back to Rod’s post, Siarlys, it’s impossible for a political movement not to show the same dominant character trait of its members.

However, there’s a positive side: sooner or later, histrionic victimism becomes an annoyance.

#12 Comment By Novamama On February 16, 2017 @ 11:45 pm

The Gospel reading on Ash Wednesday consists of Jesus instructing his followers not to make a public display of their piety. It literally includes the words “wash your face”. This glitter thing is pretty confused, but so is walking around with visible ashes on your head after you leave the church.

#13 Comment By Nelson On February 16, 2017 @ 11:52 pm

Remember, man, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.

This is my favorite religious teaching because it is literally true and puts everything into perspective.

#14 Comment By Liam On February 17, 2017 @ 4:26 am

Giuseppe

If you think that merely means your equation was “a bit strong”, I have a seat in Trump University to sell you.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 17, 2017 @ 6:55 am

Glitter wasn’t what saved my friend.

Ten years ago my elderly lifelong friend, who’d been a major figure in bodybuilding and the gym business, flew out to be with us over Christmas, as it turned out, for the last time. A Nisei Japanese, who’d been held during WWII in internment camps as a youth, he’d been a lifelong skeptic and even sarcastic agnostic, although we became over the years somewhat incongruously ever more close, becoming the family that substituted for the one he’d abandoned for what amounted to in some ways narcissism. That must have had something to do with the prayers offered up for him, as our rapprochement twenty years earlier had been driven by my awakening in the middle of the night with an urgent premonition to call him. That was just as he’d been in despair over a looming operation in which he then had one of those near death experiences where he was outside his own body when his heart stopped on the operating table and his returning to life had been a narrow thing. Almost persuaded, but not yet. Even when the person returning from the dead with the message was himself, it wasn’t understood.

Then that evening with us, many years later, during his stay over Christmas, we viewed The Passion of the Christ on a large screen with him. I saw at some point that this tough old boxer, bodybuilder and wrestler, who’d recently knocked out two would-be muggers the week before as they had targeted someone they thought a vulnerable pensioner, had tears streaming over his cheeks. In character, like Mickey O’Rourke in The Wrestler, he choked out his aversion to the cruelty of the crucifixion, “Why couldn’t they have just knocked him out with a blow to the jaw, like I would?”

When a week later I took him to the airport, and was allowed to push him in a wheelchair past the security checkpoints due to his advanced age, I myself was fighting back tears. I explained to the sympathetic TSA agent, it was hard to say goodbye when you had a conviction you were seeing off a loved one for the last time. That was true, but the poignancy was mixed with the culmination of those many fervent prayers, which had sealed his close but ultimately sure fate, that our dear friend had at last repented and accepted Christ by the time he left us. Thus the bittersweet news of his daughter, herself a believer, who told us her estranged father had returned a changed man in the time he had left, and had passed on one night some time thereafter. Tears return now as I compose this, for I still deeply miss my friend, while watching the mystery of God working over a lifetime.

#16 Comment By Tricia On February 17, 2017 @ 7:26 am

“nothing more than coddling the bourgeoisie” … my favorite takeaway. You have given me six words instead of my stammering answer on why I left the Episcopal church.

#17 Comment By Another Ann On February 17, 2017 @ 7:49 am

Rod – Posts like this one present the gay community as a monolithic “other” that is threatening and sinister. “It’s all about them, all the time.” It is a small group of gay Christians using religious freedom (!) to demonstate their unique, personal experience with God. With glitter! How dare they!

#18 Comment By Elijah On February 17, 2017 @ 8:30 am

“How does this help me to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? Why, it doesn’t. It seems like you folks need to ingest gay outrage several times a week. How that helps you be a better person or Christian is difficult for me to figure.”

@ Gerrit – I don’t think it’s our obligation to “help you” observe any religious holiday. But it may help you reflect on the importance of a sacred ritual that should not be allowed to be co-opted by any community (in this case LGBT) with an agenda, no mater how noble that agenda may appear to be to that community. It’s offensive, narcissistic, and pretty much the opposite of penitent.

I only know a handful of gay Christians, but they’d rather take a beating than participate in such a thing.

#19 Comment By Daniel (not Larison ) On February 17, 2017 @ 10:29 am

Gerrit wrote:

Jesus once told this parable:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10 ff. NRSV)

The real problem here is that by exchanging ashes for glitter, they are not acting as the tax collector, humbling himself before the throne of God and repenting of his many sins with tears.

No. First of all, they are failing to identify their sin as sin, let alone repentung of it. And not only that, they are identifying their sinful desire as an inherent part of their nature, and not only that, a good part of their nature.

And are those pointing this out the pharisees? That may very well be the case. There are few who are in the role of the repentant tax collector. In today’s churches (and it goes without saying, in todays comment boards), we are chock full of pharisees and have few who are truly repentant (and most of those who are are probably too busy doing good than to waste time on comment boards like we are.)

#20 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On February 17, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

Liam

If you think that merely means your equation was “a bit strong”, I have a seat in Trump University to sell you.

I’d buy it only if it is as Dean of the Faculty of Causes Lost.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 17, 2017 @ 2:53 pm

Giuseppe, I would suggest that focusing on homosexuality as the foundation of one’s identity is highly likely to descend into narcissism.

One of the myriad of differences between racial reconciliation and LGBTQWERTY is that people classified as “black” are instantly recognizable by the color of their skin, its something that follows them around whether they like it or not. Whereas, the gay movement began with the slogan “We don’t know who we are.” It wasn’t merely that some felt they had to hide their orientation for fear of being fired, they had to MAKE themselves visible in order to feel proud. Further, they had to parade their sexual proclivities to reinforce their sense of identity. Some heterosexuals do that too, but its not inherent in being a man, or a woman.

#22 Comment By Jeff Beranek On February 17, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

El Anciano says:

These poor deluded souls are slaves to their sinful appetites

We all are, man. That’s one of the reasons we have Lent.

#23 Comment By Lee On February 18, 2017 @ 1:18 am

For myself, it’s been interesting to observe over time, how we delude ourselves in failing to notice what’s being mirrored back to us, as an opportunity for self-reflection.

#24 Comment By Potato On February 19, 2017 @ 7:35 pm

I have a dear friend, a new convert to (Evangelical) Christianity, who was badly abused, physically, sexually and emotionally, as a child. She was taught in every conceivable way that she is worthless, and has been fighting that notion ever since.

She does not need to be told that she is miserable and worthless; she already believes that to the marrow of her bones. She does not need to reflect on her shortcomings, real or imaginary, and she does not need to ponder her sins, past present or future. She has always been drowning in all that.

She needs to be told that God loves her, and that as a consequence she ought to love herself. Instead of hate herself, which is something she is far too good at.

Her name is Legion.

Doesn’t everyone know people like that? I know many of them. I was fortunate in my parents and in my upbringing, that I am not one of them, but good fortune is not in any way the equivalent of virtue.

After that, I knew that this priest had nothing useful to teach any of us about the spiritual life.

Nothing to teach you, perhaps. But was my friend or one like her or many like her in the congregation? There are more and more of them. Perhaps there is something here for someone besides you. We healthy ones are not the measure of all things.

[NFR: What makes you think I was healthy then, or am healthy now? I needed healing then, and I need it now. That priest was telling me that I wasn’t sick, that I needed nothing, except to love myself more. — RD]