Dust to Dust. Word to Flesh. Word to World.

It is Ash Wednesday, the day we are reminded that we are dust returning to dust. My name, Staub, means dust in German–an especially poignant day for the Staub’s. (Art by Simran Gleason)

You probably know the Ashes used this day are supposed to be made with the burnings of the Palms from the previous Palm Sunday. (With evangelicalism’s “it’s hip to be sacramental fad,” I wonder how many actually retained and burned last Palm Sunday’s Ashes? If not–where do they get the ashes?)

Actor Ethan Hawk is a thoughtful writer, whose book titled “Ash Wednesday” features a central character, James Heartsock, a young man struggling with faith and love. Heartsock says this about his spiritual situation: “Now if someone asks me if I believe in God, I shake my head like I couldn’t give a shit, but the truth is, I do. I just don’t know what to do about it.”

There is a spiritual conversation all around us, and this generation believes in God, but doesn’t know what to do about it. We’re working on a new radio show/podcast that will be an intelligent, imaginative, hospitable exploration of the spiritual in contemporary life. We plan to tap into the conversation already taking place in culture.

The process of communicating in culture begins with observation and understanding and not everybody will like the approach I take of listening to and understanding culture.

I was quoted in USA Today on the trend towards blender spirituality on TV. In explaining the phenomena I said, ” “After all, there’s no law that TV or movies must teach correct doctrine. Theology is understood by script writers as an a la carte menu of ideas. Blenderism accepts the relativity of truth. There’s no requirement to assert any one thing is right or wrong. Put it in the blender and there you go.”

I received this letter from an offended reader: “I was seriously grieved this morning after reading a February 16th USA Today piece by Cathy Lynn Grossman, where, Dick Staub, seemed to actually be defensive of NBC’s controversial TV show, For Pete’s Sake, which mocks Christian doctrine and mixes Hinduism and reincarnation in the script.”

Sometimes those of us who listen to understand will be asked simply to explain what is going on. This reader demands more than I was asked to do in this situation.

I hear the sounds of spiritual seeking all around me. Saturday in a NYC coffee shop I heard a song titled “Sleeperhold” by Dolorean. Some of the the lyrics may ring familiar.

I was there I heard the crackling of the palms
He came upstairs and had the curtains drawn
This is my body
Keep your stomachs full
This is my blood
Let’s get drunk on soul

Got me in a sleeperhold
And you won’t let me go
Blessed are those who have no clothes
For sunlight is their fashion
And blessed is he who sleeps on the streets
But his roof is sheltering sky
And blessed be the broken one
For whom grace daily unfolds

Got me in a sleeperhold
And you won’t let me go
I was dropped down on a dirt brown field
I watched the sun rise over me
I wanted the heavens to open like a saloon door
But all I heard was a cock crow
What have I done? I cried inside
And my spine turned ice cold

Got me in a sleeperhold
And you won’t let me go

I’m tapping out
I’m tapping out
I’m tapping out
Cause it’s all too beautiful

I’m blacking out
I’m blacking out
I’m blacking out
But I don’t want to go
I’m blacking out
But I don’t want to go

I went online and found a reviewer who explained this about the song. (Gary Whitehouse of Green Man Review)

“A sleeper hold is a move used by police to subdue people resisting arrest; by putting pressure on the carotid artery, they can cause the subject to pass out. In a notorious case in Portland a few years ago, a suspect died because of improper application of the hold. In his song “Sleeperhold,” James draws on New Testament imagery for a deceptively languid song about betrayal: “I wanted the heavens to open like a saloon door/but all I heard was a cock crow./What have I done? I cried inside/and my spine turned ice cold.”

I then found an interview with Al James who wrote the lyrics:

Jordan of Burnside Writer’s Collective: More than a few of your songs delve into Biblical themes. Are you ever worried that you’ll be pigeon-holed into being a “Christian Artist”, or that people will take your music the wrong way?

Al: I think that Biblical themes are present everywhere in our culture, so it’s not a big deal that they show up in popular music. Presently, these themes are often used as tools of abuse or guilt by groups of people and I’m hoping that listeners will go a little farther with me and connect to these themes and metaphors without the baggage of contemporary culture. Many of us have grown up with these stories and images and we can make a deep connection through them. I’ve also found that people who are into “Christian Artists” are not into my work. I’ve played it for them, and they don’t like it.”

If you choose to love the dusty on earth by observing, listening and communicating, you will find a welcome among seekers, but often when you play your tune to Christians they won’t like it. This is a point I make in my book, Too Christian Too Pagan.”

You’re in good company.

Jesus came unto his own and his own received him not.

And in conclusion, an excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” poems.

“If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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