What did Steve Jobs see at the end?

Here’s my syndicated column that went viral a week ago!

In my daily readings of Leo Tolstoy and George MacDonald, one thought from each converged with the other. It reminded me of an old conversation with the late great Norman Mailer, and of the late great Steve Job’s final words.

From Tolstoy: “We have measured the earth, the stars, and the depths of the seas; we have discovered riverbeds and mountains on the moon. We have built clever machines, and every day we discover something new … But something, some most important thing, is missing, and we do not know exactly what. We feel bad because we know lots of unnecessary things but do not know the most important — ourselves.”

From George MacDonald’s poetry: “You know how very hard to think, through cold and dark and dearth, that You are nearer now then when eye-seen on earth.”

I met Mailer on a media tour for his massive retrospective of his life’s work, “The Time of Our Times.” Rather than come to our radio studio, he requested a taped interview in his penthouse suite at the Chicago Four Seasons.

Given Mailer’s reputation for combative irascibility and unpredictability, I entered the penthouse lobby with some fear and trembling. My first surprise was when announced I was there to see Norman Mailer. The young receptionist asked cheerfully, “How do you spell that?”
Oh, how the legends of one generation are forgotten by the next!

The second surprise was the sight of Mailer himself, leaning on a cane as he welcomed me into his room. No assistants, no entourage, just a rather feeble looking old man unsteadily greeting me.

He gestured toward a side desk and said, “Fifty years ago I was an unknown man sitting in a hotel room with a yellow pad and pencil, and 50 years later I am an unknown man sitting in a hotel room with a yellow pad and pencil.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him the young woman down the hall could confirm this.

His energy level escalated during the interview, reaching its peak when we discussed an excerpt from his book about the Essenes, an apocalyptic, separatist Jewish group who were contemporaries of Jesus. Mailer was fascinated with Jesus and believed that the Apostle Paul had distorted Jesus’ teaching and, in his words, “f****d up Christianity.”

I mentioned I was a seminary graduate and Mailer’s irrepressible passion erupted. “Oh, I wish I would have known you were a seminary guy. I used to go out and get drunk and talk about sex, now I go out and get drunk and talk about God. I’m obsessed with God.”

His voice took on a fierce intensity.

“God is nearer than we can imagine.” He held his hand a few inches from his face. “God is this close.”

Tolstoy, MacDonald and Mailer were all older men when they sensed God’s nearness, but they shared something in common with the younger Jobs; each knew he was nearing death’s door.

Much is being made of Jobs’ apparent shift in belief in his final months. The Apple co-founder revisited his skepticism about God’s existence and revised the probability upwards. “I’m about 50-50 on believing in God,” he told biographer Walter Isaacson. “I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”

In a eulogy delivered at his funeral, his sister Mona Simpson mentioned that Jobs was sorry they wouldn’t grow old together, but that he was going to a better place.

Then she got to Jobs’ final words.

“Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them. Steve’s final words were: ‘Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.’”

What did Jobs see over their shoulders? Accounts of near-death experiences almost always refer to dazzling light, warmth and love in the presence of the divine. Everything changes.

Could it be that the beauty-loving Jobs saw something so elegant that it earned his highest praise, “Oh wow.” Did Jobs join Tolstoy, MacDonald, Mailer and others in experiencing an epiphany of God’s nearness? For his sake, I hope so.

(Dick Staub is author of “About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive” and the host of The Kindlings Muse ( His blog can be read at

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Universal Press.


Posted in Staublog in November 10, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

In Our Time of Need. Two Sobering Poems & An Encouraging Word.

In Our Time of Need. Two Sobering Poems & An Encouraging Word.

Today, I am reminded of two poems that describe the human condition. One is the best-known poem of British poet Steve Smith, Not Waving But Drowning.

Nobody heard him, the dead man. But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought and not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking and now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way, they said.

Oh, no, no, no ~ it was too cold always (Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning.


The second is W.H. Auden’s, September 1, 1939, written when he learnd of Germany’’s invasion of Poland.

“I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

and darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.


Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

who have never been happy or good.”

These haunting poems get at the heart of our universal human frailty and need.

There are two times when humans need to ask for God’s help: The first is when bad things happen to good people. The second is when good people realize they’ve done bad things and may not be all that good after all!

When bad things happen to good people, they need grace to survive life’s overwhelming challenges.

When good people do bad things, they need mercy (Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve!)

In one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that through our prayers, God offers us grace and mercy in our time of need.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The word for confidence in that text was drawn from “secular Greek” where citizens in a democracy were urged to engage in free and open speech.

So in our time of need we should approach God honestly, passionately and with a sense of urgency.

Jesus prayed that way. He made his prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears. Similarly, John Lennon once said, When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ You just scream!”

In Eugene Peterson’s the message he captures the trust of the verse in Hebrews this way,  “ So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give.  Take the mercy, accept the help.”


Posted in Staublog in October 31, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

Great Thoughts Come From The Heart

Great Thoughts Come From The Heart

Frenchman Luc de Clapiers, marquis de Vauvenargues, died at the age of 31, but by that young age he had acquired a great deal of wisdom, which he recorded in a collection of essays and aphorisms.

Among them was this simple phrase. “Great thoughts come from the heart.”

Throughout history a battle has raged between what we might call “thinkers and feelers,” between those who believe the mind is the final arbiter of truth and those who believe there are other ways of knowing.

The Christian faith does not ask us to choose between the two. There is a reasonability to our faith, and truth must be pursued through every human capacity including the mind.

But humans are not just mind, we are spirit and those who would know God must pursue God with the full range of our capacities.

To today’s rationalist “great thoughts come from the heart” is an anomaly; to the spiritual seeker it is a lifeline.

There are different ways of knowing. The prophet Jeremiah declared, “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.”

Jesus adds, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

A.W. Tozer was a self-taught but was also a learned man with great intellectual capacity. But he also knew following Jesus required more than an intellectual acuity.

“The  most brilliant intellect may be imbecilic when confronted with the  mysteries of God. For a man to understand revealed truth requires an act of God equal to the original act which inspired the text….The inability of human reason as an organ of divine knowledge arises not from its own weakness but from its unfittedness for the task by its own nature. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.”

A God we could fully understand would be no God at all as God revealed through the prophet Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

It seems an inescapable fact that God is approachable intellectually, but not knowable through intellect alone.

I performed a wedding this weekend of a wonderful couple I love deeply. What always amazes me when I stand in front of a young couple is the leap of faith required to make a life commitment to another person. Though every newlywed couple knows each other, that knowledge is always incomplete, and because opposites usually attract, the decision to marry is not strictly an intellectual one.

What is the basis of their decision? Love. Intuition. Attraction. An intangible something. Longing.

The seeker after God, even a child, has questions that may or may not be answered or answerable intellectually, but for the seeker who finds God, reason will be a guidepost, but a relationship with God and knowing God will require more then the intellect alone, because “Great thoughts come from the heart.”

You who would experience God must pursue God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.


Posted in Staublog in October 26, 2011 by | 2 Comments »

Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful

There must be something wrong with me.

After years of reading five daily newspapers, multiple periodicals and hundreds of books a year, and then interviewing the influential people who wrote them ~ I just can’t get excited about anything except the people in my own little world.

Don’t get me wrong. My world is not that small. There was a time when I was golden in the six degrees of separation game. People would say I knew everybody.

But now I want my address book to get smaller not bigger.

I look at the blog world buzzing with talk about Rob Bell resigning to go to Hollywood and I ask, “What does this have to do with me and my life?” Nothing.

A friend sent a link to an article about another emergent church pastor resigning. I realize I not only do not know him, I had have never heard of him and this cluelessness does not bother me in the least.

Another  friend told of his difficult decision to stop writing for Christianity Today and I realized how disinterested I am in staying abreast of the world of evangelicals.

I was asked if I was going to a high-level strategy gathering of faith and culture influencers in LA. I said I had not heard about it and was not invited.  When she said, “I can invite you,” I said I was not interested in attending, and meant it.

I think part of what is happening is my age. You spend your early years seeking to make your mark and by 60 you have a certain body of work that represents the issues you value and the choices you’ve made in addressing those issues.

Age does not diminish the importance of those issues and I still bear a responsibility to steward my resources towards addressing them, but I am satisfied with a more restrained, focused approach in doing so.

For me this has meant concentrating on local, grassroots, relational, and organic investments of my time and energy.

I’m satisfied with micro initiatives over macro.  I am heartened that there are still wonderfully talented people called to the national and global stage, and I am grateful that from time to time they ask me to dip in and out of their world because it keeps me fresh and makes me more effective on my little island.

But I am grasping things I could not understand when I thought bigger, scalable and more expansive is always better. I now know that little is much when God is in it. I am comforted that it was God’s will for Jesus to work a local patch with a small group of personal relationships.

It is not like I am disconnected from the bigger world because of my move to Orcas Island. I’m on Facebook. I blog. I host and produce podcasts that are listened to by thousands and I host our small Kindlings Hearth Retreats and our summer faith art and idea conference, KindlingsFest. I write a nationally syndicated newspaper column and an occasional book.

But the world that absorbs my time and thought is my personal one: my family here and scattered, my many friends I know personally (Including Hearth Alum and Kindlings Muse attendees), my local church with its assortment of interesting folks and the Orcas Island community with its rich cast of characters.

When I was younger there were many people I wanted to meet and know. Now I am glad to meet new folks, but I am fully engaged and satisfied with the ones I already know!

When the Word, Jesus, became flesh, he dwelt among a local group of people and from there the kindled flame traveled the globe.

If each of us became a vibrant, fully human presence in our local setting, might not the world be aglow with the presence of God?


Posted in Staublog in October 10, 2011 by | 5 Comments »

Wings as Misplaced Desire

Wings as Misplaced Desire

The apostle Paul said to “pray without ceasing.” He also said, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I’ve been thinking about angels and their unceasing worship and was reminded that we express our unceasing worship not as angels do, but by living a fully human life.

Our eating, drinking, tending gardens, producing craftsmanlike work, caring for our children, making music, taking pleasant strolls on Autumn afternoons ~ our most mundane human activities done for God’s glory, are the primary ways we give thanks to God.

Wim Wenders extraordinary film “Wings of Desire,” tells the story of an angel that tires of overseeing human activity and wants to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.

Angels cannot fulfill their destiny by becoming human and we humans cannot fulfill our destiny by becoming otherworldly before our time.

(Photo-my friend Sam Vance suiting up with wings.)


Posted in Staublog in October 4, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

Sometimes I forget I am a servant

Sometimes I forget I am a servant

Sometimes I forget I am a servant.

When I woke up this morning I was making plans for the day, the month and the year. Nothing wrong with planning, counting the cost and all that good stuff.

Then I sat down and began my daily scripture reading and came to Luke 17:7-10.

I found the verses irritating.

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’ Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?”

In this individualistic, egalitarian age, the idea of this master “lording it” over the servant struck me as wrong and the kind of thing Jesus would have rejected. Why does the master eat first and the servant second? Why can’t they eat together? Why not say thank you for a wonderfully prepared meal?

Then Jesus gets to the real point of the parable: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “

Servants are told what to do and they are supposed to do it. The servant has no plans except those laid out by the master. Servants who serve well are simply doing their job.

This is at odds with contemporary culture and with a Christian culture that talks a lot more about being leaders and self-actualization then servanthood.

After the resurrection, when Jesus walked on the beach with Peter and challenged him to,  “Follow me,” Peter immediately turned to John and asked, “what about him.” Again, Jesus the master seems blunt and abrupt, “what’s that to you?” Today we would interpret it “that’s none of your business.”

The servant is on a “need to know basis” and evidently there is a lot our master has decided we don’t need to know. The most common question a pastor hears when people don’t like their situation is, “WHY?” God’s answer is often “What’s that to you?”

This all seems foreign in a self-centered age. We look for churches that meet our needs and relatively few people wake up in the morning and ask, “how can I serve?”

Every once in a while we get a glimpse of the true servant’s life.

In Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, the head servant, Mrs. Wilson is played by Helen Mirren who says of herself,  What gift do you think a good servant has that separates them from the others? It is the gift of anticipation. And I’m a good servant; I’m better than good, I’m the best; I’m the perfect servant. I know when they’ll be hungry, and the food is ready. I know when they’ll be tired, and the bed is turned down. I know it before they know it themselves. I’m the perfect servant; I have no life.”

Sometimes we forget when Jesus called us to follow him he said we must deny ourselves. Sometimes even when we remember he said, to follow him we must deny ourselves, we forget that he really meant it.

Ever forget you are a servant?

Here is a wonderful servant’s prayer from Hild, abbess of Whitby:

“Lord, show me the right seat. Find me the fitting task. Give me the willing heart.”

PS-when I sat down to write this our Springer spaniel puppy peed on the couch. I ranted and raved and then cleaned it up. I sat down a second time and he peed on the carpet. All my lofty thoughts (which have now become written words) seemed unapplied as I frustrating cleaned up both messes and asked, “why?”


Posted in Staublog in September 27, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

A Prayer Away

A Prayer Away

God created us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His presence. Yet most of us find ourselves distant from God. We think God, once so approachable in the Garden, is now distant, hiding in the cloud of unknowing, un-seeable and not knowable.

We’ve got a problem.

Tolstoy said, “we have two kinds of problems in our lives. The first are solvable problems, where we have to make every effort to resolve them. The second are those we cannot solve or overcome; we need the patience to live with them and still keep improving ourselves.”

We often think of the ‘Unknown God” as the second kind of problem, one we can do nothing about. This is partially true, inasmuch as God’s ways are higher than our ways.  We reason that God may be omnipresent in some sort of theoretical way, but is not present for us in an imminent way.

But there is an aspect of our closeness to God that we can do something about. Once while in Jesus presence Peter had a rare moment of clarity and cried out “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This is the same reaction Adam and Eve had when they ate the forbidden fruit—they tried to hide from God’s presence.

This is an old fashioned idea. The idea that our sin, our missing the mark, creates distance from a Holy God.

In his book “The pursuit of God,” A.W. Tozer describes the situation this way. “So the life of man upon the earth is a life away from the Presence, wrenched loose from that ‘blissful center’ which is our right and proper dwelling place, our first estate which we kept not, the loss of which is the cause of our unceasing restlessness.”

Tolstoy suggests that when we have a resolvable problem we should “make every effort to resolve them.”  But what effort is appropriate when we sin?

Sometimes aware of our sin, we seek to offset it by becoming more active religiously or trying to do more good then bad. But this does not get us back to “the blissful center of God’s presence.”

What God wants is not more effort, but honest communication, our confession (agreement with God) that we have sinned, our repentance (sorrow for our wrongdoing) and our request for forgiveness.

This requires prayer, which seems counterintuitive to humans, accustomed as we are to solving our problems through a frenzy of activity.

As George Carey said,  “When the fire of prayer goes out. The barrenness of busyness takes over.”

Want to know God? Slow down. Try less. Pray more.



Posted in Staublog in September 26, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” Kindlings podcast

Just posted our Kindlings Muse @ Hales show on “Tree of Life.” Host Jennie Spohr leads a discussion of Terrance Malick’s provocative film with Jeffrey Overstreet, film critic, author and Dr. Chris Cheney, Prof of English and chair of the English department at SPU.


Posted in Staublog in September 21, 2011 by | No Comments »

Life-Long Learner

Life-Long Learner

I fancy myself a life-long learner. I listen, observe, read, think and think some more. My love and interest in people is matched fairly evenly with my love of ideas. I’ve nurtured my passions for people and ideas over the years, but I think I was genetically wired with these passions from birth. When they met I’m sure my mom veered more towards people and my dad more towards ideas, but after years together they were balanced out by each other. They were the soil where I took root.

I’ve always seen the Christian faith as ideas in action. I’m leery of Christian activism without thought, and God knows there is a lot of it, but I’m equally leery of Christian thought without action. Jesus came as an embodied word that took action.

What does it mean when Jesus tells us to be gentle as doves but wise as serpents? I like what Lewis said, “God wants a child’s heart, but a grown-ups head.”

Lewis recognized that we have differing mental capacities and added, “It is, of course quite true that God will not love you any less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants everyone to use the sense they have.”

Way back in the 1930’s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose home life and formal education were infused with critical thinking, observed a certain breezy mental laziness in American students at Union Seminary, “they talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria.”

The general state of American intellectual life has worsened since then, with ever diminishing intellectual expectations, and the evangelical movement in which I was raised, though it can now boast numerous universities and seminaries, is swimming in these waters of cultural anti-intellectualism and too often mirroring them.

Our churches are too often celebrity and entertainment driven. Too few churches are characterized by the synergistic spiritual, intellectual and creative depth one would expect as a reflection of people created in Gods image and seeking to glorify God through becoming the highest and best, fullest expression of God’s presence in their lives.

Even had it been technologically possible during the enlightenment, I do not believe Facebook or twitter would have held any appeal. Those people were questing for more knowledge and reasonable dialogue, not for clever quips and an ever-expanding universe of casual acquaintances.

What the heck has gotten into Dick Staub that he is on this quasi-rant, you ask?

Well here is the story. In the shower this morning I was weary of wrestling with certain questions I’ve been thinking about for years; questions that may have no answers in this life, yet questions being asked by today’s seekers. I wanted to let go of those questions, settle back and relax in my answerless state.

But then I got this clear sense that I am supposed to relax, but I am also supposed to keep wrestling with the questions.

I was reminded of a funny story River Jordan told in her book, Praying for Strangers. She asked an 87 year-old woman, a retired physician and formidable presence, what she needed prayer for.

“I’m having trouble with my daughter. She won’t listen to anything I tell her.”

“Your daughter?” River asked.

She nodded her head and said, “She’s sixty-nine and thinks she knows everything. I tell her and I tell her but she won’t listen to a word I say. Nothing I tell you. I’m so tired of trying to tell her!”

At first I laughed at the folly of a mom who should have set her daughter loose 50 years ago.

But then I envisioned the mother as God trying to get through to me and seeing me as someone who just would not learn.

And then I got a message loud and clear. I am called to be a life-long learner, and life-long learners don’t get to retire from learning.



Posted in Staublog in September 15, 2011 by | 4 Comments »

Springsteen’s 911 ~ Into The Fire

Springsteen’s 911 ~ Into The Fire

The sky was falling and streaked with blood

I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust

Up the stairs, into the fire

Up the stairs, into the fire

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown

You gave your love to me and lay your young body down

Up the stairs, into the fire

Up the stairs, into the fire

I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave

You lay your hand on me

Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher

Somewhere up the stairs into the fire


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your strength give us strength

May your faith give us faith

May your hope give us hope

May your love give us love


May your love give us love


Posted in Staublog in September 11, 2011 by | No Comments »