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Lectionary Living

Ashes to Ashes, Donkey Dust to Donkey Dust (Matthew 10:14)

Yesterday someone told me that I was full of donkey dust. Not donkey dust as in the social drug Ketamine, - currently, for some reason, in spite of its danger, all the rage. But donkey dust as in “Barbara you are full of crap.”
Putting aside the possible truth of this accusation (one has only to read these blogs to realize that it may be so), the expression ‘donkey dust’ bears some thinking about. First, donkey dust would be donkey shit that has dried out in the field. It looks more or less like clumps of ashes from a fireplace – and if one breaks up the clump, one finds very dry dust, a powdery dry dust that sticks to everything.
The Bible has some important uses of the word dust. Dust, though, meant something different to those living in the ancient near East than it does to us living in the 21st century western world. For us, it’s a minor nuisance, and I would guess that most of us live in places that may need a little dusting. For them, dust from their dry landscape clung to their clothes and especially to their feet, grime getting up into their sandals, sand between their toes, grit becoming increasingly annoying as the day went on, until the day’s end came and with it, a welcome bowl of water to wipe one’s fee. For them, shaking off the dust was a sign of abandoning a person or place; its converse, throwing dirt upon oneself (Acts 22: 23) was a protest, a way of saying that one felt defiled, or made dirty, by another’s words.
So maybe it’s not too far off to substitute the words ‘donkey dust’ for ‘dust’ in the scriptures. Try these:
Then the Lord God formed man from the donkey dust of the ground. (Genesis 2:7)
You are donkey dust, and to donkey dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19)
Ashes to ashes, donkey dust to donkey dust. (Burial service, Episcopal Book of Common Prayer)
Even the donkey dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. (Luke 10:11)
Here in our nation’s capitol, the idea that we humans are so much donkey dust is not only obviously the case, it’s incredibly refreshing. At some point, beyond all the power, all the competition, all the grasping for control, one thing stands clear: a lot of this is donkey dust. The good news is that the easiest way to shake it off is to see it for what it is: part of the human condition. For we were made from donkey dust and to donkey dust we shall return. A view of humans as so much donkey dust can help us to take life more lightly, to become feathers on the breath of God (Hildegaard of Bingen), rather than carrying the heavy burden of self-importance.
Letting another know when she is full of donkey dust – or when anything comes between you and another person – is a challenging part of life. It can be a kindness, when done in a way that honors the other person as part of God’s creation. Much of the time, it’s a failure to communicate rather than an inherent flaw in anyone. But whatever the problem, keeping relationships in good shape is a way to keep the donkey dust down.
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