Blessed Butt Dust

       I can’t experience an Ash Wednesday without thinking about my friend Anthony MacWhinnie.  Ant was a priest and fellow troublemaker in the Central Gulf Coast.  He and I were ordained at about the same time, so we went through a lot of firsts together.  He hailed from the panhandle of Florida and lived into that particular blessing to its fullest.  Prior to seminary, Anthony was a fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and spent almost his entire life within 30 feet of sea level.  Ant knew where to get good moonshine and could cook fresh fish like a master chef.  The reason I think of him every Ash Wednesday, however, is because of the picture he would share on Facebook each year.  On what appeared to be a manilla colored church bulletin was an ashen cross and the words that we hear every Ash Wednesday, “Remember, you are butt dust.”  With butt spelled B-U-T-T.  I loved his sense of humor.

       This year, as Ash Wednesday rolls around and my thoughts turn to my friend, Anthony MacWhinnie, my emotions are mixed.  Ant died unexpectedly a few weeks ago at the age of 53.  He suffered cardiac arrest in his home and despite the heroic efforts of his wife, Elizabeth, performing CPR, he died about a week later.  Ash Wednesday as an annual reminder of our mortality and need to repent and be reconciled to God is a little harsher than perhaps it has been other years.  These ashes that will soon be smudged across our foreheads seem a little more real.  My annual struggle with the incompatibility of Jesus saying, “beware of practicing your piety before others” while we leave this space with dark crosses of judgment and hope upon our brows seems silly to me this time around.

       I need the cross of ashes this year.  I need to see it on my own forehead, not because of what it tells others, but about what it says to me.  I need the reminder that yes, we all die, but even more so, that God hates nothing God has made and that, in Christ, all shall be made alive.  As I see the ashen cross in the rearview mirror or reflected on my phone screen, it will be a stark reminder of Jesus’ call to repentance, of which my friend Anthony’s untimely death has also recently reminded me.  In Lent, the Church invites us specifically to live out the call to repentance through ongoing and regular self-examination, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and mediating on God’s holy word.  This cross, for as long as it will linger on my forehead and in my memory, will serve as a reminder that repentance isn’t something that is done once and forgotten about, but a daily, sometimes hourly, even minute by minute, practice.

       We are butt dust, Anthony MacWhinnie would remind us today, but our dustiness isn’t the only thing that defines us.  We are dust blessed by God with the ability to love, to show compassion, and to care for our neighbors.  We are dust blessed with relationships.  We are dust that, when those relationships fall short of perfection, can reflect, repent, and be restored by God’s grace.  We are dust in these earthen bodies, but we are also souls that long for eternal life.  So, wear that cross boldly this year, remembering that you might be but dust, but you are also blessed, holy, and beloved.  Amen.


Description automatically generated with medium confidence

One thought on “Blessed Butt Dust

  1. <

    div dir=”ltr”>Hi Steve,


    div>This brings back memories…


    div>More than a decade ago I was talking to our youth group about the meaning and practice of Ash Wednesday. And when I got to the part about the actual impositi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s