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Doubting Thomas, Doubting All, or, Death and Ascension, Resurrection and Return
St. Thomas the Apostle

Detail of "The Incredulity of St. Thomas the Apostle" by Caravaggio

If a feast day falls in a forest between the final Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day, then the communion of saints which handed down the tradition of the church calendar (or calendars) probably thought it was important.  But why Thomas?  It’s worth quoting the entire famous passage about him (John 20:24-29):

Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Sermons on Thomas invariably go like this: “Thomas didn’t believe, and he said he wouldn’t until he put his finger in Jesus’ nail holes.  Then Jesus showed up and Thomas looked really bad.  We don’t see Jesus, but we believe.  Jesus says we’re blessed because we’re not like Doubting Thomas, so let’s be happy Christians.”

But what does the passage actually say?

In the whole of John 20, not a single person believes without seeing.  He’s not Doubting Thomas; he’s The-Only-One-Who-Wasn’t-There-When-Jesus-Showed-Up Thomas.  In vv. 1-10, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John were all three confused by the empty tomb, but while at least John believed something (vv. 8-9 obscure what that might be), what Mary, Peter, and John didn’t think was “Jesus must have been raised from the dead!  Everything makes perfect sense now!”

Jesus showed up to Mary and then she believed (vv.15-16), showed up to the disciples and then they believed (vv. 19-20), before finally showing up to Thomas and then seeing him believe.  The reason that each person or group believes is that Jesus has shown himself.  In v. 20, we even see that Jesus “showed [the disciples] his hands and his side” to help them believe, just like he later did to Thomas.  All this to say, Thomas was not special for better or for worse.  He was like all the rest.

When we read this brief passage about the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection, we need to recognize that John has been making an argument for a specific purpose for 20 chapters by the time we hear about ‘Doubting’ Thomas.  Much of John’s argument has been that even among those who have ‘seen,’ most have not believed.  People followed Jesus because he filled 5,000 men’s stomachs, not because they believed that he was the Son of God and Giver of Life.

Jesus’ miracles are called ‘signs’ in John because they evidence the coming of the Reign of God in Christ, but John shows and tells us again and again that the signs are open to interpretation, and that most of the people miss them.  Now, at the end of his account, John is not making a new point, but the same one.  Even the disciples who believed all those signs before now have trouble believing the ultimate sign, which is the resurrected body of Jesus.

So why talk about this now?  Why Advent?  Why a mere four days before Christmas?  Because our late Advent (days shorter and shorter and darkness longer and longer, at least in this hemisphere) questions are the same as Thomas’ were in those dark days after the Light of the World seemed to be extinguished forever: Where is Jesus?  Why do others seem to have seen, when I’ve been trying to believe for just as long as them, but I haven’t seen and I don’t see?  How am I supposed to believe based on other people’s experiences?  Will there ever be anything to hope for again?

Like Thomas and the other frightened disciples, we know we have no hope outside of the Light of Christ, and yet at times we fear that Jesus Christ is no Light either, and thus that there may be no Hope at all.  Waiting between death and resurrection is a whole lot like waiting between ascension and return.  But 2,000 years of waiting at least seems to me to be harder than 3 days (or a couple days short of 2 weeks in Thomas’ case).

As for Jesus’ “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” I know plenty of people and consider myself one of those who has seen something “as through a glass dimly” and has believed, but I know of no one who has seen nothing and yet has believed.  Actually I’m not sure I can imagine the person Jesus describes.

And now, to close, an incredibly ambitious prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 237):

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.



“Gather ‘Round, Ye Children Come” by Andrew Peterson

Here is the first song from Andrew Peterson’s deep, deep, wonderful album, Behold the Lamb of God.  I’m thinking about posting a track a day for thirteen days, but I guess you’ll see whether I do that or not.  For now:



Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)

You may find you recognize Bob Dorough’s voice on this 1962 piece with Miles Davis, as Dorough later did some more famous and educational work.  In addition to writing and singing this song, Dorough also recorded again with Miles, then with Blossom Dearie, and later with John Zorn, in addition to recordings as a leader and soloist with his voice and his piano work.

I love this Christmas song because of its social consciousness.  More Christmas songs need to be this depressing, as Christmas can definitely be depressing.  Lyrics follow the video:

Merry Christmas
I hope you have a white one, but for me it’s blue

Blue Christmas, that’s the way you see it when you’re feeling blue
Blue Xmas, when you’re blue at Christmastime
you see right through,
All the waste, all the sham, all the haste
and plain old bad taste

Sidewalk Santy Clauses are much, much, much too thin
They’re wearing fancy rented costumes, false beards and big fat phony grins
And nearly everybody’s standing round holding out their empty hand or tin cup
Gimme gimme gimme gimme, gimme gimme gimme
Fill my stocking up
All the way up
It’s a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy
Blue Christmas, all the paper, tinsel and the fal-de-ral
Blue Xmas, people trading gifts that matter not at all
What I call
Fal-de-ral
Bitter gall…….Fal-de-ral

Lots of hungry, homeless children in your own backyards
While you’re very, very busy addressing
Twenty zillion Christmas cards
Now, Yuletide is the season to receive and oh, to give and ahh, to share
But all you December do-gooders rush around and rant and rave and loudly blare
Merry Christmas
I hope yours is a bright one, but for me it bleeds



Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O

The quest for good Christmas music (for which I have really low hopes and standards) and good contemporary jazz (of which there is pitifully little because I have very high standards) became the same quest when Rhapsody’s blog sent me to jazz drummer Matt Wilson’s Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O.

If I had my pick, I would have gone with their take on John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”, or a better video than is currently available on YouTube for their free jazz-influenced take on the “Hallelujah Chorus.”  Instead, below they play Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time is Here” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas).  That is a dang good band:



Duke Ellington Nutcracker

While I don’t hold Christmas music to the requirement to be “good,” and I actually delight in some objectively terrible Christmas music, Ellington’s version of the Nutcracker Suite, found as the first nine tracks of his 1960 release, Three Suites, is good. Check out his take on Tchaikovsky’s justly overplayed “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” re-styled “Sugar Rum Cherry”:



MGMT’s “Kids” on Parade
November 27, 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: Art, Life, Music, Video | Tags: , , , , , ,

(early live before studio album)

(The album version.  The actual music video is unimbeddable and also terrifying.)

(Chiddy Bang version, “Opposite of Adults,” which also has an unimbeddable original video)

(David Guetta live remix)

(“Advanced” Jazz Dance)

(Lady Danville)



Too Weird Not to Post

As someone who only knows her daughter, Liza Minnelli, from Arrested Development, dang they look and sound alike and have the same weird mannerisms.



Crowder Does Art Again
November 4, 2010, 6:44 pm
Filed under: Art, Music, Philosophy, Poetry, Spirituality, Video, Worship | Tags: , , ,

In high school I had friends who listened only to worship music.  It struck me as kind of strange, and then, worse, the commitment often disguised plain poor taste in music.  (Yes, this post is about an opinion.)  David Crowder, however, actually seems to make albums.  As in, collections of music where it matters that the songs go together.  Art, you might say.

This video, for one, functions in the same way visually.  You could really enjoy it aesthetically without explicitly worshiping Jesus Christ.

(I won’t go into the fact that all enjoyment is a form of worship.)



Jónsi Live
September 28, 2010, 1:00 am
Filed under: animation, Art, Music, Poetry, Spirituality, Video | Tags: , , , ,

This afternoon, NPR turned me on to the fall 2010 continuation of Jónsi’s (solo from Sigur Rós for at least this album) Go tour.  Apparently he got a production company, Fifty Nine Productions, which normally does things like operas to work on a mindblowing visual component to the shows.

According to a video on Jónsi’s website, the basic set is “based on a burnt down taxidermy shop.”  They do things like make it look like butterflies are flying around, floodwaters are rising above the windows, the place is burning to the ground.  Check out this second of three ‘Making of’ videos.  For higher quality watch it and the other videos here on his site instead, and full-screen it.

Now here’s a taste of a recent (September 8, 2010) show in Leeds:

Finally, here is the upcoming tour schedule.  If you can make it to Asheville, NC and afford Moogfest this Halloween weekend, I would HIGHLY (!!!) recommend it, as the lineup is more than close to spectacular.