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On joy, disbelief, wonder, and eating

Updated: Apr 14

It is a funny thing about being a modern day young adult that I have dear, dear friends who I have never met. Our culture is increasingly saturated with digital media--with iPhones and Twitter and TikTok-- and sometimes, sometimes, with enough engagement, with enough DMs, with enough time shared together in the online third space, sometimes a real friendship emerges from what on the outside may seem superficial. During the pandemic I threw together a group chat of every Episcopal who I knew played Animal Crossing on the Nintendo switch made up mostly of people I had never met, and some who I have still never met, and one who I will meet for the first time when I attend their wedding. It might seem odd, but it feels really quite normal.

Well two of my newer internet friends are my Episcopal priest contemporaries, people who graduated seminary around the same time and got ordained around the same time, and all joined TikTok around the same time-- this was back in the dead of the quarantine when there were about six priests total on TikTok. And these two friends, Lizzie and Laura, recently started an Episcopal podcast called And Also With You. In their podcast, they have these no-assumptions start-from-scratch conversations about the Christian life, through the lens of the Episcopal church and meant for people who have never encountered the kind of theology and spirituality that we offers. These friends invited me onto their podcast recently to talk about Doubt. At first I thought (-- wait why did y'all bring me on as an expert on Doubt --) but the thing Lizzie and Laura and I all have in common is that in our ministries both online and in real life, we minister with and among young people who were taught that Doubt is dangerous.

In my ministry with The House, with Mary Washington students, with young adults, out in the wider Fredericksburg community as a representative of the Church, I encounter doubt all the time. I encounter people who have felt disqualified from Church for what they believe or what they don't believe. In 2024, mission and evangelism are different, there are just simply not a ton of cradle Episcopalians floating around out there; what there are a lot of is atheists, agnostics, lapsed catholics and baptists, exvangelicals, and the like.

Many--even most-- of the people who I encounter are folks who received in their childhood and adolescent formation in the Christian faith the idea that doubt is bad. And sometimes they were taught not simply the idea that doubt is bad but that doubt is dangerous, or that doubt is a failure of discipline or a character flaw, or that doubt can be damning in a way, that it can impinge on your salvation. I find there are not many people who give the Episcopal Church a shot because of our reputation-- because we don't really have much of one-- but because once they finally hear about us, they simply didn't know that a church existed with a theology like ours. They did not know that there was a church where belief was not the subject of constant scrutiny or that there were pastors and priests who are not agents of scrutiny.

Now, belief and doubt are tricky, tender topics, and I think we might feel this pressure sometimes that faith,,, or especially the faith of Easter,, ought to be obvious or apparent or easy, or we might look around and think that we are the worst believers in the room right now. You simply have no further to look than the Gospel than to know that you are not the worst beleiver in the room right now and I find that the stories of scripture that we hear in and around the season of Easter actually give quite a gentle framing to all of this.

At the last supper, Jesus having literally told them what will happen, Peter goes on ahead and denies Jesus three times anyway, the disciples all fall asleep in the garden anyway, when the tomb opens and the women run to tell the disciples, the disciples do not believe them and call their words nonsense. Peter himself runs to the tomb and sees the stone and sees the fabric scraps and "wonders to himself what had happened." When Jesus first appears to the disciples they all freak out and think they've seen a ghost, and then Thomas even demands to see the receipts! It happens again on the road to Emmaus, and then it happens again in today's Gospel reading. Sure, we have the benefit of hindsight for our faith, but they had the benefit of his physical appearances to them and they doubted.

The current that the Episcopalians are swimming against in regards to doubt and belief

is the idea that belief is a pre-requisite and co-requisite to the Christian life, and doubt disqualifies you from the Christian life.

The idea we are working against is that if at any point you doubt,, or if your doubts persist for too long, you ought to see yourself to the door, or worse that if you let slide that you're having doubts, you will be shown the door by the pastor or someone else.

There are perhaps a lucky few of us-- maybe cradle Episcopalians-- that were never taught that doubt was bad but there are really quite many who have been taught that, and who deal with that misunderstanding still, people who deal with in out in the world and people who deal with it from within the Episcopal church.

It feels worth saying quite plainly, that doubt is normal. In scripture, in and among the disciples, in our lives here, doubt is not the antagonist of the story, it is simply part of the set design. Doubt is just,, there. We treat belief like it is the keyfob to the front door of the church, or the determiner of our final grade. Doubt does not make or break the Gospel,, doubts do not make or break Jesus's resurrection. Doubt is just there. And it being there, it is usually not ever even the only thing there, the most important thing there, or the most interesting thing there.

Doubts and questions among the Gospel protagonists not only don't keep them from being disciples and evangelists, their doubts don't even keep them from being Jesus' APOSTLES. This moment of this Gospel story is such a fine example to us of the color and contour and landscape of the Christian life-- in a single moment there is at the same time fear and joy and doubt and wonder and then they set all that aside and say,, actually can we eat first?

What these apostles are not doing it automatically and always agreeing with or understanding what is going on around them. What they are doing is showing up. And I take it as a sign of faith that they keep showing. It might be confusing to think -- how can they be looking at Jesus and disbelieving at the same time, how can he be answering their questions and they still wonder, how can the be in fear and joy at once. The thing that is not confusing to think is that they have shown up and in spite of and in light of those conflicting realities. They have shown up, even after they messed up, even if they don't understand what's going on, they have shown up, and that is a sign of faith itself.

So whatever your relationship is like with belief, whatever your relationship is like with this church or other churches or church in general, however full up you feel of questions or however contented you feel in your faith, whatever pep in your step lead you here or however difficult it was to make it from the alarm clock to the pew, I hope you know that fear and joy can coincide here. Disbelief and wonder and awe can coexist here. And that you have made a great sign of faith here, today, with one another, with God, just by showing up. Amen.

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

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