Friday, April 28, 2017

The "Show Me" State

     Last Sunday, I, like many Christians, heard the story of "Doubting Thomas" (John 20.19-29). For those unfamiliar with the account, the setting is a locked room on the night of the Sunday when Jesus' followers discovered that he had been raised from the dead. On that first night, the story tells of Jesus' appearance to his disciples, and his showing to them the wounds of his crucifixion -- as a proof that he was who he said he was. One of the disciples, Thomas, wanot in attendance that evening. And, when his compatriots told him of their experience, he refused to believe them unless he saw the wounds himself. The following Sunday evening, Thomas was with the others, and the resurrected Jesus appeared again. This time, Thomas being there, Jesus invited him to examine the wounds. With that invitation, Thomas declared that he now believed. Jesus commended Thomas for believing as a result of visual evidence, but commends even more those who would "believe without having seen."
      Poor Thomas, it seems to me--dubbed "Doubting Thomas," and, among some wags, the status of patron saint of Missouri, the "Show Me State".* The attribution of "doubting Thomas" to this story, however, minimizes (or, even worse, denigrates) the value of doubt. We seem to have become a society obsessed with certainty. The "great unknown" is a scary thing, thought best to be avoided by any. Raise a seemingly innocent question in some circles and run the risk of banishment. Even a little question can be seen as the step onto a slippery slope, or the allowance of the camel's nose to edge under the tent.

      I don't think doubt is always a bad thing! Indeed, I have more problems with certainty. I think doubt can keep us on our toes, always searching for a better answer, or for more nuances. Doubt is an attitude of unrest, a dis-satisfaction with the status quo.  And, so, I think it to be a corollary of curiosity, that quality that drives us to new discoveries.
      With regard to the origin of the motto "Show Me State" for Missouri, according to "":

"The most widely known story gives credit to Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver for coining the phrase in 1899. During a speech in Philadelphia, he said: "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."  The phrase is now used to describe the character of Missourians; not gullible, conservative, and unwilling to believe without adequate evidence.

"Unwilling to believe without adequate evidence." That is certainly one "definition" of "doubt". But, I think, there's another way of looking at. And, again, here I'll point to my experience last Sunday. In addition to hearing the "Doubting Thomas" story, some churches brought new members "into the fold" through baptism. And, in the Episcopal church, one of the prayers asks that the new members be given "joy and wonder" in all God's works.
        "Joy and wonder" drives one to curiosity. Can we not see "doubt" as yet another, though perhaps unusual, precursor to that same joy and wonder?


* For various "histories" of the nickname, see the Wikipedia article on Missouri.

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