Friday, May 6, 2011

Playing with Doubt

By Elizabeth Kaeton

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Lest you be too impressed, that’s really about all I remember from my high school Conversational French Class. That, and this: “Voilá, la tour Eiffel!”

The more I think about this last semester and reflect on my time here as Proctor Scholar at EDS, the more I know the wisdom of this saying. Things have changed at EDS. A lot. And, much has stayed the same.

This school – this seminary – this place of theological education for seminarians and students of theology and future leaders of the Church – is still a place of and for theological inquiry. It’s a place where questions are understood and honored as the gateway to faith. It’s a place where theological inquiry is not only supported, it is a passionate enterprise which is endorsed and cherished and blessed by faculty, staff, field education and CPE supervisors, and fellow students.

Indeed, as I was considering the Gospel lesson we are using for this day of Doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31), it occurs to me that it would not be an overstatement to name St. Thomas as the unofficial Patron Saint of EDS.

We here at EDS are encouraged to stick our fingers into the messiness of the Body of Christ. To not take anything for granted. To question and look, touch and probe for ourselves so that, in seeing and touching, we may believe – and, lead others to believe. We are all, in some way, carefully educated and trained to be the Doubting Thomases among the faithful disciples in the church, so that the church may, herself, become more faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I doubt that no other disciple – well, none other than, perhaps, Judas – gets as much grief as does Thomas. “Doubting Thomas,” he is called. No other disciple gets a distinctive descriptive before his name. Not “Impatient, Immediate Mark” or “Inclusive Luke.”

I further doubt that many would agree with me that he would be better called “Risking Thomas.” Or, “Courageous Thomas.” Or, even, “Faithful Thomas.” Well, except, perhaps, for the faithful community of theological inquiry here at EDS.

I’m wondering just how many sermons you’ve heard – or, in fact preached – over the years about how doubt is a part of the faith journey. You’ve heard it said – and, perhaps do not doubt it yourself – that faith is risk, and risk wouldn’t be risk without doubt. You no doubt believe that faith that comes only after evidence is no faith at all. Trust, perhaps, but not faith.

Faith is that daring commitment that climbs out on life’s limbs and leaps. As someone once said, faith is what leads you to have no doubt that, when you do leap off that limb, one of two things will happen: either you will land safely, or you will be given wings to fly.

And, I think that’s the point of faith – to believe enough to play with your doubts. What if John is playing with our doubts in this gospel story? What if he is tormenting us with the obvious truth by setting up Thomas – with whom, some scholars believe, he had such serious rivalry as to write this story so as to shame him – to be the one who is the bearer of our doubts and questions about the Resurrection?

You know, sometimes, I think we take our faith too seriously – so seriously that we think we have to have it right – correct, perfect, “orthodox”, God help us – or else we’ll get an “F” on our earthly report card and not gain entrance into heaven.

Today’s reading says, after all, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Blessed are they who play with their doubts. Laugh at their doubts. Torment those who love with their doubts that they may push through their doubts and find Jesus in the midst of their doubts and fears that have frozen them into not living out the gospel more fully.

It has ever been thus. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The more we enter fearlessly into our doubts, the more Christ is revealed in our lives, and the better we are able to live more fully into the full stature of Christ.

It’s been going on for years like that here at EDS.

And because I have played – and will continue to play – with my doubts these past 25 years, I know this much to be true: Christ is alive!

And, after a semester here, I have absolutely no doubt that it was never more true than here at most this amazing place called the Episcopal Divinity School.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! And, let the whole church say, “Amen.”

*The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, MDiv ’86, is the spring 2011 Procter Scholar at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

** Adapted from a sermon preached on Thursday, May 5, 2011, at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


  1. I am so honored to have this posted here. Thank you for this and thanks to EDS for such a marvelous experience as Proctor Scholar. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but this has been the experience of a lifetime. I'm deeply grateful for it and encourage others to apply.

  2. is there a place in the eds for a non-young fellow 100 committed to Our Savior Brother- His Way and His Ordinances ALONE?

    my church name is peter the roman and my spiritual journal is publicly available on a web cite called under the cite name of peterdroman.

    if no is the answer no reply will needed as i fully understand.

    best wish for your next assignment.