Wednesday 15 December 2010

Melancholy and the finger poke that never was.

Tonight I was listening to the fifteen year old classic that is The Smashing Pumpkin's, Melancholy And The Infinite Sadness. A fantastic album full of themes of rejection and love, of faith and doubt. My love for the album was recently rekindled by Walsh and Keesmaat's discussion of it in Colossians Re:mixed. It is a truly superb and like a fine wine, it has aged really well.

There are so many good songs on the album but tonight I discovered a new one, one I'd never really listened to before; I had heard it, but never listened. Thirty Three. Full to the brim of evocative imagery, superb, slippery descriptions that have an overt religiosity, as well as playing n some key Christian symbols. (Check it out yourself!)
I want to use the song in Discipleship worship next term, it is so utterly beautiful and fragile.

Searching on the web I found so many different websites talking about whether Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins has a faith, or a spiritual belief, or more precisely, "has Billy Corgan made a public declaration of Christian faith?"

Now, I'm not saying that this isn't an important question. I'm pretty conservative with my evangelicalism, but I have to admit, sometimes I think we miss something.

Christians struggle with ambiguity. Christians of all theological persuasions.

In my tradition, at Easter we rush from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We have a cross and we have a risen Christ. If you are a protestant you may have the emphasis on the cross, if you are Orthodox, you may have the emphasis on the empty tomb.

Not many folk like to linger in the hushed, tearful and fearful rooms of Easter/Holy Saturday. Not many of us like to hover in such dark and terrifying ambiguity.

At a Church House Party this summer I preached on this theme for a good forty minutes: part of the Gospel we have to share, but too easily forget to share, is that within the salvation Gospel narrative lies a day when heaven and earth are held in something beyond expression. Something speaks powerfully to the broken in this world.

Maybe its because its beyond expression, or maybe it's because we want to preach the cross and resurrection before people get bored, but we rush from Friday to Sunday.

As far as I can tell, Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness sits well on Easter Saturday. Perhaps that's why we don't really get it.

The apostle Thomas, one of the true heroes of John's Gospel, the apostle who isn't afraid to ask Jesus the big questions, is forever semi-slandered, for his daring to doubt.

And to add to Thomas' infamy, in his painting, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, Caravaggio painted Thomas with his finger plunged deep into Jesus' side, as if to make clear that there is no grey area here, no room for doubt, never mind the fact that the Gospel of John doesn't record Thomas pushing his finger into Jesus' side, only asking for proof.

John 20 (NIV) records, (from
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Upon seeing Jesus Thomas proclaims, "My Lord and my God".
Upon seeing Jesus, not on actually putting his hand into Jesus' side.
What Thomas originally says, and what Thomas actually experiences are different.

Why is it that Christians are so scared to admit that questions, and doubts, and grey areas, and Easter Saturday, are all part of a life-long walk with Christ.

Its for this reason that Nickel Creek's song Doubting Thomas, is just about the only decent discussion of what it means to be Thomas.

So this ramble is coming to an end, drawing to a close, perhaps its best that it ends with ambiguity, with questions still to be answered, with half-chewed-over images and analogies.

There is too much going on to want to get straight from A - B.

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