Thursday, February 25, 2016

Questions are the Answer: Interview of David Hayward (The Naked Pastor) with Brad Jersak

David Hayward, better known as the Naked Pastor, is Canada's premier cartoonist and critic of Christian culture. He's also an inspired and talented artist and author. In this interview, Brad Jersak asks David about his recent book, Questions are the Answer: naked pastor and the search for understanding

Brad's endorsement of the book: "Gary Larson meets Jeremiah. Don't just read this book: let it entertain you, then let it bother you until it heals you."

Brad: David, thank you for this book--for sharing your journey through your various stages of questioning. You describe these states as closed questions, swinging questions and open questions. Could you unpack these, especially as it relates to your spiritual growth?

David: First of all, thanks for this interview and giving me the opportunity to talk about my newest book, “Questions are the Answer”. 

I didn’t live my life according to these categories. I only detected these stages after the fact. I found them a convenient way to make some sense of my spiritual journey. To help us understand these three stages a little bit, let’s look at the issue of the inspiration of scripture. 

During the closed question stage of my spiritual journey, the inspiration of the Bible used to be the foundation of my faith. Looking back over my life, I could safely say that my solid belief in the inspiration of scripture supported everything I believed in and upheld my faith. It all depended on that. Cased closed! It was strictly black and white. Either the Bible was inspired or it wasn’t, and I believed it was.

Then, in seminary, like a Jenga block, that foundational belief was challenged and all my faith and beliefs started to topple. This is the swinging stage, where my very neat and secure black and white world became grey. Nothing was clear anymore. For example, when you start questioning the historicity of, say, Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, that for many is the thin end of the wedge. It’s a very slippery slope. That was my experience. Once I started to question the historicity of one thing, then all other claims to historical accuracy were held with suspicion. So I found myself swinging back and forth between the Bible’s inspiration and doubt of it.

Finally, I entered what I now call the open question stage. This is when the obsession over the Bible’s inspiration comes to a place of peace. That is, the question becomes open. For example, it could ask a very open question such as, “What does inspiration mean?” Or we could even ask what truth is. Does truth require historical accuracy or can truth be found in myth and story. It’s not that we don’t care about inspiration anymore, but that it doesn’t concern us any longer in the same way.

Brad: What would you tell someone who is afraid of questions? Let's say they are beginning to have questions and are worried about where they lead. Is questioning safe?

David: I totally understand and empathize with people who experience fear because I experienced it myself. I already shared how in seminary my belief in the inspiration of scripture was challenged. I seriously was filled with incredible terror. We intuitively know when we start to question that we have no idea where we’re going to end up. We can say we don’t want to change our beliefs or lose our faith or become an agnostic or God forbid an atheist, but deep down we know there are no guarantees. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that the truth is stronger than we are and can handle our questions. That means that no matter how tenacious, dogged, or brutal our questions are, at the end of it, if we persist with integrity, we will find ourselves in a place of peace of mind.

There’s also practical advice I could give: Read in the deep end and expose yourself to books that are smarter than you are and will pull you into a deeper level of thought. Surround yourself with others who are journeying. I provide this at And find a spiritual director and therapist who can give some insight and guidance because they’ve traveled this road themselves and understand personal growth. You don’t have to do it alone.

Brad: Near the beginning of the book, you cite Wendell Berry regarding the awkward element of growing publicly -- talking or drawing about what you discover. You seem aware of the problem of coming across "in tones that imply you know what other people ought to do." How do you deal with that, especially when you know silence is not an option? When critiquing spiritual abuse has even led you to call out offenders by name?

David: My blog name, nakedpastor, is intended to mean that I am going to be open, honest, vulnerable, and bear my soul publicly. I started this when I was a pastor of a local congregation. So I was just telling my story as a pastor struggling to pastor, struggling with his call, his vocation, his Lord, and his church. I am painfully aware of spiritual manipulation, control, coercion, and abuse, not only because I personally experienced it, but because I personally inflicted it as well. I claim that the system we call church, like all systems, gravitates towards dehumanization.
Therefore, I’ve become very passionate about critiquing this tendency. I’m totally aware that when I’m pointing the finger that my other fingers are pointing back at me. It’s not because just this one person needs to be called out, but the system that allows, nurtures, and even encourages anything from manipulation to abuse to arise in its midst embodied in this Christian leader. I always hope to cartoon and write in ways that are helpful to people and our communities. 

Brad: I love how the book ties together the questions your cartoons ask and your own personal relationship to questions themselves. That triggers several questions of my own: first, what are the questions you are personally asking these days? And second, what do you see as the big questions that those who claim Christian faith are currently asking? And third, what are are the questions that we might be failing to ask but you see as crucial. 

David: These are great questions Brad! Let me answer each one separately.

First, the questions am I asking. I think there are a couple but they are connected. As I share in my book, I had a dream in 2009 that brought immediate peace of mind that has not gone away. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to allow this peace of mind to percolate out into my personal life. That is, how practically helpful is it? How do I integrate this with real life? It’s the age old problem that spiritual growth does not necessarily mean personal growth. We can read of gurus of incredible spiritual insight who are very screwed up in the real world. We also see very theological trained and knowledgeable Christian leaders conducting themselves in shameful and harmful ways. This, to me, is an important issue I’m trying to understand. 

Another question that is demanding my attention is a communal one: How can I be free without violating the freedom of another? I facilitate an online community called The Lasting Supper where we practice being authentic along with others practicing their own authenticity. How can we be authentic and accountable too? That is, how can we be liberated and responsible? This kind of question has occupied philosophers for millennia and it occupies me now because I believe in the importance and necessity of healthy communities. 

By the way, I say questions press themselves upon me or demand my attention, but now I relax a lot more than I used to. I am learning to live with a question rather than trying to dominate it or force it into an answer. I think when we keep the question open we allow ourselves to go far deeper than we could have ever planned or envisioned. Living with the question works better along with peace of mind and unlocks deep intellectual energy that can have powerful practical ramifications in our minds, lives, relationships, and communities.

Brad: It's obviously that you are into faithful questioning and necessary deconstruction. A lot of the questions you ask through your cartoons relate to dysfunctions in what we sometimes call 'the institutional church' and its frequent misuse of the Bible. Yet you're not simply a mudslinger; there's something more prophetic going on. Is that fair?

David: Some people leap to the conclusion that I hate the church and religion. I don’t. I love the church, and I appreciate religion. I believe people have the right to gather together in communities. But I care about how it’s done. Can we collect in communities and function in healthy ways? Can communities be good? And religion… can it be good? Can it be useful? Can it do anything besides turn people into grouchy, divisive, and judgmental people? I think so. So, in the interest of religion, spirituality, leadership, and community, I will continue to challenge what I think is wrong, unhelpful, and harmful, and suggest ways to change this.

Brad: I have been particularly thankful for your strong stand as an advocate for those downtrodden by toxic religion--and especially on behalf of women and 'the other' (notably Dr. Larycia Hawkins). What questions would you see as the answer for those who've been marginalized by the institution?

David: Indeed, I have grown into an advocate for the spiritually abused, the marginalized, the downtrodden, and the rejected. Let me share with you a kind of revelation I had the other day. We all know online interactions can be very difficult. It’s so easy to get bullied on social media. It happens to me a lot. But the thing I realized a couple of days ago was the posts that get me into the most conflict and cause me the most trouble are those that either provide a safe space for women to share their stories or where I advocate on behalf of women. In my experience, this issue is even more of a magnet for conflict than advocating for the LGBT community. I find this hard to believe and very disappointing. No wonder the women I am friends with are so discouraged and exhausted. I know I am, and I’m not even the victim here! 

Brad: While you come across as an ex-pastor who has walked away from the institution, let's face it--you're the naked pastor, not the naked ex-pastor. There's still appears to be an impulse in you to gather a healthy faith community. Is the Lasting Supper a 'church' under another name? How does it face and overcome the usual church shenanigans you tend to critique? 

David: So, I have resisted the title “pastor” because it comes with so much baggage. I’ve also resisted the title “church” for the same reason. 

When I was a pastor of a Vineyard church, I had a very profound experience listening to the founder of the Vineyard movement, John Wimber, when he gave his last public talk. He explained that the primary task of the pastor was to assist people in moving from point A to point B in their spiritual lives. That hit me like a ton of bricks! I knew, at that moment, that this is what I love to do. I love walking alongside people in their spiritual journey and development. But, I especially love to do this in a community context. 

I started The Lasting Supper for this reason… because I missed community and love the challenge of creating a safe place for people to be themselves and step out, explore, discover, and walk their own spiritual journeys. 
We understand that it is not compatibility of belief that keeps us functioning together as a healthy community, but mutual respect, grace, and compassion. This is why there is so much diversity in TLS… everyone from atheist to church-going believer and pastors… because we don’t claim to know what’s best for each other but only ask that we be heard and we’ll listen in return. We really are experiencing unity in diversity.

Sure, we have occasional conflict. We’ve had a couple big ones in the past as we struggled to become a fluid community and better define our values and clarify our guidelines. But now we’ve been on a long stretch of energetic but peaceful interaction with each other. I’m thankful for the many facilitators that we have who help monitor and facilitate the conversation in TLS as well. It’s really something to watch and experience!

Brad: Satirical critiques aside, your work also quite consistently affirms a trinitarian God, the person of Christ and the image of the Cross as love. Is that a fair assessment? That's not everyone's cup of tea, but I ask because when I personally see that, it assures me that my questions won't finally leave me entirely bereft. Or that you are forbidding me from believing anything at all. We've seen those who, like kites whose lines have been entirely cut, end up swallowed by the biggest tree on the block. I guess the question behind my question is this: your book allows believers to question. But would you also allow questioners to believe? 

David: In May of 2009 I had a dream of a waterfall that finally ended the theological angst I had been living in for decades. You can read about it in my book, “Questions are the Answer”. In a nutshell, I awakened with a peace of mind that I’d never known before, that I had been seeking, and that has never left since. The conclusion of the dream is that we are all experiencing the same thing, but we are each understanding it, filtering it through our own paradigm and worldview, then attempting to articulate it with our own language and words. So, it revealed to me that the only thing that seems to separate us is thought. I say “seems” because I believe we are not really separated, that we are one, united at a deep and fundamental level, and that the thoughts we believe project the powerful illusion that we are different and divided.

For me, it is important that each person, when they are ready, embark on their own kind of spiritual “vision quest”. You cannot predict or prescribe how you will or want to come out. But the conclusion I have come to is that when you get in touch with the deepest root of what is true, when you get in touch with what is real, then you will see that essentially it is only thought that seems to separate us. Someone once said that Reality is God because Reality rules. The name “I Am” comes to mind here. But how this formulates and articulates in our mind is individual and unique, and the more true it is the more of a unifying power it will have.

So, I am neither disturbed nor impressed with how people progress or finish. Thought only takes us so far. Knowledge will pass away. Compassion remains. If we end up in compassion, love, and good works, then the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. 

Again, thanks for this interview. I hope I made myself clear enough. If I haven’t, I love connecting with people and am open to being contacted. I also invite people to join TLS if they think it will help them.

You can get Questions are the Answer on Amazon: