David Hayward is probably best known for his artwork. Through his website, nakedpastor, Hayward offers raw and poignant critiques of abuse, corruption, and absurdity within the Christian Church. Recently, I was afforded the privilege of reading Dave’s book, Questions are the Answer. I found the book to be both an enlightening look into Dave’s spiritual journey and a creative use of personal narrative which pushes readers past the need for black and white answers, and into the liminal space where faith and doubt exist together in dialectic tension.
After reading the book, I asked Dave to do a Q&A interview to help myself, and my readers, better understand his heart and hope for this book. I’d like to take the time to thank Dave for taking the time to thoughtfully engage the questions. I think you will enjoy his answers.
1. The title of your book is Questions are the Answer. Can you explain the title in a few sentences?
For so many years I experienced a deep theological anxiety. Even before I went into the ministry, and throughout my entire ministry, I tried and tried to understand what the truth was. On the one hand I understood that God was gracious; on the other I couldn’t reconcile hell, the rejection of billions of people, and the marginalization of many people groups with my understanding of God’s grace. It just didn’t make sense to me.
In my experience, smaller questions only lead to bigger ones. Some people manage this anxiety by not asking questions; others handle it by continuing to ask the difficult questions, hoping to find the answer. I chose the latter.
Finally, in 2009, I had a dream. I awakened from this dream with a profound peace of mind, a theological peace, that has never gone away. It’s not that I awakened with the answer, but that I now was okay with not always having one.
2. You were in ministry for many years and had a lot of success, as well as a lot of failure and heartache. What is the most valuable lesson you have learned through it all?
For me the greatest value was, is, community. Theology means nothing unless it works in community; it must manifest itself in love. I believe we are all one, all of us united at a deep and fundamental level.
The problem is our words, and at the root of them our thoughts, seem to divide us. So, a diverse community seems the best and healthiest expression of good theology and love.
I have learned, both from my own marriage/family and in the context of church life, that it is not compatibility that keeps us together, but love. This is probably the greatest lesson that I learned, The one I most try to exercise in my online community The Lasting Supper.
3. Do you feel you were called by God to leave vocational ministry? Why or why not?
It is interesting, the use of the phrase “called by God”, because from one angle it could appear like I was called to leave my ministry through what I did and when I was appointed. However, from another angle it simply seems like the opportune thing to do. And still, from yet angle, it always felt awkward and untimely.
From the beginning, I’d always wrestled with my calling and vocation as a pastor. I always wanted there to be a clear sign for when it was time for me to leave the ministry. One night, after a very difficult meeting with some influential people in the congregation, I suddenly realized my time was up. It was as clear as day!
When I left that meeting that night, I had no doubt whatsoever that it was time for me to leave. As soon as I made that decision I realized that decision had already been made for me. I felt incredible peace. My wife did too. It was time to move on.
This experience was quickly followed by panic, fear, confusion which seemed to all come flooding in at once. But I have always known the leaving itself was right.
4. In your book you talk about the influence of eastern philosophy on your faith. Which thinkers do you enjoy and in what way has studying other religions helped to shape your faith?
When I first entered the ministry, many years ago, I was a part of the Presbyterian Church. During this time, as mentioned above, I was full of theological anxiety. I was obsessed with finding answers, felt I needed to figure everything out. So I started myself on a program.
I decided to try to understand out how the Jews figured into the grace of God. After that, I moved on from there to Islam. Eventually, I found myself studying Buddhism. I’d already done a paper in seminary comparing some of the sayings of Jesus to the sayings of the Buddha. The subject deeply interested me, so I kept my studies up for years.
At the same time, I was trying to nurture my own spiritual health by having spiritual directors and keeping up a rigorous Christian spiritual reading program that included Nouwen, Merton, Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart, Barth, and many others. These authors led me to consider various aspects of Zen and Buddhist writings and how they could inform my own spirituality.
I remember being in a university library and reading Mircea Eliade’s “The Encyclopedia of Religion”, and I came across the name Krishnamurti. I found a book of his, “The Urgency of Change”, and it rocked my world. Through his work, I started to realize, frightfully, that my anxiety problems were not exterior, a result of other religions or everything else “out there.” Instead I came to understand that these anxieties were internal, the result of my insecurities, my own mind and thoughts.
5. You refer to yourself as “a graffiti artist on the walls of the Church.” Can you elaborate on that phrase?
I am an artist. I do paintings, drawings, and sculptures, but I also do cartoons. I challenged myself over ten years ago to try drawing a cartoon every day until I lost inspiration. I thought I’d last a few months maybe, but I’m still going. I discovered that I could draw a picture that captured in one frame what it might take me pages to express in writing. A picture’s worth a thousand words!
I also love graffiti, where street artists or graffiti artists upset the status quo with picturesque public statements. One of my favorites is Bansky. Some would argue he’s not a true graffiti artist…but regardless, his art is not only eye-catching, it challenges the status quo with very direct and powerful images. This is what I try to do with bad religion through my cartoons.
6. Why did you choose the name “naked pastor”?
I wanted a name that expresses my attempts, as a pastor, to be honest, vulnerable, and open about my struggles. I bare my soul for everyone to see. I’ve come to discover that I’m not alone, that there are so many pastors struggling with the same issues. I figured it would be helpful for people to see that.
7. Who/What are your artistic influences? What inspires your work?
I think there are two branches to my work. One is the contemplative branch. These are my paintings and drawings that are expressions of my own contemplative experience and insights. They can be landscapes or drawings like my Sophia series – images that I hope help others in their own contemplative lives. Inspiration here comes from my own vivid imagination, my own very beautiful geographical surroundings, and artists such as Winslow Homer and Thomas Aquinas Daly.
Then there’s the second branch that is my critical one, or, as some have called it, my prophetic one – my cartoons. The first cartoonist to inspire me was actually Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid. I saw him putting out work every day and I figured maybe I could.
Since then, I’be also been inspired by other cartoonists such as Leunig in Australia, Callaghan, Gorey, and Perjovschi. Studying their work trains me to distill a thought down into a simple yet striking image.
8. If your reader were to take only one thing away from this book, what would you want it to be?
I told my story in Questions are the Answer because I want to validate people in their own journeys, no matter how unconventional, confusing, and fearful it is. I value questions, and I encourage people to ask them. It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to seek. In fact, I argue that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.
I encourage my audience to embrace this reality as a way of life, to start asking questions and see where they are led. I want them to hear me saying, “You’re okay, and your journey is yours. Own it!” I hope when people read the book, they feel affirmed and validated in their own lives and journeys. If that happens, I did well.
If you’d like to read Questions are the Answer it is available here.
If you are interested in one of his art books, they can be found here.
Those wishing to know more about the Dave can visit his bio page here.
Hi, I'm Nate. The bulk of my work is in exposing and deconstructing the abusive structures endemic to Evangelical ideology.
This work, both here and on social media (Twitter: @natesparks130), requires significant intellectual and emotional labor. If you enjoy and/or benefit from that work and would like to offer monthly support, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon. My Patreon page can be accessed here: https://www.patreon.com/natesparks .
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