Questions are the answer – nakedpastor and the search for understanding by David Hayward

BLOGGER AND CARTOONIST David Hayward was a Christian pastor in Canada for more than thirty years before leaving the paid clergy and setting up thelastingsupper.com, which he describes as ‘an online community for spiritually independent people’. Questions Are The Answer is the story of his journey towards ‘spiritual independence’, told in word and cartoon.

You may be more familiar with his cartoons, which he publishes online on his popular blog nakedpastor.com, where he describes himself as a ‘graffiti artist on the walls of religion’. I’ve included some examples of his work here.

David Hayward believes most religions ‘discourage doubt and questioning’ but, if we observe what is happening in many Christian churches, we see fewer people joining and more leaving, which could result rural churches disappearing within ten years, as The Telegraph reported in February.[i]

Hayward observes that many of those leaving the church are set adrift, or set themselves adrift, with no resources to help them become spiritually independent. Many rebound into other belief systems, or no belief. Rather than using previous religious experience as food for the journey, many reject it as wasted time, thought and effort. He writes:

My hope is that this book will encourage people to continue their search, to integrate their period of confusion, doubt, and questioning as a necessary and important part of their journey in order to grow into their own spirituality in healthy ways.

Hayward has always considered himself a spiritual person. Baptised and raised in the church, he studied at Bible College and became an ordained minister, leading the congregations of several churches over many years. Eventually he came to realise that, for all the theological answers he had, he felt spiritually cold and further from the truth he sought.

Hayward made the decision in 2012, as the back cover blurb puts it, ‘to leave the black-and-white world of the established church to seek out the colours in between’ and set up The Lasting Supper – an online community aiming to help people achieve ‘spiritual independence’.   He reflects:

I saw many people riddled with questions, crippled with doubt, and ashamed of their confusion.

Through a mix of text and illustrations drawn for his blog at nakedpastor.com, Questions are the Answer tells the story of Hayward’s search for understanding and spiritual contentment. The text is conversational and accessible, interspersed with cartoons to illustrate key themes, some funny, some angry, some poignant. I read it comfortably in one sitting, but it warrants further reading, perhaps a section at a time to aid reflection.

Hayward splits his journey into three phases; a practical application of Fowler’s Stages of Faith[ii]

  1. Closed Questions: typically answered with a simple yes or no, black and white world view.
  2. Swinging Questions: the answer could be yes and no, or another option we haven’t considered, which he characterises as a state of confusion.
  3. Open Questions: ‘the answer to these is that there isn’t an answer’, which he characterises as a state of contentment, free from the need to pretend to know.

He argues that, while we may revisit these stages, each delineates a significant development from immature spirituality (closed), through growing spirituality (swinging), to mature spirituality (open). He recognises the limitation of the word ‘stage’,

These aren’t really places, but ways of seeing. Reality is not in the future, waiting for us to catch up and arrive.  It is here all the time, giving us clues to its truth if only we would see and embrace it. So it’s not reality’s elusiveness, but our resistance to it that’s the problem.

Having surrendered his role as an authority figure, and reduced his own reliance on external authority, Hayward wants to ensure that Questions Are Not The Answer is NOT seen as an authoritative guide to spiritual maturity.  He quotes American writer Wendell Berry:

My work is best, I think, when I talk as a person who’s not an authority on anything but his own experience.

So in sharing his experience, he does not claim to answer anyone’s questions, merely to show how he has become content to live with his. He advocates an evolving spirituality which embraces mystery, paradox and the individual’s right to question and search for meaning and understanding for themselves, to welcome and wrestle with questions as an important part of the maturation process. His aim is to encourage people to push through doubt to become comfortable living with not knowing, rather than seeking firm foundations and certainty, or getting stuck in the spiritual angst of questioning.

In The Lasting Supper, Hayward has created an online community for others who are developing their own ways of seeing reality and living with questions. He engages with people who have experienced toxic relationships with unhealthy expressions of spiritual authority, images of God or organised religion. In a recent radio interview, Hayward explained:

the diversity of the group is very broad, but the uniting factor is not commonality of belief or compatibility of belief, but mutual respect for one another’s journeys.[iii]

He claims The Lasting Supper is NOT an attempt to form a church, but a microcosm of what could be done with respect for diversity, since healthy independence for each individual enables healthy interdependence in community.

Responding to those who accuse him of anger toward the church and Christianity, he argues that his critique of the abusive, toxic or misleading is motivated by love. He does not advocate leaving a church if the experience is liberating:

If you can find a church where you’re free to be who you are and to question, then by all means stay. I’m all for it if it works.[iv]

David Hayward’s blog: nakedpastor.com

Online community:  thelastingsupper.com


Notes:

[i] Church of England: Rural churches could disappear within ten years, Daily Telegraph 10th February 2015
[ii] J W Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (1995)
[iii] Radio interview with Steve Brown Etc., Key Life Network, August 24th 2015
[iv] Ibid.


An extract of this review appeared in the October 2015 issue of Signs Of The Times, the quarterly newsletter for members of Modern Church, an international society promoting liberal Christian theology.

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