We had a great night last night at our annual “Feast of Beginnings,” featuring David Hayward, the “NakedPastor.” David is ordained in the Canadian equivalent of the PCUSA, and lives somewhere North of Maine. (That’s how he kept describing it…)
The point he kept making about weather is that “It never gets this hot here at home.” (This was on a day when it was about 85).
David has been called “The graffiti artist on the wall of religion.” Man, do I love that description. And it’s quite apt.
The crowd was very receptive to David, and his honest and sincere humor about the church and faith. David draws a new cartoon a day (weekdays). They tend toward the biting and the funny, something I’m also, ahem, drawn to.
Here’s some of the works that got the most reaction last night. This one got a huge laugh…
I think a part of why I like David’s stuff so much is that, from time to time, people have told me I also use humor well. I once had a retired preaching professor tell me that I use sermon-humor better than anybody he’s ever seen. I don’t know that that’s true, but I’ll take the compliment.
But, let’s be clear, it’s a specific kind of humor. It’s not stupid, throw-away preacher’s jokes. Those, it seems to me, are pointless.
And, good God, how many times have you heard them? You’re listening to a sermon and somebody throws in a joke at the start that has nothing to do with the scripture, sermon, or theme of the day. It is, quite literally, just a moment designed to loosen up the crowd. Like the warm-up comic before a sitcom actually starts taping. That kind of humor is pointless.
But there’s another kind of humor, altogether. It seems to me that humor can break us open to truth in a way that sometimes telling a story head-on cannot. You can spend pages describing the theological point such as: “when it comes to Jesus, be careful what you wish for.”
Jesus’ life ends in crucifixion. If you think everybody’s gonna love you all the time, you’re incredibly naive, and the Gospels talk over and over about the path of the suffering servant. A preacher can talk for pages and pages about this deeply theological stuff.
Or, if you’ve got David’s talent, you just draw the above two frames, and make exactly the same point.
I once remember Larry McMurtry talking about his son James’ songwriting. And he made a point something like that it’s much more challenging to tell a story in three verses and four and a half minutes, than it is to tell it in an entire novel. I also remember James disagreeing with this. All this is to say, there are clearly different ways to tell a story/make a point.
However the point gets made, when we “get” this kind of humor, we not laughing at Jesus, or ourselves. We’re laughing with. We’re laughing at our own pretensions and the pretensions of others. We’re allowing ourselves to be broken open to some deeper truth.
All this is to say: this kind of humor is funny not just because it makes you giggle. It’s also funny because it’s deeply true. (all good comedy is like this, really…)
In a sense, a laugh says “We understand this truth.” Which leads me to remember one of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott: “Laughter is carbonated holiness.”
Isn’t that lovely?
This one also got a big laugh…
Again, my theory is that many of our folks have lived this cartoon. They’ve been at other places where they were not fully welcomed, and whether or not anybody ever said what this sign says, they felt it, loud and clear. (Attention: United Methodist Church)
This one also drew a big laugh…
Again, because many of our folks have also lived this. Many of our members have fled, or been pushed out of, churches where somebody told them something like this. Without the actual box, of course.
This one drew a quiet murmur of approval…
As David noted, some churches literally seem to believe that God is only present IN the church, and not in the world. Of course, that’s absolutely ludicrous. If God is really God, that can’t possible be true. But you’d never know it lots of places. BTW, this cartoon immediately reminded me of the great David Wilcox song, “Silent Prayer.” Here’s the lyric I was thinking of…
I want to smash the windows. The congregation’s asleep.
I want to feel the wind blow and let the spirit free.
I can’t, I can’t stand to sit there where their God is pocket-size.
I want to feel what’s real and will not compromise.
David has a whole series of “Question Cartoons.” (sorry this one’s not better quality…)…
The guy’s handing over his small question to God, and God just gives him back a bigger question. Again, in so many churches, questions and doubts are not tolerated. And if you ask too many, this can happen…
I really liked David’s idea that there are three kinds of ways to ask/live with questions:
At the closed question phase of faith, any questions that come up are immediately shut down…either by a person’s own internal fear, or by something like the “exclamation police” above.
At the hinge question phase of faith (which David pointed out can last for months, years, or decades…) a person is open to questions and where they will lead, even if he/she is still disturbed by there not being any great and easy answers.
At the open question phase of faith, a person becomes so comfortable with questions that he/she no longer is in need of pat or easy answers. He/she is comfortable with ambiguity, doubt, and questions that perhaps can never be answered.
I found this a really helpful way to name this reality.
All in all, a great great night. It was wonderful to meet David and to make this connection.
I can tell you now, this kind of “show and tell” night with David is the kind of thing that lots of churches should consider doing. We’ve got 150 very “satisfied customers.”
At the very least, be sure and check out his blog often.
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