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).
Last night, about 150 folks showed up for our annual “Feast,” which has been a Northaven event for four decades or more. David showed some of his cartoons, and also some of his “Sophia” series.
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.
(As always, if you like this post, then “like” this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too…)
3 thoughts on “Taking It All Off With the Naked Pastor”
Thanks Eric! I will never forget this weekend or you, your family and the people of Northaven UMC!
I'm an atheist (former Christian) who follows David's cartoons. I happened to click through on his blog to this link. I just wanted to say that despite the fact that atheism and religion will very rarely have any common ground in a theological sense, I strongly respect the church who can view David's cartoons and find the humor, the truth, and the value in them. There are many a congregation who would turn up their noses or even cast such ideas out in an instance. "That's nothing like us," they'd say.. or "I've never seen that. I've never been there." Or worse: "That just doesn't happen."The people who are truthful though will easily find components of these cartoons as recognizable and truthful in a religious context that they can actually relate to directly. "I've experienced that," they'll say, or "I've been to a church where this was how we were." In that way, people recognize the way in which certain behaviors are quite obviously negative to some degree big or small, and can therefor cultivate positive motions for the future even within their own belief-sets. It's a living cultural evolution that sets people up for the better as time goes on, and it shows that people are alive and thriving, rather than stagnant. What use have we of dead languages for example except in study.. the same is true of dead culture. Culture and people must grow and learn from the past in order for the future to be bright. The culling of questionable practices is a part of that. Self-examination is a part of that.Honesty with one's self is a challenge, as well as with one's beliefs, whatever they may be. Kudos to you as a result if only for being open minded as well as a credit to your faith and establishment, as well as to your congregation/event attendees. And as always, to David for his continued work.Cheers~
Heather-Lynn: Thanks for writing. I think I can speak for the vast majority of those who were there last night and say that the group didn't just *respect* David's work…they LOVED it.And, I totally agree with you about the need to be self-reflective about one's beliefs. Many of our members are folks who have been shunned and/or literally kicked out of other churches. Some are lgbt folks. Others are people who simply cannot "check their brain at the door."We like to say that "You don't have to check your brain at the door," and I think that appeals to a lot of people.Regarding humor and the importance of self-reflection, I have another theory that I've shared in a sermon before: I DEEPLY distrust people who cannot laugh at themselves.And, yes, sadly many churches and church leaders seem unable to do this. As such, I find I deeply distrust them.In fact, this has become something of a barometer for me to determine whether or not somebody is personally or spiritually trustworthy: Can they laugh at themselves? *Genuinely* laugh at themselves? If so, I find I can often trust them, whether or not I find I can ever agree with them, theologically, or politically.I think David and I both agree that we have many atheist friends and that often we connect with them and their desire for honest self-reflection, than with many people of faith who are often quite fearful of looking inward.