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“Doubt and uncertainty are now beautiful, easy companions”

David Hayward

David Hayward

For 30 years David Hayward worked in Church ministry in his native Canada before giving it all up in 2010. He had already developed a reputation for drawing cartoons that provoked and deconstructed much of the artifice in religion. Since then, as well as finding success as an artist, he has helped many people deconstruct the harmful affects of religion and spiritual abuse. One of the enduring themes in his work is the need for the freedom to ask questions, something that developed into his latest book ‘Questions are the Answer’.

Buy Questions are the Answer for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

What was your motivation to write Questions are the Answer?

Hayward Cartoon 2I have been journaling for most of my adult life. Once in a while I would go back and read them. It didn’t take me long to realise that there were two major themes in my story. One is that I’ve gone through some pretty incredible experiences and transformations. The other is that I’m the same person I always have been. So I came to the conclusion that this mysterious paradox is in itself a key to my personal growth. 

A lot of my spiritual and theological life was rife with strife. It was always an incredibly intense struggle. I was always searching for the answer. When I finally had a profound dream in May of 2009, it didn’t bring an answer, but instead brought immediate peace of mind. And it hasn’t gone away. This made it clear to me that it isn’t certainty that brings peace of mind, but the embrace of mystery.

I’ve been cartooning about questions and doubt for many years. They’ve always been valuable to me. Curiosity was always considered a positive thing by me. Breaking out of the confines and exploring outside the box was always something I personally embraced and encouraged as a pastor. I have a lot of writing and cartooning on the subject. So when an opportunity came to write another book, this topic of Questions are the Answer was the logical one.

Buy 'Questions are the Answer' for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Buy ‘Questions are the Answer’ for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Why are some Churches afraid of asking the really difficult questions?

I can speak to this because I was a pastor of churches for about 30 years. I know first hand what I’m talking about. I think there are a few factors:

Theological certainty is a valued commodity in the Church. In fact, I can honestly say I struggled and searched for decades to find it. I never did. But I do believe many churches like to think that they possess this certainty and that it should be a reality for their members.

Another strong impulse of many churches is growing and keeping its membership. So gathering members around a common belief and praxis is key. I’ve come to believe that compatibility isn’t a requirement for unity, but love. But this is too messy. It’s easier to achieve the appearance of unity by circling people around theological certainties.

It really comes down to control. Most institutions and organisations, businesses, etc., are about the control of their people. And the first and last domain of control is in the mind. If the minds of the people can be controlled, everything else follows.

Do you see doubt and uncertainty as an essential part of a faith journey?

Yes! Even though I’m reluctant to use the word “faith” in reference to spirituality because of the baggage around it, I will use it here. But in fact, isn’t this what “faith” means? It’s not a part of the faith journey. It is the journey! Not seeing. Not knowing. Not understanding. Doesn’t faith mean walking forward in a kind of rich darkness, growing in a deep soil, moving along a densely covered path where the next step is uncertain? I think so. And like I said, the peace of mind that came to me from a simple dream on May 9 of 2009 did not arrive with certainty, but with a profound embrace of mystery. So now I’m unwilling to view doubt and uncertainty as necessary steps along the way, but in fact as the destination. Even though I have peace of mind, doubt and uncertainty are now beautiful, easy companions.

As a former pastor, have you come across many people asking similar questions?

Hayward Cartoon1There are lots of people asking questions. Perhaps not so many loudly or externally, but certainly internally. This is what I’ve discovered through the many years of writing and cartooning at nakedpastor.com. There are so many people asking questions, plagued by doubt, uncertainty, and fear. Fear because religion has taught them that doubt and uncertainty are a lack of faith punishable, sometimes, by Hell. Oh my, the fear so many people live under! I’ve been doing this for so many years that it is now second nature to me. I am completely unafraid to ask questions, especially now that I am self-employed and am a kind of freelancer. But there are so many people who private message me or email me to inform me that they loved my cartoon or post but wouldn’t dare say anything or even “like” it on Facebook because of their fear of the ramifications that would ensue from their family, friends, and churches. I believe millions of believers are asking questions. But they are trapped inside their head. So I provide places online for people to feel free to ask them out loud.

You also run an online community, The Lasting Supper. What is the aim of this?

The Lasting Supper was launched in 2012 to help people deconstruct their beliefs and change so that they could achieve their own spiritual health, freedom, and independence. There are different kinds of people that join TLS, which now has over 400 members. A quarter are women who are looking for a non-patriarchal setting in which to be spiritually independent. Another quarter marginalised people, like from the LGBTQ community who want a place where they are accepted without judgment. A third quarter would be those who have suffered spiritual abuse in the Church and desire fellowship and support in a protected and facilitated group. The final quarter would be rebels… people who are turned off by the control and manipulation they experience in the Church and the world and who want to be a part of a group in which they are free to be themselves without judgment. The common thread in this diversity of people is a strong desire for a closed forum where people can be open – with open questions, open minds, open hearts – a place to privately be themselves to better publicly face their world. You can read our rights and responsibilities as well as our values and principles. We also have our own Manifesto that gives a good summary of what we’re about.

Are the any beliefs that you would see as essential to retain in order to call a belief system ‘Christian’?

I have a couple of thoughts about this.

The first one is that, as a result of the dream I had, I started contemplating, developing, and writing about what I call the Z-Theory. You can read about it in the book. I do realise this is only provisional, and that it has helped me incredibly. So it is my personal paradigm that I hope might help others. Essentially it describes Reality as trinitarian in structure that can be articulated through Christian theology and language.

On the other hand, what this did for me was that I suddenly realised we are all One, deeply united at a fundamental level, and that the only thing that seems to separate us are ideas and words. That is, we are all experiencing the same trinitarian structure of Reality, but we each perceive it through our own paradigms or world views, then we each attempt to articulate our experience through our own language. 

What do you hope people will take away from Questions are the Answer?

The book is basically a telling of my story through this lens, and the cartoons are sometimes serious, sometimes silly, illustrations of this journey. So I would be very happy if more people found their personal courage to take risks and raise their questions, embrace doubt and uncertainty as friends, and come to their own healthy place of spiritual independence. As often happens when new members come into The Lasting Supper, I hope my readers will realise they are not strange or weird, but entirely normal, and that their journeys are completely valid. Further, I would hope from this that we would see more people walking away from limiting and oppressive systems, and that more systems would change to make room for doubt, uncertainty, and questions as a part of a healthy ethos. 

Buy Questions are the Answer for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Follow David Hayward aka The ‘Naked Pastor’ on Twitter

Ten of the best: 20th July 2015

Laudato SiChanges galore in the best-sellers from Aslan Books. As well as two excellent books from renowned scientists – David Wilkerson looking at just how God answers prater and Amir Aczel argues that the ‘new atheists’ have overreached themselves in their claims for science and the search for the existence of God – we also have the highly discussed latest encyclical from the Pope, Laudate Si’, in which he issues a call for creation care from all Christians.

Fiction continues to prove popular with The Rosemary Tree set in aftermath of World War II and Unseen Things Above from Catherie Fox set in the fictional diocese of Lindchester, a follow up to her novel last year, Acts and Omissions.

When I Pray, What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson (Monarch)
Transformed by the Holy Spirit by Liz Babbs (CWR)
 The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge (Hendrickson) 
Second Intercessions Handbook by John Pritchard (SPCK) 
The Shed that Fed a Million Children by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow (William Collins) 
The Awesome Journey by David Adam (SPCK)
There are no Ordinary People by Jeff Lucas (CWR) 
Unseen Things Above by Catherine Fox (SPCK)
Why Science Does Not Disprove God by Amir Aczel (Harper One)  
Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis (CTS) 

 

 

Women and C. S. Lewis

Carolyn Curtis

Carolyn Curtis

The influence of novelist, apologist and academic C. S. Lewis is as strong today as ever, with essays, movies and books continuing to debate and be influenced by his thought. However, in recent years there has been some discussion about his attitude to, and portrayal of, women, with some writers suggesting his opinions betray an outdated (and possibly misogynistic) view. Edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key, ‘Women and C. S. Lewis’ brings together a wide range of modern writers to consider this question. Carolyn Curtis talks with Ian Matthews about the thinking behind this book.

Buy Women and C. S. Lewis for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99) 

What led you to write Women and C S Lewis?

I heard a conversation while spending a week at The Kilns, Lewis’s home in Oxford. Fellow guests were discussing critics who have called Lewis a sexist, even a misogynist. As a reader of Lewis, whose writing had greatly influenced my Christian walk, I was shocked.

My instincts as a journalist kicked in. Was this true? I knew Lewis’s personal story. His conversion from adamant atheist (even dabbling in the occult) to Christ-follower was dramatic, public, and credible. After that, Lewis read his Bible daily and was so immersed in his Christian walk that he became your country’s most prominent and effective “explainer” of the faith. Eventually, America “imported” him – and we still can’t get enough of Lewis’s writing and life story even fifty-plus years after his death.

I know how God changes people – He changed me! But could Lewis have retained a blind spot in this area? (A more disturbing thought: Would God have allowed it?) And I know gender matters. My coming of age was after Lewis’s death, a time of significant change for women, which I’d experienced first-hand. I sorted what attitudes and behaviors constitute sexism/misogyny and what do not during my career as a journalist and corporate communicator, my work on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., plus my work in American management and other seats of power.

Like any journalist, I’m a culture watcher. I see how gender is at the heart of contemporary issues ranging from government legislation to wars being fought on battlefields. I see those issues through the lens of a person who follows Christ. So I wondered if the charges against Lewis, though by credible sources, were a form of Christian-bashing – attempts to discredit and marginalize this scholar and author whose work so influenced the church in the 20th Century and beyond. I knew I had to research this information (and, as a fan of Lewis, I admit I braced myself for disappointment).

What I discovered was mind-blowing, and I thought it was book worthy. My literary agent, Steve Laube, agreed. So did Lion Hudson plc of Oxford.

I organized the book in a way I thought could most benefit our readers with sections on Lewis’s relationships, on Lewis’s work, on how his attitudes and actions impact the 21st-Century discussion about women, etc. And rather than writing the traditional non-fiction book in which a thinker/writer like me (with university degrees in journalism who has written numerous articles and books) researches and interviews experts, then weaves together the findings, I decided to make Women and C.S. Lewis a compilation book, so the experts could flesh out their ideas and insights more thoroughly and in their own voices.

It was also a way to introduce the experts (who range from scholars to authors to bloggers) to our readers, many of whom would be fans of Lewis or even potential readers of Lewis who might have been turned off by the sexism charges. For that reason, I encouraged contributors to use the popular voice more than the scholarly voice, and the results are stunning – a book for a wide variety of readers. (We even included photos of the contributors and biographical information such as book titles so readers could follow these thinkers, if they so choose.) I’m thrilled with the outcome and grateful to Lion Hudson for publishing Women and C.S. Lewis: What his life and literature reveal for today’s culture.

I partnered on the project with the brilliant Mary Pomroy Key, Ph.D. of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, which owns The Kilns and the C.S. Lewis Study Center in Northfield, Massachusetts, where she serves as Director. We both wrote Introductions to set up the contributors’ chapters. The book summarizes the findings in a Conclusion that also introduces readers to several people living out Lewis’s attitudes and actions (as related to women) in their own life experiences. The book includes study questions for individual reflection or group discussion.

We’re eager to hear from readers. Besides editors, our first readers were people who recommend the book, a four-page list including your country’s Brian Sibley, author and broadcaster known for BBC serializations and other work on Lewis and Tolkien. By the way, several of your beloved and well-informed countrymen on all things Lewis wrote chapters – Alister McGrath, Jeanette Sears, Colin Duriez, Michael Ward, Malcolm Guite – respected thinkers on both sides of the pond.

Buy Women and C. S. Lewis for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

Buy Women and C. S. Lewis for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99)

There is a popular image of Lewis as a dry scholar, unfamiliar and afraid of women – probably partly due to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal in Shadowlands. How far does this differ from Lewis in real life?

Great question! I generally admire the acting of Sir Anthony Hopkins, but I think he missed it with his portrayal. Lewis had a huge personality – in addition to his deep intellect, he was witty, overflowing with mischief and fun, and enormously generous to people of all walks of life. His pursuit of “joy” and appetite for a full life helped him to overcome his dark periods – spells of winter, some resulting from relationships that weren’t always healthy or balanced.

The first half of the twentieth century had a very different view of women to today. To what extent was C S Lewis a man of his time, and that we should make allowances for that?

Glad you asked. Readers of Women and C.S. Lewis may be surprised to learn how he interacted with women, particularly intellectual/literary women – supporting their work and responding both personally and professionally to their thinking and writing.

In fairness, not everyone we invited to write chapters agree with each other on Lewis’s views of women, and readers will learn why in their well-developed arguments. One commender, Charlie Starr, said the book makes “no attempts to smooth over beliefs unacceptable today.” Marjorie Mead said, “Attitudes and resulting actions towards others matter greatly, and this is certainly no less so, when they are informed by understanding based on gender.” Brian Sibley said the book is “full of shared wisdom and cogent argument that will challenge your perceptions of Lewis and his world.” Eric Metaxas is grateful, saying, “Thanks! Someone needed to write this book.”

Lewis – just a man of his time? I especially direct readers to Alister McGrath’s chapter on The Inklings, placing them in historical context yet noting that Lewis was “blind to gender,” and to Monika Hilder’s piece on the shifting heroic paradigm of the masculine and feminine in literature in which she dares to ask: Is Lewis sexist or are we the ones who are sexist? Her answers and explanations are rich and deep with analysis. Randy Alcorn observes that, while Lewis called himself a dinosaur, “…in the deeply respectful tone in which he speaks about women, he seems more ahead of his time than behind it.”

Clive Staples Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis

There are some passages in his writings that do feel uncomfortable to modern readers – I am thinking in particular of the ‘instruction’ to Jane to have babies in That Hideous Strength and the description of the young woman in The Shoddy Lands. How should we approach these passages?

Like all people, Lewis was flawed. But I see a trajectory of growth in his views, relationships, and actions. If you read each section’s introduction in the book, in addition to the contributors’ chapters, you’ll discover that we unpack this trajectory. Naturally, as an atheist-turned-Christian (greatly used by God to explain the life of faith in Christ), Lewis was thoroughly informed and influenced by scripture.

You didn’t mention comments about Susan no longer being a friend of Narnia. Look for eye-opening chapters by Devin Brown, Joy Jordan-Lake, Steven Elmore, David C. Downing, Christin Ditchfield, Andrew Lazo and others who examine sexist claims in his fiction. (You haven’t asked if we “name the names” of critics who use words like misogynist to describe Lewis, but the answer is yes. Some of the names surprised me.)

We even have a section on Lewis’s poetry, what it reveals about his views on women. Writers are Malcolm Guite, Kelly Belmonte, and Brad Davis.

How influential were the women in his life? Not just his mother and wife but the young women such as Jill Flewett?

People fascinated with how Lewis interacted with and was influenced by key women will want to read chapters about his mother, Flora; his supposed “second mother,” Mrs. Moore; and, of course, his wife, Joy Davidman. Writers are Crystal Hurd, Paul McCusker, and Lyle W. Dorsett. Don W. King wrote about Lewis’s relationship with Ruth Pitter.

Your thoughtful question reminds me that Randy Alcorn discusses Flewett and other relationships. I agree that we can understand an influential person’s views and treatment of a segment of the population more thoroughly by looking beyond the “major players.” So we invited Colin Duriez to address Lewis’s relationships with a range of these women, including Flewett, in his delightfully entitled chapter, “C.S. Lewis and the friends who apparently couldn’t really have been his friends, but actually were.” His title plays with the idea that a supposed sexist or misogynist would have run from friendships with women, but Lewis did not.

We encouraged our thinkers/writers to color outside the lines of their chapter assignments. For example, some contributors examined how one relationship impacted another relationship Lewis had later in life – or how certain relationships impacted his work. (How could we not discuss Joy’s huge influence in his later books?)

In fact, Lewis’s relationship with Dorothy L. Sayers is so interesting we devoted two chapters to it, one by Crystal L. Downing, another by Kasey Macsenti.

Be aware that contributors examine – without flinching – some of today’s culturally more difficult writings by Lewis, such as his essay on women priests, his views on sex, etc. Look for chapters by Jeanette Sears, Kathy Keller, Michael Ward, Holly Ordway, Mary Poplin, Brett McCracken, John Stonestreet – excellent thinkers and writers.

I, for one, will be interested to see if readers come to some of the same conclusions as our contributors – even to my personal speculation about why some critics have tried to discredit Lewis with labels like “sexist” and “misogynist.” They can write to me via my website – www.carolyncurtis.net.

I was struck by Andrew Lazo’s argument that Till We Have Faces, by placing female characters at the centre, is very modern (or post-modern) work. I was reminded of writings such as Foe by Coetzee or The Wide Sargasso Sea who do something similar with previously silent voices. Do you think this was a conscious effort by Lewis to write from a female perspective?

Do read our chapter by Andrew Lazo! He explains his newest observations. He convinced me that, yes, Lewis set out to write Faces from a woman’s perspective (and why Lewis wrote it that way), taking a huge professional risk for a male author of his era. Andrew tells how the effort enriched Lewis’s marriage. Andrew also describes his significant conversation on this subject with Joy’s son, Douglas Gresham.

Which reminds me: Have I mentioned that the book’s cover photo was shot by young Doug when he was only eleven? Our brilliant cover designer, Jonathan at Lion Hudson, added the color. We are grateful to Doug and to others at the C.S. Lewis Estate. Walter Hooper kindly calls the book “A remarkably fine tribute to C.S. Lewis.”

What do you hope people take away from Women and C S Lewis?

First, accept that Lewis was human – and complex. However, he changed and grew in wisdom as he submitted himself (kicking and screaming, as we Americans say) from disbelief in God to a full life of faith and submission to God’s will. Lewis found “joy” in every sense of how he used that word. And that joy is available to all who seek Christ and serve Him.

Second, any look at Lewis’s life and work is an examination of God’s faithfulness. The trajectory of his life is really God’s story at work in any of us, if we will allow it.

Third, Lewis’s view of women is relevant in today’s news environment. Gender is at the heart of issues ranging from government legislation to literal battlegrounds. I hope readers of Women and C.S. Lewis will dig more into what Lewis said – and will depend more on Lewis’s source for truth, God’s Word.

Buy Women and C. S. Lewis for just £7.99 (RRP £9.99) 

 

 

 

Why, despite everything, is Gerard Kelly still an Evangelical?

gerard-kellyGerard Kelly will be a familiar figure to anyone who has spent time in rainy English seaside towns attending the annual Spring Harvest event. Preacher and poet in equal measure, he has made his home in mainland Europe for most of his adult life, reaching across languages and cultures with the message of Jesus. In his latest book he explains why, despite everything, he still sees himself as part of the Evangelical ‘tribe’.

Buy The Prodigal Evangelical for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

What would you see as the essential elements that define what it is to be in the Evangelical ‘tribe’?

For me the identity revolves tightly around the incarnation – I think it is about a certain way of receiving, and acting on, the story of Jesus. Related to this, there’s a dynamic of conversion / transformation. My sense is that the section of the Christian community that is most visibly winning new adherents – especially those from non-religious backgrounds – will tend to claim and retain the label ‘evangelical’.

With these essentials in mind, how much of the other aspects can be up for debate whilst still retaining an evangelical identity – especially those things that are see as big questions for ‘millennials’ such as money, sexuality, identity etc?

A lot is currently up for debate, including the issues you mention. The struggle at the heart of the Evangelical community right now – more in the USA but also here in Europe – is that we are also debating what the essentials should be. My own view is that we need urgently to articulate a core gospel narrative that we can unite around, so that our healthy and necessary debates can be held within this context of unity. Unity, for me, is not to be found in our attitudes to social issues but in our understanding of who Jesus is. Some of the things we have thought of as essential may need to be held more lightly, with a greater emphasis on our core confession of the incarnation story.

A positive example is the quiet revolution that has taken place in regard to 7-Day Creationism in recent years. What was once seen as a litmus-test of Evangelical beliefs is now widely viewed as secondary, and this has happened without causing a meltdown to the movement. The more we can work together on exploring and articulating the story of the incarnation, the more confident we will be in approaching these other questions together.

Buy 'The Prodigal Evangelical' for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

Buy ‘The Prodigal Evangelical’ for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)

In the book you write about the dangers of confusing the proper place of simplicity and complexity in the Christian faith. How should we respond to the deep, complex questions of experience and existence from those outside of the Church?

The quick answer is – with great sympathy! I’m learning that questions I might at one time have seen as combative, even aggressive, are nothing of the sort. They are, rather, the honest efforts of people made and loved by God to come to terms with their lives, failures, successes and sufferings. We need to learn above all to listen, and to let people know from the very start that their creator loves and values them. The ‘big truths’ of the Bible’s narrative – particularly those of the trinity and of the incarnation – are richly complex and deep in mystery. It may be possible to express them simply at times, but they are never simplistic truths. I would love to see a generation learning to see and articulate the million and one connections that exist between the everyday questions of human experience and the deep truths revealed in Christ’s incarnation.

With the breadth of belief and opinion within evangelicalism, is it still a useful term to use, or even a coherent identity?

I used to think the word might have outlived its usefulness, but I have changed my view, largely because I could not identify another label that properly describes the unique set of markers by which evangelical self-identify. I have a hunch that having suffered a few decades of bruising, the term may well re-emerge in a more positive light in the years to come. Of course, we are all better off simply using the term ‘Christian’, and standing alongside all those willing to use it, but I still find it useful to use ‘evangelical’ as a subset, because it describes a movement that we will otherwise lose sight of.

You discuss in The Prodigal Evangelical some of the theology of the Cross – is there a particular view of the crucifixion and the atonement that is distinctly evangelical?

To me, yes there is. I would want to capture it in the term ‘transactional’. The people that I think of when I use the term evangelical, who for me would include evangelicals within Catholicism and Orthodoxy, are those who have a transactional understanding of the incarnation, and therefore of the cross. They believe that the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus change everything, and that it is possible for an individual to enter into and be impacted by those changes. They are Gospel people, shaped above all else by a personal encounter with the story of the coming of Jesus, and an account of reality that centres on that story.

What future do you see for evangelicalism?

I think we’re in for a few more years of hard knocks – the storm-batterings of our transition to post-Christendom conditions aren’t quite done yet – but I think it will then re-emerge as a significant movement. I don’t know about numbers – these are impossible to predict – but I do know that the evangelical movement will find its soul again. There is never a time when people are not looking for hope and transformation, and the story of Jesus remains a powerful stream in our culture. Whilst I am realistic about the challenges we now face, I am deeply optimistic about the movement that can, and I believe will, emerge from our current ‘sea of troubles’. 

Buy The Prodigal Evangelical for just £7.49 (RRP £8.99)