This week my podcast partner Danielle and I sat down with Canadian based cartoon artist David Hayward, "the NakedPastor." I found David on instagram and had been following his work because he uses his art to "challenge the status quo, deconstruct dogma, and offer hope for those who struggle and suffer under it."
Initially I connected with his cartoons simply because they were snap shots of experiences that reflected what I, and many others, have actually experienced within the Church. It was like a flash of truth that resonated deeply in my heart, mind and body. The NakedPastor draws cartoons that talk openly and honestly about the Church's spiritual abuse, their exclusion of the LBGTQ+ community, the weaponization of scripture, the deeply entrenched patriarchy and more. He said, “I wanted to draw cartoons about of how the church does manipulate and coerce and shame and guilt and terrify and abuse people. And I know, intimately, because I experienced horrible spiritual abuse in the church and I also participated in...the dehumanization of people that’s just in the air of systems.” He acknowledges the problem and his own complicity in it. He goes on to say,"Wherever there is a system, the gravitational pull is towards the dehumanization of people. And that constantly has to be challenged and corrected. The church isn’t exempt from that, and that’s why I do what I do.”
David spent 30 years in Church before he left it to pursue his art. He grew up in the church; it was his "spiritual home." He both loved the church and was harmed by it; both as a member and as a pastor. David says he's also participated in the systemic, spiritual abuse that occurs in the church. “I found my cartoons were an effective way to address that [spiritual abuse], to make it graphic literally, so that people couldn’t deny it or unseen it.” Many have accused him of hating the Church. People will see his art and assume he is angry and bitter and resentful; that he just needs to forgive and let go! But David says he doesn’t feel resentful; He doesn’t have anger or bitterness rooted in him. He has forgiven and healed of all that. But he knows a lot of people who are still inside that, who are still experiencing abuse. Through therapy, counseling and coaching he has been able to come to the place of self-awareness and growth so that he can remember his trauma without re-living. “I don’t want to forget what happened but if I do remember, I don’t want to feel it all over again like it’s fresh.”
What he is doing is putting an image to what many experience as wordlessness. When someone experiences spiritual abuse or trauma, they don’t necessarily have the words to put to what has happened to them. This is what happens to our brains when we experience trauma: our executive functioning goes offline and we lose our ability to process information with words. For me, I connected with one of his recent post on Instagram because it touched so close to my own experience. The cartoon of a church full of people and a pastor points out the door to a woman outside the church and the caption reads: “Good riddance! She was so uncontrollable anyway!” In this particular piece David is illustrating spiritual abuse and patriarchy, and in that one snap shot it hit close to home.
“That’s why I love cartoons, this happens all the time” David says. In the picture I had mentioned, he said it was about a woman who was tired of being manipulated and dominated; tired of people were trying to control her so she left. “This happens every day. So I draw a picture of it and put words to what’s actually happening.” In his own experiences he has actually heard pastors say these things; “good riddance” and “they were hard to manage” or “extra grace required.” And maybe it doesn’t happen in a moment like that for everyone but in a more gradual way over a lifetime;“when you put more starkly in a picture, it really drives home the point I hope.”
David would love to see the church succeed in forming healthy community; it’s what he really wants. He says “the Church will never go away, we know that.” And if it becomes persecuted or people try to abolish it, the church will just go underground like it has historically during times of persecution because it always finds a way to live.
I asked him: What does he hope people will do, say or respond with when they see his art?
David says there are two things that are happening: people are either really pissed off or really encouraged. He takes the example of the cartoon that I mentioned—he said my response was that I felt seen, heard and validated; That I got a sense of “that’s my story.” And maybe, because I felt validated a little bit of healing happened. Others may respond to that same cartoon and say “how dare you talk about the church that way!” And they get really upset.
David hears from people every day thanking him for validating their experience; they felt heard and seen. And he also hears from people that have told him that they have changed their minds, and they thank him for that. “Some of my worse enemies are now some of best friends and it’s because maybe my cartoon bypassed their rational mind and got to their heart. And art can do that; it goes for the emotions and bypassing the intellect and your intellect comes after. That is the power of art: it moves people. For some it moves them to dig in their heels even more and become more angry and violent. Others it moves that to change. [And] others it moves them to feel validated and feel okay.”
David is always moved by art and he finds it immediate and effective. Many years ago, he went through a horrible church experience and a year later he felt dead inside. David said his response to trauma is to freeze and to not feel anything. He remembers realizing one day that he wasn't okay. When he watched “the Notebook” movie with his wife Lisa he balled his eyes out. “The dam broke.” He said it wasn’t that it was an amazing movie or anything, but it moved him in that moment and that is what helped him feel again and come back to life. “Art has that power. It can enrage you. It can activate you. It can make you cry and feel again. It can make you think. I think that’s why I will keep doing what you do.”
You can listen to our full conversation on the Arise Podcast HERE or anywhere you get your podcasts. Be sure to check out David's art at www.nakedpastor.com You can also follow him on instagram, twitter and facebook @nakedpastor.