David Hayward’s earliest memory of himself as an artist is the reaction he got for his Sunday school drawing of Israel crossing the Red Sea. David sketched the scene from the Egyptians’ point of view—in graphic detail. “There were blood and bubbles and beasts and brine because their death had to be a horrible one,” he recalls in his book Questions Are the Answer.
David’s sketch didn’t sit well with his priest or teacher. “I recall the look on their faces,” he writes. “I was being analyzed and I knew it.”
That didn’t stop David from drawing—then or now. But the sense you’re being scrutinized, evaluated, measured up—that sort of thing stays with you. “I continue drawing what I want,” David writes, “but under constant fear of it or me being analyzed.”
The fear of not measuring up, of saying the wrong thing, or asking the wrong question… it’s paralyzing. I’ve had this blog for eight years, but it took me almost four to work up the nerve to share anything I wrote with people I actually knew. I was afraid. Afraid they might not like the questions I was asking. Afraid it might get me into trouble with some of my Christian friends or coworkers.
For most of my career, my livelihood has depended on other Christians. I’ve only ever worked for evangelical organizations, many of whom require you to sign a statement of faith or conform to a code of conduct.
And that’s OK. No one forced me to work for these organizations. Having a shared set of beliefs or values isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Besides, compared to some, I’ve had it pretty easy. I’ve never been fired for something I said or wrote. (Though I’ve landed in hot water on one or two occasions.) I’ve never been scrutinized or marginalized because of my skin color or gender or orientation.
Some people aren’t merely punished for asking questions; they’re not even allowed in the door.
David Hayward’s journey and mine are different in some respects. He left the ministry and the institutional church—a journey he describes in Questions Are the Answer. I’m still there. I still draw strength from its creeds and sacraments. I still want to be part of a community that unites around certain shared convictions—namely, that there was a man called Jesus who conquered death and invites us to join him in making all things new.
But the church has burned out and chewed up far too many people, for asking the “wrong” kinds of questions, or because they were the “wrong” kinds of people.
We do it because we’re afraid. We’re afraid someone might ask a question we don’t have a good answer to. We’re afraid we might come into contact with someone whose very existence challenges our tidy, narrow view of the world. We’re afraid that if we let that happen, we might start asking the wrong questions too.
So we spend our lives on the defensive. As David writes,
My life used to be characterized by standing firm on certain beliefs that I would defend like my castle from all attacks. It really was living life from a defensive posture.
I was the same way. And one thing I’ve learned is that living from a defensive posture is exhausting.
“People deserve the right to question,” David writes. Not just by themselves, on their own. “But also within the communities of which they choose to be members.”
Questioning can be a vital part of our development. Maybe one reason spiritual formation has stagnated in the evangelical church (and it has) is because we don’t know how to ask, much less handle, good questions. David argues in Questions Are the Answer that a progression from simple, closed-ended questions to more open-ended inquiry is one sign of maturing spirituality. But he writes, quoting José Saramago, that “the church’s specialty has always been the neutralization of the overly curious mind.”
What if churches became the kind of place that welcomed—even celebrated—people’s questions? Not because we’ve forsaken a common identity, but because we recognize the beauty of inquiry and mystery?
If we’re going to be more than just “spiritual consumers looking for anything to substantiate our egos and sense of separateness,” we must open ourselves to other people’s questions—and our own. We shouldn’t hesitate to overturn every rock (to paraphrase Jay Kesler) out of fear that something might jump out from underneath and eat God.
Curiosity, wonder, inquiry, and even doubt—these might do wonders for the church and for the broken, battered people who comprise it.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of David’s book. I was not compensated for this post, nor was I required to write a review (positive or otherwise) in exchange for my copy.