David Nagler: “I’ll be the first to tell you the church is flawed, but it is still the best hope for social change.”
4761 Cass Street, San Diego
Pastor: David Nagler
Formation: Humbolt State University, Arcata; University of Redlands, Redlands; Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley
Years Ordained: 24
San Diego Reader: What’s your favorite subject on which to preach?
Pastor David Nagler: The number-one issue is grace, the astounding and unmerited gift of our lovability and acceptance by God that is total gift. You don’t have to believe anything to get it, you can do anything to get it, you can’t buy it, and you can’t con it. It’s the most astounding element of Christianity — this proclamation that God loves humanity even when we’re absolutely messing up. My sense is that I and a lot of people have this image of God as Zeus in the sky throwing lightning bolts, punishing bad people and rewarding good people. My understanding of the revelation of Jesus is just the opposite. As Jesus says, God causes to fall the rain on the righteous and unrighteous, and God gives good things to people who don’t necessarily behave or believe the way we think they should.
SDR: What is your main concern as a member of the clergy?
PN: The problems facing our culture, especially American culture, are primarily spiritual in nature. I’m concerned that the church is not ready for that, and not getting the scope of the problem. For example, basic moral values like honesty — is it important to tell the truth? If you don’t tell the truth, how is that supposed to go? We’re increasingly getting into a place where facts don’t matter.
SDR: Why did you become a minister?
PN: Initially I wanted to be part of a group that was able to make a significant difference for the better in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you the church is flawed, but it is still the best hope for social change. It’s always the place where social change gets fought hardest in some places, but it’s also where it’s born. I wanted to be part of that.
SDR: Where’s the strangest place you’ve found God?
PN: Interestingly, I’m a lifelong surfer. So it’s not at all surprising I would find God in surfing. That’s been one of my chief forms of meditation throughout my life. When you go down to the Tourmaline Surf Park, there’s this incredibly motley group of folks you’ll find there that I care very much about. It’s amazing how much God shows up in that community. Sometimes that community feels like the best of what we do in church.
SDR: Where do we go when we die?
PN: Everyone goes to God and everything goes to God. Everything goes back to the source — even science tells us that matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed. So, everything goes back to what happens next. I don’t believe there is a place of burning in hell; I think that’s silliness. I think being with God is being in the fullness of our beauty and our destruction. The judgment part is an awareness of the pain and the generosity we’ve had. I think there is a moment of awareness and reconciliation. Beyond that is speculation, but I do believe the relationships we have and the things we do matter. But I don’t think it’s because God wants to sort us out and send us to heaven or hell. At the end of the day, whatever we call God gives us a revelation of ourselves.