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"A Season Finale Mailbag" Transcript
[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending — F#, B, F#, E, D#, B — with a keyboard pad playing the note B in the background. Both fade out as Jonathan Walton says “This is a KTF Press podcast.”]
Jonathan Walton: Grace makes no sense. That you would extend forgiveness to someone who is not asking for it, and then that you would reconcile with someone when they do ask for it, and pursue a relationship that is mended rather than one that is contentious and guarded. It would not surprise me at all, if Judas had come back and asked for forgiveness, that Jesus would have welcomed him back in as a disciple.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/ That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the kingdom of God. I'm Sy Hoekstra.
Jonathan Walton: I'm Jonathan Walton, and this is our season finale.
Sy Hoekstra: Woot!
Jonathan Walton: [chuckling] We're going to be answering some listener questions and reflecting on some of the things we've learned this season. We'll also be telling you more about the podcast and KTF going forward, which is all really exciting. So stay tuned, this is going to be a great show.
Sy Hoekstra: And remember, if you like what we do, go to KTFPress.com. Become a paid subscriber. That gets you the weekly newsletter with curated media from us to help you in your discipleship and your political education. That gets you the bonus episodes of this podcast, there will be at least one of those per month in between seasons three and four. It gets you the full archive of all the bonus episodes going back. You can get a nice little feed that you can put on your podcast player that has all of our regular and bonus episodes there so you don't have to go anywhere else for them. It gets you the full archive of our newsletters, everything else is on the website, supports everything we do. We could not do what we do without our subscribers, we appreciate them so much. So if you can go to KTFPress.com, become a paid subscriber.
Okay, Jonathan, we're going to dive right into this. We're going to start with what I think both of us would probably consider a bit of a softball, but it's a good warm-up question. We talked about this in our newsletter a little bit after this episode. We had an episode with Scott Hall where we talked about, it was called “White People Helping White People Leave Whiteness.” And we had a listener write in with a very simple but honest question. We very much appreciate honest questions, and we think they're important to answer even if it's like kind of going back to basics for us. We think it's helpful for everyone to go back to basics whenever they can.
And so here's the question Jonathan, why are we asking White people to leave Whiteness, when as the question asker correctly assumed, we would not ask Black people to leave Blackness or other people to leave their identities? Why do we do that?
Jonathan Walton: Okay, so this is one of those softball questions where it's really hard to answer because I have like 19 bats, because I'm not at the…
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: … at the same door, right? And so I actually sent this question to Scott Hall. I sent this question to other, to just other White people trying to help people leave Whiteness. And so I'm not going to answer like they would, I'm going to answer like I would.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: Because I do think the answer from a Black person or someone non-White is going to be different than the answer from somebody who is White. At least the first one, the “let me stay in my world and not into your world yet” answer. So I think this falls into one of the boxes of this false equivocation, where Blackness and Whiteness are the same, and they are not [laughs]. And so this also hangs out in the same space as the reverse racism conversation, and reverse racism does not exist, it is not a thing.
Sy Hoekstra: And reverse racism, just for people who don't know what you're talking about, when White people say, “Oh, you're being racist against me as a White person.”
Jonathan Walton: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. And so I think we love in our dominant culture to say, to draw binaries and say things are the same when they're actually not. And so, Blackness is downstream of Whiteness. Blackness did not begin before Whiteness, Blackness did not pick up a box and say, “We're going to do this.” There were ethnic identities, cultures and formations of how people are to relate with themselves, the world, and one another, and God before Whiteness. Whiteness was also not a thing. It was made up just like Blackness is made up. The problem is, Blackness is a response to Whiteness. And so when, quote unquote, “racially assigned White people” downstream of 500 years colonization in the formation of ethnic identity and all that decide to leave Whiteness, they are not leaving an identity, they're leaving a power hierarchy.
And so if you leave that power hierarchy and say, “I'm no longer going to participate in this way of ordering the world,” Blackness may still exist. Asian Americanness may still exist. Why? Because we have to relate with the quote unquote, “power structures” that exist in the world. So in the same way that White people might be able to leave Whiteness, and give up the hierarchical structures, because no one is going to do that at all times everywhere, Blackness and other social identities downstream of a colonized identity would still have to be engaged with and exist, which feels to me like a difficult sucky place, but I don't know how that couldn't be true. And I'd be glad to talk more about it with people who have thought more about it than me. But the reason I can't or don't feel like I can leave Blackness, is because White people won't leave Whiteness.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So it's really important to think about it in terms of history, and I think to just kind of expand on something you said about how Whiteness didn't always exist. We mean that quite literally. You go back eight, nine hundred years, there is nobody in the world talking about a race of people called White. There is no concept of all the people from all the different ethnicities and languages and kingdoms and cultures of northern and western Europe existing as one big group called a race, and that race is White people. Nobody has that concept. Nobody has a concept of Black people. Obviously, people look at each other and see that they're different, they have different colors of skin, but that didn't put them in groups called races.
And the only reason that we made up groups called races was like Jonathan said, to create a hierarchy. That's why Whiteness was created. Whiteness was created to make a group of people who's at the top of the hierarchy, and put everyone else below them. And at the very bottom, you put this group of people called Black. And it was specifically to create colonial power, to create power an economic and financial security for the people at the top, for the White people, and to do that by being able to subjugate everyone else who is lesser than you, and therefore you can exploit them for all of that security that I was just talking about. So the reason you have to leave Whiteness and nobody else has to leave, is because the Whiteness is the bad thing [laughs]. Which is different than saying, White people are bad.
And it is very difficult for a lot of White people to hear that because we so identify with the… like we just, we think of race in abstract terms, and we just identify with that abstract thing called a race. And we just think it's bad to insult a Black person because of their race in general, and not because we put their race at the bottom of a hierarchy.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, and I also think there's a few hurdles here. I think there's a very, very, very, very, very, very strong pull from anyone on the upside of a power structure to try to equivocate their position with the people downstream. So we see this happen with men, we see this happen with non-queer people. There would be no men's rights movement in the West right now if there was not a women's rights movement. There would not be people talking about straight rights if there was not an LGBTQIA plus movement. There's a separation that's happening that I would implore White folks and folks upstream of power structures and White adjacent like passing, to say, “Oh, the work that I have to do to leave this power structure, this power dynamic, is actually me leaving this power structure.
I may have emotional reactions about it and all of those things, but I am not leaving an identity that I have been given and gifted by God. I'm leaving a power structure that puts my social identity above other people.” And that I think is, like God does not desire to destroy White people, but Whiteness as Connie Anderson, a person on my multi-ethnic team would say, is of hell.
Sy Hoekstra: I wouldn't say that Whiteness is an identity from God though.
Jonathan Walton: Right, no. I would not say that either. That's not what I meant. What I mean to say, and I've tried to say this many times in different environments, and it's always kind of caught in a weird way, is because we have to reaffirm that White people are made in the image of God, and that Whiteness is of the devil.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: And I feel like I see some people short circuiting when we say that, because we don't know how to separate Whiteness from White people. Just like we don't know how to separate Blackness from Black people. Like they have been fused together so that I am my racial assignment. When, in reality when God formed us in the womb, I love Psalm 139. When God knit us together, he did not say, “This is a White person.” But the person that is being knit in the womb, when they come out in the world, they're White, and God says, “I made that person, and I made that person good,” right? And so God made White people good, but he did not make Whiteness, and had nothing to do with it.
And so similarly, God did not make Blackness. Blackness is a response to Whiteness, and the power structures are engaged as we try to seek and find our own identity in a power structure where we can find some sort of social empowerment.
Sy Hoekstra: But because of the historical context that we're talking about, the response to Blackness has to be completely opposite because Blackness was put by society at the bottom of a hierarchy, we have to say, “No, putting them at the bottom is wrong,” so you have to say things like, “Black is beautiful.” You have to have Black pride, when you don't have to have White pride.
Sy Hoekstra: Right?
Jonathan Walton: Right. Exactly.
Sy Hoekstra: People feel like a weird tension about that, right? Like White people feel a weird tension about that. They're like, “Why can't I have pride in my… but wait a minute, the Proud Boys, they're not good,” [laughs]. And that's why, you have to understand that the history and the real world origins of these ideas. They're not just abstract notions that came out of nowhere.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. And if I can… I feel like we keep trying to try to say this succinctly, it's like, if I assert my Blackness, I am asserting that I have value. If you assert your Whiteness…
Sy Hoekstra: I'm asserting dominance.
Jonathan Walton: Exactly. Yes. Like that's [laughs] literally what I was about to say.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. All right. Well, we talked for a long time about a softball. So let's get to…
Jonathan Walton: It’s true. Harder questions [laughs]?
Sy Hoekstra: I don't know about harder, just not something that you and I kind of have logged away in our structure of how we think.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, yeah, go for it.
Sy Hoekstra: So a listener wrote in about the episode that we had two weeks ago, talking about pastors and why they're unprepared. And we talked about how pastors are expected to be kind of content experts on everything, and just kind of the source of all knowledge for people. And you mentioned a time that you heard Tim Keller give a talk on kind of scripture and its relationship to climate change. And the first thing that he said at the talk was, “I've never thought about this before, I was asked to think about this.” And you said, “Why am I listening to this man talking about climate change and scripture?”
Jonathan Walton: Yes, I did [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: But I think Candice, the listener, brought up a good nuancing point about this that I just wanted to play. So here we go.
Candice: Hey, Jonathan and Sy. This is Candice. I guess the comment or the thought I had was about how pastors can't be content experts. And while I agree that you shouldn't as a pastor feel the need to be a content expert in everything and other platforms shouldn't invite pastors just because of their authoritative position, I guess, to just comment on issues that they aren't grounded and familiar with. But at the same time, I feel strongly that pastors should have a sense of their social and ethics, and like they should have a way of thinking and responding to political questions and issues of our day. I just feel, especially with something like climate change, we all participate in this.
And so it just feels important that we would all sort of have some kind of response to questions about it or positions on it. And I would like to know, like leaders in the church and how they are thinking about it. So I guess I'm just trying to say it's okay to I think, in my mind, I'm comfortable inviting or welcoming someone to think about an issue and respond to it, even if they're not an expert in it. So, hope you guys are well and talk to you later.
Sy Hoekstra: Thank you so much, Candice. Candice, by the way, has written in with a couple of items before that have ended up in our newsletter and gave us the original idea to have Mako on in season two to talk about abortion, which is, to this day, still our most listened-to episode. So we very much appreciate Candice [laughs], and her subscription and engagement with what we do. I don't want to speak for you. I totally agree with what she said and just thought it was an important nuancing point to bring up. I definitely think that pastors should be teaching people how to think through things that they're grappling with faithfully, and can even say their personal opinions on individual political and policy issues.
I don't think pastors need to be as scared of that as they are if they're creating an environment where people can disagree well on those sorts of things in their church. I just think people have to be comfortable, pastors have to be comfortable saying, “Here's how I think through this issue with the complete humility of being a total non-expert on the subject.” Like you have to be a self-identified non-expert [laughs], and actively tell people, “I'm not the person to ask about this,” when you're not the person to ask about this. You just need to be the complete opposite of the pastors who are going to give you the quote unquote, “biblical” answer to every policy question out there that exists, which is what a lot of people try to do.
And I think it's important to bring up because it's like this is related to what we try and do here with Shake the Dust and with KTF Press. We are not subject matter experts on everything that we talk about, which is why a lot of times we bring on people who are. Or we are very clear when we're not. We're never going to tell you we have the definitive theological answer to anything, really. Both because doing that is usually something that you do if you're trying to amass some sort of control over how people think or who is in or out of some group, which is the way of the colonized faith we're trying to avoid. But also just I think, we think, or I think… I won’t speak for you, that Jesus and scripture are much more about telling us what kind of people we are supposed to be becoming, rather than giving us really specific answers to really contextual questions. [Jonathan inhales] So that's my rant. Jonathan, go for it [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: No, no, I mean, so I also agree with everything Candice said, and I wish that I could go back and nuance that response because...
Sy Hoekstra: Well, that's what we’re doing.
Jonathan Walton: [laughs] Yeah. No, in the moment for everybody who doesn't get to listen to this and only hears that. But Tim Keller in that moment, was not disqualifying himself from sharing, but what he was naming like the limit of his expertise, which I don't think he expounded upon in the talk as well as he could have. Because here's a pastoral question, I think. A pastoral question is, how should I be thinking about engaging with people in this situation in a way that is in line with the way of Christ? To the best of your ability, please answer that question. Right? The question is not, what do you believe might be the case about the 55 million pieces of plastic that were not recycled last year?
Because that's outside of the set of… it's like so far downstream of the value system that we hold as followers of Jesus, that if we're not in the weeds about it, we can give an answer that's really unhelpful for the environment, and really unhelpful for folks on how we should order and steward our lives. And so something that I've been working on ever since I came on staff with InterVarsity and was leading justice movements and things like that, was that issue of like, yes, I am engaged in fighting sex trafficking and labor exploitation. Yes, I'm pursuing the fight against climate change and against racial injustice, and I want to do those things. And I am not an expert on mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline. I am not an expert on the three garbage patches spinning out in the Pacific. I'm not an expert on educational inequity.
But I do think and I'm going to… I think this is where Candice would go if we were to chop it up. It's like, I should, as a follower of Jesus leading other followers of Jesus, have a cohesive framework for how I'm thinking through these things, and taking personal, relational, systemic responsibility for the impact and the intentions that I have in the world when it comes to these big quote unquote “issues” that are actually like microcosm in my life. So that I can tell other people how I do that, so I can be held accountable, so I can learn, so I can continue to grow blah, blah, blah, because we're all engaged in it. Like she said, we all contribute to a problem like climate change. So I need to have a cohesive response. And if I don't, I need to figure that out, not just as a pastor, but as a participant in a society that is using and disposing of resources at a rapid rate.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, and I think this kind of way of thinking, or just the ability to acknowledge your own limits, I think helps a lot in theological discernment and discernment about the kinds of communities that you should be a part of, and all this kind of stuff. Because it took me a while to get there, but it was really helpful to me when I was finally able to sort of concede to myself like, I'm no expert on Ancient Greek, or biblical history or whatever. I'm just listening to these other people who are, and they're arguing back and forth and they both know way more than I ever will and they totally disagree with each other [laughs]. So like, what am I supposed to do as the person who's trying to figure…
And then, so I have to have frameworks for looking at things like if you're going back and forth on say, women in leadership [laughs] in a church, right? I had to get to the point where I could say, you know what, Jesus tells me to look at the fruit of teachings and to test everything that's good. And I just, I don't see the bad fruit of women teaching me stuff, and the good fruit of only men teaching me things. It’s quite the opposite, in fact [laughs]. Like they're just, you have to have ways to think through stuff that you're not an expert in, and then move forward in the world. And I hope that we're doing that as best we can here for all of you listeners and readers. Do you have any other thoughts on that one, or should I move on?
Jonathan Walton: Nope. Thanks again Candice.
Sy Hoekstra: Yes, thank you so much Candice. That was great. Okay, Jonathan. So I was having a conversation with a listener recently. Basically, the topic of the conversation was why the episode with Dr. Maxine Davis, that we did on intimate partner violence was so good [laughs]. What happened there to make that one so excellent? And I have some thoughts [laughs] that I wanted to share because the more I talked through it with them, the more I thought there were things that I kind of wish I would have said on the show itself, and I want to hear your response. So the conversation got me thinking about something I heard Bryan Stevenson say a few years ago. Bryan Stevenson, for people who don't know, is a Capital defense attorney, but he also has this organization called the Equal Justice Initiative that we've brought up before in the newsletter in other places, that does all kinds of really, really great racial justice work.
He's a phenomenal speaker, if you've never heard him, you should go. I had the incredible privilege of having him as a professor in law school. And he doesn't talk about this a ton in public, but he's a Christian. And I heard him speak at a seminary around here one time, and he said at one point that he felt like God was telling him that the idea of mercy is on trial in America, and he was supposed to be part of the defense. Excuse by the way how I sound, I'm sick again. This daughter who's in daycare… It is what it is. So I think Dr. Davis's work kind of reflects a similar idea, meaning the stuff that she said, about why it is someone who commits acts of domestic violence, usually men, but not always, why do they do what they do, and how does it change?
Those are her questions, instead of asking, how do we just get the woman to leave and punish the man as much as possible? And she basically gets criticized for having effectively too much sympathy for perpetrators [laughs], but she connects our instinct to punish perpetrators to our larger psychological needs. She did this in the episode, like a larger psychological need to separate ourselves from bad people, and to put ourselves in a group of people who are justifiably not being punished because we are the good people, right? I'm not being punished, I didn't do what that person did, I'm good, they're bad. But so she said, there's the point in the episode where she said, effectively, “I have abused partners before,” and everybody needs to get used to saying that.
We need to be used to saying that we are all… we have this tendency, a lot of people have done it, even if you're not committing physical violence against your partner, like people act abusively, act in demeaning and dehumanizing ways. And we need to be ready to admit that so that we can move forward in a better healthier way on all the policy and everything else that we do in court and all that. So basically, I think her perspective on this issue is the gospel, period [laughs]. What I mean by that is, I think there are a whole lot of people out there who are committed to a general abstract idea that everyone has dignity and should be treated equally and given a fair shot, right up until the point where they are no longer committed to that idea.
And I think what Dr. Davis in her work, like what she's exposing is one of the places in which we do not extend those ideas as far as they should actually go, where we stop believing in the fundamental humanity of people, because they've done something bad. But what she's saying is effectively, like when she says, “I'm a perpetrator of abuse too,” basically what she's saying is to get to peace, the road to peace is confession, right? It's like, is admitting that you're a sinner and saying we all need to move forward from that understanding. And we can't achieve real shalom, real God's peace without doing that. I just want to hear your thoughts to all that, because this was just part of, I don't know.
At the end of that episode, Jonathan and I both, I can’t remember exactly what we said, we were just both like, “Oh man!” And Dr. Davis goes [laughs], “What? What did I do?” She thought she’d done something wrong, and we were both like, “No, that was so good!” [laughs]. So I just wanted to think about more of why we were so excited about that conversation that was on a pretty difficult subject, and let me hear your thoughts.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So I mean, I think I've said this before I wrote an essay one time, like Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Jesus did not pull out his little hidden sword too, like Peter did, and go at all the Romans. He didn't do that. And I think we enter into our humanity when we confess, and I think we do something divinely inspired when we forgive, because Jesus did that. And this is the practice of our workings of Romans 3:23 when it's like, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And then the hymn says we're all equal at the foot of the cross. And if we believe that, then this is that outworking. That when someone is violent towards me, I forgive and when I am violent towards someone else, I humbly ask for forgiveness.
Grace makes no sense that you would extend forgiveness to someone who is not asking for it, and then that you would reconcile with someone when they do ask for it, and pursue a relationship that is mended, rather than one that is contentious and guarded. It would not surprise me at all, if Judas had come back and asked for forgiveness, that Jesus would have welcomed him back in as a disciple. There's no doubt in my mind he would have done that.
Sy Hoekstra: I can't say I've ever thought about that before, but yeah.
Jonathan Walton: Right? Like Peter sold Jesus out and said, “I don’t know you,” and Jesus was like, “Hey, you're still going to be the rock on which I'm going to build my church.” Paul, before that, Saul, Jesus literally said, “Why do you persecute me [laughs]?” Like, there's something I think, just incredibly human about confession, and then entering into a divine work when we extend forgiveness to people who have harmed us or harmed our people, or have impacted us in ways that are violating God's intentions for humanity and for us in this world.
Sy Hoekstra: And I think we should be clear since we were talking about domestic violence just a second ago. When we say forgiveness, we do not
Jonathan Walton: Oh.
Sy Hoekstra: we do not mean go back to a perpetrator
Jonathan Walton: perpetrator.
Sy Hoekstra: and do nothing about maintaining your own safety or any of that stuff. You can forgive someone from an undisclosed location.
Jonathan Walton: Yes, yes. And for all the Black folks that are listening, I'm not saying Black folks need to forgive all White people for all these things, and like there's no accountability and no system structures, and there's just a hug in a courtroom and everybody walks away. That’s not what I’m talking about. I'm talking about [laughs] the extension of God's grace as it has been extended to us as a holy act. To relieve the desire and goal of revenge and retribution. That's what I'm talking about. It is not cheap and it includes repentance, where we actually turn towards something different, where reconciliation becomes possible.
Sy Hoekstra: Meaning turn toward a whole different system, like a whole different way of operating.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, an entirely different way of operating in the world.
Sy Hoekstra: Such that real peace can actually happen. Meaning the end goal is still create peace, and do not let people behave in ways that harm other people.
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: But I just think it's important to say this too. This is such a concrete example of why we talk about centering and elevating marginalized voices. Because like, I don't know how many White people know this. That like Dr. Davis said on the episode, the White feminist response to the Domestic Violence Crisis was prison. Lock a bunch of people up, get more police involvement, make police involvement more friendly to… And like she said from the beginning, Black women have said, “No, that's not going to work.” That's not the way we need to go with this, we have to do something else. We have to do things that actually create change in our communities because those systems of criminal punishment and everything else are completely destroying our communities as a whole.
They hurt us too, they don't just hurt the perpetrators. And our interaction with the police are not good, and that all that stuff. And then because kind of the White feminist response was to go hard on the criminal justice system, that's just kind of expanding the people who we judge.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: It’s expanding the type of people to whom we deny the gospel for via the criminal justice system. Focusing on the perspectives of the people for whom the existing systems don't work is what's going to get you closer to the gospel every time. Specifically because the systems don't work for those people, you are going to end up at something that treats people who are not treated like humans, like humans, with dignity and respect, and all that kind of thing. I guess just what I'm saying is if the existing earthly systems are working for you, then you are just way less likely to look for something else.
Jonathan Walton: [laughs] It’s true.
Sy Hoekstra: It's kind of like what we said before. I think it was last episode about how like… yeah, it was last episode. If something doesn't affect you, you don't think about it that much, right? It's the same thing. If something works for you, you're not going to think about changing it that much. So the kingdom of God, like coming in and transforming the world becomes less interesting to you in the area of criminal justice, because the criminal justice system, you've shaped it to work for you to a certain degree. There are a ton of nuances to this. There are lots of ways that the police treat domestic violence victims horribly. I'm speaking in broad terms right now.
So anyways, it used to confuse me a lot is what I'm saying when I was when I was a kid. And I would look at things like Jesus talking about it being harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, or talking about the poor being blessed, and like, why he spent so much time with the marginalized, why the marginalized, were so attracted to him. And it just makes more sense to me now [laughs]. That's all I'm saying. The gospel makes more sense when you look at it from marginalized perspectives.
Jonathan Walton: Yes, amen. And just a kind of a bigger picture thing, that's what I hope to have happen when people listen to and engage in conversations like this is that it should push us further towards love. It should push us further towards kindness. It should push us further towards a Christ-like inclusivity. And I think we have to push back against the quote unquote, “slippery slope” arguments of evangelicalism and Catholicism and institutionalized colonized faith. You have to push back against like, “we have to protect orthodoxy” and like all these things, because none of those things were around when Jesus was gathering people.
And if they were around, he actually pushed back against them—i.e., the religious structures that were allowing political structures and social powers of the day—to say, “You're leaving people out. Like you're leaving people out of this kingdom that I've created and called for, and I'm going to die and rise for and come back to bring in full.”
Sy Hoekstra: And you're putting unnecessary burdens on people…
Jonathan Walton: Yeah [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: …and focusing on legal minutia, and not matters of justice [laughs]. And how well does that fit [laughs] into what we're talking about?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I mean, I was going to say like, oh, Matthew 18, Matthew 19. Actually, just the entire Gospel of Matthew, just the whole...
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah yeah [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: My hope is that anyone listening to this podcast and our work and things like that would actually see and engage with God as more loving, more kind, more just more beautiful, and has this Christ-like inclusivity that we are so bent against the majority of the time.
Sy Hoekstra: Let's switch gears a little bit to something lighter before we end. We were both talking to a subscriber recently who thought it would be interesting if we talked about how it was that you and I went about finding our current churches. Do you want to talk about that? Do you want to talk about New Life?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. So, I think I'll preface this question with like, we all at different ages and stages of life need different things when it comes to our spiritual life. And so the church that was right for me when I was 18, is not the same church for me, or may not be the same church when I’m 38, 37, with two kids and stuff like that. So I'll just caveat that. One of the core things in New Life Fellowship in Queens, Elmhurst, Queens was the church, the kind of quote unquote, “mother church,” and then the church plant that I'm a part of now in Hempstead Long Island in Nassau County was to grow, connect and serve. And I think a healthy church is you're able to do all three of those things.
Where you’re able to be poured into, you're able to serve other people and you're able to grow in love for God, your neighbor, his word, and every people and persons of like all races ethnicities and backgrounds, right? And so often I think there are churches where there are, you're really just going in to serve, the majority of the people there are just running, running, running and moving. They're not really connecting with each other as best they possibly could, or there are churches that are just about connecting. And like, there's not really a lot of service to one another or the community happening. But I think my hope would be that all three of those things are happening, and the church that we left was just not oriented towards the community.
And we left because Hurricane Sandy happened and there just wasn't a cohesive response to even people in the congregation. And that was I think for me, at my level of maturity and engagement, I was just like, “I am done.” And at the same time, there were some very real needs for me and Priscilla in our marriage. And so that's how we ended up at New Life because there was a strong multi-ethnic focus, there was a strong understanding of justice and equity at the church. And so…
Sy Hoekstra: And emotional health in relationships.
Jonathan Walton: Yes, and emotional health in relationships, because that's initially the door that we went through. And I will say that the kind of crux question that really helped me was, would I invite my children into this church? And would I invite people I really care about to this place? And if the answer is no, then why am I there? And I think that was the kind of like, I need a better phrase than the straw that broke the camel's back, because a camel’s back shouldn't be broken. But like something…
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, that was the thing that pushed us over the edge to say, “Okay, we're leaving.”
Sy Hoekstra: So hang on. Hang on. A camel's back can't be broken, but you can be hurled over a ledge.
Jonathan Walton: Oh, yeah. Push me, yeah that’s true. I was trying to think of a phrase that wasn't violent [laughs]. Because they were all like lynchpin, straw that broke the camel's back, push me over the edge. Like that was the situation that helped me make a choice.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: It was the intense thing that finally… it was the last straw! The last straw. But what’s wrong with the last straw? Anyway, it's just the last straw. Nothing’s wrong with that straw; it just got picked last. Anyway.
Jonathan Walton: All that to say I think that at this age and stage of life, I do think the evangelistic and witness question is the most important. Like is this a community that I can invite anybody to and feel like they will get a slice of what the kingdom of God looks like, in a way that is true and kind to them wherever they are? This is race, background, sexual orientation. Like all the -isms, if they sit in a Bible study with us, if they sit in a Sunday service with us, they go and have food with us, will they get a picture of Jesus? And the answer is yes. And if I think that the answer, if sitting in a congregation where the answer is not that, we then needed to decide if we're going to work towards that, or leave.
And I think that in today's way of orienting ourselves around faith in the world, I think we need to free more people to leave, than to push back against systems and structures that are inherently oriented against the thing that we're actually hoping for.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, people do need to be more comfortable with leaving because what you just said was, it feels like such a high bar, which is sad. But there are so many churches that absolutely do not clear that bar. And there are so many people who feel that really acutely, I would not bring people… Like I'm here kind of because I feel like I have to, there's something that I'm getting out of it, but I wouldn't actually bring anybody else here, you know [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: That is so common. And people feel like there's nothing better out there, and in some places there might not be, but you can be free and faithful at the same time. You can be happy in a community and still… Because I think a lot of people are concerned about faithfulness. They're concerned about, I have to be here because this is the one that has the correct beliefs or the whatever. This is the one that's truly faithful. These are the real people. But you can look and say if there's something going on here that causes me to not want to bring anybody else here because they will not find Jesus, then that's not the faithful people [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, mine was my wife and I left a church that we'd been at for a long time after the pandemic. Our pastor left. It consolidated with another church, and it was just a kind of natural off ramp. The place we’re at now is actually… I didn't say this on the episode. It's the church that Pastor José Humphreys founded. He's not there anymore, but... We were looking for a place that was able to basically take marginalized perspectives seriously and disagree well. They have people who are in leadership there who have opposing views on I think what people would consider lightning rod subjects. And that's okay, at this church [laughs], which is, again, sadly, kind of rare. But it's a small church that has a bunch of pastors even though it's small, because all the pastors are bi-vocational, meaning what we talked about last time.
They are not just pastors, they have full time jobs, and they are pastors in their spare time effectively. And so they have kind of real world experience [laughs], which is not to say, I'm not dismissing any pastor who's only existed in the Christian world, but there's something very beneficial to having been outside that world in a real way.
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: They're very honest and straightforward about what their capabilities are, they're not trying to sell themselves really hard to people. And they're not inviting people into church programming. They're really inviting people into what Pastor José talked about on this show, a group of people basically serving their neighborhood as best they can, as opposed to trying to be a flagship place that sucks people into it. There are some hard things about being in a small church with a small kid and some other issues like that, but they're totally fine with admitting those things and talking about them, and I really appreciate that. So I just appreciate the non-performative authenticity. The real like, “Hey, we don't have the capacity for that. If someone can do it, then go for it, but we can't.”
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. Exactly.
Sy Hoekstra: I think I talked about this on the show one time, but the first time I met with one of the pastors, she told me that Pastor José had specifically asked her if there was any way that they could accommodate me, basically. If there's anything they could do to make things more accessible for me. And I kind of froze, and she went, “Yeah, I know, and I don't want to put that on you or whatever.” And I was like, “No, no, I'm freezing because no pastor has ever asked me that question before. Literally not once. So I don't know how to respond, and I need a minute to think about this.” And more stuff that has happened, like that Pastor Wendy one time had an activity at a church meeting that she didn't realize or didn't think about ahead of time was inaccessible.
And she texted me later to apologize and be like, “I'm going to try and do better next time.” And I was like, wow [laughs], again, it's one of those things that makes you realize how low your bars are as a disabled person. So yeah, that's it for me. Any other thoughts on that, Jonathan?
Jonathan Walton: I think the only thing that I would say is that none of these things are easy or simple. When we're talking about who we're going to be in relationship with and all those things. And I would also say that, it's okay to leave a community and try to pursue and create something new. And I think we have to resist the temptation of comparing it to what we came to or where we came from, and what we're used to. So for example, my first few years out of college, I was constantly trying to recreate what happened when I was in college. I was trying to find a group of people, gather around scripture and redo these things that… we fought sex trafficking and slavery, we helped feed the homeless or unhoused people. We built a maternity ward in a hospital, we sent a group to Uganda. Those things we were able to do because we were in college, we all lived in a community called dorms.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: We all had resources provided for us. There were entire systems and structures set up for us to literally argue about what it would look like to do an event with world leaders, multiple times a year.
Sy Hoekstra: Yep.
Jonathan Walton: That context does not exist for the majority of the world [laughs]. So I had to resist the temptation to compare that. So you might be listening to this and you're not in New York City, or in a place that's really racially or ethnically diverse at all. Or you're sitting in a congregation that if they knew you're listening to this podcast, would ask questions about your faithfulness to Jesus. And like, that’s real. And so I think what I would want to invite us into is that place where the disciples were when Jesus first showed up, and he said, “Come and follow me.”
He didn't have a, probably didn't have a regular location where Jesus's small group met. He probably didn't have a spreadsheet where people were figuring out who's going to bring food and all that stuff. He probably didn't have the email address and the QR code set up for you to get the right stuff. But they came because they wanted to know more about Jesus, and they didn't judge people who came later than them. They probably did, but Jesus didn’t judge them for coming later.
He didn’t. I think we have to move away from I will have the cookie cutter thing that I'm ordering on the spiritual menu for me to grow in this age and stage of life. And to say I'm going to pursue this value of community and following Jesus, because that is what he calls us to. And I know it's going to be messy, and I know it's going to be hard, but I’m going to lean into Jesus and lean into the complexity and do the best that I can, because I can't fall out of the kingdom. Like I'm not going to get kicked out because I'm not at church or didn't get communion at this time. I can't get kicked out of a relationship with Jesus. He wants me. So would you pursue community as how it looks in the messiness and all those things, not comparing it to what you had before in this next season of life?
Because it is turbulent for many people for many different reasons. But Jesus is with us, and he will send people. I think we just have to keep walking towards him in that way.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. And I think implicit in what you said is, there are a lot of people out there who, for whatever reason, don't feel like they can go to church right now, don't feel like they can participate in X, Y and Z things because they have too much baggage with it, or there’s stuff they need to work through or whatever. And part of what you just said was, that's okay [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: That doesn't disqualify you. That doesn't mean it'll never happen again in the future. It's not like, we do not judge people for that. We think community is incredibly important and we think finding a place where you can go and have that community is incredibly important. But the question of timing is never one that humans seem to have a good grasp on [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, and you know what, even more than that, Sy [laughs]. Even more than that, Jesus came to show people lots of things. But one of the things I think he came to show people was that you might not be at the temple, but that does not mean you're not part of the church. Like going to the man sitting by the pool. Going to… the story in Scripture where there’s a man sitting by the pool trying to get into the water so that he can be quote unquote, “healed,” when the spring essentially moves. And he sits there for decades, and Jesus comes to him. I think there's a holy noticing that happens when Jesus shows up, that his kingdom is actually for all these people on the outside.
The woman at the well, she's not allowed to worship, quote unquote, where the “true Jews” worship. Right? God is saying, you might be in your room, you might be getting lunch with the same two people at a coffee shop. That can be where Jesus comes. It literally does not have to be at a Sunday morning gathering sitting in rows and straight lines with other groups of people oriented towards one person teaching. It doesn't have to be like that. And I think we have to be okay with that complexity. I'm not saying don't go to church, for the pastor's that are listening.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Don't go to church, don't give, don’t get involved. That's not what I'm saying either [laughs], right? Because there may be people who are at that age and stage of life and spiritual development where they can do that. But I think we have to make space for all kinds. I think we have to push beyond what we see on Sunday morning as the end all be all, because what is happening on Sunday morning in so many places is not of God, and that's really sad. But that doesn't mean God is not moving and calling people to himself on Sundays and any other days of the week.
Sy Hoekstra: The other thing I just keep thinking of is just the parable of the 99 sheep, right? Like effectively when you're saying we need to be comfortable with Sunday morning not being the be all and end all. What we need to be comfortable with is what God says the kingdom of God is like in that parable, which is the shepherd going after the one sheep that is missing even while all the other sheep have come home and are safely in the pen. That is who God has fundamentally told us he is and so we need to believe that.
Jonathan Walton: Right [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: I think that's a good place to end Jonathan. Tell people what they can expect from KTF Press going forward.
Jonathan Walton: Yeah. Again, like we said at the beginning, please, please, please subscribe, like, follow share with lots of folks because the monthly bonus episodes are coming out between now and when season four starts for our paid subscribers. So go to KTFPress.com to get on our newsletter, to sign up and subscribe and support everything that we do. Those episodes are always, always really great. You'll also be seeing a bit more regular writing from us, that isn't just our newsletter. So that's at least one article per month if not more, because there's a lot of stuff happening in the world. I don't know if y'all noticed that. So hopefully, we'll be writing more. And these are personal essays, political and social commentary that we occasionally write, and sometimes a poem by me because I like that too.
You're also going to be seeing new and different social media content from us. So please do follow KTF Press on Instagram, Facebook, threads, and Twitter. For all those of you who are looking for that, just do @ktfpress, and our beautiful cool new logo designed by Robyn Burgess will come up. Next year on the show, we will be getting back to our roots since it's going to be an election season in the US and Lord have mercy Jesus, you better believe we'll be all over that.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: So thank you all so much.
Sy Hoekstra: Thank you so much for listening, thank you subscribers. We've said it a million times, but I can't stop saying it, we would not exist without you. We so appreciate the subscribers that we have. Our theme song is “Citizens” by John Guerra. Our podcast art is by Robyn Burgess. For all of you who are subscribers, we'll see you in a month. For everybody else we will see you for season four.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “I need to know there is justice/That it will roll in abundance/ And that you’re building a city/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: And I'm not sure that I would call Whiteness an identity given to us by God. I would just call it….
Jonathan Walton: Oh, no I didn't…
Jonathan Walton: I did not say Whiteness was an identity given by God.
Sy Hoekstra: What did you just do?
Jonathan Walton: I moved my hands because I was like, no, I did not mean to say Whiteness was an identity given by God!
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: That's not what I meant. Because no… That could not be a blooper.
Sy Hoekstra: No, that is a blooper. That's like when you fell on that bonus episode that one time.
Jonathan Walton: Oh, yes. And ripped my entire desktop off the table.
Sy Hoekstra: That's our best blooper ever. Listen, if there's any reason to go become a subscriber, it's just to hear Jonathan beef it hard [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Fall in real time. Like in real time.