KTF Press
Shake the Dust
Bonus Episode: How We Stay Grounded While Engaging with Injustice

Bonus Episode: How We Stay Grounded While Engaging with Injustice

On today’s episode, Jonathan and Sy talk about what keeps them going in the work that KTF does. Hear their thoughts on:

- The spiritual and emotional practices that keep Jonathan grounded

-        Why Sy only prays when he feels like it, and consumes a lot of fiction

-        The importance of the image of God and living in shalom with your surroundings to Jonathan

-        How Privilege and anxiety interact with each other

-        Why Sy wants to show people another way of living is possible

-        And Jonathan’s recent newsletter recommendation about a massive, nearly untouched national park and the important environmental and cultural questions surrounding it

Mentioned in the episode

-        The Prayer of St. Francis

-        A Franciscan Benediction

-        Our previous episode on family court and foster care

-        “Thou, Oh Lord” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

-        The episode of the Field Trip podcast about Gates of the Arctic

-        The book Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World


-        Follow KTF Press on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads. Subscribe to get our newsletter and bonus episodes at KTFPress.com

-        Follow host Jonathan Walton on Facebook Instagram, and Threads

-        Follow host Sy Hoekstra on Mastodon

-        Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra – listen to the whole song on Spotify

-        Our podcast art is by Robyn Burgess – follow her and see her other work on Instagram

-        Production and editing by Sy Hoekstra

-        Transcript by Joyce Ambale and Sy Hoekstra


[An acoustic guitar softly plays six notes, the first three ascending and the last three descending – F#, B#, 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: If I hung out, and I could do this, hang out in the systemic all the time, I would not want to get out of bed. I wouldn't. Like if I just read the news and just knew the statistics and just laid my life down every day at the altar of my social media feed and my algorithm to feed the outrage machine, that would be a very, just not a fun way to live.

[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: And I'm Jonathan Walton. Our topic today is what keeps us going in the work that we do here at KTF when we're constantly confronted with difficult subjects. Like what are the practices and experiences and the ideas that sustain us. We'll also be introducing our new segment, Diving Deeper into one of our recommendations from the newsletter, which we have recently decided is going to be called “Which Tab is Still Open?”

Sy Hoekstra: It's not introducing it. We've done it before, we're just doing it again, but now we've named it. That's the difference.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: We’ve named it Which Tab Is Still Open?

Jonathan Walton: That’s exactly right.

Sy Hoekstra: Before we get into everything quickly, as always… No, not as always, but as we're doing in these bonus episodes, I'm asking you, please everyone, if you support what we do—and I know that you do support what we do because you're listening to this bonus episode that is only for subscribers—please go to Apple Podcasts or Spotify and give us a five-star rating. And if you're on Apple Podcasts, give us a written review. The ones that we have there are great, we so appreciate everyone who has already done this, it really does help us. That's the only reason I'm taking time to ask you to do it now. It helps people find us, it helps us in the ranking and helps us look good when people look us up if we have more ratings.

So if you support what we do and want to spread our work around a little bit, that is a very quick and easy way to do it. Just pull out your phone, open Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or really any podcast app you have that allows ratings, give us a five star review. Give us that written review on Apple, even just like a sentence or two, we would so appreciate it. Thank you very much.

The Emotional and Spiritual Practices that keep Jonathan grounded

Sy Hoekstra: Without further ado, Jonathan Walton, you’re obviously a black belt of spiritual disciplines and emotional health, just a sort of, a sensei, if you will.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs] Oh my.

Sy Hoekstra: Should I do that? I don't know if I should say that or not.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs] It's all good. You can be facetious. It’s all good.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Give us some of the things that you do to stay grounded. Some of the spiritual disciplines, some of the emotional health practices that you do to keep yourself from losing yourself in the anxiety and everything as you go through stressful news events and deal with difficult subjects in theology and politics and oppression that we talk about all the time.

Jonathan Walton: I fortunately, I have thought about this a lot, mostly because I burned out

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. That’ll do it.

Jonathan Walton: And I have anxiety, and because of traumas, little “t” and big “T” Trauma from when I was a child. I have a high propensity for control [laughs]. So I think I've had to think about it a lot so that I could not just get by in life, but actually have thriving relationships where I'm engaged with people and can show up as myself and not as a performer trying to get approval and things like that. So I think one of the things we want to think about a lot of the times is like what is our motivation in these conversations? Why are we getting this information? Why don't we want to engage, things like that. Being able to name our feelings, where they come from and the stories we tell ourselves about them, it's just like an exceptionally helpful thing when we engage with this stuff. So I ask myself those questions regularly, like what am I feeling, why am I feeling it, and then what is the story I tell myself about that feeling? So that's one simple emotional awareness thing. And I do that on a pretty regular basis in conversations. So if this is going to be like a sensei thing, like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid

Sy Hoekstra: Oh no…

Jonathan Walton: …like you’re doing these things… you're doing these things and they are hard in the beginning, but then they become natural. It's like, “oh, I'm not going to put my feelings on other people, I’m going to own my feelings.” And often, the reason I'm able to do that is because of the three prayers I pray each day, The Lord's Prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis and the Franciscan Benediction. Because the Lord's Prayer helps me see myself and see God. The prayer of St. Francis helps me out of that, how do I want to see other people, I want to see them in the same way. And then with the Franciscan Benediction, then the anger, the fear, the discomfort, all of those things are good. Those are things you ask for in the Franciscan Benediction: God to bless you with discomfort, tears, and sadness, anger, and then foolishness. So I think after that there's this thing called the Rule of Life that's very old, that I update pretty intentionally, instead of it being like a self actualization tool where I'm like, “I just want to be my best self.” It's like how can I use this so that there's actually fruitful fruit in my community, not just me? Where the fruit is interdependence, the fruit is not independence and my own personal awesomeness. And so being able to practice things daily, weekly, monthly, annually, quarterly, things like that to help me and my family and those around me flourish in ways that are transformative and helpful, as opposed to strictly by utility or productivity or self aggrandizement and things like that.

Sy Hoekstra: And the Rule of Life itself is, what exactly, actually, what is it in your life?

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, so the Rule of Life is like [mockingly serious voice] an ancient spiritual practice [laughter]. But the image is a trellis, that whenever I've heard it talked about with monks and things like that, there's a trellis like if you're growing a plant, like a tomato plant or a cucumber plant, or something like that, and you want it to grow up, or grape vine, you set up a trellis to help it grow so that it’s more fruitful. So for us, it's like these patterns and practices and thoughts and habits help us to create a structure for us to grow. I'd like to think of it more as the scaffolding of our lives. Because when you take the scaffolding away, the building is supposed to stand. So when you take away these systems or structures that you've set up, they become second nature, those things fall apart, and then you continue to do them and you are a whole person.

Like nobody is walking down the streets of Manhattan today looking at buildings full of scaffolding. When you take the scaffolding away we're supposed to be whole.

Sy Hoekstra: Well…

Jonathan Walton: Well, that's true. There’s lots of scaffolding around.

Sy Hoekstra: [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: And it lasts longer than it's supposed to. And for all those people in Jackson Heights, I know your plight and I'm sorry, that it’s dark on your block 10 months out of the year [laughs]. But all that to say, a Rule of Life is just an exceptionally helpful tool to be able to do that.

Sy Hoekstra: So then for you, the scaffolding—that's a good New York City updating of agricultural metaphor of a trellis [laughter]. But what do you what do you actually do? Like what do you and your family actually do on a regular basis?

Jonathan Walton: So one of the big monthly ones is I looked at every month of the year, and basically put something in there that all of us can look forward to together and or individually. So Priscilla knows that in our schedule, she's going to have at least three snowboarding or skiing trips in the winter. She knows that in the fall, she's going to have at least three or four hiking trips. She knows every October, we're going camping with our family and every September we try to go camping by ourselves. She knows there's two weeks every July where we are out of New York City. Now, I know that every Labor Day there's a chance for me to go away and her to take care of the kids, for me to just like be away from my children and my wife for a little while. I love them dearly, and I’m an introvert [laughter].

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Exactly.

Jonathan Walton: So things like that. So yeah, that's something that happens every month. And every day I am… this year for my New Year's resolution, shout out to 2024, for every post and thing that I have that is dealing with something difficult, I want to try and post and think about something that brings the light. So can I actually hang out in the beauty and the resistance, the delight and the struggle at the same time, and kind of show up fully in both spaces? That's what I'm committed to doing on social media.

Sy Hoekstra: So that one I think is more directly related to the stuff that we do at KTF Press, and you're saying that all those other things are like the scaffolding that lets the building stand. You know it's built into the rhythm of your life, that there’s things that are replenishing and peaceful coming in the not too distant future, which makes the daily stressors easier or seem like they're more, something you can overcome more easily. Is that right?

Jonathan Walton: Yes. I've got equal parts depletion and equal parts filling.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, that's great. You mentioned one of your goals for this year. What are some of the other goal setting practices? I guess you talked about how you review some of your emotions. So what are some of the other goal practices that you put in place?

Jonathan Walton: Every week I write out a to do list, like every Sunday night or Monday morning, because it's usually after midnight, I sit down, I look at the to do list from the week before, I mark out everything that was done, I rewrite everything that wasn't done and I fill in the stuff for the week. I did that last year almost every week, and that's been something that's really helped me, because I can tell myself I didn't do anything and I'm worthless. That's how I feel a lot of the times, like I just haven't done enough. But if I consciously sit down and say, “Oh, these are things I accomplished this week, this is what I'm looking forward to and what I have to do next week,” and I can kind of close the chapter on one week and move forward to the next one.

That's probably the most crucial thing that's helped me in being able to engage with things that are difficult, and things that are good, because I put those things in the same to do list. So I have to spend a good 10 minutes with Maia and Everest, while also “Hey, Jonathan, you need to read this article for the newsletter.” So they're beside each other, like I go back and forth between that beauty and that resistance.

Sy Hoekstra: That’s good. I should do the look back at my previous… When something's off my to do list, it's just gone. Like I just hit complete on my app on my phone.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Sy Hoekstra: And I should… That's a good idea actually.

Jonathan Walton: That's a shout out to Flora Beck. I don't know if… oh, actually, Flora Tan now. I don't know if she's listening to this, but her reflections always challenged me. So yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: Let’s just assume Flora’s listening. She's great.

Jonathan Walton: Yes.

Why Sy Only Prays When He Feels Like It, and Consumes a Lot of Fiction

Sy Hoekstra: I come at this from such a different angle than you, man. So I will say me as a listener, if I just heard everything you said, I would get kind of stressed out and think that I was in trouble if that's what you need to be peaceful in life [laughter]. And the reason is this, it's not because anything you just said is bad, it's just because I come from such a different place, which is, I used to be very hyper-disciplined when it came to my spiritual practices. So I had prayer lists every day, like—meaning, a different list of people to pray for every day of the week. I had quiet times and just all kinds of regularized practices like that, none of which is bad.

But it was bad for me because the reason I was doing it was basically out of anxiety that I wanted to be a good Christian and do things well and be a good person, and check all this stuff off my list. And basically remain caught up with Jesus [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yeah [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: So I would get behind on my prayer list, I would get behind on my Bible reading, I would try and catch up, it would get longer and longer. Because sometimes you're just tired and you sit down to pray at night and you fall asleep [laughs]. It just so stressed me out and I was using, we've talked about this before, I was using prayer as kind of a bad substitute for mindfulness and therapy [laughs].

Jonathan Walton: Yup.

Sy Hoekstra: I had no sense of emotional health or insight into my own emotions at all, I just knew I was really stressed out. And then if I sat and prayed for a long time, I would get less stressed out, which I used to refer to as like “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding,” And I now refer to as mindfulness [laughter]. Because I realized I could actually do, I can accomplish that same sort of ridding myself of anxiety without prayer, which doesn't mean that prayer is useless, or that God shouldn't bring you peace when you pray. What it means is I was using God to achieve an end for myself. It was not a relational, I wasn't there to commune with God, I was there to use God as a stress reliever.

So the way that I stay grounded, and the way that I live in my own emotions and put myself in a place where I am more able to handle the stress of life because I'm not so stressed out by my spiritual practices all the time, is I read the Bible and I pray, and I talk to God when I actually want to. Which if you grew up like me, that idea sets off alarm bells in your head.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: Because you think that that means that you are giving into your flesh, that you are just not being disciplined, you're going to lose out, you're going to backslide and drift into the way of the world, and all these other phrases that basically mean you're going to lose out because you're not doing something in a rote way. And I really had to lean into all the scriptures where God talks about spiritual practices and worship and everything that are empty of love for him and says, “I don't care about any of that. It disgusts me. Stop doing it.” Which he says over and over again. So I did take hold of that and get kind of into the real, get into a realistic relationship with Jesus where I'm actually talking to a being who I want to be talking to, as opposed to just doing things out of rote obligation.

Jonathan Walton: And the fruit of that is a closer relationship with God.

Sy Hoekstra: Yes. Right, it is.

Jonathan Walton: You didn't backslide, you didn't fall into the sea of forgetfulness. You've actually cultivated a wonderful relationship with God rooted in your desire to be with him and his desire to be with you, and that is a beautiful thing.

Sy Hoekstra: And my desire to be with God has increased since I have stopped. Because when I wasn't doing things this way, I fundamentally related to God in obligatory ways. Like the same way you don't want to do any obligation, I didn't want to hang out with God [laughter]. That's where I was. So anyways, it's interesting that because we start in different places, and because God knows both of us, we do two very different approaches to things and we come out the other end more peaceful and happier and closer to God, because, I don't know. Because of the stuff that we did that actually correlated to how we feel. I'm just making another in our million plugs for emotional health and awareness. Everybody, we got to do it [laughter].

Jonathan Walton: It's true. It's true.

Sy Hoekstra: Oh, one other important thing for me is fiction, which is… I spend a lot of time reading, listening to, thinking about all different kinds of fictional stories. I mean, I've said before I listen to like lots of sci-fi and fantasy and all that stuff like any other 35 year old, White millennial.

Jonathan Walton: [laughs].

Sy Hoekstra: White male millennial [laughs]. But I actually think it's extremely important for us, people who are specifically called to be ambassadors of the kingdom, to be able to consistently exercise our imagination. Because we are supposed to be thinking about how to change the world on a very fundamental level, kind of all the time. We're supposed to be bringing in new realities or praying for them or trying to. I'm not saying you, man, again, me as a younger Christian, I would have felt a whole lot of pressure around that idea of, “You have to bring in a new reality.” [laughter] But you know what I mean.

Jonathan Walton: Yeah.

Sy Hoekstra: That's what we represent and that's what our God does and is after, is a fundamental change and things. This is why I'm pretty sympathetic to abolitionist politics, because they are the ones imagining the most radical changes for us, and for our society and for the most marginalized.

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Shake the Dust
Seeking Jesus, confronting injustice–Shake the Dust features candid interviews and informed discussions that guide us as we resist the idols of America.