"Weaponizing Disability, the Role of Allies, and Healthy Justice Work with Kyle J. Howard" Transcript

Season 1, Episode 15

Kyle Howard: Part of leading means being well-informed. And when, for most white people, when it comes to leading, there is a great deal of informed-ness that needs to happen. So I'll give you a prime example: there's been times where people would reach out to me and are like, “Hey, I want you to teach on this subject matter,” right. And I think that that also happens when it comes to white people within these conversations where they're not specialists in this field, but they feel, “Hey, I have a platform. I have a space. So I'll go ahead and speak on this.” Where what, I think, often what leading looks like is having the humility to acknowledge, “Hey, I'm not a specialist in this. Let me refer you to people who are.”

[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.]   

Jonathan Walton: Welcome to Shake the Dust, leaving colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, a podcast of KTF Press. My name is Jonathan Walton. I'm here with Sy Hoekstra and Suzie Lahoud.

Sy Hoekstra: Today is the second half of our interview with Kyle J. Howard. If you missed the first half, it was last week's episode. I suggest you go back and listen to it now. But Kyle is a theologian, preacher, and trauma-informed soul care provider, specializing in working with people who have experienced spiritual and racial abuse. Today, we talk to him about how speaking publicly about his disability both helps people and comes at a price, how to maintain energy and hope in justice work with healthy priorities and boundaries, the helpful roles that allies can play, how white people can avoid centering themselves, his understanding of his role in the church as an outsider prophet, and a whole lot more.

Also, a quick note: you're going to hear me ask a question, and then say a couple of smaller things, and then I'm going to vanish for the rest of the episode; because I had some connection issues during this interview. So just FYI.

Suzie Lahoud:  As a reminder, if you like the show, the best way you can support us is by going to KTFPress.com and subscribing. That gets you our weekly newsletter, curating resources to help you in discipleship and political education as you seek to leave colonized faith for the Kingdom of God, bonus episodes of this show, and writing from the three of us. It also supports this show and other projects we're working on, like future books. And you can now get a free month of that subscription by going to KTFPress.com/freemonth. Again, that's KTFPress.com/freemonth.

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If you have any questions about anything you've heard on the show, please feel free to write to us at shakethedust@KTFPress.com. We'd love to hear from you. And we might answer your question on a future episode

Jonathan Walton: Now that that's out of the way, let's get to it. Here's Kyle Howard, part two.

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.] 

Sy Hoekstra: All right. So here's the question that's maybe most personal and the one I was most nervous about, so feel free to answer this however you like. So we had… I don't know if you're familiar with Lamar Hardwick, we had him on a couple of months ago. He's an autistic pastor and he talks about, he talked to us about the ways in which Black disabled people's behavior is frequently misinterpreted because it's often seen through racist lenses. So he specifically spoke about people who are autistic getting diagnosed later in life oftentimes, because the behaviors that are just symptoms of autism are interpreted as just Black or brown men misbehaving, and so the diagnoses end up coming later.

You have been quite public about the fact that you have bipolar disorder and chronic pain. You are quite transparent on Twitter and you're online a lot, like your life is very public. And we wanted to know if you have seen this. If you have seen the ways that your disabilities manifest in your life misinterpreted by people who follow your work.

Kyle Howard: I have not seen it necessarily misinterpreted by people who follow my work. I have seen it weaponized against those who despise my work. So to flesh that out a little bit more, and maybe… this is if I'm grasping your question properly. But what I would say is that, so I have been, I regret versus not regret maybe 50/50 when it comes to expressing those things publicly. Ultimately, I don't regret it, because at the end of the day, by me expressing those things publicly, I've had numerous conversations with people who reached out to me through social media who were having suicidal ideations, who were deeply struggling with a desire to live, who would not have, who didn't… who saw me as someone who was safe to communicate with when they didn't see anyone else, because I was willing to publicly share those things. And so if one life could be saved by me being public about my own personal struggles, then it's been well worth it. And at this point, it's been more than just one life. So I’m eternally grateful for the platform I have, and for the transparency that I shared, because it has saved lives.

But it has come at a cost, because again, not people that are supportive of my work who follow my… so I guess, it depends on how you mean “follow my work,” because I literally, and I learned this recently, I have entire Facebook groups devoted to hating me. I have hate fan clubs. And so I used to think that hate mail just came from like individuals. I now know that there's actually hate fan clubs of people who come together just to hate to me and talk about how much they hate me. So, in one sense, you could say they follow my work, but in another sense I would say that they don't really follow my work, they stalk my work. But what I would say is that, those people will see me share these kinds of things, and they will interpret it as being weak, as me being… as a weakness or me being overly vulnerable. And so they'll take that and they’ll run with it and they'll say all kinds of things.

When I got pulled over by the police recently, I remember tweeting, I tweeted out a thread about what was happening, and I had numerous DMs that came in… and I was sharing with people that I was having basically like fighting off having a panic attack due to my own PTS from police brutality in the past. And I received DMs of people mocking me and saying all kinds of horrible things about that. And so there was a dynamic of me sharing that, allowed some to pray, some to have greater understandings, and then it allowed other people to weaponize that as a way of discrediting.

I remember I shared, when the George Floyd verdict was announced, I shared a screenshot of my raw emotions in that moment. And many people who follow my work was like, “Thank you for this rawness, for this transparency,” and everything else. But then there was other people who took a screenshot of that moment of raw emotion and they began plastering it in articles and blog posts and everything else saying, “Oh, look at this. This dude is fake, he's just faking tears.” You know, so everything else. And so I think, so white supremacists and racists will always weaponize Black challenges, struggles, vulnerabilities as a way, weaponize them against the Black community and against those Black people themselves.

But I do also think that there is a place for that kind of vulnerability actually giving people a window into unique challenges and struggles that actually build camaraderie, support, transparency, openness, healing, and all those other kinds of things as well. And so it's hard for me in the inside to kind of parse the benefit versus the negative. I just kind of take it daily. When I have certain behind the scenes conversations with people who are struggling, to me it's like, okay, this is worth it. I'm thankful for this, that I'm able to have these conversations.

But then there's the other side of me, where it's kind of like you fight against the reality of it's like, of public perception, I guess. Where the public perception being like… let me think about how to say this. I'm thankful for the amount of followers I have on Twitter, and I have no idea how it got up so high. But I don't write, or I don't tweet for them. My Twitter is for survivors. My Twitter is for people who are barely holding onto life. Those are the people that I'm tweeting to and wanting to let them know that, “Hey, I understand, I'm there for you, I support you, I know what you're going through.” And so that's my base, and if out of the almost 40,000 followers, I have a hundred survivors who fit that mold, then I'm only talking to a hundred people, that's who it's for.  

Even when I talk about racial trauma, I'm talking to white people who want to grow in their knowledge and understanding and abounding in love, and I'm talking to Black people who have experienced racial trauma. If out of the 40,000 people who follow me, only a hundred fit into that mold, then I'm fine just talking to that a hundred. Does that make sense? And so for me, what I would say, is that the audience in which I am speaking to, I don't think that they take advantage of that. I don't think that, I don't see the negative there, because I think that they're being helped. But within the broader audience, I think that there's all, there's absolutely a dynamic of people weaponizing disabilities or struggles or vulnerabilities or even Black trauma against Black people as a way to discredit them. That absolutely happens, and it's something that happens on a regular daily basis that I just kind of have to press past.

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. So responding and maybe kind of expanding on that a little bit: you spend a lot of your days talking about and dealing with difficult and deeply painful subjects, and you have received a significant amount of racist backlash like you just shared, these hate groups and all of that, for the work that you do, both personally and publicly, so how do you cope with that, how do you stay hopeful? How do you continue in the face of all of that?

Kyle Howard: Yeah, that's an excellent question. So, a couple of things. One is that, so my Twitter is, my social media is largely my reflections in real-time. And what I mean by that is that, so if I'm tweeting about something about, say about racism, white supremacy, spiritual abuse, or this, that, and the other, one way to look at it is that, “Hey, Kyle just is sitting here, just tweeting random thoughts that he has to basically trigger folk, or make people angry, or this and the other.” Which I think some people have that kind of perception. If I'm tweeting about something like that, it's because I've just finished getting off the phone, talking with somebody who through tears was sharing their experience, and I'm sharing a reflection about something that has happened in real-time.

And so in some sense, everything that I share is a true story. It’s the reflections of something that I have just dealt with or am dealing with. And so yeah, I do, I tweet pretty regularly throughout the day, because I'm also counseling regularly throughout the day, and I'm sharing those real-time reflections and those… So every thread, so like recently I did a thread on union with Christ and spiritual trauma. That thread was the result of me just finishing soul care of helping someone who was struggling in profound ways come to find freedom and joy and union with Christ. And so I'm taking that, and then I'm saying, “Hey, this person was helped with the one-on-one, let me share this, again with my survivor audience, in hopes that this will encourage them.” Because again, that's who I'm speaking to largely, helping them to deconstruct and rebuild.

When I'm not counseling and when I'm not tweeting out reflections based upon my counseling, so that's like work time. Twitter is work for me. When I'm not doing that, I rarely think about race issues. I rarely think about trauma and abuse issues. I'm playing with my kids, I’m maybe playing some video games. I’m maybe hanging out with my wife. I’m maybe doing something related to theology and teaching and Bible preaching or this, that, and the other.

So a lot of people think that Twitter is my life. And even though I've said, even on that, that this is specifically for, my Twitter is primarily targeted talking about spiritual trauma and racial trauma. Even though that's just a fraction of my comprehensive work, that's what I've devoted Twitter to being about. It’s really just the social media that be mad toxic. My life is very not toxic. I'm very selective with friends, I'm very selective with relationships. I'm very selective with those things, and so everything is kind of, stays on social media.

Now, with that being said, I ain't going to lie, a lot of that stuff hurts. I am still human. I try to avoid the comment sections as much as possible, but I still, occasionally some still gets through and it's kind of like, wow. And when you take those things and you also take in the dynamics of trauma, because again, I got into the work that I'm doing as a survivor of spiritual abuse. And so it’s very regular that I am second guessing myself, in the sense of, if someone is saying that, “Oh, you're divisive, you're dividing the church.” Well, that was language that was used, weaponized against my family, and specifically against me for years. I was told that I was being divisive just for existing. And so when I hear that kind of language, it is triggering. I do have to think, “Am I being divisive? Am I an enemy of the church? Am I in Jesus?”

So though I still struggle with those kinds of thoughts and those kinds of things, I just have people behind me, like my wife, I have some close friends in ministry who are constantly supportive and encouraging to me and keeping my mind rooted in truths about who I am in Christ. And so what I would say is that I think the main thing that I do is that I, in one sense I don't, I take the work seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously. And that again, when I'm doing the work, when I'm sharing, that's great. When I'm out of that, and then people are like criticizing and everything else, my primary question is, have I been faithful? Have I told the truth, and did I do it in a way that wasn't mean-spirited or… maybe direct, maybe blunt, but was I lacking love? Was I being abrasive in the way that I shared that? And if I can say that, no, I wasn't, then I'm good. Anything else anybody else says to me is nothing compared to what I deserve given my past, and so I just rest in the righteousness of Christ.

And then finally, a last thought on that would be that, I think one of the ways that it most tangibly impacts me, is like I'm writing a book right now on spiritual trauma. But it's really hard to write a book about spiritual trauma when you're doing spiritual trauma care at the same time. There's a reason why people don't write books until they retire, I'm learning that as I go, because by the time I'm done with my day and it's like sit down and time to write the book, I'm like, “Man, I don't want to. >et me go play Spiderman or something. I do not want to write on trauma right now.” So I do struggle with kind of, with balancing out those kinds of things, and self-care and everything else. That is a challenge, and so I definitely haven't mastered that dynamic.

But I think the main thing for me is compartmentalizing, where I have the work that I do with my boots on. Twitter is largely not play time for me, it's largely work. It's me doing what I do privately with a public audience, but I have a very targeted audience. My targeted audience are survivors, trying to give them language for what they've experienced or what they're trying to navigate through. Because my target audience, I guess, is so narrow, I kind of have tunnel vision. And I think that tunnel vision serves me in being able to keep the main thing the main thing, which is for me, which is being a resource for survivors.

Yeah, I hope that's helpful. I feel like that was maybe one of the questions I danced around the most, but there's so many layers to that.

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. No, it was real, and seriously, just so much respect for the intentionality and the integrity of the work that you're doing.

Jonathan Walton: Absolutely. I mean, I’m taking notes on multiple levels, like myself as a husband, myself as a leader, myself as a teammate. It's like there's a significant contribution that you're making via social media, but then also just, I imagine that's also reflected in the lives of your patients, and prayerfully an outflow of what's happening in your family. So I'm really grateful for yeah, you sharing your life with us.

Are there ways that you have helped people deal with the constant engagement that's necessary to decolonize around race, class, and gender? So, for example, I literally am having conversations with my wife about how I don't want to colonize her or more intimately, turn her into me. Right? I don't want her to think like me, act like me, do like me, so she can satisfy my needs and become what I imagine her to be. I want her to flourish as God has called and called her. And so that is at the forefront of my mind in our conversations, and that requires me reflecting on it each day. It might require a prayer that I pray on the hours, right? It's like there's necessary engagement for that to become a regular part of my life.

In our emotionally healthy activist curriculum, we call it moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence, where it becomes just a normal part of what we do. And so that's the type of engagement I'm talking about. But it can be exhausting.

Kyle Howard: Yeah. So what I would say is a couple of things. So for one, it can absolutely be exhausting. And I think that there is a, what I like to call- and this isn't original with me by any stretch- but what I call concentric circles of priorities. And what I mean by that, you know, a concentric circle is what happens when you throw a pebble into a lake. You get like a small circle, then a bigger circle, then a bigger circle, then a bigger circle. And when we think about concentric circles as it relates to priorities, you have priorities that are most centralized to you, that need to be primary, and then you have other circles that are less, that need to be less prioritized than the closest circle. Does that make sense?

And so with that being said, I think there are too many people engaged in too many concentric circles. And what I mean by that is, there are people who do specialized work in these fields, someone like myself, who has to be invested to a certain degree. But for every one person like me, there are thousands of people who I think may be overly invested in these kinds of conversations, because they're not equipped nor called to basically constantly be trying to convince people that they, to love them, constantly trying to convince people that they are worthy of equality and of the imago dei that God has made them with.

There’s just so many things in which people were like engaging or fighting, or maybe even on Facebook where they're having to post videos about the most recent police shooting or something like that. And one of the things that I've said, is that if you're ever at the moment where you feel like you have to defend or justify your humanity, you are in an abusive relationship or toxic relationship. And so if you feel like with your Facebook friends, that you have to prove the validity of your humanity by posting these videos of police officers killing unarmed Black people, you have toxic relationships that you need to unfriend. Or same thing can apply to a church.

Now, when you're talking about a marriage, that's one of your most closest, concentric circles, right? And so there's a lot of energy that I think that people are pouring out on social media that should be invested within their actual relationships, which can include canceling some relationships, does that make sense? Where there’re some relationships that are mad toxic, so you need to cut them out, so that you can devote that energy towards where it’s most needed.

So like someone like you, so say you're in an interracial marriage and it’s been exhausting, it's exhausting for you to engage these kinds of things. One of the questions that I would have for you, if you say, so if we were doing counseling, one of the questions I would ask of you is, “Lay out for me all the ways in which you are engaging the current issues of racial strife within the church and the world.” And we would lay all those out. And my hunch would be that the only way you're engaging is not with your wife. That there are other ways in which you're engaging, in which you're invested, in which you're involved in that's also taking energy. And so the issue is likely not that engaging these things with your wife is exhausting, but the issue may be by the time that you get to your wife to engage these things, you're exhausted. Does that make sense?

Jonathan Walton: I mean, yeah, absolutely.

Kyle Howard: And so I think that, so what I would say to people, is that there needs to be a… and sorry to use you as an example in real-time.

Jonathan Walton: Hey, it's all right. If it's true, it's true. The balm is actually for me. So it’s all right.

Kyle Howard: Okay. So what I would tell people, is that they should… there’s a healthy exercise, would be for people to write down all the different ways in which they're invested in these kinds of conversations. And then as they write them down to begin working through what should be the, what should prioritize my time, whether it be personal relationships with a spouse, with family, with friends, then eventually you get to social media, which is a very broad circle in my opinion. But look through all those things and then invest your energy in a wise way, because we all have energy capital, meaning that we all have a certain amount of energy and that's all we get for a day.

And what you don't want to happen, is that you're expending that energy in unnecessary ways, so that when you get to the point of having to engage with it in a necessary way, you don't have the energy to do so faithfully. And so what I would say, is that if you prioritize the ways in which you invest in these kinds of things, and then from there I think what a lot of people will find is that they actually have more energy than they think they have, but the problem is, is the way in which that energy is being directed. And most people, as I said before, don't have to be engaged in all these concentric circles that specialists have to be engaged with.

Let me put it another way. I don't think most Black people… I think that white people should be leading the way in these conversations. I think it's trash that survivors often have to lead conversations about abuse. I think that advocates for survivors should have to be leading those conversations. It should never be that the victims of marginalization or oppression are having to lead the way. That should be the work and job of allies who are leading the way. Now, I think that when it comes to leading in these kinds of conversations, I do believe that more or less, white people need to be stepping up and taking the reins from this, so that minorities specifically don't have to constantly be leading the way in the sense of trying to change white people.

Again, I think that there's a space for specialists to be teaching to… So people like me, we teach. People like me, I teach white people. I help white people process through challenges, this, that, and the other. That shouldn't be the job of every single minority. You only got so much energy in the day. Allow people like me to invest our energy in doing things like that. You all should be investing your energy in going where it's necessary. And then beyond that, go fall like in a meadow somewhere. Don’t feel like you have to take on that kind of burden. And when you do take on that burden, you actually are leaving, relieving white people of a burden that they should be carrying and should have been carrying for the past several hundred years.

And so I do think that even within what I'm saying, that there is a dynamic where the majority culture really should be taking on more of these concentric circles than minorities. Let me take a step back. Romans 12:1-2. God's will is good, acceptable and perfect. If his will is good, acceptable and perfect, that means there's no contradiction, there's no compromise that has to be done for God's will to be met. I think that many white people can take on more than they're taking on, as it relates to trying to heal the chasms that exist regarding racial disunity. Does that make sense? Am I making sense or do I sound like I’m…?

Jonathan Walton: No, I mean, you just consolidated like eight years’ worth of therapy in the last like four minutes. Yeah. I think you're right that there isn't a contradiction, because everybody has a place at the table, we just have to find that place at the table and eat what we’re supposed to eat. And the things that you’re saying about energy being directed, how those concentric circles work themselves out in our everyday lives, is absolutely true. I think for me, because I am a specialist in leading these workshops pre-COVID there's a sense of lostness now that I don't lead in those spaces. Because of how we responded to the pandemic and the nature of the work that I do leading groups from all over the world that come to New York and traveling and things like that.

So it’s, yeah. I'm going to be processing on that. Yeah. I just really appreciate you going in on me, and that’s totally fine. I also hope that that is helpful for people.

Suzie Lahoud: I'll be, so Jonathan was so great in just being really vulnerable in that moment. And so for me, it's a question of, as a racially assigned white woman, there's always this dance that I feel like I'm doing inwardly of, do I belong in these spaces, do I not belong in these spaces? I feel like so much of my job is just to kind of listen right now and try to learn as much as I can. And yet also I have folks like Jonathan and Sy in my life, who also encourage me to have a voice at times. And so you saying that just now, that you feel like it actually is the job of white people to prioritize some of these, as you put them, concentric circles, and to help white people figure out how to do better in these areas. How do we do that in a way that doesn't end up then centering ourselves in a way that just continues to reinforce our own white supremacy?

Kyle Howard: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that that is… so a couple of things. One, I think that part of leading means being well-informed. And when it, for most white people, when it comes to leading, there is a great deal of informed-ness that needs to happen. And so, some of that has to do with when it comes to… so I'll give you a prime example. So this is something that I see often, that happens even within my circles. There's been times where people reach out to me and are like, “Hey, I want you to teach on this subject matter.” And I have two options. It's like, I could either teach on this subject matter that I'm not a specialist in, or I can refer to someone who is a specialist in that.

And this is a really tricky thing when it comes to the way that the whole evangelical machine kind of works, because a lot of people will just accept speaking engagements maybe because they need the money or whatever it is, even though they're not a specialist in something. This happens a lot with minorities. A minority is not a specialist, but they’re being asked, so they'll be like, “Yeah, okay. I'll speak on this.” And I think that that also happens when it comes to white people within these conversations, where they're not specialists in this field, but they feel, “Hey, so I have a platform. I have a space. So I'll go ahead and speak on this.”

Where what, I think, often what leading looks like, is having the humility to acknowledge, “Hey, I'm not a specialist in this, but let me refer you to people who are.” And so the same way when it comes to professional courtesy, I think that requires people who aren't specialists in a field to be like, “Hey, I could speak on this, but I know somebody who may be better for you, let me connect you with them.” I think for many white people as they seek in leading this conversation, what I mean by leading the conversation, I don't mean that means they should take charge in regards to like teaching and everything else. What that could mean is that they take the initiative to read well, to inform themselves well, so that they can effectively refer other people to Black voices who are worth listening to. Does that make sense?

Suzie Lahoud: That makes so much sense. Yeah.

Kyle Howard: Or leading the way being not necessarily… again, leading a ministry or leading a teaching on this, but maybe that means using their financial resources to support Black ministries or tables that are being built by BIPOC Christians, who they believe are doing good work, supporting them. And so by leading the way, I'm not necessarily talking about in the sense of leading the way in the sense of power, as much as I'm talking about leading the way in the sense of initiative. Of taking initiative, whether that initiative is supporting through resources, is supporting through referring voices that are worth listening to, to just essentially taking on the helm of initiative.

Rather than Black people, always having, or minorities, always having to be the ones who are initiating, who are guiding, who are basically doing all the work. Raising the funds, writing the books, having the conversations, referring the people. The list just goes on and on and on and on, where I think that white people can be more effective if they are speaking to their own people. That racist uncle, you can recommend Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise. You know what I’m getting at? Or the person who's like, who says, oh, that racism no longer exists, you can refer to them the book by Kendi on Stamped From the Beginning.

So there are things that white people can do, even within their own concentric circles, that can move the conversation forward as they take initiative, rather than just simply passing the baton onto Black people to have to deal with all the drama. Does that make sense?

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. Absolutely.

Kyle Howard: Yeah. So having a book study, where you’re like, “Hey, let's read this book together and talk about it.” Rather than, “Hey, why don't you read this book and email Kyle about your concerns?” Does that make sense? Where, I love you all, but I'm not trying to have all those emails coming in. I'm going to ignore most of them. But you guys can have conversations where if they press, you can deal with the hypersensitivity, you can deal with the rage or this, that, and the other, rather than having to let Black people deal with it, or other minorities deal with it. Does that make sense?

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, absolutely.

Kyle Howard: So when I talk about leading the way, I'm not speaking about power dynamics, as much as I'm talking about initiative, which I think is a super important distinction there. And it's a great question, because I think the default is to think, “Okay, so is this, how do I do this without wielding my power in a way that centers myself?” Well, by removing power from the equation. Or even more than that, by being willing to use your power to empower other voices. You see, because that's the Christian way in which, that's the way that Christ used power. Christ used power to empower others who lacked power, while abusive power structures use power to empower the powerful.

And so one of the ways, if you want to wield power, that includes social power or racialized power, in a way that is Christological or Christ-centered, it looks like using your power to empower other people who lack power in that space. And so that would look like taking initiative to refer and grant voice to minority people to speak, rather than you trying to appropriate spaces, and you be the one who is centered in that space to speak. Does that make sense?

Suzie Lahoud: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's so good. Thank you.

Kyle Howard: If you guys don’t mind, I want to hear another question from Suzie, just because I want to, I've talked, answered a lot of questions, and I love to hear questions from my sisters, and I also want to think about sisters listening. So if you have another question for me, Suzie, I would love to take at least one more from you.

Suzie Lahoud: Oh man, Kyle. Thank you. Can I just ask you, do you feel like… I mean, so you're doing this as a theologian, as someone who is trauma-informed, but also, I just feel like you have a prophetic gift. Have you ever felt that way? Have you had people say that to you before? That there's also just, I feel, like an anointing on the way that you speak into people's lives.

Kyle Howard: Well, thank you for that. So when… so really quick story. When I was converted, I had a radical conversion experience. I might get a little bit charismatic with you guys, so I hope you don't mind. And I don't scare you enough to hang up on me.

Suzie Lahoud: I describe myself as a closet charismatic. So yeah, just bring it all out in the open.

Kyle Howard: Okay, good. So maybe this will bring you out of the closet. So when I got converted, it was a radical conversion experience. I had no biblical background whatsoever. Never read the Bible, never been to church. I went to church like, I think, once before. But I was an atheist who believed in God enough to know that I hated him. So I had no kind of… I was a secularist, essentially. And when I was converted, it was a radical conversion experience where I essentially dared God to show himself to me, and God obliged and showed himself to me, or revealed himself to me. I did have a visual, a physical vision of God. Well, Christ.

But in that, I received… I was converted, and in my conversion experience, I also received what I believe is a calling to pastor and use a prophetic gift. Now, at the time, I didn’t know what prophecy was, I didn’t know what a pastor was or anything of that nature. But it was very clear to me that whatever, however I served the church, that the Lord wanted me to serve it within a prophetic and pastoral capacity. And so, when I hear that… so I have heard people say that. When I do hear that, there is kind of a confirmation aspect of that, because that call came, well, I've been a believer for almost 20 years now.

And so when people, when I hear people say, even refer to me as a pastor, because I'm not a pastor, and I don't know if I ever will be just based upon all that I've gone through in the church context. But when I hear people say that, “Hey, you shepherd us from afar,” or something like that, there's a confirmation dynamic to that, where it's like, wow, that is the Lord’s call on my life being answered. And when I hear people say you have a prophetic gift, I feel similarly in that kind of way, where it's like, there's a confirmation dynamic to that based upon how I felt the Lord called me and my conversion. And so yeah, so that's encouraging to hear.

At the same time, that comes with some trepidation, because Isaiah was sawed in half with a wooden saw and Jeremiah was stoned to death. And there seems to be a tendency of God's people slaughtering his prophets, you know? And so there's a dynamic where it's kind of like, not only that, but the work of being, having a prophetic voice at least in scripture, seems to mean that you're going to be profoundly lonely throughout your life. And so what I would say is that there's kind of a confirmation, because I feel like my wife and I both have, our lives are as such where they feel like they kind of fall within the vein of being prophetic, if that makes sense. Does that make sense?

So what I'm saying is that I have experienced that level of… prophetic isolation, being attacked, being lonely in the sense of ministry relationships and all those kinds of things, especially when you talk about things like spiritual abuse. Yeah. So yeah. There's kind of a double-edged sword there, where it's kind of like, yes, confirmation, praise God. I feel like I'm walking within my calling if that's the vibe that I'm giving people. But then at the same time, it's kind of like, yeah, but that call also comes with some cost, and if I am serving effectively, then that cost is going to be more further realized, and up to this point, that cost has kind of sucked. So, yeah. So I kind of have a kind of a love-hate relationship with that calling, but I do believe it's something that God has called me to be.

Suzie Lahoud: Yeah, that’s real. No, and that's just so evident, and it strikes me too- again, I have a lot of questions, but for the sake of time, I won't go into all of them- but just so much of what you shared, it strikes me, and the same with your Twitter feed and spaces that you share these things. I haven't heard these things before. Some of these things. A lot of these things, actually. And I'm wondering why is that? And I wonder if part of it is just having the courage to say them. One, having the insight to recognize these dynamics, but two, having the courage to actually speak what you see. Yeah. Again, thank you.

Kyle Howard: Yeah. Thank you. I do think that it plays a role, because one of the things that I've really struggled with, especially recently, was with my final degree at Southern Seminary. That was… oh my God! That was hard. In 2016, so I finished my associate’s in like a year and a half, and was magna cum laude, you know, everything breezed by. Then I did my bachelor’s, magna cum laude, everything breezed by. I did it in a couple of years. And then I started my master’s. And when I started my master’s, I was going through pretty easily, and then 2015, 2016 hit, and it was about two years. I didn't even come on campus, it was so hostile, because I spoke about Eric Garner being murdered, choked to death by police officers.

And again, I've shared this story before. I had several seminary friends reach out to me and say, “Hey, I thought you’re one of us, why are you talking about these things?” And the atmosphere just became so toxic that for two years I didn't even go on campus. I lived right across the street, but I took online courses. And then it was a couple more years after being forced out of our church due to spiritual abuse, that I just, I couldn't even open a textbook without it being triggering. And so finally in 2020, with only a couple of classes left, I decided that I'd finished my master's, but there was a lot of regret regarding doing my seminary at Southern. Not only because of the direction of the institution and of its president in regards to endorsing Trump and everything else, but it was just like, man, I’ve wasted so many years.

And it was my wife who was super encouraging in that time, just telling me like, “No, you didn't waste your time. You've been in this space in such a way, but you’re an outsider now. And so you're able to assess things as a Black Christian theologian who has a master in white theology. You're able to pinpoint and assess things that those who are in it are like fish in water.” And so it may seem like it was a loss or a waste of time, a loss of time, but there is a very real reality, where I would not be able to do what I do now in regards to serving saints who've experienced spiritual abuse or racial trauma, if it wasn't for, not only my experiences in that space, but in being so invested in historical theology, which is the development of theological systems and ideas, if it wasn't for that space.

I wouldn't have such a, be able to assess those things the way that I'm able to assess. And so coming to that realization was super comforting for me, because in some sense, it redeemed those years and redeemed that time, in the sense of being able to say, well, I wouldn't be what I'm doing now, and I wouldn't be able to help people in the ways that I'm helping them now, if I didn't invest those years in mastering these theological systems and being able to be as an outsider, look in and say, “This is what's happening here.”

Jonathan Walton: Yeah. I mean, this has been like a rich conversation, and I'm wondering two things. One, if you could tell us again, where people can follow you and things like that. And then we're going to pull Suzie out of that Bapta-Pentecostal closet, and just, if she'd be willing to just pray a blessing over you, that there would be more as you've poured out so much here tonight.

Kyle Howard: If she's comfortable, I'll be more than… I would embrace that and rejoice in that.

So you can find me… so I primarily, I'm primarily on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @KyleJamesHoward. I also have a website that's being revamped right now, at kylejhoward.com. And within the next couple weeks, I'll be launching two podcasts. The first one is called Coram Deo. It's actually been around for a while, but I'm relaunching it, and that just deals with like practical theology stuff. And then my other podcast is going to be called Soul Care. And that podcast is essentially going to be dealing with Christian counseling soul care issues from a Black cultural perspective, from a Black theological and cultural perspective. So essentially, it's going to be trans-cultural soul care or trans-cultural counseling. That's going to be what that podcast is devoted to. And so that should be launching in the next week or two.

Then, if I could, finally, my primary work right now, is providing free soul care services for minorities who have experienced spiritual or racial trauma in the church, but lack the funds to be able to pay for it. I cover the cost of their soul care through patron support, so I have patrons who give monthly support that covers the cost so that I'm able to provide care for them for free without making my family go hungry in the process.

Jonathan Walton: I hope that this blessing that Suzie is going to pray with would just be multiplied as we close out tonight's conversation.

Kyle Howard: Absolutely.

Suzie Lahoud: All right, let's pray.

Heavenly father, we worship you as the God of our whole being, as the God of our body, mind, and soul, and as the God who sees us and the God who knows us. And Father, we thank you for the insights that you've gifted Kyle with, Lord. For the ways that you've given him this incredible ability to see into people's souls and to walk with them through the deepest, darkest places and experiences that they've been through. And God, we just continue to pray your anointing on his ministry, that you'd continue to give him that clear vision and sense of calling to the communities that he's serving. God, we ask that you would continue to provide him with the rest that he needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the refreshment that he needs.

Bless his family, bless his time with his wife and his kids. Bless his wife in her calling and anointing, and with the prophetic voice that you've given her, Lord. And God, we thank you for this platform or multiple platforms that you've blessed him with, Lord. God, we pray that you would continue to speak to every single person that comes into contact with his work through Twitter and through podcasts and through his writing and on blogs and this book he's working on. God, we just pray that your Spirit would continue to pervade every aspect of his ministry, Lord. And thank you for this conversation, God, and the privilege of diving into these things.

And God, we just pray that it would be a fragrant offering to you, Lord. That you would continue to use it to reach people's hearts and souls and minds, and to bring about your transformation for the sake of your Kingdom. In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen.

Jonathan Walton: Amen.

Kyle Howard: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that.

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in briefly, then fades out.] 

Jonathan Walton: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Shake the Dust. Please make sure to subscribe to our blog at KTFPress.com, and don't forget you get a free month with that subscription by going to KTFPress.com/freemonth. That's KTFPress.com/freemonth. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @KTFPress. Subscribe to or follow this podcast in your favorite podcast player. And write in to us at shakethedust@ktfpress.com with any questions you may have about anything that you've heard.

Our theme song is “Citizens” by Jon Guerra. Our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you next week!

[“Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades back in. Lyrics: “Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home/ Where we arrive as immigrants/ And you call us citizens/ And you welcome us as children home.” Song fades out.]  

Jonathan Walton: I can't tell a joke. What's a joke?

Suzie Lahoud: That's what I said. Sy told me to tell a joke and I said, “I can't tell jokes.”

Jonathan Walton: Oh [Jonathan chuckles. Suzie laughs.], Maia knows lots of jokes.

Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I need you to tell a Maia level joke, please.

Jonathan Walton: What do you, what do you call cows, what do you call cows that protest?

Sy Hoekstra: What?

Jonathan Walton: A moo-vement. [Sy plays a rimshot noise]

Suzie Lahoud: Ha ha ha! I love it cuz it’s a joke and it’s woke.

Sy Hoekstra: It’s a woke joke.

Suzie Lahoud: It’s a woke joke.

Sy Hoekstra: I mean, the joke itself isn't particularly woke. I guess…

Suzie Lahoud: I mean, as a white girl who just grew up with, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” I feel like it’s…

Sy Hoekstra: Why did the chicken cross the road, Suzie?

Suzie Lahoud: To get to the other side… [Sy plays a rimshot noise]

Jonathan Walton: Hey, what do you call a duck that sells pills?

Sy Hoekstra: Oh… a quack! [Sy plays a rimshot noise]

Jonathan Walton: Yes!

Suzie Lahoud: Ohhh!! That's a good one. That’s a good joke.

Jonathan Walton: I literally just made that up.

Sy Hoekstra: Wait, you made up a joke and then I predicted the answer?

Jonathan Walton: Yeah, just now.

Sy Hoekstra: I'm pretty proud of myself.