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"Why We Don’t Walk Away" Transcript
Season 2, Episode 5
[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.”]
Suzie Lahoud: We're talking about God meeting us in the deepest places of our humanity and in the particularities of where we need to be loved I think. Which makes so much sense because the Bible says that God is love. That is how we experience the manifestation of the transcendence of who and what God is. So I just love how deeply personal it is, even just beyond our own stories. It's getting at the root of where we hurt and why we hurt and God being present there with us.
[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. I'm Jonathan Walton here with Suzie Lahoud and Sy Hoekstra.
Sy Hoekstra: Tonight is testimony night at the church of Shake the Dust. Suzie's going to tell you [laughter] what we’re all about.
Suzie Lahoud: Whoa, we're a church now?
Sy Hoekstra: I mean, if we're having a testimony night, yeah, exactly.
Jonathan Walton: Who's leading worship? Who’s leading worship? [laughter]
Sy Hoekstra: Jonathan's on the organ. We're going to talk a little bit about some of our own current, more current faith journeys, not previous testimonies. Suzie's going to explain more of what we're doing later. I promise it'll be great. I'm just here to remind you really quickly, if you have never checked it out, please do go to ktfpress.com and look into subscribing to this show if you appreciate what we do. That is the best way to support our work. That gets you the bonus episodes of this show, of which there are several. It also gets you our weekly newsletter from the three of us where we give you, each of us give you a couple recommendations on things that have helped us in political education and discipleship as we try and grow and leave colonized faith.
It also supports everything we do. The other book projects that we have going on and the transcribing of the show to keep everything accessible. Everything that we do at KTF Press, it supports all of it. We really appreciate if you would go take a look at that. Okay, Suzie, give them the not jokey, goofy little description of what we're doing that I just did. Tell them what we're actually doing today.
Suzie Lahoud: Okay. Well, as Sy shared, this episode we're going to be talking about our faith in a more personal way. When I was in college, a divinity school professor was invited to our Christian fellowship’s weekly meeting to share her testimony. And she opened by saying that she feels like your testimony shouldn't really be about that moment when you decided to follow Christ, however many weeks, months, or even years ago. It should be about why you still choose to follow Christ today. Those are the testimonies the three of us want to share with you all now. But we want to take it a step further. We also want to share about the moments when we've been tempted to walk away. We hope that this is a conversation that encourages you, challenges you and stirs your soul. So Sy, you want to open us up?
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, I am going to get us started. I think I'm going to start with the second part of the question, which is the why you almost walked away, because well, it's just a little bit… believe it or not, that is actually a little bit of a lighter topic in my story. So the thing that I actually wanted to start out with, was I have not had a lot of really significant moments where I thought I wanted to leave. The reason is not because of the immense and abiding power of my gigantic faith. The reason is, actually, it had to do with my parents and the million different little ways that they taught me and I think my siblings to… the incredible power of the ability to roll your eyes at church, is how I think of it in my head.
Suzie Lahoud: I actually really love that [laughs].
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Like the ability to… they did not hold sacred anything that wasn't sacred, right? They were fine with laughing at church when it got ridiculous. They were fine with criticizing things that were wrong, even if both my and their ideas of what is wrong and needs criticizing have changed over the years, that idea was always there. So I didn't… I just don't have a lot of those, I hear so many stories of people who are like, “I saw these pastors that I really loved supporting Trump and that really hurt my faith in Jesus. They hurt my faith.” You know what I mean? Their faith was so tied up in whether or not those pastors were good people doing good things that it becomes a part of your faith altogether.
And people were taught that. People were taught to be a part of a, effectively cults of personality, or they're taught to be part of an entertainment industry that you bring people into, that is wholly focused on propping up the goodness of the church and the people in it, which has nothing to do with what Jesus says. So I didn't have a lot of those moments. Here's the moment that I have where I almost did, that really shook my faith and it's extremely trivial at first. This story will be silly and you'll wonder why I'm talking… roll your eyes at the fact that I'm talking about this. However, it will lead to a bigger point, which is this. When I was a little teenage, brand new, baby Christian, I was in a world that was very focused on apologetics, like that corner of the church. Which Jonathan knows, because that's how I was when I got to Columbia and that's not how he was, and we had a lot of funny conversations about that [laughter].
So I get to college as a relatively new Christian. I had been just been trained to be very focused on, college is like the lion's den. It's like you're coming in and there's all these ideas that are going to come at you that are going to try and take you away from God and you have to defeat them with your apologetic prowess. And I was always a little bit into that. Not fully bought in, but always kind of there because I really cared about what white people thought. Like that's the point that I eventually got to. So when I came to college, my freshman year was when Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great came out.
Jonathan Walton: Oh yes, the Four Horsemen [laughter].
Sy Hoekstra: Yes, right? Yeah. And Sam Harris had a book come out that year too. It was like, it was all about…
Suzie Lahoud: The Second Death of God.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, right. It was all about those guys. I can't remember which one it was that I read. I think I read Sam Harris's book first. And because I was kind of into apologetics, but didn't actually know that much [laughs], having a concentrated sit down and just read a bunch of his stuff, I was like, “Oh no, am I completely wrong about everything?” And it didn't take me very long to, literally then I had one night where I was very shaken. And then literally the next day, I just read some responses to him and I was like, oh, this is actually, there's a lot of holes in what he was saying. But the point that I had to get to more broadly from being in community with people like you, Jonathan, or Gabrielle, or lots of other people, lots of other people who I had the good fortune to be in community with at the time, was there were so many of you who did not know who any of these people were and did not care about what they thought in any way.
Jonathan Walton: It's true.
Sy Hoekstra: And because it really was, it was like… and I'm not saying if you're bothered by some argument that someone made against Christianity, you shouldn't go look into it or you shouldn't go follow that rabbit hole of doubt and figure things out for yourself. But what I am saying is, I cared way too much about what those people thought because they were educated, privileged white men. That's what it came down to, right? Like why do I care so much about what Richard Dawkins thinks, and I couldn't care less about what some Muslim student on campus with me thinks, you know what I mean? Or I couldn't… the idea that Christianity is running around oppressing all kinds of marginalized groups, those people's calls for reform or even anger with Christianity, none of that bothered me.
What bothered me was the people who had the status, telling me that I was foolish and wrong, and I wanted to prove that they were foolish and wrong. So that's kind of a place where I was actually legitimately shaken for a bit, and the thing that propped me up was — shocking for someone who's on this show — listening to marginalized people.
Sy Hoekstra: But like I said, a lot of the stuff that carried me through all the complete obnoxiousness of how so many Christians responded to Black Lives Matter or Trump or everything else, was at least in part, like I said, my parents just giving me the ability to separate out Jesus from everything else. I think actually that kind of, that white evangelical fixation on your personal relationship with Jesus had a lot of problems that we criticize all day long, but there was one way in which it really helped me. Which was like, the thing that it did give me was an understanding that communion with God is the sacred thing.
Your relationship with God, your interaction with God, the thing that we're trying to restore from the Fall is our relationship to God. That whole thing is actually very helpful if you can see it as something that should push you away from ending up in like a cult of personality. Or ending up in a church where you have to cling to certain political beliefs in order to be like a real full-fledged member of the church or whatever. Should I stop there? Do you guys have questions or thoughts on that before I get to the other thing?
Jonathan Walton: No. I mean, yeah, that just all resonates with me. I'm like, yes and amen.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. I mean, you were there for a lot of that [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: I was, and I'm also just realizing that I wonder if our stories will be very similar.
Sy Hoekstra: They won't be. They'll be from different angles.
Jonathan Walton: Well, actually, more of our conclusions will be very similar because my conclusion is very similar.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: I also just appreciated your mother and your father more as you were sharing.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, for sure.
Jonathan Walton: Because my mama has a whole lot to do with that as well. Yeah. So keep going. I think, keep going.
Sy Hoekstra: Sure. Okay. So the thing that most attracts me to Jesus now. By the way, I have a story in here that is my direct attempt to exercise, remember at the end of the last season when I said I didn't know how well I had done at being vulnerable? I'm calling the shot here. I'm going to kick myself in the gut vulnerability-wise right now [laughs], and make myself just feel those feelings that I don't want to feel for the sake of sharing the story. This isn't it yet though.
So I think a lot of what at the moment — and like Suzie was saying, this always changes — keeps me very close to Jesus, comes from passages Like where he talks about healing a man on the Sabbath, which he does in more than one occasion, but he specifically talks about how the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Or how, like the example that Jesus gives at one point of David and the soldiers he had with him eating the food that was reserved by Levitical law for the priests, because basically they were starving and desperate and on the run. All these different stories like that, where Jesus has this amount of grace where he understands that the religious rules are not and never were the point. And that they are there for human flourishing, and that when they contradict human flourishing, you can break them, because they are like, that's not what they're for. They're not supposed to become abstractions that cause harm. And it's the same thing, like there's another story in one of the books… dang it, which book is it?
I don't know. There's a story where King Saul goes into battle without waiting for the prophet Samuel like God told him to. He was supposed to wait for the prophet Samuel to get there, and he made these sacrifices and just assumed that God would be on his side and went off into battle and lost. The point that Samuel makes to him when he gets there, is that God desires obedience, not sacrifice. He doesn't want you to turn the laws into something that's for your own profit either. He wants you to have… the point of it is, like I was saying before, is the closeness to God, is the trust, is the faith. Is all of that. Is that kind of stuff that leads to flourishing, and it's not you getting what you want, it's not you being overburdened by a bunch of rules. So there's that emotional core to Jesus's teaching that is fundamentally about love for people and not love for any sort of institutional set of rules. So in finding that specific kind of love that breaks through the rules and the institutions and all that, there's an enormous amount of flourishing to be found there I think. That's a lot of what has me… what's the word? I don't even know what the word is. Kind of enthralled by Jesus at the moment.
So here's the example for my life, and I may have to do a little bit of work to show how this connects. But before I ever dated anybody, I had this speech that I had planned in my head in various ways for anybody who I ended up in a long-term relationship with. It was basically a speech that said, “I know that you at some point, will be embarrassed or somehow ashamed of me as a disabled person in your life, and that's okay. I understand, I will have grace for that.” It's ridiculous to not see that as a defense mechanism now. It's sort of like what I had up was this wall of I can only expect so much love from people. I can only expect so much in terms of a relationship and what it can give me, and I need to tell people ahead of time that that's okay so I don't end up hurt by it.
So Gabrielle, my wife, was actually the first person that I ever dated for any really extended period of time. And I gave that speech to her one day in like a… it's not, speech is a bigger word than it is. Her reaction was kind of just like, “I don't actually think that I will be. That's probably not going to happen.” And I was like, I started thinking about all the stuff that I know about her and like she… the reason that this started to seem possible to me, is because, and Jonathan will know this, I know I knew her at that point for a long time and she backs that idea up. She is kind of one of the people that people naturally go to with some of the most difficult things in their lives, because she is so evidently not going to judge you [laughs]. She is so unembarrassed by people's difficulties and burdens and ways that they make things, like life circumstances can make things tough on other people.
But I didn't fully believe what she was saying, so I kind of, I had a couple of like, “Are you sure? Like, are you sure?” And her just continuing to say, “Yeah, I've never actually felt anything like that being with you.” At some point I just started to cry because that was literally not something that I had as a possibility in my head, because the ways that I burden other people, the inefficiencies, the things that are frustrating, the things that I can't do, that I should be able to do. All those things are frustrating to me because I take in those ableist messages from the society around me and I just assumed everybody else would feel the same way.
So feeling from Gabrielle a love that broke through those kinds of rules and those kinds of requirements that we put on each other, that are not meant to be about human flourishing, they're meant to be weights that hold people down, like Jesus says to the religious leaders, was unbelievably healing for me. So there's this song that I sent to Suzie and Jonathan today, did any of you listen to it?
Suzie Lahoud: Yes, I loved it.
Sy Hoekstra: Okay. So it’s by this guy named Frank Turner who I listen to. It's been in my head for like a few months. The song's called “Be More Kind,” and it just, it goes, “History’s been leaning on me lately; I can feel the future breathing down my neck. All the things I thought were true when I was young, and you were too, turned out to be broken and I don't know what comes next. In a world that has decided that it's going to lose its mind, be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.” Actually, I'm going to keep going because the second verse is good too [laughs]. It says, “They've started raising walls around the world now, like hackles raised upon a cornered cat. On the borders, in our heads, between the things that can and can't be said, we've stopped talking to each other and there's something wrong with that. So before you go out searching, don't decide what you will find. Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”
And I keep… he's an atheist by the way, this has nothing to do with Jesus in particular. But I have the song in my head because the emotional core behind it is so in that same vein as Jesus, I think, in terms of there's just so much happening to us individually, there's so much happening in society that is so oppressive and so problematic and so difficult and harmful to so many people in so many ways, that the thing that I just want to tell people to do is be more kind, because we just do not need any more people being less kind.
So, Mika Edmondson recently talked about how he was, he just made this offhand comment on our show about self-control. He's like, “I'm just so glad that that's a fruit of the spirit.” And I think kindness for me is the one where I'm like, we don't talk about that enough, that just kindness and gentleness are a fruit of the spirit and are not… I think we think we cannot be straightforward or frustrated or lamenting and kind all at the same time, but it's like that. That is absolutely what Jesus was. Jesus was flipping tables and saying, “Let the little children come to me,” or whatever you see as Jesus being particularly kind towards people. So that idea of we just needed more of that kindness, we needed more of that acceptance in the world that helps us flourish. I never fail to find that in Jesus, and so I think that's why I'm at where I'm at. That's a lot of talking guys. Do you have any questions [laughs]?
Jonathan Walton: I think what's interesting or what's compelling about what you were saying is that, I told myself a different story about having to marry someone or getting to marry someone, is that I was like, when I get married, they will have to leave their families to marry me. Because I remember going to my uncle's wedding and everybody on my aunt's side was not there. And I was like, well, why aren't they there? And so, because she's white and he's Black. So I grew up with the expectation that one day, if I decided to marry someone, it's very possible that they would have to choose me over their family. And I think I had that conversation multiple times with people that I was dating.
But what's different is that proved to be true in most of those dialogues. But the result of being chosen in the midst of a… so my intrinsic value being validated when extrinsically that was being shut down was transformative for me.
Sy Hoekstra: Wait, what do you mean by that — intrinsic, extrinsic?
Jonathan Walton: The extrinsic value placed upon me in society is that I am less educated, less smart, more brutish. All the things that come with being Black. Whereas intrinsically, God has made me in his image.
Sy Hoekstra: I see, okay.
Jonathan Walton: So that again, the response to the brokenness is a prepared speech thing, but the balm is relationship, and that's a transformative thing. So that resonates with what you were saying.
Sy Hoekstra: It's like the peace that — this is Lisa Sharon Harper, for you and me, Jonathan, this is definitely where we got this — but that peace and goodness and shalom being something that happens in between people and not something that happens in an individual.
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes.
Jonathan Walton: It's actually impossible for it to happen individually.
Sy Hoekstra: Because that's not what was broken. Yeah, totally. Right.
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Suzie Lahoud: Yes. Which I will say, going back to one of the first things you said, Sy. And two, I just want to say thank you for your vulnerability and sharing all of that because I do also just resonate so deeply with how personal you got. It makes me think of, I love when Henri Nouwen talks a lot in his writings about how the most personal thing is often the most universal. That, I think, it’s when we get down to that level of our greatest fears being unlovable, unloved, rejected. Like that's so, it doesn't matter who you are, that's something that I think it is, I would say probably universal, maybe almost universal. And then when someone is willing to share that with you, it's just this moment of like, oh yeah, I'm not the only one who feels that way, even though the particularities of where that comes from might differ, as you guys were just sharing.
But then also I want to go back to, Sy, when you were talking about the ability to… how did you put that, to roll your eyes at church? It was so great. And I just, I think I will come back to that in my own story because you summarized so succinctly, and so... in a very pithy way that I think is really helpful, just something that is so important, which is being willing to separate out the things that are actually of God and the things that are of people. So I think that's so important, but then also that doesn't mean we throw community out the window because as you guys were just saying, community is part of how God works in our lives and how we come to a place of flourishing and fullness and healing and Shalom.
But at the same time, the Bible doesn't teach us that people are good. It teaches us that God is good. So being able to distinguish between the two I think is often so important. So again, I think that's something I'll probably come back to later, but I just thought that was so well put and such an important piece that you brought out there.
Sy Hoekstra: Thanks.
Jonathan Walton: Why don't you go next Suzie.
Suzie Lahoud: Oh, man. Really? I thought you were going to go next [Sy laughs].
Jonathan Walton: Well, I can go, but I think I'm going to be fast. At least that's how it starts and then you open the gates [Sy laughs]. But I think in thinking about this question, the thing that… I can't say that I've had a significant crisis of faith in God. What I can say is that there have been times where I have tried to, like if I can't figure out the answers to the questions, then I will try to get away from God and he will come and get me.
So I was actually thinking about the normal things that cause Black people to quote-unquote “lose their faith.” One of the biggest things is, oh, I guess this is a white person's religion and all that stuff. But honestly, that has never been a hang-up for me. The apologetic stuff didn't really do it for me either. Those things didn’t cause me to question God, because I had such visceral experiences with God at a very young age, and we could talk about that at another podcast.
Sy Hoekstra: Those are also two completely separate questions. They're separate conversations.
Jonathan Walton: Yes.
Sy Hoekstra: The things that take Black people away from Christianity and the apologetics conversation have nothing to do with each other.
Jonathan Walton: Right. That's true. That's true. The thing that drives me away from God, and then he comes and gets me, is humanity. My experiences with God is that like, I have had very, very low moments where I don't want to go on anymore, and he comes and gets me because I've lost faith in the people around me. So when I was younger, I wrote a poem. I think it's in my first book, but it's called, “As I the Lonely Go.” It's the only time I've ever thought about killing myself, and just is life worth living? I imagined jumping off a building and what that would be like. The last line of the poem is like, “I wonder where, just where the lonely go.” And there's an inherent, I think, sense of rejection that I felt as a kid because of my dad not taking an active part in my life. So being there, but not present in my life. But when, fast forward, there was a time I was watching Finding Nemo, which is another poem about that…
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Jonathan Walton: Where God, like basically this father, Marlin is chasing his son Nemo, and God was like, “I'm chasing you like this.” And it just wrecked me. So I leave my house, I'm sitting in a field in front of our house just crying because I'm like, oh, this is how God loves me. So I think humanity consistently pushes me away from faith because I'm just like how can we hurt each other so badly all the time and things be worth it? But then God just shows up. So when Terence Crutcher was killed, I don't know why, but it just did something inside of me. I was listening to a worship song by some white woman and her words, because Terence Crutcher was killed by a white woman, I was just like, I just could not do it. I was like, “None of this is for me.”
Sy Hoekstra: CCM?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, CCM. This song, this singing, it's not for me. It's not for me. It's just like, she's not singing about me. None of this is for me at all. And God just comes in and he gets me? He's like, “You think you're trash. You are not disposable. I came for you,” you know what I mean? So I feel like humanity pushes me away from God and he consistently comes and gets me through random acts of kindness to get back at what Sy was saying about people being kind, to events and conversations. To visceral moments of like, oh, God is there, like with Finding Nemo. To conversations with Maia, where Maia looks at me, and Maia said… I wrote about this in a piece that we highlighted from the New York Times, where the writer talks about, I think it's Sam Anderson, talks about body image issues and his struggles. And I distinctly remember my cousins calling me fat at 11 years old, riding my bike down the road. I'll never forget it. And Maia looked at me in the bathroom and she was like… I was complaining about how I looked to myself. And she goes, “You're beautiful, baba.”
Sy Hoekstra: [laughing] Aw.
Jonathan Walton: You know? I think God has his ways of reminding me that he is there with me, even when humanity, even the humanity within myself would push me to think I am not valuable. Would push me to think that life is not worth it. So the lie that I believe is not that God isn't real, it's that my life isn't worth living. Like none of this is valuable. Which I know is a different question.
Sy Hoekstra: It's not. I don't think it is.
Jonathan Walton: Okay. Okay.
Sy Hoekstra: I think it's just, the way you put it was that it’s humanity, the dregs of humanity taking you away from faith, right?
Jonathan Walton: Right.
Sy Hoekstra: Taking you away from a relationship with God. It doesn't have to be renouncing the doctrines of Christianity and walking away.
Jonathan Walton: That's true. That's true.
Sy Hoekstra: You know what I mean?
Jonathan Walton: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: I even think there's some white cultural stuff in framing it that way.
Jonathan Walton: Well, that's very true. I had a conversation with my uncle, my uncle Marvin. And based on any type of catechism people probably say a lot of people I grew up with are not Christian. But if you ask any of them about Jesus and any of them about God, there is nothing more certain in their lives than that God is real. So it’s this, it's yeah, but I don't have a frame. I don't have the words to communicate the depths of faith that he has. I don't have words for the power that comes from the faith that they have.
Suzie Lahoud: I just love where this conversation has taken us, which is that our faith is rooted in the deepest parts of who we are, and God meeting us in the place of our deepest fears and hurts and insecurities and restoring those things. I just love that because it gets beyond the cerebral aspect of faith that we've kind of been critiquing a little bit. Not that it's not important to also, we're called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. So it's not that our mind doesn't play a role in that, but we're not talking about philosophical arguments for the existence of God. We're talking about God meeting us in the deepest places of our humanity and in the particularities of where we need to be loved I think.
Which makes so much sense because the Bible says that God is love. That is how we experience the manifestation of the transcendence of who and what God is. So I just love how deeply personal it is even just beyond our own stories. It's getting at the root of where we hurt and why we hurt and God being present there with us. It's Emmanuel, and I just think that's so beautiful and so powerful and so simple. Yeah, that's just something that strikes me, and thank you again to both of you for going there. I really appreciate that.
Sy Hoekstra: No problem. Let's hear yours.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. I would say similarly for me, it's interesting, it strikes me in the past going along with what you guys were sharing, it’s really been from my place of woundedness and blatant insecurity that I've kind of held onto God and sensed him holding onto me. But honestly, what strikes me the most today in terms of why today when I woke up and got out of bed in the morning, why do I still believe that God is real and present in my life? Why do I still cling to him? And honestly, I need someone who can hold it all together because I can't. I can pretend to be intelligent. I can pretend to be brave. I can pretend to know the things, to be able to critique the things. But at the end of the day, when I'm tired, when my strength fails me, when my kid is sick, when I'm out of ideas, when I'm not sure if I'm doing the thing that I'm supposed to be doing, I need to know that someone is holding me. And that someone is God. I'm blessed with an incredibly supportive and loving family and an incredible husband, but that's not what holds it together for me.
I was sharing with, Sy and I were actually talking about this. I want to share kind of a small illustration of this. We're lucky because this turned out to not be a part of our story, but we took our daughter in to see the pediatrician a couple weeks ago for some issues that she'd been having, and they made us take her in to get tested for leukemia. That was something I did not expect to have to even consider. I was not prepared. I think it's moments like that where again, you need someone who can hold it all together. No matter how brave we pretend to be, no matter how much we pretend to have it all together, who holds you up when you have nothing left? So that's God meeting me there.
And in the beautiful ways that God meets me, I think two mornings ago I woke up early because I was feeding my baby. And just seeing the traces of the sunrise, the pink on the clouds, and it made me think of, Jonathan, when you talked about delight in one of our conversations and just the power of delight. I thought, God did that without even knowing or caring maybe, that someone was going to wake up and see it, but then I got to wake up and see it. Then he let me see it, but God doesn't even just do it for me, he just does… that's delight. Just the fact that we get to glimpse traces of transcendence in our lives through moments like that. We get to try to grasp something that is just beyond our reach because I do, in my moments of doubt, very much along the lines of what you all were sharing. It’s the manmade constructions that we try to put around God. It's the way we try to box him in, fence him in, that produces doubt in me. Those are the structures that cause me to want to walk away.
But the God that breaks out of those boxes, that exists beyond those fences, that's the God that I've never really had reason to doubt. I think that's something I also want to continue to wrestle with despite my moments of doubt. I love in the Bible when it talks about Jacob wrestling with God. I feel like I come back to that so often. I want to be known as someone who wrestles with God. Yes, I have questions. Yes, I have critiques. Yes, there are things that I want to see us as a collective, as the church repent of, because I do again, believe in the communal aspect of our faith. I do believe in communal sin and communal repentance and I want to see that happen.
I feel like the prayer that I so often come back to is, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Yet every time I pray that prayer and take that, what philosophers, what Kierkegaard calls the “leap of faith” that I think is so fundamental to everyone's life, regardless of whether you say that you believe in God or the universe or whatever, it all requires that leap of faith. For me, every time I take that leap into the transcendence and infinite existence of God, he meets me and he affirms me and I just, that's something I can't walk away from.
And I appreciated Jonathan, you touching on visceral experiences you've had in your faith. And I never want to walk away from the intellectual arguments because again, I know we're called to love God with our minds as well. Yet it really is the visceral experiences as you put it. That's part of why I think I describe myself as sort of a closet Pentecostal, or almost sometimes I feel like a Christian mystic. That I just, I think God is real. Or even Jonathan, you were talking about the tradition in the Black church of just an everyday faith in God that goes beyond our white Christian apologetics. I love that song by India Arie, that I think touches on that, of “how I know that God is real. All of this is not by chance.” And just the beauty of creation.
It's the simple things that I think ground my faith in God today, and they're basic and they're particular to me, and they're also universal. They're things that I can't deny. In that sense, they're also, if I wanted to make a philosophical argument, phenomenological. But that's not why they're powerful to me. They're experiential but they're powerful to me because they're also emotional. They're also rooted in the most fundamental fabric of who I am as a human being. And every time I'm tempted to, or even try to step away from those things, I feel that I'm losing the most important piece of me, and so I can't walk away.
Jonathan Walton: Amen.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. Amen. What I think is interesting, is one way that someone could come back and like, or that a lot of people would come back and critique what you just said and what all of us have said is, is that point about you need someone to hold things together. Like people could just kind of go, oh, that's an emotional crutch…
Suzie Lahoud: Oh yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: Which is an ableist phrase in and of itself. But I think your willingness to just say, no, that actually, there is a way that I am weak here and God resolves it and I'm just fine with that because I'm not a person who's perfect and has it all together. I think that's an important bit of vulnerability. For people to just say, for you to be able to just say, no, I'm not entirely rational. To say, I do have emotional and communal and everything else needs. And I think to deny those needs is something that colonized faith and that hyper-rational, enlightened Western thinking all have in common with each other. They’re all from the same thing, the denial of any…
Jonathan Walton: Yeah.
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah. So anyways, I thought that was an interesting point, but thank you very much for sharing all that. It was, both what you said was quite powerful I thought.
Suzie Lahoud: And thank you Sy, for bringing that up, because that is the devil's advocate in my head.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah.
Suzie Lahoud: Sometimes when I'm like is my faith just my opium, to paraphrase Marx, where religion’s the opiate of the people? Do I just allow myself to be happily delusioned [sic]? I think that's where, again, that idea of the leap of faith that you, at a certain point, you will always believe in something. What you believe in, that's a different thing. Then I go back to what is this built on, what is this based on? Again, I think it needs to be cognitive, but it also should be experiential. And it also, when you get into the realm of spirituality there, again, I believe in transcendence, like there is something else going on there. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Yeah, I think you're absolutely right that that would be the critique of something like that. Yet there's a deeper truth there that I think you can't get beyond.
Jonathan Walton: I think what's interesting about what we're talking about is that I think what we are trying to do and what we're sharing, is bearing witness, which is what Jesus calls us to be, his witnesses, not his defenders.
Sy Hoekstra: Yeah, totally.
Suzie Lahoud: That’s so good.
Jonathan Walton: And when we testify, we're doing what he's called us to do. And I'm not saying apologetics is some, a-biblical heretical thing to do. That's not what I'm saying. What I am saying is if our defense is not rooted in a relationship with God, then I think we've missed something. Because I should be able to talk about the Jesus that I know, not the Jesus that I learned about, yeah, from somebody else.
Sy Hoekstra: Totally. It's the Jesus that you know and not the Jesus that you learned about from somebody else that's going to get you through the actual difficulties of life, like the actual brokenness of the world, you know what I mean? The fact that, if you can only talk about the Jesus that you learned about from somebody else, that's actually indicative of a deeper problem.
Jonathan Walton: Right. So I think like Rich Villodas, New Life, would say, “We're not called to live off of secondhand spirituality.”
Suzie Lahoud: Yeah. But I also think that the delusion piece comes in if you're not willing to look the manifestation of the practice of our faith fully in the eye. That's part of why it's so important to me to be able to be honest about the ugly things that happen in the church, and the ugly things that Christians do and have done historically. I think if our faith is authentic, we shouldn't feel like we need to, I guess it's going back exactly to what you were saying, Jonathan. We shouldn't need to feel like we have to defend it or preserve it, or protect it from itself. If it's genuine, if it's real, it can hold water in the midst of all of the nonsense that humanity wraps around it. And I think that honesty is important.
Jonathan Walton: Right. And if it doesn't hold water for X person, it will hold water for Y person and somebody, you know what I mean? Because not every testimony and everything is for everybody either. You know what I mean?
Sy Hoekstra: Yes. Which I think is actually a good kind of place to end us, because what I wanted to say was, these are our personal stories. I hope they've been helpful to you all. Thank you for sticking with us through a bit of a kind of abnormal episode for us, but we thought this would be something that would hold water for some people and in a helpful way. And also give people an idea of hopefully how we can be honest and vulnerable and how to talk about testimonies in terms of what's actually going on in our lives now, and not just some story from 20 years ago, which while it was extremely important to you, is not actually like the substance of your faith today. I think people kind of do need to learn how to do that. Like be okay with the limitedness of your own story, and also to tell your actual story as it is now [laughs].
So I think we're going to end there. Thank you two very much for having this conversation, and thank you all for listening. Please do remember if you like, appreciate what we do at all here at KTF Press, do go to ktfpress.com and consider becoming a monthly or annual subscriber. That helps us out so much, that is the best way to support us like I said. You can also go to ktfpress.com/freemonth if you want to start your subscription out with a free month.
We mentioned a couple songs. We will have links to those in the show notes in case anyone wants to listen to what Suzie or I were talking about.
As always, our theme song, “Citizens” by Jon Guerra, our podcast art is by Jacqueline Tam, and we will see you all in two weeks.
[The song “Citizens” by Jon Guerra fades in. Lyrics: “And that you’re building a city/ 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.” The song fades out.]
Sy Hoekstra: I think I will start with… can you guys hear that sound?
Jonathan Walton: No. The Holy Spirit?
Sy Hoekstra: [chuckles] Yeah, can you guys hear the Holy Spirit talking?
Suzie Lahoud: I do have my fan on in my room, is that…?
Sy Hoekstra: No, no. It's something coming from my end, I don't know what it is.
Jonathan Walton: Okay, I do, the AC is behind me.
Sy Hoekstra: It's a small squeaking. It's not…
Suzie Lahoud: [singing and Jonathan starts to beat box] It's in your head, in your head, zombie, zombie, zombie. Okay. I'm done.
Sy Hoekstra: [laughs]
Suzie Lahoud: I just had to get that out. You're welcome.
Sy Hoekstra: Those are not going to be timed with each other when the actual recordings come in to me, and we're not on a VoIP call [laughs].
Jonathan Walton: You will then take the time to make them timed. It will be great.
Sy Hoekstra: No, I won't.