20 Minute Takes

Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos on Loving Disagreement

December 06, 2023 Christians for Social Action Season 5 Episode 2
Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos on Loving Disagreement
20 Minute Takes
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20 Minute Takes
Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos on Loving Disagreement
Dec 06, 2023 Season 5 Episode 2
Christians for Social Action

This week on 20 Minute Takes, we talk with authors Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos about their new book, "Loving Disagreement".  They discuss ways to move beyond civility, to engage across difference.  Their new book, "Loving Disagreements" was released in October, 2023.

You can find Kathy  on all social media platforms:  @mskathykhang
Matt can be found at: FB: facebook.com/matthew.mikalatos

20 Minute Takes is a production of Christians for Social Action
Host and Producer: Nikki Toyama-Szeto 
Edited by: Wiloza Media
Music: Andre Henry

Show Notes Transcript

This week on 20 Minute Takes, we talk with authors Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos about their new book, "Loving Disagreement".  They discuss ways to move beyond civility, to engage across difference.  Their new book, "Loving Disagreements" was released in October, 2023.

You can find Kathy  on all social media platforms:  @mskathykhang
Matt can be found at: FB: facebook.com/matthew.mikalatos

20 Minute Takes is a production of Christians for Social Action
Host and Producer: Nikki Toyama-Szeto 
Edited by: Wiloza Media
Music: Andre Henry

[00:00:00] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Hello, this is Nikki Toyama-Szeto, I'm the Executive Director of Christians for Social Action and your host for today's episode of 20 Minute Takes. Today we talk with Kathy Khang and Matt Mikalatos. They're the authors of "Loving Disagreement: Fighting for Community Through the Fruit of the Holy Spirit."

And they're also co hosts of The Fascinating Podcast. We talk about fighting in public, what it means to stay in relationship with people who disagree, and hope for those troublesome family conversations. Join us.

Well, Kathy and Matt, thank you so much for joining us today on 20 Minute Takes. 

[00:00:56] Matt Mikalatos: Glad to be here. 

[00:00:56] Kathy Khang: Thanks for having us. 

[00:00:58] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: We don't often get a chance to talk to two folks at the same time. But Kathy, whereabouts are you and what's the place that you take out of towners when they come to visit? 

[00:01:07] Kathy Khang: So I am in the north suburbs of Chicago and when folks come in to visit, I actually do carry out because the place we love isn't necessarily known for its ambiance.

and circus, but the breads are wonderful. It is it looks like a house on the main drag through town, and it's called Thai Noodles. And in fact, I'm ordering out tonight. the usual. 

[00:01:39] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Hey, Matt, whereabouts in the country are you? And for out of towners, what's the first place you take them to? 

[00:01:44] Matt Mikalatos: So I'm in the Portland, Oregon area and a place, ah, there's so many places to go here, but one place we do like to take people is Multnomah Falls, which locally they will tell you is the second highest year round waterfall, but that's not true, but that's what everyone will say.

It's like a thing, a thing you say to tourists that is not true. So yeah, it's very entertaining. I don't know why that is 

[00:02:10] Kathy Khang: Liars. 

[00:02:11] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Welcome. We're going to lie to you. 

[00:02:13] Matt Mikalatos: Yeah. We had some friends out and they were like, is it really? Like, it's not that high and I was like, I don't know. I looked it up and I was like, huh?

No, it's not. It's like 15th or something. It's not even close. 

[00:02:25] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Oh my goodness. 

[00:02:26] Kathy Khang: Not even close. 

[00:02:28] Matt Mikalatos: It's beautiful though. 

[00:02:30] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: We're here to talk about your book. loving disagreement. And I know that sometimes in the society right now, there is a lot of disagreement. I very, very rarely see the word loving come before that. In fact, it's like feels a little dissonant, but throughout the book, you kind of there's a little bit of a repetition of this: Christians are called to be more than nice and more than civil. And I feel like a lot of folks have been pushing for civility. What is the posture for Christians in the context of disagreement?

[00:02:59] Kathy Khang: Well, gosh, I hope it is more than civility and politeness. So when the idea of the book was first broached with Matt, it was actually about civility. and kind of addressing the current times and things we have seen over history, right? So this isn't a new thing. It's just a new iteration of the thing. And and then when Matt and the editors invited me onto the project, Matt and I both agreed right off the bat that civility was just too low of a bar for Christians.

[00:03:35] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Oh, interesting. 

[00:03:36] Kathy Khang: Who say that we are transformed Being transformed daily by the Holy Spirit, that civility and politeness is the lowest part possible for all of us. And, and, and, and so here we are. 

[00:03:55] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: That's super helpful. So what is the framework? So if we're supposed to go beyond nice, beyond civil. 

[00:04:02] Matt Mikalatos: Well, we, so we started looking at different things in scripture and we were really captivated by this idea that, that Paul was talking about.

When you're fighting, there's different ways things can go. There can be biting and tearing each other to pieces. And that's if you're fighting without God, basically is what he says. And then if you keep reading, right, he, he says, but if God's involved, then you should expect that the Holy Spirit is involved and there would be fruit of that.

And so that's the framework we use is the fruit of the Holy spirit, right? So kindness, patience, love, goodness, like all these things Working together, like when we disagree, we should see peace coming out of it, not discord, things like that. Even when we disagree on really important things, which was something that Kathy and I talked a lot about because often when we're disagreeing, it's not just, Oh, should we stand or sit during worship?

Right. It's, it's what about this theological construct that you and I disagree on, but it actually matters to people's lives. 

[00:05:02] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Yeah. You know, I, I really appreciated the book and I thought the format was like super interesting to me because I'm used to having and seeing books that are like, "Oh, two perspectives on blah, blah, blah, or two points of view or four points of view on blah, blah, blah."

But it's, it always feels interesting to me because I feel like even though they might be giving different points of view or perspectives, they're usually very complimentary and they're like, "Oh, let's just fill out this thing." But there were whole sections where you all are having a disagreement, like you're pushing kind of hard back.

So it's not like this, like, "Oh yes. Like, Oh, we're getting, you know, like loving disagreement." It's like, Oh, we're just giving complimentary viewpoints. But there, I sort of feel like I'm getting to watch two folks. who have like kind of a strong relationship of trust actually asked some like pretty hard questions.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you all landed on that kind of a model? 

[00:05:54] Kathy Khang: Well, you know, we started fighting. 

[00:05:59] Matt Mikalatos: Yeah. Kathy said, let's do it this way. And I said, no. 

[00:06:04] Kathy Khang: I mean, I think we have all seen different books. Coauthored Nikki, you and I were part of a multi author book and we wanted to make sure that we weren't throwing readers into whiplash one going back and forth between voices.

And so that's why we also chose that we each would take different chapters, but then really wanted an opportunity at the end to kind of model. And show people this back and forth between people who love each other, respect one another, but are coming from a very different social location. And yes, really acknowledging that from the beginning that it is recognizing and acknowledging those differences and then coming into our conversations where we have very different experiences and sometimes we discover that we overlap.

And you can't do that. It's, it is hard to do that on paper. And so we thought we'd give it a go. Does that sound right, Matt? 

[00:07:11] Matt Mikalatos: Yeah. Well, I think what's interesting, Kathy and I love each other. And agree on a lot of things, but even our agreement, oftentimes we've come to from different places. And that's complicated too.

There are times where we might think we disagree, but we're saying the same thing different ways. 

[00:07:27] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Interesting. 

[00:07:28] Matt Mikalatos: And some of, some of what we're doing when we're pushing hard on each other's points of view is we're actually curious and interested in each other's point of view and want to learn from each other and understand each other.

And I, I think that's an important piece of it as well. 

[00:07:41] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Yeah, I really appreciate it. As well, I think maybe Kathy was in the introduction when you were, you kind of called on some things, you know, like, if this is making you feel uncomfortable, like, welcome. What other advice would you have for folks?

Because I have to admit, I think I come from kind of a low conflict context. And so, like, I felt a dissonance as I was reading the book because I was hearing these two points of views. Like, I was like, oh, like, will this resolve? Who knows? For someone, like, a reader like that, what advice would you give? 

[00:08:13] Kathy Khang: To stay.

To stay in that, in, to stay in that dissonance and to name what it is that you are feeling or experiencing, or the questions you have, or why this feels unfamiliar, because I think that is also the invitation to walk into what the Holy Spirit might be doing in our culture, in our lives, in the moment.

That it isn't always easy. Being transformed is, in theory, sounds maybe like, "Oh, this should be easy. I'm just kind of magically whisked off into some other space or way of being" but I have found that that's never the case that I'm like, kicking and screaming into transformation and and so I want, I'm hoping readers will put the book down.

Maybe name some of the questions they have. Why, why is it that this sentence bothers you? Have you never heard someone say these things? Why is that? And then come back to the book with a little more trust, hopefully in us as authors, that we are leading you to a place where we have also and are continuing to be led.

[00:09:37] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: That's really helpful. I wish that I had heard that earlier and I wouldn't have thrown the book. 

[00:09:43] Matt Mikalatos: Oh no! 

[00:09:46] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: I had to buy another one, so that's when the, you know, the sales are doubling, so. 

[00:09:49] Matt Mikalatos: Oh, it's working. 

[00:09:50] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: I know that some authors have described an experience where, as they are writing particular chapters or that sort of a thing, that there's a way that God sort of makes that content come alive, that they sort of have to live through, live out some of their writings.

Either of you have that experience as you're doing that, can you tell us a little bit about that? 

[00:10:10] Matt Mikalatos: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I would say two things. One, writing this together with Kathy was absolutely delightful because we would each go write our own chapter and then give it to each other to tear apart and talk about and ask questions.

And so there was this discovery process and writing your own book where someone else wrote something wise and insightful and interesting, Kathy. And then I would get to learn from it as I was writing, which was really cool. And I think the other thing, Kathy and I both talked about this. Was that as I was writing and reflecting on what scripture actually says about this.

I kept going. Oh, no Someone's gonna hold me accountable to this when I'm disagreeing with people in the future when I'm online and they're like well Matt that didn't seem very kind the way you interacted So there was that feeling where I was like, oh the Holy Spirit is here speaking to me about the way I'm currently disagreeing with people that was convicting and I think insightful from the Lord.

And yeah, I don't know. What, what about you, Kathy? Did you experience that or something? 

[00:11:16] Kathy Khang: Absolutely. And, and in our final push to get the manuscript done, I actually was isolated with COVID and and was trying to about patience and really struggling with with so many layers of that testing positive for like 10 days in a row and and feeling very unsettled about how this would be received, this book would be received. There was a sense of I have to finish this. There's not enough time, but I also need to be patient with myself and my body and the world is burning at the same time and kind of holding all of those realities. intention. I felt really stretched actually as a writer. And I think at one point I was like this is just the first version.

So we're just, I'm just going to send it. I feel like I, I have no more words. And and I feel like that is, that's part of the transformation, right? We don't, we don't come out at the end of this fully formed and fully, holy in that way. And so I felt like even in the process, it was like, ugh, fine, fine.

[00:12:42] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Have you seen any difference in your disagreements from what your disagreements might have looked like either between the two of you or just disagreements that you have in other places or in public spaces? But have you seen any difference or, or, or how has the process of writing and kind of going deep in this?

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. idea of loving disagreements shaped or changed or maybe only reinforced and deepened how it is that you have disagreements? 

[00:13:09] Kathy Khang: I, as Matt mentioned, there is this I don't know, fear, trepidation of our words being thrown back at us at some point. Used as fuel for disagreement. And used as.

weapons much like the Bible has been used. And so there's, there's, there's a level of that. And there's also a level of my family knows that I have spent the better part of two years trying to bring this into the world. And just a couple of weeks ago, Peter and I, my husband and I were out on a hike.

And and it was not a fabulous hike. It started raining. We were unprepared. We ran into a bison. We got a little lost, found ourselves off trail, managed to get back. All of these things all within a couple hours. And we were reflecting and I said, this is the kind of experience that would have led to an all out fight earlier in our marriage.

And with the wisdom and experience of 30 years behind us, all we can do is laugh hysterically because it was so ridiculous. Instead of pointing at each other and this is your fault or this is why did we do it this way? Or you said this, it really, and I think it reinforced the idea that anything we write is not an immediate change in any just like anything that I have read in scripture over time, hopefully haunts me in a good way.

And so I've been thinking a lot about that, that what are, what are the things I've read who are the people who have spoken into my life that have shaped me and Peter so that you know two weeks ago instead of not speaking to each other in anger we are still laughing about that hike and I hope that our words are will be that for someone.

[00:15:21] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Hmm. How about you, Matt? 

[00:15:25] Matt Mikalatos: Yeah. I've been thinking a lot about if we really believe that the Holy Spirit brings transformation in our lives and the lives of others who are really following God. And if that's the case, how do I stay in community with people I disagree with until the Holy Spirit makes clear which of us is wrong?

Because a lot of times one of us is and, and, you know, there's so many complexities with that. If the other person's doing harm, if I'm the right person to be in that relationship, but the question is, can I, can I hang in, can I find this healthy, loving place of community? To continue in relationship and disagreement as we are both transformed.

And I, I think that's such a challenging thought when I start turning it toward individuals in my life. But it's also this really hopeful thought, like what if God is actually changing us both? Wouldn't that be nice? And maybe we can be a part of that journey together. And I think that that might be something beautiful instead of something terrible.

[00:16:31] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Hmm. Can you say more about why it is that we should hang in there or make sure we have these connections to folks with whom we disagree? 

[00:16:40] Matt Mikalatos: Sure. Yeah, I, I think there's a danger, right? As we, so I'll use fundamentalism as an example, not fundament, not Christian fundamentalism, but fundamentalism as a system.

[00:16:51] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Okay. 

[00:16:51] Matt Mikalatos: What, what fundamentalism does is says there are certain things that must be true for all of us that we must all agree on. And then you build a wall and anyone outside the wall is not part of your community. And then the fundamentalist instinct is to say, "Okay, we're all the same in here. There's a hundred of us."

And then you go, "Now let's add another rule, another thing you must agree on." And then you build another wall closer in, and there's 10 more people on the outside. And you keep doing that over and over and over until you get a very small, very insulated community. And this is true in fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist politics.

It doesn't matter. But I think what happens in Christianity, as you start doing that, is what you're actually doing is cutting yourself off from the body of Christ. And what ends up happening, you know, if we're sticking with the metaphor, is you're like, everyone must be a hand if you're going to follow Jesus.

And then pretty soon it's just a fingernail. And then what are you? You're no longer doing what you're meant to do. You're no longer helping the body. The body's no longer helping you. And I think that's the danger, is that we see our function in the body as definitive of following Jesus. And then we don't get the benefits of the body, and the body doesn't get the benefits of what we bring to the community either.

[00:18:07] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Oh, wow. Wow. One of the things that I appreciated was you all recognized that our society kind of gives different permission to different types of people for how they have disagreements in public. And Kathy, I appreciated that you kind of called out that You know, that there's a way that Matt might be able to get a little further with kind of a kindness, civility, sort of an orientation, but that some of the feedback that you've received either as a woman or as a person of color has been about like, "Hey, why don't you try to do that a little bit nicer?"

Can you tell us a little bit about? about navigating some of the different permissions that folks have and and how that affects kind of public disagreement. 

[00:18:49] Kathy Khang: Well, even to what Matt had shared, and we talk a little bit about this, write a little bit about this in the book, is that I, I put a caveat in there for people of color that there are times where it is very much appropriate for us to leave

spaces and when those relationships are doing harm and and that I rely on people like Matt to stay in spaces that are not actively seeking harm against me about against my communities and people I care about and that at some point the most loving thing I can do in that relationship is to leave because that work is not for me to do and I will trust that the Holy Spirit is working and that other people are in that relationship.

Then that does come to your question, which is. You know, there's the, there's the trope of the angry Black woman there, you know, there is the stereotype of the kind of the sexualized Asian woman. And, and all of those, those biases, the stereotypes, the racism misogyny is built into our culture, whether or not you are a believer.

And if we don't address those, they come out. In comments like, "Hey, lady, smile a little," right? I mean, how many women have gotten that as we're walking along? And and so we realize in our writing and in our friendship and the going back and forth is that there are times and the way we interact, even online is very different because of of who we are and our social location.

And so again, the book is not a prescriptive, right? Like this isn't the four ways to do X, but it is very much like, "Oh, well, so we've approached it this way. And Matt and I have both changed our minds on X, but this is how we came to be." We came to change our minds because people who differed with us stayed in relationship with with us.

And they listened to our questions and they fostered that relationship. And some people probably left relationship with me because I was causing harm. And so I think that that's really the core of that. Like, yes, I know even recently have been called abrasive, which is so funny to me because when people know and interact with me, they're like, What?

You're really weird and goofy. But I think that there are all sorts of ways, you know, we read into how we present ourselves on social media or, you know, an author is like this, whatever. But the reality is if I don't smile, people will think one thing or another of me. And it's, it's different. Matt and I will enter into a room and people And this is very normal.

We'll make assumptions. So we are trying to invite people to stop making assumptions. Especially Christians. 

[00:22:19] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: You brought up social media. Can you please tell us something about loving disagreement in the context of social media? Or do we just like say, no, that's just not the place for that. 

[00:22:32] Matt Mikalatos: I, I would say Kathy and I, same thing because of who we are and our just publicly what people assume about us, we actually have relatively different approaches.

To social media in a variety of ways. One is, as has already been mentioned, I can get things just by being polite or even just being present that people of color or women or women who are people of color cannot. So there are times when there's a conversation that is going sideways with a woman of color that I can just step into the conversation, just be present in it.

And it alters the conversation, which is, I mean, we can say that's privilege, right? And there's power in that and it can be misused or used well. And I think that affects the way that I look at a disagreement or how much energy it's going to take me to deal with something on the internet that's problematic.

It's a really different experience for me. At the same time, there are spaces that are my spaces. Not MySpace. I mean, I'm on MySpace, but that's just leftover, right? I'm thinking, yeah, right. I'm thinking about, like, my Facebook wall is a place that, I think of it as my living room. And my rule is if you wouldn't say that to my friend in my living room, if I wouldn't allow that, then you can't say it on my wall.

And I'll tell you that, I'll kick you out, I'll delete you, whatever it takes, I have an expectation of behavior in that place just as I would in the real world. And I think that's something, you know, I'm working on still, is how do I, different platforms have different tools and ways of interacting.

But yeah, I, I think just the fact of my, who I am, my social location alters how I interact in a way that Kathy's not able to sometimes interact the way I do. 

[00:24:18] Kathy Khang: Or even get the same result. 

[00:24:20] Matt Mikalatos: Right. Right. 

[00:24:20] Kathy Khang: Even if I try, I'm not going to get the same result. You know, I think Nikki, you and I go way back. And so we've had different kinds of experiences as social media has changed and evolved.

I would say I am of the camp that says if you make a public mistake, the public sphere, the social media sphere is a fair place to call that out and to call you in into relationship and change and conversation. And I know there are folks who disagree with me. I get a lot of that.

Christians are like, Oh, you should take that privately. But I am a firm believer that if you are a person with a social media presence and do something, post something, say something online, online is also the space in which you can be called in. And maybe that is where I've gotten part of my reputation.

And I fully embrace that as one who has found that although social media can be a huge dumpster fire it is also one of the few spaces where I have been able to be me and not always worry about censoring myself or trying to smile and be polite and, and create that living room experience in the places that I'm occupying.

[00:25:49] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: I love that that kind of, you both mentioned this, this living room and sort of this like hospitable space that holds this space for disagreement. Not that, you know, it creates it. I would say the other place that our listeners think of a lot in terms of a place of contentiousness and disagreement is with very close family members related to politics.

Any thoughts? Any advice? A lot of people are just avoiding it. And is that just, is that what loving disagreement is? 

[00:26:24] Matt Mikalatos: That's a good question. I think what's interesting there, right, is when you're avoiding it, what you're doing is you're saying, I'm going to preserve this relationship. There, for many of us, family, we're, we're like, we're always gonna be in relationships, so we have to be careful how we disagree, which is really fascinating. I don't know. I don't know long term that that's healthy, especially because families kind of know where each other fall most of the time. I think as someone that I love a lot, that at one point got caught up in sort of anti- immigration stuff and was saying, "Oh, I, What is going on with all these people coming into our country?"

And this is a person who I know for a fact in the past was inviting immigrants into their home for meals. And, you know, I just said to them, that's really weird to me. Like you love immigrants. Why are you saying that? And that was, that was loving disagreement, I think. And they were like, Oh yeah, why am I saying that?

They just got caught up in this like propaganda. Right? And I think the great thing about long term relationship is that we have many, many, many opportunities to disagree. It doesn't have to be a war every time. It can just be a quiet. Like, careful, here's where I am, just a reminder, you hate that political party, I'm in that political party. You know, I don't know. There's time, I think, to get there, together. 

[00:27:44] Kathy Khang: And it's choosing when those conversations happen, I think, you know? I think as we get get to the holidays and things like that people dread, but I also think holidays are not necessarily the time Nor allow for the space to have those conversations.

And so I would say sometimes the most loving thing you can do is find what works in your family system, right? Are there you know, do you get together regularly for a meal? Do you go, you know, Take walks? I don't know, but there are those places in which you can have some conversations that don't have to include all of the cousins.

And I think, right, I think, I think that's, that's the hard part about is the disagreement between you and a single person or is it you and like the entire table and the kids table in the other room? 

[00:28:39] Matt Mikalatos: I think that question of harm comes up again, too, though, like when you have the family member who has strong opinions about gender dysphoria, but you have someone in the family with gender dysphoria.

That really alters the calculus, right? Because you're like, I need to protect this other family member. I need to make sure the one that's, you know, bigoted on this topic recognizes the damage they're doing to this other person we both love. Like, I think that may alter things. You know, maybe Thanksgiving meal is probably still not the place you want to talk about it, but it may alter when and how quickly you want to talk about it.

[00:29:14] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: Yeah, I totally appreciate how You all helped us frame not just who's uncomfortable or who's experiencing harm, but also recognizing that some of these words that are being said are actually harming somebody else. And that, so doing something that might feel rude or abrasive is actually an an act of loving disagreement.

On behalf of somebody who is sort of hurt into silence. So I think all of these different shifts were for me really helpful. Thank you so much for putting this book out into the world. It is so timely may more of our disagreements be loving and be bearing the fruit of both deep relationship and community as well as the Holy spirit.

But thank you so much for both. Modeling that out, and and also showing us a bit about how you all are journeying on that. Thanks for joining us. 

[00:30:01] Matt Mikalatos: Thanks.

[00:30:10] Nikki Toyama-Szeto: 20 Minute Takes is a production of Christians for Social Action. Our music was created by Andre Henry, and this episode was mixed and engineered by Wiloza Media. If you liked this episode, spread the word by subscribing, reviewing, or sharing. I'm your host, Nikki Toyama-Szeto. If you want to find out more about our work, visit the website at ChristiansForSocialAction. org.