I Refuse to Refuse Anyone.

November 24, 2015 — 2 Comments


Photo by Angel He

At the hospital, we had a training session from a fellow chaplain about how to approach the LGBT community.

We needed this: because no matter how “open-minded” or “tolerant” a person might claim to be, from atheist to Buddhist to liberal Christian, there’s always a stigma about the unknown. And when it comes to medical care, we can’t flinch.

We were told about an incident in another state where some paramedics were cracking up in the ambulance over a transgender woman, and because of their neglect, the woman coded and died. The mother won a lawsuit: but who really wins in that sort of thing?

Then another story, about a transgender woman who was locked up in a van with saran wrap and left to die in the Florida heat – and she died in the hospital. The doctor went to her family, who had been supportive of her choices, and graciously asked, “What name does your child go by?” And from that point on, the doctor used her chosen name and the correct pronouns, and it was this little bit of dignity that made a huge difference for the deceased woman’s family.

I started thinking, If we can accord this sort of dignity at death: why can’t we do it when they’re alive?

Because it shouldn’t take sickness or dying or death for someone to be a whole person worthy of such value.

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Photo from worshipgifs

Anonymous asked a question:

Sometimes I get really angry at the Western-Protestant church for our consumerism in Christianity and how we base our worship services on emotional highs and raise our hands to the bridges and hooks of songs, out of emotion, and neglect the God they are being sung to.

Hey dear friend, I get mad about that, too. There’s a lot of strange fakery out there and I think people are catching on.

Here’s one thing I’d gently like to suggest, and as I have no pastoral authority with you and I’m just a stranger online, you may please feel free to dismiss what I’m saying and to disagree. I hope you will hear me with a pure heart of grace and love for you.

I absolutely believe you’re coming from a genuine place of desiring authenticity. The only thing is, I wouldn’t want that to make you run the opposite way against a certain subculture or a group of people, as if “I’m not gonna be like those Christians” is going to help. I can promise you with guaranteed certainty that it will not.

Consumerist Christianity is bad; emotionalism is bad; legalism and fundamentalism is bad; those are true sentiments. But at times these sincere convictions can filter the way we see all of church, so that by slow degrees we begin to think buildings are bad, programs are bad, techniques are bad, schedules are bad, and let’s not do it like those guys with big speakers and jumbotrons, and we’ll show them what it really looks like, and I’m so anti-institutional and counter-cultural, and I’m so over the plastic manufactured Sunday machine, and let’s be organic and “get back to our roots.” This is such a common temptation to every Christian that I’m sure it’s Satan’s favorite game-plan.

An over-desire to be “purist” is still idolatry. It’s exactly how Satan fractures the church so that Christians will bicker and grumble at each other instead of looking past the box and getting into the battlefield.

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Pain is not a lesson

My book on persevering through pain is on sale for only 1.99 this week.

One reviewer says, “My favorite passages from the book include Hijacking And Reclaiming Jeremiah 29:11, Our Hollywood Craze To Live An Epic Life, and The Problem With Job: As We Bleed, We Find Our Deepest Need. Sound intriguing just from the titles? You better believe it. These passages floored me – I often caught myself reading this and thinking how someone seemed to understand this little aspect of my heart and soul that had been secretly struggling for so long.”

Another reviewer says, “J.S. Park deals with this very difficult and heart wrenching subject in a very honest, heartfelt book with his beautiful and profound thoughts; his heartbreaking poignant honesty; biblical verses, stories, theology, and principles; and with his own and others’ moving stories of where God breaks in during their own pain and struggles. This book is a treasure and I think it is his best book.”

And another: “When life takes a nosedive and your heart is breaking daily, you’re crying on your shower floor, you’re angry, confused, and everything feels like a distant fog … J.S. meets you in THAT place.”

Writing this one meant a lot to me as it contains real stories from real people with heartache, loss, and (not-so-easy) redemption. I often recounted these stories with tears and prayers. May you be blessed, dear friends.
— J.S.

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The hard part is that when you decide not to call on lesser idols to numb your hurt and you finally reach out to God, suddenly you’re inside the pain. It’s all there. You can’t do anything to hide it anymore. It seems like a terrible idea.

One of the toughest things about excruciating pain is that it’s embarrassing. There’s a humiliating stench of astonishment that this is happening to me. It’s malheur, or a pain about your pain. If you live with it long enough, you’ll begin to identify yourself by your hurt, as if this is your only value. It’s understandable, because it takes up so much space in your mind. It’s no wonder why we’re tempted to run to everything else.

The pain is blinding. But — blinding ourselves to the pain is even worse. In doing so, we erase ourselves down to the bottom.

So then: Calling out to God is remembering who you are.
Remembering where you come from.
Remembering what you were made for.
Remembering that you are not your pain.

Most of all, remembering who He is.

This will look different for everyone. It could mean taking a long drive to the shoreline. It could mean standing over the sea in total silence. It could mean opening your Bible to Isaiah 40 or Psalm 23. It means asking a friend to hot chocolate and hearing you out. It means actively seeking encouragement and community, because 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” It means journaling, or busting out your guitar, or crying for a long time, or having an intense conversation with yourself. It means finding a need and serving that need. It means finding an older brother or sister and asking for wisdom on what to do next. It means dressing your Sunday best and singing at church at the top of your lungs, in hot tears and laughter.

A lot of this might feel rote and mechanical. You might not feel like doing any of it, and I don’t mean to add another burden on your hurt.

I just know that for a moment, when I can trace the sunbeam back to the sun, I remember who I am. It doesn’t make me instantly whole. It doesn’t solve things today. It’s often just a brief glimpse. But when I return to the heart who made me, I momentarily find something stronger than my pain. It is stronger than everything else that calls my name.

This is a difficult thing to do. It’s not merely psychological re-arrangement, because it requires getting up. It requires tapping into a very fine frequency, which is there for a flash and gone. But it’s there.

You might have even been on the other side of this and helped someone else remember. Maybe you took someone to lunch and listened to them without interruption for an hour. You made actual eye-to-eye contact, and you never knew, but you changed the course of that person’s day from driving off a cliff. You randomly volunteered. You wrote a thank you note. You picked up a call from a distant friend. You wrestled with someone’s questions, maybe not even fully paying attention, but you stayed with it to the end.

You didn’t know, but you were part of the frequency.
Once in a while, God breaks in. He reminds us of beauty. The pain doesn’t stop, but there’s a joy in the middle of it, just loud enough to remember.
We can break in, too.
You can pray. You can sing. You can seek others. You can visit home in His Word.

It is painful, sloppy, and scary. It’s not easy to turn our internal axis to Him, especially in hard times. But by slow, stumbling degrees, I can breathe Him in — and He is the only air that fills these crumpled lungs.
I remember: we’re not home yet.

J.S. Park | Mad About God

I got an incredibly humbling email from a wonderful therapist who read my book on persevering through pain and used it for a book club with other therapists. She also shared her journey through some very hard times. I wept reading her email, both tears of sorrow and joy. With her permission, I now share her testimony with you.

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X3Church 3 lessons marriage

Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:
3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage.”

It’s about three hugely important lessons I learned early in my marriage that I’ll need for life.

It was originally posted here and has also been published in the revised edition of my first book, What The Church Won’t Talk About.

Here’s an excerpt:

Marriage means your stuff isn’t your stuff anymore.

In our first week, we didn’t fly off to the honeymoon, which was another two weeks away. We spent time unpacking, opening wedding gifts, frolicking in our new home, and merging our lives together. About five days in, I wanted to meet up a friend to hang out, one of the groomsmen in the wedding.

I neglected to tell this to my wife. This is one of those very obvious things that I should’ve knew from the get-go, but in my defense, I’m an idiot.

Marriage is about Two-As-One, as We instead of Me. My time was no longer my own. It was our time. Our things. Our bank account. Our bed. Again, this sounds obvious, but I’ve spoken with so many singles and unmarried couples who were dismayed at the idea of splitting a life in half. No one is quite prepared to completely surrender unilateral decisions. We quickly learn why Apostle Paul compared our relationship with God to the marriage union — because we are entrusting our will with another.

The wonderful advantage is that rather than “splitting in half,” it actually feels more like a merging of strength. Our individual abilities can make up for each other’s weaknesses. Our knowledge and our view on life is suddenly augmented with an entirely new angle. By the end of the week, I was figuring out what she would want and why, which helped my tiny brain to open to new avenues I had never considered.

Read the full post here!

— J.S.


I was seven years old when I got in my first street fight in the only tenements that my parents — struggling poor Koreans they were — could afford. I had fought a much older single mother and lost. To my credit, she started it. At twelve years old, I decided I was an atheist. At fourteen, my parents divorced, as if to confirm that God couldn’t exist. At sixteen, I had my first drop of an ensuing ocean of alcohol. That same year, I went to what they called a “Gentleman’s Club” and stumbled upon a terrible addiction. By nineteen, I had lost my college scholarship and dropped out with a 0.9 GPA. By twenty-two, I had swallowed a bottle of pills over the girl I was living with, who had cheated on me twice. I spent time in what they call a “mental institution,” which was perhaps an improvement over the Gentleman’s Club.

I understand these problems do not compare to those of the world over: but the contrast was that I hardly felt anything. I was following the latest, loudest emotion, just the exit ramps to the bigger neon sign. And soon I was staring into the mouth of a senseless life with little purpose and no meaning — and it was all rather hilarious.

In my apprehension towards all-things-God, I would stay up until three in the morning watching the ceiling fan, knowing there was more to life than the empty vacuum of sweaty drunk faces and the smear of red-and-blue cop car lights. At some point in college I was certain that God was at least a real being, if only because I had looked into the face of nothingness and knew that no one could possibly sustain a life in that direction. But I didn’t want there to be a God, not with a capital G. It was horrifying to think so. It was crazy to think I couldn’t call my own shots and that I was somehow not the main character of my own existence.

I went to church anyway. Quite faithfully, too. I got caught up in the music, the messages, the social fervor, that moment after the sermon in the lobby when no one talks about the sermon. I started bringing my friends by the dozens because I was good at that sort of thing. And somewhere along the line, almost imperceptibly by degrees, I started hearing the messages. I really started listening. I heard about a God who loves us and became one of us and died for us and defeated death and invited us into the best relationship there is. Not a God who gives us everything we want, because that would be no better than Santa Claus with a pager. But a glorious, grand, dynamic, pulsating God, who was writing this incredible drama with His Son at the apex of history and letting us all in. Even letting me in. Almost by accident, to my growing disdain, I was feeling alive for the first time.

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My mom and dad came to this country separately over thirty years ago and met in New York City, where they were married; my dad came to the U.S. with sixty dollars in his single pair of pants, and my mom couldn’t speak a word of English.  My dad was a Vietnam War Veteran, 2nd Lieutenant in the R.O.K. Army on the side of the U.S., and the only escaped prisoner of war from the Tet Offensive in 1969.  He’s also a licensed veterinarian and a Grand Master of Tae Kwon Do, a ninth degree black belt, the 54th 9th degree in the world.

Before my parents divorced when I was fourteen, my mom owned a laundromat and a grocery store next door to each other and would run back and forth between them to serve customers; sometimes she took old clothes that people left behind because we were too poor to afford any. My dad owned a martial arts dojo and mopped the entire floor every morning, then taught four classes in the evenings almost all in Korean.  Between the two of them, they worked almost 200 hours per week and slept maybe three hours per night.

One summer, someone spraypainted a swastika on the front wall of the dojo. My dad painted over it, but on those hot humid days, we could still see that Nazi symbol like an angry pulsing scar.

We got a message on our answering machine — maybe the same Nazi artists — who spent a good ten minutes making fun of my dad’s accent. I remember seeing my dad listen to it several times, staring quietly out a window. When he noticed me, he turned it off and said, “Just boys playing a joke.” The voices were from grown men.

When we visited with friends, we felt the invisible walls of cliques and class between us.  We were aliens from another world, just a foreign prop in the hero-story of the Westerner.  I was the token Asian.  When I visit churches, I still am.  Christians feel proud to know me because I meet their diversity quota; my other friends are proud to know me because they can make Asian jokes and explain, “Don’t worry, I have an Asian friend.”

In elementary school, when I first made friends and came over, I would immediately take off my shoes and bow to their parents.  I remember freaking out the first time I saw a fork.  I asked for two sticks to eat my food, and they said, “No, you can stab your food now.”  I still slightly bow to people as a reflex, and I still don’t get forks.

When I meet native Koreans from my own country, they call me kyopo, which is a slang term for misplaced native.  They make fun of my heavy American accent when I try to speak Korean.  They’re surprised I’m taller than them and say, “It must be hormones in the McDonald’s.”  They think I’m arrogant because I watch American TV shows and I have a blog written entirely in English.

I live in two worlds. I do not fully embody either, yet belong to both.

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About a year ago, I donated half my salary to charity to fight human trafficking.  I had saved for the entire year to make one check for $10,000.

I don’t say this to brag, at all.

I say this because I’m a selfish person.  I love comfort, my shiny things, the safety of a new gadget and adding things to my wish list.  I am naturally lazy and indulgent and self-absorbed.

But I also believe in a God who humbled Himself to become one of us.  I believe in a God who paid an infinite price to set us free.  I believe in a God who wrote Himself into the story of humanity to enter our struggle, to lead us into life, and to ultimately exchange our brokenness for grace.

Because I believe in a God who has this sort of heart —

I am compelled to have the same heart for others.

The selflessness of God utterly melted my selfishness to pieces.  His grace tenderized my conceited heart.  I gave my life away because God did the same for me.

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Image from http://couragehopestrength.tumblr.com

I was going through followers the other day and noticed some blogs that were “last updated 6 months ago” or longer. There were a lot of these.

Maybe they got bored or distracted or busy — but my guess is they probably didn’t get the huge number of likes and follows and reblogs they were expecting, and just gave up.

Please don’t do that. There are very few things we do consistently in this life. We’re quick to jump from island to island of halfway commitment. Taking a break is totally okay: but I exhort you to persist in sharing your one unique voice with the world community.

If you’re about to jump ship: please do NOT bail on your blog. Do what you must — take a sabbath, go on hiatus, commune with nature, restore relationships, try new things — but come back and tell us about it.

It doesn’t matter if you only have a few readers. You’re not doing it for that. And even if you were, those few people who follow you might really be encouraged by what you have to say. You might be the only one saying it.

But more than that: your blog is a captured snapshot of your one fleeting transitory life, like the dust mote suspended in a sunbeam that shimmers for a spectacular moment in time. It is beauty wrapped in expression, and you are putting something into the world that no one else can. God made you for it.

So keep sharing. Keep making art. Keep writing music. Keep taking pictures. Keep encouraging others. In some small way: you are healing your part of the universe. You are needed more than you know. You are making a bigger impact than you think.

— J.S.

As he cursed up a storm and lit his next cigar, he says to me, “I’m not like those other Christians.  I actually get it.”

Suddenly I’m nervous.  I didn’t get what he was getting.  He must be talking about me: I’m one of those stupid Christians who is missing it and doing it wrong.  How did I not get it all this time?  This cigar-smoking man had the truth.  Thank God!  Tell me more. 

The man went on about megachurches, how doctrine is not that important, how most sermons suck, how pastors don’t have a clue, how he wanted to teach churches how to be a good church.

I wanted to take notes, but then I thought he would say, “Only those stupid Christians do that.”  I started playing with a napkin.  He noticed, so I stopped.

He continued. I looked up for a second and this huge cloud had opened up.  Right then, I thought of Jesus listening in on us — and I became pretty sad about the whole thing.  Like you know, Jesus went through that cloud and became one of us and died for us, and all we could really say was, “I’m not like this other guy.”

I told the cigar-smoking man I had to go home.  I felt sick.  Some from the cigar, but mostly because of my heart. 

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Image from HD4 Wallpapers

If you ever met me, you would think I was an extrovert — I preach, I lead praise, I talk to everyone, I talk too much, and you can hear me laughing from across the street — but I am a full-blooded introvert.

If it were up to me, I’d rather be in my boxers all day eating Godiva while browsing food photo blogs and bothering my dog and cracking up at YouTube videos of Whose Line Is It Anyway and leaving dry ironic comments all over Facebook while reading the latest theory on how Sherlock survived the second season finale. 

I intensely guard my personal space and my private life.  It takes a herculean effort to step outside my comfort zone and interact with messy, fleshy, real live human beings.

Here’s how you handle us.

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Image from Hooki

Ever prayed more for someone just because they’re hot?

Come on, I’ve done that too. Let’s not act like we’re above judging looks here. We give more cred to someone based on their defined jawline and bigger bra size than their less tangible patience and hospitality and compassion.

A very fleshy part of our human nature presumes that good-looking people are also just good, or that less good-looking people don’t really count somehow.

In church it’s easy to ask for prayer requests from the well-off, well-dressed, clean-cut, easily approachable mid-twenties demographic. Not the weird cat lady off the street, not the dude with the one rotten tooth who talks up a storm, not the pale socially awkward kid who says dorky things.

Most Christian books have the same problem: they’re geared to that same easygoing group of believers who attend the same megachurch in a crimeless suburban gated neighborhood with the sparkling 2.5 kids and Hollywood acceptable appearance, but they have nothing to say for the sick struggling screwed-up former addict who can’t find a job because he just “looks wrong.”

Wired into all our unaware brains is the deception that appearance means more than it should: but if I could give you a pair of X-ray goggles, you’ll see a bunch of skeletons with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions, anxieties, and worries that everyone else has too.

That seventeen year old pimply kid who loves Call of Duty is the same bag of meat and bones as the athletic football captain with the perfect hair; that girl who everyone hates because of her so-called overweight body could just as easily have been the same girl with the slightly higher cheekbones who runs the gang of cheerleaders. You can honk your car horn at the punk teenager on his skateboard crossing the street, but wave at the old lady on her walker: when both are just people who run deeper than what you see.

Take a Spiritual X-Ray and we all have the same vacuum of eternity within our souls with the same desperate longing inside. You and I could do way better than our visual addiction to all things sight, and instead see by vision.

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Photo by H.T. Yu, CC BY 2.0

An ongoing discussion about victory over sexual addiction.

Recent Edit: October 23rd, 2015
– My book on quitting porn addiction is in paperback for only $6.10 and e-book for 2.99 on Amazon! It’s been officially endorsed by Craig Gross of X3Church. It contains this entire series of posts plus brand new info, fully updated and fleshed out, with specific steps to quit.

My podcast series “Cutting It Off” — here.

Why Do I Use Porn? Why Can’t I Stop? Here.

Every question submitted about porn on this blog, here.

**Updated: May 2013

For the podcast episode based on this post, click here.

The science behind porn addiction will not surprise you.  It can be easily mocked as apocalyptic research with an old-fashioned bias, but excuses to use porn are also biased by the hand down your pants. Objective evidence of pornography’s effects has one goal: to show how much porn screws up your brain. For some that will be enough to quit.

Obviously, something serious is happening in the neurology of a person who will not stop using porn.  Constant exposure to graphic, unreal, out-of-bounds sex doesn’t just go in one hand and out the other (bad pun). Like the heroin addict or the gambler or the alcoholic, several key things are happening.

Much of the following research is borrowed and not my own. Please keep in mind that the term “addiction” is a serious term and might or might not apply to you, but it’s worth investigating. I don’t mean to over-dramatize here or make a big show of scientific language, but porn use does have a particular undeniable effect on the brain.

Sources include Craig Gross’ Pure Eyes, Eyes of Integrity, and Dirty Little Secret, and William Struther’s Wired For Intimacy. I’ve read and re-read these important resources and highly recommend them to you.  There is also Michael Leahy’s Porn Nation, Mike Wilkerson’s Redemption, Tim Chester’s Closing The Window, and David Powlison’s tiny booklet Slaying The Dragon. Where possible, I’ve tried to research articles and current news behind pornography and the porn industry. And of course, there is personal experience with addiction plus countless hours spent with young and old porn addicts.

The Addict’s Path:

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Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number ten. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I worry a lot about getting jaded in the hospital.

Sometimes it looks like no one cares in there.

This trauma alert came in, a married couple who had been assaulted. The husband was hit by a two-by-four and the wife had a black eye — but the doctors and nurses were upset that the incident wasn’t more serious. The usual frantic pace of the trauma team was replaced by eye-rolling. One of the nurses yelled, “Boring.” Someone yawned really loud. Two doctors ripped off their gloves and stormed out. The couple was downgraded to another part of the hospital. I visited the couple, and they couldn’t speak English, and part of me was grateful for that.

There was an even worse situation, when a man’s heart had stopped and his chest was cut open and a doctor reached in through his ribcage to pump his heart back to life. The man didn’t make it. Someone said, “The floor’s ruined, what a lot of blood.” Two nurses high-fived over the dead body: “That was fricking awesome!” A doctor raised the roof. The body was wheeled out quickly.

All this sounds awful, and these occurrences are a rare thing, and I work with excellent people. And of course, medical abuse is never okay. I can’t ever make light of that. But I really do get why we get jaded. I was amidst professionals who had been doing this a long time, and they had created this safe, hovering, compensating distance in order to be effective. It’s why medical staff can’t work on their own family members — there’s too much at stake, and that desperation can fog up somebody’s thinking. Clinical work is clinical. It’s the only way you can reach inside a man’s chest and grab his organs in your fist.

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Tragedy is not a contest.

November 16, 2015 — 9 Comments

peace Paris Red Hong Yi

To those who are saying, “France is a big deal but it’s getting more coverage than other tragedies” — I would humbly and kindly ask to look up the Fallacy of Relative Privation.

It’s possible that we can care about one tragedy without pitting it against another (which is just crazy, when you think about it). Saying “Well what about __” doesn’t address the original problem and ultimately dishonors the real human lives we lost in all of them.

It’s possible to educate others and bring awareness of what’s neglected without condescending or competing by numbers.

It’s possible to both pray and donate; there’s enough time in the day for both.

It’s possible just to grieve and be angry and weep right now instead of using tragedy as a platform for politics or a spiritual lesson or a moral epiphany (and I realize I’m in danger of doing the same — yet I’m truly grieving, too).

Neglecting to say something on social media is not equivalent to apathy, and mentioning something on social media is not equivalent to empathy. It’s also unfair to be guilt-tripped by either. It’s okay if you don’t accordingly change your profile picture. It’s also unfair to accuse someone of being shallow if they change their profile picture.

It’s impossible to boycott everything and protest everything and raise awareness on everything, as much as we’d like to. By the time we figure out one problem, another comes along. It’s a fruitless exercise and only spreads us thin: and much better to use our limited resources and individual gifting and unique voices to deeply care about a few things as best as we possibly can. It’s possible to fully invest in one or two, and that’s how movements start.

There are many, many ways to care. We need all of them. There’s not enough time to care about everything, but there’s too much time wasted on nothing, and if each of us could care deeply about some things, we could find each other and cover almost everything.


Art used with permission by Red Hong Yi

My Heart is with Paris.

November 14, 2015 — Leave a comment

Paris peace Liz Gilbert Jean Jullien

Grieving. Angry. Praying. My heart is with Paris, for Paris.

Image from Jean Jullien, found from Elizabeth Gilbert

My Book Is On Sale for 1.99

November 14, 2015 — 6 Comments

My very first released book What The Church Won’t Talk About is on sale for only $1.99 for a few more hours.


It’s about the icky topics we find tough to discuss inside (and outside) the church. Check the reviews; grab it for a Bible study or small group; lend it to a skeptical friend.

The paperback is only 9.29! If you’re blessed by the book, please consider reviewing it on Amazon. Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

My father Jung Hwan Park in the Vietnam War, c. 1964.

He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the R.O.K. Army.  He taught hand-to-hand combat to both Korean and American soldiers, including the U.S. Navy Seals.

In 1968, he was captured during the Tet Offensive and forced to walk barefoot, blindfolded, and hands tied to a prison, where he was a POW.  My dad was forced to eat rats and fight other prisoners to survive, and he went blind several times due to poor nutrition.  After a failed escape attempt, he was tortured with bamboo shoots underneath his fingernails and a few of his fingers were broken.  Before execution, he escaped alone (by killing a few guards with his bare hands) and was the only known soldier who escaped his encampment.  He was then captured in Cambodia and declared a Korean spy, and for two years the Korean Embassy worked for his release.  He’s authored an autobiography in Korea, translated Through the Jungle of Death.  A few Korean history textbooks talk about his successful escape.  He’s established a martial arts franchise in America called J. Park Martial Arts, and at 70 he still teaches.

— J.S.

Before Jesus, After Jesus.

November 11, 2015 — 5 Comments

Maybe you’re way further along than you thought you were. Every blip and spurt of righteousness in your life is nothing short of a supernatural God-made miracle, because naturally in our own fleshly skin, we’re incapable of True Good. Before you met Jesus, you didn’t even care about trying to live right or to make a difference or to help people — and if you did care, it was motivated by self-promotion, image maintenance, social standards, and Darwin-esque survival.

But after Jesus, you have the reason of No-Reason, because now you’re lit up by a Person who out of his own initiated love dared to die in your place on the cross and put His Holy Spirit in you to live out your true calling: which is to love him and love others without expecting anything back. You’re re-created with a new heart to care about what God cares about, and the Father is proud even of your stumbles. Any step forward into your purpose is like the birth of a new life: it is momentous, surprising, awesome, and worth celebrating.

— J.S. Park | What The Church Won’t Talk About

Photo by athenagracee

Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number nine. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I’m learning that death and dying don’t always lead to a “wake-up call.” What I mean is: the hospital isn’t some grand place that brings every loved one together. There’s not always a renewed appreciation for life. I’ve had to let go of the Hollywood idea that sickness leads to maturity. Families stay mad. Fathers die alone. Mothers won’t take the phone call. Children refuse to visit. Everyone handles grief differently and we make the mistake of rushing towards closure, when there’s a tempo and a pacing, and sometimes it’s a lifelong battle. That whole idea of “This will make you stronger” is an intentional thing you have to chase, and not everyone wants to when they’re stuffed full of tubes.

Usually the hospital brings out the worst in people because real life is way more complicated, and pain and illness are really terrible things.

I can’t judge them. Actually, the opposite. If they want to flip a table, I’m right there with them. It’s what I’m there for, to meet them at their lowest in that exhausting ocean of pain.

Lectures and lessons don’t work in that place.
Right there, in the pit, they can only shout against the dark.
I’m in the deep, shouting too, enough to shout ourselves out.

Not everyone makes room for this, and I can understand why grief pulls us into destructive patterns: because we didn’t have a place to vent, to process, to see it through to the end. This isn’t an automatic flip of a switch. It requires getting through the messy part if we want any chance to see above the water again, and it’s a raw, slobbery, ugly, fist-shaking journey that has to happen, without coercion, alongside each other without condescending, but descending.

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Quote Alyssa Wans

This is the first time anyone has ever made art out of my words. A quote from my book. I’m absolutely amazed by the beautiful skill and artistry, and the fact that anyone would make art out of anything I’ve said. Thank you so much, Alyssa!

Alyssa’s Tumblr blog and Instagram! Her art is incredible.

“In your crushed swollen chest where the hurt pulls in: Christ comes to fill the broken places like so much water in cracked earth, new breath stretching your lungs, so we may thrive and bloom and stand on our shaking feet again.
Turn. He is there.”

My book What The Church Won’t Talk About is here.


I don’t think I’ve ever really met anyone who is living out of a full cup.

What I mean is: Everyone lives a lot further ahead than they really are, giving advice they don’t follow and loving others without any love for themselves and running on empty all the time. We’re all on fumes.

I’m finding out this is okay for today, and no lifetime is meant to be lived in a day.

There’s this Secret Guilt going around that we’re all halfway hypocritical frauds who will maybe one day catch up to an awesome version of ourselves. It’s a desperate hope that we’ll eventually do what we’re preaching with our mouths and our blogs. And then we blow up or flip a table or punch a wall and that monster comes out, and we think “Where did that even come from?” — and the Guilt chokes the pit of our stomach again.

The finality of settling into your own skin never arrives.

We co-exist with the monster.

I remember a famous pastor who deleted his entire backlog of podcasts from his first years of preaching.  Because he “no longer agreed” with those old messages.  I thought it was pretty humble.  But I also thought, What about those people who heard those old messages?  What if they followed through on that stuff?  Are they just screwed?  And ten years from now will you delete your stuff from today?

Every artist I’ve met says their first drawing, song, poem, novel, or dance routine was unworthy. They’re hard on their first creations. You know, that whole “you are your own worst critic” paranoia. But: Don’t we all have to purge these things before moving onto greatness?  And what about those people who enjoyed the first creations?  Are they just idiots?

Everyone keeps saying, “I used to be so stupid.”  Or, “I was so empty when I taught that thing.”  Or, “I didn’t even deserve to preach that sermon on marriage, my own marriage was failing.”  Or, “I wasn’t even following my own advice.”

It’s a reoccurring pattern.  No one ever thinks they’re good enough to do what they’re doing.  Or they think now they’re okay, but everything before today was terrible.  “I finally found my voice,” they say, which is at once a victory and an admission of defeat.

It’s scary to think we’re always walking in the dark, the light dissipating just out of reach.

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Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number eight. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I had four trauma alerts in a row. They happened in the same hour; the first two happened within five minutes of each other.

As strange as this sounds, one of the things I like about traumas is the teamwork. Of course, the situation is awful: it’s frantic, fast, sweaty, often bloody and crowded, and there’s a human being hanging in limbo. I don’t want to lose sight of that. But given where we are, I would trust this trauma team if I was the guy on that bed. The medical staff in the room knows their part, like the pins in a lock that fit the contours of a key, and they weave in and out and create this quilt of knowledge around the patient, with hand-in-hand humility, each bringing their expertise to the table. I have nowhere near the proficiency of a doctor or nurse, but I’m still a tiny part of that room somehow. It feels like I belong, like purpose is stirring there.

Though the individual visits are wonderful, like slow dancing, and the conversations can be life-changing — the trauma bay is this electrified organism trying to bring back the dead, a highly choreographed ballet. I think people have to be a little crazy to enter the medical field and to work the emergency department. It’s the one place where you have to be completely, fully engaged with undivided allegiance to the moment. It’s probably why I like it: the work of healing requires me to be fully alive.

Our didactic was about dealing with compassion fatigue and secondhand grief. A chaplain’s regular day is full of exposure to pain and death with almost zero closure, and while it takes an obvious toll: most people don’t realize that until it’s too late. Some of the signs are snapping at others in a rage, random bouts of crying, and feeling like you’re bothering people if you talk about it.

I’m understanding more and more that simply helping people is extremely draining and unromantic, and not many of us count the cost of pouring out for others. There’s no Hollywood montage full of high fives and confetti. It’s usually dirty unappreciated work, sleeves rolled up, waist high with people who are rightfully scared, angry, lonely, and sometimes slipping. There might be some people who have iron skin for this sort of thing, but I’m not one of them.

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The Gospel is both our foundation and motivation.

Sometimes when I hear a sermon, I think —

“How could I ever live up to this?  Why would I even want to do this?  What am I doing this for?”

I try to catch up.  It feels good on good days, when I’m a nice guy and praying hard and staying clean.  But on bad days: my quota comes up short.  I’m horrified at my utter lack of conviction.  I come up with rules to follow rules, sharpen my prayer-technique, throw lighter-fluid on my computer, buy a wardrobe for a homeless guy.

It doesn’t work.  None of this brings me any intimacy with God.  It only selfishly points at myself, and I get self-righteous or scared or a sloppy mix of both.

But then — the Gospel is preached.  I’m reminded that Jesus died for all the ways I’ve failed, and his resurrection empowers me for a way forward.  I’m reminded that I was never meant to live up to anything, but I’ve received the Spirit that breathes His life through me.

So I know how.  By his grace.

I know why.  Because of grace.

I know what for.  For Him.

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Today is the last day my book is on sale! The Life of King David: How God Works Through Ordinary Outcasts and Ordinary Sinners is only 1.99. It’s a literary dynamic devotional through David’s life, from a nobody to overnight celebrity to chronic doubter and sinner, and how his story is our story.

Be blessed! — J.S.


Right Where You Are.

October 30, 2015 — 2 Comments

Right now, you could be toiling away unseen and unnoticed, waiting for your big break. You might be discouraged because nothing is paying off, or you feel you’re constantly catching up to a version of someone you’ve yet to be. You could be compensating for a failure behind you or trying to prove your merit to the people around you.

No one likes this part, because we see everyone else’s highlights and we presume they’ve got it together and we’re relegated to second-rate status. We might even feel that our current work is beneath our true potential. We want to be doing “great things,” but we’re stuck in limbo, in that icky middle.

The truth is that you can prosper right where you are. You can still be teachable in your season behind-the-scenes, even if that season is for life. God’s greatness is available to you so long as you remain available. No one needs to climb the throne to get there. You only need to be present and presently engaged.

This is tough, because we’re so used to climbing the pecking order. We’re tempted to superimpose a future hologram of big stages and big audiences on our current station. But such fantasies draw us out of engagement with now. There’s work to be done today, no matter the size of your stage. Your effort doesn’t always have to “pay off.” Some of us want to be the king of our fields overnight, but God has already called His children a royal priesthood, and we’re called to harvest for a lifetime. No matter what kind of work you’re doing, it’s essential in the tapestry of God’s Kingdom.

— J.S. Park | The Life of King David

Right now, you might be facing a ton of giants, and others have told you to “be the bigger person.” This is good advice and I recommend it. Yet if everyone is trying to be the bigger person, we end up stomping on each other. If you treat every person and problem like Goliath, you’ll be bitter all the time. It’s a triumphalist, self-affirming theology that cries, “They’re in my way.” It stirs up a dichotomous conflict by turning people into obstacles and critics into haters. It keeps us in the cycle of retaliation.

Taking down Goliath means taking me down first. It’s me. I’m the giant. I’m the bad guy.

The thing is, the idea of the “underdog” shouldn’t even have to exist. It implies that there is “my side” versus “your side” and it forces me to demonize an opposition. We cheer when an underdog wins, but we forget that someone else had to lose. You might think you’re the good guy, but to someone else, you’re definitely the bad guy. So who is cheering for whom? Who gets to win?

Jesus is the only one who won every side by losing for them. In order to undo our back-and-forth, binary violence, Jesus stepped into the crossfire and called us all equally loved and heard, which meant that every side hated him for loving the other side. He got rid of sides. He crossed the dichotomous divide of demonization. The divide died on the cross with Jesus. He called you a friend when you called him an enemy. Jesus killed his enemies by making them friends. And that’s why they had to kill Jesus.

But I can’t be against them. I’m them. You’re them. And I’m crossing over, that grace might win.

— J.S. | The Life of King David

Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number seven. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

The nurse told me that Larry wasn’t going to get the heart transplant. He had failed the criteria. The first thing he did was to page the nurse for a chaplain, and I was the first one available. I got to his room just thirty minutes after he found out, and he was weeping. I’m sure I would be, too.

I walked in and Larry sat up. He still looked strong, a full head of hair, very gentle eyes. Like a lion, or a bear cub. “Chaplain,” he said. He smiled really big through tears. “You’re the guy I need here right now. Have a seat, please.”

Something clicked in me, fell into place out of nowhere, when he said, You’re the guy I need here right now. I was needed here, right now, for a reason. It’s not something I feel often, to be needed, to be greeted with purpose. It was a strange feeling, and a good one.

“They gave me two weeks,” he said. “Two months at most.”

“I’m really sorry,” I said. “I know it’s crazy to ask, but how are you?”

He laughed. Genuinely. And cried. “I’ve accepted it, chaplain. You see the news on the TV? I think it’s a good time to go. I’m ready to see God. I’m ready to see my parents and my grandma. I’ve accepted my death.”

I thought maybe this is what he wanted me to hear. I said, “It’s okay to be upset, too.”

He laughed again. It was a wonderful sound. “I really am upset, yeah. Leaving behind my wife, my kids. Just two months.”

“How do you plan to spend it?”

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