“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
— C.S. Lewis
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”
Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number four. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
I kept hearing stories in snippets, and I wondered about the whole thing.
There was a man who had survived stomach cancer, car accidents, a gasoline fire, a broken skull, and a direct hit by lightning.
A woman who suffered a heart attack because her mother and brother had died within weeks of each other.
Two different women, one young and one old, who were once very successful but kept burning themselves with flammable fluids because of the demons in their head. “I can’t help it,” one said. “I don’t know why I do this,” said the other.
A woman who was obviously abused by her husband, who wanted to stay longer in the hospital because she was afraid of the monster at home: but she wouldn’t admit what was happening.
I sat with a mother who was holding her baby in her hand. We had been called to NICU to offer a final blessing and a baptism, but we were too late. The baby had coded. Her lungs had become like melted wax and she couldn’t breathe on her own. She barely fit her mother’s palm. I wondered about the story she would never get to live. I wondered about God and why and “His Will” and the meaning and a reason and a crushed future and how life could keep going after this. I wanted to talk with the mother but the mother didn’t want to talk and I thought that was okay. Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes the stories are told in silence.
Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number five. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
I’m always trying to shake this feeling that I’m not fitting in my own skin. That ickiness is always there.
Even when I’m good at something, I constantly wonder if I’m getting it right. It’s like that strange phantom when you go on a trip: Did I grab everything? Do I have my wallet? Where’s my charger? Is the stove off? Am I wearing pants right now?
The moment I visit a patient, the finger-pointing phantom jumps right in my guts and starts twisting batter in my belly. It’s this nauseous churning of self-doubt and second-guessing and burning insecurity. This gleeful little rat-goblin chips away at me as words spill from my mouth.
Oh come on, you shouldn’t have said that.
Oh look, you’ve upset the patient.
Oh dude, your tone was really weird and nasally there.
Oh yeah, you’re doing that loud nose-breathing thing.
Okay, but no one will take you seriously with that hair.
I have a lot of trouble just announcing, “I’m a chaplain.” It’s a powerful thing to say who-you-are with confidence. I’m a doctor. I’m a nurse. I’m a chaplain. I’m a trained professional. I’m a big boy. What really gives me the right to say anything like this? I want to immediately apologize for my lack of knowledge and to explain I’ve only been here for five weeks and that maybe if they want someone more experienced, I’ll barrel roll to the nearest exit and grab a chaplain with normal human hair.
Oh hi, I have no clue what I’m doing and I got lost six times on the way to your room.
I have to act like my own skin really fits me, if not for my own sanity, then at least for the patient not to crawl away from me. I’m still pretending to be a big kid with a jacket that’s eight sizes too large, or I’m just eight sizes too small. That feeling: it’s always there.
Maybe God or fate or the universe knew about it, because I was forced into announcing myself all the time.
I met with my counselor the other day, a semi-famous mega-church pastor here in town, and I had really forgotten what it’s like to be around someone who is so comfortable with himself that it made me comfortable with myself.
My counselor is one of those cool pastors who smokes cigars and uses dirty words and he used to be a rich drug dealer, so he owns this huge house and hosts these extravagant church parties with hundreds of curious people looking for real spirituality. He does this without even really trying to impress anyone, and with sort of a wink. Once I was leaving his office after a meet and he yells down the hallway of his church, “I’ll keep praying about your porn problem.” The very conservative staff glanced at me and I ran and he couldn’t stop laughing. My counselor reminds me of Jesus.
So I told him everything. How I blew up on someone the other day. How I was juggling multiple ministries plus a growing blog. How dissatisfied I was with the mainstream church. How I haven’t talked to my dad in over a year. How I was fighting anger and unforgiveness and lust. How I always felt like I was pouring out of an empty cup, and that the same grace I preached for others was almost never reserved for myself.
I told him I had this monster inside me, barely underneath the surface just coiled around my guts, and just when I thought I was making “Christian progress” and it was dead, it would lash out and destroy everything I love and then go right back to hiding. I wanted this thing inside me to really, truly, eternally die.
Then he looks at me and says, “You’re not really walking with God.”
I was almost offended. But he was right. He went on.
“You’re doing so much, just do, and you lost who you are. You find who you are, then you can do again.”
“So what do I do now?” As soon as I said it, I heard it. I said “do” again.
He said, “Pray. I mean we’re both in ministry, you already know that. But you see how we’re talking? How you can tell me anything? How I can just be me around you? That’s prayer. Praying is like breathing. It’s a way of life that can happen all the time. That’s walking with Him.”
I think I was trying not to weep. I remember when it was like that, when I felt like I was walking with Him all the time. When being with God was like breathing. I did want that again. And it was not a matter of doing, but being.
He said, “It’s okay to pour out when you’re empty. You can’t do that for a long time, but that’s grace. You can preach grace all day and be a legalist to yourself. Quit listening to yourself and listen to Him. And don’t preach too far ahead of yourself. If it’s been hard, then preach that it’s been hard.”
We hugged for a long time. He told me he loved me. Before we parted, he said, “I wish I could tear that monster out of you. Let God inside, and He will.”
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
— Romans 8:18
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.
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!
I’ve never met a single person who has maturely handled rebuke. Not a single one. Including me.
I don’t blame them. It’s hard to hear the awful truth about yourself.
When we give rebuke, we can expect melt-downs, flip-outs, childish tantrums, tons of backpedaling, and an ugly look into the self-justifying human heart. It’s not pretty. We think we’re okay with saying “I’m wrong” until we really have to say it, without excuses, and then we’re desperately clawing to protect our ego-fortresses because being wrong feels like death.
But we need this. We need to push past the initial hostility of our overreactions. Some of us need to die to this. It is a good death.
My first published book What The Church Won’t Talk About has turned a year old, and for its anniversary I’ve made a revised second edition with over 16,000 words of new content, plus a new cover. The paperback is here and the ebook is here!
The rest of my books are here.
Be immensely blessed and love y’all!
One of the most remarkable things about David was his doubt.
All through the Psalms, we see David contending with his doubts about God. Whenever there’s a stanza of praise, it follows just as quickly with despair and confusion.
There are so many Psalms where David is singing in a flowery refrain of awe, but out of nowhere, he’ll say, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.” It’s all going so well, until you turn the page. These are like cysts that swell over the canvas, so jarring and troubling that you won’t see them on coffee cups and Twitter.
David was really all over the place in his faith.
But just as much as David interrupts his own Psalms with rage and grief, these are rolled over by a sudden clarity of God’s goodness, like a splash of cold water for bruised, bent hands. Most of the Psalms have a Turn, an about-face resolve where David recalls the truth about God’s sovereignty. These upward Turns don’t solve the situation, but they break David’s fear and paralysis, and keep a terrible season of life from making him just as terrible.
These sharp Turns in the Psalms are a frail and feeble call to remember God in the midst of so much distress. The deepest of David was calling out to deep.
In David’s prayer-life, we see both severe drops into depression and sudden bolts of euphoria, and we find a point of dizzying tension.
David managed to live with both complete joy and complete sorrow at the same time. He had a foot in the heavens and a toe in the abyss. He had a frighteningly pessimistic view of the world in the worst of his questions, but he was absolutely optimistic about a God who was working all things together.
David let the gravity of his hopelessness sink in. The Psalms are full of yelling because David and the other psalmists don’t hide under false coping mechanisms to dampen the pain. They hardly ever run to thrills and pills and religion and therapy, and if they do, they just as quickly run back. David allows the emptiness of his heart to take full course until the bottom gives out, so that he has no other choice but to find refuge in a bottomless God. The resolve of every Psalm could only come by scraping along the walls of a downward spiral, until there was a landing. It’s in our full-on grief that we find the fullness of grace.
— J.S. Park | The Life of King David
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An ongoing discussion about victory over sexual addiction.
Recent Edit: September 13th, 2015
– My new book on quitting porn addiction is here! In paperback on sale for only $5.99 and e-book for 2.99 on Amazon! It contains this entire series of posts plus brand new info, fully updated and fleshed out, with specific steps to quit.
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:
Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number three. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
When they wheeled him in, the doctors said it was already too late. They put him on an iron lung, and the only thing left to do was let his mother decide on his organs.
He was almost twenty years old, good-looking, tall and strapping, face beat up from meth. His mother had given him countless chances and a free bed, but he relapsed every time, back to the muse and to back alley corners and then crawling home again — and his mom finally kicked him out. Shortly after, he was hit by a car. He probably didn’t see it coming. The driver probably didn’t see him, either.
Someone called for an ambulance and left him there.
The only thing the hospital could do was stuff him full of tubes to keep him breathing. There was no brain activity. His head was held by a neck brace the size of an oven; his bed was a mess of angry plastic tentacles, sprouting and twisting in veiny stubborn circles. I could still tell that underneath all that life support, he was a handsome kid.
In the waiting room, his mom kept blaming herself. “Just one more time, I could’ve let him stay. He wasn’t getting better, I mean what could I do? I couldn’t do it anymore, his eyes were just gone, he was already gone. But I could’ve one more time.”
The Christian community fervently follows tons of bloggers, preachers, and voices to aid them in their spiritual walk, and I think this is awesome. Really.
But please, please, dear friend, you must also please think for yourself.
If something in a sermon sounds funny or off or weird, don’t believe it just because it’s coming out of the mouth of your favorite preacher.
If your favorite blogger is saying something you silently disagree with, it’s okay: you don’t have to fanwank them to protect their pedestal in your mind. It’s okay to disagree.
If they say something obviously wrong, it doesn’t make them a bad person: it just means they’re still learning, and so are you, and so are we, and no one gets it right every time. Most of them — and me too — are still working on the things they’re preaching.
Every single person you listen to is just as broken, crazy, and capable of error as you are. I’ll go further and say: some of these guys only care about blog hits and revenue and the number of followers and likes and reblogs, and don’t really care about you, and they have their prepackaged automatic statements ready to fire when they want to act like they care about you. We all do.
Some do love you, but are not truthful. Some are truthful, but don’t love you.
Don’t trust them; not fully, ever. Don’t trust me. Just trust Jesus.
I’m not saying this out of some kind of reverse-humility, as if to look more humble. I’m dead serious. Don’t trust me.
I’m also not as cool as I try to make myself. If you met me, I’m much shorter than you imagine, I laugh too loud in public, I usually smell like Asian food, and my teeth are pretty crooked. You’d be disappointed.
None of these preachers and bloggers are heroes. They’re not the sacred hologram we might have built them up to be. I’ve seen many wonderful men and women of God completely melt down, freak out, throw tantrums, and go violent (including myself) — and again, it does not make them bad people. It just makes them people.
In my chaplaincy class, we did arts and crafts, using pieces of magazines to tell our story. I was unashamedly giddy to be doing arts and crafts in a professional setting; I forgot how satisfying it was to put scissors through paper. We each took 30 minutes to present the posters. It’s incredible to hear other people’s stories and what’s most important to them, like carving a sculpture of a person and watching it come to life. It was also extremely vulnerable and itchy to share the deepest parts of us, and I was reminded of how little we actually get to connect with others face-to-face, how seldom we get to share how we got here. We’re comfortable in functional transactions; we’re afraid of depth. But one is living, and the other is alive. One is necessary for survival, but the other is why we survive. I hope we each have a place for that clumsy kind of openness. And for arts and crafts.
Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number two. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
I watched someone die.
The trauma team did everything they could for him. That’s what the doctors told his wife, too. Her husband had stepped outside and suddenly fell over, his heart a fist in his chest. He was, as they say, in good health. The paramedics burst into the trauma bay with him on a stretcher, already in action, doing chest compressions and administering epinephrine. The nurses took turns. I was amazed at their clockwork efficiency. It wasn’t like the TV shows where everyone is frantic and yelling heavy-handed stuff at each other. No one yelled, We’re losing him. It was calm, the methodical pace of carving a pear with a pocketknife. The team had a kind of choreographed trust that you only find in good acapella groups, or a school of fish. But the man was probably dead before they got him through the door. They had to try.
The doctors were very clear with the news. He died. The wife and her children were cut to pieces. There was a lot of screaming and hugging and anger in that suffocating space. I felt intrusive. There were three doctors and three chaplains standing around, and it was too many of us. Or maybe that was okay; maybe some people need more company so they don’t go crazy. I would want that for my family. I tried not to stare; I looked at the floor when the family wept and I wanted to jump in the wall. Someone asked me to grab a box of tissues and I dashed out, hoping to be respectful, and useful. I could hear them crying from the end of the hallway.
When someone tells me I’m race-baiting, that signals something worse than racism.
There’s something that runs even deeper than our racist attitudes and feeds those very views, an underlying coiled root that unless exposed and extracted, will continually provoke such overreactions that arrest innocent children suspected of terrorism. It’s not as simple as blaming Texas or “white folk” or buzzwords like micro-aggression and oppression. It is more subtle and sinister than outright violence and just as dangerous as the fanaticism that we claim to be afraid of.
A certain thread of socialized narrative has been bombarding us for a long time:
– That we are each the Main Character of our own particular story,
– with each person around us as plot-resolving props to support our catharsis,
– and that both The Enemy is plotting against us and The Endangered are in need of rescue.
Every act of the Main Character is considered an honorable sacrifice, while The Enemy remains a faceless, disembodied, unpredictable element that only thinks of “my” destruction.
This arc of the Hero-Savior story has silently fueled our approach to politics, religion, gender, race relations, charity, and just about every Hollywood blockbuster – and it perpetuates both a self-idolization and an other-demonization. It is both a megalomania and xenophobia. It’s why we say things like “race-baiting,” because we make someone else’s racial pain about “me.”
The most difficult part is that it acts as genuine benevolence, even believing in its own good motives, but continues to operate on a subconscious superiority of “doing the right thing.” It’s not as obvious as armed warfare but kills us over a lifetime of dehumanizing anyone outside the familiar. No one wants to think they’re the bad guy, and will find every rationalization to uphold their behavior. This runs under racially motivated crime, through power-plays or sexual conquest or the pressure for success. It’s largely our sociological need to be identified with the “victor,” the winning side, and for the “loser” to be morally wrong and the source of our ills, who must be subjugated under our feet and obliterated.
Everyone wants to be the Hero at the expense of making the “other” a Villain. This is the crux of the problem. A Hero must destroy an Enemy and “save” the Endangered. The Main Character falls into a romanticized, fetishized fantasy of being celebrated for their upstanding courage, which not only forfeits the necessary cooperation for real acts of heroism, but also trivializes the very real complexity of criminals and victims and justice, all which require a nuance far greater than our simplistic shorthand impulse.
The language of “the enemy” and “stranger” is not entirely our fault. Our brains have a shorthand schema to recognize patterns, so that we can make quick associations and fill the gaps of perception. It’s often a reflex to jump to conclusions or force-fit a memory or an explanation. This is why a movie will portray a crime-ridden city with “wet streets” and boarded doors and loud rap music, as a point of reference which works as a cheat-sheet for the viewer. Foley artists add sound effects in movies which we’re conditioned to hear, though so often they’re not the sound the thing makes, like rain and bowling balls. A clock can look suspiciously like a bomb because of Cartoon Time Bombs, but would be completely impractical since a modern bomb won’t call attention to itself with giant numbers. It only takes a moment to think through it: but our brains have gone Pavlov. We lock things into a habitual grid that relays consistent information, even when there’s contrary evidence to the schema at work.
These symbols and images and visual cues are more powerful and prevalent than we think. We’re taught that certain clothing, like a du-rag or sweater vest or hijab, conveys the entirety of that person, with moral implications and the “importance” to the plot. An Asian with glasses wearing a tie in a computer lab portrays a very specific range of information, as they’re only good for unlocking an encrypted file or discovering the missing clue in a forensics report. Or they’re used as a “foreigner punchline.” A Middle Eastern man bringing a briefcase on a bus is supposed to be a tense moment of paranoia, instantly engaging the viewer in questions we’ve been trained to ask – but not stopping to ask why we even ask these questions.
Here’s my book on relationships with a brand new cover!
I go over the many myths about sex and purity in both the church and mainstream, and how the Christian faith can actually inform us on relationships and dating. I also talk about: Josh Harris, Taylor Swift, my fifteen year porn addiction, finding “the one,” a theology for singles, the idolatry of giving more attention to “attractive people,” when my friend failed her first beauty pageant, the time I tried to kill myself over a girl, and my non-romantic journey of breaking up and getting engaged to getting married. The Foreword is by the amazing Lauren Britt at yesdarlingido!
Be immensely blessed and love y’all! — J.S.