The Flexibility of Pursuing a New Dream

Anonymous asked a question:

Do you think that it’s okay for me to latch onto my dream of becoming an artist and do everything in my power to reach my goal? I’m worried that that’s not God’s plan for me, but it’s what I love and I really really don’t know what it is that God wants from me. honestly, I’m just a keyboard slamming gremlin that somehow managed to grab hold of a pencil. (also I really love your blog and it’s helped me so much for the past year! thank you for your hard work!)

Hey dear friend, yes (and thank you for your kind words!). I do believe that’s an incredibly wonderful thing, to have a dream and to do all you can to get there.

Here’s the other thing. Sometimes a dream will not look the way you expected it to when you start to get there. Sometimes dreams will change. You may go in a particular direction, but another door opens that’s the perfect fit for you, if only you’d try. Do you have that flexibility? Because when a dream becomes an idol, it creates all kinds of unnecessary pain when we cannot see bigger than an imprisoning “vision” of success.

Continue reading “The Flexibility of Pursuing a New Dream”

10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

horizontescuriosos asked a question:

Hi, I just had one question about your post referencing how people assume their experience is the only valid experience. Do you have any idea why people do this? It seems pretty obvious to me that not everyone would have the same experiences, but apparently people don’t always think with that logic.

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post, which says:

“It doesn’t happen to me, therefore it never happens” is possibly the most insane, myopic, deranged fallacy that’s impeding our progress.

One of my favorite things about my Psychology major was learning all the ways that the brain can deceive itself. Things like FAE, TMT, intrinsic justification, hindsight bias, Asch conformity, the Stanley Milgram experiments, suppression rebound, and cognitive dissonance are all the loopy tricky ways that we can easily be fooled without knowing we’re fooled.

So at least a dozen times a week, I’ll see some online comment that says, “That’s never happened to me!” — which follows that it somehow never happens at all. I suppose the closest psychological phenomenon to that would be anecdotal evidence, in which a person’s own life experience tends to (wrongly) inform the totality of all human experience. It lacks empathy and imagination, because of course, we’re all wired to take the quickest shortcut by way of heuristics in order to form a schema — which means, we take the path of least resistance to form an opinion.

Our brains always want to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess what’s around us, which means: yes, we’re lazy, and without intentionality, we drift towards complacency and black-and-white conclusions.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but I’m afraid that our internet culture and quick-click social media has contributed to such knee-jerk judgments. No one takes time to process all the nuances of a situation anymore. Just think: these days, within five minutes of most major tragedies, there are already think-pieces posted on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter but no time to naturally process our grief.

We are not an emotionally healthy world anymore. I say this as a person who loves social media and all the good it can bring, but when it comes to thoughtfulness and reflection, we’ve mostly gone backwards. The only way back to empathy, it would seem, is for us to exercise radio silence and to listen with total intent.

Here’s what I’d advise. I would set up some ground rules when it comes to expressing opinions online or face-to-face. Feel free to dismiss or modify any of these.

Continue reading “10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences”

Is It Okay to Be Angry with God?

Anonymous asked a question:

What if I am angry at God. How do you cope with the frustration and anger towards Him?

Hey dear friend, I’m really sorry. There must be many things happening internally and externally, and I’m with you and for you. So is everyone here.

I have to tell you up front: I’d much rather be mad with God than mad without Him.

That’s not some cute little statement that only works abstractly on Instagram. I’m dead serious. If you’re angry with God, at the very least, you’re talking with Him. He’d rather you be mad at Him than displacing that anywhere else. God isn’t put off by our barest, most raw emotions: because He made them, and He made you, and He’s going to work with that.

Continue reading “Is It Okay to Be Angry with God?”

She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people tend to sabotage themselves in wild, ruinous decisions, and what the root cause of these melt-downs really are — and if we should really be more mad about it or sad about the whole thing. When someone goes crazy, I’m wondering how we can dig to the bottom and change the ugliness inside.

I was thinking about this girl I used to know back in college who tried to cheat on her boyfriend with me. The girl had gotten into a huge fight with her boyfriend and they weren’t sure if they were staying together, and she called me for “comfort.” I went over to her place, alone, which was already a bad idea, and simple-minded me had no clue that I was the “other guy.”

It started kind of slow; she opened up her fold-out couch, we put on a movie, and she kept edging closer. The movie was actually good. I got genuinely interested in the plot and cinematography and I started thinking about popcorn and I looked over at the girl to ask for some, and she batted her eyes really big and leaned in to kiss me. At that second, I understood everything, like one of those epiphany plot-twists that re-arrange the entire story, and I almost kissed back — except her breath smelled really, really bad. Like shrimp skins and a refrigerator after a power outage. I probably would’ve kissed her even though I knew it wasn’t right, but her breath sobered me up and I pushed her away.

She suddenly threw me off the couch and cussed me out and just about drop-kicked me in embarrassment. I was so confused and bewildered. I apologized and left; I didn’t have time to collect my shoes, and she probably still has them. Driving home, barefoot, my stomach felt sick and I was kind of mad at her, but mostly mad at myself. I got home and I looked at my cat trying to jump out a closed window and I suddenly fell over with laughter. Whooping, cringing laughter. I didn’t know why, but it was better than being mad.

Later I found out that the girl went back to her boyfriend and she told him everything, and apparently I was the realization she needed that she only wanted to be with him. I saw them somewhere at some church event (of all places), and they both glared at me, the other guy, and I ran to the restroom and left out the back door. I felt that same sort of confused anger, the laughing and cringing, the twisted knot in my guts that I had done something terrible and stupid but was also violated somehow. Driving home, I felt flustered, and just as barefoot as the day she took my shoes.

Continue reading “She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.”

Primer for a New Christian: 8 Suggestions to Start Your Faith

creative-reblogging asked a question:

Hello! I was technically raised in the Christian faith, but my parents were never great about really consistently taking me to church as a child. I want to figure out where I stand in terms of my faith, so that I can carry it with me as I go into adulthood. I’m trying to view it as if I’m new to Christianity altogether. Would you have any suggestions as to where to start? Just reading the Bible is confusing to me, and I feel like I don’t get anything from it. How do I get to know God?

Hey dear friend, I want to commend you and applaud you on your newfound adventure of faith. Wherever it takes you, you have my prayers and a super big double high-five and internet fist-bump (and a hug too, why not?). I’m genuinely excited for you.

I’m honestly a bit new to Christianity myself (I was an atheist longer than I’ve been a Christian and it was a slow journey to faith throughout my seven years of college), so the memories of starting new are still quite fresh. I also understand that faith can feel intimidating, partially because the church can make it difficult, but faith itself can seem like an amorphous unfathomable maze. These are only my suggestions, as everyone’s road has different curves and obstacles, so please feel free to add or subtract or modify as you will.

– Find a church. If you have any friends who are currently attending a church, ask them about their Sunday service or any recommendations for you (you can also try websites and check out their statements of faith and their group pictures). The thing with church though is that it can feel overwhelming when you walk in: most people are uncomfortable in new situations with new people and unfamiliar surroundings. Even as a pastor and a chaplain, aka a “professional Christian,” I still feel all kinds of anxiety when I walk into a new church to visit. So it’s a really good idea to go with a friend. It’s also a good idea to try the Friday or Wednesday service, when the numbers are scaled down and it’s a more intimate setting.

A sidenote: Finding a church is incredibly hard and requires more than once. Just think, you’re looking for a second family, a second home! That’s no small feat to approach lightly. Last year, my wife and I desperately looked for a new church-home when we got married, and we tried about a dozen different churches before landing on one (and the one we landed on, we had to go about three times before we both felt called to stay). We gave many of those churches a second or third chance, so altogether, it took us over seven months to find a place where we felt we could serve and be led.

– Download some sermon podcasts. I’m a self-professed sermon junkie; I probably listen to about ten hours of sermons per week. While podcasts shouldn’t be the “main diet,” they’re sort of like supplements, or protein shakes, for a growing faith. I often listen to them on headphones at the gym or on car rides to work (I live about an hour from my workplace). Some preachers I listen to are: Timothy Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, Ravi Zacharias, and Matt Chandler. I also really love Brené Brown.

A sidenote: Please consider heavy discernment when listening to podcasts. In other words, you don’t have to believe every single opinion or statement, and sometimes a preacher’s theology might be a little fuzzy in some areas. Not every preacher or author is perfect, and public speaking has a way of blurting out certain things that are not always carefully worded. So listen with both a critical ear and a soft heart, or as Jesus says, “be as wise as snakes and as pure as doves.”

– Get with mature Christians and elders. We all, and I mean all, need some kind of leadership and mentoring and authority, speaking into our lives, in every season. We need both encouragers and challengers in our lives: people who can speak a grand vision over us while stretching our views and habits and beliefs. That means, get with your pastor and married couples and elderly Christians and successful business leaders and anyone who will spare a lunch — yes, your parents too! — and consistently ask annoying questions to grab their wisdom. Every person is a fountain of experience who is waiting to pour out to love on someone else. Ask about how their faith has gotten them through hard times; ask about how their faith informs their marriage, career, raising kids, and keeping focus. You’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

A sidenote: Soon enough, or perhaps already, you’ll be in a position where you can pour out to others. This entire cycle of pouring out is called discipleship in the Christian language. It’s a deep life-on-life pouring out of who you are for another; it’s the best of you for the best of them. We’re each called to disciple others just as we’re called to be discipled. This is the number one way I’ve found that Christians grow and one of the highest honors to give and receive.

Continue reading “Primer for a New Christian: 8 Suggestions to Start Your Faith”

Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.

Like many of us, I’ve been reading on many of the horrible events this week and all the media circus which it entails. In a sea of crowded voices, both reasonable and ugly, that has said nearly all there is to say, I want to risk one more voice to the busy ocean of opinion.

I work as a hospital chaplain and I’ve sat with many, many patients and their families as the patients lay dying. I have watched quite a few slip away. It’s always a terrible situation; death is our common enemy. Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve. My job as a “professional griever” is to approach each person with grace, sensitivity, and comfort, the best of me for the best of them, as much as I know how.

It’s not my place or my role to evaluate this person in their pain. And I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s place or role, ever.

I’m trying to imagine saying some of the comments I’ve read online to these patients and their family. And I can’t. I would not. Even if this patient may have been a criminal or had brought this situation upon themselves (which has been true some of the time), it’s still a terrible tragedy that they’re in this room. My patients and their families have the same hopes, fears, dreams, passions, uncertainties, and regrets as you and I have. They deserve the same dignity as you and I would want. Some of them were never accorded such dignity in their lifetime, and for some, it was this exact reason that they ended up here.

Somehow, we have socially distanced ourselves from loss by multiple levels of removal from the actual horror of loss itself. We undignify the dead by a jester’s court of judgment, by a carnival of commentary, by a platform of preprogrammed snark. We wait to see what our “side” of the discussion wants us to think, so that we neither think nor feel for ourselves.

You only have to read or hear a few callous comments to know what I mean: each proceeding comment moves further and further away from the actual people, until verbal semantics has smothered the very real loss of life into a wordplay competition. You might win: but what do you win? It seems we’d rather deconstruct or reduce these events into “legal” and “moral” terms, or punchlines and memes, or cautionary tales — and the result is abstract heartlessness.  Many of us have forgotten what it means to sit with loss and to feel the depth of its irreversibility. To simply weep.

Continue reading “Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.”

Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption

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Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Columbia Pictures

Summary:
Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her extramarital lover. He is soon indoctrinated in a savage world of bargaining, machismo, corruption, and despair. But Andy is a silent unassailable force who through intellect and his child-like innocence gains favor with both the guards and the prisoners. He befriends Red, a longtime inmate, who berates hope but believes in Andy, and together they forge a bond that survives the decades.

Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Gil Bellows. Directed by Frank Darabont.

Questionable Content:
Graphic violence, quick visuals of a sex scene, language, implied prison rape, a vivid murder, and several suicides.

Why You Should See It:

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best American films ever made. It did poorly at the box office and wasn’t well received, but picked up steam on VHS and is now a beloved, timeless classic. Only three years ago, it managed to fill 151 hours of basic cable television in a year, tying with Scarface and second to Mrs. Doubtfire, and still paying residuals to its principal actors and crew.

The movie works because we like Andy Dufresne. He’s perfectly imperfect. Some movies manipulate the audience into rooting for the main character by throwing all sorts of contrivances at him (see The Pursuit of Happiness or Patch Adams), but Andy must do his sincere best in a broken system that does not allow for hopeful men like him.

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption”

Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?

Anonymous asked a question:

How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.

First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.

There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.

When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.

Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?”

Sexual Temptation Vs. Christianity: A Conversation With Yumi About Sex, Singles, Marriage, & Faith


An interview by Yumi about Sexual Temptation Vs. Christianity and the extreme difficulty (and freedom) of the Christian sex ethic, for singles, dating, and married couples.

This is a portion of the interview (plus a little awkward extra at the end). The full 30 minute version is on Yumi’s channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK9Uo-yhp8Y

Subscribe to Yumi! https://www.youtube.com/user/yumigirlofficial

The post mentioned in this interview by Gothic Christian –
http://gothicchristian.tumblr.com/post/129744315870/you-dont-have-a-right-to-sex

Subscribe to my channel here! https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Things I’ve learned not to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy:

“Everything will be okay.”

“You’re so strong!”

“Pain is what forces you to grow.”

“God has an amazing plan for your life!”

“God is using this for your good.”

“God just wanted another angel in heaven.”

“It could’ve been worse.”

“At least you’re still alive. At least—”

“Cheer up and stay positive!”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

“Time to pray really hard and read more Bible.”

“God is using this as a wake-up call.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— and other motivational poster clichés.


Things I’ve learned to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy (and even then, not every time):

“I’m sorry.”
“How are you right now?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be mad.” (Or scared, or hurt, or sad, or weeping, or uncertain.)
“How can I pray for you?”
“I’m always here.”
Or the best thing: listen.

J.S.


Photo by N Medd, CC BY 2.0

Five Husbands.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

The doctor tells him in one long breath, “Your wife didn’t make it, she’s dead.”

Just like that. Irrevocable, irreversible change. I’ve seen this so many times now, the air suddenly pulled out of the room, a drawstring closed shut around the stomach, doubling over, the floor opened up and the house caving in.

“Can I … can I see her?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor points at me and tells Michael that I can take him back. The doctor leaves, and Michael says, “I can’t yet. Can you wait, chaplain?” I nod, and after some silence, I ask him, “What was your wife like?” and Michael talks for forty-five minutes, starting from their first date, down to the very second that his wife’s eyes went blank and she began seizing and ended up here.

I’m in another room, with a father of two, Felipe, whose wife Melinda is dying of cancer. She’s in her thirties. She fought for three months but that was all the fight in her; she might have a few more days. Felipe is asking if his wife can travel, so she can die with her family in Guatemala. The kids are too young to fully comprehend, but they know something is wrong, and they blink slowly at their mother, who is all lines across greenish skin, clutching a rosary and begging God to see her parents one more time.

“Can I see them?” she asks the doctor.

Another room, with a man named Sam who has just lost his wife and kids in a car accident. Drunk driver, at a stop sign, in the middle of the day. Sam was at home cooking; his wife was picking up their two daughters from school; the car had flipped over twice. The drunk driver is dead; Sam doesn’t even have the option to be angry. Sam was hospitalized because when he heard the news, he instantly had a heart attack. He keeps weeping, panicked breaths, asking to hold my hand because he doesn’t know how he can live through this. He hasn’t seen the bodies of his wife and daughters yet.

“Can I see them?” he asks me.

Continue reading “Five Husbands.”

The Thinnest Thread Across a Chasm: I Survived.

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I did this photo shoot a few years ago with a ton of smiles and silly faces—but this picture was a bit closer to how I was really feeling. It was during one of the most miserable seasons of life, when depression had hit full force and I was contemplating The End every waking moment. I had gained over twenty lbs from binging and I randomly fell asleep in my office and I kept letting go of the steering wheel, daring myself to crash. No one knew what was happening; I tried to tell someone but he laughed it off: “Look at you, how could you be so stressed when you so blessed?” So I kept up the smiles and silliness, all while my insides were wax dipped in acid, melted to the thinnest thread, stretched between bones across a chasm. I was Zeno’s paradox, motionless in motion. I was begging God to kill me.

I wanted to give up: but no. God said no. He was stubborn, and so I was, too. I hustled. I fought the dark with everything, both fists swinging, screaming and laughing at the same time, crawling by my bare fingernails to the lip of the well I had been cast down. Slowly, painfully, somehow, I made it through, mostly because I kept waking up and I was astounded to find myself still breathing, and because I gained ground by inches. Colors returned; the fog lifted over time; I found people I could tell; I got a dog and I lost the weight and I survived. It’s not as romantic as it sounds, and I don’t know if the next one will win. But that time, at least, I did. He did. God didn’t answer my prayer then, and it was the best “no” that I’ve ever gotten. I’m here, just barely. So is He, completely.
J.S.

A Social Experiment: To Know We’re Not Alone.


I’ve recently been asking questions on social media to know we are not alone.

So far, I’ve received over seven-hundred responses from Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, and email, privately and publicly.

They’ve been enlightening, encouraging, and have created great discussions.

Join the conversation on Facebook or with comments at the bottom:



Please respond however you like, whether visually, metaphorically, or personally.

– How do you act/think/feel when you know someone in the gathering doesn’t like you?


– How do you feel when someone compliments you or praises you or remarks you did well? And why?


– Let’s say an alien landed on earth and found you. The alien asks (by way of translation), “Besides physical sustenance, what is the greatest universal human desire?” How do you answer?

(Asked again here.)


– What is worse: Rejection or Failure? And why?

(Asked again here.)


– What’s the first thing you feel when you walk into a crowded room?


– How do you feel, think, or act when you fail?


– When you feel like you’re losing an argument, what is your go-to response and/or tactic? And why?


– Fill-in-the-blank: I feel insecure when _____ because _____.


– How do you handle the inner loop of self-condemnation? Like when you replay that voice of shame in your head, or that one event again?


“4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn”


Here’s an article I wrote that’s been published on X3Church, called:

“4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn.”

It’s about four ultimately great outcomes of healing that happen when you quit porn addiction. Here’s an excerpt:

When someone tells me that pornography doesn’t do any harm to the body, I can only reply, “Try to quit porn for a month. See how much better you feel.”

Really. Try to quit porn for just a month.

… Many people are too scared to leave behind porn, because quitting any supposed “pleasure” in our culture feels like an amputation, or some kind of offense against our autonomy. “You can’t tell me what to do” is the leading logic.

But the people who do take up my challenge to quit porn always thank me later. Why? It’s because porn has such an insidious, destructive grip on the brain and body that you can always feel the healing when you quit.

Here are four things that happen when you begin to quit porn.


Read the full post here. My book on quitting porn is here.
J.S.

Breaking Porn Addiction and How to Quit For Good

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My book on breaking porn addiction has a brand new cover! It’s available in both paperback and e-book. It’s been recently endorsed by Craig Gross of X3Church.

This is a very short book about how I overcame a fifteen year porn addiction. I’ve now been sober for over three.  I talk about what porn does to your brain, specific steps to quit, and how you can quit for good.

I know how embarrassing it can be to talk about porn, but this book is designed for both you and to help your friend, regardless of gender or beliefs.

The paperback is only $6.99 and the e-book is 2.99! And you won’t need a Kindle, it works on everything. Be blessed and love y’all!

— J.S.

3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)

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They say everyone gets a honeymoon period at the start of your marriage, but whoever brandished that idea: I want a refund.

Marriage is hard work right out of the gate. Our sentimental ideas about romance get tossed out very, very quickly — and I want you to be ready. Everyone told me what to expect, but no matter how much you prepare, it’s still a jump in the deep end. The more you know about what’s coming, the quicker you can stand on your two feet.

I know that marriage isn’t for everyone (contrary to our culture, singleness is not an illness), but whether you’re not in the dating scene or you’ve been married for years, here are three things I learned instantly in the first week of marriage. These lessons could be valuable and necessary for our entire journey.

1) Marriage pulls down the hologram and brings about the gritty reality of your spouse (and yourself too).

My wife and I dated for six years before we were married, and in those six years, I have never heard her pass gas once. I would constantly tell her that it was okay, but my wife was dead-set on maintaining an air of elegance. No pun intended.

About four days into the marriage, on a wonderful crisp morning in Florida, I asked my wife, “Are you boiling eggs?”

She said, “No. I’m not boiling eggs.”

“Are the sprinklers on outside?”

“No. The sprinklers are not on.”

“But then what’s that sm—”

And it hit me. Pun intended.

[By the way, I have my wife’s permission to share this story. I’m proud to say that she now regularly passes gas around me with the most exuberant freedom.]

In dating, we’re often on our best behavior. It’s like a job interview, where both sides show off their impressive benefits and credentials. In marriage, you see the rough, raw edges of the entire person. Marriage creates perhaps the closest proximity you will ever have with another human being. You’ll see every insecurity and neurotic tendency. There will be friction.

This is more than just about keeping up a pretty image.

It’s also a way of learning how to love an entire person and not just the parts that you like.

In Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, he discusses how we each have fault lines in our hearts, like the cracks of a great bridge. These fault lines get exposed when we collide with another person, so that we spill anger or jealousy or anxiety. A married couple, because they’re so close in space, will inevitably drive a truck through each other’s hearts: which exposes all the fault lines. Deep-seated flaws will shake out of us like shaking a tree in the autumn. It’s in this exposure that we can choose to face our flaws, so that they would be re-shaped by the love we share. The sooner, the better.

You’ll also see every dream, hope, talent, passion, and ambition in your spouse. You’ll see what lights them up and gets them excited. This means that marriage is often about showing grace for your spouse’s worst and promoting their very best. Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves. And if marriage is one of the most intimate unions in the universe, then it has the power to encourage a person beyond their self-imposed limits. Though this can happen in many types of relationships, marriage offers a profound intensity to spiritual growth. Finally, we can pull down our holograms of who we pretend to be, and actually become the people we were meant to be.

Continue reading “3 Lessons I Learned Instantly In My First Week of Marriage (That I’ll Need For Life)”

Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human

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.

Continue reading “Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human”

14 Ways To Handle A Christian Introvert

image

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.

Continue reading “14 Ways To Handle A Christian Introvert”

Giving A Person More Attention Because They’re Attractive: And We All Do It

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.

Continue reading “Giving A Person More Attention Because They’re Attractive: And We All Do It”

Porn Addiction, Part Two: What Porn Does To Your Brain, the Science

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:

Continue reading “Porn Addiction, Part Two: What Porn Does To Your Brain, the Science”

Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?

Anonymous asked a question:

I have no idea what to do about the upcoming presidential election. I want to vote because I can, but I don’t see either of the options as fitting for the role. Any advice?

Hey dear friend, at the risk of alienating others: I also don’t want to vote for either candidate. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate option, all the way up to the voting booth.

Here’s the thing. An American President only has so much actual deciding power, as there are checks and balances to limit what one official can do (though of course, their policies are certainly a factor in how you vote). But my main concern is that the elected officials in any government are part of a greater social influence that describes and decides who we are as a country and a people.

I think the question that I ask is: How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Continue reading “Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?”

Condemning All Violence.


“Dallas sniper attack: 5 officers killed, suspect identified”

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/08/us/philando-castile-alton-sterling-protests/index.html


Absolutely horrified by the events in Dallas. Any and all violence must be condemned. Praying for both protestors and the police.

Police Chief David Brown: “He wanted to kill officers, and he expressed killing white people, he expressed killing white officers, he expressed anger for Black Lives Matter. None of that makes sense.” The sniper had pure hate for every side of the discussion.

Saying “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “don’t fight fire with fire” assumes protesters did this. They didn’t. The sniper expressed hate for both whites and blacks. Don’t buy into it.

J.S.

I’m Sorry and I Was Wrong.


God help me, I’ve been a coward long enough, carefully curating my words not to make enemies, not to alienate, playing the passive agreeable token minority.

So let’s call it what it is. Racism. Systemic, culturalized, indoctrinated, institutionalized racism.

You say it doesn’t exist, but I’ll show you my scars. You say it isn’t real, but I see my brothers and sisters slain by a lawless authority that lacks sufficient accountability, feeding itself by Orwellian double-talk and distancing rationalizations, covering for each other’s inner-circle by playing the ambiguity-card with Walter-White-monologues, jumping to words like “healing” and “calm down” without acknowledging the injury. No, I have met and trained (yes, trained) and I continue to work with many good upholders of the law: but they remain the best of them because of their submission to the very sanctity of which they uphold.

It’s unsettling to confront the possibility of prejudice in our hearts, but it’s there, and we have to talk about it, uproot it, from the top of every system on down.

I’m reading dozens of thoughtless, cruel, heartless comments that neglect the actual human life that is gone, that invalidate such an atrocity to validate the comfortable status quo. If you find yourself justifying a horrible death without recognizing its grief and horror, then you make yourself and that person less human. I cannot fathom such a startling deficit of compassion and empathy.

God forgive me, I get scared of hate-mail and “unfollows” when the streets are covered in blood. God forgive us, we try to win our little “political points” but neglect the tragedy of what is happening right now, to real families who deserved better.

I’m sorry, I was wrong, and I want to help.
J.S.

Is It Really a Sin to Worry?

Photo and art by Jodi Sparber

Anonymous asked a question:

My pastor has given two lessons on why worry is a sin and how to stop it. Is it really a sin if worry is somewhat out of your control? I have OCD and anxiety, and worry is at the root of both. Am I simply not trusting God enough? Am I a bad Christian?

Hey dear friend, I got a ton of love you. We’re fellow worriers! That doesn’t make you a bad Christian, just an honest one.

First things first: The Bible is very clear that we don’t need to be afraid or to worry. Every time an angel shows up in Scripture, the angel is always like, “Don’t be afraid!” Which is hilarious, because if an angel tore my roof off and yelled something in Hebrew at me, I would need to steam clean my floors. Twice.

So yes, your pastor is right, in that worry is a sin that will hurt you, especially when it gets carried away and exaggerates your fears into unrealistic over-phobias. It certainly doesn’t “help to worry.” It tries to conform reality to our expectations, but the more we try to bend the results, the more that we ourselves will break.

Yet on the other hand, God knows we’re going to worry. Some of us will worry more than others. Especially in your case, in which you deal with anxiety, and in my case, in which I deal with depression, we’re going to have an uphill battle. God doesn’t work in “ideals” all the time, but works in the actual gray-space of who-we-are. So while it would be very ideal if we never worried and always trusted Him, and that “not worrying” would be the healthiest things for us, it’s just not going to happen.

Continue reading “Is It Really a Sin to Worry?”

Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show


The Truman Show (1998)
Paramount Pictures

Summary:
Truman Burbank, in one of Jim Carrey’s finest performances, is a nice guy with a nice wife, the nice house, job, and neighbors — but it’s all been staged for Truman. He’s the center of a global reality show in which he’s the only one who doesn’t know. From birth, he’s been raised on an engineered island with hired actors and millions of hidden cameras. If you think I’ve given away the big secret, this is only the start of the movie. Truman’s world slowly unravels when he finds clues that reveal the seams. He knows something is wrong; we find he has probably known it his whole life. He must decide whether to discover his reality or stay content on his perfect island.

Also starring Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, and Natascha McElhone. Directed by Peter Weir.

Questionable Content:
Some suggestions of sex, an unethical premise, and a scene of a man nearly dying.

Why You Should See It (Some Spoilers Ahead):

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show”

Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

shadytyrone asked a question:

For someone brand new to the faith, what is a good chapter of the Bible to start reading?

Hey dear friend, great question. I think it really depends on your learning style, but I can recommend a few ideas:

– The Book of John is almost always the best place to start. It has a ton of theology and shows specifically what Jesus came to do on the earth. It elaborates on seven miracles by Jesus in ascending order of power (starting with turning water into wine, ending with Jesus raising someone from the dead), and suddenly Jesus gets a hit contract on him because he’s considered too powerful. Jesus gives a few sermons before he dies, sort of like “last words,” and there’s a detailed account of Jesus’s activity after he jumps out of the grave. I also like the Book of Mark, as it’s the “action gospel” and moves very quickly through Jesus’s life, like a Robert Ludlum novel.

Continue reading “Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?”

To Meet You in Your Mess.


Real love doesn’t meet you at your best.
It meets you in your mess.
J.S.


Art by 1of1doodles

A Neglected Voice for the Abused


[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.
J.S.

Overcoming the Fear of Moving Forward.


The fear of moving forward is often obliterated by moving forward. Do it scared.
J.S.


Art by Pam Carbungco

What the Bible Says.


Scripture isn’t supposed to make you a jerk. It doesn’t matter if “the Bible says.” If you’re a jerk about it, you don’t actually care what the Bible says.
J.S.


Art by 1of1doodles