I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?


It’s a crazy, incredible thing to be in a place where people slow down and listen, where they hear your whole story and let you paint your full heart in the air.

I was telling one of my fellow hospital chaplains about life lately, about my health problems and secret panics and suddenly about a billion other things, every humiliating and painful and neurotic moment that had been twitching my eye for the longest time, and I didn’t realize how much I had bottled up in my neatly wrapped fortress. I was embarrassed, but my chaplain friend only nodded, never flinched, stayed engaged. She then prayed for me, a really beautiful prayer, like cool water for bruised purple hands, one of those prayers where it sounded like God was her best friend down the street. And I wept. A lot. Quietly, but inside, loudly. Something then shifted and settled and became still for a moment, like the leaves of a tree coming together after a strong wind, a momentary painting. I left lighter.

Later I visited a patient who had nearly died from a brain bleed, and when I offered prayer, the nurse grabbed me and said, “Me, too.” I took her to the side, and she whispered, “Cancer. I might have breast cancer, and I’m afraid, chaplain. I’m so damn afraid.” She clenched her teeth and tried not to weep, but I put a quick hand on her shoulder and she wept anyway. She talked. I listened. There was nothing for me to say but to be there. And maybe nothing had changed—except we were made light somehow, and together drew something bigger than us. We drew colors into the gray.

There are still places, I believe, even in a busy and unhearing time, where we can draw free. I hope to meet you there, where we are not okay, but less gray than yesterday. I hope to pray for you, that we become bigger.

J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

Ocean Electricity, Carry Me.

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.

I have a difficult time moving on after each hospital visit. And really, shouldn’t I? You know, like when you see a two minute video on Facebook about a national tragedy a thousand miles away, and then you scroll down to your friend’s vacation pictures of the Eiffel Tower or something; I can’t flip the page that fast. I’m not a channel-changer. I can’t quickly transition from videos of a war-torn Syria to a breakfast bagel. That doesn’t make me “morally sensitive” or anything, but I really, physically can’t do it.

I think of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, about the mementos that each soldier carried with them in the Vietnam War, things like a girlfriend’s pantyhose or dental floss, but really “the things they carried” were each other’s burdens, and maybe their nap-sacks got lighter as the war went on, but inside they were sinking without a life-vest. Their mementos eventually became each other, until the person next to them was the thing they carried.

I leave each room carrying that patient with me for a while, and I’m reminded of this time I almost drowned in the ocean when I was a kid. My friend’s dad took us out on a boat into the middle of vast nothingness, and my friend and I decided to swim, but a current carried us off and we were inhaling huge gulps of sea water. My friend is a better swimmer, so he grabbed me up and swam us both back to the boat.

Sometimes, chaplaincy is like that. Here’s a patient trying to find themselves amidst doctors and diagnoses and complicated medical terms, a thirty-ish patient just learning the name of his ten new medicines, a forty-ish patient who came in for chest pain learning that she needs new lungs, a kid with an amputated foot learning about prosthetics and phantom pain—and for a second, I try to help that patient swim a little, and their arm pushes me down momentarily, but we need to stay afloat to find the boat, and occasionally we don’t find it, but I just swim with them in that turbulent roaring ocean for half an hour, and that was enough for another gulp of air.

Continue reading “Ocean Electricity, Carry Me.”

God’s Greater Vision.


I hope we have eyes to see that God is doing something we cannot see. This takes discipline, but we have help. God has a vision far greater than my sight. He has an imagination that infinitely outweighs mine. We think a person is an impossible case: but God is in the business of the impossible. After all, He saved you and me.
J.S.


Art from thehopeletter

How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering

Anonymous asked a question:

Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)? Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.

My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head).  So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given such a long leash.  I’m going to ask God about that one, probably with my arms crossed and eyes rolled (and my head on fire).

The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack it today, either.  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday.  Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of abuse and slavery and oppression and terminal illness, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain.  Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really from Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So what?”

I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here, because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer.  Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person.  No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists. I say this as a chaplain who works in the hospital, who has seen the very worst kinds of suffering, knowing that any amount of inspiration or explanation will never be enough.

I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today.  I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and we can “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with snark and cynicism. That’s easy mode.  And that’s okay.  We’re free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.

And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed.  I would never bring this to the bedside of any of my patients in their inexplicable grief. None of this theology really matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love.

As always, please feel free to skip around.

Continue reading “How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering”

Jesus Welcomes the Worst of You.


Jesus welcomes doubts, questions, confusion, frustration, venting, and disbelief. He welcomes those who draw near and say, “I feel so far.”

If you haven’t talked to him in a while, he will not bite your head off.

His arms are always open. Jesus can handle your clenching of the teeth and shaking of the fist. What he does not want is for you to stay there.

J.S.

Art from worshipgifs

Don’t Believe All That You Believe


Occasionally I’ll binge-read atheism blogs to re-examine my faith and to remember what it was like when I was an atheist. Some of the online debates are absolutely terrible, but a rare few are civil, compelling, and thoughtful. I have to really pause and consider the implications of a godless universe.

It’s always such a balancing act to question your own faith, but I also think most Christians are too afraid to look over the edge, to dance on that precarious cliff of hard questions, so we run to easy answers and bad arguments. We’re too scared to investigate doubt. We’ve equated a lack of confidence in faith to some kind of moral value judgment, as if “doubt” means personal failure. I refuse to believe that questions must mean a lack of character. I propose the very opposite: that we must have a place of safety to ask those questions and to not be threatened by curiosity.

I hope that whatever you believe, you would investigate it thoroughly to the very bottom and think through every foundation. Please do not let anyone do this for you. Simplistic platitudes will not get us through the darker times, but we also believe more lies than we think.

— J.S.


Room Enough for Us: Coping With the Way We Cope.

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.

I’m in a room where a father keeps telling his high school daughter, “It’s all in God’s hands now, it’s all in His hands.” The girl has lost both her feet in a car accident and her eyes are blank; she’s looking past her dad, somewhere else, into another universe where the other driver had one less shot at the bar.

I want to tell the father, You’re not helping. Can’t you be more sensitive? Don’t you know it’s a process? Can’t you see it doesn’t work?

Every room, one after another, is filled with friends and family members who try to help with the same kinds of shrink-wrapped platitudes. I’ve heard them all.

“Everything will be okay.” But what if it’s not?

“This is God’s plan.” To suffer this much? Why?

“It could’ve been worse.” But isn’t it already bad enough?

I get bitter about this stuff. You’re not helping, I keep thinking at them. And more selfishly, Let me do my job.

I guess it’s easy to see the dad as the bad guy. And sometimes, the guy who brushes off your pain really is the bad guy. But — I’ve also been learning about why we say this stuff so much.

I’m learning that we’ve all learned a way to cope, whether good or bad, and we default into the only way we know how to get through.

I thought about that father and his daughter, and how much his daughter needed to process what was happening. But maybe for the dad, the platitudes were his initial way of processing. Maybe that was all he knew about coping, and it’s what he needed right then.

Of course, the daughter needed it more. She needed the honest room to talk, to be mad, to felt what she felt. But the dad was short-cutting all the honesty because he never had the room to feel how he felt, either. He never had that chance in the first place.

I’ve seen that there’s no school for this sort of thing; there’s no open venue for vulnerability in an increasingly polarized world; no one is rewarded for saying the harder things out loud. We use religious language and pep talk and positive thinking because it’s all we’ve been trained to do. Westernized prosperity and self-help and self-talk are big businesses. We’re constantly taught that if we “dream big” and “try your best,” that we can “achieve anything” and “like attracts like” and all this other brainwashed, first-world, upper-class tripe that only works in suburbia. We’re conditioned to affirm and encourage and cheer each other on, even and especially by forced, coerced, plastic smiles. Anything else is seen as a “Debbie Downer” or “Negative Nancy” or “toxic triggers” or something. No one is taught how to talk about illness, death, or dying with dignity.

So I get it. I get why we try to fix it so fast. I get the denial. We’re all indoctrinated to be scared of the dark, so we keep it light. It’s easier to spout off a motivational one-liner that looks good in typography. No one tells you how to paint without a brush and to jump in the bloody mess.

So I hear, “God has an amazing plan for your life!” one more time, and before I get too bitter, I have to pause. I have to remember where all this comes from. This is what he knows. That’s the size of his spiritual muscle. It doesn’t make me better than him. It only means I have to be better for him.

I’m trying to have grace for this.

Continue reading “Room Enough for Us: Coping With the Way We Cope.”

A Bridge to You and Me, of Purest Stone


This is the Preface for my book Grace Be With You. The Preface is about the gravitational power of story that connects us. The book is a compilation of my stories, encouraging quotes and poems, and everyday encounters from the road to the hospital to cafes and gas stations. Be blessed, dear friends.

There’s an old Star Trek episode where a particular alien species, the Tamarians, can only communicate in images and allegories. As the helpful android, Lt. Commander Data, puts it:

“Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.”

This strange constraint plays out to amusing fashion throughout the episode, as each party is frustrated by their miscommunication, and the tension nearly boils over into a knife-fight and all-out war (maybe your idea of amusement is different than mine). By the end, one of the Tamarians sacrifices himself in order to create a heroic narrative that both his people and the Federation can understand. It succeeds; this act of nobility becomes the bridge towards peace. The great Captain Picard realizes, “The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication—connection.”

We’re not much different than the Tamarians. We risk the friction of our jagged edges to connect, not merely by formulas or flowcharts, but by a sloppy crawl through our shared, lived-in journey. We crave a common vocabulary beyond the heavy anvils of prose, crafted from imagination and our unified experiences.

Stories contain power because they seem to unveil secrets that have long been muddled, as if we’re unearthing lost royal treasure. But more than that, stories are a connective tissue, bringing us together by the longing and landing of a resolution.

Since a narrative thrust is essentially driven by an unresolved tension, with unassailable obstacles besetting a goal on every side, we discover in them the depth of our courage and cowardice, and we find out how to be. We find what we’re meant to look like.

We find, perhaps unwillingly, that we are not always the heroes, but in need of rescue: because we’re so often the cause of our own tension. And this is what puts us in the same boat, the same battle. The best stories require first an examination of our limitations, and then a cooperation as equals, through a slow-burning realization that we are not opposed to one another, but can reach the same goals with a little spunk and ingenuity. From Star Wars to The Karate Kid to The Lord of the Rings to Up, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to a genie in a bottle, these are tales told side-by-side. We find we are fellow travelers, not so different, really, with a universal desire for shalom, a harmony—and we can’t get there alone. Heroes cannot fly solo, and villains are not beyond change.

Stories and symbols have a way of disarming us, too, getting to the inside of the matter with gentle precision. Propositions are a bit like bricks and beams: necessary for the foundation, but soon rigid and inflexible. Narratives and metaphors have a dynamic of growth to them, like seeds pushing through the dirt into the sun, and they give breath. Or maybe, as one theologian said, they are windows that light up the house and give it air. It’s why Nathan the prophet did not approach David with lectures and bullet points—”Three reasons that adultery and murder are bad!”—but instead with the innocent story of a poor man and his ewe lamb, ending on a twist that David could not negotiate. It forced David to rise from the dirt, into light.

Jesus himself spoke in parables with great aplomb, from mustard seeds and millstones to swords and sparrows to wedding feasts and rebel-runaways. Jesus’s disciples often had trouble deciphering his parables, which Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure at times—but ultimately, the parables were pointing to a future work on a cross and in a tomb. His stories pointed to his heart, and his heart sculpted the greatest story of them all: a final sacrifice to bring us peace with God and one another. He spoke of rescuing us, because we could not do that on our own. We were never meant to.

Only Jesus could become our bridge of peace, our shalom. And this kind of love is not merely the royal treasure, but the very purest stone from which all treasures are made.

The following pages are much like rotating the facets of such a jewel, pointing to the pulse of the galaxy-sculptor. These stories and poems and thoughts are chiseled by joy, sorrow, failure—and the great love that has cast a shadow on them all.

My hope is that we meet somewhere between the words, to connect, because I believe this is the truest stuff of life. Stories help us to mesh in this tapestry, that in our overlap, we’d find strength hand in hand. I’m excited. I’ll see you there.

J.S. Park // Grace Be With You




Photo at top by sonlight972, used with permission.

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?”

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.”

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)

julettejoonengaged-041

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

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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.

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”

My Faith Is Up and Down and All Over The Place

Multiple anonymous questions —

[As always, please feel free to skip around]

– Hey Pastor. I guess I’m just wondering if I’m the only Christian who blows hot and cold. I’m terrible about reading my Bible or even praying. I tend to go in phases where I’ll do really well and be on it every day and then I hit a spot where I go weeks without cracking open my Bible once, and then I just sorta feel guilty so I keep staying away. Sometimes I second guess myself and wonder if I’m even saved, because if I was, wouldn’t I love Christ enough to give Him that time? I know that I am born again, and I also know that Christ has enough grace even for this, even though it’s the same thing over and over, and I know that I am the one shaming myself. I guess I’m just wondering if you’ve ever struggled with this yourself, and if you have advice on how to combat it?

– I’m glad I came cross your blog, I’ve been lacking my relationship with God. You can say even wondering about His existence … But lately I’ve been struggling and tried to talk to God but I don’t get answers and feel like He either left me or everything that happened was in my imagination…

– I need help, I’m lost I’m a struggling Christian who sometimes finds it hard to believe in god and other times it’s easy, but I still attend church every Sunday. I love being a Christian however over the last few weeks I’ve been getting into things like drugs, alcohol, and lots of sexual activity. what should I do? I’m questioning weather I should give a testimony at my church about who I really am, and the things I do, the truth, but even in the house of god I know I will still be judged.

My dear friends: You’re not the only ones who feel this way.

Most Christians are shocked that they can’t maintain a certain level of excitement and discipline in their spiritual walk — but I’m wondering where we got all these crazy parameters from.

It’s probably the unfair church culture that has hyped each Sunday into a let’s-top-last-week rock show.  Or it’s the way the preacher keeps guilt-bombing with, “When was the last time you really read your Bible and sang from your heart?”  Or it’s the Westernized ideology of performance and competition.  Or it’s just our own self-criticism.  Or you’re exhausted.

But please allow me to give you a little grace and freedom here.

Not everyday of your marriage can be like your wedding.  No one is expected to duplicate the first feelings of chemistry into their fifth decade of a relationship.

Faith is a tough, messy, muddy, organic sort of thing.

I know that’s probably the hipster thing to say.  But so long as we live between a perfect loving God on this hostile fallen world, we’ll have trouble believing the unseen eternal.  Some of us will struggle with that more than others, and no one can blame you for that.

Continue reading “My Faith Is Up and Down and All Over The Place”

A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines

Anonymous asked a question:

So I’m taking an honors world history class taught by an atheist teacher and we’re learning about evolution and it’s really really testing my faith. Honestly I don’t know what’s true right now. My theology isn’t the greatest because I’ve only accepted Christ for two years now. I’m just now finding it hard to believe in the Bible and God right now.

Hey dear friend, thank you for sharing this with such honesty.

The truth is, every single type of belief system will eventually get shaken somewhere. When this happens, we can 1) investigate deeper into what we really believe, and 2) incorporate the new information into our beliefs somehow.

We each experience a kind of cognitive dissonance when our worldview is shaken. It can actually make you disoriented, nauseous, and depressed. Sometimes it’s from learning more about the world, or it’s from a terribly brutal tragedy, or it can be a very persuasive argument that uses flowery language. And these experiences will inform our theology and philosophy, and vice versa. But none of this has to be a threatening, stomach-punching trauma.

While we’re certainly going to feel what we feel, we can still explore this new information in light of what we currently know, and then navigate a way through it. It’ll be tough, and you may be scared or surprised by your conclusions, but it can actually make you a more thoughtful, whole person, too.

Continue reading “A Faith Crisis: When My Theology Is Shaken by Science, Debates, and Headlines”

How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?

Anonymous asked a question:

How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?

Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.

If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”

Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”

The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.

In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?

Continue reading “How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?”

I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy


[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.

Better Than You Think.


You’re doing better than you think. You’re in the middle of your motion, so it’s hard to see where you are. But so long as you’ve been taking one heavy step forward after another, no matter how awkward your stumbling, then this is worth celebrating. Every moment you’ve done right is a miracle in itself.
J.S.


Art by here_as_in_heaven

Why Is the Bible So Harsh? Why Doesn’t It Encourage Me?

Anonymous asked a question:

The bible always seems so..harsh, when I read it. And I’m not sure why? like, I feel so little of God’s love from the bible. I don’t know if this is a bad thing to say, but I want verses about love. I need verses and the parts of the bible that talk about love, but I feel like my anxiety is clouding and preventing that. Help?

Hey dear friend, I definitely understand that: there are plenty of times I get to some unwieldy passage in the Bible and I want to throw the whole thing in the trash. No kidding.

But here are a few thoughts to consider.

Continue reading “Why Is the Bible So Harsh? Why Doesn’t It Encourage Me?”

Can God Really Fill My Loneliness?

Anonymous asked a question:

As a christian how can we be intimate with God so that he fills the void of companionship?

Hey dear friend, I’m afraid that this might be a false dichotomy. In other words, intimacy with God and companionship with people are not two separate things. Jesus told us the Greatest Commandment is (paraphrased a bit), “Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength … and love your neighbor as yourself.”

To quote Timothy Keller:

Adam was not lonely because he was imperfect. Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Adam was lonely because he was like God, and therefore, since he was like God, he had to have someone to love, someone to work with, someone to talk to, someone to share with.

All of our other problems—our anger, our anxiety, our fear, our cowardice—arise out of sin and our imperfections. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you’re made in the image of God.

Loneliness is not a sin, but points to a very real need that we’ve had since the very beginning. Certainly, if our loneliness leads us to idolize others or people-please or squeeze unhealthy expectations, then we will be crushed. On the other hand, if we only “rely on God” in a sort of monk-like asceticism, then we will either grow resentful of “these worldly people” or we will never participate in the stream of God’s loving activity, which involves people.

Continue reading “Can God Really Fill My Loneliness?”

I Believe It Is Enough.


I believe it is enough to know that God loves you.

Right where you are.

Before you got there.

And after you leave.

The simple truth: I am loved, no matter what, and that’s enough.

Jesus tells us that the itchy, pervasive, persistent gap of “never-enough” is probably true, because we’ll never be enough on our own.

But I believe He’s enough for me, so I don’t have to be.

I believe, yet again and again, that He loves you. He loves me. That is enough, for another day. It is enough for today.

J.S.


Photo by sonlight972, used with permission.

Theology Showdown: The Narrow Gate Vs. the Broad Road

Anonymous asked a question:

I am a little confused about something and I was hoping you could help. In Matthew, it talks about the narrow path and gate into heaven. How can I, as a Christian perceive that to mean something other than that lots of people walk towards God but very few actually make it. This seems to go against grace? And also the profession of Jesus as a saviour?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a troubling passage that is very off-putting at first glance: but I’d like to balance this passage with the entirety of Scripture.

Let’s look at the passage in question, Matthew 7:13-14, which says:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

So it looks like most people alive today will end up in Hell, an eternity under the wrath of God, while only a fraction will make it to Heaven.

But then, let’s look at Matthew 25:13 here, known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins (or Bridesmaids). To summarize, Jesus tells a tale about a wedding where ten bridesmaids are waiting for the bridegroom to begin the ceremony, but only five of the bridesmaids came prepared with extra oil in their lamps to greet him (this sounds like a weird custom back then, but weddings have always had weird customs throughout history, e.g. throwing bouquets or fishing for garters or dancing past a reasonably non-creepy age). So five of the bridesmaids make it, but five don’t. This implies that at least half of the people we know will end up in Heaven.

Lastly, let’s look at Matthew 13:24-30 here, known as the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. To summarize, Jesus tells a tale where a farmer’s field is sabotaged by weeds. The farmer, instead of pulling up the weeds, decides to let the wheat and weeds grow together, and at the time of harvest he will separate them. This implies that most people we know will end up in Heaven.

So which one is true? Is it the story of the Narrow Gate, or the Ten Bridesmaids, or the Wheat and Tares? Do only a few of us make it, or half of us, or most of us?

Continue reading “Theology Showdown: The Narrow Gate Vs. the Broad Road”

Scared of Love and Scared of God: What Do I Do?

Anonymous asked a question:

What do I do if I’m scared of love, especially from God?

Dear friend, I would say that you’re probably describing the entire human condition and the greatest fight of our lives.

One of the hardest battles we will ever face is to truly, fully, absolutely believe we are loved. So you’re definitely not alone in this fear. It’s this very fear that drives us to seek approval in illegitimate ways from sex, money, reputation, corporate greed, racial superiority, and a million other terrible stories throughout history.

The devil dropped two lies in the beginning to trick us, and the second lie was essentially, “Isn’t God holding back?” when Eve wondered if she should get the fruit off the tree (the first lie was, “Did God really say that?” to get us to doubt God’s truth). In other words, Satan got us with, “Does God really love you?” And that’s a lie we’ve been wrestling with ever since.

The fear of love is natural, but I really do hope you’ll find good people who will demonstrate God’s love to you. One of my favorite Bible verses is 1 John 4:12, which 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.” That means we see the love of God when we experience the love of His people. There’s no shame in finding divine connection through human connection.

Continue reading “Scared of Love and Scared of God: What Do I Do?”

What Are Some Legitimately Good Christian Movies & TV Shows? 15 Quick Recommendations

Anonymous asked a question:

I’m sorry for the rant, I know it’s a common complaint. But there has to be a reason it’s a common complaint. I can’t tag on “Christian” music too much because it boasts a lot of great stuff, but Christian films are really slacking besides like 5. Idk. Do you have any recommendations?

Hey dear friend, I definitely believe that you’re not ranting. I’ve written on the topic of Christian art and its mediocrity before here.

My suspicion is that Christians are expected to “show grace and forgiveness,” so this somehow gets misapplied to Christians creating subpar art. There’s quite a lot of sloppy Christian niche-entertainment that gets away with mediocre production under the label of “Jesus,” when there was a time that Christians were the most celebrated of inventors, composers, artists, and musicians of their time. While I’m all for independent artists paving their way through the industry, I think it’s unfair to slip under a critical radar with the excuse, “It’s Christian, so it’s okay if it’s a little messy.” No, not when it’s unprofessional and pandering.

Saying that art is Christian doesn’t make it Christian, and there’s some “non-Christian” art that points to God more than so-called Christian art ever could.

Continue reading “What Are Some Legitimately Good Christian Movies & TV Shows? 15 Quick Recommendations”