I was interviewed on The Unburdened Leader podcast by Rebecca Ching. We talk about my very difficult chaplain work, how to talk about depression, and navigating intergenerational racism.
Calling all parents! (And people with parents!)
What is one piece of helpful parenting advice for soon-to-be parents? Or something you learned from your own parents parenting?
(I said parents a lot just now. We’re expecting any day!)
Thank you, friends. 🙂
If you wouldn’t mind (it’s fine if you’d rather not), can you elaborate on the “it’s not always persecution” post? I’m a Christian and feel like I could use some enlightening here. Thank you!
Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post:
There’s a phenomenon called a Persecution Complex in which someone feels that any sort of external opposition is “persecution” and is therefore the “enemy.”
Now, real persecution does exist. Christians, Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ community, and some ethnicities experience physical violence all around the world, simply because of how they identify. Some religions are outlawed in certain places, at the risk of imprisonment or worse.
However, “persecution” for Christians is often stretched in the West to mean, “They stopped putting Merry Christmas on Starbucks cups.” Or, “They made fun of my fish sticker on my car.” Or, “I tried preaching a sermon at my work meeting and now they’re avoiding me, I’m being persecuted!”
The thing is, being a Christian is naturally strange for a lot of people. We forgive, we give generously, we love on those who are hard to love, we don’t fight fire with fire. If I met someone that compassionate, I would think they had an agenda. Christians don’t have one; they’re gracious because they want to be, because they’re a reflection of how Christ is alive in their lives. So sure, people might say a Christian is weird. But sometimes western Christians will flex their identity obnoxiously, stuffing a false Jesus into every conversation as stubbornly and awkwardly as possible, wanting a Christian theocracy, calling all opposition the devil, accusing people of working for satan, saying any feedback is just “demonic.” This is just plain weird in all the wrong ways. It’s a victim complex that creates Us vs. Them, that can arbitrarily label any criticism as a satanic hater.
I was asked why I joined a protest.
First: I am 100% behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Do Black lives matter? A resounding yes.
I also believe we can be 100% behind a movement that is not 100% perfect. We can engage without endorsing every single part of it. This has been true for every movement in history.
If the church dismisses a “secular movement” because it’s too “liberal,” the church will remain a windowless tower. It will isolate itself from all streams of healing and from all wounded people. And if the church cannot be the hands and feet of Jesus in these places, then who? What gospel will they hear except a self-affirming superiority?
I’m reminded of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr, who navigated every social-political sphere and led with leaders like Rabbi Abraham Heschel and monk Thich Naht Hanh. As a Christian minister, Dr. King moved in places he may not have endorsed, but that’s how the secular and sacred worked together. No divide, only divine.
What’s sad to me is that “social justice” has been demonized by church leaders. It’s “not real salvation.” So no longer does the world go to the church like they did to Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. If only the church was the bold beacon of hope it ought to be: movements would come to the church and we could lead together. Just imagine. That’s real evangelism.
It has been centuries now since the church was the pioneers of progress, the cutting edge of arts, science, music, education and human liberation. Now: churches are cultural conversion camps, cut off from a world they deem wrong.
Yes, I can uphold my theology in differing places, and more, my theology compels me to them. If your faith is “contaminated” by partnering with movements, what does that say about your faith? If a movement has to be done a “Christian way,” where are you? In the world, not of the world: that is a skill we must re-learn.
So no, I cannot separate myself from secular spaces, scholars, sources. God is moving there when the church won’t. I want to be there. To walk boldly and compassionately as Jesus did among tax collectors and Roman politicians, across all divisions. And I will always be for the wounded, every time. Every single time.
One of the big points that I make in my book is, “Self-awareness is only fully found in the awareness of others.”
That can mean
– deep, uncomfortable reflection
– reckoning with our own bias, prejudice, beliefs, and actions
– hard conversations
– asking for feedback
– hearing the stories of others – reading works from others with vastly different experiences
– one-on-one dialogue with safe people who are willing to process with you
– apologizing specifically on the spot
– praying with safe people
This does not mean
– putting the burden on others to educate you
– only discussing things online
– trying to process as a way of catharsis and clearing your conscience
– merely saying “sorry”
– forcing others to process without their consent
– comparing your story with someone’s story
– dumping your past guilt with racism onto a person of color, which can retraumatize them
– making yourself the hero of the story, but rather humbly receiving the gift of self-awareness
These are hard things. They can’t be done overnight. May we pace ourselves and keep pacing. Be blessed, friends.
Hey friends! I was interviewed by Jordan Raynor on his podcast The Call to Mastery. We talk about grief, false theology, my very tough work as a hospital chaplain, and my book The Voices We Carry.
On Spotify here.
Jordan Raynor is bestselling author of Called to Create and Master of One. You can follow him here: https://instagram.com/jordanraynor
Yes, statistically, things are getting better. Global world hunger is down, the living wage is up, life expectancy is up, annual deaths from natural disasters are down, number of educated and vaccinated individuals globally is up, and the majority of the world population has electricity.
But when I sit with a patient who has brain cancer, when I sit with a homeless person who has been continually assaulted and lost their children, when I sit with a patient brutally assaulted by authorities, when I sit with a family who cannot afford their loved one’s chemo or surgery, when I sit with a woman who has been passed around the foster system and been taken advantage of countless times—no, I do not quote these statistics.
I do not hold up pictures of cancer survivors shaking hands with their doctors, smiling and posing.
I do not hold up pictures of families in front of their new houses shaking hands with their real estate agents.
I do not say, “Only one percent of people with coronavirus actually die.” Yes, fortunately things are getting better. But I have to keep asking, “Better for who?” Better for chronically ill individuals with no hope of coverage? Better for the elderly in nursing homes who are kept in prison-like conditions? Better for prisoners who are kept in inhumane conditions befitting of war crimes? Better for the Black community who struggles just to be heard?
Better for who?
Better for you and me, maybe.
But better for you does not make it true.
As I sit with the grieving and wounded and oppressed: I dare not quote facts and stats that mock their tragedy.
Because as long as my neighbor is not okay, it’s not getting better.
I cannot rest until we sit in the same shade.
[Statistics largely cited from Factfulness by Hans Rosling.]
You more than matter. Black lives are beloved, cherished, dignified, and bearers of the Image of God. It is a truth denied but it is no less true.
My friend “Shayla” (who gave me permission to share her story) was telling me that after the hundredth video of a Black person beaten in the streets, after one more citation of false facts and stats, after one more demand to “just work harder and get off welfare and quit drugs,” she had the terrible thought, “Maybe they’re right. I’m not human.”
After so many racist messages and images, it can become impossible not to believe, “I’m not human.” Or, “They’re right.”
The internalized trauma of racism is crushing. Day after day, the Black community is denied their lives, art, beauty, voices, stories, truth. Even when we know these racist messages are not true, they have a way of creeping in, suffocating, infiltrating our beliefs.
It cannot be overstated how much the trauma of racism deteriorates a soul. Trauma has a way of saying, “I am what has happened to me.”
I say as a chaplain but also as a human being: I have seen so many kinds of grief, but to believe your skin makes you deficient is one of the saddest, most haunting pains of all. It sticks so hard. It kills. It takes a thousand times more work to restore wholeness than to tear it down.
I will always be on the side of the wounded. I will do all I can to be part of that thousand steps towards wholeness.
For me, to say Black Lives Matter is a starting point to recognize the full worth of Black Lives. In Korean, the phrase Black Lives Matter is “huhg-in-eh seng-myung-un so-joong-hapnida,” which means Black Life Is Precious. I will continue to say Black Lives Matter, but even more, precious and worthy—not just worthy of protecting, but also having inherent worth.
If you are burned out, traumatized, overwhelmed by racist messages and images, please know the truth: you bear the Image of God. Your worth is not in what you’ve done or how you’ve been treated. It may be hard to believe today, but you are loved. I am with you and for you. As much as I love you, the Creator loves you infinitely more.
MYTH: “No one is born a racist, we are taught racism.” So I really wrestle with this one. I get the sentiment: Racist behavior must be cut at the root, or else it’s passed down. Yes, we need to unlearn bad behavior and teach better ones.
But if I went to every single bully in high school who threw punches at me while yelling ch*nk and asked their parents, “Did you teach your child to be racist?”—they would say no. Most of us don’t teach racism. To say we’re “taught racism” implies that if we’re just nicer and look people of color in the eye, then racism is thwarted. The myth is that learning better behavior is enough for equity. But that’s easy mode. And it’s easy to learn that game without real internal change.
When we say “racism is taught,” we might have a comical picture of neo-Nazis or southern racists in rusty trucks openly yelling racial slurs around their kids. So it’s easy to say “I’m not as bad as them” and never once consider ourselves in that cartoonish pool of people.
The truth. Ideas are not always taught, but caught. Ideas are stitches woven into systems, which weave their way into our DNA. Ideas can be learned by absorption, osmosis, by simple exposure, and our atmosphere has an insidious way of becoming the normal in our bones.
In other words, you may not have been “taught racism,” but you and I have been stitched into the fabric of systems that do not act with equity, justice, and accountability. We are not guilty, but we’re responsible.
Yes, where you‘re born is out of your control. The systems and structures are not of your making. But the unawareness of our environment does not disqualify us from participating in that environment. You take on the benefits of your birthplace. Those benefits are not birthrights. They’re only a reminder that no success is self-made.
Others take on the blisters of their birthplace. And if the words of Scripture are true—“if one part suffers, every part suffers with it”—then we must treat this at every level, both inside and on sidewalks. To simply teach good behavior is the bare minimum. The uncomfortable part is to enter in, own our duty, and to listen.
There are so many conflicting images. Peaceful protesters lying down in streets, kneeling and pleading, distributing masks and praying and holding signs for justice. Protesters separating instigators and educating witnesses. Then the burning buildings, looting, assaults, the provocateurs, outside agitators, the opportunists. Law enforcement shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, more knees on necks and backs, driving their vehicles through crowds unprovoked, even as crowds shout no. And images of officers and citizens kneeling together, hand in hand, reconciling, trying to understand.
I think it’s too easy to pick one image and make that the whole story.
Here’s what I see.
What I see is rioting and crimes committed, but even more, peaceful protests and people listening.
What I see is the black community disproportionately abused and killed. But even more, I see their deaths expose a coldness, that we’re unmoved and still, the response a dismissal and derision, as if they‘re a subhuman species, second class, their stories replaced with stats, “black on black,” and misplaced facts.
What I see is that the black community is not seen.
What I see are images of riots being weaponized to ignore pain: “What about the fires and looting and riots” in my inbox, and never once, concerned about racism and brutality on their street blocks. Instead it’s “Look at these burning buildings” and I feel them and I agree, and I also want to point to these burning black communities, they’ve been burning already for centuries while we had the luxury of apathy. You see good work undone by riots—but did you see good work undone by your quiet? I see both; I must see the bigger picture; and right now the pain is bigger, the protests are bigger, those are the thousand words in every picture.
If you wave around just the one image, then maybe you’re seeing what you want to see and you’ve looked for what you want to believe.
I see the violence and I condemn the harm. I also see protests and we have to march.
Sometimes there’s no gray. Sometimes there is clearly right and painfully wrong, plain as day.
Even if both sides have a point, one side can be wrong. And it’s exhausting to constantly find “balance” and remain neutral. Neutral, in the face of evil, is not only a cop-out, but it’s dangerous. Neutrality is exactly how abusive and manipulative systems continue to operate unimpeded. Neutrality is grease for the engine.
It is not enough to say “I’m not one of them” or “There are good ones too.” It is not enough to say “We need more love in the world.” It’s exhausting to see one more picture of people hugging or high-fiving or laughing with some kids one time in an unseen community, as if that solves a thing. None of this centrist moderate stuff is enlightened. It’s cowardice. It’s fear of losing a fanbase.
Really, I’m a coward when it comes to this. I always want to be gracious, nuanced, thoughtful. I hate to cause discomfort, rock the boat, be a downer. I want to look at all things from all angles, all the time. I never want to alienate anyone. I’m a master of tip-toeing on thin ice, dancing around hard words, stretching between absolutes, trying to silver-line my way through.
But to know the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor—it’s impossible not to shout and scream and cry. Their murders are on me. On being neutral. To be silent is to have picked the wrong side.
As it has been said, it’s not enough to say “I’m not racist,” but we must be actively fighting it. Otherwise, you and I remain grease, keeping the engine running.
To be truly nuanced is to humanize those we have lost. To fight for them. To be as angry as you need to. It’s to take care of yourself amidst daily retraumatizing. It’s to call evil what it is. It’s to condemn racism in every form, individual and systemic, in the home and in the heart.
I’m sorry I don’t speak as loudly as I should. I don’t always know how to fight, but I want to. To the wounded families: I’m sorry. I will act.
Anonymous asked a question:
I went through a traumatic life experience about 3 years ago. As it played out over the last 2 years, I feel like I’ve lost my inner drive to do anything. What do I do?
Hey dear friend, I’m sorry to hear this and thank you for sharing about it with me.
While I’m not a doctor or therapist, I can speak just in my capacity as a trained hospital chaplain. Trauma is a serious issue that’s gotten a lot more attention in the last decade, which I’m really grateful for. I highly recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score. (Warning that it does contain some hard descriptions.)
– Therapy. I can’t recommend this enough. Self-disclosure is one of the absolutely best ways to get through trauma. Whether that’s with a therapist, friend, mentor, pastor: we need to talk it out. Jamie Pennebaker’s studies about self-disclosure reveal that it’s not just about venting, but sense-making. Even simply writing about your trauma (if you don’t like writing, then recording it by audio) for fifteen minutes a day for several days can have noticeable health benefits. Pennebaker suggests answering these two questions: Why did this happen? What good might I derive from it? (Quoted from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.)
– Interoception. When trauma occurs, it not only leads to a loss of personal and spiritual control, but also physical control of our own bodies. We can experience fatigue, chronic pain, numbness, depersonalization, or dissociation. In other words, we can become detached from ourselves. So often this happens because our internal narrative says, “This bad thing happened to me, therefore I am bad.”
One of the ways to fight this is to “master” our own bodies again. That can be done through exercise, yoga, dance, martial arts, bike-riding, or any sensory experience that requires rehearsed and specific moves. To get to know your own body again is to own your body again. (Concept of interoception from The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.)
Anonymous asked a question:
Do you get angry with yourself when you seem to miss obvious things? Like I’m trying for years to be good at work and I feel that I can’t obtain what I’m trying to work towards. I look to make sure things are quality and somehow it seems missed. At least sometimes when I work for certain people. I feel conflicted on compliments and then comments for revisions. Maybe it’s the way it’s said. Maybe I want to be more. I don’t know what to think of myself, how to better myself. I try to do a good job.
Hey dear friend, yes. I think you’ve described the human experience.
We each live with a “phantom pain” of regret, of choices not taken, of missed opportunities, of always seeing what could’ve been. It’s hard to hear criticism not always because they’re wrong about us, but by the possibility that they’re right and that we could’ve done better.
A recent study of almost 42,000 college students shows that our sense of perfectionism has increased drastically. There are three measured types: self-oriented, other-oriented, and socially prescribed. The last one increased the most, by 32% in a span of almost the last three decades. Why? Because more than ever, we are constantly witnessing social prescriptions of “who you should be” through social media, phones, and modern narratives.
It’s impossible to avoid the narratives, “Better than yesterday” or “I am enough” or “You can do what you set your mind to.” When the truth is, sometimes we’re not better today, we are not enough, and our brains can trick us into impossible goals.
I was part of a cult once. There was one warning sign that I missed—and I don’t want you to miss it. It’s not as easy to spot as you think.
I never thought I’d fall for something like that. When we think of cults, it seems obvious: they take your money, they isolate you, they talk about aliens or conspiracies, they make you wear pajamas. But this one was way different. It took me a long time to recognize I was being tricked and brainwashed. Because I was a people-pleaser, it was even harder to speak up.
If you’re at a church or workplace or student body or nonprofit or group that doesn’t allow for questions: you have to question if that’s a healthy place. The places I’m most worried about are not the weird ones, but the charming ones that get along too well.
In my book, I talk about how we can easily fall for hidden narratives, groupthink, and persuasive speech, and ways to proof ourselves.
Grab my book here: The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise
I’ve been told, “If you had just prayed more – read more Bible –believed more – claimed your promises – confessed all your sin—then you wouldn’t be so depressed.”
Or, “If you had just exercised more – done more yoga – eaten more kale – get more motivated – stop being selfish—then you wouldn’t be so depressed.” “If you had just – if you had just – if you had just—“
None of those things are bad things. But they never guarantee that you or I will make it. They’re not some meter to fill up to prevent depression, as if being “good enough” means you’re immune. If these things don’t work: it’s never your fault. It doesn’t say a thing about you. Depression is a liar, a whole world turned into fog. But it does not make you bad, lesser, or wrong.
At my most depressed, at the end of the tunnel where there’s more tunnel, at my very rock bottom—my tiny bit of faith was the rock that kept me going.
It’s not that when you have faith that your depression and anxiety are gone. But it’s when you’re depressed or anxious, your faith might be the only thing that keeps you strong.
To survive, sometimes, is faith enough.
It’s hard and uncomfortable to talk about race—but I have to tell you this story.
I’m always saddened and surprised at how much people roll their eyes at it. At how much we’re unwilling to hear each other. It’s why I’m always scared to bring it up.
When I share I’ve experienced racism, I’ve been called crazy, oversensitive, dramatic, or a liar. “You’re reading into it too much” or “It’s all in your head” or “That doesn’t happen anymore.” Is it always racism? Maybe not. But without confronting ourselves, there’s no hope of healing and accountability. Then our stuff stays hidden and continues to destroy.
In this video, I discuss the two most dangerous lies we tell that prevent us from hearing each other. Whether it’s race, gender, mental health, culture, class, or faith: we all get dismissed in some ways. We need to hear each other more, not less. Real compassion is not comfortable, but confronts the injustice that has been ignored. Compassion challenges us to be better.
In particular, it seems no one cares about the Asian-American experience at all. When I talk about it, it’s always ghost town. I am invisible. I know my story is not as hard as many others; I’m generally lucky. But it’s still a lonely thing when nobody hears you—especially when no one believes you. My hope is that even if your story isn’t like mine, you would still hear me, and that I would hear you too.
[Thank you to Moody Publishers for sharing this video on Instagram.]
If you’re always serving, it’s easy to lose your own voice and identity. Those in mental health work, hospitality, church ministry, or those who simply just listen all the time don’t always get to process their own thoughts and feelings. This can be exhausting and infuriating.
Emotional labor is the cost you pay when you feel one way and act another. Many of us who serve have to smile, nod, never flinch, never judge, and always get along. How do we keep our own voice while serving others?
I go over Ring Theory and how we can process our emotions safely. We need room to be ourselves as we take care of others.
I meet many Christians who claim “persecution” any time someone disagrees with them. The words “enemy” and “worldly” are tossed around with glee.
There’s a troubling obsession with The Language of the Infidel: it’s intoxicating to think “God is on my side” and that anyone who disagrees is working for satan. Everyone is a “false teacher” including the church across the street, the pastors in a different denomination, and politicians across the aisle.
This sort of self-affirming theology can never admit it’s wrong and is always blaming the devil, demons, and warfare instead of examining itself. It fantasizes a phantom caricature of “haters” so that there never has to be accountability.
This sort of thinking can be expanded to Main Character Syndrome, in which I believe I am the hero of my own story and everyone else must be conquered or conform. This mentality almost destroyed my marriage. In my book, I talk about how my marriage was saved when I broke out of the idea that I was the hero.
Grab my book here: The Voices We Carry: Finding Your One True Voice in a World of Clamor and Noise
I was interviewed by Ben Amoah of The Auricle Podcast. We talked about having a healthy skepticism for our beliefs, what brought me from atheism into faith, and my work as a hospital chaplain.
On Apple Podcast / iTunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-necessity-of-being-a-skeptic-ft-j-s-park/id1434506901?i=1000474189654