How Do I “Bring People to God” Without “Shoving My Religion Down Their Throat”?

caito8o asked a question:

How do you bring people to God without telling them that they are going to hell? Or “shoving my religion down their throat?” And how do you deal with people that tried Jesus and still don’t believe? I have issues with the way my church discuss these topics so I was wondering if you could bring some clarity. Thank you so much for your help!

Hey dear friend, I speak all this with absolute grace and love for you, and I’d like to go one further.

Hell is not a motivation for faith—but neither is heaven. If a punishment or a prize are the motivations for someone’s journey, then my assumption is that person hasn’t thought very far about why they’re on this journey at all. I’m reminded of that quote from True Detective:  “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of s__.”

If my goal is to “bring people to God,” that actually won’t work either, because we shouldn’t be trying to make it work. I don’t mean to assume your motives, but evangelism isn’t a score-card where we win people by attendance. No one is a project or a charity case.

Christians might not think we do this, but it happens in all kinds of unseen ways: we attract people until they’re baptized, and then the pastor stops talking to them. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. God can only naturally flow out of who we are and how we interact with others. God flows from my art, my expression, my patience, my generosity, and what I do with my free time. It’s not primarily a conscious goal to say, “See, this is God!” It was C.S. Lewis who said we can’t try to make good art, but that we make art and it might turn out good. It’s the same way with expressing God to others: it happens or it doesn’t.

Continue reading “How Do I “Bring People to God” Without “Shoving My Religion Down Their Throat”?”

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A Response to Roy Moore and the Bizarre Hypocrisy of Evangelicals

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty

birkinvibes asked a question:

What is you opinion on Roy Moore and his continuous appeal to various pastors and churches in the South, and his claim that the sexual allegations against him are stemmed from the persecution he receives as someone fighting a “cultural war?”

Honestly? I feel deep shame, embarrassment, and anger about the whole thing. I feel deep grief for the women he has assaulted. I’m so tired of the evangelical community right now and exhausted to the point of wanting to call it quits on faith, church, and westernized religion. Moore is a symptom of a way deeper problem.

Too many evangelical Christians double-down on their defenses instead of owning up to their problems. Remember when Mike Guglielmucci, songwriter of “Healer,” admitted that he faked cancer? He played onstage with an oxygen mask, then admitted he faked it while collecting donations, and then said it was his because of his “porn addiction.” He couldn’t just say, “I was selfish and I lied to you and I was deceitful and what I did was evil to people with cancer.” No, he blamed it on the more socially acceptable problem of porn addiction.

Evangelical pastors like Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Paul Sheppard, and James MacDonald have all had moral failures in the recent past, and not a single one of them has genuinely said they’re sorry (don’t even get me started on Franklin Graham). Some of them have started a church franchise somewhere else, or they stubbornly stay and continue their craziness. Their apologies read like Lena Dunham’s Twitter feed. They blame it on “culture wars” and “persecution” and “haters,” but my guess is they just can’t look in the mirror.

Are they able to be redeemed? Yes. Should they continue to stay in positions of authority? No. Not until at least some good old fashioned repentance has been done.

Continue reading “A Response to Roy Moore and the Bizarre Hypocrisy of Evangelicals”

How Do I Call Out Someone Who Believes in Messed Up Stuff?

iliveinayellowsub asked a question:

How can we “gently rebuke” our brothers and sisters who believe in and propogate prosperity doctrine? Because honestly, my first reaction is anger and a desperate need to shut them down 😦

Hey dear friend, this is a really, really tough one. Prosperity Theology is one of the most painful iterations of the Christian religion I’ve ever seen, and it’s always psychologically abusive in the long run.

The thing is, attempting to challenge anyone’s beliefs is a dicey, dangerous endeavor that requires an extremely fine balance of love and truth. It’s terribly difficult and will certainly go wrong. Here are a few thoughts about it:

1) Before challenging someone’s harmful belief, get to know why they believe what they do.

There is a concept called The Deep Story in which if you ask someone about their beliefs, they will tell you a deeper story about what led them there. And every single time, if you listen with an open mind, it’s easy to see that if you had the same upbringing, same trauma, same family and friends, same community, and same circumstances as this other person, you might have come to believe exactly as they do.

Because we are much quicker to speak than ever before—social media, globalization, polarization, all that stuff—we are a bit slower to listen these days. In the last ten years, especially, much of our language has revolved around lectures and imperative commands, so that we’re always (consciously or not) trying to force other people into seeing “my point of view, which is obviously the best point of view.” We are always carving other people into our image.

If you pause to listen instead of lecture, you’ll find that many, many harmful beliefs are based on the premise that I am doing good for the world. Almost no one thinks, “I’m the bad guy” or “I’m defective and trying to hurt people.”

The best thing you can do is really get to know why. Why have they fallen into this cult-like belief system? What does it do for them? How is it working out? And what is good about their beliefs that you can affirm on a common ground?

Continue reading “How Do I Call Out Someone Who Believes in Messed Up Stuff?”

An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out

– Suzanne of biblesteps recently interviewed me about my book on depression. Her post is here. The entire interview is below. You can find my book on fighting depression here. –

Given that depression can be a fragile and, at times, controversial topic, what made you decide to write a book about it?

Depression can feel like a solo sport. There’s no team backing you up. It’s like swimming or gymnastics; once you get going, it’s up to you to make it to the other end of the pool or the mat. (I was told this is why writers get depressed, because writing isn’t really a team effort).

Most of the resources I found on depression began with the “solo” premise: It’s up to you, go get help, here’s this method, try this and this. But that sort of individualized isolation was very vacuum-ish to me. Life doesn’t work in such a frictionless shrinkwrap; we affect others in a causational web and we need their help, too.

So I started with the premise: How do we collectively get through depression? How do we manage the stress and cause-and-effect and even the global consequences of depression? I wrote the book for both those who struggle with depression and those who don’t. I wanted to bring in every person involved, because depression affects families, cultures, marriages, churches, all of it.

I always knew that the topic of depression itself was a game of telephone — “I’m depressed” sounds like “I’m antisocial” to most people — but when I got to the research and surveys, it was even worse than I had thought. There was this nearly impermeable membrane around the discussion of depression. And then this phrase kept popping up in my head: If you could just know how hard it really is …

And as cheesy as that might be, it became the title of the book. My whole goal was to peel back that weird membrane around depression so, if anything, there would be more empathy on every side of the discussion.

Continue reading “An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out”

The Scary Horrible Thing About Depression


Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants with you. It has no rules or code or fairness or dignity.

I have every reason to be fine, but depression is a dirty sneak attack that leaves me completely naked and debilitated. It’s a liar that sells truth: a false reality that says how-I-feel is who-I-really-am. And when a grafted lie overruns the truth, it doesn’t matter that I have “every reason” to be fine: the lie has switched every goalpost and sunk the baseline.

Depression is the worst kind of lie, in that it not only attacks your self-worth and value, but steals the meaning out of words like “self-worth” and “value.” It is cold inertia, slowing down worlds in orbit. It leaves you carved open, constantly bleeding out, unable to retain the vital stuff that makes life. There is spiritual discombobulation; every emotion is a phantom limb, and no amount of affirmation about “life-gets-better” can reach me there.

The thing is, when I’m hit with depression, I already know what to do. I know I have to fight for air. I know I have to crawl for every inch of territory that’s stolen. I know I cannot make decisions unless I talk with someone first. I must reach for my phone. I must reach for every scrap of surface to escape this tunnel.  I must remind myself that there’s so much worse in the world, and that the war inside cannot compare.

I know. None of this makes the fog any easier.

By the tiniest shred of sight, I must crawl.

— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is


Photo by Brandon Woller

Journeying Together Through Depression


Thank you to Nissi, Andy, Sandra, Crupa, and Amber for picking up my book on fighting depression, How Hard It Really Is. Grateful to Sandra for picking up five copies to give away. Praying the book blesses each of you.
J.S.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB

Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?

lovelyishe asked a question:

Some find it hard to explain their answers to these questions for other Christians so I would like to know how you would answer: What’s the difference between ”not overlooking sin” and being judgmental? If there are words in the bible that refer to people as adulterers, liars, fornicators or fool etc why can’t Christians call people those names/make reference to them by those names while talking to someone else if it were ACTUALLY TRUE about them?

Hey there dear friend, I’ve wondered about this too, and I think it’s important to offer some context between accountability and mean-spirited judging.


1) The written word doesn’t necessarily show the tone of what’s being said. My guess is that the tone was deep grief and compassion. In Philippians 3:18, Apostle Paul says he writes these things “with tears.” In 2 Corinthians 10, he says, “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.” Many of Paul’s listeners felt a contrast between his speaking (meek and even unpolished) with his writing (forceful and straightforward), and I think it’s because Paul was so gentle in person as he said some hard things, while his letters without context appeared to be pushy.

The Old Testament might appear really rough, but again, the people saying and writing these things were deeply compassionate. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. David is pretty much weeping every other page. Nehemiah wept for his city as he stood up to traitors. There is an easy-to-miss mix of both boldness and humility throughout the Bible. 

Continue reading “Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?”

Do the Abused Need to Forgive Their Abuser? About Boundaries for the Traumatized


Everyone loves the idea of love and forgiveness—but do the abused need to “love and forgive” their abuser?

Here’s my quick take on boundaries and self-care for the abused and traumatized.

A romanticized culture of hyper-compassion easily leads to fatigue, disillusionment, and secondhand trauma, especially when we attempt to love those beyond our limits. I also share on trying to help those with mental illness, and the ugly reality that many of us are in over our heads and need to refer to professional help.

My post on love, abuse, and trauma is here.

My book on fighting depression and empathizing with those who have depression:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360/
Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB/

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

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

We’re in This Together


Thank you to Nick, Maddie, Priscilla, and Emily for picking up my books.

What the Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith

Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers

Mad About God: No Silver Livings, No Christian Clichés, No Easy Answers for Pain and Suffering

All my books are available here!  — J.S.

Texas, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone


Texas, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sierra Leone have all been affected by disasters in the last week. Not all of them are being equally reported; thousands have died in Asia and Africa. This isn’t a rant but a request. You can still help. Please consider donating to The Salvation Army for their teams in Texas or Save the Children for their emergency fund around the world, which will provide food and water to those in need globally. Please share and pray.

– How to help: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/south-asia-flooding-how-you-help-victims-india-bangladesh-mumbai-millions-a7920641.html

– Save the Children Emergency Fund: http://www.savethechildren.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=8rKLIXMGIpI4E&b=9506655&ct=15003327&notoc=1

– Salvation Army: http://helpsalvationarmy.org

Officially Finished Chaplain Residency


Officially graduated from my year long chaplain residency. Pics of our ceremony service. Thank you and love you friends, for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you to the incredible doctors, nurses, surgeons, unit coordinators, PCTs, environmental services, and every other unsung hero of the hospital. On to more chaplaincy and the next chapter!
J.S.

Thanks for Goodbye: To the End of This Adventure.

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.

No one seems prepared to get old, to become doddering and delicate and decrepit, to embrace the inexorable breakdown of our bodies.

The uninitiated are overwhelmed by aging. There’s a drawn-out feud to stay independent even as your body starts acting on its own, and even the healthiest of the elderly can be disgusted at themselves.

When I visit the elderly, some of them are blindsided by the loss of their youth. The middle-aged are, too. They really can’t stomach it. Some are all too sheepish: “You should’ve seen my figure” or “Back in the day I was something” or “I could fight you full strength right now.” I’m certain I’ll be saying the same things, resisting my withering body as it fails me, hissing at every reflection as I banish myself to mashed potatoes and Mylanta.

Some of this is because we’ve tied too much worth and value to youth and attractiveness. I guess I could blame social media, which permanently imprints our youthful selves on a public scale. But really, no one told us how to cope with death.

Even if I told you what I know, I’m not sure that would make it any better.

Your body becomes gross. Your orifices start popping open like loose cargo pants and you start streaming fluids from everywhere. You’ll stink constantly. About one out of six of you will need a colostomy bag. About one out of five you will need dentures. You’ll have permanent aches and pains. You’ll lose time and names and history. You’ll fall, a lot. Your belly won’t leave, but your sex-life might. Your slang will lose style. You’ll lose relevance. You might not enjoy retirement with all your medical bills looming. You’ll be helplessly stuck in a bed for days; you’ll have rows of medicine to keep you pumping; you’ll find a hard surprise in every mirror. And if you retire wealthy, you might be too sick or too depressed to enjoy it, or—well, cancer. And there are all the funerals.

Continue reading “Thanks for Goodbye: To the End of This Adventure.”

Everyone’s Got Advice About Your Depression


You’re going to find very quickly that when you’re depressed, nearly everyone’s got advice for you. Everyone thinks they know what’s best and what you ought to do.

It’s well-intentioned, and it’s not all bad—but in that very moment, when you’re in the colorless fog, those motivational one-liners are often tacky, tone-deaf, and untenable.

If depression robs you of your ability to logically comprehend and make sense of life, then any advice or solution is not going to reach into the heart of depression.

Both the church culture and pop culture endorse a sort of “powering through” because it really translates to, “I don’t have time to get involved with your struggle.” What’s really being said is: “Pray more and be positive so I don’t have to deal with you.”

Theology and wisdom have their place, but I suspect that we spout them to rush the hurting past their hurt, because it hurts too much to sit in their furnace. It’s a kind of reverse projecting: I can’t bear to look into my own uncertainty when I see yours.

My urge to offer advice has good intentions, but it’s also a way to offload the hard work of navigating the wound with the wounded. I offer a reason of certainty because it’s easier than traveling with the hurting in the uncertainty. It’s a way to protect myself from answering the unanswerable. I don’t like the silence because it makes me uncomfortable. I have to offer something or else it makes me feel helpless.

It’s the same reflex that happens when some of us see someone cry. “Don’t cry,” we might say, even though very often, crying is the only way to heal through the river of all we have held inside. I’ve found that when I say, “Don’t cry,” that’s about protecting me from discomfort rather than leaning into your hurt and healing.

So all my advice makes your pain, your tragedy, and your depression, about insulating me, instead of moving towards you.

You can do one from the rooftops, but the other means diving into the smells and groans of their misery.

It’s dirty. It’s work. And no one naturally wants to pay the high cost of navigating someone’s pain.

— J.S. Park How Hard It Really Is


Photo by Chris Wright

You Don’t Have to Be Right: Just Be Right Here



I always wonder about people who keep picking a fight.

It seems they’re not interested in discussion, but only saying the contrarian opposite thing just to stir up a heated moment. That’s a one-way monologue, never a two-way street. It’s usually disguised as, “You can’t handle my truth” or “I keep it real.” They begin with the assumption that everyone else needs to be taught and they’re the teacher. “Wisdom perishes with me” and all that. There’s backpedaling and deflecting and doubling down and twisting words to appear like they were always right even when they’re proven wrong.

I don’t know why. Compulsion, maybe, or an addiction to drama, or the desperate urge to protect a fragile ego. Or maybe they never learned how to disagree with compromise, but everyone only catered to them and they always got their way. And despite trying to correct everyone all the time, they can’t stand to be corrected. They physically act out and justify and defend themselves to death, clawing at every straw to win. Win what? I wish I knew. In the end it only loses all of us.

I’m that guy sometimes, too. But I want to be teachable. I want to assume I’m never the smartest guy in the room. That’s okay. I always want to learn, to be able to say, “I’m wrong, and I’m sorry, and I need your help.” To be teachable is freeing. It means we can actually have a conversation. It matters less that we agree, but more that we build a bridge between you and me, that we can see how we got to where we are and how we can keep going. I hope we stay connected—because I cannot see with my own eyes alone.
J.S.


Photo by Mariyan Dimitrov, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Isn’t Everyone’s View of the Bible Just Their Own Opinion? Whose Interpretation Is Right?

iscribblesometimes asked a question:

The last post you made is really good, I think that sort of attitude is really important in Christianity. But how do I keep that attitude, and understand that the bible has been interpreted in many ways, while not becoming doubtful of the bible and it’s truth? How do I keep an open mind and still remember that God is unchanging? (I’m not sure if you take asks so don’t feel pressured to answer, just thought I would say what I’ve been thinking for a while that your post reminded me of.)

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post.

For reference, I wrote this:

“Because the Bible says so.” Okay, but whose interpretation? Yours? Mine? From the era of the Crusades? When they were burning people at the stake? When it was used to support slavery? What if we have different conclusions? What if we’re both wrong? 

So first off: I got quite a lot of backlash on that post, and I had to take a break from my inbox and from looking at comments and reblogs. I don’t say that out of self-pity (there’s a lot more important stuff happening across the world), but rather to point out that I must’ve hit a nerve. Someone commented something like, “I thought you were one of the good guys.” I mean, I laughed, but I was also a little bummed out by all the judgmental assumptions. Like, can we not ask these questions at all?

I wrote the post originally because a few people confronted me saying things like, “I unfollowed you because I don’t agree with you theologically” (which is fine, everyone has a right to unfollow) or “Your interpretation is off” or “You’re becoming a liberal” (as if liberal is a bad word).

So I asked the questions out of sincere curiosity. How do we get out of this conundrum of your interpretation versus my interpretation? If you say my view is wrong, isn’t that just your opinion of my opinion? Aren’t we all sort of flying blind? And how exactly do we meet in a place where we can intellectually discuss our disagreements if one party already presumes the higher ground? Really, when someone says “I disagree with your theology,” what they’re saying is, I disagree with your interpretation of theology based on my interpretation of theology. So where did that interpretation come from? Trace it back and it’s always from someone else. A person. With a tiny brain like yours and mine. Augustine or Calvin or Nietzsche or Osteen. Some church leader a thousand years ago, or some book written last year, or some preacher guessing at the Bible the best he or she knows how.

Of course, I don’t mean to say the whole thing is unfathomable. Much of the Bible is very plainly spoken and can be taken prima facie, at face value. I also remember in seminary learning that the best way to interpret the Bible is by using the Bible. That sounds like self-defeating circular logic, but it does make sense: for any kind of text in history, whether a play or novel or comic book or mythology, it require an internal consistency with a baseline, on its own terms. The Bible does have these rules, called hermeneutics, and each book within it follows the rules of its own genre, whether poetry, eyewitness account, journal entry, or practical wisdom. So the Bible can be understood, as long as the authorial intent, the time period, and the genre are taken into context.

Yet—even on its own terms, even within context, even knowing all the rules, the content of the Bible can become difficult to comprehend. The Apostle Peter himself writes of Paul’s letters, [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter says this of Paul, we shouldn’t be surprised at all that Scripture can get murky and muddled.

And it’s that second thing that Peter writes, about people distorting the Bible, that always gets me. I’m not always sure how to discover which interpretation is the right one, and some of that is because of my bias that is staining the lens with which I read Scripture. Each of us have so much self-interest that we can use the Bible (and other stuff) to justify any position we want, even under the guise of “the common good” or “your benefit.”

On top of that, multiple competing viewpoints appear to have sound logic backing them. There are a ton of different ways to interpret the Bible, and each interpretation can look as good as the last one. Who’s to say who’s right? Is Moby Dick really about revenge? Did F. Scott Fitzgerald really mean all the symbolism? Is The Planet of the Apes about racism, class warfare, the folly of playing God, all of them, or none of them? How can I trust my senses? Or yours?

So I have two starting points that might help.

Continue reading “Isn’t Everyone’s View of the Bible Just Their Own Opinion? Whose Interpretation Is Right?”

Dancing with Shoelaces in Knots.


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.

“A chaplain? What do you even do?” someone asks.

Usually I answer with the checklist stuff, because it sounds purposeful.

“Death and bereavement. Viewings. Living wills. Next-of-kin search. Find a surrogate. Bless babies. End-of-life support. Comfort families in the waiting room. Respond to a Code Blue. Pray.”

And then I say, “Mostly, I talk with sick people.”

To be truthful, the to-do list stuff is easier because it has tangible goals. It has an official air, with a definitive landing. But the talking part is weird and sloppy. It’s like slow dancing with a stranger.

Dialogue has no rules about it, which sounds romantic, but imagine two people trying to dance for the first time with their shoelaces jammed up in knots, and the patient expects me to a be a professional when half the time I’m learning on the fly as I adjust to the patient’s feet. It sounds cute but it’s clumsy.

Imagine trying to start a conversation when:

Case 1 — A young man drives off a bridge. The paramedics find a gunshot wound in his side. It’s possible he had been running from a drug bust gone bad. His entire family is notified; the man dies; the family is screaming at the top of their lungs in the waiting room.

Case 2 — A woman’s husband has just died. She’s handling it well. She even makes a few jokes next to her husband’s body; she’s had time to process his dying. But she’s more upset that her husband’s family is trying to grab at his will, his wealth, his house. The woman asks me what I can do.

Case 3 — An ex-convict has a body cast from head to toe. He believes that God might be punishing him. He confesses that he’s killed a few people; he wants to kill someone when he’s out of the hospital, but his sickness is changing his mind.

Case 4 — A boy under ten years old has been struck by a car. The boy is injured but recovering. His parents are taking shifts at his bedside; I walk in the room to find his mom. She’s relieved it wasn’t worse, but she’s scared.

Case 5 — An elderly woman is dying. She has no home, her family is out of state, and she thinks she’ll die alone. She asks me how to do a funeral, how to get right with God, how to reconcile with her husband.

Case 6 — A dying elderly man asks if it’s morally right to prolong his own life on an artificial machine.

Case 7 — A woman has had five heart attacks, but she’s not slowing down. Her two daughter are in the room, one who works at a hospital, and they’re both concerned for their mother’s health. She promises she wants to take care of herself, but her daughters are doubtful. They look to me for answers.

Do I tip-toe around their concerns? Or do I offer my opinion? Do I leave it open-ended? Or do I help them work it through?

Continue reading “Dancing with Shoelaces in Knots.”

Condemning Hate Is Not Enough


Condemning hate isn’t enough. That’s the bare minimum. We also need solidarity. Compassion. Calling out. Standing with. Fighting for. Ground level work. Sleeves up. In the dirt. There’s the difficult brutal unpopular risk of getting on the right side of history. In the home. Out there. Over fences, across oceans. Side by side when it isn’t pretty, when no one’s looking, when everyone is, when the wounded lean heavily on our shoulders, when no one cares. That’s the stuff that changes where we’re going.
J.S.

The Gritty, Raw Dance of Marriage


Marriage is hard. Pretty pictures and bite-sized highlights might give you a false impression that it only takes sparks and looks: but the gritty reality is work, tears, and sacrifice. It’s a dance, everyday, to compromise and serve. In the depth of this tough humility, there can be great beauty. Real joy requires a fight from our very best.
J.S.


Photo by The Ganeys

The Difficult Messy Work of Accountability, Humility, and Confronting Pride

rattlemymilkbonez asked a question:

How does one deal with pride and self-loathing? I’d say my mood is pretty healthy most of the time, but when someone else points out when I do the wrong thing, I start hurting and feeling angry with myself because I hate making mistakes more than anything. Which seems silly, I guess, since we all fall short of the glory of God.

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve learned over and over that no one naturally does well with accountability and self-confrontation. It’s our natural instinct to preserve an idea about ourselves, to scratch for every justification to believe we are right and good. The only other direction besides pride is, as you said, self-loathing, or self-condemnation and despair, and we seem to fluctuate between these two extremes: pride or despair.

In my hospital chaplaincy education, we actually have an assigned group of five people, and we get together several times a week to talk about how we’re doing and to work on “growing edges.” These are very, very tough conversations. We call each other out. We hold each other accountable. We might say, “So last week I noticed you did this thing that really bothered me. Can you say more about that?”

We have a policy to be curious and not judgmental—but there are always at least one or two people in the group that absolutely cannot handle this process. They flip out or melt down, or in one case, give everyone the middle finger and quit. Even the “well-adjusted” chaplains squirm in their seats and try to deflect and rationalize instead of self-examine.

It’s really, really difficult to confront the truth about yourself because we all have some ugliness inside, and it’s unbearably painful to see the selfishness and emptiness which we so desperately cover. It’s hard to give so much trust to another person who can dig into your heart with a scalpel and reveal that there are real problems inside.

But we also need this. We do need to give our trust to at least one or two people to say, “Please tell me graciously and patiently what I need to work on sometimes.” We need to give permission for people to call us out, or we will never grow, and instead isolate ourselves in an ivory tower of self-reflexive lies.

(And no, that doesn’t mean some random online blogger gets to self-elect to do this to you. I believe that God has placed specific people around you, near you, that are trustworthy and have the right blend of tenderness and tough precision. I can almost guarantee that he or she won’t be some troll or gate-keeper or shrill doctrinal parole officer.)

You see, everyone wants this for everyone else but themselves. That’s why when you listen to a sermon or a TED Talk, you think, “If only my mom could hear this” or “I wish my boyfriend was here.” We’re always thinking of the specks in other peoples’ eyes instead of the plank in our own. We lack so much self-awareness that we also lack the awareness of our own lack of self-awareness.

Continue reading “The Difficult Messy Work of Accountability, Humility, and Confronting Pride”

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’re 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. Park