I Had This Dream, That in Another World, I Was Someone Else, Someone Not 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.

The patient, Jerome, had a trapezoid-shaped hole in his head, and he told me it was from his son.

Jerome’s son had waited in his father’s home until he came back from work, and then he robbed him. Jerome fought back. In the struggle, his son had picked up one of those bright and shiny geode rocks the size of a torso, lifted it to the sky, and wham, in a sick, slicing arc, brought it down into his father’s head. The son was still at large. The father, after six months in physical therapy, still could not get the blood stain out of the carpet in his house. Jerome had lost his job at the oil rig; his wife had left him; his other son took two jobs to pay off the hospital bills, but one evening after dropping off his dad for PT, had been struck by a sixteen-wheeler and died on impact.

“Chaplain, I had this dream,” Jerome said, scratching his old wound, “that in another world, I was someone else, I was someone better, that I have two sons who love me, my wife never left, I was still at the rig with the boys … I had a dream that I was someone not me. It was extraordinary. It was wo—”

He fell asleep, which he told me would happen. His brain needed to shut down when it overworked itself. A few seconds later, he woke up and apologized.

“I had this dream, chaplain. Do you ever dream that you are someone in another world, a different you?”

Continue reading “I Had This Dream, That in Another World, I Was Someone Else, Someone Not Me.”

Prayer Request, Friends.


Hey friends, I’d like to ask for a quick prayer and encouragement. I’ve been working on a new book about fighting depression, and it’s about halfway done. It was supposed to be done three months ago. It’s been excruciating to get through each page, and it’s a crucially important work (for me, anyway) to share with fellow fighters. At times, I want to give up: it’s painstakingly difficult to finish, not least of all because of revisiting the shadows behind me.

I know this is a tiny problem amidst all that’s happening out there, but please pray I’d have the fortitude to follow through. If it helps just one reader, it’ll have been absolutely worth it. Thank you and love you, friends.
J.S.


Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

“9 Tricky Defense Mechanisms That Are Ruining The Communication In Your Relationship”


Hey friends, I was published on Thought Catalog! It’s a post called 9 Tricky Defense Mechanisms That Are Ruining The Communication In Your Relationship. It covers defensive tactics like rationalizing, deflecting, blame-shifting, gaslighting, and other easy-to-spot moves.

The original post is herehttps://jsparkblog.com/2017/03/13/9-tricky-self-deceptive-defense-mechanisms-that-completely-undermine-dialogue/

Here’s an excerpt, the one I’m most guilty of:

6) Value Judgment / Moralizing. Measuring a person’s inherent value as inferior, especially when their preferences or personalities are different than yours.

The way you think is not how things are. Can I say that again? The way you think is not how things are. It’s simply how you think. Your personality and preferences are not the barometer by which the world turns. I struggle with this one the most; I’m always tempted to mold someone into my own image. Even when there are healthy standards to abide by, it becomes a problem when we grade someone’s value based on how well they’ve caught up to them. And surprise!—we rationalize or blame-shift or deflect when we ourselves don’t measure to our own standards. To truly understand another person requires knowing the whole story, and not just a tiny slice of their life.


Read the rest here. Love y’all, friends! — J.S.

9 Tricky, Self-Deceptive Defense Mechanisms That Completely Undermine Dialogue

If you’ve ever been in an escalating argument, you’ll always notice how it becomes a “meta-argument” about unrelated things that are not really the point. The dialogue gets further and further away from the main thing, until you’re both screaming out your lungs and throwing appliances at the ceiling. Arguments, in hindsight, often look embarrassing, full of cringe and regret and wreckage like an irreversible radioactive wasteland.

When conflict comes around, everything feels like it’s at stake: your value, your truth, your work, your very life. So understandably, we resort to self-preserving mechanisms to scratch and claw for our very lives. Here are a few defense mechanisms that get us stuck, and how we can get un-stuck.

Continue reading “9 Tricky, Self-Deceptive Defense Mechanisms That Completely Undermine Dialogue”

Editors’ Picks: Frontpage of WordPress



Hello friends! I’m on the frontpage of WordPress by Editors’ Picks for a post called:
When Do Politics Decide Friendship?

Join the conversation. Be blessed and love y’all! 
J.S.


When Do Politics Decide Friendship?


lovelyishe asked a question:

 What is your opinion on the stance that you should end a friendship because of differing political opinions? Is there a time when you believe it is best to drift apart from them or no?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a difficult, relevant question today, as it seems political differences more than ever are not merely a disagreement of opinions, but becoming an aggressively different opinion of human value, with all kinds of dangerous implications.

I’m fortunate and blessed to have friends with a wide range of political beliefs who are open to discourse or even changing their minds. Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online. There are many, many thoughtful people across the spectrum that do not fall easily into our biased categories.

My concern is not that everyone has to agree a particular way. My major concern is that our beliefs have sound reasons behind them. When I hear the stories of enlisted soldiers, military veterans, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, victims of racism, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, immigrants (like my parents), and abuse survivors, I can begin to see why their experiences have shaped their positions on specific issues. The more stories I hear, the more I can understand. I can become a student instead of a critic. I can more easily reach across the aisle, not necessarily to change minds, but to build bridges where our stories are respected in the overlap.

Of course, this bridge-building cannot happen with everyone. Sometimes a person’s politics are so explosive and divisive that it seems they only want to watch the world burn (or as it’s said, it’s a zero-sum game). There really are people who cannot be engaged with, no matter how gracious we approach. But unlike the terrible circus we see online, on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, most people are way more three-dimensional than that. It’s only ever a last, last, last resort that I would ever break off a friendship because of politics.

Continue reading “When Do Politics Decide Friendship?”

Does Your Theology?

Photo by Lindsey Noel


Does your theology drive you to your knees to weep for people who disagree?

Or does it provoke a surge of self-righteousness and increased volume and overpowering tactics to prove your point?

Does your theology allow room for growth and imperfection and an eye-to-eye understanding of the whole story?

Or does it imprison a person into a one-dimensional caricature who must think exactly you like do, or else?

Does your theology look for ways to love and engage and move in? Or does it look for permission to cut off and shut down and divide?

Does your theology have grace for people with bad theology?

Or did you read this thinking “This is for them and not for me” …?

Without grace, our theology is only posturing, and that’s not what Jesus came to die for.

J.S.


11 Blogs I’m Unfollowing Immediately

[Disclaimer: Angry post. Sorry.]

Once in a while, I do a “spring cleaning” of social media by unfollowing a ton of stuff. Not things I disagree with (we need disagreeing points of view) and not because I’m better than anyone (my insecurity would immediately banish the thought), but because it’s simply better for my mental state. It’s never a hasty decision. But where I’m going, I can’t take every voice with me. If you must, please discern wisely to unfollow me, too.

Here are eleven kinds of blogs or social media I’ll be leaving behind.

Continue reading “11 Blogs I’m Unfollowing Immediately”

Say the Whole Thing, Fully Everything

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If you express a strong opinion and get attacked for it, please don’t backpedal with “I was only trying to say” or “What I really meant was.”

Of course we want to be humble and teachable. There is always room for criticism and dialogue. It’s good to say you’re wrong: but don’t apologize for being strong. Please don’t hold back on your heart to look more rational than you really are. You can’t always be so cool and calculated. The strength of your voice is necessary in a nervously muted world.

Your expression is who you are in the heat of the moment, fully imbued by your wild strokes of passion and personality, and no one should be sorry about that. Don’t minimize your own humanness by trying to appeal to everyone’s civil sensibility. You might need to examine your content, but don’t let it shrink your character. In a silent world of jaded conformity, we need more of your voice and not less.

J.S.


Photo by TOM81115, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tell Me Your Story.

I was nearly an abortion. I was an unplanned accident, born out of wedlock, and the one before me was aborted.

I was born to immigrant parents, who naturalized and met in New York. They started with nothing, working as many as 100 hours per week, slowly and painfully saving money until they could open their own businesses. They believed this was a great country, and still do. My father served alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and he is a proud veteran of this nation.

Many of us have these sorts of stories; they inform who we are, what we believe, and what we fight for, and so we are a myriad of uniquely shaped stories, each giving rise to a different voice in the world.

The really tragic thing is when we superimpose a particular idea on someone without attempting to hear their story first, and their voice is then stamped and smothered. We can too quickly assume a person is only their picket sign, their political party, their social media feed, or a cartoonish, dogmatic, one-dimensional archetype sensationalized by a grab-bag of Hollywood images. We predict what they might or might not believe without asking, without listening, without understanding.

A person’s voice is always built from their stories, their experiences, their very real pains, and it’s this blend of blisters that has brought them to stand on their particular hill. It is a hill, whether rightly or wrongly, that has been reached by a stream of forces that no two individuals can fully comprehend in each other.

So we can only try. Patiently, graciously: to hear their story on the hill.

Continue reading “Tell Me Your Story.”

Jesus: For Them


The entire Bible goes out of its way to lift up the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor. God loved the “inconvenient.” If you’re not for them, you’re certainly not for the Bible, and the whole irony of it is that I’m pretty sure Jesus died for both them and for you, too.
J.S.



Photo by Demi Brooke Kerr

Love Is a Fighting Word


Love is not passive,
kindness is not silence,
and compassion is not quiet;
sometimes it means we raise our voices
to fight for our very lives.
J.S.



Art by 1of1doodles

My Top 16 Posts of 2016 from My Tumblr


16) Breaking Through Jealousy: Passing the Fire

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

14) 5 Ways to Diligently Discern All the Good and Bad “Christian Advice”

13) I Believe It Is Enough

12) I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?

11) I’m Sorry and I Was Wrong

10) 5 Kinds of Romanticized Crushes That Will Mess You Up 

9) As I Really Am

8) You Won’t Like This: But I Hope You Hear Me

7) We Bleed, All The Way Up

6) How Do You Believe This Bulls__t?

5) A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

4) I Held a Swastika

3) Five Husbands

2) Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

1) 15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

Top 16 Posts of 2016

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Here are the Top 16 Most Viral Posts of 2016 from my blog, ranging from topics such as porn addiction, feminism, neo-Nazis, being at the bedside of death, and the time my wife and I broke up for six months.


16) The Christian Life Isn’t a One-Shot Deal, But a Walk Painted by Steps

The Christian walk isn’t a “one chance and it’s over,” but a life-long mosaic.


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15) The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out; the prayers go unanswered; we won’t know why.


14) I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?

I need to know I can tell you everything.


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13) How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?

I’m often asked how I keep believing, and I can’t believe that I keep believing.


12) A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

Seven truths and myths about forgiveness.


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11) Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show

In my movie analysis series, I go over the spiritual and cultural themes of The Truman Show, a deeply tragic comedy about opportunism and freedom.


10) I Hate My Life and Myself and I Want to Die: What Do I Do?

The reality is, our dreams get crushed, and people will leave or cheat or abuse us, and our perseverance doesn’t always pay off. Most of us are not prepared for how harsh and brutal that life can be, because no one gives the hard talk about what it’s really like.


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9) “4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn”

An article I wrote for X3Church about four incredible things that happen when you quit pornography.
(My book on quitting porn is here.)


8) Breaking Up and Getting Back Together: About Me and My Wife

My wife and I had a six-month break-up. We needed it.


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7) Five Husbands

On a whirlwind day at the hospital, I visit five husbands who have lost their spouses.
(My other chaplain stories are here.)


6) What The Bible Talks About When It Talks About Women: A Mega-Post on Those Troubling “Anti-Women” Bible Verses

Contrary to pop opinion, the Bible is one of the most, if not the most, pro-women document in history.


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

A girl gets mad at her boyfriend and tries to cheat with me, and things only get worse from there.


4) You Won’t Like This But I Hope You Hear Me

No one likes to hear the hard truth about themselves: but without it, we will never grow, never heal, never go.


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3) I Held a Swastika

At the hospital, I visit a patient who tried to bite a nurse and threw urine at a surgeon, and happens to have a tattoo of a swastika.


2) 5 Kinds of Romanticized Crushes That Will Mess You Up

When “romantic feelings” overtake you, here’s a little guide to see where that goes.


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1) 15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital

My work as a hospital chaplain has helped me to know what not to say to patients and the hurting.


4 Good Words that Were Hijacked for False Agendas

Words have a particular reverence, and when used correctly, they draw a visceral response and call us to the frontlines.

But if you “cry wolf” too many times, the word “wolf” loses meaning. It eventually evokes a shrug, or worse, total neglect when someone is getting killed by a very real wolf.

When words are hijacked for an agenda and become a buzzword, they become nearly cult-like handshakes that are isolated to an ivory tower and only preach to the pre-confirmed choir. Even worse, a buzzword shrieks in shrill tones over the slightest hint of infraction, so the actual word loses power to sincerely cry wolf.

Words meant for a legitimate issue are robbed of legitimacy when they’re the rally cry for a mob spectacle. It seems less like a call to action and more like an inflexible banner of insider-talk, a megaphone accusation in the ear, a circular affirmation behind closed doors. Perhaps ironically, the broader a word is used, the more narrow it becomes, kidnapped as the hostage of a tiny echo-chamber. It’s alienating and incomprehensible.

Gratuitous pandering to the lowest common denominator only tramples the voiceless, and we end up diminishing the very people we were trying to help. Such words become abusive and divisive, highlighting the issues over the actual people. You can only whistle the kids out of the pool so many times until we neglect the drowning.

It’s no wonder that most people exit the building when they see a tribe-abused buzzword. Those words are now so loaded that they only convey a cartoonish, exaggerated parody, and even when used correctly, are seen as catering to a specific subset of people who already agree. Those on the fence of an issue are not fooled, either. Which is endlessly tragic, because these words in their purest form are often about a real wolf that needs to be called out and corrected.

Until we get back to their true meaning, we’ll either be picking up pitchforks at all the wrong things or rolling our eyes at all the right things.

Here are four words we’ve hijacked to the point of oblivion, which we need to reclaim for their true intent.

Continue reading “4 Good Words that Were Hijacked for False Agendas”

For Fellow Fighters of Depression: A Quick Survey


So I’m working on a book about depression and I need your help. I’ve wrestled with depression my whole life, and I feel completely inadequate trying to write about it. Most writing on it tends to leave behind a certain kind of person or two (perhaps inevitably so), and I don’t want to leave anyone behind. I would love your vulnerable input.

I want to ask fellow sufferers of depression (and feel free to skip any of these)—

1) Which parts of the conversation around depression really bother you?
2) What kind of dialogue have you found helpful?
3) Do you feel that depression is more of a disease or a choice? Why?
4) Has prescribed medicine been helpful? Why or why not?
5) How do you help a friend who’s going through depression?
6) What does depression feel like?


You can also join the conversation on Facebook here.

Please feel free to email me if you’d like to stay anonymous, as well. Love you and thank you, friends.
pastorjspark@gmail.com

J.S.

Also, I’m making this book free for anyone who asks. A purchase would be a bonus; my priority, though, is dialogue and a fighting chance.

The Worst of Me, the Best of Me.

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I believe people are worse than we think.

I believe people are better than we think.

As a Christian, I’m both a pessimist and an optimist at the same time.

I’m painfully aware that we are capable of the worst sorts of evil, and worse, that we too easily turn a blind eye to the real grief of others. Many of us are so sheltered that we deny how deep such depravity runs in our veins. We laugh it off, we whistle past the graveyard, we gloss over the wounded. I’m pessimistic because I see how awful we can be.

I’m also painfully aware that we can be manipulated into thinking people are one-dimensional cartoon caricatures, so much that we become cynical and jaded over the possibility of change. Our very real fears are often exaggerated by a binary social narrative that has us ravenous for blood. We forget that each of us do have hopes and dreams and passions that overlap and interweave. I’m optimistic because I see how harmonious we can be.

I’m hopeful that the best of us, within us and among us, can build bridges through open scars and new stories through broken hearts. That we can give a voice to our uncertainty. That we are on hand one not extremely dismissive, and on the other hand not completely nihilistic. That we validate each other’s concerns and lean into our very real wounds, while not buying into the back-and-forth backlash of answering hurt with hurt.

I am holding space for our fears.
I am holding space for our hopes.
I’m a cynic and a critic.
I’m a believer and I’m with you.
Will you be with me, too?
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

“God Is In Control” Doesn’t Let Us Off the Hook


Yes, Christians, “God is in control so don’t worry” and all those other cold comforts that we throw around.

No, Christians, that doesn’t absolve you of being an ambassador of healing and reconciliation and actually leaning into the legitimate fears and anxieties and grief of many people. You ain’t fooling anybody with this “God is in control” stuff. A lot of it’s undercover gloating, and it’s not a free pass to look like you care about those who are truly scared and uncertain.

And yes, Christians, there’s only one King. Nobody in office is fixing what you think is broken. What’s really broken is way, way deeper than that. We proved it.
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM