A Relationship Is Not a Wishlist


Look, a romantic wishlist is a nice thought, but it’s also creepy and unfair. It’s setting up an impossible monstrosity of expectations and you’ll be disappointed for no other reason than you played yourself.

I don’t mean lowering your standards. I mean setting real ones, for actual people who exist. For people who are just people and not a customized Frankenstein creature.

The person you’ll end up with is going to be their own personwith their own hopes, dreams, goals, anxieties, and weird little habits. They’re not a checklist trophy that will meet your every size or quota.

They’re going to be way different and in fact way more interesting than the stitched up hologram made from half-baked movie cliches and choir-preaching memes.

Relationships are about compromise. Not compromising yourself, no. But about two weird people making it work. It’s a wild mix of chemistry, compatibility, non-negotiables, history and trauma, highs and lows, disagreements and pushback and feedback, augmenting goals, and lifelong change.

“Get you a guy/girl who” only works if you see yourself as a main character-savior-hero and you see others as a secondary prop to fulfill your romantic comedy narrative. In that case, you have other issues and you can wait.

And waiting in the meantime is a really good time for growth, for self-discovery, and for becoming the kind of person you never knew you were looking for. Singleness, really, isn’t waiting. It’s being.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

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The Truths and Myths of Christian Dating and Relationships

julettejoonengaged-073


Hello wonderful friends! Here’s a seminar that I gave in San Jose, CA about the truths and myths of dating & relationships within both the church-culture & pop-culture. Stream below or download directly here.

Some things I talk about are: “The time I overheard a couple have their final knock-down drag-out fight, my absolutely favorite type of scene in the movies, what everyone really wants in the hospital, dating theology from Taylor Swift, when God looks at you through the ceiling, and Christianity according to a cologne sample.”


I also did a follow-up Q&A which you can stream below or download here.


Some of the content is from my book on relationships.
Be immensely blessed! — J.S.


Photo from my engagement shoot, by Angel He Photography

I Never Knew I Was at a Toxic Workplace—Until I Went to a Healthy One.

I love my current workplace. I mean, the work itself is incredibly difficult: grief counseling at a hospital, notifying family members of an accident, bringing up end-of-life decisions. But it makes a difference to have co-workers who are more than faceless employees. We are fellow sojourners on a mission together.

One of my previous workplaces was not like this. There was bullying, nepotism, high suspicion, and hateful gossip. The people were just mean. No one cared about seeing the best in each other. Every call or email from the higher-ups would throw me into a panic. Of course, I had my issues too. But I walked through them alone, alienated, with constant dread.

I recognize now that I’m lucky. At my current job, we’re all on the same page, we pause and listen, we clarify our communication without fear of retaliation. We deeply care about each other and the work we do.

The thing is, I didn’t know how awful my previous job was until I landed where I am.

My guess is that most of us will tolerate an abusive, toxic, punishing work environment because “I’m paying my dues” or “This is all I can get right now.” And that’s true. We often have to do things we don’t like to get where we want to be. We can still thrive in those places. Sometimes it’s the best we can do, and we can still be our best there.

Continue reading “I Never Knew I Was at a Toxic Workplace—Until I Went to a Healthy One.”

The Call That No One Wants

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

“Are you Angela, the wife of Tyrone Simmons?”

“Yes,” she said, voice rising, searing through the phone in my ear. “Yes, chaplain, why?”

“I’m sorry to tell you this, but Tyrone is here at the hospital.”

I hate this part. He’s here at the hospital. I’ve made this call so many times. Are you able to be here? Will you be with anyone? Please drive safely. 

Tyrone had been driving to work and he was struck by a truck driver. Most likely died instantly. He probably never knew.

I had found Angela’s number by going through her husband’s wallet. It’s a crazy thing, to look inside the wallet of a dead man. You learn a lot from a person’s valuables.  With disposable gloves, I had laid out Tyrone’s belongings on a sheet of paper, each item caked in blood. It’s a clinical process. I feel terrible every time.

The phone number wasn’t written on anything: I had to play detective for a while. This is one of the chaplain’s tasks, to find next-of-kin, to look through every piece of the deceased’s belongings until we had a lead. I chase stories, and underneath them are more stories.

Continue reading “The Call That No One Wants”

How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


**Edit January 2018** My book on fighting depression has been revised with a new a cover and about a 10% change in content. If you’ve already purchased the book, please email me at pastorjspark@gmail.com and I’ll send a digital copy of the updated version.


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.


“The Way Things Are” Is Not the Way Things Are


I am super extremely thankful for the many therapists, mentors, and more mature people I had in my life helping me through some deeply tough times.

But—I recognize that many of these people were middle-aged white American males. They truly did help me, really, and yet I knew their limitations, me being Asian-American and all (and I understand the reverse would be true, too).

The weird thing is: many of the white American males who had counseled me didn’t really think they had a cultural bias. They thought “My thoughts are just the way things are, and Asians / Latinos / Blacks have a culture.”

So I was being taught “the way things are,” as if my culture needed correction, without a recognition that white culture was also its own view of life and not “the way things are.”

I truly am thankful for many of these men who helped me through hard times. I was just confused and surprised that they mostly couldn’t see they were also working through a biased cultural lens. This severely limited their empathy and connection.

Every culture has something to cherish, something to be embarrassed about, something to work on and to learn from. I think we must first acknowledge that no culture is the default, we each have blind spots, and we each must enter into each other’s space with open hands.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

A Friendly Reminder: I Am Not Your Counselor and I Am Not a Journalist


I keep forgetting that most people on social media who act like authorities are young 20-somethings who haven’t seen much of the world and don’t know how it works. They want to change the world from their basement, or they’re just hungry to go viral. It doesn’t mean they can’t have an opinion. It means I need to double check theirs.

Bloggers are not your counselors or journalists. Most are just making up stuff with flowery words and “what I would do” sentiment. It’s not that we’re bad or wrong. But please keep in mind that most social media users care about your clicks, not your life.

I’m always asking, “Says who? By what authority? What makes it credible? Why do you believe it to be true? Why should I believe you? And how is it working out for you?”

Don’t trust me. Don’t believe me. Just because I have “followers” doesn’t mean a thing. Check the facts. For the love of God, triple check. Discern. Think for yourself. I can speak with authority on some things, but I won’t get it right every time. Trust with a closed grip.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?

illuminirk asked a question:

how do you differentiate when you’re being persecuted for christ and being slammed for… for lack of a better word, for being a shitty person? for instance, i see a lot of american christians claiming persecution when really people are mad that they’re racist or homophobic or etc. how do you navigate that? how do you know?

Perhaps the simplest way is this:

Look around. Do you live in the West? You’re probably free to express your faith. So most likely you’re not being persecuted, but you’ve picked the wrong battle.

Look around. Do you live in the East? You’re probably not free to express your faith. So most likely you’re being persecuted, because you’re in the battle at all.

The thing is, early first century Christians were being persecuted simply for existing. Their faith was not primarily about self-improvement (though that’s in there), but about enduring the suffering of a cruel world. They didn’t have much room for political rallies or fighting for moral issues. They were in survival mode. They saw Christianity as the good news of a God who walked with them, rather than some kind of behavioral improvement tool. So while they did care about self-improvement, their first priority was merely survival.

Many Christians in the West today don’t experience the same kind of cultural suffering. They’re not in survival mode, so they’re focused more on self-improvement. I include me in this. It’s not a bad thing. I actually have space to think about how to better my own life and live like Christ. So sometimes Christians have too much idle time and pick the wrong fights in a free society. 

And really, when you have the chance to self-improve, it’s easier instead to stand up for some policy outside yourself. It’s a way to offload responsibility for your own actions: by trying to change laws or take the “moral high ground,” you then don’t have to look at changing yourself. Christians find it hard to follow Scripture, so they pick a path of lesser resistance (I include me here, too). It’s easier for Christians to shout really loudly in a free society than actually change their own self-destructive habits and live a useful, meaningful life.

I don’t mean that a person who experiences physical pain for their faith is necessarily a “real Christian.” Sometimes that’s just self-imposed martyrdom, and that’s selfish too. I mean that real persecution is about a cultural baseline of restricted freedom. If you’re free to express yourself, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people complain, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people call you mean names and avoid you at work, sorry, but you’re not persecuted.

Continue reading “How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?”

Real Dark Jesus


So my church showed this video of Jesus doing a bunch of miracles. Great production values. All non-whites, mostly authentic languages, culturally and ethnically reproduced to how it would look in the first century eastern world.

But — I was amazed and amused by the reaction of the church attendees (most of whom are classically westernized i.e. white). They were squirming like crazy the entire video. Like very, very bothered. It wasn’t hard to read.

I was smiling ear to ear that this video mostly got the “look and feel” of the actual first century east. But soon I became angry and sad that the church was so squirmy because they didn’t see western interpretations of white Jesus on the screen.

I’m sure this sounds silly and petty, but our preconceived ideas of Jesus, the east, and the grit of the first century plays a lot into how we view culture, faith, and “the foreigner.” Whitewashing is a big trigger word that’s overplayed, but it’s real.

And for evangelical Christians who are used to seeing a tall, handsome, blonde Jesus, this ain’t how it was. Not even close. By all biblical reports, he was ordinary, unattractive, unremarkable, and dark. Christianity is built on a guy that most of the west is scared of by default.

I’m super-glad my church risked an authentic interpretation of Jesus, and super-sad it bothered the church so much. I also had to wonder how many normative images I have in my head of beauty, truth, heroism, and villainy—and how these images have harmed how I see others.

J.S.


Photo from Image Catalog, CC0 1.0

I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me


undefeatedx asked a question:

how do i stop caring about what people think about me?? 😦

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve discovered in therapy that I’m a people-pleaser, even codependent, and I often have this crazy conspiracy in my head of small-town backroom rumors, where everyone I know secretly dislikes me and laughs about me in some seedy, poorly lit poker room.

A few things about how to deal with what others think about you:

Continue reading “I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me”

How Do I “Let Go and Let God”? Does Working Hard Mean I’m Not Trusting God?

sunmoonandmyrtle asked a question:

Hi JS, I was wondering about the balance between trusting God and making your plans/taking action. I am a bit OCD about planning. My journey at the moment seems to be learning to let go of trying so hard and have faith in God to provide. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the kind of person who says God will bless them yet doesn’t work hard or look for ways to work smart. I’m not looking for a quick solution, but would be glad to just hear what you think. (I hope you’re having a nice day.)

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this too: When do I let go and “let God”? If I hustle and pursue, does that mean I’m not trusting Him?

Here are a few things I’ve learned about trusting God:

Continue reading “How Do I “Let Go and Let God”? Does Working Hard Mean I’m Not Trusting God?”

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”

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.

An Update from Florida

For now, me and my family are staying home in Florida, but it could all change very quickly. My local area has closed its churches, schools, and most businesses. Please continue to pray for those affected by the storms, fires, floods, and earthquakes the world over. I recognize I’m incredibly blessed with resources when many are not; please consider donating to The Salvation Army USA and your local ground teams. Love you and thank you, friends.

Here’s awesome weather reporter and meteorologist Alan Sealls with a clear, concise update:

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

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

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.

Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change

waylandheat asked a question:

Hi J.S. Park! I’ve been reading your book What the Church Won’t Talk About because I am currently struggling a lot with stuff and on top of that feeling a very dry season with God. I honestly love reading through your thoughts and stories on Tumblr, and reading through this book has brought me a renewed perspective on things- so thank you J.S. Park for being a light in so many lives! I don’t know if you have written anywhere on it before- but have you ever shared your thoughts on shame?

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your encouragement and your kind words. I really needed them today. Also the book you’re referring to is here for anyone interested.

Here are a few thoughts about shame:

1) Shame is a very poor motivation for long-term change.

Shame is that sick physical feeling of being washed through with a debilitating shiver; emotionally it can be an internal bomb of embarrassment, grief, anger, or regret; psychologically it feels like losing self-worth and value. We try to escape this feeling as much as we can—it’s an awful, nauseating, dizzying flush that your entire body recognizes on impact.

Shame is socially weaponized to coerce others into “doing the right thing.” Other times, it’s just to make someone feel like a terrible person, like they could never do any good. In the best case scenario, “shaming” would create the desire to reflect and change your ways for the better. It provokes a sort of social conformity in which you must fall in line for the common benefit of everyone else.

You can see shame tactics being weaponized everywhere. Think of every “public shaming” blog, made famous first by Tumblr, that calls out your fave celebrities for being problematic or mocks the guy who uses the entire four-chair table at Starbucks. Think of books like Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or movies like Whiplash. Think of the model who was recently charged for “fat-shaming” (the actual charge was invasion of privacy, and rightly so). Think of this recent method to help quit smoking, in which if you relapse, you donate the amount of money you’ve saved off cigarettes to a campaign that you hate (this combines shame with aversion). Think of a typical evangelical preacher, who uses fear, shame, and fire-and-brimstone to manipulate you into “getting right with God.” Think of terms like “slut-shaming, virgin-shaming, gay-shaming”—and the list goes on.

In the short term, some studies show that shame can make change. However, other studies show that shame is destructive and does permanent long-term damage.

I believe that shame doesn’t really work as a motivation for long-term change. All it does is modify behavior to look like it’s conforming, without actually getting to the root of the issue.

For a great talk about shame and vulnerability, watch Brene Brown’s TED Talk, the most watched TED Talk of all time. Her research is the absolute seminal work on this topic.

2) Shame and guilt are two entirely different things.

You’ve probably heard this by now, but guilt is saying, “I did something bad,” while shame is saying, “I am bad.”

It sounds like splitting hairs, but our approach to both can have entirely different outcomes.

If we can adapt to guilt—”I did something bad”—then we can focus on the how and why of the behavior and even internally change our motivations.

If we adapt to shame—”I am bad”—then there’s no room to look at how and why we do things, and instead can only use punishment and external deprivation to make change. This in turn only makes us craftier and more likely to suppress our true motivations without changing them.

We’ve all seen this before. You can have two people who attend church sit side-by-side who look exactly the same: they show up on time, they donate to charity, they bring coffee and donuts, they read their Bible everyday, they mow your lawn for free. But one is motivated by the anxiety of possible punishment and always compensating for a terrible gap inside them, as if they’ll always be found out. The other is motivated by doing good purely for the good in itself.

Of course, our motives are very messy and never this clear-cut. We could be a blend of both. But the next time you mess up, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Do you feel guilt or remorse or even anger about the thing you did? That’s more or less normal. Or do you disproportionately beat yourself up and wish you could disappear for a week? There’s probably buried shame that’s been carved into you by condemning voices over a lifetime—and really that’s no fault of your own. Many of us have been indoctrinated since birth to only respond to shame, and so we’ve become maladaptive.

Continue reading “Can Shaming Really Motivate? 4 Thoughts About Shame, Guilt, and Change”

From Atheism to Faith: Discovering the Hidden Story of Humanity


About my journey from atheism to faith, and how our historical impulse for religion points to the hidden story of humanity. I also engage with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and his take on religious metafictions.

For my seminar and Q&A “Jesus for Atheists,” click here.

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

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

When Should Politics End a Friendship?


Different political opinions can end a friendship—but should they?

How politics, faith, and friendship can fit together.

My post on politics, which was published on the front page of WordPress:
https://jsparkblog.com/2017/03/06/when-do-politics-decide-friendship/

This is part of a series called “Where Faith Meets Life,” covering topics like politics, abuse, marriage, and mental illness.

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

Be blessed and love y’all, friends!
— J.S.