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

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

TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24


24 (2001-2014)
Fox Television

Summary:
Over an exact period of twenty-four hours — each episode in real time — federal agent Jack Bauer gets shot, stabbed, electrocuted, tasered, burned, choked out, attacked by dogs, infected by a killer virus, killed twice, and endures various other health hazards all in the name of America. That’s usually before breakfast. He is part of CTU, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit located in Los Angeles, and we’re privy to the worst days of Bauer’s life. The show uses splitscreen, a running clock, ridiculous plot twists, and a you-are-there handheld madness with zero slow motion for a show that my friend described as “a speeding train with no brakes.” But perhaps the best part of the show is Bauer himself, played in a determined, dogged performance by an incredible Kiefer Sutherland.

Also starring Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert, Xander Berkley, Elisha Cuthbert.

Questionable Content:
Very dark themes, cursing, occasional sexual content, a paranoid atmosphere, and at times extremely violent, e.g. open wounds, gunshots, broken necks, stabbing, eye gouging, and Jack Bauer not eating for 24 hours straight.

Why You Should See It:
Debuting the same time that the World Trade Center was attacked, 24 was an American catharsis for a wounded, vulnerable nation. It fueled our sudden demand for justice by any-means-necessary. Jack Bauer was the means. He was an unstoppable force, a projection of our twitchy national outrage who did whatever it takes, and became our vicarious Monday night superhero. Everything we’ve always wanted to do to the bad guys, without daring to speak them out loud, he does. At first glance (and second and third and fourth), 24 plays out like every patriotic, flag-waving, terrorist-hunting fantasy.

But the show doesn’t downplay the harrowing effects of Jack Bauer’s methods. He slowly devolves into a dehumanized, haunted soul with nine seasons of regret (plus a TV movie). A life of torture brings about a tortured life. Bauer’s only tether to “normal” is his put-upon daughter, who both loves him and is repelled by what he does. Fans complained that Bauer became more unlikable as the show progressed, but of course this would only make sense: Bauer and guys like him were never destined for happily-ever-afters. He secured such endings for everyone else at the expense of himself, and even worse, for those who got too close to him. This dreary subtext was too often obscured by Bauer’s more sensational tactics.

Continue reading “TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24”

Seven Questions to Ask Before Voting


Some questions to ask ourselves before voting:


How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Is this candidate I’m voting for going to help defuse our current racial tensions?

Is this candidate going to hold themselves accountable as an example?

Is this candidate capable of proper foreign policy as well as bridging the divisions between American individuals?

Is this candidate a step forward in the tapestry of progress and history?

Is this candidate the kind of person who can address grief, loss, and prayers with sincerity and movement?

Who are we more or less comfortable with in directing our social and cultural narrative?

J.S.


Photo by Saint Julian, CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Anonymous asked a question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, please feel free to skip around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m trying to have grace for this.

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

I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy


[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.
J.S.

Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?

Anonymous asked a question:

I have no idea what to do about the upcoming presidential election. I want to vote because I can, but I don’t see either of the options as fitting for the role. Any advice?

Hey dear friend, at the risk of alienating others: I also don’t want to vote for either candidate. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate option, all the way up to the voting booth.

Here’s the thing. An American President only has so much actual deciding power, as there are checks and balances to limit what one official can do (though of course, their policies are certainly a factor in how you vote). But my main concern is that the elected officials in any government are part of a greater social influence that describes and decides who we are as a country and a people.

I think the question that I ask is: How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Continue reading “Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?”

10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

horizontescuriosos asked a question:

Hi, I just had one question about your post referencing how people assume their experience is the only valid experience. Do you have any idea why people do this? It seems pretty obvious to me that not everyone would have the same experiences, but apparently people don’t always think with that logic.

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post, which says:

“It doesn’t happen to me, therefore it never happens” is possibly the most insane, myopic, deranged fallacy that’s impeding our progress.

One of my favorite things about my Psychology major was learning all the ways that the brain can deceive itself. Things like FAE, TMT, intrinsic justification, hindsight bias, Asch conformity, the Stanley Milgram experiments, suppression rebound, and cognitive dissonance are all the loopy tricky ways that we can easily be fooled without knowing we’re fooled.

So at least a dozen times a week, I’ll see some online comment that says, “That’s never happened to me!” — which follows that it somehow never happens at all. I suppose the closest psychological phenomenon to that would be anecdotal evidence, in which a person’s own life experience tends to (wrongly) inform the totality of all human experience. It lacks empathy and imagination, because of course, we’re all wired to take the quickest shortcut by way of heuristics in order to form a schema — which means, we take the path of least resistance to form an opinion.

Our brains always want to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess what’s around us, which means: yes, we’re lazy, and without intentionality, we drift towards complacency and black-and-white conclusions.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but I’m afraid that our internet culture and quick-click social media has contributed to such knee-jerk judgments. No one takes time to process all the nuances of a situation anymore. Just think: these days, within five minutes of most major tragedies, there are already think-pieces posted on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter but no time to naturally process our grief.

We are not an emotionally healthy world anymore. I say this as a person who loves social media and all the good it can bring, but when it comes to thoughtfulness and reflection, we’ve mostly gone backwards. The only way back to empathy, it would seem, is for us to exercise radio silence and to listen with total intent.

Here’s what I’d advise. I would set up some ground rules when it comes to expressing opinions online or face-to-face. Feel free to dismiss or modify any of these.

Continue reading “10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences”

Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.

Like many of us, I’ve been reading on many of the horrible events this week and all the media circus which it entails. In a sea of crowded voices, both reasonable and ugly, that has said nearly all there is to say, I want to risk one more voice to the busy ocean of opinion.

I work as a hospital chaplain and I’ve sat with many, many patients and their families as the patients lay dying. I have watched quite a few slip away. It’s always a terrible situation; death is our common enemy. Everyone grieves differently, but everyone does grieve. My job as a “professional griever” is to approach each person with grace, sensitivity, and comfort, the best of me for the best of them, as much as I know how.

It’s not my place or my role to evaluate this person in their pain. And I’m not sure if that’s anyone’s place or role, ever.

I’m trying to imagine saying some of the comments I’ve read online to these patients and their family. And I can’t. I would not. Even if this patient may have been a criminal or had brought this situation upon themselves (which has been true some of the time), it’s still a terrible tragedy that they’re in this room. My patients and their families have the same hopes, fears, dreams, passions, uncertainties, and regrets as you and I have. They deserve the same dignity as you and I would want. Some of them were never accorded such dignity in their lifetime, and for some, it was this exact reason that they ended up here.

Somehow, we have socially distanced ourselves from loss by multiple levels of removal from the actual horror of loss itself. We undignify the dead by a jester’s court of judgment, by a carnival of commentary, by a platform of preprogrammed snark. We wait to see what our “side” of the discussion wants us to think, so that we neither think nor feel for ourselves.

You only have to read or hear a few callous comments to know what I mean: each proceeding comment moves further and further away from the actual people, until verbal semantics has smothered the very real loss of life into a wordplay competition. You might win: but what do you win? It seems we’d rather deconstruct or reduce these events into “legal” and “moral” terms, or punchlines and memes, or cautionary tales — and the result is abstract heartlessness.  Many of us have forgotten what it means to sit with loss and to feel the depth of its irreversibility. To simply weep.

Continue reading “Making Room for Our Neighbor’s Grief and Loss.”