A Hard Discussion on Race and Racism


I joined a panel discussion about race with several leaders at Crossover Church. We talked about some hard things, including political division, the murder of Botham Jean, and the church’s role in addressing racism.



My parts are around minute 10, 35, and 57. It’s worth watching the whole thing. Whether we agree or disagree, I’m grateful for a church where these discussions are given space to happen.

(You may have never heard my voice before, so I apologize in advance for any expectations blown up.)

God bless friends, and grace be with you.
— J.S.

I’m Sorry for the Bad Advice


It‘ll happen. You’ll give bad advice. I have given plenty. And it seems every season, I end up disagreeing with a lot of things I’ve said the season before. So is advice ever really any good?

I’ve met people who will say things like, “A long time ago you told me ___ and it really changed me.” And sometimes I panic. Do I even agree with what I said before? Wasn’t I a different person then? Wasn’t I just saying flowery poetic idealistic stuff that wasn’t field tested? That I wasn’t even living out myself?

Here’s where we need to be cautious. The advice we hear, whether from a friend or blogger or leader or pastor or celebrity or book or podcast, is probably good advice. But it might not be for you in your current walk of life. It might just be for that person, in that season, and they grew past it already. Or their advice was something they just made up, and it was never time tested or proven. It sounded pretty, but would never work in the dirt, in the hustle, in the hurt.

It’s amazing how a string of eloquent and witty combination of buzzwords can truly change a life. But I also worry that those same words can take us down a path not meant for us. Or it worked at the time, but can’t now. Or those words came from a version of myself that was a moron, and has learned much better. So the advice you’re hearing from somebody is just a temporal snapshot. It’s a set of clothes, and you can outgrow those.

Don’t trust me. Don’t trust this. Don’t trust an articulate, punchy, hyped up blog post or TED Talk just because of a few flashy graphics and catchphrases. Discern. Think through it. Investigate. Hear many opinions, not just one. Search yourself. Trust your own tears; they’re speaking. Seek new ideas. Seek God. Seek what is timeless. And don’t be too ashamed of your older self: that person believed some weird things, but those were growing pains. You’ll always feel weird about your old self, but that means renovation has happened.

— J.S.

When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi Pastor Park! Over the years of following your blog, i’ve heard you mention that people are not “projects” and I recently saw the same phrase. I was wondering if you could explain more of what you mean by that, or some practical things to look out for so we could recognize if we’re falling into that mindset? A part of me worries i’m thinking of other people that way, so if you have more insight, i’d love to know. Thanks, and have a blessed week with your wife and dog!

Hey dear friend, thank you.

You may be referring to one of these posts:

– No One Is a Charity Case

– One of the Most Important Things I’ve Learned

While this is not a new thought, many of us are at risk of falling into a “Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome.” This was most classically demonstrated by the Karpman Triangle, in which interactions tend to fall into a triangle of Rescuer, Victim, and Persecutor.

Since I truly believe that many of us are good people who care about others, we want to help as many as we can. This is a good thing; it’s a good motive. But left unchecked, we fall into a Rescuer mode in which all people and situations become a “Heroic Drama” in which we are the Protagonist, rescuing someone from their poverty or trauma or sadness or villain. Then it no longer becomes about actually helping the person, but rather boosting our own ego and getting high off dopamine and adrenaline.

Of course, you can feel good about helping people. It’s okay to get the little dopamine surge when you encourage someone or alleviate someone’s suffering. The problem is that when you commodify people into subhuman secondary props for your catharsis, you end up doing the very thing you least wanted: dehumanizing them as mere objects who are only vehicles for your hero-story.

Here are some ways you know you’ve fallen into this:

Continue reading “When You Have to Save Everyone: The Warning Signs of Hero-Savior-Martyr Syndrome”

Is Suicide the One Unforgivable Sin?


Anonymous asked a question:

My friends and I were taking about suicide and Christians. They all came to the unanimous conclusion that you must be able to ask for forgiveness for the sin of suicide in order to be forgiven for that, otherwise you can go to Hell. As someone that struggles with depression, I was deeply hurt and argued otherwise, that there is grace for them too.What do you think?


Hey dear friend, I strongly disagree with their take. I’ve written on this once before here:

– “Suicide Is a Ticket to Hell” (and Other Bad Theology)

The idea that “someone who commits suicide will go to hell” was invented as a religious deterrent. There’s no biblical basis for it. There’s no religion that really believes this. And if there was, as a human I’d emphatically disagree.

When someone goes through depression, their brain isn’t working like it should. In that fog, when I’m depressed, I’m literally out of my mind. I am not myself.

But let’s say that I was 100% conscious of my decision right then. One bad action does not erase the goodness and love of God, nor does it erase the faith we had in our lifetime, no matter how small that faith had been.

Here’s my guess. Your friends just didn’t know any better. They really do believe in the “deterrent” view of hell and suicide. Or, they don’t have the capacity yet to understand suicide and depression, so they’ve simplified it to, “Don’t do that or else.” Or, their view of God is punishing and merciless, which says more about them than God. Or, their view of God is so inflexible and forceful that they’re afraid to say, “God can forgive that one too,” as if this will offend God or offend their church. Some Christians are so worried about going against tradition that they have to regurgitate the traditional view, or else they would be frowned upon. So while I strongly disagree with them, I have a bit of empathy for why they’re so hard on this issue. But I will never, ever agree with that point of view. The God that I know is the God who loves the hurting, too.

— J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

Through the Fog


Sometimes words or encouragement or sitting with someone is not enough. Depression is that insidious. It doesn’t play fair; it has no rules, rhyme, or reason. It doesn’t respond to life even at its best.

“Reach out to someone because you never know” is not bad advice. But simply being kind to someone is not enough to stop an avalanche. It’s a drop of water in a desert. It’s not as if enough words will suddenly activate a lever that stops depression in its tracks. It shouldn’t be on family or friends to find a magical threshold, as if the right amount or combination of words was ever going to help.

Being a presence, to be there for someone, is always enough to give—but it may not always be enough to save.
You may not feel adequate enough to help someone who struggles with depression, but that was always true: you can’t be enough all the time.

We cannot cure terminal, and some sorrows only get healed by heaven. That’s a terrible, awful, unfair truth. But God forbid if I ever go that way, I hope you will be released from the guilt of thinking that it was up to you somehow.
When I enter that fog of depression, I’m always aware this might be it. This might be the one that wins. I wish I could tell you that your prayers and messages and books and casseroles and pizza dates and medicine and therapy and holding my tears will get me to the other side. So far, it’s worked. One day, I don’t know. I hope to God it will keep working. For one more day, I hope so. To experience your love and laughter and kindness is still worth it to suffer this fog.

— J.S.

Stand Against, and Stand For


In sixth grade, I had this friend who was six foot two. He was twelve years old, with wrists the size of my torso. Imagine that: my own personal giant.

He became my voice.

His name was Tripp. I was bullied a lot in sixth grade, but when Tripp was around, nobody tried to clown me. One time, Tripp wrapped his hand around a kid’s head like it was an apple, and no kidding, just like a crane out of heaven, he gently placed the kid on the other side of the hall from me. For weeks, that apple-headed kid had been telling me to go back to China. After the crane incident, Apple-Head never bothered me again.

The thing is, nobody should need a guy like Tripp. We should all get an equal distribution of voice. But that isn’t how it is right now. People get squashed. Silenced. Stuffed in a locker. Told to get on a boat.

Really, I wish everybody had a guy like Tripp who spoke up for them. I wish that nobody needed a guy like Tripp, either. Until then, I’m grateful for the people in the hallway who speak up. Not just online, but in dorms and cafes and churches and check-out lines, when it’s not easy or popular, when it costs something, when no one is looking and when everyone is. I hope to be that guy, too. A crane out of heaven.

— J.S.

Grieve Angry


The other week, a shooting took six lives and I thought, “That’s not too bad.” I immediately felt sick. Because this isn’t normal. It isn’t okay. And I don’t want to get numb, desensitized, detached, withdrawn. I don’t ever want to get over the anger and grief of how “normal” this has become—whether it’s thirty, six, or one.

It’s a national habit to look at the death toll, but shootings really destroy lives twice. At the hospital, we regularly receive GSW (gunshot wound) patients through the ER. Many survive. Sometimes, surviving is worse. The trauma of it. The nightmares. To witness such a thing is a lifelong wound. The death tolls are horrific, but the mental and emotional toll is just as destructive. I’ve been up close with GSW victims and families—and I can’t watch the news with neutral disinterest. I can’t watch movie violence the same way. I will never get the smell out of my nostrils. When you sit among people with bullet wounds, you see most political “dialogue” for what it really is: fear, cowardice, pomp, rationalizations, and self-aggrandizing, all which speak past the victims instead of for them. I hope I’m not doing the same thing. Please tell me if I am. Please tell me what I can do.

I don’t know if anything will change. Again. It seems hopeless. But I want to grieve angry. I don’t want to calm down. I want courage. And compassion. And champions who will make waves so that something will change. God, keep us loud. God, give us strength.

J.S.

Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— J.S.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— J.S.

You Can’t Be Too Hard on People


A homeless man once told me: “You can’t be too hard on people. They only know the world they came from.”

I’d like to believe that everyone’s trying their best with what they have in all the ways they know how. Maybe not everyone’s trying their best. But it doesn’t help anyone if we don’t believe the best about them. And that’s my best: to believe we’re trying.
— J.S.

How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?

Anonymous asked a question

You know what? I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards Westboro Baptist Church and I’ve searched for Christians who have reached out and I could only find two on the whole internet. I’ve noticed Christians disassociate themselves with them understandably but I think they are victims in many ways but ultimately been held in bondage by the enemy. I don’t hear about enough of us praying for them for their own sake. What do you think?

Hey dear friend, I think this is extremely kind and generous of you. 

It’s true that the members of Westboro Baptist Church, in a sense, are victims of their founder Fred Phelps. In fact, his granddaughters Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper left the Westboro cult around 2012. They’ve both since become activists, particularly Megan Phelps-Roper. They certainly deserve our compassion and empathy and a second chance. Megan credits Twitter users with changing her mind about Westboro, because it was there she found gracious and real people who were willing to dialogue with her. It’s possible that in our lifetime, Westboro will cease to exist. 

Here’s the thing. The Westboro cult is inexcusably terrible. No one should ever feel like they have to reach out to them. It’s up to each person to decide whether they’re called to dialogue with them, pray for them, or connect with them. No one should feel less compassionate just because they’re not reaching out to Westboro. Some people are simply gifted at reaching out to very difficult people. Some of us were never meant to.

Continue reading “How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?”

Challenge What You Believe


Our convictions can only be as strong as the questions we ask.

I’ve been in places where questions got me shamed, assaulted, and destroyed. Our platforms of social media, church, politics, and campuses might seem open-minded and willing to dialogue, but if you move against the status quo, you’re likely to be called a heretic, sinner, apostate, or ridiculous. Most places will stomp out dissension and cancel you if you mess up a single time. We can play the game of “we are a safe place,” but conflict always shows our true selves.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. I don’t like asking uncomfortable questions, or being challenged with ideas I’ve never heard, or assuming that my precious ideas are too narrow and naive, when really my own ideas have never evolved. I’ve shut down disagreeable opinions not because the content was unsound, but because I was comfortable where I was. God forgive me for covering my ears to a better version of life.

If you’re in a place that won’t ask questions and always reject what you ask, then 1) you might be called to shake the status quo, or 2) it’s time to leave.

I want beliefs that have been strengthened by skepticism, that have gone through the crucible of confrontation, experience, and a choir that doesn’t always echo each other. I want truth that will keep me through darkness. I need a faith full of doubt to make it through the hardest valley. I want resilience born of grit and growth.

— J.S.

The Power of Saying “No”


When you hear about self-care, it’s mostly about resting and treating yourself, and that’s a good thing.

What I didn’t know was that self-care also involves the power of saying no.

The power of saying, “I’m just one person.” The power of saying, “I’m all booked right now.” The power of saying, “You can’t guilt-trip me into giving what I don’t have.” The power, even, of saying no to yourself.

This means knowing your limitations enough not to double-book or make grand promises or to have it all done by the morning. It means setting clear expectations about the kind of work you can and can’t do. It means knowing when to delegate or to start sending out your resume or to leave your phone on another planet. And yes, it means disappointing people. But if they couldn’t hear your no, then they only wanted you for the thing you could do—and in that case, you were always right to say no.

Self-care, really, isn’t just a thing you schedule, but a way to move and be, a rhythm that allows you to give your all without giving all of yourself away. You need a healthy tempo because we need you. We really do.

J.S.

The Only Time a Christian Goes First


When I preach love in a time like this, my words aren’t credible because the church is not. I can’t help but feel the church is always part of the problem. We contributed to this mess.

The church is called to be the safest, most gracious place on the face of the earth. Not perfect, but passionate, with arms open as wide as the cross. I know I’ve fallen short. God help us. God start with me.

— J.S.


I Hope You Will Hear Me


Eventually I’ll say something that you’ll disagree with. I will disappoint you. I’ll come off brash, inconsiderate, ignorant, and misinformed. Your favorite writer or pastor or celebrity will miss an angle or fumble a point or miss the whole thing. You’ll think, “How could I have ever liked this guy?” We then dismiss and demonize based off one sentence, one phrasing, one particular choice of word. I’ve done it, too. You know, farewell forever.

Maybe it’s for a legitimate reason, and they really did go too far. Then farewell, sure. But I wish we could give a little space for a conversation. Even over coffee. It’s possible this person misspoke because they’re just a person and they don’t always get it right. It could be that they need the patience of dialogue to re-examine what they said, instead of the hasty hate-train that offers no fair exchange. It could be they really didn’t know better, or they just needed a nap.

I want your help. I want to know when I’m wrong – but it’s hard to hear what’s right when everyone is yelling. I want the freedom to make mistakes so that I’m not afraid to learn from you. I don’t want to be afraid that you’ll throw things when I don’t phrase things exactly the perfect way. And really, I’m not sure if you would listen to yelling, either. I’d want the same chance you’d want for you, too.

I know there are some non-negotiables that can never be compromised. I cannot say every “side” is equal or that every platform is good. None of us will ever agree on everything. Sometimes we must part ways. And that’s okay. I just don’t want to judge an entire life over a few degrees of difference. We can disagree and still be friends. Even if we must part, I want to become better from our disagreements, to see what I had not seen before, and mostly, to see you. I will hear you.

— J.S.


The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests

Anonymous asked a question:

I’ve followed you for a while. I find solace in your blog. I recently did a Spiritual Gift Test in my leadership group at church. I scored a 23 in Mercy and Administration (out of 25), but I scored an 8 in Faith. The test is a tool to show your best qualities to serve your church. It really struck me hard, as I struggle with what God’s intentions are for me, and what my path is. A lot of the time I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I just don’t know what to do anymore. 

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing your struggle here.

Please know: there are a lot of “spiritual tests” out there, and I wouldn’t trust them all very much. In fact, there are thousands, if not millions, of personality tests and horoscopes and “strengths finders” and “which Marvel character are you,” and while they’re fun, they should never become permanent labels that determine your growth and journey.

I have to ask, who is developing these tests? Is it like every other westernized test with a western bias? Are they evidence-based? And if so, how? How many people have been misled by these things? And in a hundred years when they develop better tests, are we all just doomed today?

The most famous test of all time, the Myers-Briggs, is absolutely not based on any evidence or science at all. It’s also highly binary without any sort of continuum or grey area. And since major companies have been hiring and firing people based on tests rather than interaction, it’s a really big deal that we take a step back from them without condemning ourselves to one singular fate.

In fact, if we take a step back from a lot of books and blogs, many of them can be helpful, but they should all be filtered through skepticism. Authors, pastors, celebrities, and “experts” can offer good-sounding advice that does nothing but sound good. Always, always discern.

Continue reading “The Dangers & Myths of Personality Tests”

Compassion Fatigue: The Heartache of a Job That Requires All Heart

Anonymous asked a question:

I’m a medical social worker and quite new to the profession. For a long while I had thought that it was what I wanted to do in life. Now… I’m not quite sure. It’s exhausting and I’m not quite sure if it’s beneficial for my mental health in the long run… so many patients to see who need a lot of help but hospitals just want to hurry and discharge them. Part of me wonders if it’s worth it or is it better to just work an unemotional administrative job. Any advice? Prayer please

Hey dear friend, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. I also applaud you for choosing your profession. I work alongside many social workers (I’m a hospital chaplain) and y’all are seriously the best of the best.

A few things. If you haven’t done so already, I would consider seeking therapy. It helps. Anyone in the field of service and healing takes on so much, and it’s too much for any one person to hold. It requires processing.

I would find experienced people in your field and be in conversation with them. Process with them. Ask them how they did it and how they continue to do so.

Some hospitals are not like others. I’m fortunate to work at a really good one where the nurses and doctors really care. Your issue might be the place you’re working at.

You had also mentioned it might be better to work an “unemotional administrative job.” I can tell you right now, almost any job is emotional, including admin. It really depends on how your workplace helps you to deal with those things.

Which brings us to “compassion fatigue.” This is a very real issue. Some of us (like me) over-identify with our patients and tend to feel everything all the time. It’s not entirely a bad thing, but it can also be draining. Some of us (also me) have a bit of a savior-martyr-hero syndrome and really need to check our motives. We need safer boundaries and more spaces of rest. We’re likely to pour out so much as if this is “sacrifice,” when really it’s self-harm and it ends up harming everyone.

It’s helpful to know what your rhythms look like. It’s worth asking: When do you get most tired? Most hurt? What do you do for rest? What is your body telling you today? What are your heart and mind saying? How can it be changed for better today?

Two other important things.

Continue reading “Compassion Fatigue: The Heartache of a Job That Requires All Heart”

If You Say You Love God


It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.

What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.

It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.

This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.

No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.

J.S.

You Are My Family


I grieve with you. I am angry for you. I hurt with you. Your pain is my pain.
J.S.

I Am Not My Depression

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi J.S., as someone who has been diagnosed with depression, GAD, and PTSD, your writing has been a huge comfort. I wanted to ask this – have you come to accept your battle with depression? I still struggle to accept that my mood is out of my control. My faith has been rocked after the past few years of intense battling. I still get discouraged when I think that I have to work so hard to feel “normal” and even then, normalcy isn’t guaranteed. How do you continue to trust God and fight through?

Hey dear friend, first I want to encourage you: You are loved, you are incredible, you’re doing great.

My answer to your question, “Have you come to accept your battle with depression?” is both Yes and No.

Yes, I recognize that my brain is broken. Something essential to my well-being will always be missing. I will, out of nowhere, seemingly at random, fall into the abyss for long seasons. One day, my depression might win. I have accepted it as much as any person can accept they are mortally wounded. I have accepted the hand I’ve been dealt.

But no, I do not accept my depression. I am angry. I am livid. I am insulted by it. I hate what it does to my friends and family. And I have to fight. It’s exhausting. But I have to scream no. And I think part of my non-acceptance is what keeps me alive. I do not accept that God wanted this for me. I am open to therapy, to medicine, to every treatment available. I have to fight.

Continue reading “I Am Not My Depression”