Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?

Anonymous asked:

How do I deal with the death of a loved one?

Dear friend: I’m so sorry. A close death is one of the most difficult things you will ever experience. There’s almost no getting over it. Grief is less like a cold and more like a shadow, always lingering even in the brightest light. It gets easier, but it stays with you in all kinds of ways.

As a hospital chaplain, I have seen hundreds of people die now, and there’s no formula or plan or mantra to get you through. All the hard things you’re feeling, whether it’s numbness or waves of pain or a deep soul itchiness or a tight chest or an empty stomach or rivers of tears, are all a part of grief. You’re not crazy. You might see a random thing that will remind you of your loved one, and it will hit you in the gut. You might visit a street or see someone’s smile or hear a movie quote that reminds you of everything, and it will hit you all over again. That happens. You’re not crazy. 

Continue reading “Grief Over the Death of a Loved One: To Move On or Hold On?”

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Everyone Has a Vision for Your Life


Everyone has a vision for your life. Everyone knows who you ought to be. Everyone has advice, the right answer, the easy fix.

But no one can bear the burden of those expectations. You can’t be enough all the time, not even for yourself.

You will disappoint people. You will disappoint you. It happens. It hurts. And that’s how it goes. The eventualities of life have a way of creeping in, regardless of best efforts and right motives.

You will get crushed by the weight of others’ plans. But you’re not obligated to respond to everyone’s criticism all the time. There’s no pleasing everyone. Some will have already made up their mind about you, no matter how much you sing and dance. Your side of the story won’t always be heard. Your intentions will be negatively filtered and your words shot down at first glance. That’s okay. Criticism is important, but you can’t speak on what you didn’t say. You can only mean what you did say, and mean it well.

Be encouraged, friends. You are doing a good thing. A new thing. By the grace of God we do our best and get up again.
— J.S.

I Was Interviewed by That Christian Vlogger


Hey friends, I was interviewed by the very gracious and thoughtful Justin Khoe of That Christian Vlogger.

We went through some really tough questions and I took a harder line than usual on some current issues. We talk about leaving church, political disagreements, and having a skeptical faith. Whether we agree or not, my hope is for dialogue. I’m open to being wrong and re-informed.

— J.S.

I’m Sorry, My Misogyny.


One of the sad things I recognize more and more is that my view of women has been poisoned from my own traditions and from culture at large. It took me a while to see how distorted my ideas of women were. I’ve had to unlearn so much gross misogyny.

For example: I was rewatching a romantic comedy from a decade ago, and the male lead stops the woman from leaving, grabbing her arm and totally blocking her. The male lead “wins the girl” who has no life or mind of her own, and all he has to do is be mopey and constantly pine after her. He also violently terrorizes his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. The movie should have been called “I Swear I’m a Nice Guy: Black Mirror Edition.”

It’s all supposed to be cute and heroic. It’s nauseating. And I wonder how much I’ve taken my cue from these “romantic” gestures that are only aggressive, territorial, and bullying.

The Christian world hasn’t been kind to women, either. The church is called to be the most loving place on the face of the earth. It isn’t. Not even close.

I can’t blame all these external things. I know it’s on us. It’s on me. I don’t have an adequate apology. I’m not attempting false humility. I can only say I’m sorry a million times for how I’ve viewed women. I’m thankful for my wife who is gracious. I’m thankful for people who speak up at a cost. I ask for forgiveness.

J.S.


Image from Unsplash

We Wear Casts.


God, forgive me for when I lack empathy,
when I jump to making talking points out of tragedy,
when I forget the pain of community and family,
when my voice is louder than theirs.
— J.S.

Strength to Fight.


“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“Amen.”

— A Franciscan blessing

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.

Squishy Small Brain.


Note to future self:
When you don’t get it right —
Apologize quickly and let go.
Don’t beat yourself up or defend yourself too long.
Humans are squishy with small brains. We don’t get it right every time. And that’s okay. Being wrong is not the end of the world.
— J.S.

No, You’re Not Persecuted.


There is a particular Christianese language that demonizes “the enemy” and “the infidel,” in which “God is on my side” and “They’re holding me back.”

This triumphalistic self-affirming theology, wrapped up in warfare terms and royalty cliches, cannot stand criticism.

It assumes all disagreement is trolling.

It attempts to say “I have the truth” as if truth must be weaponized to hold over someone’s head.

It breeds yes-men and an insider’s club.

It moralizes its own values based on “who we are not.”

It is an anti-theology that covers deep insecurity with little fleeting boosts of ego.

It attacks the most minor offenses in “secular worldly” culture in order to play victim—when sadly, Christians and truly persecuted groups are killed daily overseas.

I’m guilty of abusing the persecution complex, too. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a dichotomous division between in-groups and out-groups, between my church and your church, my dogma versus yours, to feel important, as if by lots of motion I am really moving. It’s easy for me to write a post like this and presume that I’m above all of it somehow, as if by mere awareness I have it figured out. It’s easier to look certain in our convictions rather than say, “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” or, “Can you help me understand?”

In the end, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yes, them. To them, it’s us. Every person in this discussion needs grace and a generous space. The people who “don’t get it yet” are also you and me. The people who cry “I’m persecuted” need as much grace as you and I do. I pray for me. I pray for you.

— J.S.

Crazy Male Asians: Stories Matter


With the release of Crazy Rich Asians, here’s my most popular post from last year: On the “Ugly Asian Male” stereotype, and why Asian-American males are considered the least attractive people and the least likely to be a lead.

– Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room

I was surprised this post got any traction at all. Often when I talk about anything Asian, people glaze over and tune out. “You’re smart, you have it easy, you work hard, you people are privileged too,” I always hear, as if my only say in the matter is to be grateful and bow all the time. And I know that “diversity” is not an issue everybody wants to hear because it’s been used as a guilt-sledgehammer. So I rarely talk about it here.

But these things do matter to me. I learned quickly as a young Korean-American that my life was a second-class existence. I was a prop, the comic relief, the third acquaintance. I wish I had any sort of Hollywood hero to aspire to.

Asian males in American media are often emasculated hair-dyed plot devices, mute kung fu experts, evil villains, or the computer guy in a chair. It’s almost impossible to name the last time an Asian male was the romantic interest in any American movie. Even Mulan​ was the only animated Disney movie where the romantic leads didn’t kiss. I guess an Asian male having that sort of energy was too weird.

That’s all fine, I suppose, but the power of mainstream art has a way of drawing boxes around our perception of others, including the perception of self. I suffocated in this box for too long. And God forbid we have actual dreams, hopes, insecurities, and backstories like everyone else.

With recent shows like Kim’s Convenience​, Fresh off the Boat​, and Ugly Delicious​, it’s great to see we’re slowly chipping away at old conventions. I’m not sure that Asian-Americans are going to have the “one huge hit that will change everything.” If that happens, I’m all for it. I’m also all for working modestly towards the horizon, like we’ve always done. I hope you will hear us. Our stories are worth sharing. Here’s to breaking boxes.

— J.S.

One Korea


One of the most heartbreaking things in my Korean heritage is our divided country. I wasn’t born there, but I took an interest back in college when I rallied with Liberty in North Korea at the steps of Capitol Hill in DC. I remember knocking on the doors of Congress members’ offices, even speaking with a few as they let students share about the tragedy of two Koreas.

Seeing the two Korean presidents meet is a big deal. It’s worth celebrating. I also have doubts, questions, uncertainties, as I’m sure many citizens do. I remain both cynical and hopeful that this meeting is a good first step. I still believe that reunification is possible in our lifetime.

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.

Interviewed by The Parady Weekly


I was interviewed by Heather Parady on her podcast, The Weekly Parady. We talk about my hospital work, recent events and protests, and how to deal with disagreement. You can also download it directly here.


Be blessed and much love to you, friends!
J.S.

“Your Theology is Wrong” — But Says Who?


Really, when someone says “I disagree with your theology,” what they’re saying is, “I disagree with your interpretation of theology based on my interpretation of theology.” So where did that interpretation come from?

Trace it back and it’s always from someone else. A person. With a tiny brain like yours & mine. Augustine or Calvin or Nietzsche or Osteen. Some church leader a thousand years ago, or some book written last year, or some preacher guessing at the Bible the best he or she knows how.

I’m not entirely sure how to discover which interpretation is the right one. Each of us have so much self-interest that we can use the Bible (and anything else) to justify any position we want, even under the guise of “the common good” or “your benefit.”

But if my opinion and my interpretation of the Bible are always matching up, then it’s possible I’m just making God into my own image and forcing my idea of God to conform to what I want. I’m then just colluding with myself as my own accomplice into the crimes I want to commit.

Then I wouldn’t be in dialogue with God, but rather manipulating a robot-idol that I designed to do my bidding and to turn off at my convenience. If the Bible is timeless truth, then I’d expect that it would sometimes press against what I hold to be personally and culturally true.

And we are all chronologically landlocked by harmful ideas that must be challenged and changed. I believe that if the Bible is true and read correctly, it would have to usurp the destructive and affirm the constructive. Still, I assume that these ideas can be confronted and rebuked.

In the end, I don’t think the Bible is some amorphous putty that can be twisted any which way. It‘s made some things pretty clear. Jesus said plainly: I must love people. There’s no equivocation or wavering there. How it happens might differ, but that it happens at all must not.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

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

The Truths and Myths of Christian Dating and Relationships

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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.”

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