I Still Believe the Best.


In the end, you can’t really force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.

You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.
You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.
You can’t force an apology.
You can’t force someone to engage in social justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.
You can’t force growth.
You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.

In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that leaves us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care if you don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be jaded to being jaded. Because I don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to be a reactionary pawn.

No, I cannot force anything on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.

— J.S.

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Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health

@cindahh asked a question:

Hi J.S. Park! I hope you and your wife doing well! I just wanted to thank you again for your book. It has given me a better understanding of depression. So I read it because my good friend battles it, and as someone who is helping him battle it, what are some of the things your wife helped you with; how does she support you? How does she snap you out of it? How does she help you be hopeful? What techniques does she use? What does she say? Are there any “don’t do’s?” What’s the most helpful? I would like to get a better understanding on how I can be there for my friend. I really appreciate it.

Hey dear friend, thank you for this question. It’s a super difficult one.

I have to say upfront: Even the most loving person in the world cannot fully help someone who wrestles with mental illness. Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants, regardless of medicine or therapy or a strong community (all which I strongly recommend, by the way).

While we’re called to love others as much as we can stand it, we cannot be responsible for someone’s actions. That’s too much weight to carry. We cannot save everyone, including ourselves sometimes.

I’ve come across two opposing views on supporting someone through depression.

One essentially says, “Do everything you can. Have empathy for their trauma and pain. Love despite it all. Love will eventually win. Research ways to help. Intervene. Always be there for them. People who leave are cruel and cowards.”

The other says, “Practice boundaries and self-care. Refer them to an expert. Admit when you can’t handle it. Keep a safe distance. You can’t pour out what you don’t have.”

My wife has embraced both of these, in different seasons, depending on her needs and mine.

No one can be everything for everyone. But no one should instantly run away either (excluding cases of abuse). We need a safe middle ground that covers both people involved.

To love someone through their mental illness requires a specific patience that many people don’t have. It’s not because they’re bad or anything. Some just can’t stick around because they themselves have too much going on. I can’t be mad at that, or them.

At the same time, some sneak out the second it gets too hard. I think that’s unfair. At the very least, we should go a little beyond what’s asked of us, whether that means going with someone to one of their counseling sessions, bringing them food, or watching a movie with them that they pick (even if it’s something you’d never watch). These things sound simple, but an accumulation of these things mean the world.

For me, I lean towards the view that people should stick around and help. I know there are situations they absolutely shouldn’t. But I hear stories all day long (at the hospital and with the homeless) where no one ever stayed. Maybe it was because the person left behind made too many poor choices, or they were abusive, or they were not willing to be helped. I can almost understand why they were left behind. But in so many cases, it seems like friends, family, and spouses walked away too early. In the end, it’s a strong community which we need for life, and it’s one of the points of living.

To answer you specifically about how my wife helps me:

Continue reading “Working Through Depression As a Team: What to Do and Not to Do with Your Friend’s Mental Health”

To Love Is to Fight.


I’m all for love and patience and understanding and compassion —

But there’s also a time to say enough is enough. There’s a time to vent, weep, scream, shake a fist, and to simply be mad. There’s a space when things aren’t okay and the injustice is still a fresh wound and no one is supposed to tell you how to feel. We need to grieve before jumping to commentary and those extra little points of debate and platforms and policy. We need to grasp the magnitude of what happened without rushing to a better place, so we can do the hard work of healing deeply, and to ensure that justice is not forfeited for the sake of politeness. Sometimes love has to be outraged, because it won’t sit down and take anymore of this. Sometimes love has to get up and fight.

— J.S.

I Think I Hurt Someone: How Do I Clear the Air?

purposedinthecosmos asked a question:

Sometimes we do good things that people may perceive as bad especially if they don’t know the heart behind our actions. Is it necessary to clear that up? Also how can you not be hurt by the way people (think) you treated them or who they (think) you are?

Hey dear friend. I would validate what the other person says with as much reverence as you can.

If someone thinks you have harmed them, even if you have tried to help them, I would consider taking them seriously and being open to hearing them out.

If a person says, “You hurt me,” they are saying it for a reason. It might not always be the best reason, but that’s why a discussion needs to be had.

It’ll be messy and sloppy and full of embarrassing cringe, especially if this is between friends, but that’s how friendship goes. Friendship isn’t all fun and games, but requires the weird work of meeting in the middle between two different wills.

On one hand, what someone feels might not be the best reflection of what is truly happening. On the other hand, I would never want to outright dismiss a person’s pain, regardless of what I might think about it.

Continue reading “I Think I Hurt Someone: How Do I Clear the Air?”

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?”

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