Words we need to give and receive.
Words we need to give and receive.
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.
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!
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.
Photo from Unsplash
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.
Photo from Unsplash
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.
Be immensely blessed! — J.S.
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.
**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 email@example.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
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.
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.
Photo from Unsplash
I keep forgetting that most people on social media who act like authorities are young 20-somethings who haven’t seen much of the world and don’t know how it works. They want to change the world from their basement, or they’re just hungry to go viral. It doesn’t mean they can’t have an opinion. It means I need to double check theirs.
Bloggers are not your counselors or journalists. Most are just making up stuff with flowery words and “what I would do” sentiment. It’s not that we’re bad or wrong. But please keep in mind that most social media users care about your clicks, not your life.
I’m always asking, “Says who? By what authority? What makes it credible? Why do you believe it to be true? Why should I believe you? And how is it working out for you?”
Don’t trust me. Don’t believe me. Just because I have “followers” doesn’t mean a thing. Check the facts. For the love of God, triple check. Discern. Think for yourself. I can speak with authority on some things, but I won’t get it right every time. Trust with a closed grip.
Photo from Unsplash
illuminirk asked a question:
how do you differentiate when you’re being persecuted for christ and being slammed for… for lack of a better word, for being a shitty person? for instance, i see a lot of american christians claiming persecution when really people are mad that they’re racist or homophobic or etc. how do you navigate that? how do you know?
Perhaps the simplest way is this:
Look around. Do you live in the West? You’re probably free to express your faith. So most likely you’re not being persecuted, but you’ve picked the wrong battle.
Look around. Do you live in the East? You’re probably not free to express your faith. So most likely you’re being persecuted, because you’re in the battle at all.
The thing is, early first century Christians were being persecuted simply for existing. Their faith was not primarily about self-improvement (though that’s in there), but about enduring the suffering of a cruel world. They didn’t have much room for political rallies or fighting for moral issues. They were in survival mode. They saw Christianity as the good news of a God who walked with them, rather than some kind of behavioral improvement tool. So while they did care about self-improvement, their first priority was merely survival.
Many Christians in the West today don’t experience the same kind of cultural suffering. They’re not in survival mode, so they’re focused more on self-improvement. I include me in this. It’s not a bad thing. I actually have space to think about how to better my own life and live like Christ. So sometimes Christians have too much idle time and pick the wrong fights in a free society.
And really, when you have the chance to self-improve, it’s easier instead to stand up for some policy outside yourself. It’s a way to offload responsibility for your own actions: by trying to change laws or take the “moral high ground,” you then don’t have to look at changing yourself. Christians find it hard to follow Scripture, so they pick a path of lesser resistance (I include me here, too). It’s easier for Christians to shout really loudly in a free society than actually change their own self-destructive habits and live a useful, meaningful life.
I don’t mean that a person who experiences physical pain for their faith is necessarily a “real Christian.” Sometimes that’s just self-imposed martyrdom, and that’s selfish too. I mean that real persecution is about a cultural baseline of restricted freedom. If you’re free to express yourself, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people complain, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people call you mean names and avoid you at work, sorry, but you’re not persecuted.
So my church showed this video of Jesus doing a bunch of miracles. Great production values. All non-whites, mostly authentic languages, culturally and ethnically reproduced to how it would look in the first century eastern world.
But — I was amazed and amused by the reaction of the church attendees (most of whom are classically westernized i.e. white). They were squirming like crazy the entire video. Like very, very bothered. It wasn’t hard to read.
I was smiling ear to ear that this video mostly got the “look and feel” of the actual first century east. But soon I became angry and sad that the church was so squirmy because they didn’t see western interpretations of white Jesus on the screen.
I’m sure this sounds silly and petty, but our preconceived ideas of Jesus, the east, and the grit of the first century plays a lot into how we view culture, faith, and “the foreigner.” Whitewashing is a big trigger word that’s overplayed, but it’s real.
And for evangelical Christians who are used to seeing a tall, handsome, blonde Jesus, this ain’t how it was. Not even close. By all biblical reports, he was ordinary, unattractive, unremarkable, and dark. Christianity is built on a guy that most of the west is scared of by default.
I’m super-glad my church risked an authentic interpretation of Jesus, and super-sad it bothered the church so much. I also had to wonder how many normative images I have in my head of beauty, truth, heroism, and villainy—and how these images have harmed how I see others.
undefeatedx asked a question:
how do i stop caring about what people think about me?? 😦
Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve discovered in therapy that I’m a people-pleaser, even codependent, and I often have this crazy conspiracy in my head of small-town backroom rumors, where everyone I know secretly dislikes me and laughs about me in some seedy, poorly lit poker room.
A few things about how to deal with what others think about you:
sunmoonandmyrtle asked a question:
Hi JS, I was wondering about the balance between trusting God and making your plans/taking action. I am a bit OCD about planning. My journey at the moment seems to be learning to let go of trying so hard and have faith in God to provide. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the kind of person who says God will bless them yet doesn’t work hard or look for ways to work smart. I’m not looking for a quick solution, but would be glad to just hear what you think. (I hope you’re having a nice day.)
Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this too: When do I let go and “let God”? If I hustle and pursue, does that mean I’m not trusting Him?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about trusting God:
All my books are available here! — J.S.
For now, me and my family are staying home in Florida, but it could all change very quickly. My local area has closed its churches, schools, and most businesses. Please continue to pray for those affected by the storms, fires, floods, and earthquakes the world over. I recognize I’m incredibly blessed with resources when many are not; please consider donating to The Salvation Army USA and your local ground teams. Love you and thank you, friends.
Here’s awesome weather reporter and meteorologist Alan Sealls with a clear, concise update:
Texas, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sierra Leone have all been affected by disasters in the last week. Not all of them are being equally reported; thousands have died in Asia and Africa. This isn’t a rant but a request. You can still help. Please consider donating to The Salvation Army for their teams in Texas or Save the Children for their emergency fund around the world, which will provide food and water to those in need globally. Please share and pray.
– Save the Children Emergency Fund: http://www.savethechildren.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=8rKLIXMGIpI4E&b=9506655&ct=15003327¬oc=1
– Salvation Army: http://helpsalvationarmy.org
I always wonder about people who keep picking a fight.
It seems they’re not interested in discussion, but only saying the contrarian opposite thing just to stir up a heated moment. That’s a one-way monologue, never a two-way street. It’s usually disguised as, “You can’t handle my truth” or “I keep it real.” They begin with the assumption that everyone else needs to be taught and they’re the teacher. “Wisdom perishes with me” and all that. There’s backpedaling and deflecting and doubling down and twisting words to appear like they were always right even when they’re proven wrong.
I don’t know why. Compulsion, maybe, or an addiction to drama, or the desperate urge to protect a fragile ego. Or maybe they never learned how to disagree with compromise, but everyone only catered to them and they always got their way. And despite trying to correct everyone all the time, they can’t stand to be corrected. They physically act out and justify and defend themselves to death, clawing at every straw to win. Win what? I wish I knew. In the end it only loses all of us.
I’m that guy sometimes, too. But I want to be teachable. I want to assume I’m never the smartest guy in the room. That’s okay. I always want to learn, to be able to say, “I’m wrong, and I’m sorry, and I need your help.” To be teachable is freeing. It means we can actually have a conversation. It matters less that we agree, but more that we build a bridge between you and me, that we can see how we got to where we are and how we can keep going. I hope we stay connected—because I cannot see with my own eyes alone.
Condemning hate isn’t enough. That’s the bare minimum. We also need solidarity. Compassion. Calling out. Standing with. Fighting for. Ground level work. Sleeves up. In the dirt. There’s the difficult brutal unpopular risk of getting on the right side of history. In the home. Out there. Over fences, across oceans. Side by side when it isn’t pretty, when no one’s looking, when everyone is, when the wounded lean heavily on our shoulders, when no one cares. That’s the stuff that changes where we’re going.