At the Hospital.


Hey friends, a couple weeks ago, I was in the ER. Not as a chaplain, but as a patient. I’m okay today, but wow—what an experience. It was both awful and affirming.

I was at work (so fortunately, already at the hospital) and had lost my balance and gotten feverish and was shaking like crazy. It all happened pretty quickly: I went from high-fiving fellow chaplains to hugging the wall with a 101 fever.

I was given a bunch of tests: a blood draw, X-ray, CT scan, a long Q-tip that went as far up my nose as possible, a rectal exam, and 350 ccs of rectal contrast. It was all pretty invasive and embarrassing stuff. The loss of autonomy is remarkably fast and total. I was half-naked under my gown. To use the restroom, I had to call for the nurse to disconnect my IV and oximeter. I didn’t have my toothbrush or phone charger; not a big deal, but things I’ve taken for granted. I’ve seen this sort of thing hundreds of times with patients, but of course, it’s a whole other thing to switch places.

The nurses and doctors were incredible with how gentle they were. They narrated every step of each procedure. They maintained my privacy. They kept me updated with total clarity. And when I returned to work later that week, no one made it weird. Well, I did, for the guy who inserted the rectal fluid. I blurted out, “I’m glad it was you!”—and immediately regretted my decision.

The most important learning for me was the value of chaplains. Two of them were with me. It was a huge difference having a chaplain in the room, and the impact stayed. Sometimes I’ve wondered about what I do and what it actually means for people, but I get it now. The power of presence, of a connection to the divine, is so crucial in crisis. To have someone pray for you when you’re that vulnerable is like nothing else, like the breaking of bread right out the oven, like warm water over cold tired hands, like the first gleam of light in a darkened tunnel. I’m so grateful for my fellow chaplains. Thank God for them. I can’t believe I get to do what I do.

The tests, by the way, came up just fine. A temporary body glitch, or I need to take better care of myself, or I’m just getting old. Like they say, even the Mona Lisa is falling apart. We all get there.

It was pretty scary, but I’m certain my experience isn’t nearly as hard or harsh as many others who have gone to the hospital. I think, at the very least, I have a tiny glimpse of what it’s like to be the one looking up from the hospital bed. Thank you to those who prayed and for those who will. I’m feeling much, much better today.
J.S.


Photo by Images Catalog, CC0 1.0

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

Statistically, I’m the least attractive person in the dating scene. Alongside black women, the Asian-American male is considered the most ugly and undesirable person in the room.

Take it from Steve Harvey, who won’t eat what he can’t pronounce:

“‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ No thank you. I don’t even like Chinese food. It don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.’”

Eddie Huang, creator of the groundbreaking Asian-American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, responded to Steve Harvey in The New York Times:

“[Every] Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us. We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we’re naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl.”

Asian-American men, like me, know the score. That is, we don’t count at all.

Hollywood won’t bank on me. Think: When was the last time you saw an Asian male kiss a non-Asian female in a movie or TV show? Or when was the last time an Asian-American male was the desired person in a romantic comedy? And more specifically, when where they not Kung Fu practitioners or computer geniuses? I can only think of two examples: Steven Yeun as Glenn from The Walking Dead and John Cho as Harold from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. So it takes either a zombie apocalypse or the munchies to see a fully breathing Asian male lead, or a Photoshop campaign #StarringJohnCho for an Asian protagonist with actual thoughts in his head.

It’s so rare to see a three-dimensional Asian male character, with actual hopes and dreams, that Steven Yeun remarks in GQ Magazine:

GQ Magazine: When you look back on your long tenure on The Walking Dead, what makes you proudest?

Steven Yeun: Honestly, the privilege that I had to play an Asian-American character that didn’t have to apologize at all for being Asian, or even acknowledge that he was Asian. Obviously, you’re going to address it. It’s real. It’s a thing. I am Asian, and Glenn is Asian. But I was very honored to be able to play somebody that showed multiple sides, and showed depth, and showed a way to relate to everyone. It was quite an honor, in that regard. This didn’t exist when I was a kid. I didn’t get to see Glenn. I didn’t get to see a fully formed Asian-American person on my television, where you could say, “That dude just belongs here.” Kids, growing up now, can see this show and see a face that they recognize. And go, “Oh my god. That’s my face too.”

Growing up, I never had that, either. I can’t help but think of this scene from the biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, in which Bruce Lee watches the controversial Asian stereotype played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to a theater filled with derisive laughter. This moment with Bruce Lee is most likely fictional, but the weight of it is not lost on us:

This was a powerful moment for me as a kid, because I grew up with the same sort of mocking laughter, whether it was watching Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with my white neighbors, or being assailed by the Bruce Lee wail in the local grocery store. I knew they were laughing at me, and not with.

Continue reading “Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room”

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”

Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption

andyred

Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Columbia Pictures

Summary:
Andy Dufresne is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her extramarital lover. He is soon indoctrinated in a savage world of bargaining, machismo, corruption, and despair. But Andy is a silent unassailable force who through intellect and his child-like innocence gains favor with both the guards and the prisoners. He befriends Red, a longtime inmate, who berates hope but believes in Andy, and together they forge a bond that survives the decades.

Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Gil Bellows. Directed by Frank Darabont.

Questionable Content:
Graphic violence, quick visuals of a sex scene, language, implied prison rape, a vivid murder, and several suicides.

Why You Should See It:

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is one of the best American films ever made. It did poorly at the box office and wasn’t well received, but picked up steam on VHS and is now a beloved, timeless classic. Only three years ago, it managed to fill 151 hours of basic cable television in a year, tying with Scarface and second to Mrs. Doubtfire, and still paying residuals to its principal actors and crew.

The movie works because we like Andy Dufresne. He’s perfectly imperfect. Some movies manipulate the audience into rooting for the main character by throwing all sorts of contrivances at him (see The Pursuit of Happiness or Patch Adams), but Andy must do his sincere best in a broken system that does not allow for hopeful men like him.

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Shawshank Redemption”

Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show


The Truman Show (1998)
Paramount Pictures

Summary:
Truman Burbank, in one of Jim Carrey’s finest performances, is a nice guy with a nice wife, the nice house, job, and neighbors — but it’s all been staged for Truman. He’s the center of a global reality show in which he’s the only one who doesn’t know. From birth, he’s been raised on an engineered island with hired actors and millions of hidden cameras. If you think I’ve given away the big secret, this is only the start of the movie. Truman’s world slowly unravels when he finds clues that reveal the seams. He knows something is wrong; we find he has probably known it his whole life. He must decide whether to discover his reality or stay content on his perfect island.

Also starring Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, and Natascha McElhone. Directed by Peter Weir.

Questionable Content:
Some suggestions of sex, an unethical premise, and a scene of a man nearly dying.

Why You Should See It (Some Spoilers Ahead):

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show”

A Video of My Wedding.


A short video of our wedding at the Rusty Pelican in Tampa, FL. Wedding photos here and engagement photos here. We just had our one year anniversary. I also proposed two years ago on Valentine’s Day. Quite an adventure, it’s been.
J.S.


Christians: You’re Allowed To Fail, But Don’t Be Mediocre

An open letter to Christian artists and creative minds.


The Christian subculture tends to celebrate mediocrity because we think it’s Christian to be “nice” even when something sucks.

I mean like, hey man, that’s my kid playing Noah up there in the annual performance of “The Loving Wrath of Jehovah.”  Never mind the boat is a rusty shopping cart.

Suburban churches have an extremely high tolerance for bad sermons, bad Christmas plays, bad drama skits, bad music, and all-around poor production values.

We lower our standards with an almost forceful resentment, as if having approval in God gives us permission to be cheap and shoddy.

Most Christianized media is a safe, sanitized, bubble-fringe ghetto that appeals to certain mindless demographics which will eat up anything labeled “for the Kingdom.”

But as the great DC Talk once said, “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.”

Continue reading “Christians: You’re Allowed To Fail, But Don’t Be Mediocre”

5 Reasons Why Hershel From The Walking Dead Is My Favorite Christian On TV

Nearly every Christian on TV and in movies is portrayed to be an extreme bigot, a closet prodigal, or a gun-toting uptight neo-con Republican. A good screenwriter can manage to squeeze all three in one.

Christians do deserve some of the criticism. In the 1980s, we over-reached our grasp by trying to politicize “Christian morality” in every platform, and we now live in the backlash of trying too hard to force the church into the state. In the 1990s, there was a “Christianese” version of everything, from Testa-Mints to Bibleman to Xtreme Youth Group Pizza Night to the Holy Land Experience theme park. Either we’re getting good stuff like Lecrae and Switchfoot, or we’re getting awful stuff like a tame Nic Cage in Left Behind and yet another Westboro picketing.

For every time that Christians call foul on how they’re portrayed in the media, I always have to say that we’re not helping our case either. It’s true that the media sensationalizes the worst of us: but we’re giving them great material.

So it always surprises me to see a multi-dimensional Christian in the entertainment media, who’s not a dichotomous banner-waver but a modest down-to-earth father, who happens to be a Christian. Hershel from The Walking Dead has some of the familiar tropes we’ve come to expect — a sage-like advice dispenser, has too-perfect Bible verses for the situation, owns an actual farm — but there’s a deep world-weariness and bemusement in his mannerisms that brings a depth we never see in screen-written Christians.

On a show that’s been panned for uneven writing, false motivations, and some bad dialogue (Things-And-Stuff Rick), Hershel’s character arc is one of the best on the show, and one of the best in any show period.

Here are five reasons why Hershel Greene is my favorite Christian on TV.

[Some spoilers follow, especially for #5.]

Continue reading “5 Reasons Why Hershel From The Walking Dead Is My Favorite Christian On TV”

A Confession: I Once Wrote A Song About Killing My Ex-Gf — Actually, Twice

About social media, moralistic meme cultures, digging the dirt of our past, and a transparent future without privacy — and why this can all be a good thing.


I once wrote two different songs about killing two different ex-girlfriends.

In my college years I used to rap and freestyle, and using what lyrical skills I had, I recorded a song over Eminem’s “Stan” about killing my ex-girlfriend. A few years later, I did the same thing with Common’s “Retrospect For Life” about killing another ex-girlfriend and eating her baby.

These were sick, horrible, disgusting things that constitute assault and battery — and they make me want to throw up at myself. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

If you search for these songs online, you can probably find them on an old music site under my name. I say this to my own shame and horror, and I’m not proud of this in the least at all. I’m now publicly outing myself — not out of some patronizing “reverse humility” or a victim-card, but because I deserve any repercussions that come my way.

If one day I go public somewhere: I want to have outed myself already. I’m tired of keeping this regret a secret. And it’s okay if you’re disappointed or you dismiss me. At least I can finally breathe, unburdened.

Continue reading “A Confession: I Once Wrote A Song About Killing My Ex-Gf — Actually, Twice”

Grace Enough For Your Past Self: God Working In Spite Of Screw-Ups

There’s a time when you screw up and everyone knows it and you try to hide it: but God can still explode the consequences with His grace. That’s why it’s grace.

If you don’t think so, there’s this book called the Bible which talks about a cross where Jesus paid for that so you wouldn’t have to. True story.

It means you can stop hiding from yourself and let go of what people say about you.

Recently a megachurch pastor took down his entire backlog of sermon podcasts because of his “growth” in doctrinal knowledge. Any sermons before a certain time period were apparently no longer a reflection of his current beliefs.

In a few years, will this pastor continue to delete old sermons? Will any of his sermons today still stand up to future scrutiny? Does this mean that anyone who attended his church in the past did not grow from those deleted sermons? Wasn’t God working then too?

A popular Christian blogger recently tore apart a popular Christian book on marriage by a megachurch pastor. The blogger remarked that she found it atrocious the pastor admitted to severe marriage problems: because the timing implies that this pastor was still preaching while he was living in sin.

But by this blogger’s logic, this would disqualify every single pastor ever from preaching or serving, much less being saved by God’s grace. Sin is sin, large or small. Is there really no value in this pastor’s book or ministry or life? If all our secrets are displayed for everyone to see, does this instantly cancel every good thing we have ever done?

If we’re limiting God’s graciousness to our own human ideas of fairness, then every one of us should have burst into flames at birth. Absolutely no one is worthy to merit God’s favor: but here we are, Christian or not, meriting the breath to breathe and thoughts to think and lives to live, and Christian or not, we are still under the same God with the same standard who offers the same grace.

Anything we ever get to do of worth is by the grace of God alone. God works in spite of the mixed mess of our motives and in the midst of our secret double lives. No human sees the full scope of this: we can only plead for the grace.

I’m glad a pastor has the humility to confess his old sermons are probably not orthodox anymore, and I’m also bothered by a pastor who has confessed that he was preaching on marriage while his own marriage was failing. But both of these thoughts can quickly ignore the God who has grace enough to cover our errors, shortcomings, imperfections, and screw-ups.

None of us get it right every time — but we can still be a vehicle for God’s perfect work. None of us completely understand the fullness of God’s nature or His Word — but we can still know Him, experience Him, hear from Him. None of us are ever so far from the sovereign hand of God that He can’t rescue us from a life of destruction — or else we are diminishing the soul-punching uppercut-power of God’s interrupting grace.

He can and does cover the worst of us, not because we deserve it, but exactly because we cannot.

Continue reading “Grace Enough For Your Past Self: God Working In Spite Of Screw-Ups”

Movies That Christians Should Watch: Apollo 13


Apollo 13 (1995)
Universal Pictures

Summary:
**Some spoilers ahead.**

Three men are sent into space by NASA in 1970 when the space industry begins to lose its luster, and suddenly an expedition to the moon becomes a rescue mission back to earth. The journey is cut short when faulty equipment explodes and these three men, with the resourcefulness of the control center on the ground, use everything at their disposal to make it safely home.

Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise. Directed by Ron Howard.

Questionable Content:
Intense scenes of distress and anxiety in a spaceshuttle, plenty of well-deserved yelling, some coarse language, and a woman taking a shower loses her wedding ring (no nudity).

Why You Should See It:
The indelible words of Astronaut Jim Lovell are embedded in our culture: Houston, we have a problem. The problem is more or less a mechanical failure that would hardly make sense to ordinary laymen, but the film slows down to present these historic trials piece by agonizing piece: leaking oxygen, low battery, rising CO2 levels, freezing temperatures, possible heat damage and disintegration, and a horrifying scene where the broken shuttle must make a perfectly timed burst for 39 seconds in one direction.

We know they survived in the true story, but it doesn’t make the movie any less tense. The flight director Gene Kranz, played by a brilliant Ed Harris in the best performance of the movie, passionately breaks down each problem with the crew like a math puzzle: except the stakes are human lives. Hope drives them to relentless measures. No one sleeps. You’ll never hear “insurmountable odds” quite the same way again.

Continue reading “Movies That Christians Should Watch: Apollo 13”

The Top Ten Posts of 2011

These are the Top Ten Blog Posts of 2011. Thank you to every reader and supporter, your prayers and encouragement are welcomed and appreciated. Here’s to 2012!

10) A Christian Is Not Up To Your Damned Standard
An angry post that caused me to lose some followers, tick off some Reformed people, and indirectly caused a blogger to call me an “abortionist” and “witch whore.” I did apologize for my angry tone.

See also: I Love My Doctrine More Than Jesus: Why No One Cares About Your Theology
And: Gospel Idolatry
And: The Trend of the Gutless Gospel: How My Thoughts About The Gospel Have Changed Over Time, Part One

9) Movies That Christians Should See: The Truman Show
The most popular review of “Christians Should See” series, with perhaps my favorite film of all time.

8) Book Review: Erasing Hell
Francis Chan writes a succinct response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, which I was also interviewed for by the local newspaper.

7) When Pastors Just Want To Quit
When your church is falling apart: no one’s listening, no one’s cares, no one’s convicted. But why it still matters.

6) It Would Be Easier If I Wasn’t A Christian – Part One
A four-part philosophical look into why we should consider being a Christian. Part Two here. Part Three here. Part Four here.

5) Why Is The Old Testament So Crazy? — Part One
A multi-part discussion about the insanity of the Old Testament. A straight reading of the OT is like a bad acid trip, with its supposedly misogynistic, slavery-endorsing, pagan-esque ways. Plus Part Two. More coming in this series.

Continue reading “The Top Ten Posts of 2011”

Quote: Reward



God never calls us to sacrifice as an end in itself, but only through sacrifice on the way to great joy. On the other side of the seeming loss and denial is always reward and pleasure so deep and so intense that it’s almost impossible to call what you gave up a sacrifice at all.

— Joshua Harris


Book Review: Gospel



Gospel
By J.D. Greear

Summary:
If you were to distill the most critical elements of the Bible into a razor-sharp work, you’d end up with J.D. Greear’s Gospel. Without venturing into Old Testament prophecy, metanarrative, the temple sacrifice system, the Mosaic Law, or even much of Jesus’ life story, author J.D. Greear presents the Good News of Jesus Christ for the back row churchgoer in the everyday walk with God. Where so many works like this come across as polished, academic, irrelevant minutiae, Greear brings it down to the dynamics of our relationship with Christ.

Strengths:
Much of Gospel is unoriginal, and J.D. Greear proudly claims so. Often written like a Greatest Hits Album from a cross-section of the best preachers today, Gospel works largely because of its sincerity and straightforward simplicity. It’s like a quadruple espresso shot of Bible truth aiming for the heart of the matter: namely, your heart. It will especially revive those who are frustrated or flailing in their Christian walk.

With endorsements by Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, David Platt, Albert Mohler, Daniel Akin, Johnny Hunt, and Steven Furtick, the book had a lot to live up to. And it does. It’s an instant classic, not because it has anything new to say, but because it says it so well. It’s almost like a contemporized work by John Stott or C.S. Lewis made for the modern Christian.

Continue reading “Book Review: Gospel”

Porn Addiction, Part One: Excuses and Myths

Most Recent Edit: May, 2017
– My book on quitting porn addiction is in paperback for only $7.99 and e-book for 3.49 on Amazon! It’s been officially endorsed by Craig Gross of X3Church. It has been updated and expanded in 2017. It contains this entire series of posts plus brand new info, fully updated with research, with specific steps to quit.

An ongoing discussion about victory over sexual addiction.

Most people would say that porn addiction is not really porn addiction.

It’s casual use, or to calm the nerves, or it’s necessary. It’s morally better than sex with strangers, or the solution to ward off premarital sex. I’ve heard, “There’s no such thing as porn addiction.” Hollywood actors regularly admit having huge stashes of porn. Some married couples say they use it to spice up the marriage (like CPR on a corpse). When I trained to be a CNA, the handbook said to never disturb a masturbating patient. “It’s natural.”

I could recite all the moral arguments about the poisonous porn industry or the danger of lust or the power of purity, but it begins to sound like the old church lady who made you wear a quilt over that dress.

In writing this, I’m assuming you or your friend want to recover from a sexual crisis. I’m assuming you’ve been harmed by habitual, destructive, time-wasting patterns of sexual deviance. If you don’t care, I can’t convince you otherwise.  There are smarter people who can. If you do care, welcome to sobriety.

Here’s the thing: Most people who want to stop masturbating to porn don’t really want to stop masturbating to porn.

Continue reading “Porn Addiction, Part One: Excuses and Myths”

Quote: Hope


“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

— C.S. Lewis


“Reality Show about a former prostitute bringing prostitutes to Christ.”




This is for real: a new reality show called “Hookers: Saved On The Strip.”

Excerpt from article:

“A former sex trafficked teen, prostitute, call girl and stripper is starring in a new reality show about helping prostitutes on the street and bringing them to Jesus Christ.

The show, ‘Hookers: Saved on the Strip,’ follows Hookers for Jesus founder Annie Lobert on her quest to rescue women willing to escape the ‘game.’ She takes them to Destiny House, a safe haven where she tries to help them spiritually and prepare them for the real world.”

Continue Reading at Christian Post