“9 Tricky Defense Mechanisms That Are Ruining The Communication In Your Relationship”


Hey friends, I was published on Thought Catalog! It’s a post called 9 Tricky Defense Mechanisms That Are Ruining The Communication In Your Relationship. It covers defensive tactics like rationalizing, deflecting, blame-shifting, gaslighting, and other easy-to-spot moves.

The original post is herehttps://jsparkblog.com/2017/03/13/9-tricky-self-deceptive-defense-mechanisms-that-completely-undermine-dialogue/

Here’s an excerpt, the one I’m most guilty of:

6) Value Judgment / Moralizing. Measuring a person’s inherent value as inferior, especially when their preferences or personalities are different than yours.

The way you think is not how things are. Can I say that again? The way you think is not how things are. It’s simply how you think. Your personality and preferences are not the barometer by which the world turns. I struggle with this one the most; I’m always tempted to mold someone into my own image. Even when there are healthy standards to abide by, it becomes a problem when we grade someone’s value based on how well they’ve caught up to them. And surprise!—we rationalize or blame-shift or deflect when we ourselves don’t measure to our own standards. To truly understand another person requires knowing the whole story, and not just a tiny slice of their life.


Read the rest here. Love y’all, friends! — J.S.

9 Tricky, Self-Deceptive Defense Mechanisms That Completely Undermine Dialogue

If you’ve ever been in an escalating argument, you’ll always notice how it becomes a “meta-argument” about unrelated things that are not really the point. The dialogue gets further and further away from the main thing, until you’re both screaming out your lungs and throwing appliances at the ceiling. Arguments, in hindsight, often look embarrassing, full of cringe and regret and wreckage like an irreversible radioactive wasteland.

When conflict comes around, everything feels like it’s at stake: your value, your truth, your work, your very life. So understandably, we resort to self-preserving mechanisms to scratch and claw for our very lives. Here are a few defense mechanisms that get us stuck, and how we can get un-stuck.

Continue reading “9 Tricky, Self-Deceptive Defense Mechanisms That Completely Undermine Dialogue”

Editors’ Picks: Frontpage of WordPress



Hello friends! I’m on the frontpage of WordPress by Editors’ Picks for a post called:
When Do Politics Decide Friendship?

Join the conversation. Be blessed and love y’all! 
J.S.


When Do Politics Decide Friendship?


lovelyishe asked a question:

 What is your opinion on the stance that you should end a friendship because of differing political opinions? Is there a time when you believe it is best to drift apart from them or no?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a difficult, relevant question today, as it seems political differences more than ever are not merely a disagreement of opinions, but becoming an aggressively different opinion of human value, with all kinds of dangerous implications.

I’m fortunate and blessed to have friends with a wide range of political beliefs who are open to discourse or even changing their minds. Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online. There are many, many thoughtful people across the spectrum that do not fall easily into our biased categories.

My concern is not that everyone has to agree a particular way. My major concern is that our beliefs have sound reasons behind them. When I hear the stories of enlisted soldiers, military veterans, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, victims of racism, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, immigrants (like my parents), and abuse survivors, I can begin to see why their experiences have shaped their positions on specific issues. The more stories I hear, the more I can understand. I can become a student instead of a critic. I can more easily reach across the aisle, not necessarily to change minds, but to build bridges where our stories are respected in the overlap.

Of course, this bridge-building cannot happen with everyone. Sometimes a person’s politics are so explosive and divisive that it seems they only want to watch the world burn (or as it’s said, it’s a zero-sum game). There really are people who cannot be engaged with, no matter how gracious we approach. But unlike the terrible circus we see online, on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, most people are way more three-dimensional than that. It’s only ever a last, last, last resort that I would ever break off a friendship because of politics.

Continue reading “When Do Politics Decide Friendship?”

Say the Whole Thing, Fully Everything

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If you express a strong opinion and get attacked for it, please don’t backpedal with “I was only trying to say” or “What I really meant was.”

Of course we want to be humble and teachable. There is always room for criticism and dialogue. It’s good to say you’re wrong: but don’t apologize for being strong. Please don’t hold back on your heart to look more rational than you really are. You can’t always be so cool and calculated. The strength of your voice is necessary in a nervously muted world.

Your expression is who you are in the heat of the moment, fully imbued by your wild strokes of passion and personality, and no one should be sorry about that. Don’t minimize your own humanness by trying to appeal to everyone’s civil sensibility. You might need to examine your content, but don’t let it shrink your character. In a silent world of jaded conformity, we need more of your voice and not less.

J.S.


Photo by TOM81115, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tell Me Your Story.

I was nearly an abortion. I was an unplanned accident, born out of wedlock, and the one before me was aborted.

I was born to immigrant parents, who naturalized and met in New York. They started with nothing, working as many as 100 hours per week, slowly and painfully saving money until they could open their own businesses. They believed this was a great country, and still do. My father served alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and he is a proud veteran of this nation.

Many of us have these sorts of stories; they inform who we are, what we believe, and what we fight for, and so we are a myriad of uniquely shaped stories, each giving rise to a different voice in the world.

The really tragic thing is when we superimpose a particular idea on someone without attempting to hear their story first, and their voice is then stamped and smothered. We can too quickly assume a person is only their picket sign, their political party, their social media feed, or a cartoonish, dogmatic, one-dimensional archetype sensationalized by a grab-bag of Hollywood images. We predict what they might or might not believe without asking, without listening, without understanding.

A person’s voice is always built from their stories, their experiences, their very real pains, and it’s this blend of blisters that has brought them to stand on their particular hill. It is a hill, whether rightly or wrongly, that has been reached by a stream of forces that no two individuals can fully comprehend in each other.

So we can only try. Patiently, graciously: to hear their story on the hill.

Continue reading “Tell Me Your Story.”

Jesus: For Them


The entire Bible goes out of its way to lift up the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor. God loved the “inconvenient.” If you’re not for them, you’re certainly not for the Bible, and the whole irony of it is that I’m pretty sure Jesus died for both them and for you, too.
J.S.



Photo by Demi Brooke Kerr

Love Is a Fighting Word


Love is not passive,
kindness is not silence,
and compassion is not quiet;
sometimes it means we raise our voices
to fight for our very lives.
J.S.



Art by 1of1doodles

My Top 16 Posts of 2016 from My Tumblr


16) Breaking Through Jealousy: Passing the Fire

15) She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love

14) 5 Ways to Diligently Discern All the Good and Bad “Christian Advice”

13) I Believe It Is Enough

12) I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?

11) I’m Sorry and I Was Wrong

10) 5 Kinds of Romanticized Crushes That Will Mess You Up 

9) As I Really Am

8) You Won’t Like This: But I Hope You Hear Me

7) We Bleed, All The Way Up

6) How Do You Believe This Bulls__t?

5) A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

4) I Held a Swastika

3) Five Husbands

2) Which Books of the Bible Do I Start First?

1) 15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

My Top 20 Quotes of 2016 from My Tumblr

 

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20) Learning to Say No

19) I Want to Quit

18) Shame Versus Grace

17) To Really Listen

16) Christianity Isn’t About Whether It Works

15) Jesus, What We Need

14) To Really Listen First

13) “Since It Doesn’t Happen to Me …”

12) Love Doesn’t Keep a Score

11) When Things Fell Apart

10) You’ve Been Re-Made

9) The False Narrative

8) Depression Versus Faith

7) If You’re Breathing

6) The Christian Life Is Not a One-Shot Deal

5) When It Hurts, I’m Sure of One Thing

4) Truth and Love Together

3) God’s Will Is Who We Are

2) What God Wants to Do

1) But This Is What Jesus Does


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

Top 16 Posts of 2016

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Here are the Top 16 Most Viral Posts of 2016 from my blog, ranging from topics such as porn addiction, feminism, neo-Nazis, being at the bedside of death, and the time my wife and I broke up for six months.


16) The Christian Life Isn’t a One-Shot Deal, But a Walk Painted by Steps

The Christian walk isn’t a “one chance and it’s over,” but a life-long mosaic.


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15) The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out; the prayers go unanswered; we won’t know why.


14) I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?

I need to know I can tell you everything.


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13) How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?

I’m often asked how I keep believing, and I can’t believe that I keep believing.


12) A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

Seven truths and myths about forgiveness.


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11) Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show

In my movie analysis series, I go over the spiritual and cultural themes of The Truman Show, a deeply tragic comedy about opportunism and freedom.


10) I Hate My Life and Myself and I Want to Die: What Do I Do?

The reality is, our dreams get crushed, and people will leave or cheat or abuse us, and our perseverance doesn’t always pay off. Most of us are not prepared for how harsh and brutal that life can be, because no one gives the hard talk about what it’s really like.


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9) “4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn”

An article I wrote for X3Church about four incredible things that happen when you quit pornography.
(My book on quitting porn is here.)


8) Breaking Up and Getting Back Together: About Me and My Wife

My wife and I had a six-month break-up. We needed it.


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7) Five Husbands

On a whirlwind day at the hospital, I visit five husbands who have lost their spouses.
(My other chaplain stories are here.)


6) What The Bible Talks About When It Talks About Women: A Mega-Post on Those Troubling “Anti-Women” Bible Verses

Contrary to pop opinion, the Bible is one of the most, if not the most, pro-women document in history.


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5) She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.

A girl gets mad at her boyfriend and tries to cheat with me, and things only get worse from there.


4) You Won’t Like This But I Hope You Hear Me

No one likes to hear the hard truth about themselves: but without it, we will never grow, never heal, never go.


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3) I Held a Swastika

At the hospital, I visit a patient who tried to bite a nurse and threw urine at a surgeon, and happens to have a tattoo of a swastika.


2) 5 Kinds of Romanticized Crushes That Will Mess You Up

When “romantic feelings” overtake you, here’s a little guide to see where that goes.


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1) 15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital

My work as a hospital chaplain has helped me to know what not to say to patients and the hurting.


How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering

Anonymous asked a question:

Would God purposely put His children in a situation where they would be hurt in any way (rape, kidnapped, something like that)? Or is this the work of the devil? I don’t think He would, but I don’t know.

My dear friend: There’s probably a huge list of questions I’d like to ask God the second I see Him (right after I collect my eyeballs back into my head).  So right upfront: I’m not sure why the devil is given such a long leash.  I’m going to ask God about that one, probably with my arms crossed and eyes rolled (and my head on fire).

The Question of Evil has not been adequately answered by the greatest philosophers of history, and I probably won’t be the one to crack it today, either.  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me doubt God everyday.  Even if I did have some solid theology on why certain atrocities happen, I still doubt it would satisfy the victim of abuse and slavery and oppression and terminal illness, no matter how much “logical sense” it makes to the brain.  Even if I concluded, “All the bad stuff is really from Satan,” then a suffering person could only reply, “So what?”

I can only offer a few thoughts that might help you on your journey here, because this tension of why bad things happen will never be resolved by any single answer.  Anything we say on pain will always be inadequate for the actual suffering person.  No such all-encompassing answer from any belief system really exists. I say this as a chaplain who works in the hospital, who has seen the very worst kinds of suffering, knowing that any amount of inspiration or explanation will never be enough.

I can only say that I believe the Christian perspective best accommodates the problems we see today.  I’m also aware that some of us will never meet eye-to-eye on this and we can “deconstructively reduce” anything I’m saying with snark and cynicism. That’s easy mode.  And that’s okay.  We’re free to disagree and wrestle and think for ourselves.

And please know: I would never, ever enumerate these reasons out loud the moment after a person has been seriously harmed.  I would never bring this to the bedside of any of my patients in their inexplicable grief. None of this theology really matters as much as you being there in the trenches with a heart of listening and love.

As always, please feel free to skip around.

Continue reading “How Do I Know If It’s God or the Devil? A Mega-Post On Pain, Evil, and Suffering”

I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy


[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.
J.S.

Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?

Anonymous asked a question:

I have no idea what to do about the upcoming presidential election. I want to vote because I can, but I don’t see either of the options as fitting for the role. Any advice?

Hey dear friend, at the risk of alienating others: I also don’t want to vote for either candidate. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate option, all the way up to the voting booth.

Here’s the thing. An American President only has so much actual deciding power, as there are checks and balances to limit what one official can do (though of course, their policies are certainly a factor in how you vote). But my main concern is that the elected officials in any government are part of a greater social influence that describes and decides who we are as a country and a people.

I think the question that I ask is: How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Continue reading “Who to Vote for If I Don’t Like Either Candidate?”

10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences

horizontescuriosos asked a question:

Hi, I just had one question about your post referencing how people assume their experience is the only valid experience. Do you have any idea why people do this? It seems pretty obvious to me that not everyone would have the same experiences, but apparently people don’t always think with that logic.

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to this post, which says:

“It doesn’t happen to me, therefore it never happens” is possibly the most insane, myopic, deranged fallacy that’s impeding our progress.

One of my favorite things about my Psychology major was learning all the ways that the brain can deceive itself. Things like FAE, TMT, intrinsic justification, hindsight bias, Asch conformity, the Stanley Milgram experiments, suppression rebound, and cognitive dissonance are all the loopy tricky ways that we can easily be fooled without knowing we’re fooled.

So at least a dozen times a week, I’ll see some online comment that says, “That’s never happened to me!” — which follows that it somehow never happens at all. I suppose the closest psychological phenomenon to that would be anecdotal evidence, in which a person’s own life experience tends to (wrongly) inform the totality of all human experience. It lacks empathy and imagination, because of course, we’re all wired to take the quickest shortcut by way of heuristics in order to form a schema — which means, we take the path of least resistance to form an opinion.

Our brains always want to use the least amount of cognitive faculties to assess what’s around us, which means: yes, we’re lazy, and without intentionality, we drift towards complacency and black-and-white conclusions.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but I’m afraid that our internet culture and quick-click social media has contributed to such knee-jerk judgments. No one takes time to process all the nuances of a situation anymore. Just think: these days, within five minutes of most major tragedies, there are already think-pieces posted on Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter but no time to naturally process our grief.

We are not an emotionally healthy world anymore. I say this as a person who loves social media and all the good it can bring, but when it comes to thoughtfulness and reflection, we’ve mostly gone backwards. The only way back to empathy, it would seem, is for us to exercise radio silence and to listen with total intent.

Here’s what I’d advise. I would set up some ground rules when it comes to expressing opinions online or face-to-face. Feel free to dismiss or modify any of these.

Continue reading “10 Quick Ways We Can Validate, Listen, and Learn from Others’ Experiences”

Condemning All Violence.


“Dallas sniper attack: 5 officers killed, suspect identified”

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/08/us/philando-castile-alton-sterling-protests/index.html


Absolutely horrified by the events in Dallas. Any and all violence must be condemned. Praying for both protestors and the police.

Police Chief David Brown: “He wanted to kill officers, and he expressed killing white people, he expressed killing white officers, he expressed anger for Black Lives Matter. None of that makes sense.” The sniper had pure hate for every side of the discussion.

Saying “eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “don’t fight fire with fire” assumes protesters did this. They didn’t. The sniper expressed hate for both whites and blacks. Don’t buy into it.

J.S.

I’m Sorry and I Was Wrong.


God help me, I’ve been a coward long enough, carefully curating my words not to make enemies, not to alienate, playing the passive agreeable token minority.

So let’s call it what it is. Racism. Systemic, culturalized, indoctrinated, institutionalized racism.

You say it doesn’t exist, but I’ll show you my scars. You say it isn’t real, but I see my brothers and sisters slain by a lawless authority that lacks sufficient accountability, feeding itself by Orwellian double-talk and distancing rationalizations, covering for each other’s inner-circle by playing the ambiguity-card with Walter-White-monologues, jumping to words like “healing” and “calm down” without acknowledging the injury. No, I have met and trained (yes, trained) and I continue to work with many good upholders of the law: but they remain the best of them because of their submission to the very sanctity of which they uphold.

It’s unsettling to confront the possibility of prejudice in our hearts, but it’s there, and we have to talk about it, uproot it, from the top of every system on down.

I’m reading dozens of thoughtless, cruel, heartless comments that neglect the actual human life that is gone, that invalidate such an atrocity to validate the comfortable status quo. If you find yourself justifying a horrible death without recognizing its grief and horror, then you make yourself and that person less human. I cannot fathom such a startling deficit of compassion and empathy.

God forgive me, I get scared of hate-mail and “unfollows” when the streets are covered in blood. God forgive us, we try to win our little “political points” but neglect the tragedy of what is happening right now, to real families who deserved better.

I’m sorry, I was wrong, and I want to help.
J.S.

Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?

Anonymous asked a question:

How should I respond to people seeing Christianity as a eurocentric tool for imperialism?? I’m sometimes embarrassed that I’m still holding onto Christianity when it seems like it’s only the “popular religion” that it is today because of its adoption by white westerners and the imperialistic conquests, genocides, physical and cultural displacement, etc. caused by efforts to spread it. I don’t know what to think of this haha. Thanks (for a lot of things i don’t have room to explain here haha)!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for this question — I believe it’s absolutely important to get this one straightened out, quickly and completely.

First please know: I’m responding as an Asian-American Easterner born and raised in the West, who is fully aware and infuriated by the danger of Western imperialism and the cultural gentrification of “manifest destiny.” In other words, I have every reason to be disgusted by Christian/western/imperialist attitudes. My own country’s history (South Korea) also has a terrible past of being oppressed by particular people-groups that have nearly stamped out my heritage.

There’s no doubt that Christianity has been associated with some awfully terrible injustices. The Crusades, witch hunts, slavery, child abuse, and the early church’s indulgences and cycles of corrupted power are just a few of the detestable atrocities that, whether directly or indirectly, were fueled by religious fervor. We must be held accountable for every single infraction.

When a Christian asks me, “How do I defend Christianity’s history?” — I can only say, “Don’t.” Christianity ought to be the most self-critical life philosophy, always asking the simple question: Is this making us better or worse? We must own up to our past, not avoid it, and if anyone challenges us on how Christianity has been harmful, we must give ground to these righteous accusations. Many people are mad (including me), and understandably so, at how Christianity has danced around its mistreatment of others.

Having said that: I believe the idea of the Christian Imperialist, while obviously holding some credence in very specific instances, is largely a tired, exaggerated myth if we look at the whole picture of Christian contribution.

Continue reading “Is Christianity Just an “Imperialist White Man’s Tool”?”

What the Bible Says.


Scripture isn’t supposed to make you a jerk. It doesn’t matter if “the Bible says.” If you’re a jerk about it, you don’t actually care what the Bible says.
J.S.


Art by 1of1doodles

15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital


Things I’ve learned not to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy:

“Everything will be okay.”

“You’re so strong!”

“Pain is what forces you to grow.”

“God has an amazing plan for your life!”

“God is using this for your good.”

“God just wanted another angel in heaven.”

“It could’ve been worse.”

“At least you’re still alive. At least—”

“Cheer up and stay positive!”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“I understand what you’re going through.”

“Time to pray really hard and read more Bible.”

“God is using this as a wake-up call.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— and other motivational poster clichés.


Things I’ve learned to say in the hospital at the very moment of pain and tragedy (and even then, not every time):

“I’m sorry.”
“How are you right now?”
“I don’t think it’s wrong to be mad.” (Or scared, or hurt, or sad, or weeping, or uncertain.)
“How can I pray for you?”
“I’m always here.”
Or the best thing: listen.

J.S.


Photo by N Medd, CC BY 2.0