Stand Against, and Stand For


In sixth grade, I had this friend who was six foot two. He was twelve years old, with wrists the size of my torso. Imagine that: my own personal giant.

He became my voice.

His name was Tripp. I was bullied a lot in sixth grade, but when Tripp was around, nobody tried to clown me. One time, Tripp wrapped his hand around a kid’s head like it was an apple, and no kidding, just like a crane out of heaven, he gently placed the kid on the other side of the hall from me. For weeks, that apple-headed kid had been telling me to go back to China. After the crane incident, Apple-Head never bothered me again.

The thing is, nobody should need a guy like Tripp. We should all get an equal distribution of voice. But that isn’t how it is right now. People get squashed. Silenced. Stuffed in a locker. Told to get on a boat.

Really, I wish everybody had a guy like Tripp who spoke up for them. I wish that nobody needed a guy like Tripp, either. Until then, I’m grateful for the people in the hallway who speak up. Not just online, but in dorms and cafes and churches and check-out lines, when it’s not easy or popular, when it costs something, when no one is looking and when everyone is. I hope to be that guy, too. A crane out of heaven.

— J.S.

Grieve Angry


The other week, a shooting took six lives and I thought, “That’s not too bad.” I immediately felt sick. Because this isn’t normal. It isn’t okay. And I don’t want to get numb, desensitized, detached, withdrawn. I don’t ever want to get over the anger and grief of how “normal” this has become—whether it’s thirty, six, or one.

It’s a national habit to look at the death toll, but shootings really destroy lives twice. At the hospital, we regularly receive GSW (gunshot wound) patients through the ER. Many survive. Sometimes, surviving is worse. The trauma of it. The nightmares. To witness such a thing is a lifelong wound. The death tolls are horrific, but the mental and emotional toll is just as destructive. I’ve been up close with GSW victims and families—and I can’t watch the news with neutral disinterest. I can’t watch movie violence the same way. I will never get the smell out of my nostrils. When you sit among people with bullet wounds, you see most political “dialogue” for what it really is: fear, cowardice, pomp, rationalizations, and self-aggrandizing, all which speak past the victims instead of for them. I hope I’m not doing the same thing. Please tell me if I am. Please tell me what I can do.

I don’t know if anything will change. Again. It seems hopeless. But I want to grieve angry. I don’t want to calm down. I want courage. And compassion. And champions who will make waves so that something will change. God, keep us loud. God, give us strength.

J.S.

Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— J.S.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— J.S.

How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?

Anonymous asked a question

You know what? I’ve heard a lot of criticism towards Westboro Baptist Church and I’ve searched for Christians who have reached out and I could only find two on the whole internet. I’ve noticed Christians disassociate themselves with them understandably but I think they are victims in many ways but ultimately been held in bondage by the enemy. I don’t hear about enough of us praying for them for their own sake. What do you think?

Hey dear friend, I think this is extremely kind and generous of you. 

It’s true that the members of Westboro Baptist Church, in a sense, are victims of their founder Fred Phelps. In fact, his granddaughters Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper left the Westboro cult around 2012. They’ve both since become activists, particularly Megan Phelps-Roper. They certainly deserve our compassion and empathy and a second chance. Megan credits Twitter users with changing her mind about Westboro, because it was there she found gracious and real people who were willing to dialogue with her. It’s possible that in our lifetime, Westboro will cease to exist. 

Here’s the thing. The Westboro cult is inexcusably terrible. No one should ever feel like they have to reach out to them. It’s up to each person to decide whether they’re called to dialogue with them, pray for them, or connect with them. No one should feel less compassionate just because they’re not reaching out to Westboro. Some people are simply gifted at reaching out to very difficult people. Some of us were never meant to.

Continue reading “How Do We Show Love for Hate Groups Like Westboro?”

Challenge What You Believe


Our convictions can only be as strong as the questions we ask.

I’ve been in places where questions got me shamed, assaulted, and destroyed. Our platforms of social media, church, politics, and campuses might seem open-minded and willing to dialogue, but if you move against the status quo, you’re likely to be called a heretic, sinner, apostate, or ridiculous. Most places will stomp out dissension and cancel you if you mess up a single time. We can play the game of “we are a safe place,” but conflict always shows our true selves.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. I don’t like asking uncomfortable questions, or being challenged with ideas I’ve never heard, or assuming that my precious ideas are too narrow and naive, when really my own ideas have never evolved. I’ve shut down disagreeable opinions not because the content was unsound, but because I was comfortable where I was. God forgive me for covering my ears to a better version of life.

If you’re in a place that won’t ask questions and always reject what you ask, then 1) you might be called to shake the status quo, or 2) it’s time to leave.

I want beliefs that have been strengthened by skepticism, that have gone through the crucible of confrontation, experience, and a choir that doesn’t always echo each other. I want truth that will keep me through darkness. I need a faith full of doubt to make it through the hardest valley. I want resilience born of grit and growth.

— J.S.

The Only Time a Christian Goes First


When I preach love in a time like this, my words aren’t credible because the church is not. I can’t help but feel the church is always part of the problem. We contributed to this mess.

The church is called to be the safest, most gracious place on the face of the earth. Not perfect, but passionate, with arms open as wide as the cross. I know I’ve fallen short. God help us. God start with me.

— J.S.


I Hope You Will Hear Me


Eventually I’ll say something that you’ll disagree with. I will disappoint you. I’ll come off brash, inconsiderate, ignorant, and misinformed. Your favorite writer or pastor or celebrity will miss an angle or fumble a point or miss the whole thing. You’ll think, “How could I have ever liked this guy?” We then dismiss and demonize based off one sentence, one phrasing, one particular choice of word. I’ve done it, too. You know, farewell forever.

Maybe it’s for a legitimate reason, and they really did go too far. Then farewell, sure. But I wish we could give a little space for a conversation. Even over coffee. It’s possible this person misspoke because they’re just a person and they don’t always get it right. It could be that they need the patience of dialogue to re-examine what they said, instead of the hasty hate-train that offers no fair exchange. It could be they really didn’t know better, or they just needed a nap.

I want your help. I want to know when I’m wrong – but it’s hard to hear what’s right when everyone is yelling. I want the freedom to make mistakes so that I’m not afraid to learn from you. I don’t want to be afraid that you’ll throw things when I don’t phrase things exactly the perfect way. And really, I’m not sure if you would listen to yelling, either. I’d want the same chance you’d want for you, too.

I know there are some non-negotiables that can never be compromised. I cannot say every “side” is equal or that every platform is good. None of us will ever agree on everything. Sometimes we must part ways. And that’s okay. I just don’t want to judge an entire life over a few degrees of difference. We can disagree and still be friends. Even if we must part, I want to become better from our disagreements, to see what I had not seen before, and mostly, to see you. I will hear you.

— J.S.


If You Say You Love God


It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.

What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.

It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.

This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.

No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.

J.S.

You Are My Family


I grieve with you. I am angry for you. I hurt with you. Your pain is my pain.
J.S.

I Am With You.


I am with you.
I am for you.
I am sorry.
I love you.
How can I help?
J.S.


Only Heroes and Monsters


No one is the one-dimensional, evil caricature that they’re painted to be.
No one is the shiny version of a person that’s worshiped on a pedestal.
It’s easier to hate a cartoon-parody idea; to denigrate a hologram; to blast the artificial; to praise the effigy. It’s easier to demonize a faceless, disembodied, phantom enemy.
If you and I could sit down for coffee, we would discover hidden layers, messy dimensions, buried motives, unspeakable trauma, two fractured people hanging on.
We are wildly struggling, conflicted, complex.
We are not wholly evil nor holy good.
Yes, monsters deserve justice for their crimes. Heroes deserve more applause. But I will pause to consider that we are often both. We can be our own worst enemy, and we are just as capable of being our own heroes, overcoming the worst of us with the best in us.
Across a table, chair to chair, eye to eye, we might disagree—but I hope we will learn how we came to be. To hear the whole story.
— J.S.

A Time to Speak, a Time to Pause


I’ve seen bloodthirsty demands that “public voices” must speak on every social issue.

There’s a harsh condemnation on the silence of celebrities, clergy, artists, authors, and your average blogger—as if that silence was the same as the injustice itself.

I absolutely agree we must speak up. Silence perpetuates the status quo. I believe in the the gritty necessity of protest and picket signs. We cannot sit idly by in the isolated concerns of our own four walls. Silence is the accomplice to injustice, and I expect better from those who have the golden reach of influence. Our platforms have a responsibility.

I also wonder about the hasty speed we comment on issues which are still unfolding. I wonder how many half-informed people are writing too quickly to get clicks and views and attention and to catch the viral heat of the moment. I wonder if we can both raise our voices while listening across the widening divide. I wonder how we can slow down in crisis to engage with the hurting rather than brew up a think-piece for yet another grand, eloquent, self-promoting manifesto. (I know, I’m guilty of doing the same thing here.)

And I wonder why we demand so much from public voices, as if we are waiting to be told what to think. Or worse, to validate a preprogrammed opinion. Maybe those voices indeed have the power to change things—but we do too, starting with ourselves and the people in the room. We don’t need to know everything first. We can start with the stories across from us.

It‘s physically impossible to care about everything all the time. We can choose to be passionate for just a few crucial things in our very short time on earth. It can’t be done with a flashy, trashy headline that’ll be forgotten in a week, but by the accumulative power of listening to other voices as we find our own. I cannot speak for you, but with you. And if you and I are to be a voice for the voiceless, maybe that means stepping off the stage and passing the microphone to the unheard. I want to hear you.
— J.S.


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Are You Secretly a Liberal Who Hates Conservatives?

Anonymous asked a question:

You always seem to rebuke “conservative” types who remake Christ in their political image. What about the liberals who do the same? I remember you shared this great post about how ~Christians~ will end up not falling into neat, political distinctions, and then all I see on your blog is this not-so-subtle finger wagging at conservatives? Where’s that energy when people want to turn Jesus into an anarchist revolutionary? A communist?

Isn’t God multi-faceted? Can’t God be operating on many different levels, not just the one where He’s taking care of us ~poor minorities~, with all of our ~Immigrant Virtue~? I’m not for conservative, pro-life, MAGA Jesus but I’m also not for socialist, bleeding heart, liberal Jesus either. They’re both idols. They’re for people who wear ideological garments instead of garments of righteousness. Neither make it into the Kingdom of God.

I agree with much of what you said. I may be blind to my own bias, as many of us are, and maybe I have given disproportionate weight to one side or the other. I’d like to think I have held myself and all groups accountable, but maybe not. For that, I very much appreciate that you’re pointing this out in me. I get many things wrong, and this might be one more. I have more to learn. Having said that, I’d gently like to offer a little pushback, too.

Continue reading “Are You Secretly a Liberal Who Hates Conservatives?”

Loving “Them.”

The nurse told me that the patient Willard had taken a bite out of another nurse. He had swung at one of the doctors and thrown urine at a surgeon. Willard couldn’t walk; he kept demanding to go home. “Get me a wheelchair, I’ll flop in and ride over you people.” The staff kept trying to get him to stay, to get treated, despite his violent non-compliance, because nurses and doctors have the guts to look past that stuff.

The staff called for a chaplain, and I was the lucky one. I walked in and saw the patient had a tattoo of a swastika on his hand enclosed in a heart.

My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spray-painted a red swastika next to the front door of my dad’s business. Though my dad had tried to paint over it, I could still see it on hot summer days, a scar on the wall and a scar in my head, a mad throbbing declaration of all the world’s ugliness dripping in crimson. I still dream about it sometimes, and in the dream I’ll peer down at my wrists, engraved with the same red marks down to the veins.

The patient, Willard, saw me and said, “Thank God, a chaplain, finally someone who can hear me.”

But I didn’t want to hear him. And a part of me also thought, “You deserve this. I hope you never leave. Then you can’t hurt anyone out there.”

He said, “Look, I see your face, I’m not trying to hurt anybody. You get it? I just want to go home. Fetch me a f__ing wheelchair, would you?.”

Willard got louder. He clenched his fists and waved them around. He went into an f-bomb monologue about the staff, “you people,” about the whole dang world.

I had half a mind to leave. I didn’t have to stay. I didn’t want to stay. I kept looking at that swastika. I kept thinking he deserved to be here, to be sick and sorry and helpless.

When Willard stopped talking for a moment, I said the only thing I could think of.

Continue reading “Loving “Them.””

My Top 12 Posts of 2018


Here are my Top Twelve Posts of 2018, including topics like the benefit of grief, dealing with depression in marriage, misogyny in the Bible, people-pleasing, and my brush with suicide this year.

For all my typewriter posts, click here or my Instagram here.

My top two selling books this year were the one on fighting depression and the one on King David.


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

11) I Called the Suicide Lifeline

10) An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression

9) Angry About Anger

8) I Want My Life to End—What Do I Do?

7) I Have Doubts: Am I Allowed to Say That?

6) How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?

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

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

3) I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me

2) What’s Up with the Bible Saying “Wives Submit to Husbands”?

1) “Suicide Is a Ticket to Hell” (and Other Bad Theology)

What About John Chau and Invasive Christian Missionaries?

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi, you don’t have to answer this, but I’m feeling emotionally conflicted and I’m not sure where I lie. I’m sure you’ve heard about the missionary who went to the Senegalese island. On one hand, I’m deeply grievous for the loss of someone genuinely wishing to witness. On the other hand, I’m aware of the impact missionaries have had on colonialism. Should he have gone? Is there a way of witnessing to people in need that doesn’t risk the loss of cultures?

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to John Chau, who was recently killed while attempting missionary work to North Sentinel Island.

If I were his friend, I would have tried to convince him not to go. Not only because his life would be at risk, but also because he would’ve put the entire Sentinelese people on the island at risk, too.

If I were his friend, I would have been crushed to hear about his death. I would’ve been especially crushed because of the way he died.

Have you seen a dead person before? Not just a dead person, but a person with multiple injuries that caused their death? I have seen this hundreds of times. My work involves seeing the dead and dying nearly every week. Often these deaths are brutal, whether by gunshots or stab wounds or car accidents. Nobody, no matter what they did in life, deserves this sort of death.

Continue reading “What About John Chau and Invasive Christian Missionaries?”

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?”

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.