I share three true hospital stories which are “deleted scenes” from my upcoming book, The Voices We Carry.
[Stories have details changed to maintain privacy.]
I share three true hospital stories which are “deleted scenes” from my upcoming book, The Voices We Carry.
[Stories have details changed to maintain privacy.]
Anonymous asked a question:
Is anxiety a sin? God says to be anxious for nothing. I googled it and apparently lots of Christians say anxiety is a sin. Means you don’t fully trust God
Hey dear friend: No, I don’t believe that anxiety is a sin.
Anxiety results from a broken brain, originating from a world that is flawed, fractured, and has fallen short. At most, anxiety is the result of a sin-torn world. But no, it is not a sin that you’re premeditating, as if you’re somehow planning on having an anxiety attack.
When Scripture says “Be anxious for nothing,” well—that word anxious also means distracted or divided or pulled in every direction. Later Paul says he is content with being hungry or well fed, living in plenty or in want. In other words, he does not have a consuming preoccupation with a perfect situation. He is not basing his happiness on a full stomach or material pleasures. He is writing from prison, after all, and has chosen not to to base his value on his surroundings.
I think there’s a kind of anxiety not related to mental health, which is more of a restlessness for “better,” and it can never be content. This is not about mental health, but rather a moral choice of internal character. Paul says that by praying we’ll have “the peace of God that transcends all understanding,” which in context appears to mean that we’re not always consumed with upgrading our circumstances. It means trusting God even when we don’t have everything that we want. That sort of peace is not easy to find, but it’s possible.
But let’s assume Paul was talking about anxiety the way we understand it.
In my book launch group, I performed a spoken word poem I wrote on finding peace. Hope it blesses you. (Sorry for all the sweat.)
My book drops May 5th. You can preorder here:
Good Friday to you, friends. My publisher sent my books early for me. It’s incredible and surreal to finally hold my book in my hands.
My book launch team is still open if you would like to help support the book release. You get an advance copy of the book, giveaways (like art by Red Hong Yi), Q&As, and live video chats: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thevoiceswecarry
You can also preorder my book here, which releases May 5th: https://www.amazon.com/The-Voices-We-Carry/dp/0802419895
God bless and much love to you, friends. All peace and grace be with you.
[Thank you, awesome team at Moody Publishers.]
Hey friends! My book is releasing in one month, and my Book Launch Team is now live!
The Book Launch Team is for those who want to support my book release. If you’re committed to joining the team and writing an honest review, check it here:
You’ll get a free advance copy of the book and giveaway prizes, and I’ll be doing live chats and Q&As. There will be some really awesome discussion and fun activities along the way. Space is limited!
Thank you and much love to you!
I messed up. I hugged someone. We’re supposed to practice social distancing, but my friend badly needed a hug. I know I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t help it.
For those who have been severely hurt by COVID-19, whether you lost your job, freedom, have tested positive, or know someone who has:
When you become ill or lose something valuable, it’s easy to tie up your hurt with your worth. When you can’t work or lose your once vibrant health, it can feel like it’s your fault. Physical illness still has a deep social stigma and it can seem you‘re less of a person when you’re sick. Unfortunately, our health is measured like wealth.
I read an interview with a man who tested positive for COVID-19 who said, “I felt kind of dirty. Psychologically, it’s weird, hard to accept. It was hard to tell my family.”
I’ve seen this in the hospital. Patients not only feel physical pain, but an embarrassment about their situation. It’s an almost humiliating dread and shame, like their body has betrayed them. To be stripped of health can send a brutal and confusing message: “This pain I feel is who I am.” And so often they blame themselves, because we’ve been trained to believe that when we’re sick, we’re somehow morally wrong inside.
The thing is, you can do everything right and still get sick. Yes, it’s absolutely crucial we stay at home, wash our hands, and keep distance. Please hear me: these rules are necessary and they mean life or death. But there’s a side effect of any rule: a built-in legalism and judgment. Even when it’s not your fault, the false message we preach is that to fail the rule means you’ve failed at life.
If you end up testing positive for COVID-19, you might be seen as bad or reckless or lesser, as if “you didn’t try hard enough.” Even if you recover, you might get strange looks at the office or from your family. You may feel cursed, stained, unclean.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter how you got ill. What matters is that you’re made in the image of God still. Your body and health and job are not a currency for your worth. By grace you are more than the things you lose and the things that happen to you. The grace of God is so that nothing can separate you from His love, that He has no social or spiritual distance from you, that He sees you far more loved than you see yourself.
While you may be cut off or abandoned and it‘s crushing to the soul, the one who made that soul will never leave, never forsake, never stop drawing near to you. This may not fix anything now: but please know, in the midst of an unfixable situation, He is with you. He is always with you, and by grace you are always more.
If you know someone directly affected by COVID-19, my hope is you will see this person from the eyes of grace, that they’re not their illness, that their hurt does not determine their worth. Love them. Humanize them. Affirm their dignity and their imago dei. To see a person is to heal them. See by grace.
Not everyone can stay home to wait it out.
Some have to keep working.
Some have lost their jobs.
Some have never had a home.
Some will never go back.
Maybe things are “not that bad” for you. Maybe “this too shall pass”—in your world. But someone you know doesn’t have that luxury. Someone you know is permanently affected. They’re grieving a loss, whether it’s loss of their autonomy or a whole person. Our advice doesn’t apply to them, because it can’t.
Stats and facts gloss over real loss. Two in one-hundred doesn’t sound like a lot, but if any two people I knew had died this week, it would be absolutely devastating.
To downplay any grief and loss doesn’t help, and if you keep quoting statistics to show “it’s not that bad,” you’d be the last person I would go to for help.
No, we shouldn’t panic.
But please don’t tell people it’s fine
when they’re not.
The storm doesn’t always pass. Not for everyone. Pain can last for a lifetime. We can only hope to adjust to the new normal. By the grace of God, I will crawl down there with you.
When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s an excuse to be passive.
When I hear “God will provide,” that sounds like, “I don’t want to help.”
When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” it seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.”
While these statements can be helpful truths, they can be said too quickly, and then they’re no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a callous cop-out, and at worst they become abuse fueled by false theology.
This may be harsh, but if you just “leave it up to God” and take no action, then your god is laziness and your god might be you.
No, we should never be controlled by fear or worry. We do need courage, resilience, and wisdom. But to rush to “We’ll be okay” or “It’s not that bad” is to dismiss those who are at ground zero, to overlook loss, to ignore the especially vulnerable. It’s to forget our part: to navigate responsibly, to hold ourselves accountable for us and for each other.
I doubt constantly. I have trouble trusting Him. I worry. And I remember the story of the Red Sea crossing, and I imagine two groups of people. Some of the Israelites stood tall and walked with chins high. But some were on their tippy toes, screaming the whole way. That’s me. I’m a tippy toed screamer. I find it hard to trust, to have faith. Yet grace makes room for us all. Grace carries both the fearless and the frail. Grace empowers us to make a step, even we are we most afraid.
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. And if I’m not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news. That compels me to move.
I’d like to think I’m not a fearful person. But I am. I never look like I worry, but I do. A lot.
This week I made the mistake of very publicly bringing up my fears about coronavirus in the workplace. I don’t mind catching the flu, but my wife is pregnant and the flu can adversely affect our baby in utero. I said some uncomfortable things in front of coworkers, when I’m supposed to be the calm voice of a chaplain.
I was not helpful. I probably incited panic and anxiety. I apologized for my behavior. Maybe the fear of being a dad in our current world really got to me. It was still not a good look.
I’m trying to balance the fear we‘re experiencing versus being calm, safe, and rational. I want to validate our anxiety without letting it consume us. I want to be vigilant, but not so on edge that I’m scaring everyone else. I want to say “God is in control,” but also run screaming and lock every window. It’s a tough, strange balance.
We’ve seen where the fear can take us: there’s been multiple racist assaults against Asians, blaming them for the pandemic. We’ve seen misinformation about drinking water and eating garlic and avoiding packages from China. We’ve seen the ugly finger-pointing of political leaders using the panic for vote-bait, promoting xenophobia and catering to the worst leanings of their base. And everyone—including me here—has some take about what to do, how to be, what to say.
I’m trying to stay cool. To be both cautious and optimistic. It’s hard. It’s scary right now. I keep thinking of raising a daughter in this world and how I’m so incapable, unsure, uncertain, lacking the wisdom to say the right thing, to be a pillar when she needs me. I hope I can be strength for her even when I have so little of it in myself.
I’m trying to validate fear without giving into it, to let fear ask questions and seek wisdom and move towards compassionate curiosity, rather than hate or rash decisions. God be with us, who navigates our fears, who hears our worries, who gives us wisdom amidst division, who offers us a peace like no other.
sunmoonandmyrtle asked a question:
Hey J, I know the Bible contains God’s instructions for us, but in this modern time, I wonder if it’s ok to also look at “secular advice” on topics like developing your career (especially as a young person), money management and general life stuff (e.g. being organised and good mental health). I don’t refer to anything against God, but what if the source of the advice is still someone non-Christian? I hope you know what I mean. What do you think?
Hey dear friend, I absolutely believe that “all good knowledge is God’s knowledge,” and that anything useful to you is divinely anointed.
While we might not see eye-to-eye on this, I don’t believe there’s a “sacred/secular” divide. It’s a strangely false dichotomy. As a Christian, to reject “non-Christian sources” is no better than when the evangelical church boycotts a movie or a department store. If we had to boycott the things we disagree with, we’d have nothing left.
Anonymous asked a question:
My father is an abuser and maybe it’s stupid, but how can people can not be afraid of the words “our father in heaven”?
Hey my friend, thank you for sharing so honestly and I’m sorry you experienced such abuse. I hope and pray you are at a safe distance today and that you are recovering.
Your concern is not “stupid” at all. It’s absolutely valid. I work as a chaplain at two places, the hospital and a homeless shelter, and when I address God, at both places I am very careful when I say “God our father.” Especially at the homeless shelter. Many of the low income families I encounter have not had good experiences with any sort of male figure. To say “father” is okay for some, but also devastating for others.
I saw Parasite / 기생충 in a packed theater with a diverse crowd. Looking around, I never could’ve imagined a day in the States when such an audience would watch a movie in my language, with my people, telling our stories.
It really meant a lot to me. I have to tell you why.
I remember in middle school when someone assaulted me while yelling “you ch_nk yellow belly.” Someone shoving me in a hallway telling me to go back to where I came from. Multiple times someone would squint their eyes, do their version of an Asian accent, pose at me like Bruce Lee, all while high-fiving each other. Having to endure that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, being told it was “art.” Someone in my college history class telling me that Korea needed to be nuked, and “it doesn’t matter which one.” I remember when my dad’s business was spray-painted with a swastika. I remember inexplicable rage when some kid yelled “your dad killed my dad in the war,” and his dad picking him up later after he was sent to detention.
Art, music, film, books: these things have the power to take away our fear, our bigotry, our assumptions. They turn masses into individuals. They turn cartoons into real people. For someone like me, I have to prove daily I am a real person. For art to put my story into public consciousness is allowing me more room to breathe, to exist.
A part of me wishes a movie like Parasite could’ve been accepted earlier. Seeing a face like mine on a big screen has an immense affect on how we see each other. But more than that, a good story, like the one in Parasite, makes us more human. Hearing more stories makes us better, more whole, more gracious. We need diverse stories, and good ones.
During the movie, I looked around. Seeing so many faces enraptured by a powerful story, taken in by faces that looked like mine, I wept. Certainly I wept because the movie was incredible. But I wept feeling something I never had before: a kinship with strangers. Humanization. The image of the divine, seen and known.
After the movie ended, we all sat in our seats for a while. Collectively, our breath was taken away. And collectively, we were sharing breath. Maybe I’m making too much of a movie. I suppose it’s a silly thing to weep about. It only tells me how long I have been deprived of such connection. These stories, they’re important to tell.
Anonymous asked a question:
What do you do if every time you bring up God in a conversation someone changes the subject?
Hey dear friend, I would say: Let them. Be kind and let them.
That doesn’t mean you never talk about your faith around that person. But my guess is that
1) the topic of God is painful for that person,
2) the topic of God is repulsive for that person,
3) it is not entirely relevant for that person, or
4) I say this with much love, but maybe the manner in which faith is brought up has not been gentle or understanding.
You cannot force someone to talk about something they don’t want to. I’m not saying you’re doing that. But if they’re changing the subject and your goal is to “bring them back to God” all the time, you’re coercing that person into a subject that they obviously don’t want to discuss.
A Christian’s goal is never to transmit information until another person is persuaded. That’s a very westernized way of evangelism. It assumes that a “threshold of theological knowledge” is what makes a Christian. Modern church evangelism is a memorized checklist of systematic facts, and it seems that once you can recite those facts, this must mean you’re close to God. This, of course, is not true.
In the end, you can’t force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.
You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.
You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.
You can’t force an apology.
You can’t force someone to engage in justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.
You can’t force growth.
You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.
In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this to others as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that can leave us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.
I’ve also learned that I don’t care if others don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be cynical to cynicism. Because I don’t want to perpetuate one more cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to react to someone’s reaction all the time. And I must believe the best of others, because change does not happen by standing over, but standing with, in trust.
No, I cannot force change on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.
I have to admit I often weep reading the news. It’s exhausting. Infuriating. Heartrending. I always want to do something, but I’m not sure where to start, how to help, who to ask. There are so many ways to help, but it never seems enough. The needs are overwhelming.
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 are not yet fully arrived, not yet fully home, but we bring a glimpse of home to a world so tired and torn.
Here are my Top Ten Posts of 2019, from leaving church to codependency to suicide awareness to my favorite female influences.
Let’s talk about loneliness.
I’m not a therapist or doctor, but as a hospital chaplain, I’ve seen the terrible and awful effects of loneliness on mental health. The problem is that it’s tough to admit, almost embarrassing to say, “I’m hurting from loneliness.”
Loneliness is a double-bind in that in order to find comfort, it requires reaching out to people or for people to be near. But some of us have been alone so long, it’s unthinkable that we can connect with another human without risking rejection—which fuels more loneliness.
The unhelpful reply I hear to “I’m lonely” is “Why don’t you just make friends?” But that’s like saying, “Why don’t you just get rich?” or “Why can’t you just go to the gym?” We’re already in deficit, a lap behind, because we fear connection in proportion to how alone we feel.
It’s difficult to make friends and keep them. It’s hard to have real friendships that are not just functional transactions. Even when someone is surrounded by crowds or well connected, they may be the loneliest people on earth, because all their “friends” are transactional.
I don’t know the answer to loneliness. But I know what the answer is not: We can’t just snap out of it. We can’t just cure it with a party, a bar, a church, a dating app. It requires intentional investment and yes, the risk of rejection. The opposite of loneliness is courage. It takes courage to reach out, to enter each other’s orbit, to risk trust, and to be alone in our thoughts and fears.
Friends, this week may be lonely. This season can be brutal. They can remind you of all that’s missing. As trite as it sounds: You may feel lonely, but you are not alone. May you find the courage to reach out, to enter the possibilities of love in all its heaven and heartache.
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.
If your faith is making you a jerk, throw it out and start over. If your faith makes you want to fight “worldly people” all the time and you‘re always shaking your head at “this generation,” then your god is too small and your god is probably you.
One of the reasons I was an atheist for so long is because I often wondered if religion makes people worse. Objectively worse. Religion seems to set up a battle position in which “I must guard the truth” and “If you disagree, you’re the enemy, the infidel, the heathen, and evidence of the apocalypse.”
Instead of serving the poor and welcoming foreigners and loving the rejected—you know, the stuff that the Bible cares about—money is spent basically enforcing a kid’s fort with passwords and Don’t Enter signs and alarmist war strategies against a phantom caricature that’s only made up to feel like something important is being fought for.
My guess is that some religious folks do not see their faith as a gift that has saved them, but rather as a weapon by which they must “save” everyone else. So then, the kingdom-military-triumphalist language in the Bible is lifted to boost the ego and separate from “worldliness” and to claim that any criticism against the church is “an attack against the family.” It makes Christians look really weird. I don’t mean that in a good way, like “Wow she’s so weird for giving away money to fight human trafficking.” I mean weird as in “He just hurled that venti Starbucks coffee at the barista because it didn’t say Christmas on it.”
Yes, persecution exists. Which is all the more reason that saying persecution can never, ever be used in a comfortable context. God stop me if I ever think I’m being persecuted when I’m really being called out and held accountable. God help me if I ever use my faith to divide, out of superiority, as a lens of cynicism, instead of giving me hope that we are all within God’s grasp, His grace, His peace.