The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.

Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

No—it doesn’t always work out.

The storm doesn’t always pass.

There isn’t always closure.

Not everything will be all right.

I won’t know why.

There’s a moment in the hospital when our illusion of safety is shattered and the stark reality sets in:

Things won’t change,
they won’t get better,
there won’t be a miracle,
and there won’t be a happily ever after.

It looks like God has exited the building, and that maybe He’s not coming back, and that we will never, ever know why this awful tragedy had to happen.

Babies die. Spouses drop dead at thirty. Diseases take and they take and they take. Prayers go unanswered. Drunk drivers walk free and their victims die slowly in a fire. People die alone. Some people don’t know who they are when they die; some people don’t have a single number they can call. They’re cremated by the county without a trace.

I soon found that I was having a series of tiny panic attacks over faith, more and more disorienting, these little underground bombs that threw me into crisis and left me scrambling for answers.

After a particularly hard case where a young woman’s dad shot her mom and then himself, I came home and tried to pick up some random inspirational book from my bookcase. What I found inside was so unimaginably distant and disgusting that I nearly threw it at the wall. I went through a few more books, and words that had once comforted me were crass and trivial. I couldn’t possibly believe that any of these authors had really suffered or seen suffering. I’m sure they had—and that’s what I wanted to see. Their raw edges. Not these luxurious, over-privileged travels and extra tips on mental re-arrangement, completely removed from the wounded. I saw these first-world tales as they really were: shallow, out-of-touch, and bereft of consequence.

I was lost in the whirlwind of malheur, the pain underneath our pain. I was struck by intrapsychic grief, from the loss of what “could be” and would never come to pass. I was a wax thread in a hot oven, my old beliefs dripping and frayed.

I suddenly understood the intensity of the Psalms, all the anger and violence and whiplashes of doubt, encapsulating the moments when we can no longer un-see this garish void of the nether, the unreturned.

I wondered if maybe it was easier not to believe, because believing was so dangerously painful.

Continue reading “The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.”

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People Are People: And Some Days Will Drive You Absolutely Insane



Today I’m unusually bitter and sad about people, and I’m so very tired and cynical over everything, including myself.

May I be honest here? People are people and sometimes people will drive you insane, and some days I just want to pack up and take the next spaceship off the planet.

I know I’m not supposed to say any of this because Christian bloggers and pastors are so inspirational and full of “never-give-up” pep. We love our slogans and re-tweetable one-liners. I want to be part of the cute punchy Instagrams with the sugary Christianese quotes. But days like today, I just want to give up on everyone. At times being positive makes me feel downright sick. I want to flip a table and go to sleep for a month and I look at my Bible and laugh.

People can be so maddeningly frustrating, and I know this because I disappoint myself too. We can be in the trenches with someone for months and months, pouring out grace and absorbing all the hurt and sharing life to the bottom, but that person might do what they want anyway. I know that no one owes me anything and this isn’t about “listening to me.” I’m not trying to pull pity here. It just hurts to see a person that you invested in so completely lose it and drop off the face of the earth.

I usually hear from people when they’re desperately in need. I never get to see the other side when it’s better, and maybe I have to be okay with the unresolved-ness of it all. What I’m asking for sounds petty and unreasonable, and again, that’s not to say, “Oh poor me.” But I wish I had more reason to hope, more reason to stay. It’s so selfish, but I wonder why I keep doing this.

I’m learning that faithfulness is more important than fruitfulness, because even when there are no results and rewards, I’m still meant to run this race. Yet I’m also learning that most of the race will be hard work, in silence, amidst people who often don’t care, with little evidence that we’re making a difference and many failed heartbreaks of seeing others walk away. I’m learning this can be a cruel, thoughtless, heartless world, and to be a fleeting flash of light is so much better, and so rare. I’m learning again and again to trust God for what I cannot see, because He’s the only one who heals hearts to glory. I’m learning to encourage others along the way, because so many never get to hear that they’re doing all right, and I want to be the one voice in the crowd that actually breathes life, even when it’s for a second and forgotten.

— J.S.


My Newest Book: Grace Be With You, a Compendium of Stories, Thoughts, & Poems

Grace Be With You paperback


Hey dear friends! This is my newest book, Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers. It’s a collection of stories, quotes, and poems, most of which have gone “viral” on this blog, with all new content. The Foreword is also by my wonderful friend T.B. LaBerge.

The book has four chapters, each a unique theme: to encourage, convict, engage, and transcend. Contained are quick quotes, humbling plot twists, and everyday encounters on the road, at the hospital, at cafes and gas stations and funerals and churches.

The paperback is only 8.99 here and the ebook is only 3.99 here and it works on every device. If you’re blessed by the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon.

Be immensely rocked by His grace!
J.S.


Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Be-With-You-paperback/dp/069269031X

Ebook: http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Be-With-You-ebook/dp/B01E4XXCVM

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

[You won’t like this.]

I hardly ever meet people who can apologize without excuses, or who can handle rebuke with a level head, or who don’t immediately lash out and get defensive when they’re corrected. I only know this because I’m that guy, too.

We do everything possible to avoid the consequences of our actions, to hold on to some tiny frayed rope of self-righteousness, to desperately grab for some centimeter of posture in a tug-of-war. We run to “What-about-you?” as if that cancels out the hurt we’ve caused. Such a sloppy mirror-defense uses someone else’s “tone” or past grievance to wiggle out of being wrong, like some kind of insane free-styling Walter White to proclaim up is left and purple is sky. Every suggestion is shot down by a sniper’s rocket launcher in a walled-up tower of self-pity, without considering the other point of view, the other human being, even for a fraction of a second.

All that energy could be used to hold up the mirror to yourself, to own your part of the problem. But I never see that anymore. I only see the irresponsibility of regurgitating excuses, a rehearsal of Sisyphus in an isolated hell. I only see the comfort zone of yes-men, never stretched or challenged, choking in a bizarre backwards world of fawning and flattery to protect a precious egg-shell ego.

If you think I’m talking about your neighbor or your parents or your boss or that church down the street, I’m not. I’m talking about you. About me. That’s part of the problem. No one wants to think, “I’m part of the problem.” I’m talking directly to you.

I’m just jaded. In the last month alone, I’ve seen even the best kinds of people respond to criticism by throwing f-bombs, fake-crying their way out, and shifting blame to a billion other people, no matter how gentle I am, no matter how soft or loving or coddling. In fact, it appears that grace is hijacked as a permission slip, or a loophole to play dumb, when grace was meant to be a surgical, sculpting love that has to say everything: that must stop you from driving off the cliff at all costs.

Continue reading “You Won’t Like This: But I Hope You Hear Me”

Top 15 Posts of 2015

Here are the Top 15 Most Viral Posts of 2015 from this blog, ranging from topics such as homosexuality, depression, persecution, finding your “calling,” facing a world of tragedy, and the non-romantic reality of marriage.

Continue reading “Top 15 Posts of 2015”

Electric Ballet, Ashes in Glass Jars, and Memories Made of Stone.

Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number eight. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I had four trauma alerts in a row. They happened in the same hour; the first two happened within five minutes of each other.

As strange as this sounds, one of the things I like about traumas is the teamwork. Of course, the situation is awful: it’s frantic, fast, sweaty, often bloody and crowded, and there’s a human being hanging in limbo. I don’t want to lose sight of that. But given where we are, I would trust this trauma team if I was the guy on that bed. The medical staff in the room knows their part, like the pins in a lock that fit the contours of a key, and they weave in and out and create this quilt of knowledge around the patient, with hand-in-hand humility, each bringing their expertise to the table. I have nowhere near the proficiency of a doctor or nurse, but I’m still a tiny part of that room somehow. It feels like I belong, like purpose is stirring there.

Though the individual visits are wonderful, like slow dancing, and the conversations can be life-changing — the trauma bay is this electrified organism trying to bring back the dead, a highly choreographed ballet. I think people have to be a little crazy to enter the medical field and to work the emergency department. It’s the one place where you have to be completely, fully engaged with undivided allegiance to the moment. It’s probably why I like it: the work of healing requires me to be fully alive.

Our didactic was about dealing with compassion fatigue and secondhand grief. A chaplain’s regular day is full of exposure to pain and death with almost zero closure, and while it takes an obvious toll: most people don’t realize that until it’s too late. Some of the signs are snapping at others in a rage, random bouts of crying, and feeling like you’re bothering people if you talk about it.

I’m understanding more and more that simply helping people is extremely draining and unromantic, and not many of us count the cost of pouring out for others. There’s no Hollywood montage full of high fives and confetti. It’s usually dirty unappreciated work, sleeves rolled up, waist high with people who are rightfully scared, angry, lonely, and sometimes slipping. There might be some people who have iron skin for this sort of thing, but I’m not one of them.

Continue reading “Electric Ballet, Ashes in Glass Jars, and Memories Made of Stone.”

Starting at the End of the Door.

Each week, part of my chaplaincy training is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Here’s week number one. Some identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.

I had a very romanticized expectation of chaplaincy, as if I should have a divine epiphany complete with a vision of singing cherubim and filtered lights through the slits of the curtain. I could say something like, This is what I was made for. Sometimes I pretend to be a pessimist because it’s much more vogue and relevant, the whole cynical stoic thing, but I’m always hoping for those Hollywood moments when I have the meaningful conversation with some desperate guy on the last lap of his faith. 

I really had little idea what to expect in my first week of chaplaincy training. Certainly I had spoken with other chaplains about their experience — “You’ll love it, really” or “You’ll regret it, really”— but no one can really know about a thing until they’re on the other side of the door, like marriage, or like changing a flat tire. I’ve only just seen the door open. 

Continue reading “Starting at the End of the Door.”

My Testimony and Calling: Where I Came From, Where I’m Going

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I was seven years old when I got in my first street fight in the only tenements that my parents — struggling poor Koreans they were — could afford. I had fought a much older single mother and lost. To my credit, she started it. At twelve years old, I decided I was an atheist. At fourteen, my parents divorced, as if to confirm that God couldn’t exist. At sixteen, I had my first drop of an ensuing ocean of alcohol. That same year, I went to what they called a “Gentleman’s Club” and stumbled upon a terrible addiction. By nineteen, I had lost my college scholarship and dropped out with a 0.9 GPA. By twenty-two, I had swallowed a bottle of pills over the girl I was living with, who had cheated on me twice. I spent time in what they call a “mental institution,” which was perhaps an improvement over the Gentleman’s Club.

I understand these problems do not compare to those of the world over: but the contrast was that I hardly felt anything. I was following the latest, loudest emotion, just the exit ramps to the bigger neon sign. And soon I was staring into the mouth of a senseless life with little purpose and no meaning — and it was all rather hilarious.

In my apprehension towards all-things-God, I would stay up until three in the morning watching the ceiling fan, knowing there was more to life than the empty vacuum of sweaty drunk faces and the smear of red-and-blue cop car lights. At some point in college I was certain that God was at least a real being, if only because I had looked into the face of nothingness and knew that no one could possibly sustain a life in that direction. But I didn’t want there to be a God, not with a capital G. It was horrifying to think so. It was crazy to think I couldn’t call my own shots and that I was somehow not the main character of my own existence.

I went to church anyway. Quite faithfully, too. I got caught up in the music, the messages, the social fervor, that moment after the sermon in the lobby when no one talks about the sermon. I started bringing my friends by the dozens because I was good at that sort of thing. And somewhere along the line, almost imperceptibly by degrees, I started hearing the messages. I really started listening. I heard about a God who loves us and became one of us and died for us and defeated death and invited us into the best relationship there is. Not a God who gives us everything we want, because that would be no better than Santa Claus with a pager. But a glorious, grand, dynamic, pulsating God, who was writing this incredible drama with His Son at the apex of history and letting us all in. Even letting me in. Almost by accident, to my growing disdain, I was feeling alive for the first time.

Continue reading “My Testimony and Calling: Where I Came From, Where I’m Going”

How To Improve On Public Speaking and Preaching

mustardseedguy asked a question:

How do you improve your public speaking? I pause a lot and I don’t like it. I think it’s because I think about what I’m going to say a lot.

Hey dear friend, thank you for trusting me with this question. I’m honestly much more comfortable with writing than speaking, and I know the trepidation of being on-your-feet without the safety net of going back to edit. Preaching a sermon is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Even teaching a Bible study or just sharing your testimony is extremely unnerving. Most surveys will show that public speaking is one of the top three fears in the world, even more than death or spiders. People would rather die by spiders than speak in public. If you’re introverted like me, it’s preferable.

I’m not qualified to be an authority on speaking, but the absolute number one piece of wisdom that has helped me is to know exactly what I want to say and to care about saying it. That probably sounds obvious, but it makes a huge difference when you’re passionate about your message, regardless of your speaking ability or style. When I have my message down cold and I’m fired up by the content, there’s an urgency where I can’t wait to get to the next point. It creates a kind of excitement and enthusiasm that can’t be faked or replicated by someone else.

If you find yourself forgetting what you want to say next, it’s possible you have too much to say. Try a 3am test. If someone were to wake you up at three in the morning and ask, “What’s your message in one sentence?” – you should be able to answer. Think of it this way: if you can’t remember your own points, no one else will, either. I have an entire file that’s a “cutting room floor” of extra stuff I never used for a message. As they say in English class, “Kill your darlings” and keep it simple. (By the way, you mentioned you have a pausing issue, but there’s nothing wrong with pausing sometimes. A dramatic silence can punctuate your point.)

Here’s another thing. Speaking has a learning curve, like any other ability. I heard in seminary that your first one-hundred sermons will always be terrible. It’s growing pains, sort of like a song-writer’s very first songs or a writer’s first poems – they always cringe at those. Most parents raise their first child with a lot of worries and extra attention, but by the third child the parents are laid-back and relaxed. The more you speak, the more you’ll find your voice and what works best for you.

Continue reading “How To Improve On Public Speaking and Preaching”

The Constant Insecurity of Always Being a Hypocrite

appoljuce asked a question:

I love to share God’s Word and Truth on social media, but sometimes even when I know I have shared a sound biblical principle I sometimes feel odd. I sense a small fear of saying something incorrectly and I double guess myself. Does this ever happen to you?

Hey dear friend, yes it does.

The truth is, most Christians have a paranoia that we’re “tricking” people into a faith that we’re not entirely sure of ourselves. Some of it’s because we feel inadequate to say such glorious truths, some of it’s because we’re not fully living them, and some of it’s because we’re scared that some theologian will shoot us down from our perch.

It’s true that we might believe some incomplete things right now. But that’s true in all things of life. All our “first loves” are a little embarrassing and immature. Our first created song or poem or sermon or dance or painting will be looked back on with a little sheepish amusement. But that’s okay. This is all part of the journey. Learning too much technique and perfectionism can suck the fun right out of it – and if anything, knowing God is joyful at its very core.

Continue reading “The Constant Insecurity of Always Being a Hypocrite”

God Versus Our Mistakes

nblomblr asked a question:

Is God sovereign over our mistakes?

Hey dear friend, I believe He is. However, I see what you mean by the question.  There’s a double-edge to it, because if “God is in control,” that means we’re not responsible for our actions and we could do what we want. But if God is not in control, then He wouldn’t be God either.

I can’t hope to fully explain the whole thing about sovereignty and our responsibility, because this is a paradox and my 3 lb. brain is allergic to paradoxes.  But I do believe that God is somehow both in control while we’re each responsible for our choices. I don’t know how it reconciles. C.S. Lewis offers a little help when he says,

“Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.”

I leave a few things to mystery. I hope that’s okay. I know our Enlightenment-conditioned minds are afraid to do this: we all have this wild urge to make narrative sense of our lives because we’re so trained towards Westernized formulas. Growing up as an Easterner, the “mystery” part was never a problem for me. I left some things to the unknowable void of human limitations and bowed down to a universe I could not always understand. This isn’t satisfying, but neither is trying to understand dang near everything. As the priest said in Angels and Demons,

“My mind cannot comprehend … my heart is not worthy.”

But to answer closer to home, I do believe God works with our mistakes.

Continue reading “God Versus Our Mistakes”

The Strangers We Meet On The Way


My car got another flat again, my fourth one this year, and I needed to get towed. My spare was also flat and I was on the side of the interstate with giant trucks flying by. I was pretty bummed out about the whole thing, because financially I’ve hit a rough place and I’ve been dead-sick from a cold since yesterday, the kind with green snot and evil-witch-coughing.

The lady on the phone from roadside service gave me the reference number 5377, and said, “You’re the five-thousand three-hundred seventy-seventh caller today, so you’re not the only one having a bad day.” We both laughed. It was like I totally unclenched after that and I stopped worrying. Not that I want other people to have a bad day, but there is no uncommon struggle. I put my phone away and watched the clouds for a while. I realized I hadn’t looked up at the sky for a long time.

The tow truck driver was with his mom, and his mother was living at a shelter for abused women. The son would take his mom to work on every tow, to keep his mom company. We talked about my upcoming wedding and about being a pastor. Then the son told dirty jokes and his mom and I couldn’t stop laughing; I was honestly embarrassed to laugh so hard at such vulgar jokes. I knew some of them but I didn’t stop him. We got to the car shop and I gave him all the cash I had, ten bucks, and he thanked me like crazy. The mom shouted out, “Best of luck with your wedding” and I waved as big as I could.

I guess bad days can get turned around when good people light it up. Just have to look up sometimes to notice.

— J.S.


Hello Friends: A Big Prayer Request

Dear fellow travelers,

A couple months ago, I decided to resign from my church. Yesterday was my final worship service. I’ve been serving here for the last year.

There was nothing shady about it: I had a calling about six months ago to enter into non-profit charity work to serve the poor and homeless, which also meant that I would be leaving behind the mainstream evangelical church body. After wrestling with this in prayer, I finally got a green light when I went on a mission trip in the Philippines. I told my head pastor the day I returned, and though he was sad to see me go, he was very gracious about my new vision.

I absolutely do love my church. I’m torn up about moving on from my youth group, the children, and the young adult group, whom I had the honor of serving these past thirteen months. I also served with great leaders and we were relatively free of drama, and that’s the best you can ask for in a church culture. Fortunately, I still have great relations with the head pastor and the members, so I’ll be visiting when I can.

My prayer request is that I find a stable job for income and a consistent place to serve the poor of the Tampa Bay area. I’m pretty terrified, to be honest, and with my wedding in four months and with shopping for a home, this is a crazy complicated time to make such big life decisions. None of this will be easy, but I trust that God is calling me into His better story, and I’m confident in His grace.

Love y’all and thank you for your prayers and encouragement. You guys are the best.

— J.S.



Come on in, the water’s ice cold.



About the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge:

Like everyone else, I first saw this as a cheap self-congratulatory trend that would die out quickly in internet history. But to everyone’s surprise, it’s also worked. Up to now, $50 million has been raised (dang), and most of us are now aware that ALS isn’t just something that’s affected Stephen Hawking and Lou Gehrig.

I think the world has gone far too dark and far too cynical, and we dismiss these things with an enlightened air of pompous snobbery. But unlike other trends like the Harlem Shake or flash mobs, this is having a concrete benefit to those who are hurting. Even patients with ALS are endorsing it and participating. It’s something silly right out of a movie: and it’s really making a difference.

This is probably the only time ever in pop culture that we’ll get to do something this fun and philanthropic at the same time. Sure, a lot of it is “Look at me for attention,” but so is nearly everything else we do, and it’s not half as helpful. While it’s still a trend: we might as well enjoy it, and donate too.

There are enough downers in the world and enough terrible things that have happened in the last few weeks. This is a bright spot. I hope we’re not too quick to condemn such an enormous downpour (literally) of cheer and good will.

Please also be careful where you donate, because there are just as many corrupted charities as good ones. Or I’m being too cynical again.

— J


Why Christians Hate “Religion” and Why We Yell Pharisee Too Quickly

I think most Christians today love to hate legalism, Pharisees, the word “religion,” and anything reeking of institution — not because they’re worried that these things dehumanize us or diminish us or divide us, but because it’s cool to look really relevant and revolutionary.

Yelling “Pharisee” is pretty much like yelling “Nazi” or “skinhead” or “bigot,” and it’s a buzz word that instantly conjures up the middle-aged, Bible-thumping, suit-and-tie white guy who weaponizes Scripture and prays for the demise of Hollywood and Rob Bell.

Certainly some of these kinds of people exist in the church.  Surely there are fanatical extremists who fit most of our one-dimensional caricatures.  Of course there are mean religious people who do atrocious things in the name of a loving God.

I just think it’s too easy to dismiss them to appear like we are better — and the second you compare your faith to someone else, even if it’s a Pharisee, you’ve instantly become a Pharisee.

Actually, it’s very rarely that I meet black-and-white dichotomous people who funnel their hate into a dogmatic shotgun.  Mostly I meet people who do black-and-white actions as opposed to being “those kinds of people,” and those awful church-people also usually have children, insecurities, dreams, desires, hopes, tragedies, losses, and really neat hobbies, like we all do.  They enjoy ice cream and hamburgers and even the same TV shows and movies and fandoms.  In other words, they have layers, and they’re people too.  They’re not monsters.

But we tend to rally around a binary-battle faith because when you can demonize a certain type of person, you can mobilize a large quick movement for profit and influence and power.  It’s harder to fuel a gathering out of love.  Hate is easier.  And so when a supposedly nuanced, hip, relevant, postmodern Christian says “I’m not like those other Christians,” he’s simply fallen into the same default depravity of our reactionary nature and bought into one more dividing line of the in-house fighting.  And I’m doing the same thing with the previous sentence.

Continue reading “Why Christians Hate “Religion” and Why We Yell Pharisee Too Quickly”

Why I’m Not Recording My Marriage Proposal



I love our culture of display. I love that we can share our deepest most personal moments in a one-click treasure trove.

Seriously. I’m not a cranky old dude who hates the new wave of technology.

But: I don’t want to record my own marriage proposal.

I am not against this at all. But as for me: I just want to keep it in here, between me and my wonderful lady, and not for the world to see.

There is something about recording an event that feels alarmingly self-conscious. It’s sort of a heightened hyper-reality, like I’m thinking ahead to how it’ll be seen, like I am not really there but stuck in a superimposed future.

There is something about squeezing a memory into YouTube that feels driven by a performer’s paranoia, like I must get every moment just right to get the maximum views, the most tears, the most thumbs up.

I don’t mean to sound old-fashioned. Really.

But I’m one of those guys who loves the power of story. The simplicity of re-telling, with my hands and my eyes and my voice, in a chair right in front of you, looking far off to remember every pulsing moment. The quiver in my lips. The smile I can hardly contain. That final breath after the final word.

It is the sharing of our human experience by human means that allows the seed of imagination to bloom. Of course videos can do that. But videos cannot exercise the paintbrush of our spirit. It does the painting for us. Sometimes that is good, but it demands nothing. It is not involved. A video can occasionally be like walking through a museum. A story invites you in to participate. To ride on a journey in that invisible space between your head and your heart.

When my future wife or I pass away, and if God allows us the grace to be with each other on our last days, then we won’t have a video of the day I proposed. Maybe it will be a loss. But we will have our laughter. We will have our tears. We will have an ocean of memory running deep in our veins, a rushing river of intimacy that no one can invade. We can remember together. It will be our private moment. It will be the last thought on my deathbed, and so as I go, it will go as well.

The world can’t have that one.

It belongs to me, to her, and to God.

— J

Just Another Testimony

I’ve had stage fright since sixth grade. I also had a slight lisp and a stutter. As soon as I’m in front of a crowd, my hands shake and my back gets sweaty and my knees buckle. Sometimes I get dizzy, nauseous, light-headed, and feverish. Once I threw up a tuna sub from Subway five minutes before speaking. Another time, ten minutes before a Sunday service, I had a meltdown and called my mom and told her that I quit life (seriously). She convinced me in nine minutes to go out there and kick butt.

I don’t know why God would appoint me to do something that’s totally against my nature. Maybe He’s just funny that way. But every time, I’m humbled by the privilege that I get to speak to other struggling human beings and that they would even give me the time of day. I’ve tried to never take this task lightly, and I never want to take it for granted. It’s a big deal to share life, faith, hurts, and this wonderful journey together. It still makes me nervous to speak, but I’ll gladly endure it for the sake of proclaiming grace, truth, and the love of God.

You might have been given a tough task: but stay humble, be thankful, and persevere. If God has gifted you, run with it all the way and let God take care of the rest. Amazing things happen when you tackle fear to the floor and let yourself out to play.

— J

Question: My Friend Hates “Religion” And I Can’t Take It

Anonymous asked:

I have a friend who strongly hates religion. While he doesn’t try to force Atheism down my throat, he does often go on a lengthy rant about all the evils religion (especially Christianity) has brought on to the world and holds Secular Humanism and Scientism on the pedestal. I am trying very hard to be kind to him and listen to him but sometimes I can’t help but personally get offended by some of his statements. I am not sure what to do because some of the stuff he says is personally affecting me.

 

Please, dear friend: whatever your friend says, do NOT take it personally.

I understand it feels like he’s talking smack about your mama, but any sort of pushback from you will only prove his point. 

I’ve said this story many times, but in my old housing complex there was an awesome black gentlemen who was a guard at the security gate.  He had to work with a raging atheist, who was also a pretty cool dude.  Both of them became my friends.  When I asked Terry, the Christian black gentleman, how he handled the atheist, he said some very simple words.

Oh man, he just don’t know.

That was it.  No detailed script, no three-point plan, no evangelism cube, no apologetics.  Just the simple reasoning: He doesn’t know any better, and that’s okay.

Because at one point in my life, I didn’t know any better. 

At one point in your life, you didn’t know any better.

We all hated a weak version of Christianity that some lame college professor could dismantle in a thirty second lecture in the impressionable mind of a seventeen year old freshman. 

I was an atheist who hated God, who hated Christians, who shrugged at Jesus.

We just didn’t know.

I hope you have patience for your friend, to remember what it was like the first time you walked nervously into church expecting to be judged, not knowing why these Christians were being so nice to you, thinking the preacher was scamming everyone with the offering plate, seeing some weird stuff on Sundays like “drinking the blood” and being “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and hearing that murmuring during prayer time. 

Try to remember.

Continue reading “Question: My Friend Hates “Religion” And I Can’t Take It”

Waves, Night, The End



I was walking along the beach tonight, wave after wave rushing at the side of my toes.

I saw a light at the end of the shore, a tiny dot, and I thought about the end. My life was halfway done.

I saw people swimming, clapping, dancing, kissing, fighting on the sand. I thought about taking a part in those lives, the swirling stories and journeys and conflict all colliding; I thought about the crying and joy and laughter and paintbrushed moments like they were made just for us; I thought of births and weddings and funerals, places where people hug.

I saw the invisible clock on our foreheads counting back to zero and the sound of the book closing shut on the last page of our lives.

I thought about the people who lied to me, hurt me, betrayed me, stole me — and I was mad, but I was sad too, because they need grace as much as I do.

I thought of being old, wrinkles on my eyelids, and how much I’ll love my wife as her hair goes grey, and if my kids would say to me near the end that I did okay as my frail fingers hold their fresh hands, and if my last whisper would be something funny or something wise.

I thought of God: watching us grow up, a proud Father who felt our stumbles and picked us up again, even when we refused, and His very breath lighting up my lungs like the way the moon hit the end of each wave as it broke along the shore.

I saw the light at the end of the beach again, and thought about the other side of those lights, to a strange eternal place called home, where I could keep my toes in the sand forever.

I looked at the waves, wave after wave, endless in their relentless supply; and I thought of grace.

I walked back to my car. My life was a little past halfway done. I want to end it right. I want to fight this fight. I need the waves this night. I need grace.

— J

The Real Pursuit: The Passing Vs. The Permanent

This is one of many handwritten journal entries from my little spiral, written about a year ago.  Thought I would share it.  Writing by hand is a very different muscle.

Sitting at Starbucks, I overhear all sorts of cheery, gloomy, nitpicky, inconsequential conversations over strange matters like a brother’s behavior, a husband’s problems, how a professor “don’t teach right,” and “what we gonna do later.”  There is at once an intense interest in the doing of life but almost a bored detachment – an emptiness ignored – that underlies their voices like a second melody.  They care – I care – but don’t, really.

We are a weird people dabbling in fleeting streams of isolated self-orbiting with both a furious investment but a quick instinct to disengage when the pursuit is no longer interesting.  Except this uninteresting pursuit is always interesting: it’s the greatest devil’s irony of our touch-and-go maze called life.  Most of us never see how facile, futile, and flawed this “dabbling” really is.  For a moment, maybe, there is an existential panic that there may be more than this rented country, but we have so slyly learned to train our ignorance and denial. 

No one enjoys contending anymore, unless it’s for – especially if it’s for – these non-essential “freedoms” that don’t much matter.  “Rights” to internet, free checking accounts, contraceptives, same-sex unions, better labor conditions, religious properties and space, medical care, or fair market – these are important, even critical, issues; but in what direction do they flow?  By what authority do we have these “rights”?  And how do they have a louder voice than attention to poverty, genocide, suicide, misogyny, and actual human dignity?

Continue reading “The Real Pursuit: The Passing Vs. The Permanent”