“The Way Things Are” Is Not the Way Things Are


I am super extremely thankful for the many therapists, mentors, and more mature people I had in my life helping me through some deeply tough times.

But—I recognize that many of these people were middle-aged white American males. They truly did help me, really, and yet I knew their limitations, me being Asian-American and all (and I understand the reverse would be true, too).

The weird thing is: many of the white American males who had counseled me didn’t really think they had a cultural bias. They thought “My thoughts are just the way things are, and Asians / Latinos / Blacks have a culture.”

So I was being taught “the way things are,” as if my culture needed correction, without a recognition that white culture was also its own view of life and not “the way things are.”

I truly am thankful for many of these men who helped me through hard times. I was just confused and surprised that they mostly couldn’t see they were also working through a biased cultural lens. This severely limited their empathy and connection.

Every culture has something to cherish, something to be embarrassed about, something to work on and to learn from. I think we must first acknowledge that no culture is the default, we each have blind spots, and we each must enter into each other’s space with open hands.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

Advertisements

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

the-pink-and-yellow-girl asked a question:

With the “wives submit to your husbands” verse, how do you understand this? My pastor has explained it to me before, but as a woman I often end up feeling kind of sad or frustrated by it when I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to feel.

Hey dear friend, I wrote a pretty big post on this once before, I commend it to you hereOf course, please feel free to disagree or dialogue with me.

My short answer is this: The word “submit” in Ephesians 5:22 isn’t originally in that verse in the Greek language. Seriously. Check it out. It says, Wives to your husbands as to the Lord.The word “submit” is actually implied by the previous verse which says, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. So first you need to know, there is mutual submission between husband and wife. Paul starts off by commanding both to submit to each other.

Here’s my longer answer:

Continue reading “What’s Up with the Bible Saying “Wives Submit to Husbands”?”

A Friendly Reminder: I Am Not Your Counselor and I Am Not a Journalist


I keep forgetting that most people on social media who act like authorities are young 20-somethings who haven’t seen much of the world and don’t know how it works. They want to change the world from their basement, or they’re just hungry to go viral. It doesn’t mean they can’t have an opinion. It means I need to double check theirs.

Bloggers are not your counselors or journalists. Most are just making up stuff with flowery words and “what I would do” sentiment. It’s not that we’re bad or wrong. But please keep in mind that most social media users care about your clicks, not your life.

I’m always asking, “Says who? By what authority? What makes it credible? Why do you believe it to be true? Why should I believe you? And how is it working out for you?”

Don’t trust me. Don’t believe me. Just because I have “followers” doesn’t mean a thing. Check the facts. For the love of God, triple check. Discern. Think for yourself. I can speak with authority on some things, but I won’t get it right every time. Trust with a closed grip.

J.S.


Photo from Unsplash

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

illuminirk asked a question:

how do you differentiate when you’re being persecuted for christ and being slammed for… for lack of a better word, for being a shitty person? for instance, i see a lot of american christians claiming persecution when really people are mad that they’re racist or homophobic or etc. how do you navigate that? how do you know?

Perhaps the simplest way is this:

Look around. Do you live in the West? You’re probably free to express your faith. So most likely you’re not being persecuted, but you’ve picked the wrong battle.

Look around. Do you live in the East? You’re probably not free to express your faith. So most likely you’re being persecuted, because you’re in the battle at all.

The thing is, early first century Christians were being persecuted simply for existing. Their faith was not primarily about self-improvement (though that’s in there), but about enduring the suffering of a cruel world. They didn’t have much room for political rallies or fighting for moral issues. They were in survival mode. They saw Christianity as the good news of a God who walked with them, rather than some kind of behavioral improvement tool. So while they did care about self-improvement, their first priority was merely survival.

Many Christians in the West today don’t experience the same kind of cultural suffering. They’re not in survival mode, so they’re focused more on self-improvement. I include me in this. It’s not a bad thing. I actually have space to think about how to better my own life and live like Christ. So sometimes Christians have too much idle time and pick the wrong fights in a free society. 

And really, when you have the chance to self-improve, it’s easier instead to stand up for some policy outside yourself. It’s a way to offload responsibility for your own actions: by trying to change laws or take the “moral high ground,” you then don’t have to look at changing yourself. Christians find it hard to follow Scripture, so they pick a path of lesser resistance (I include me here, too). It’s easier for Christians to shout really loudly in a free society than actually change their own self-destructive habits and live a useful, meaningful life.

I don’t mean that a person who experiences physical pain for their faith is necessarily a “real Christian.” Sometimes that’s just self-imposed martyrdom, and that’s selfish too. I mean that real persecution is about a cultural baseline of restricted freedom. If you’re free to express yourself, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people complain, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people call you mean names and avoid you at work, sorry, but you’re not persecuted.

Continue reading “How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?”

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

I recently did an interview about mental health with a student filmmaker. My book on depression can be found here.

Disclaimer: I’m a hospital chaplain who does grief counseling and helps with end-of-life decisions, but I’m not qualified to offer medical advice. I’d recommend following @wayfaringmd, who is.

Continue reading “An Interview About Mental Health, Minority Stigma, and the Church Vs. Depression”

Real Dark Jesus


So my church showed this video of Jesus doing a bunch of miracles. Great production values. All non-whites, mostly authentic languages, culturally and ethnically reproduced to how it would look in the first century eastern world.

But — I was amazed and amused by the reaction of the church attendees (most of whom are classically westernized i.e. white). They were squirming like crazy the entire video. Like very, very bothered. It wasn’t hard to read.

I was smiling ear to ear that this video mostly got the “look and feel” of the actual first century east. But soon I became angry and sad that the church was so squirmy because they didn’t see western interpretations of white Jesus on the screen.

I’m sure this sounds silly and petty, but our preconceived ideas of Jesus, the east, and the grit of the first century plays a lot into how we view culture, faith, and “the foreigner.” Whitewashing is a big trigger word that’s overplayed, but it’s real.

And for evangelical Christians who are used to seeing a tall, handsome, blonde Jesus, this ain’t how it was. Not even close. By all biblical reports, he was ordinary, unattractive, unremarkable, and dark. Christianity is built on a guy that most of the west is scared of by default.

I’m super-glad my church risked an authentic interpretation of Jesus, and super-sad it bothered the church so much. I also had to wonder how many normative images I have in my head of beauty, truth, heroism, and villainy—and how these images have harmed how I see others.

J.S.


Photo from Image Catalog, CC0 1.0

I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me


undefeatedx asked a question:

how do i stop caring about what people think about me?? 😦

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this, too. I’ve discovered in therapy that I’m a people-pleaser, even codependent, and I often have this crazy conspiracy in my head of small-town backroom rumors, where everyone I know secretly dislikes me and laughs about me in some seedy, poorly lit poker room.

A few things about how to deal with what others think about you:

Continue reading “I Care Too Much What Other People Think About Me”

My Top Ten Posts of 2017

Here are the Top Ten Posts of 2017 from my blog, ranging from topics such as North Korea, the 2016 election, crazy hospital stories, when people can’t admit they’re wrong, dealing with a friend’s depression, and surviving the world as an ugly Asian male.

Continue reading “My Top Ten Posts of 2017”

Grinches, Scrooges, and Grieving Souls: Christmas Is For You, Too


I know that for many of us, the Christmas season is a painful time. The festive celebration is in stark contrast to your own history.

It could be a dysfunctional family. Grief from loss. A lonely time. The heartache of a hard year. Or it could just be you dislike the whole affair. You can’t stand the egg nog, mistletoes, and holiday radio.

But that’s okay. Please know: You are not obligated to pretend happiness just because a certain calendar date has fallen on you. You have permission to be a Scrooge, a Grinch, a “downer.” No one else has to live through what you’re going through, and they will be long gone after telling you how to feel.

I believe that God can handle that. He receives you. He validates your grief. No one else can, not fully. He does.

And more, God’s invitation to rejoice still stands. Always. He won’t stop inviting you to joy. Through tears, even for brief moments, laughter can still bubble up and surprise you. Jesus broke in the same way: through dirt, grief, a lonely manger, he was light pushing through the dark. A surprise.

Merry Christmas, to Scrooges and celebrators. However you spend this time and through all you’re going through, I hope you know: you are loved.
J.S.


Photo from Images Catalog, CC0 1.0

How Do I “Let Go and Let God”? Does Working Hard Mean I’m Not Trusting God?

sunmoonandmyrtle asked a question:

Hi JS, I was wondering about the balance between trusting God and making your plans/taking action. I am a bit OCD about planning. My journey at the moment seems to be learning to let go of trying so hard and have faith in God to provide. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the kind of person who says God will bless them yet doesn’t work hard or look for ways to work smart. I’m not looking for a quick solution, but would be glad to just hear what you think. (I hope you’re having a nice day.)

Hey dear friend, I really wrestle with this too: When do I let go and “let God”? If I hustle and pursue, does that mean I’m not trusting Him?

Here are a few things I’ve learned about trusting God:

Continue reading “How Do I “Let Go and Let God”? Does Working Hard Mean I’m Not Trusting God?”

How Do I “Bring People to God” Without “Shoving My Religion Down Their Throat”?

caito8o asked a question:

How do you bring people to God without telling them that they are going to hell? Or “shoving my religion down their throat?” And how do you deal with people that tried Jesus and still don’t believe? I have issues with the way my church discuss these topics so I was wondering if you could bring some clarity. Thank you so much for your help!

Hey dear friend, I speak all this with absolute grace and love for you, and I’d like to go one further.

Hell is not a motivation for faith—but neither is heaven. If a punishment or a prize are the motivations for someone’s journey, then my assumption is that person hasn’t thought very far about why they’re on this journey at all. I’m reminded of that quote from True Detective:  “If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then brother, that person is a piece of s__.”

If my goal is to “bring people to God,” that actually won’t work either, because we shouldn’t be trying to make it work. I don’t mean to assume your motives, but evangelism isn’t a score-card where we win people by attendance. No one is a project or a charity case.

Christians might not think we do this, but it happens in all kinds of unseen ways: we attract people until they’re baptized, and then the pastor stops talking to them. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. God can only naturally flow out of who we are and how we interact with others. God flows from my art, my expression, my patience, my generosity, and what I do with my free time. It’s not primarily a conscious goal to say, “See, this is God!” It was C.S. Lewis who said we can’t try to make good art, but that we make art and it might turn out good. It’s the same way with expressing God to others: it happens or it doesn’t.

Continue reading “How Do I “Bring People to God” Without “Shoving My Religion Down Their Throat”?”

A Response to Roy Moore and the Bizarre Hypocrisy of Evangelicals

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty

birkinvibes asked a question:

What is you opinion on Roy Moore and his continuous appeal to various pastors and churches in the South, and his claim that the sexual allegations against him are stemmed from the persecution he receives as someone fighting a “cultural war?”

Honestly? I feel deep shame, embarrassment, and anger about the whole thing. I feel deep grief for the women he has assaulted. I’m so tired of the evangelical community right now and exhausted to the point of wanting to call it quits on faith, church, and westernized religion. Moore is a symptom of a way deeper problem.

Too many evangelical Christians double-down on their defenses instead of owning up to their problems. Remember when Mike Guglielmucci, songwriter of “Healer,” admitted that he faked cancer? He played onstage with an oxygen mask, then admitted he faked it while collecting donations, and then said it was his because of his “porn addiction.” He couldn’t just say, “I was selfish and I lied to you and I was deceitful and what I did was evil to people with cancer.” No, he blamed it on the more socially acceptable problem of porn addiction.

Evangelical pastors like Perry Noble, Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, Paul Sheppard, and James MacDonald have all had moral failures in the recent past, and not a single one of them has genuinely said they’re sorry (don’t even get me started on Franklin Graham). Some of them have started a church franchise somewhere else, or they stubbornly stay and continue their craziness. Their apologies read like Lena Dunham’s Twitter feed. They blame it on “culture wars” and “persecution” and “haters,” but my guess is they just can’t look in the mirror.

Are they able to be redeemed? Yes. Should they continue to stay in positions of authority? No. Not until at least some good old fashioned repentance has been done.

Continue reading “A Response to Roy Moore and the Bizarre Hypocrisy of Evangelicals”

How Do I Call Out Someone Who Believes in Messed Up Stuff?

iliveinayellowsub asked a question:

How can we “gently rebuke” our brothers and sisters who believe in and propogate prosperity doctrine? Because honestly, my first reaction is anger and a desperate need to shut them down 😦

Hey dear friend, this is a really, really tough one. Prosperity Theology is one of the most painful iterations of the Christian religion I’ve ever seen, and it’s always psychologically abusive in the long run.

The thing is, attempting to challenge anyone’s beliefs is a dicey, dangerous endeavor that requires an extremely fine balance of love and truth. It’s terribly difficult and will certainly go wrong. Here are a few thoughts about it:

1) Before challenging someone’s harmful belief, get to know why they believe what they do.

There is a concept called The Deep Story in which if you ask someone about their beliefs, they will tell you a deeper story about what led them there. And every single time, if you listen with an open mind, it’s easy to see that if you had the same upbringing, same trauma, same family and friends, same community, and same circumstances as this other person, you might have come to believe exactly as they do.

Because we are much quicker to speak than ever before—social media, globalization, polarization, all that stuff—we are a bit slower to listen these days. In the last ten years, especially, much of our language has revolved around lectures and imperative commands, so that we’re always (consciously or not) trying to force other people into seeing “my point of view, which is obviously the best point of view.” We are always carving other people into our image.

If you pause to listen instead of lecture, you’ll find that many, many harmful beliefs are based on the premise that I am doing good for the world. Almost no one thinks, “I’m the bad guy” or “I’m defective and trying to hurt people.”

The best thing you can do is really get to know why. Why have they fallen into this cult-like belief system? What does it do for them? How is it working out? And what is good about their beliefs that you can affirm on a common ground?

Continue reading “How Do I Call Out Someone Who Believes in Messed Up Stuff?”

An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out

– Suzanne of biblesteps recently interviewed me about my book on depression. Her post is here. The entire interview is below. You can find my book on fighting depression here. –

Given that depression can be a fragile and, at times, controversial topic, what made you decide to write a book about it?

Depression can feel like a solo sport. There’s no team backing you up. It’s like swimming or gymnastics; once you get going, it’s up to you to make it to the other end of the pool or the mat. (I was told this is why writers get depressed, because writing isn’t really a team effort).

Most of the resources I found on depression began with the “solo” premise: It’s up to you, go get help, here’s this method, try this and this. But that sort of individualized isolation was very vacuum-ish to me. Life doesn’t work in such a frictionless shrinkwrap; we affect others in a causational web and we need their help, too.

So I started with the premise: How do we collectively get through depression? How do we manage the stress and cause-and-effect and even the global consequences of depression? I wrote the book for both those who struggle with depression and those who don’t. I wanted to bring in every person involved, because depression affects families, cultures, marriages, churches, all of it.

I always knew that the topic of depression itself was a game of telephone — “I’m depressed” sounds like “I’m antisocial” to most people — but when I got to the research and surveys, it was even worse than I had thought. There was this nearly impermeable membrane around the discussion of depression. And then this phrase kept popping up in my head: If you could just know how hard it really is …

And as cheesy as that might be, it became the title of the book. My whole goal was to peel back that weird membrane around depression so, if anything, there would be more empathy on every side of the discussion.

Continue reading “An Interview About Depression, Its Myths and Misunderstandings, When Faith Fails, and Talking It Out”

The Scary Horrible Thing About Depression


Clinical depression will often do whatever it wants with you. It has no rules or code or fairness or dignity.

I have every reason to be fine, but depression is a dirty sneak attack that leaves me completely naked and debilitated. It’s a liar that sells truth: a false reality that says how-I-feel is who-I-really-am. And when a grafted lie overruns the truth, it doesn’t matter that I have “every reason” to be fine: the lie has switched every goalpost and sunk the baseline.

Depression is the worst kind of lie, in that it not only attacks your self-worth and value, but steals the meaning out of words like “self-worth” and “value.” It is cold inertia, slowing down worlds in orbit. It leaves you carved open, constantly bleeding out, unable to retain the vital stuff that makes life. There is spiritual discombobulation; every emotion is a phantom limb, and no amount of affirmation about “life-gets-better” can reach me there.

The thing is, when I’m hit with depression, I already know what to do. I know I have to fight for air. I know I have to crawl for every inch of territory that’s stolen. I know I cannot make decisions unless I talk with someone first. I must reach for my phone. I must reach for every scrap of surface to escape this tunnel.  I must remind myself that there’s so much worse in the world, and that the war inside cannot compare.

I know. None of this makes the fog any easier.

By the tiniest shred of sight, I must crawl.

— J.S. Park | How Hard It Really Is


Photo by Brandon Woller

Taking a Break.



Hey dear friends: I’ll be taking a break from social media for a few weeks. I’m working on several projects, as well as re-focusing on priorities in the home and in the community. My inbox will still be open if you’d like to chat.

It’s super-cliché to say this, but social media has definitely been harder to navigate with any kind of sanity and reason. It’s incredibly discouraging and disturbing to see the lack of empathy between strangers online, and I feel I’m at a breaking point with grief at both the news and the reactionary firestorms that follow. I want to be present for my family and for what’s happening in the world without the constant, divisive deluge of “my side versus your side.” It’s wearying. It’s easy to get cynical. It blinds me to those who have stepped away from their devices and are willing to do the groundwork in the dirt.

Of course, I believe we can do both. We can both speak up on social media and do the work at ground zero. We must. I admire those who can raise awareness and passionately bring up injustices with clarity and compassion, at the cost of reputation—but such voices are rare and neglected in favor of sensationalistic fear-mongering. And I’m not sure I can do both. When I begin to speak up online, I become bitter and cynical, and I lose sight of those who are hurting. So if I must choose, for now I choose to step away, to be eye to eye and side by side.

My prayer is that we can be those few voices of empathy and grace, wherever we are. My hope is we can each understand where we are coming from without accusing and presuming why. My hope is to see each other, really. And maybe some of you will join me.

Lastly: Please, please, please don’t fully trust in me or any blogger, pundit, expert, politician, pastor, or “expert” who claims to know the way. I will inevitably let you down. We must think for ourselves. I am just a temporary mound of flesh housing a squishy three lb. brain, and I get it wrong all the time. I trust in God. I trust in Jesus. I trust His work in me. He’s still working on the parts that don’t work. I want to hear Him first.
J.S.

https://jsparkblog.com/2015/09/28/dont-trust-me-because-i-will-let-you-down/

Journeying Together Through Depression


Thank you to Nissi, Andy, Sandra, Crupa, and Amber for picking up my book on fighting depression, How Hard It Really Is. Grateful to Sandra for picking up five copies to give away. Praying the book blesses each of you.
J.S.

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360

Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB

Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?

lovelyishe asked a question:

Some find it hard to explain their answers to these questions for other Christians so I would like to know how you would answer: What’s the difference between ”not overlooking sin” and being judgmental? If there are words in the bible that refer to people as adulterers, liars, fornicators or fool etc why can’t Christians call people those names/make reference to them by those names while talking to someone else if it were ACTUALLY TRUE about them?

Hey there dear friend, I’ve wondered about this too, and I think it’s important to offer some context between accountability and mean-spirited judging.


1) The written word doesn’t necessarily show the tone of what’s being said. My guess is that the tone was deep grief and compassion. In Philippians 3:18, Apostle Paul says he writes these things “with tears.” In 2 Corinthians 10, he says, “I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.” Many of Paul’s listeners felt a contrast between his speaking (meek and even unpolished) with his writing (forceful and straightforward), and I think it’s because Paul was so gentle in person as he said some hard things, while his letters without context appeared to be pushy.

The Old Testament might appear really rough, but again, the people saying and writing these things were deeply compassionate. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. David is pretty much weeping every other page. Nehemiah wept for his city as he stood up to traitors. There is an easy-to-miss mix of both boldness and humility throughout the Bible. 

Continue reading “Why Is the Bible So Harsh? And Why Can’t We Be as Harsh as the Bible?”

Do the Abused Need to Forgive Their Abuser? About Boundaries for the Traumatized


Everyone loves the idea of love and forgiveness—but do the abused need to “love and forgive” their abuser?

Here’s my quick take on boundaries and self-care for the abused and traumatized.

A romanticized culture of hyper-compassion easily leads to fatigue, disillusionment, and secondhand trauma, especially when we attempt to love those beyond our limits. I also share on trying to help those with mental illness, and the ugly reality that many of us are in over our heads and need to refer to professional help.

My post on love, abuse, and trauma is here.

My book on fighting depression and empathizing with those who have depression:

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is/dp/0692910360/
Ebook: https://www.amazon.com/How-Hard-It-Really-Is-ebook/dp/B073TX15LB/

Subscribe to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/jsparkblog

Love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

We’re in This Together


Thank you to Nick, Maddie, Priscilla, and Emily for picking up my books.

What the Church Won’t Talk About: Real Questions From Real People About Raw, Gritty, Everyday Faith

Grace Be With You: Stirring Truth and Abundant Joy for Fellow Travelers

Mad About God: No Silver Livings, No Christian Clichés, No Easy Answers for Pain and Suffering

All my books are available here!  — J.S.