How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression


Hello lovely friends! After a year and a half of painstaking work, my book on fighting depression is here. It’s called: How How Hard It Really Is: A Short, Honest Book About Depression.

The book covers:
• The science behind depression
• The helpful (and unhelpful) dialogue around mental illness
• The debate between seeing it as a choice or disease
• Stories of survivors
• A secret culture of suicide worship
• An interview with a depressed doctor
• The problem with finding a “cure”
• My own attempt at suicide
• A myriad of voices from nearly two-hundred surveys conducted over a year

The paperback is here. The ebook is here.

For my video on depression, check here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xggg6xFObIE

Be blessed and love y’all, friends. A reminder that if you’re in a dark place, I hope you’ll reach out. You are truly more loved than you know. 
— J.S.


When Politics End a Friendship and How Faith Fits In


Different political opinions can end a friendship—but should they?

How politics, faith, and friendship can fit together.

My post on politics, which was published on the front page of WordPress:
https://jsparkblog.com/2017/03/06/when-do-politics-decide-friendship/

This is part of a series called “Where Faith Meets Life,” covering topics like politics, abuse, marriage, and mental illness.

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

Be blessed and love y’all, friends!
— J.S.

Editors’ Picks: Frontpage of WordPress



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

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


TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24


24 (2001-2014)
Fox Television

Summary:
Over an exact period of twenty-four hours — each episode in real time — federal agent Jack Bauer gets shot, stabbed, electrocuted, tasered, burned, choked out, attacked by dogs, infected by a killer virus, killed twice, and endures various other health hazards all in the name of America. That’s usually before breakfast. He is part of CTU, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit located in Los Angeles, and we’re privy to the worst days of Bauer’s life. The show uses splitscreen, a running clock, ridiculous plot twists, and a you-are-there handheld madness with zero slow motion for a show that my friend described as “a speeding train with no brakes.” But perhaps the best part of the show is Bauer himself, played in a determined, dogged performance by an incredible Kiefer Sutherland.

Also starring Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert, Xander Berkley, Elisha Cuthbert.

Questionable Content:
Very dark themes, cursing, occasional sexual content, a paranoid atmosphere, and at times extremely violent, e.g. open wounds, gunshots, broken necks, stabbing, eye gouging, and Jack Bauer not eating for 24 hours straight.

Why You Should See It:
Debuting the same time that the World Trade Center was attacked, 24 was an American catharsis for a wounded, vulnerable nation. It fueled our sudden demand for justice by any-means-necessary. Jack Bauer was the means. He was an unstoppable force, a projection of our twitchy national outrage who did whatever it takes, and became our vicarious Monday night superhero. Everything we’ve always wanted to do to the bad guys, without daring to speak them out loud, he does. At first glance (and second and third and fourth), 24 plays out like every patriotic, flag-waving, terrorist-hunting fantasy.

But the show doesn’t downplay the harrowing effects of Jack Bauer’s methods. He slowly devolves into a dehumanized, haunted soul with nine seasons of regret (plus a TV movie). A life of torture brings about a tortured life. Bauer’s only tether to “normal” is his put-upon daughter, who both loves him and is repelled by what he does. Fans complained that Bauer became more unlikable as the show progressed, but of course this would only make sense: Bauer and guys like him were never destined for happily-ever-afters. He secured such endings for everyone else at the expense of himself, and even worse, for those who got too close to him. This dreary subtext was too often obscured by Bauer’s more sensational tactics.

Continue reading “TV Shows That Christians Should Watch: 24”

Seven Questions to Ask Before Voting


Some questions to ask ourselves before voting:


How will my vote affect the story and direction of our country?

Is this candidate I’m voting for going to help defuse our current racial tensions?

Is this candidate going to hold themselves accountable as an example?

Is this candidate capable of proper foreign policy as well as bridging the divisions between American individuals?

Is this candidate a step forward in the tapestry of progress and history?

Is this candidate the kind of person who can address grief, loss, and prayers with sincerity and movement?

Who are we more or less comfortable with in directing our social and cultural narrative?

J.S.


Photo by Saint Julian, CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Anonymous asked a question:

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Affirming Blog Bias: The Danger of Reinforcing Misinformation & Inaction from Isolated Viral Awareness

One of the problems with circular echo chambers like Tumblr, Facebook, WordPress, or Twitter is that we mostly follow the voices that confirm our own preconceived beliefs while shutting down the evidence that runs counter to our bias. We’ve locked ourselves up in self-preaching choirs and impregnable ivory towers. Our life philosophy is then reinforced by the buzzwords and bloggers we want to hear, and we demonize a phantom enemy that isn’t anything close to a real person or idea, neglecting to engage with the real world and the very real issues at hand.

On a long enough timeline, you and I become radicalized into a new kind of fanaticism, devoted to our out-of-touch, fact-devoid, isolated cages. With so many actual injustices abounding that need solutions, our faceless debating hijacks the limelight and resources from the deficit of the people we claim to be rooting for.

This is a vicious cycle that continually perpetuates misinformation disguised in pieces of truth. Some of these truths are necessary, which is all the more reason it’s a travesty that they’re buried under a blind clicking frenzy. We buy into an aggregated “fringe platform” of like-minded ideologies that only feeds itself, like the mythical dragon ouroboros that chokes on its own tail, which only attracts people who already agree and don’t want to be challenged. This common delusion appeals to our basest urge for socialization and vicariously victimizing ourselves on behalf of someone else’s “inspirational tragedy.” Never mind that it’s the other person’s everyday life and only your two second click of a like button.

It gives us a self-righteous tingle to think, “I have the insider knowledge and you don’t.” It’s a shiny trophy of “online education” that will swell your ego and high-five the hive-mind, but it does nothing and goes nowhere and has no real chance of dialogue.

If this makes you mad, then it might be too late for you. I understand though: we hate the possibility of being on the “wrong side” and “losing face.” Being rejected by your group of yes-men or criticized by the opposite side feels like death, and we either self-destruct or destroy others. And to actually work to understand the issue? It’s too hard. We’re in love with trying to change the world by looking like we’re trying to change it, with pretty text on a screen.

Continue reading “Self-Affirming Blog Bias: The Danger of Reinforcing Misinformation & Inaction from Isolated Viral Awareness”

YouTube: “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay”


Here’s my first YouTube video, called “We Can Disagree, And That’s Okay.”

You like cats AND dogs? That’s okay.
You’re into science AND religion? That’s okay.
Single and not looking? That’s okay.
Introverted or extroverted? That’s okay.
You prefer romantic-comedy Ryan Gosling over Oscar-serious Ryan Gosling? That’s okay.
Republican or Democrat or neither? That’s okay.
Cheese on your ramen noodles? Well … maybe not okay.

Please subscribe to my channel and love y’all!

— J.S.


YouTube logo


The Forced Falsed Dichotomy of For and Against: How a Binary System Fails to Resolve Our Deepest Issues

When you’re asked these three questions, you’re instantly running into a bitter bloody crossfire.
Are you for or against gay marriage?
Are you pro-life or pro-choice?
Are you a Democrat or Republican?

But I want to counter-ask:
Why do we only have to think within these two opposing grids? Who made up the rules of this conflict? What if there was a different way to do this than the paradigms we have blindly bought into?

What our world does is what it has always done: takes a human issue, forces two sides against each other, comes up with all kinds of pseudo-articulate arguments, and ratchets up the volume.

Is this really the only dang way to communicate?

For many of us, this is all we ever know. The incessant angry yelling ignores the people trapped inside these debates, and we are brainwashed into excluding the “other” based on our own limited understanding of reality.

Real-live multi-layered human beings get lost in the urge to push ideologies — and I keep wondering if there’s a better way to navigate our disagreements.

Our current public discourse always looks barbaric and overly simplistic: because winning your idea at the White House cannot legislate someone’s soul. That’s state-sponsored tyranny.

Even if your side wins, what then? How do we reconcile with the “other”? What do you really win?

How do we offer something more than “Stop it” ..? How do we get off the anti-ground of what we’re against and move towards what we’re for?

Continue reading “The Forced Falsed Dichotomy of For and Against: How a Binary System Fails to Resolve Our Deepest Issues”

How Jefferson Bethke Showed Me I Was A Jerk

About a year ago, I blasted a dude named Jefferson Bethke who made a video called “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus,” which currently has over 23 million views and attracted all kinds of criticism and praise — and I was one of the guys who hated on him.

I left a mean comment on YouTube, went wild about it on my blog, and accused him of “thin doctrine” and a “poor choice of words” about the Christian faith.

Only a couple weeks later, I came to my senses and snapped out of it with a semi-apology.

I don’t know Mr. Bethke or anything about his faith and life — but in my arrogant selfishness and a subconscious attempt to piggyback off his success, I called him out on stupid secondary nitpicks that only made me look like an insecure moron.

Plainly speaking, I looked like an ass.

Continue reading “How Jefferson Bethke Showed Me I Was A Jerk”

Maybe I Don’t Disagree Because You’re An Atheist, But Because You’re Being A Moron

Atheist and other unbelieving friends:

You spend all day spouting your opinions, many of which I agree with because I can agree with a fellow human being outside the purview of our “religious affiliation,” or lack thereof — and I love you and respect you outside of our proclaimed identities.

But the moment I disagree with you — not having even brought up anything spiritual —suddenly you become a trashy pedestrian version of yourself with predictable, preprogrammed, Pavlovian-reflex statements about my “brainwashed zealot hive mind.”

Continue reading “Maybe I Don’t Disagree Because You’re An Atheist, But Because You’re Being A Moron”

Four Things To Remember When You Rebuke

Rebuking is one of the hardest things to do. We’re either too soft or too strict, and for most of us polite church people, we would rather go on a mission trip to a war-torn third world country than speak truth to our neighbor.

But once you’re ready to pay the cost of awkwardness, there’s some things we need to know.

Continue reading “Four Things To Remember When You Rebuke”

Elephant Room 2 – Live Coverage



Trevin Wax of The Gospel Coalition and Mark Driscoll’s staff on his homepage are covering the Elephant Room discussion today.

The discussion between Mark Driscoll and T.D. Jakes finally got around to discussing the Trinity and modalism.

I’ll be buying the DVD set to review.

My review of the first Elephant Room session is here.


Question: So you used to be an atheist

Someone asked:
So you used to be an atheist/agnostic. How did you come to know Jesus?


I won’t bore you with too many details, but it was a very long journey. In the end no “proof” or “argument” won me over.  I also wasn’t looking very hard.  In high school a guy in my homeroom found out I played drums. He asked me to play, I politely declined, but he offered a ride and mentioned there was free lunch at church. I asked if there were girls.  He hesitated, then affirmed. My original motive was hot girls.

The church I attended was gracious enough to allow an atheist to play on their praise team.  I liked the sermons, I liked the pastor, I liked the people (well most of them anyway). But the gospel then was just another religion in a handbag full of them.

Around college a lot of the Bible began making sense. It was actually horrifying because nobody, and I really mean nobody, wants the Bible to be true. And I saw how the Bible played out in serious believers who actually read the dang thing and totally loved Jesus.  They were nowhere near perfect but man, were they passionate. My mockery of these weirdos soon turned to respect … and a horrible fear.

I could say I was “saved” in college, but I still lived exactly as I wanted to.  I didn’t understand the gospel until my mid-twenties.  It was not any overnight epiphany but a slow-burning revelation, understanding the person and work of Jesus, the God who became a man and whispered forgiveness through dying lips on a cross. I studied the Resurrection for a while because that would seal the deal for me.  And so it did.

Three years of seminary later, I’m preaching what I used to hate. Like a scaled down Apostle Paul. Having been an atheist/agnostic, I saw how much hatred and ignorance and straight up messed-up-ness I had, much more than I would have ever admitted on my own.  I see now that I had turned off entire parts of my brain to justify a godless universe, and when I talk to atheists today, I remember my former smug rage that worshipped the flesh between my ears. 

I also have the advantage of seeing church as an outsider.  So much of the American church makes no sense to me.  Reading the Book of Acts and then walking into a modern church is like meeting Superman who turns out to be a three foot troll.  The backdoor politics (which I’m well embroiled in now) is nauseating.  In most meetings I just sit there amused while elders argue over paint color and programs-programs-more-programs. I keep thinking, If God tore off the roof right now you’d be all be dead or blind. Can we do some Jesus work now? Think you can maybe keep half an eye on eternity?

Absolutely no one would ever have thought I would be a pastor, and a large sample of my church population is uncomfortable with it.  Which means there are people who are uncomfortable with God’s radical grace — you know, the God who can change Sauls to Pauls and Goliaths into dead.  I’m living proof that God can do as He wants. Not perfect proof, but yes, passionate.