What Forgiveness Is and Is Not: Seven Rules of Forgiveness


Too often forgiveness is a burden on the wounded. Instead the imperative of accountability must be on the abuser.

When I’m told to forgive, I think about

my math tutor when I was barely twelve years old, who shouted in my face and dug his fingers in my shoulders

a grown woman who beat me for “misbehaving” at a public pool when I was seven

students who randomly assaulted me in school calling me racial slurs

the thousands of hate crimes and murders both reported and unrecorded against POC

the dozens of stories I’ve heard from patients assaulted by their most trusted people.

But I’m told to just let go. “Forgiveness is a gift.”
Is it? How is it a gift to remove this knife from my gut that never should’ve been there? Why is abuse became the abused person’s problem to solve?

Forgiveness is powerful, yes. On the other side there’s freedom. But when forgiveness is demanded of a victim in a bad power dynamic—who benefits? Abusive people and systems often act in a remorseless repetition of violence. It’s that very violence which keeps power and profit.

I have learned it is more wrong
not to be angry at injustice.
Why demand the wounded
to be level-headed, neutral, watch their tone, to grow, be resilient, be the example, take the high road?
Sometimes the high road
goes right off a cliff.

Inside anger
I hear the voice of grief
because the abused person
had their life interrupted
and never asked for an apology
—they needed honor for their dignity.

Here are some of my rules on forgiveness.
1) Forgiveness does not mean friendship.
2) Forgiveness is a daily choice that can take a lifetime.
3) No one can rush your forgiveness, ever.
4) You can be angry while forgiving.
5) Forgiveness does not negate justice.
6) If you have been abused and traumatized, then forgiveness is not a prerequisite for your recovery. To make forgiveness a burden on the abused only enables the abuser. It also mocks the abused. To skip anger is to bypass pain and therefore true recovery.
7) Do not make forgiveness an imperative burden to force a romanticized outcome of “peace,” especially on the abused and oppressed. All you’ll do is guilt trip already wounded people into a false truce.

— J.S.

What I Used to Believe


What do you no longer believe?
What are old beliefs you grieve?

I used to believe
all anger was wrong, so I was the captain of the tone police—
until I discovered politeness is not rightness, that anger is not always hate, but hurt, and to be loving is to be fiercely angry at injustice.

I used to believe
forgiveness meant friendship and even a flicker of pain meant I hadn’t forgiven my abusers—
but I found I can forgive from afar, over a lifetime, and that the pain was not my lack of forgiveness but how deep the wound was carved.

I used to believe
that death could bring people together—
until I saw covid take hundreds of thousands of lives and not even their deaths could evoke compassion,
until I saw refugees ceaselessly die in the headlines and too many justified their demise.

I used to believe
that god was American, homophobic, emotionless, and secretly disappointed in me—
until I found God had a vision of grace far greater than our sight, an imagination that far outweighed mine.

I used to believe
my value was found in my usefulness and contribution,
instead of inherently being human,
in an irrevocable Image.

I used to believe
every pain had a purpose, a connect-the-dots lesson, a fire to refine us, a reason to teach us—
until I saw pain is pain, it is not mine to explain, and maybe the only reason it happened was evil and abuse and systems that need to be unmade.

I used to believe
my depression was from a lack of prayer or faith or moral grit or fortitude—
but my mental health only lacked the help I needed and I found that therapy and medicine were not giving up, but giving life.

I used to believe
those who looked like me chose to be silent and passive—
except we were not silent, but silenced, and we had always spoken up despite this.

I used to believe
we could never unravel lopsided power dynamics and racist systems—
until I saw heels in the dirt making moves insistent, for years they had woven new stitches by inches.

I used to believe
everything I believed
was so certain.
I grieve my certainty
but I trust the mystery, to know
there is always more unknown.
Being “right” is to be alone,
but in discovery
we walk each other home.

— J.S.

Theology Is Complete with Our Hands and Feet


There’s a classic dispute among psychologists that’s best shown by the hair dryer story. It goes like this:

A woman believes her hair dryer is going to burn down her house. It gets to be a real problem; she’s driving back home twenty times a day. Her work life and love life and social life all take a hit.

Finally a therapist asks her, “Have you thought about just bringing the hair dryer with you?”

It works. When the fear creeps in, the woman opens her office drawer and sees the hair dryer and she’s fine.

Some psychologists see a major problem here: “Nothing was solved! She still has issues! She needs to get to the root of it!” But others say she found a solution that worked for her.

I lean toward the second camp. The problem was real to her and so was the solution. Maybe later she would get to the bottom of things. But until then, she had found a way to make it okay.

The big idea is her story was taken seriously. That was the start of her wholeness. Only when a story is fully heard is there the possibility of connection or challenge or growth.

The thing is: Too many of our injuries are real. It is not merely “in their head” or “their side of the story.” And it is not enough just to believe it happened.

Abuse, racialized trauma, mass violence, systemic failures, misogyny, manipulated power dynamics, and all the mental health issues not seemingly visible—all of these need empathy, but it doesn’t stop there. They also need presence, action, compassion, and a complete reframing of all the ways that things are done. Justice would make things so right that we would never need accountability or to convince others to “believe me.”

It is already hard enough proving my injury is real.
I have the scars to prove it.
But what I need is more than belief,
more than moved hearts, more than speech.

Theology is only complete with our hands and feet.
Psychology can diagnose and make valuable notes, but only heels in the field, in the dirt, bring us hope.
Even with all our treatment and remedies, I still need you to sit with me.
In grief, your advice is probably good, but not as good as being on the floor with me.
May your pain be mine,
and your hopes mine too.

— J.S.


Part of this post is an excerpt from my book The Voices We Carry

We Have Always Had a Voice: No One Is Voiceless


Who will tell your story?

In community college, I had an American History professor who got to the chapter Asian-American History. He grabbed the whole chapter with two fingers, flipped them, and said, “We’re skipping this. It’s a small chunk, anyway.” Everyone in class turned to the back to look at me. I said nothing. I stayed in my place.

In the same class, a student said, “We need to drop a nuke on South Korea, get rid of those communists.” I said, “Do you mean North Korea?” She replied, “It’s the same thing. Nuke them all.”

In third grade a kid named Danny ran by in the playground and punched me in the face. He went to a corner and started meditating like he was a ninja. He made whooping noises while chopping the air.

I was embarrassed to bring my bulgogi and kimchi to school. The smell brought out howls and hisses. I’d beg my mom for anything else. And that was the start of a dedicated measure to conformity. Even if I did not say it with my mouth, I said it with my heart: I began to hate my own skin. I wanted badly to be white. I am ashamed to tell you how ashamed I was.

I became a chameleon with the skin of a mirror. I fed the vanity of others, stoking their flames, crafting a personality out of the person in front of me, from bestsellers and banter and every hit show. Always nodding. I shrank myself so others could feel large.

My voice was strangled. In a place of manic conformity, where one wrong move could make others cold or “not one of the good ones”—What else could I have done? But fall in line? Fold in half? Forfeit myself so others were comfortable?

But always, I had a voice.
The one God gave and entrusted: it is mine.
They can take your pen and your microphone, they can tape your mouth to silence you:
but no, they cannot take your voice.
They cannot tell your story.
It is yours.

I see my baby daughter who is like her mother, other times like me. We laugh at how similar our daughter is to both of us. And then there’s this unique part of her. Not like me or my wife. That’s my daughter’s. It is hers. Her God-given voice. My prayer is that she can live fully into who she is. My hope is for her world to never ask her anything else.

— J.S.

We Are the Ones Who Will Be Named


Ryo Oyamada.

In 2013, Ryo Oyamada, a 24 year old student from Japan, was killed in a hit and run by an NYPD vehicle. The police car, according to witnesses, did not have its siren or lights on and was going 70 mph. The footage released by the NYPD showed the vehicles’s light were on, but this footage was proven to be altered—lights were apparently added to the vehicle.

I spoke about this in 2014, when it was finally covered in the news. I posted it on Tumblr, and to my surprise it gained almost 75,000 likes and reblogs. A petition to investigate the cover-up garnered almost 120,000 signatures. Finally, four years after Ryo was killed, after frustrating court proceedings, the family reluctantly took a settlement for half a million dollars.

There were vigils and rallies. Many did try to advocate for him and his family. But accountability? It’s as if he never existed.

Someone could argue that the murder of Ryo Oyamada was not a hate crime. But every subsequent action, from the cover-up to court battles to public silence to a meager settlement, is a failure at every level. Social, systemic, structural, relational. Forces both evil and complacent acted to erase Ryo from existence.

Why was his name not widely chanted? Was it too hard to pronounce? Too easy to think, “Just a foreigner from Japan”? How much was this family worn down to accept 0.00004% of the NYPD’s 11 billion dollar yearly budget?

Anti-Asian racism might be born in the heart, but it is woven into the system until it weaves its way into our DNA. We have been made to believe we deserve less, need less, are less. Asian-Americans and other POC may believe we are silent, but no. We have been silenced. We have a voice. It is our microphones that have been taken. Every single narrative pushed forth from pop culture to church culture to the dinner table is that we do not have a name. But we do. I do.

Names. Hyun Jung Kim. Soon Chung Park. Xiaojie Tan. Sun Cha Kim. Yong Yue. Daoyou Feng. Delaina Ashley Yuan. Paul Andre Michels.

I cannot read their names without weeping.
They have names.
You have a name.
I have a name.
We are the ones who will be named.
— J.S.

Hear Us, See Us, Know Us


Last summer during the protests, my friend told me:

“It feels like they won’t stop killing us until we start killing them.”

He was trying to express his feelings of helplessness and rage. The sheer insanity of all he was seeing and experiencing. The fatigue of wanting to do more, but already working twice as hard to be half as far. And even if I didn’t completely understand it then, I hurt so badly for my friend. When I protested, I walked for him. For so many—too many—I walked for those who felt what he felt.

I understand that feeling a little more these days. The stomach-sick, catch-your-throat, feverish, fist-clenching disbelief. The urge to shout and throw things, but somehow it is wrong to fight for our lives, so we must only be polite to survive.

To see a body like yours, like mine, brutalized over and over again, then told it was your fault, what were they even doing there, a million more where you came from—but let me eat your food, watch your movies, wear your robes, I’ll tell you about my Asian sister-in-law, let me say hello in your language to impress you, let me tell you about the Vietnam War and the Korean War and my time stationed in Japan, let me tell you how much I love kimchi and bulgogi, I love the K-Pop on Jimmy Fallon or was it Kimmel, make me fried rice some day, your English is so good by the way, and your baby daughter has the most interesting eyes, but tell me about your pain and I will tell you it’s not real, it happens to everyone anyway, tell us at this panel and Q&A, but we only have half an hour today, you have no history or future or feelings of your own, you are my decoration and my proof of diversity, you are the authority on all eastern culture so tell me your story and pronounce your name but leave out all your hopes and pain.

All I feel is rage.
This grief is only the surface.
I am enraged.
For the love of God,
see us,
hear us.

— J.S.

Everything I’ve Seen Is Almost Too Much


This is my face near the end of a chaplain shift at the hospital.

I entered chaplaincy almost six years ago. I have loved every second of it. And every second of it has been brutally, insanely, impossibly hard.

I’ve sat with thousands of patients now. So many who told me their final words, secrets, regrets, confessions. At their deathbeds, watching their heart rate dwindle down to single digits. Their last breath on earth.

I have seen terrible things. There are sounds a human can make which no human ever should. Pure agony. Sometimes grief. Other times relief.

Something I haven’t talked about much is that during my year long residency, I lost my faith. I reverted back to atheism for a long while. I’ve shared before that my faith has always been skeptical, cautious, doubting every single day. I’m like one of those Israelites who probably ran screaming through the Red Sea, not sure if the walls of water would hold up all the way. In the hospital, I had seen too much. The waters crashed down. All this suffering, I couldn’t comprehend a god who cared about this random, haphazard, utterly chaotic madness. No pattern. No reason. Babies born to die? An entire family burned down in their sleep? A roof can just fall on a child’s head? I found it hard to believe in a god at beside. I also found it hard not to believe, either.

Eventually I did come back around. But different than before. The walls of my faith had broken, rebuilt, expanded. I found out miracles were not just healing, but a story finally being told, a family staying night after night, a covid patient rolled to a balcony above their family to say one last goodbye, a baby after weeks in a box being able to breathe on her own.

Today I am one year older. And I feel I have lived a thousand lifetimes. I have died a thousand lifetimes. I’m glad to do so. To be in the shadow of my patients, to be their cheerleader and sidekick, a tiny lighthouse in the dark of the sea: there is no higher honor than for me to cheer on my patients, who are the hero of their stories. I am but a footnote. I am grateful to be one.

I wrote a book to honor my patients, and I can only hope I did some justice to their voices.

— J.S.

My Voice Was Taken


These last few week I’ve been reading about the many assaults against Asian-Americans, and I was hit with a lightning bolt of a memory I had nearly forgotten.

It is my very first memory. I was four on my first day of preschool. The only Asian in class. I didn’t speak English. When the teacher found out, she forced me to sit in the corner all day. She told me not to talk or turn around. I wept the entire day.

My mother, when she picked me up, cussed out the teacher and switched me to another school. But it was too late. A year or two later, as I learned English, I lost much of my Korean. The trauma destroyed my native language. My tongue had been burned of its millennia of heritage in my still-forming mouth.

To this day I can still understand Korean just enough, but when I try to speak I get tongue-tied. A block. It is apparent why. My voice was strangled. A teacher failed her “non-compliant” student. A system allowed racist violence against a child. A teacher did not understand she had a non-English-speaking American in her class, and instead of including him with even the smallest gesture, simply cut him off in a corner. The teacher was a cog in a system not funded with resources to equip their educators. That child never had a chance.

Our voices are still strangled. When I am yelled at violently in traffic because “Asian driver.” Spoken very slowly to by a cashier. Spoken over constantly in meetings. When people I supervise don’t take me seriously because they are not used to an Asian in the lead. When Asian jokes are told with zero hesitation. When people who look like my father go on a walk and are killed.

I realize I am lucky. My experiences are not as bad as others. My pain though, like any pain, is still pain. And I am not tougher for what I have gone through. I was made less. I was stripped of my home tongue. But no: I will not be stripped of my voice. It will not be taken. We each have a voice, gifted by God, just the one we are given. You have a song and it must break free. You have a microphone to pass to a young uncertain child, that they may sing too. Your voice. Speak. Your voice will carry you.
— J.S.

I Am Invisible: Will You See Us?


With the recent hate crimes against Asian-Americans, I am reminded again I am invisible.

When I was a boy, someone had spray-painted a swastika on my father’s dojo. My dad painted over it, but on hot humid days we could still see that Nazi symbol like a pulsing writhing scar.

We got a voicemail on our answering machine—maybe the same Nazi artists—who spent ten minutes making fun of my dad’s accent. I remember seeing my dad listen to it several times, staring quietly out a window. When he noticed me, he turned it off and said, “Just boys playing a joke.” The voices were from grown men.

In middle school I remember being assaulted, shoved around, called “ch-nk yellow belly,” having fries thrown at me during lunch (I sat alone) which were drenched in ketchup, some kid yelling “your dad killed my dad in the war” and then I watched his dad pick him up from detention.

At weddings, funerals, leadership meetings, conferences, I am often the only Asian. And I am invisible. I have literally sat in rooms before where I speak and no one looks my direction. Not even glances. I once called my wife in a dramatic panic, asking, “Do I exist?” And she knew what I meant. The invisibility.

I could tell you a hundred stories like this, and a hundred more. I have. And, well—no one hears. Or remembers. I know my experiences pale in comparison to racist violent acts done to so many others. I only wish I was heard. Seen.

A couple years ago I was a guest at a panel where we discussed race. I shared how I felt invisible. Afterwards, a wonderful Black woman approached me with tears in her eyes, hugged me and said, “I see you. I see you. God sees you.” Over and over, she whispered, “I see you.” And I was so moved, I wept with her. “I see you.”

I still hear her. Thinking of it now, I still weep. For a moment, at least, I was seen. We saw each other. We have so much work to do—but that day, that was enough for me. I was seen. To see is to make visible.

— J.S.

The Green Room Interview: About My Hospital Chaplain Work, Childhood, Faith, Author Journey, and the Pandemic

I was interviewed by my publisher Moody for their author series Green Room.
They asked me about my chaplain work, childhood, faith, my writing process, and my book The Voices We Carry, which is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

With my publisher’s permission, here is the entire interview below.

Continue reading “The Green Room Interview: About My Hospital Chaplain Work, Childhood, Faith, Author Journey, and the Pandemic”

I Nearly Lost My Faith Again


I have to be honest. Last year, I nearly lost my faith again.

Like many of us, I was in a bad place. I kept turning to the church for hope.

Online and off, I asked how to deal with the isolation, the loss of George Floyd, and hate crimes against Asian-Americans because of “China virus.” I was angry and afraid. I needed something, anything, to speak to my anxiety.

But the church did not hear my worries. It turned these events into a culture war that I barely understood. The answer for our suffering was apparently self-righteous politics and posture.

I know many churches, including mine, have done good things in this time. Yes, I still love the church, always. But my inbox, comments, and interactions told one story: too many Christians were more offended by my grief rather than listening to it. They couldn’t wait to argue.

I kept hearing, “If you don’t believe ___, you’re not a Christian. You’re deceived by worldly distractions. Quit looking at church, look to God.” When I protested or wore a mask, I only heard, “You’re a liberal leftist Marxist.” I didn’t understand many of these replies. They seemed cold and irrelevant to our hurt.

I waited for reassurance, lament, repentance. But the church fortified its doors and armed itself with conspiracy theories instead. It made persuasive transmission of information as the primary goal. So I prayed and wept alone.

Was I alone? To grieve the evangelical church’s fear of man to call out prejudice, injustice, and misinformation? Or the “both sides have a point” neutrality? Or that King David’s redemption story is extended to perpetually abusive politicians but never to those like George Floyd?

No, my faith can’t rest on people. But that doesn’t relieve my sense of abandonment. Trying to seek God in a church last year was like needing water in a desert but told “those secular people” were withholding it. Where is the water? How long, O Lord?

I hold onto one thing. I keep picturing Jesus’ hands stretched to both criminals on his left and right. It is my one hopeful vision in the desert. A gracious vision for this nation. Jesus reaching for someone like you and me is almost enough for the next moment. Almost.

— J.S.

Not Lectures or Lessons, but Leaning in to Listen


If someone tells you their experience with depression, doubt, racism, sexism, abuse, classicism, trauma, grief—it’s because they trusted you. Maybe they told someone else and got laughed off, shut down, invalidated. Their voice was cut off. So they came to you with hope, at a risk, heart open.

Sometimes when I am weakened, grieving, or depressed, the response I get is complete disgust. There is something vile in the human heart that feels revulsion at “weakness.” There is some terrible urge to look at a wounded person and say, “Stop that, don’t cry, be strong.” I think part of the reason we do this is that we’re so afraid of our own vulnerability, we despise seeing it in others.

The same too when we see anger. Anger can be abusive, yes. But underneath rage is often pain. To lecture an angry person to “calm down” will only injure the injured. When we’re most angry in our wounds, the most healing response is to be angry for and with, not at. To shame a person for their emotion is to shame them for being human.

I think there’s an urge to preach advice at hurting people because it feels powerless not to say anything. But tossing advice on an already hurting person is to give them a burden on top of their burden. Out of good intentions, we tend to impart information or theology or logical points to ”fix” them—but when you were wounded, what did you need? More words? A sound argument? I-told-you-so? No. The best gifts I received in these moments were presence and silence. To bear the load together.

When someone opens up with their painful story, it’s important what you do right then. You’ll be one more person who turns them away, or you’ll be the one who opens a door. Your ears can save a life. You can be the miracle they were praying for.

— J.S.

Why I Lose Faith


To be truthful:
I find it hard to call myself a Christian these days. Almost impossible. These days I glance at my Bible and I want to throw it in the trash. I want to walk away without looking back.

I keep wondering: Does the Bible produce jerks? Or are jerks attracted to the Bible? Either way I’m not sure why I stay.

Yes, I still believe. My faith is still the pivotal anchor by which I stand. But it seems western evangelicalism has forcefully gone out of its way to be anti-medicine, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-poor, anti-mental health, and completely against the Black community. It seems the western church only marches when they feel “persecuted.” (Ask any Christian in the east about real persecution.) How did the church rationalize such a bizarre norm? When did western Christianity become such a predictable, politicized, cliched, cartoonish one-dimensional silo of reactionary bullies and brats?

I’m not saying anything new, and perhaps I’m naive—but are not Christians called to be the most fiercely compassionate citizens of earth? So compassionate it makes no sense? The ones who hold ourselves accountable by the highest standards of holiness and justice? To be for our neighbors, the wounded, those in need? To transcend the political and institutional trappings of the tiny slice of history we’re living in?

I’m reading that first century Christians were most known for their 1) personal ethics and 2) radical generosity. Despite the church’s many problems through history, Christians were at the cutting edge of art, education, scientific breakthrough, and human liberation. Christians founded hospitals, universities, libraries, orphanages, shelters, and were at the forefront of protests. Am I romanticizing the past? Or do I long for something like this today?

Any time I bring this up, I get called a “liberal.” It’s apparently the worst insult in the world. But if someone having “empathy” and “compassion” is an accusation of being liberal—doesn’t that say more about the one making the accusation?

If I have to choose between today’s Christian and today’s liberal, then sign me up for the latter. As it is, I have no home and no faith to call my own.
— J.S.

My New Podcast Coming Soon: The Voices We Carry


Hey friends! I’m excited to announce I’m starting a podcast soon based on my book The Voices We Carry.

I know everyone’s got a podcast going these days. Mine is a solo broadcast: the goal is to champion your voices. Here’s a bit of what to expect.


1) Q&A. I’d love to engage with your questions about mental health, grief, loss, trauma, my doubts and depression, church, theology, race, politics, my chaplain work at the hospital and homeless shelter. About anything you’re going through. #AskMeAnything


Here’s my Q&A archive to see questions I’ve answered before (and I can answer again!)


2) Your stories. I’d love to share your stories on the podcast. Please feel free to share about a particular voice or message stuck in your head that you overcame (or didn’t). How did you find your voice through the process? I can keep you anonymous if you’d like.


3) Corrections. I will correct my old writings that I don’t agree with anymore. To criticize my old posts and ideas. To share where I totally missed it.


4) Challenges. I get it wrong, a lot. And I’d love to change my mind. I want to hear your disagreements. Not to fight, but to expand our voices together.


5) Reviews. Tell me about a movie or book or video or blog post or news article. I’ll watch or read, and we’ll discuss.


Please message me through Facebook, comment below, or email me at
thevoiceswecarry@gmail.com

Thank you, friends! Looking forward to it truly.
— J.S.

p.s. Our baby isn’t here yet, please send prayers!


Interviewed on Moody Radio live by Chris Fabry


Hey friends! I was interviewed on Moody Radio on Chris Fabry Live.

https://www.moodyradio.org/radioplayer.aspx?episode=317991

We talked about validating someone’s pain and story, how to deal with the voices that get stuck in our heads, some stuff from my book, and my work as a chaplain.


Interviewed on The Unburdened Leader


I was interviewed on The Unburdened Leader podcast by Rebecca Ching. We talk about my very difficult chaplain work, how to talk about depression, and navigating intergenerational racism.

Apple podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-unburdened-leader/id1508203253?i=1000479741818


What Self-Awareness Means (and Doesn’t Mean)


One of the big points that I make in my book is, “Self-awareness is only fully found in the awareness of others.”

That can mean
– deep, uncomfortable reflection
– therapy
– reckoning with our own bias, prejudice, beliefs, and actions
– hard conversations
– asking for feedback
– hearing the stories of others – reading works from others with vastly different experiences
– one-on-one dialogue with safe people who are willing to process with you
– apologizing specifically on the spot
– praying with safe people

This does not mean
– putting the burden on others to educate you
– only discussing things online
– trying to process as a way of catharsis and clearing your conscience
– merely saying “sorry”
– forcing others to process without their consent
– comparing your story with someone’s story
– dumping your past guilt with racism onto a person of color, which can retraumatize them
– making yourself the hero of the story, but rather humbly receiving the gift of self-awareness

These are hard things. They can’t be done overnight. May we pace ourselves and keep pacing. Be blessed, friends.
— J.S.

Interviewed by Jordan Raynor


Hey friends! I was interviewed by Jordan Raynor on his podcast The Call to Mastery. We talk about grief, false theology, my very tough work as a hospital chaplain, and my book The Voices We Carry.

On Spotify here.

On Apple podcasts here:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-call-to-mastery-with-jordan-raynor/id1481085636?i=1000477378909

Jordan Raynor is bestselling author of Called to Create and Master of One. You can follow him here: https://instagram.com/jordanraynor

Myth: “Things Are Getting Better”


Yes, statistically, things are getting better. Global world hunger is down, the living wage is up, life expectancy is up, annual deaths from natural disasters are down, number of educated and vaccinated individuals globally is up, and the majority of the world population has electricity.

But when I sit with a patient who has brain cancer, when I sit with a homeless person who has been continually assaulted and lost their children, when I sit with a patient brutally assaulted by authorities, when I sit with a family who cannot afford their loved one’s chemo or surgery, when I sit with a woman who has been passed around the foster system and been taken advantage of countless times—no, I do not quote these statistics.

I do not hold up pictures of cancer survivors shaking hands with their doctors, smiling and posing.

I do not hold up pictures of families in front of their new houses shaking hands with their real estate agents.

I do not say, “Only one percent of people with coronavirus actually die.” Yes, fortunately things are getting better. But I have to keep asking, “Better for who?” Better for chronically ill individuals with no hope of coverage? Better for the elderly in nursing homes who are kept in prison-like conditions? Better for prisoners who are kept in inhumane conditions befitting of war crimes? Better for the Black community who struggles just to be heard?

Better for who?
Better for you and me, maybe.
But better for you does not make it true.

As I sit with the grieving and wounded and oppressed: I dare not quote facts and stats that mock their tragedy.

Because as long as my neighbor is not okay, it’s not getting better.
I cannot rest until we sit in the same shade.
J.S.


[Statistics largely cited from Factfulness by Hans Rosling.]

“Both Sides Have a Point”—But Not Always


Sometimes there’s no gray. Sometimes there is clearly right and painfully wrong, plain as day.


Even if both sides have a point, one side can be wrong. And it’s exhausting to constantly find “balance” and remain neutral. Neutral, in the face of evil, is not only a cop-out, but it’s dangerous. Neutrality is exactly how abusive and manipulative systems continue to operate unimpeded. Neutrality is grease for the engine.


It is not enough to say “I’m not one of them” or “There are good ones too.” It is not enough to say “We need more love in the world.” It’s exhausting to see one more picture of people hugging or high-fiving or laughing with some kids one time in an unseen community, as if that solves a thing. None of this centrist moderate stuff is enlightened. It’s cowardice. It’s fear of losing a fanbase.


Really, I’m a coward when it comes to this. I always want to be gracious, nuanced, thoughtful. I hate to cause discomfort, rock the boat, be a downer. I want to look at all things from all angles, all the time. I never want to alienate anyone. I’m a master of tip-toeing on thin ice, dancing around hard words, stretching between absolutes, trying to silver-line my way through.


But to know the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor—it’s impossible not to shout and scream and cry. Their murders are on me. On being neutral. To be silent is to have picked the wrong side.
As it has been said, it’s not enough to say “I’m not racist,” but we must be actively fighting it. Otherwise, you and I remain grease, keeping the engine running.


To be truly nuanced is to humanize those we have lost. To fight for them. To be as angry as you need to. It’s to take care of yourself amidst daily retraumatizing. It’s to call evil what it is. It’s to condemn racism in every form, individual and systemic, in the home and in the heart.


I’m sorry I don’t speak as loudly as I should. I don’t always know how to fight, but I want to. To the wounded families: I’m sorry. I will act.


— J.S.