Black Lives Must Matter


You more than matter. Black lives are beloved, cherished, dignified, and bearers of the Image of God. It is a truth denied but it is no less true.

My friend “Shayla” (who gave me permission to share her story) was telling me that after the hundredth video of a Black person beaten in the streets, after one more citation of false facts and stats, after one more demand to “just work harder and get off welfare and quit drugs,” she had the terrible thought, “Maybe they’re right. I’m not human.”

After so many racist messages and images, it can become impossible not to believe, “I’m not human.” Or, “They’re right.”

The internalized trauma of racism is crushing. Day after day, the Black community is denied their lives, art, beauty, voices, stories, truth. Even when we know these racist messages are not true, they have a way of creeping in, suffocating, infiltrating our beliefs.

It cannot be overstated how much the trauma of racism deteriorates a soul. Trauma has a way of saying, “I am what has happened to me.”

I say as a chaplain but also as a human being: I have seen so many kinds of grief, but to believe your skin makes you deficient is one of the saddest, most haunting pains of all. It sticks so hard. It kills. It takes a thousand times more work to restore wholeness than to tear it down.

I will always be on the side of the wounded. I will do all I can to be part of that thousand steps towards wholeness.

For me, to say Black Lives Matter is a starting point to recognize the full worth of Black Lives. In Korean, the phrase Black Lives Matter is “huhg-in-eh seng-myung-un so-joong-hapnida,” which means Black Life Is Precious. I will continue to say Black Lives Matter, but even more, precious and worthy—not just worthy of protecting, but also having inherent worth.

If you are burned out, traumatized, overwhelmed by racist messages and images, please know the truth: you bear the Image of God. Your worth is not in what you’ve done or how you’ve been treated. It may be hard to believe today, but you are loved. I am with you and for you. As much as I love you, the Creator loves you infinitely more.

— J.S.

If You Hurt, I Hurt Too


I never want to politicize, moralize, or spiritualize someone’s pain.

I am always on the side of the wounded. Where there is loss, I am for the bereaved. Where you are hurting, I want to bring healing. Anything less is making us less human and not more.

It would take only a few seconds to consider the other person’s pain and perspective and point of view. That has the power to heal. The only cost to empathy is losing bigotry, self-righteousness, and pride. Empathy is that good.

It should never be on the wounded to explain their pain, defend their injury, or to forgive over and over the injustices that never should’ve happened but keep happening. Even if your hurt is not my hurt: because you’re hurting, I hurt too.

I want to empathize first, to listen first, to grieve first, and to be angry and to weep alongside. Not lecture, lessonize, or minimize. I don’t want to add burdens, nor demand explanations, nor kick you while you’re down. I want to crawl down there with you.

I cannot understand the hasty, vicious speed by which real hurting people are turned into talking points. I don’t mean the platforms for justice. I mean the ones that degrade and deny. I cannot understand the evil scorn and jeering and mockery: there is no honor in desecration, but only violence to the soul. And while I do not believe we must be forced to give our opinion all the time—so often the silence is chilling, and apathy can be the most destructive force of all.

May I never lose sight of the wound and the wounded. May God forgive me for when I wasn’t listening, for not getting it right. Above all, I must grieve. Through tears, prayer, and action, I grieve with you.
— J.S.

#AhmaudArbery

3 True Hospital Stories and What They Taught Me About Grief, Hope, and Unseen Work

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For my live video on my book launch team, I shared three true hospital stories that were “deleted scenes” from my upcoming book. The first story is about a family member who asked for a picture of his dead brother. The second is about a grandmother who refused to die after surviving over a dozen Code Blue resuscitations. (3:06) The third is about a patient who I made an amazing connection with, but the next day something totally changed. (6:30) Also, that is indeed a Bruce Lee shirt. Be blessed and much love, friends. (You can preorder my book, The Voices We Carry, from the link in my bio.) #grief #hope #chaplain #thevoiceswecarry #booklaunch #bookrelease #hospital #mentalhealth #faith #inspiration #truestories #trauma #loss #empathy #connection #jspark [Stories have details changed to maintain privacy.]

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I share three true hospital stories which are “deleted scenes” from my upcoming book, The Voices We Carry.

— J.S.


[Stories have details changed to maintain privacy.]

“God Is In Control,” But Do Something


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s an excuse to be passive.

When I hear “God will provide,” that sounds like, “I don’t want to help.”

When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” it seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.”

While these statements can be helpful truths, they can be said too quickly, and then they’re no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a callous cop-out, and at worst they become abuse fueled by false theology.

This may be harsh, but if you just “leave it up to God” and take no action, then your god is laziness and your god might be you.

No, we should never be controlled by fear or worry. We do need courage, resilience, and wisdom. But to rush to “We’ll be okay” or “It’s not that bad” is to dismiss those who are at ground zero, to overlook loss, to ignore the especially vulnerable. It’s to forget our part: to navigate responsibly, to hold ourselves accountable for us and for each other.

I doubt constantly. I have trouble trusting Him. I worry. And I remember the story of the Red Sea crossing, and I imagine two groups of people. Some of the Israelites stood tall and walked with chins high. But some were on their tippy toes, screaming the whole way. That’s me. I’m a tippy toed screamer. I find it hard to trust, to have faith. Yet grace makes room for us all. Grace carries both the fearless and the frail. Grace empowers us to make a step, even we are we most afraid.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. And if I’m not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news. That compels me to move.
— J.S.

May Our Fears Seek Wisdom


I’d like to think I’m not a fearful person. But I am. I never look like I worry, but I do. A lot.

This week I made the mistake of very publicly bringing up my fears about coronavirus in the workplace. I don’t mind catching the flu, but my wife is pregnant and the flu can adversely affect our baby in utero. I said some uncomfortable things in front of coworkers, when I’m supposed to be the calm voice of a chaplain.

I was not helpful. I probably incited panic and anxiety. I apologized for my behavior. Maybe the fear of being a dad in our current world really got to me. It was still not a good look.

I’m trying to balance the fear we‘re experiencing versus being calm, safe, and rational. I want to validate our anxiety without letting it consume us. I want to be vigilant, but not so on edge that I’m scaring everyone else. I want to say “God is in control,” but also run screaming and lock every window. It’s a tough, strange balance.

We’ve seen where the fear can take us: there’s been multiple racist assaults against Asians, blaming them for the pandemic. We’ve seen misinformation about drinking water and eating garlic and avoiding packages from China. We’ve seen the ugly finger-pointing of political leaders using the panic for vote-bait, promoting xenophobia and catering to the worst leanings of their base. And everyone—including me here—has some take about what to do, how to be, what to say.

I’m trying to stay cool. To be both cautious and optimistic. It’s hard. It’s scary right now. I keep thinking of raising a daughter in this world and how I’m so incapable, unsure, uncertain, lacking the wisdom to say the right thing, to be a pillar when she needs me. I hope I can be strength for her even when I have so little of it in myself.

I’m trying to validate fear without giving into it, to let fear ask questions and seek wisdom and move towards compassionate curiosity, rather than hate or rash decisions. God be with us, who navigates our fears, who hears our worries, who gives us wisdom amidst division, who offers us a peace like no other.
— J.S.

The World Needs Your Anger


Being angry doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It points to something real, something hurt. Rage is often unspeakable grief, the body in defiance of a heinous and hostile intrusion.

We want justice, but many demand it within a narrow definition of coolheaded, reasonable, level-voiced, forgiving, ever patient, neutral “peacefulness” completely without error or passion or volume, within strict suburban parameters meant to feel as safe as the safety that was plundered from us. This is asking me to protect everyone from the pain I suffer by packaging it in a palatable, appealing, articulate platform that informs but never offends, convinces but never convicts, straddles but never stings.

Some anger is wrong. Sometimes it is vengeance. Sometimes pain gets offloaded to hurt others. But other times, we must listen. Sometimes anger and pain are passion and courage. And my guess is that many of us have forgotten the sound of standing up: it sounds messy, loud, boisterous. It’s never clean.

Your voice is important. Don’t halfway your opinion. Don’t back-pedal and soften it up and cater to everyone else. You’ll catch hate anyway. I don’t mean you never say you’re wrong; we’re all wrong, a lot. I mean: be fabulously passionate about what’s right. You’re a drop in this ocean and then you’re gone. Make it count. Stand for something.

— J.S.

To Wait, To Hurt


So my wife and I have been trying to have a child for eight months now. No news yet. I know that eight months is not a long time. I’ve heard it can take years. But—it’s been a little discouraging. Sometimes painful.

I was watching a couple of those cute Disney World videos the other day: a dad plays piano at a Disney hotel while his daughter cheers him on, or a mom takes his daughter dressed up as BB-8 to see BB-8. I love watching that kind of stuff these days. And I didn’t expect to feel a strange, almost fiery ache in my chest. It’s a bit embarrassing. Like vicarious joy and hope and jealousy and wistful delight all mixed up and rolling around inside.

Is that weird? Small? Over the top? I don’t know. It feels crappy, truthfully.
I’m really waiting and wanting to be a dad. I didn’t expect it to hurt this much.

I’ve noticed there isn’t a lot of literature for guys who are waiting. I know this is a much harder role for women, and I don’t mean to compare. But it’s hard to know where to go or who to talk to about it. It’s a compound loneliness, when it feels like no one really cares that you’re lonely.

One thing I’m learning in the process is that I don’t control a thing. Very little, really. Miracles are God’s business. I can’t make that happen. It’s frustrating. Humbling. Exhausting. It’s enough to make me pray and do a little light cursing. That’s the language of waiting.

The one thing I’m holding on to is the old cliché: the waiting isn’t wasted. I’d like to think so, anyway. I’d like to think the waiting means something. That it’s redeemed somehow. Is it? I really hope so.

— J.S.

Grieve Angry


The other week, a shooting took six lives and I thought, “That’s not too bad.” I immediately felt sick. Because this isn’t normal. It isn’t okay. And I don’t want to get numb, desensitized, detached, withdrawn. I don’t ever want to get over the anger and grief of how “normal” this has become—whether it’s thirty, six, or one.

It’s a national habit to look at the death toll, but shootings really destroy lives twice. At the hospital, we regularly receive GSW (gunshot wound) patients through the ER. Many survive. Sometimes, surviving is worse. The trauma of it. The nightmares. To witness such a thing is a lifelong wound. The death tolls are horrific, but the mental and emotional toll is just as destructive. I’ve been up close with GSW victims and families—and I can’t watch the news with neutral disinterest. I can’t watch movie violence the same way. I will never get the smell out of my nostrils. When you sit among people with bullet wounds, you see most political “dialogue” for what it really is: fear, cowardice, pomp, rationalizations, and self-aggrandizing, all which speak past the victims instead of for them. I hope I’m not doing the same thing. Please tell me if I am. Please tell me what I can do.

I don’t know if anything will change. Again. It seems hopeless. But I want to grieve angry. I don’t want to calm down. I want courage. And compassion. And champions who will make waves so that something will change. God, keep us loud. God, give us strength.

J.S.

To Love Is to Fight.


I’m all for love and patience and understanding and compassion —

But there’s also a time to say enough is enough. There’s a time to vent, weep, scream, shake a fist, and to simply be mad. There’s a space when things aren’t okay and the injustice is still a fresh wound and no one is supposed to tell you how to feel. We need to grieve before jumping to commentary and those extra little points of debate and platforms and policy. We need to grasp the magnitude of what happened without rushing to a better place, so we can do the hard work of healing deeply, and to ensure that justice is not forfeited for the sake of politeness. Sometimes love has to be outraged, because it won’t sit down and take anymore of this. Sometimes love has to get up and fight.

— J.S.

Five Husbands.

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

The doctor tells him in one long breath, “Your wife didn’t make it, she’s dead.”

Just like that. Irrevocable, irreversible change. I’ve seen this so many times now, the air suddenly pulled out of the room, a drawstring closed shut around the stomach, doubling over, the floor opened up and the house caving in.

“Can I … can I see her?” he asks the doctor.

The doctor points at me and tells Michael that I can take him back. The doctor leaves, and Michael says, “I can’t yet. Can you wait, chaplain?” I nod, and after some silence, I ask him, “What was your wife like?” and Michael talks for forty-five minutes, starting from their first date, down to the very second that his wife’s eyes went blank and she began seizing and ended up here.

I’m in another room, with a father of two, Felipe, whose wife Melinda is dying of cancer. She’s in her thirties. She fought for three months but that was all the fight in her; she might have a few more days. Felipe is asking if his wife can travel, so she can die with her family in Guatemala. The kids are too young to fully comprehend, but they know something is wrong, and they blink slowly at their mother, who is all lines across greenish skin, clutching a rosary and begging God to see her parents one more time.

“Can I see them?” she asks the doctor.

Another room, with a man named Sam who has just lost his wife and kids in a car accident. Drunk driver, at a stop sign, in the middle of the day. Sam was at home cooking; his wife was picking up their two daughters from school; the car had flipped over twice. The drunk driver is dead; Sam doesn’t even have the option to be angry. Sam was hospitalized because when he heard the news, he instantly had a heart attack. He keeps weeping, panicked breaths, asking to hold my hand because he doesn’t know how he can live through this. He hasn’t seen the bodies of his wife and daughters yet.

“Can I see them?” he asks me.

Continue reading “Five Husbands.”