Challenge What You Believe


Our convictions can only be as strong as the questions we ask.

I’ve been in places where questions got me shamed, assaulted, and destroyed. Our platforms of social media, church, politics, and campuses might seem open-minded and willing to dialogue, but if you move against the status quo, you’re likely to be called a heretic, sinner, apostate, or ridiculous. Most places will stomp out dissension and cancel you if you mess up a single time. We can play the game of “we are a safe place,” but conflict always shows our true selves.

I’ve been guilty of this, too. I don’t like asking uncomfortable questions, or being challenged with ideas I’ve never heard, or assuming that my precious ideas are too narrow and naive, when really my own ideas have never evolved. I’ve shut down disagreeable opinions not because the content was unsound, but because I was comfortable where I was. God forgive me for covering my ears to a better version of life.

If you’re in a place that won’t ask questions and always reject what you ask, then 1) you might be called to shake the status quo, or 2) it’s time to leave.

I want beliefs that have been strengthened by skepticism, that have gone through the crucible of confrontation, experience, and a choir that doesn’t always echo each other. I want truth that will keep me through darkness. I need a faith full of doubt to make it through the hardest valley. I want resilience born of grit and growth.

— J.S.

The Power of Saying “No”


When you hear about self-care, it’s mostly about resting and treating yourself, and that’s a good thing.

What I didn’t know was that self-care also involves the power of saying no.

The power of saying, “I’m just one person.” The power of saying, “I’m all booked right now.” The power of saying, “You can’t guilt-trip me into giving what I don’t have.” The power, even, of saying no to yourself.

This means knowing your limitations enough not to double-book or make grand promises or to have it all done by the morning. It means setting clear expectations about the kind of work you can and can’t do. It means knowing when to delegate or to start sending out your resume or to leave your phone on another planet. And yes, it means disappointing people. But if they couldn’t hear your no, then they only wanted you for the thing you could do—and in that case, you were always right to say no.

Self-care, really, isn’t just a thing you schedule, but a way to move and be, a rhythm that allows you to give your all without giving all of yourself away. You need a healthy tempo because we need you. We really do.

J.S.

The Only Time a Christian Goes First


When I preach love in a time like this, my words aren’t credible because the church is not. I can’t help but feel the church is always part of the problem. We contributed to this mess.

The church is called to be the safest, most gracious place on the face of the earth. Not perfect, but passionate, with arms open as wide as the cross. I know I’ve fallen short. God help us. God start with me.

— J.S.


I Hope You Will Hear Me


Eventually I’ll say something that you’ll disagree with. I will disappoint you. I’ll come off brash, inconsiderate, ignorant, and misinformed. Your favorite writer or pastor or celebrity will miss an angle or fumble a point or miss the whole thing. You’ll think, “How could I have ever liked this guy?” We then dismiss and demonize based off one sentence, one phrasing, one particular choice of word. I’ve done it, too. You know, farewell forever.

Maybe it’s for a legitimate reason, and they really did go too far. Then farewell, sure. But I wish we could give a little space for a conversation. Even over coffee. It’s possible this person misspoke because they’re just a person and they don’t always get it right. It could be that they need the patience of dialogue to re-examine what they said, instead of the hasty hate-train that offers no fair exchange. It could be they really didn’t know better, or they just needed a nap.

I want your help. I want to know when I’m wrong – but it’s hard to hear what’s right when everyone is yelling. I want the freedom to make mistakes so that I’m not afraid to learn from you. I don’t want to be afraid that you’ll throw things when I don’t phrase things exactly the perfect way. And really, I’m not sure if you would listen to yelling, either. I’d want the same chance you’d want for you, too.

I know there are some non-negotiables that can never be compromised. I cannot say every “side” is equal or that every platform is good. None of us will ever agree on everything. Sometimes we must part ways. And that’s okay. I just don’t want to judge an entire life over a few degrees of difference. We can disagree and still be friends. Even if we must part, I want to become better from our disagreements, to see what I had not seen before, and mostly, to see you. I will hear you.

— J.S.


In Darkness He Rolls the Stone


When I ask if God is good
I see a cross, an empty tomb.
What He writ large in the stars
is writ small for our wounds.
From the sky to my sin
He is re-making us again.
When nothing else is good,
He is the only one who is.
— J.S.

If You Say You Love God


It’s super easy to preach “love your neighbor,” but the loving part is crazy hard. I think most people really believe they’re loving and kind when they have to be, but the second someone disagrees or causes inconvenience or looks at you funny, the love thing can go out the window real quick.

What I usually see online or in church or in politics or in marriages is that unless a person fits an exact specification of beliefs and behaviors and likes and dislikes, that person is cast out of the inner-ring. I’ve spent a lot of terrible energy trying to carve others into my own image, overriding their point of view, always waiting for others to “come around.” That‘s no better than hate.

It seems Jesus said that “hate is murder” because when we only accept the people who match our values, we are disappearing them. We’re essentially saying, “Be like me or you don’t exist. I’d rather you be someone you’re not.” This is hate, and it’s crushing somebody out of existence.

This is especially obvious in social media, when one wrong word gets you canceled. But it’s worse when it comes to religion. That’s attributing a supernatural superiority to hatred. It gives an awful permission to say, “God said it, not me.” Which is cowardly. And if your god always agrees with what you believe and only likes the people you like—that god is the one you made up to justify your bitterness and to boost your ego. It’s a push-button keychain god that does your bidding. It isn’t the God who will challenge you, stretch you, surprise you, and who loves the people you can’t stand.

No, we cannot love all the things that people do. Yes, I believe in accountability and justice and boundaries. But over all, I want to love my neighbor for who they are and not for my version of them. I believe not in who someone should be, but could be. It’s the same way that I believe God loves a guy like me.

J.S.

What I’m About


Discouraged, exhausted, beat down, beat up, clawing and falling, it’s so far, but my God, by God, another inch I crawl.
J.S.

Forgiveness Is Not Friendship


It’s unfair to rush someone into forgiveness. It’s powerful and necessary, but forgiveness is not a one-time moment that magically seals up the wound. It takes a deliberate, daily battle over a lifetime. That occasional angry twitch doesn’t mean you’ve failed at finding peace; it’s only part of the process. Let it happen. It hurts because it meant something. It has to pass through your body, like flushing out poison. No one is allowed to rush your healing, including you. No one can just “get over it.” It’s your pain, your pacing, your tempo. But I do hope to see you on the other side, where there’s freedom. You can take all the time you need, and I’m with you.
J.S.

Loving “Them.”

The nurse told me that the patient Willard had taken a bite out of another nurse. He had swung at one of the doctors and thrown urine at a surgeon. Willard couldn’t walk; he kept demanding to go home. “Get me a wheelchair, I’ll flop in and ride over you people.” The staff kept trying to get him to stay, to get treated, despite his violent non-compliance, because nurses and doctors have the guts to look past that stuff.

The staff called for a chaplain, and I was the lucky one. I walked in and saw the patient had a tattoo of a swastika on his hand enclosed in a heart.

My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spray-painted a red swastika next to the front door of my dad’s business. Though my dad had tried to paint over it, I could still see it on hot summer days, a scar on the wall and a scar in my head, a mad throbbing declaration of all the world’s ugliness dripping in crimson. I still dream about it sometimes, and in the dream I’ll peer down at my wrists, engraved with the same red marks down to the veins.

The patient, Willard, saw me and said, “Thank God, a chaplain, finally someone who can hear me.”

But I didn’t want to hear him. And a part of me also thought, “You deserve this. I hope you never leave. Then you can’t hurt anyone out there.”

He said, “Look, I see your face, I’m not trying to hurt anybody. You get it? I just want to go home. Fetch me a f__ing wheelchair, would you?.”

Willard got louder. He clenched his fists and waved them around. He went into an f-bomb monologue about the staff, “you people,” about the whole dang world.

I had half a mind to leave. I didn’t have to stay. I didn’t want to stay. I kept looking at that swastika. I kept thinking he deserved to be here, to be sick and sorry and helpless.

When Willard stopped talking for a moment, I said the only thing I could think of.

Continue reading “Loving “Them.””

You can do the thing. It starts with another thing.


You can really do the thing. You can really achieve the dream and pursue your goal and find recovery.

But it has to start with one thing. It has to start with letting go of a lot of other things.

Maybe that means your current group of people. Or one person. Or some late night habits. Or the thing you keep throwing money at. Or an ideal version of yourself that’s just impossible.

None of that is easy, I know. I have this habit of starting new stuff and then I quit halfway through. It’s because I look sideways, seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s discouraging. “I could never be that good,” the little voice says. Everyone else seems better. More witty or charming or articulate. I’m missing “it,” you know, the elusive charm they were born with. So I stop doing all the things. “They’re already giving the world what I can barely do myself,” is the voice that keeps me down.

I have to let go of comparison.

I have to let go of some romanticized self.

I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be well received, the fear of silent response, the fear of crickets and tumbleweed.

You can do the thing. It starts with letting go of fears, habits, harmful people, bad advice, even beliefs we once held dear.

You can really, really do the thing. The stuff that hinders can be shed.

— J.S.

What Jesus Says About You


A reminder, dear friend: You are loved.

You might have heard that a million times, but it’s no less true.

You do have a Creator. He is with you. He is bigger than your situation and closer than your deepest hurt. He’s not mad. He is cheering for you and rooting for you this very second. He’s okay about all the things before. He sent His Son for that very reason.

You can put down the blade. You can throw away the pills. You can quit replaying those regrets in your head. You can quit the inner-loop of self-condemnation. You can forget your ex. You can walk away from the porn. You can resolve your conflicts right now. You can sign up to volunteer at that shelter. You can thank your parents for everything. You don’t have to prove your worth to the people you’ve let down. You don’t have to live up to everyone else’s vision for your life. You’re finally, finally free.

You are loved. I am loved.

As much as I love you, dear friend, He loves you infinitely more.

Believe it. Walk in it. Walk with Him.

God is in the business of breathing life into hurting places.

This is what He does, even for the least likely like you and me.

J.S.

I Still Believe the Best.


In the end, you can’t really force someone to do anything, even if it’s for their good.

You can’t force someone to respect your feelings or care about your passions or believe your dreams.
You can’t force someone to believe your side of the story, even when you’re right.
You can’t force an apology.
You can’t force someone to engage in social justice or fight for the poor or to become nuanced in culture and history.
You can’t force growth.
You can’t force someone to show up on time, or even show up at all.

In the end, I’ve learned that people will do whatever they want, even if that means stepping on you or neglecting you or abandoning you or belittling you or choosing others over you. I’ve probably done this as much as it’s been done to me. It’s a terrible cycle that leaves us bitter, suspicious, paranoid, and completely jaded.

I’ve also learned that I don’t care if you don’t care. I have to love anyway. I have to be patient anyway. I have to be jaded to being jaded. Because I don’t want to perpetuate someone else’s cycle of apathy and neglect. I don’t want to be one more rung in the ladder of indifference. I don’t want to be a reactionary pawn.

No, I cannot force anything on you, and I won’t. I can only pour out what I have. Even if you don’t care. Especially if you don’t care. I’ll pour out anyway. In the end, our lives will have been given over to dust. I’d rather mine will have been given over to you.

— J.S.

Turning Point.


Most testimonies have a turning point: “And then I met ___” or “Someone reached out” or “I got this text at the perfect time.” It seems random, but those people and encounters and messages of encouragement happened on purpose. Someone made a choice to reach out, get involved, get near another person’s heartache, and help them for one more step. It was enough to get them moving again. Maybe it was no big deal for the person who reached out. But to the person they helped, it meant everything. It was the turning point. It was the beginning of seeing new light, of finding a new dream, the start of healing. A little bit of your time and wisdom might turn someone’s life around. I’m thankful to those who pressed in and breathed life.
J.S.

Everyone Has a Vision for Your Life


Everyone has a vision for your life. Everyone knows who you ought to be. Everyone has advice, the right answer, the easy fix.

But no one can bear the burden of those expectations. You can’t be enough all the time, not even for yourself.

You will disappoint people. You will disappoint you. It happens. It hurts. And that’s how it goes. The eventualities of life have a way of creeping in, regardless of best efforts and right motives.

You will get crushed by the weight of others’ plans. But you’re not obligated to respond to everyone’s criticism all the time. There’s no pleasing everyone. Some will have already made up their mind about you, no matter how much you sing and dance. Your side of the story won’t always be heard. Your intentions will be negatively filtered and your words shot down at first glance. That’s okay. Criticism is important, but you can’t speak on what you didn’t say. You can only mean what you did say, and mean it well.

Be encouraged, friends. You are doing a good thing. A new thing. By the grace of God we do our best and get up again.
— J.S.

Faith That Burns Slow.


I imagine that when Moses split the Red Sea, there were two groups of people.
The first group was composed of victorious triumphant warriors saying, “In your face, Egyptians! This is our God!” They were pumping their fists and thrusting their spears.

The second group was composed of doubtful, panicking screamers running full speed through whales and plankton.

I’m a Screamer. I’m a cynic. I’m a critic.

I’m a Peter, who can make a good start off the boat, but falls in the water when my eyes wander.

I’m not endorsing a halfway lukewarm faith. I believe God wants us to have a robust, vibrant, thriving relationship with Him. But as for me, I’ll be limping to the finish-line.

I’m more of a Thomas than a Paul. I’m more Martha than Mary. I’m more David than Daniel.

Yet the Warriors and Screamers all made it through.

It’s not easy to have faith the size of a mustard seed. But Jesus promised that this would be enough to move mountains, and I’m learning to be okay with that.

— J.S.

We Wear Casts.


God, forgive me for when I lack empathy,
when I jump to making talking points out of tragedy,
when I forget the pain of community and family,
when my voice is louder than theirs.
— J.S.

Here’s the Truth: Hear the Truth.


If you want any hope of change, freedom, progress, recovery, and growth: you’ll need to confront yourself, too.

The quickest way to not grow is to surround yourself with yes-men, run from rebuke, only read self-affirming bias, and unfollow all disagreement.

I don’t mean we listen to every opinion. Especially not online. I don’t mean we call each other out over the smallest infraction. I mean getting with the one friend who has tears in their eyes, voice shaking, who knows that friendship isn’t all giggles and games, who can say, “You’re better than this.” I still run from it all the time. Hearing the hard stuff is excruciating. But as hard as it is, to admit “I was wrong, I’m sorry, I’m learning, please forgive me and show me” is not the end of the world. It hurts, but not more than the pain of staying ignorant in our ego.

I hope too that we can make space for those who admit they’re wrong and apologize and ask to be further schooled. I hope we can start and finish with grace. Trust and honesty and confession only happens in spaces where we won’t be met with cringing, but embrace.

— J.S.

Strength to Fight.


“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“Amen.”

— A Franciscan blessing

Love Doesn’t Enable, But Empowers.


I fell for the romanticized, destructive idea in both church culture and pop culture that we must constantly “love and forgive and give away,” a sort of martyr-hero syndrome that guilts us into perpetual generosity.

I spent too many years consumed by the “sacrificial radical love” model of Christianity, which required that I pour out more than I had—but it only scooped out my guts and left me bitter and resentful and exhausted.

To love must include truth, wisdom, and boundaries. Sometimes it means distance. It means knowing when to rest and recharge and to embrace our limits. It always means to have grace for yourself, too.

And to love is not enabling, pampering, coddling, or letting someone off the hook—or it wouldn’t really be love at all. There’s a way to help others that really hurts them because it only feeds into their harmful patterns.

For those who have been abused or traumatized: Forgiveness doesn’t mean friendship. No one should ever be rushed into forgiveness, not for the sake of “getting right with God.” Not for trying to look like the “bigger person” or “because it’s the right thing to do.” We need to recognize patterns of unrepentant abuse and gaslighting and manipulative language that will only guilt-trip back into a vicious cycle. We can never mindlessly open the door again on an abusive relationship. You have the right to say “no.”

God does redeem the evil, yes, but God is for the victims, for the abused, for the survivors, too. God is for the exile, the foreigner, the despised, the despondent who crossed the Red Sea. God is for you.

— J.S.

No, You’re Not Persecuted.


There is a particular Christianese language that demonizes “the enemy” and “the infidel,” in which “God is on my side” and “They’re holding me back.”

This triumphalistic self-affirming theology, wrapped up in warfare terms and royalty cliches, cannot stand criticism.

It assumes all disagreement is trolling.

It attempts to say “I have the truth” as if truth must be weaponized to hold over someone’s head.

It breeds yes-men and an insider’s club.

It moralizes its own values based on “who we are not.”

It is an anti-theology that covers deep insecurity with little fleeting boosts of ego.

It attacks the most minor offenses in “secular worldly” culture in order to play victim—when sadly, Christians and truly persecuted groups are killed daily overseas.

I’m guilty of abusing the persecution complex, too. It’s incredibly easy to fall into a dichotomous division between in-groups and out-groups, between my church and your church, my dogma versus yours, to feel important, as if by lots of motion I am really moving. It’s easy for me to write a post like this and presume that I’m above all of it somehow, as if by mere awareness I have it figured out. It’s easier to look certain in our convictions rather than say, “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out,” or, “Can you help me understand?”

In the end, Jesus told us to love our enemies. Yes, them. To them, it’s us. Every person in this discussion needs grace and a generous space. The people who “don’t get it yet” are also you and me. The people who cry “I’m persecuted” need as much grace as you and I do. I pray for me. I pray for you.

— J.S.