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.

What We See Vs. What We Believe


A poem.

There are so many conflicting images. Peaceful protesters lying down in streets, kneeling and pleading, distributing masks and praying and holding signs for justice. Protesters separating instigators and educating witnesses. Then the burning buildings, looting, assaults, the provocateurs, outside agitators, the opportunists. Law enforcement shooting rubber bullets and tear gas, more knees on necks and backs, driving their vehicles through crowds unprovoked, even as crowds shout no. And images of officers and citizens kneeling together, hand in hand, reconciling, trying to understand.

I think it’s too easy to pick one image and make that the whole story.

Here’s what I see.
What I see is rioting and crimes committed, but even more, peaceful protests and people listening.

What I see is the black community disproportionately abused and killed. But even more, I see their deaths expose a coldness, that we’re unmoved and still, the response a dismissal and derision, as if they‘re a subhuman species, second class, their stories replaced with stats, “black on black,” and misplaced facts.

What I see is that the black community is not seen.
What I see are images of riots being weaponized to ignore pain: “What about the fires and looting and riots” in my inbox, and never once, concerned about racism and brutality on their street blocks. Instead it’s “Look at these burning buildings” and I feel them and I agree, and I also want to point to these burning black communities, they’ve been burning already for centuries while we had the luxury of apathy. You see good work undone by riots—but did you see good work undone by your quiet? I see both; I must see the bigger picture; and right now the pain is bigger, the protests are bigger, those are the thousand words in every picture.

If you wave around just the one image, then maybe you’re seeing what you want to see and you’ve looked for what you want to believe.

I see the violence and I condemn the harm. I also see protests and we have to march.

— J.S.

“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.

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

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.

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.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

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. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— 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.””

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.

Condemning Hate Is Not Enough


Condemning hate isn’t enough. That’s the bare minimum. We also need solidarity. Compassion. Calling out. Standing with. Fighting for. Ground level work. Sleeves up. In the dirt. There’s the difficult brutal unpopular risk of getting on the right side of history. In the home. Out there. Over fences, across oceans. Side by side when it isn’t pretty, when no one’s looking, when everyone is, when the wounded lean heavily on our shoulders, when no one cares. That’s the stuff that changes where we’re going.
J.S.

I Don’t Feel Bad for the Bad Guy


[An angry post.]

You know, I’ve dealt with abusive, manipulative people nearly my entire life—and more and more, people want to show “empathy” for the abuser instead of the abused, and we’re too quick to explain away how much suffering that the abuser has actually caused.

One thing the movies get wrong is that they give the abuser some “depth” and “layers” and “multi-dimensionality.” Terrible villains are given backstories to justify their behavior and make them seem like “underdogs” who got dealt a bad hand. While this idea has some merit and it makes good movies, it also creates a harmful narrative where abusive people have a supposedly good reason to be abusive, or external factors are to blame, or you should feel really bad for them.

This completely leaves behind the abused person.

It’s as if abusive behavior can only be redeemed after the abuser sees how much suffering they’ve caused, and if that’s the cost to redeem an abuser, it’s too high of a price. Remorse shouldn’t be born at the expense of trauma.

I can see why the media would “feel bad” for a disgusting rapist and his future, because we’ve become trained in glorifying and empathizing with the bad guy. We offer way too much benefit-of-the-doubt. And yes, some people are just terrible. Not everyone has depth and layers and sad backstories. No, they’re not irredeemable, but we underestimate the detestable capacity for evil and we over-promote self-esteem (perhaps because we then must admit we’re also each capable of the same evil). We use words like “empathy” without also considering boundaries, safety, and trust. Good people get used up because they are fearfully obligated to a morally heightened, hyper-dramatic view of “love,” when it’s really just enabling. And some of us selfishly appear to have empathy to be awarded as outstanding citizens, when there’s neither an ounce of compassion for the abuser nor the abused.

In all this, we force the victim to take the “higher ground.” We trivialize and simplify the victim’s role to be the “bigger person” all the time.

But if we only place the impetus on the victim to forgive, to rise up, to heal, and to reconcile, then we’re not any better than the abuser. Doesn’t the victim have to be redeemed, too, from the pain that was caused? The abuser can certainly feel remorse, but are we going to ignore the remorse that the victim feels from both their pain and “blame”? The abuser can feel bad, but are we going to ignore how awful the victim feels from the actual wound?

It seems unfair to appeal to both sides when nothing about abuse is equal, and it must be on the abuser to pay for their crimes, to make reparations, and to be restricted unless they can prove otherwise that they can be trusted again.

I always want to hear “both sides of the story,” but in cases of obvious abuse, I’m not forfeiting justice out of some misguided sense of courtesy. Justice was already forfeited by the abuse. I must stand staunchly and stubbornly with the victim, and to do that, I must sit with them first, in their pain, not at my tempo but theirs, and to look evil in the eye with courage, unflinching at excuses and rationalizations, and to offer grace when it is no longer foolish, by the plumb line of wisdom and trust.
J.S.

Justice and Dignity for Ryo Oyamada

image


Ryo Oyamada, a 24 year old student from Japan, was struck and killed by an NYPD vehicle in a hit & run.  Witnesses say the police car had no lights or sirens on and was going over 70 mph.  The released footage by NYPD was proven to be heavily altered in a cover-up, showing “lights” on the vehicle, when compared to footage from the NY Housing Authority on the same street with the same timestamp.

On a personal note: I know that this will probably not be shared or reblogged very much, because Asians are not very prominent in American culture.  I understand this, because Asians (like me) are partially at fault for being so passive.  But I am begging you to please consider signing this petition out of human decency.  Ryo was just a student walking home, then struck by a nearly silent police cruiser going at excess speed, and the NYPD covered it up.

Here is the side-by-side comparison of the released video footage, including updates from the case.  This article contains a link to a graphic video moments after the crash, showing the body of Ryo Oyamada and NY citizens yelling at the police.  Please advise, it is highly disturbing. 

And the following is an excerpt from the petition, which as of this writing only has 286 signatures.


This was originally posted on my Tumblr, and the post has now gone viral. It’s at over 33,000 notes and there are nearly 7000 signatures for the petition.


*Update* 8/28/14 – The petition has almost 12,000 signatures! Peter Chin, the one who started the petition, has also made an update on the petition page.


*Update* 9/8/14 – Over 66,000 signatures! Please keep it going!



God Is A God of Wrath, Justice, and Holiness: Because He Loves Us.


Hello beloved friends!

This is a message about Heaven, Hell, and the Wrath of God.  It was a tough one.  The message is titled: God Is A God of Wrath, Justice, and Holiness: Because He Loves Us.

Honestly, I love being the voice of encouragement, but I find it extremely difficult to talk about the hard parts of the Bible.  Because I want people to like me.  But the most loving thing I can do is tell the whole truth even when it hurts.  At times my voice is shaking and it was uncomfortable for both me and my church.  I can only hope I balanced both truth and grace.

Stream here or download directly here.

To stream other podcasts, click here.

Be blessed and love y’all …!





— J

Quick To Fight, Quick To Forgive



When tragedy occurs, we are often too quick to fight or too quick to forgive.

When we are hasty to fight, we allow rage to blind our vision.  This is understandable, but unchecked will lead to bloodlust and xenophobia and too many assumptions of the facts. 

When we jump to forgiveness, we are trying to free our hearts of bitterness.  This is understandable, but unchecked will lead to a bypass of justice and become insensitive to the hurting.

There’s a time to be angry, to shake a fist, to attack evil and defend the weak.  It’s right to hate injustice.

There’s also a time to extend pardon, to pray for enemies, to hope for better and wipe the slate clean.  It’s how we rebuild for tomorrow.

God will finish this story both ways.  We don’t need to force one on the other.  If we try: we will forfeit both.  Only God can hold this equally in tension, and only He is righteously infuriated with a tender grace.

One day, this broken world will be made right.  God will unroll His love and justice on a people waiting for both, and the things that don’t make sense will be answered somehow. 

Until then: we fight.  Until then: we forgive.


— J.S.