When Do Politics Decide Friendship?


lovelyishe asked a question:

 What is your opinion on the stance that you should end a friendship because of differing political opinions? Is there a time when you believe it is best to drift apart from them or no?

Hey dear friend, this is certainly a difficult, relevant question today, as it seems political differences more than ever are not merely a disagreement of opinions, but becoming an aggressively different opinion of human value, with all kinds of dangerous implications.

I’m fortunate and blessed to have friends with a wide range of political beliefs who are open to discourse or even changing their minds. Not every person on the opposite side of politics acts like the caricatures you’ve seen online. There are many, many thoughtful people across the spectrum that do not fall easily into our biased categories.

My concern is not that everyone has to agree a particular way. My major concern is that our beliefs have sound reasons behind them. When I hear the stories of enlisted soldiers, military veterans, the mentally ill, the desperately poor, victims of racism, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates, immigrants (like my parents), and abuse survivors, I can begin to see why their experiences have shaped their positions on specific issues. The more stories I hear, the more I can understand. I can become a student instead of a critic. I can more easily reach across the aisle, not necessarily to change minds, but to build bridges where our stories are respected in the overlap.

Of course, this bridge-building cannot happen with everyone. Sometimes a person’s politics are so explosive and divisive that it seems they only want to watch the world burn (or as it’s said, it’s a zero-sum game). There really are people who cannot be engaged with, no matter how gracious we approach. But unlike the terrible circus we see online, on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, most people are way more three-dimensional than that. It’s only ever a last, last, last resort that I would ever break off a friendship because of politics.

Continue reading “When Do Politics Decide Friendship?”

Tell Me Your Story.

I was nearly an abortion. I was an unplanned accident, born out of wedlock, and the one before me was aborted.

I was born to immigrant parents, who naturalized and met in New York. They started with nothing, working as many as 100 hours per week, slowly and painfully saving money until they could open their own businesses. They believed this was a great country, and still do. My father served alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and he is a proud veteran of this nation.

Many of us have these sorts of stories; they inform who we are, what we believe, and what we fight for, and so we are a myriad of uniquely shaped stories, each giving rise to a different voice in the world.

The really tragic thing is when we superimpose a particular idea on someone without attempting to hear their story first, and their voice is then stamped and smothered. We can too quickly assume a person is only their picket sign, their political party, their social media feed, or a cartoonish, dogmatic, one-dimensional archetype sensationalized by a grab-bag of Hollywood images. We predict what they might or might not believe without asking, without listening, without understanding.

A person’s voice is always built from their stories, their experiences, their very real pains, and it’s this blend of blisters that has brought them to stand on their particular hill. It is a hill, whether rightly or wrongly, that has been reached by a stream of forces that no two individuals can fully comprehend in each other.

So we can only try. Patiently, graciously: to hear their story on the hill.

Continue reading “Tell Me Your Story.”

Top 16 Posts of 2016

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Here are the Top 16 Most Viral Posts of 2016 from my blog, ranging from topics such as porn addiction, feminism, neo-Nazis, being at the bedside of death, and the time my wife and I broke up for six months.


16) The Christian Life Isn’t a One-Shot Deal, But a Walk Painted by Steps

The Christian walk isn’t a “one chance and it’s over,” but a life-long mosaic.


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15) The Irretrievable Vacuum of Unhappily Never After.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out; the prayers go unanswered; we won’t know why.


14) I’m Not Okay. Is That Okay?

I need to know I can tell you everything.


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13) How Do You Keep Believing This Jesus Bulls__t?

I’m often asked how I keep believing, and I can’t believe that I keep believing.


12) A Few Quick Things About Forgiveness: What It Is and What It’s Not

Seven truths and myths about forgiveness.


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11) Movies That Christians Should Watch: The Truman Show

In my movie analysis series, I go over the spiritual and cultural themes of The Truman Show, a deeply tragic comedy about opportunism and freedom.


10) I Hate My Life and Myself and I Want to Die: What Do I Do?

The reality is, our dreams get crushed, and people will leave or cheat or abuse us, and our perseverance doesn’t always pay off. Most of us are not prepared for how harsh and brutal that life can be, because no one gives the hard talk about what it’s really like.


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9) “4 Unexpected Things That Happen When You Quit Porn”

An article I wrote for X3Church about four incredible things that happen when you quit pornography.
(My book on quitting porn is here.)


8) Breaking Up and Getting Back Together: About Me and My Wife

My wife and I had a six-month break-up. We needed it.


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7) Five Husbands

On a whirlwind day at the hospital, I visit five husbands who have lost their spouses.
(My other chaplain stories are here.)


6) What The Bible Talks About When It Talks About Women: A Mega-Post on Those Troubling “Anti-Women” Bible Verses

Contrary to pop opinion, the Bible is one of the most, if not the most, pro-women document in history.


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5) She Stole My Shoes: What Being the “Other Guy” with a Cheater Taught Me About Loneliness and Lasting Love.

A girl gets mad at her boyfriend and tries to cheat with me, and things only get worse from there.


4) You Won’t Like This But I Hope You Hear Me

No one likes to hear the hard truth about themselves: but without it, we will never grow, never heal, never go.


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3) I Held a Swastika

At the hospital, I visit a patient who tried to bite a nurse and threw urine at a surgeon, and happens to have a tattoo of a swastika.


2) 5 Kinds of Romanticized Crushes That Will Mess You Up

When “romantic feelings” overtake you, here’s a little guide to see where that goes.


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1) 15 Things I’ve Learned Not to Say at the Hospital

My work as a hospital chaplain has helped me to know what not to say to patients and the hurting.


The Worst of Me, the Best of Me.

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I believe people are worse than we think.

I believe people are better than we think.

As a Christian, I’m both a pessimist and an optimist at the same time.

I’m painfully aware that we are capable of the worst sorts of evil, and worse, that we too easily turn a blind eye to the real grief of others. Many of us are so sheltered that we deny how deep such depravity runs in our veins. We laugh it off, we whistle past the graveyard, we gloss over the wounded. I’m pessimistic because I see how awful we can be.

I’m also painfully aware that we can be manipulated into thinking people are one-dimensional cartoon caricatures, so much that we become cynical and jaded over the possibility of change. Our very real fears are often exaggerated by a binary social narrative that has us ravenous for blood. We forget that each of us do have hopes and dreams and passions that overlap and interweave. I’m optimistic because I see how harmonious we can be.

I’m hopeful that the best of us, within us and among us, can build bridges through open scars and new stories through broken hearts. That we can give a voice to our uncertainty. That we are on hand one not extremely dismissive, and on the other hand not completely nihilistic. That we validate each other’s concerns and lean into our very real wounds, while not buying into the back-and-forth backlash of answering hurt with hurt.

I am holding space for our fears.
I am holding space for our hopes.
I’m a cynic and a critic.
I’m a believer and I’m with you.
Will you be with me, too?
J.S.


Photo by Image Catalog, CC BY PDM

Seven Questions to Ask Before Voting


Some questions to ask ourselves before voting:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.S.


Photo by Saint Julian, CC BY-ND 2.0

How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?

Anonymous asked a question:

How can we not judge others? What if they are doing something wrong and I wanna correct them? Does that mean I “judged” them? What if I categorized their action as a sin? Still “judged” them?

Hey dear friend, I believe this is one of those myths that needs to be cleared up with a big dose of nuance and balance.

If you ask most people about the general message of the Bible, we might say, “Love everybody” or “Don’t judge or you’ll be judged!” And those are true. The problem is: that’s way too simplified for our human condition. The Bible also offers many extra layers for us, because we’re all squishy fragile beings with three lb. brains that need more than a sloppy idea of “love” and “don’t judge.”

Love includes telling the truth (Ephesians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 13:6). It includes accountability, wisdom, boundaries, and healthy exchange (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:12-13, 1 Cor 6:19-20). We’re called to be as pure as doves but as wise as snakes (Matthew 10:16). Love doesn’t mean we let people off the hook, and there are plenty of examples where Bible figures spoke up at the risk of death: Esther, Nathan, Micaiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, and John the Baptist, who was beheaded for it. And saying “Don’t judge” is often a hidden ploy that really means, “Don’t judge me because I want to be selfish and destructive without your finger-wagging nagging.”

The famous passage on judging, Matthew 7, actually says:

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

That final verse is important. Paraphrased, it says: First look at yourself, and then you can actually see someone else.

In other words, there’s actually a way to judge someone that isn’t a passive-aggressive, flesh-driven, smug, backhanded superiority, but a sincere effort to see the best in someone when they’re slipping up. It necessarily starts with looking at ourselves first. Am I judging this person out of my own need to win? To just get things off my chest? To just tell them off? To let them have it?

Continue reading “How Can We “Judge Not”? What About Calling Others Out?”

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

Anonymous asked a question:

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

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

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

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

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

Who I’m Voting For.


I was asked about my politics. About who I’m voting for.

I don’t know who I’m voting for, but I know who I’m hoping for.

I’m hoping for a candidate who won’t use easy buzzwords and one-liners to pander to a party, who calls out who we should be, and calls us to who we could be.

I’m hoping for a candidate who actually cares, from-the-pit-of-their-stomach until their voice shakes, for black lives and cops’ lives, for teachers’ lives and adopted lives, for lives outside the four lines of a party line; for the least of these, for the working class and freshmen class and aristocrats, for shamed and blamed victims in universities; for the mentally ill, the fatherless, the lone veteran, and refugees; for majorities and minorities, those in Wall Street and on the streets, for those in need and those who lead, for the Constitution and spiritual liberties: not to accuse one to lift up the other, but to raise up without dichotomies, without looking for exceptions and squeezing into our isolated categories.

I’m hoping for a candidate who doesn’t crudely appeal to the entitled or the corporations, who doesn’t ride on young votes or legacy votes or angry votes or religious votes, who doesn’t tickle the little racist in all of us, who can pull together a unified diversity and a diversified unity, without demonizing or cartoon-villainizing a caricature of the “other side,” who reaches across the divide but without compromise.

I’m hoping for a candidate who listens more than talks, who hands the microphone across the stand, who questions more than lectures, who doesn’t condescend but descends where I am.

I’m hoping for a candidate who isn’t poaching for my vote by the end results of a focus group, who might disagree with me but still tells me the total truth.

I’m hoping for a candidate who won’t play zero sum, who won’t falsely promise a full pocket by reaching into my other one.

What I’m hoping for is impossible and illogical, and I remain cynical. I might as well be talking about Jesus, and look what they did to him: his cross became his pedestal.

I’m probably asking for too much — but maybe we haven’t been asking for enough: because enough would be someone who had the guts to say, “It’s not them or you, it’s them with us.”

Because who I’m voting for won’t matter

unless we figure out what matters.

I got a hope bigger than politics and polls,

and that’s the hope that we know there’s better and more.

Call me an idealist, or naive, or romantic, or say I’m avoiding the question: but if we can’t relinquish our verbal weapons, we’ll have nothing left past the aftermath of an election.

And really, all these changes that I want to see,

it doesn’t start with a vote, but a wild hope in we.

These changes, really,

they have to start with me.

All this starts

with you and me.

J.S.

The Revised Edition of “What The Church Won’t Talk About”


My first published book What The Church Won’t Talk About has turned a year old, and for its anniversary I’ve made a revised second edition with over 16,000 words of new content, plus a new cover. The paperback is here and the ebook is here!

The Foreword is by the amazing T.B. LaBerge and the updates include topics like marriage, ministry, social media, race, career, and fighting depression. The first edition is still available here.

The rest of my books are here.
Be immensely blessed and love y’all!
— J.S.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Rocked By Grace, Dear Friends

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Love y’all and may you be totally rocked by His wonderful wild grace!

My books are on Amazon for less than nine dollars and the e-books are four!

What The Church Won’t Talk About

The Christianese Dating Culture

– J.S.


Pics Of My Book From All Over

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Pictures of my book from friends all over! From:

Eric Choi in Chicago, Illinois

Deb Simon in Cadillac, Michigan

Alexa Rae in Long Island, New York

Chan-Woo Park at UF in Gainesville, Florida

One of my mentors, Pastor Jake English in Lutz, FL

The book is on Amazon in both paperback and e-book, for sale here!
If you got the paperback, the e-book drops to 1.99. Be blessed and love y’all 🙂

— J.S.


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


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

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

Please subscribe to my channel and love y’all!

— J.S.


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Crazy Blessed: Thank You, Dear Friends.

Best Seller Hot Release Devotionals

On the Amazon Christian Kindle List for Devotionals.



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My friend Caleb sent this to me. Honored and humbled to be next to the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who I also quoted in my book.



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My wonderful friend Lauren from the blog Yesdarlingido sent me this to celebrate the book release.



— J.S.

Get the e-book on Amazon here!

And now in paperback here!


Triumphalist Self-Affirming Theology: “God Is On My Side, So Screw Everyone Else!”

A lot of times I get this crazy table-flipping empowerment from Christian blogs and sermons that tell me “I’m above all this” and “You go accept yourself” and “Forget what anyone else thinks” and “They’re holding you back” and “Screw the haters!” — when underneath there’s an insidious hidden language that’s really saying, “You are God’s favorite and everyone else is just against you.”

This sort of bizarre, cult-like, categorical thinking always appeals to my flesh, and I fall for it.

I suppose I can understand it, because certainly there are a lot of haters and we’d be wise to filter out false voices.  But I think we’re often too scared to hear criticism, too lazy to discern what is right, and too prideful to consider when we’re wrong — so we toss out any “opposition” and continually affirm ourselves as the most important person in the room.  We use words like “enemy” and “strongholds” and “negativity” when just maybe God is actually trying to rebuke us from serious error.

All this egotistical theology is disguised as inspiration and it works for a few seconds. But the end result is a self-applauding, me-versus-you, superiority complex that shuts down any disagreements or honest questions.  I’ve hung out with groups like this, and I want to be gracious here: but it was always disgusting. 

Maybe I’m undermining my own point by saying so, but I really just hurt for them.  They could not see the destructive divisions they were causing.  If a sermon wasn’t up to par, then instant mockery.  If a Christian’s faith looked different at all, then immediate ridicule.  If it was a megachurch, then constant hate. 

Continue reading “Triumphalist Self-Affirming Theology: “God Is On My Side, So Screw Everyone Else!””

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

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

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

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

Is this really the only dang way to communicate?

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

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

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

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

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

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