Why I Joined a Protest



I was asked why I joined a protest.
First: I am 100% behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Do Black lives matter? A resounding yes.

I also believe we can be 100% behind a movement that is not 100% perfect. We can engage without endorsing every single part of it. This has been true for every movement in history.

If the church dismisses a “secular movement” because it’s too “liberal,” the church will remain a windowless tower. It will isolate itself from all streams of healing and from all wounded people. And if the church cannot be the hands and feet of Jesus in these places, then who? What gospel will they hear except a self-affirming superiority?

I’m reminded of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr, who navigated every social-political sphere and led with leaders like Rabbi Abraham Heschel and monk Thich Naht Hanh. As a Christian minister, Dr. King moved in places he may not have endorsed, but that’s how the secular and sacred worked together. No divide, only divine.

What’s sad to me is that “social justice” has been demonized by church leaders. It’s “not real salvation.” So no longer does the world go to the church like they did to Rev. Dr. MLK Jr. If only the church was the bold beacon of hope it ought to be: movements would come to the church and we could lead together. Just imagine. That’s real evangelism.

It has been centuries now since the church was the pioneers of progress, the cutting edge of arts, science, music, education and human liberation. Now: churches are cultural conversion camps, cut off from a world they deem wrong.

Yes, I can uphold my theology in differing places, and more, my theology compels me to them. If your faith is “contaminated” by partnering with movements, what does that say about your faith? If a movement has to be done a “Christian way,” where are you? In the world, not of the world: that is a skill we must re-learn.

So no, I cannot separate myself from secular spaces, scholars, sources. God is moving there when the church won’t. I want to be there. To walk boldly and compassionately as Jesus did among tax collectors and Roman politicians, across all divisions. And I will always be for the wounded, every time. Every single time.
— J.S.

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.

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.]

Myth: “No One Is Born a Racist, They’re Taught Racism”


MYTH: “No one is born a racist, we are taught racism.” So I really wrestle with this one. I get the sentiment: Racist behavior must be cut at the root, or else it’s passed down. Yes, we need to unlearn bad behavior and teach better ones.

But if I went to every single bully in high school who threw punches at me while yelling ch*nk and asked their parents, “Did you teach your child to be racist?”—they would say no. Most of us don’t teach racism. To say we’re “taught racism” implies that if we’re just nicer and look people of color in the eye, then racism is thwarted. The myth is that learning better behavior is enough for equity. But that’s easy mode. And it’s easy to learn that game without real internal change.

When we say “racism is taught,” we might have a comical picture of neo-Nazis or southern racists in rusty trucks openly yelling racial slurs around their kids. So it’s easy to say “I’m not as bad as them” and never once consider ourselves in that cartoonish pool of people.

The truth. Ideas are not always taught, but caught. Ideas are stitches woven into systems, which weave their way into our DNA. Ideas can be learned by absorption, osmosis, by simple exposure, and our atmosphere has an insidious way of becoming the normal in our bones.

In other words, you may not have been “taught racism,” but you and I have been stitched into the fabric of systems that do not act with equity, justice, and accountability. We are not guilty, but we’re responsible.

Yes, where you‘re born is out of your control. The systems and structures are not of your making. But the unawareness of our environment does not disqualify us from participating in that environment. You take on the benefits of your birthplace. Those benefits are not birthrights. They’re only a reminder that no success is self-made.

Others take on the blisters of their birthplace. And if the words of Scripture are true—“if one part suffers, every part suffers with it”—then we must treat this at every level, both inside and on sidewalks. To simply teach good behavior is the bare minimum. The uncomfortable part is to enter in, own our duty, and to listen.

— J.S.

I Am Invisible: No One Ever Believes I’ve Experienced Racism

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It’s hard and uncomfortable to talk about race—but I have to tell you this story. I’m always saddened and surprised at how much people roll their eyes at it. At how much we’re unwilling to hear each other. It’s why I’m always scared to bring it up. When I share I’ve experienced racism, I’ve been called crazy, oversensitive, dramatic, or a liar. “You’re reading into it too much” or “It’s all in your head” or “That doesn’t happen anymore.” Is it always racism? Maybe not. But without confronting ourselves, there’s no hope of healing and accountability. Then our stuff stays hidden and continues to destroy. In this video, I discuss the two most dangerous lies we tell that prevent us from hearing each other. Whether it’s race, gender, mental health, culture, class, or faith: we all get dismissed in some ways. We need to hear each other more, not less. Real compassion is not comfortable, but confronts the injustice that has been ignored. Compassion challenges us to be better. In particular, it seems no one cares about the Asian-American experience at all. When I talk about it, it’s always ghost town. I am invisible. I know my story is not as hard as many others; I’m generally lucky. But it’s still a lonely thing when nobody hears you—especially when no one believes you. My hope is that even if your story isn’t like mine, you would still hear me, and that I would hear you too. #compassion #justice #empathy #prejudice #race #racism #dialogue #injustice #privilege #poc #accountability #hope #asianamerican #asian #asianpacificamericanheritagemonth #koreanamerican #solidarity #iamwithyou

A post shared by J.S. Park (@jspark3000) on


It’s hard and uncomfortable to talk about race—but I have to tell you this story.

I’m always saddened and surprised at how much people roll their eyes at it. At how much we’re unwilling to hear each other. It’s why I’m always scared to bring it up.

When I share I’ve experienced racism, I’ve been called crazy, oversensitive, dramatic, or a liar. “You’re reading into it too much” or “It’s all in your head” or “That doesn’t happen anymore.” Is it always racism? Maybe not. But without confronting ourselves, there’s no hope of healing and accountability. Then our stuff stays hidden and continues to destroy.

In this video, I discuss the two most dangerous lies we tell that prevent us from hearing each other. Whether it’s race, gender, mental health, culture, class, or faith: we all get dismissed in some ways. We need to hear each other more, not less. Real compassion is not comfortable, but confronts the injustice that has been ignored. Compassion challenges us to be better.

In particular, it seems no one cares about the Asian-American experience at all. When I talk about it, it’s always ghost town. I am invisible. I know my story is not as hard as many others; I’m generally lucky. But it’s still a lonely thing when nobody hears you—especially when no one believes you. My hope is that even if your story isn’t like mine, you would still hear me, and that I would hear you too.

[Thank you to Moody Publishers for sharing this video on Instagram.]

My Friend Called Me a Racial Slur: Are They a Racist?

Anonymous asked a question:

If a friend of yours who showed no signs of racism ever just happened to get mad at you about something and called you a racial slur, what would you do?

Hey my friend. That’s terrible that this happened to you, and I’m sorry.

That’s also a very, very big yikes for me.

The short answer here is that your friend is most likely a racist, and it’s a good idea to drop them.

Some words are so charged, violent, and historically poisonous that they should never be spoken, certainly never from a friend you trusted, whether they were angry or not. For me, that would be a red flag, dealbreaker, and burned bridge all in one. I would have an extremely difficult time forgiving, much less trusting, this person again.

Before that sounds too harsh, here’s a story that my friend told me.

Continue reading “My Friend Called Me a Racial Slur: Are They a Racist?”

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

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.

Why I Needed Parasite

The cast and crew of "Parasite," including Yang Jinmo, Han Jin Won, Kwak Sin Ae, Lee Ha Jun, Yang-kwon Moon, Song Kang Ho, Cho Yeo Jeong Lee Sun Kyun, and Bong Joon Ho arrive at the 92nd Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)


I saw Parasite / 기생충 in a packed theater with a diverse crowd. Looking around, I never could’ve imagined a day in the States when such an audience would watch a movie in my language, with my people, telling our stories.

It really meant a lot to me. I have to tell you why.

I remember in middle school when someone assaulted me while yelling “you ch_nk yellow belly.” Someone shoving me in a hallway telling me to go back to where I came from. Multiple times someone would squint their eyes, do their version of an Asian accent, pose at me like Bruce Lee, all while high-fiving each other. Having to endure that scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, being told it was “art.” Someone in my college history class telling me that Korea needed to be nuked, and “it doesn’t matter which one.” I remember when my dad’s business was spray-painted with a swastika. I remember inexplicable rage when some kid yelled “your dad killed my dad in the war,” and his dad picking him up later after he was sent to detention.

Art, music, film, books: these things have the power to take away our fear, our bigotry, our assumptions. They turn masses into individuals. They turn cartoons into real people. For someone like me, I have to prove daily I am a real person. For art to put my story into public consciousness is allowing me more room to breathe, to exist.

A part of me wishes a movie like Parasite could’ve been accepted earlier. Seeing a face like mine on a big screen has an immense affect on how we see each other. But more than that, a good story, like the one in Parasite, makes us more human. Hearing more stories makes us better, more whole, more gracious. We need diverse stories, and good ones.

During the movie, I looked around. Seeing so many faces enraptured by a powerful story, taken in by faces that looked like mine, I wept. Certainly I wept because the movie was incredible. But I wept feeling something I never had before: a kinship with strangers. Humanization. The image of the divine, seen and known.

After the movie ended, we all sat in our seats for a while. Collectively, our breath was taken away. And collectively, we were sharing breath. Maybe I’m making too much of a movie. I suppose it’s a silly thing to weep about. It only tells me how long I have been deprived of such connection. These stories, they’re important to tell.

J.S.


This was posted on my Facebook here and Instagram here.


A Hard Discussion on Race and Racism


I joined a panel discussion about race with several leaders at Crossover Church. We talked about some hard things, including political division, the murder of Botham Jean, and the church’s role in addressing racism.



My parts are around minute 10, 35, and 57. It’s worth watching the whole thing. Whether we agree or disagree, I’m grateful for a church where these discussions are given space to happen.

(You may have never heard my voice before, so I apologize in advance for any expectations blown up.)

God bless friends, and grace be with you.
— J.S.

Stand Against, and Stand For


In sixth grade, I had this friend who was six foot two. He was twelve years old, with wrists the size of my torso. Imagine that: my own personal giant.

He became my voice.

His name was Tripp. I was bullied a lot in sixth grade, but when Tripp was around, nobody tried to clown me. One time, Tripp wrapped his hand around a kid’s head like it was an apple, and no kidding, just like a crane out of heaven, he gently placed the kid on the other side of the hall from me. For weeks, that apple-headed kid had been telling me to go back to China. After the crane incident, Apple-Head never bothered me again.

The thing is, nobody should need a guy like Tripp. We should all get an equal distribution of voice. But that isn’t how it is right now. People get squashed. Silenced. Stuffed in a locker. Told to get on a boat.

Really, I wish everybody had a guy like Tripp who spoke up for them. I wish that nobody needed a guy like Tripp, either. Until then, I’m grateful for the people in the hallway who speak up. Not just online, but in dorms and cafes and churches and check-out lines, when it’s not easy or popular, when it costs something, when no one is looking and when everyone is. I hope to be that guy, too. A crane out of heaven.

— J.S.

Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— 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.””

Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room

Statistically, I’m the least attractive person in the dating scene. Alongside black women, the Asian-American male is considered the most ugly and undesirable person in the room.

Take it from Steve Harvey, who won’t eat what he can’t pronounce:

“‘Excuse me, do you like Asian men?’ No thank you. I don’t even like Chinese food. It don’t stay with you no time. I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.’”

Eddie Huang, creator of the groundbreaking Asian-American sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, responded to Steve Harvey in The New York Times:

“[Every] Asian-American man knows what the dominant culture has to say about us. We count good, we bow well, we are technologically proficient, we’re naturally subordinate, our male anatomy is the size of a thumb drive and we could never in a thousand millenniums be a threat to steal your girl.”

Asian-American men, like me, know the score. That is, we don’t count at all.

Hollywood won’t bank on me. Think: When was the last time you saw an Asian male kiss a non-Asian female in a movie or TV show? Or when was the last time an Asian-American male was the desired person in a romantic comedy? And more specifically, when where they not Kung Fu practitioners or computer geniuses? I can only think of two examples: Steven Yeun as Glenn from The Walking Dead and John Cho as Harold from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. So it takes either a zombie apocalypse or the munchies to see a fully breathing Asian male lead, or a Photoshop campaign #StarringJohnCho for an Asian protagonist with actual thoughts in his head.

It’s so rare to see a three-dimensional Asian male character, with actual hopes and dreams, that Steven Yeun remarks in GQ Magazine:

GQ Magazine: When you look back on your long tenure on The Walking Dead, what makes you proudest?

Steven Yeun: Honestly, the privilege that I had to play an Asian-American character that didn’t have to apologize at all for being Asian, or even acknowledge that he was Asian. Obviously, you’re going to address it. It’s real. It’s a thing. I am Asian, and Glenn is Asian. But I was very honored to be able to play somebody that showed multiple sides, and showed depth, and showed a way to relate to everyone. It was quite an honor, in that regard. This didn’t exist when I was a kid. I didn’t get to see Glenn. I didn’t get to see a fully formed Asian-American person on my television, where you could say, “That dude just belongs here.” Kids, growing up now, can see this show and see a face that they recognize. And go, “Oh my god. That’s my face too.”

Growing up, I never had that, either. I can’t help but think of this scene from the biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, in which Bruce Lee watches the controversial Asian stereotype played by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to a theater filled with derisive laughter. This moment with Bruce Lee is most likely fictional, but the weight of it is not lost on us:

This was a powerful moment for me as a kid, because I grew up with the same sort of mocking laughter, whether it was watching Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with my white neighbors, or being assailed by the Bruce Lee wail in the local grocery store. I knew they were laughing at me, and not with.

Continue reading “Ugly Asian Male: On Being the Least Attractive Guy in the Room”

Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human

My mom and dad came to this country separately over thirty years ago and met in New York City, where they were married; my dad came to the U.S. with sixty dollars in his single pair of pants, and my mom couldn’t speak a word of English.  My dad was a Vietnam War Veteran, 2nd Lieutenant in the R.O.K. Army on the side of the U.S., and the only escaped prisoner of war from the Tet Offensive in 1969.  He’s also a licensed veterinarian and a Grand Master of Tae Kwon Do, a ninth degree black belt, the 54th 9th degree in the world.

Before my parents divorced when I was fourteen, my mom owned a laundromat and a grocery store next door to each other and would run back and forth between them to serve customers; sometimes she took old clothes that people left behind because we were too poor to afford any. My dad owned a martial arts dojo and mopped the entire floor every morning, then taught four classes in the evenings almost all in Korean.  Between the two of them, they worked almost 200 hours per week and slept maybe three hours per night.

One summer, someone spraypainted a swastika on the front wall of the dojo. My dad painted over it, but on those hot humid days, we could still see that Nazi symbol like an angry pulsing scar.

We got a message on our answering machine — maybe the same Nazi artists — who spent a good 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.

When we visited with friends, we felt the invisible walls of cliques and class between us.  We were aliens from another world, just a foreign prop in the hero-story of the Westerner.  I was the token Asian.  When I visit churches, I still am.  Christians feel proud to know me because I meet their diversity quota; my other friends are proud to know me because they can make Asian jokes and explain, “Don’t worry, I have an Asian friend.”

In elementary school, when I first made friends and came over, I would immediately take off my shoes and bow to their parents.  I remember freaking out the first time I saw a fork.  I asked for two sticks to eat my food, and they said, “No, you can stab your food now.”  I still slightly bow to people as a reflex, and I still don’t get forks.

When I meet native Koreans from my own country, they call me kyopo, which is a slang term for misplaced native.  They make fun of my heavy American accent when I try to speak Korean.  They’re surprised I’m taller than them and say, “It must be hormones in the McDonald’s.”  They think I’m arrogant because I watch American TV shows and I have a blog written entirely in English.

I live in two worlds. I do not fully embody either, yet belong to both.

Continue reading “Not Quite Asian, Not Quite American; Fully Human”