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.”

I Held a Swastika.

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

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 had multiple organ failure and he 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.

They called for a chaplain to ask about Willard’s family members, to see if anyone could pick him up when he was discharged. I was the lucky chaplain who took the order.

When I walked in, I immediately noticed the patient had a tattoo of a heart on his hand, near the inner-fold of his thumb, with a swastika in the middle of the heart. The cognitive dissonance was startling. Not “I love mom” or his wife’s name, I thought, with a bit of snark. But hate in your heart. Very subtle.

“He’s one of those, you know, angry old fogeys,” the nurse had whispered right before I walked in. The nurse was a Middle Eastern man, about my age, and I couldn’t imagine the awful things he had to go through with this patient the last few days.

My eyes locked on the swastika first. The symbol held a terrible place in my memory: when I was a kid, someone had spraypainted 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, which are 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 don’t want to hear you, I thought. And a sick 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. It was rather sad to see someone so animated and aggressive while pinned down to a bed, like the blanket had eaten his lower half and he was trying to crawl out. “Come on, I told you people that I wouldn’t hurt nobody. I got a dozen things wrong with me, I’m not a danger to you, I want to go home and to die in peace. You hear me? I’m ready to go home and die.”

Continue reading “I Held a Swastika.”

A Bridge to You and Me, of Purest Stone


This is the Preface for my book Grace Be With You. The Preface is about the gravitational power of story that connects us. The book is a compilation of my stories, encouraging quotes and poems, and everyday encounters from the road to the hospital to cafes and gas stations. Be blessed, dear friends.

There’s an old Star Trek episode where a particular alien species, the Tamarians, can only communicate in images and allegories. As the helpful android, Lt. Commander Data, puts it:

“Their ability to abstract is highly unusual. They seem to communicate through narrative imagery, a reference to the individuals and places which appear in their mytho-historical accounts.”

This strange constraint plays out to amusing fashion throughout the episode, as each party is frustrated by their miscommunication, and the tension nearly boils over into a knife-fight and all-out war (maybe your idea of amusement is different than mine). By the end, one of the Tamarians sacrifices himself in order to create a heroic narrative that both his people and the Federation can understand. It succeeds; this act of nobility becomes the bridge towards peace. The great Captain Picard realizes, “The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication—connection.”

We’re not much different than the Tamarians. We risk the friction of our jagged edges to connect, not merely by formulas or flowcharts, but by a sloppy crawl through our shared, lived-in journey. We crave a common vocabulary beyond the heavy anvils of prose, crafted from imagination and our unified experiences.

Stories contain power because they seem to unveil secrets that have long been muddled, as if we’re unearthing lost royal treasure. But more than that, stories are a connective tissue, bringing us together by the longing and landing of a resolution.

Since a narrative thrust is essentially driven by an unresolved tension, with unassailable obstacles besetting a goal on every side, we discover in them the depth of our courage and cowardice, and we find out how to be. We find what we’re meant to look like.

We find, perhaps unwillingly, that we are not always the heroes, but in need of rescue: because we’re so often the cause of our own tension. And this is what puts us in the same boat, the same battle. The best stories require first an examination of our limitations, and then a cooperation as equals, through a slow-burning realization that we are not opposed to one another, but can reach the same goals with a little spunk and ingenuity. From Star Wars to The Karate Kid to The Lord of the Rings to Up, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Odyssey to a genie in a bottle, these are tales told side-by-side. We find we are fellow travelers, not so different, really, with a universal desire for shalom, a harmony—and we can’t get there alone. Heroes cannot fly solo, and villains are not beyond change.

Stories and symbols have a way of disarming us, too, getting to the inside of the matter with gentle precision. Propositions are a bit like bricks and beams: necessary for the foundation, but soon rigid and inflexible. Narratives and metaphors have a dynamic of growth to them, like seeds pushing through the dirt into the sun, and they give breath. Or maybe, as one theologian said, they are windows that light up the house and give it air. It’s why Nathan the prophet did not approach David with lectures and bullet points—”Three reasons that adultery and murder are bad!”—but instead with the innocent story of a poor man and his ewe lamb, ending on a twist that David could not negotiate. It forced David to rise from the dirt, into light.

Jesus himself spoke in parables with great aplomb, from mustard seeds and millstones to swords and sparrows to wedding feasts and rebel-runaways. Jesus’s disciples often had trouble deciphering his parables, which Jesus seemed to deliberately obscure at times—but ultimately, the parables were pointing to a future work on a cross and in a tomb. His stories pointed to his heart, and his heart sculpted the greatest story of them all: a final sacrifice to bring us peace with God and one another. He spoke of rescuing us, because we could not do that on our own. We were never meant to.

Only Jesus could become our bridge of peace, our shalom. And this kind of love is not merely the royal treasure, but the very purest stone from which all treasures are made.

The following pages are much like rotating the facets of such a jewel, pointing to the pulse of the galaxy-sculptor. These stories and poems and thoughts are chiseled by joy, sorrow, failure—and the great love that has cast a shadow on them all.

My hope is that we meet somewhere between the words, to connect, because I believe this is the truest stuff of life. Stories help us to mesh in this tapestry, that in our overlap, we’d find strength hand in hand. I’m excited. I’ll see you there.

J.S. Park // Grace Be With You




Photo at top by sonlight972, used with permission.

Ghosts in Motion.



I was eleven when I found out my dad had killed his marriage. He drove me to the beach on State Road 60.  The ocean looked like a coloring book.  If I had opened the windows the colors might have spilled inside the car.  I tried to open my window but it didn’t budge; my dad had locked them.  We were sealed inside.

I loved the beach because the world ended at the sea – there were no cities, no people, no rude conversations, no glancing strangers.  For miles there was nothing but sparkling blue water, the orange sun, a gang of seagulls, a banner of clouds across the sky.  In the evening everything was just a silhouette of itself, like lazy ghosts in motion.

We parked somewhere, not quite the beach and not quite the road.  My dad rolled down the windows and all the smells came in.  Salt, tea leaves, clay, and something like the frozen meat section in a grocery store.  My dad pulled the keys out and we just sat there for a while.   The sunlight poured in and I started to sweat in my jeans.

My dad said, This is where your mother said she wouldn’t take me back.

I just nodded.  I was in the backseat, what else could I do.  I looked outside and a seagull was gnawing a piece of pizza.  It probably looked at me but probably not.

He went on, I begged for her, I said I was sorry.  She said it was over.  So I told her it’s better if we die.  He pointed to some spot up the road and said, Right there, I told her we could drive off the bridge together and die.  

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I was in the backseat, there wasn’t much I could do. The seagull outside poked holes in a beer can.  This time I was sure it looked at me.

He said, Remember this spot?  We went fishing here once. You, me, your mom, your brother.  I caught the fish and you counted them.  We were a good team.

I didn’t remember.  I wondered if that made me a bad son.

I wanted to tell him, This is your fault, you know.  You cheated on mom.  You’re never home.  You tell us we’re a terrible family.  You talk about all these dreams and you’ve never accomplished anything.  You’re just an old loser living off past glories that you probably exaggerated to sleep with all those women.  I hope you’re proud of yourself.  I hope you die alone and sick and miserable.

Suddenly my dad punched the steering wheel.  The car horn went off and the seagull outside fell over.  My dad said something but I didn’t understand any of it.  It was yelling probably, or noises, or crying.  I just sank into my seat and flew out of my body, out of the car, over the sand, over the water, into the sun where no one could see me.  I wanted to be one of the ghosts.  I didn’t want to care.

When my dad finished, he started the car again and trundled up the road.  I looked back and the seagull shook its head.  It squawked but I didn’t hear it because the windows were up again.  I tried to remember the time our family went to the beach but it never came to me.  Maybe my dad had made it up; maybe he wanted the lie.

I glanced at my dad but I was staring at a different person.  He had left himself on the beach, another ghost, disappearing with the setting of the sun. But I wanted the fake stories. I wanted the glory days.  I wanted the lie, too.  I wondered if that made me a good son.

— J.S.

The Strangers We Meet On The Way


My car got another flat again, my fourth one this year, and I needed to get towed. My spare was also flat and I was on the side of the interstate with giant trucks flying by. I was pretty bummed out about the whole thing, because financially I’ve hit a rough place and I’ve been dead-sick from a cold since yesterday, the kind with green snot and evil-witch-coughing.

The lady on the phone from roadside service gave me the reference number 5377, and said, “You’re the five-thousand three-hundred seventy-seventh caller today, so you’re not the only one having a bad day.” We both laughed. It was like I totally unclenched after that and I stopped worrying. Not that I want other people to have a bad day, but there is no uncommon struggle. I put my phone away and watched the clouds for a while. I realized I hadn’t looked up at the sky for a long time.

The tow truck driver was with his mom, and his mother was living at a shelter for abused women. The son would take his mom to work on every tow, to keep his mom company. We talked about my upcoming wedding and about being a pastor. Then the son told dirty jokes and his mom and I couldn’t stop laughing; I was honestly embarrassed to laugh so hard at such vulgar jokes. I knew some of them but I didn’t stop him. We got to the car shop and I gave him all the cash I had, ten bucks, and he thanked me like crazy. The mom shouted out, “Best of luck with your wedding” and I waved as big as I could.

I guess bad days can get turned around when good people light it up. Just have to look up sometimes to notice.

— J.S.