We Have Always Had a Voice: No One Is Voiceless


Who will tell your story?

In community college, I had an American History professor who got to the chapter Asian-American History. He grabbed the whole chapter with two fingers, flipped them, and said, “We’re skipping this. It’s a small chunk, anyway.” Everyone in class turned to the back to look at me. I said nothing. I stayed in my place.

In the same class, a student said, “We need to drop a nuke on South Korea, get rid of those communists.” I said, “Do you mean North Korea?” She replied, “It’s the same thing. Nuke them all.”

In third grade a kid named Danny ran by in the playground and punched me in the face. He went to a corner and started meditating like he was a ninja. He made whooping noises while chopping the air.

I was embarrassed to bring my bulgogi and kimchi to school. The smell brought out howls and hisses. I’d beg my mom for anything else. And that was the start of a dedicated measure to conformity. Even if I did not say it with my mouth, I said it with my heart: I began to hate my own skin. I wanted badly to be white. I am ashamed to tell you how ashamed I was.

I became a chameleon with the skin of a mirror. I fed the vanity of others, stoking their flames, crafting a personality out of the person in front of me, from bestsellers and banter and every hit show. Always nodding. I shrank myself so others could feel large.

My voice was strangled. In a place of manic conformity, where one wrong move could make others cold or “not one of the good ones”—What else could I have done? But fall in line? Fold in half? Forfeit myself so others were comfortable?

But always, I had a voice.
The one God gave and entrusted: it is mine.
They can take your pen and your microphone, they can tape your mouth to silence you:
but no, they cannot take your voice.
They cannot tell your story.
It is yours.

I see my baby daughter who is like her mother, other times like me. We laugh at how similar our daughter is to both of us. And then there’s this unique part of her. Not like me or my wife. That’s my daughter’s. It is hers. Her God-given voice. My prayer is that she can live fully into who she is. My hope is for her world to never ask her anything else.

— J.S.

We Are the Ones Who Will Be Named


Ryo Oyamada.

In 2013, Ryo Oyamada, a 24 year old student from Japan, was killed in a hit and run by an NYPD vehicle. The police car, according to witnesses, did not have its siren or lights on and was going 70 mph. The footage released by the NYPD showed the vehicles’s light were on, but this footage was proven to be altered—lights were apparently added to the vehicle.

I spoke about this in 2014, when it was finally covered in the news. I posted it on Tumblr, and to my surprise it gained almost 75,000 likes and reblogs. A petition to investigate the cover-up garnered almost 120,000 signatures. Finally, four years after Ryo was killed, after frustrating court proceedings, the family reluctantly took a settlement for half a million dollars.

There were vigils and rallies. Many did try to advocate for him and his family. But accountability? It’s as if he never existed.

Someone could argue that the murder of Ryo Oyamada was not a hate crime. But every subsequent action, from the cover-up to court battles to public silence to a meager settlement, is a failure at every level. Social, systemic, structural, relational. Forces both evil and complacent acted to erase Ryo from existence.

Why was his name not widely chanted? Was it too hard to pronounce? Too easy to think, “Just a foreigner from Japan”? How much was this family worn down to accept 0.00004% of the NYPD’s 11 billion dollar yearly budget?

Anti-Asian racism might be born in the heart, but it is woven into the system until it weaves its way into our DNA. We have been made to believe we deserve less, need less, are less. Asian-Americans and other POC may believe we are silent, but no. We have been silenced. We have a voice. It is our microphones that have been taken. Every single narrative pushed forth from pop culture to church culture to the dinner table is that we do not have a name. But we do. I do.

Names. Hyun Jung Kim. Soon Chung Park. Xiaojie Tan. Sun Cha Kim. Yong Yue. Daoyou Feng. Delaina Ashley Yuan. Paul Andre Michels.

I cannot read their names without weeping.
They have names.
You have a name.
I have a name.
We are the ones who will be named.
— J.S.

Hear Us, See Us, Know Us


Last summer during the protests, my friend told me:

“It feels like they won’t stop killing us until we start killing them.”

He was trying to express his feelings of helplessness and rage. The sheer insanity of all he was seeing and experiencing. The fatigue of wanting to do more, but already working twice as hard to be half as far. And even if I didn’t completely understand it then, I hurt so badly for my friend. When I protested, I walked for him. For so many—too many—I walked for those who felt what he felt.

I understand that feeling a little more these days. The stomach-sick, catch-your-throat, feverish, fist-clenching disbelief. The urge to shout and throw things, but somehow it is wrong to fight for our lives, so we must only be polite to survive.

To see a body like yours, like mine, brutalized over and over again, then told it was your fault, what were they even doing there, a million more where you came from—but let me eat your food, watch your movies, wear your robes, I’ll tell you about my Asian sister-in-law, let me say hello in your language to impress you, let me tell you about the Vietnam War and the Korean War and my time stationed in Japan, let me tell you how much I love kimchi and bulgogi, I love the K-Pop on Jimmy Fallon or was it Kimmel, make me fried rice some day, your English is so good by the way, and your baby daughter has the most interesting eyes, but tell me about your pain and I will tell you it’s not real, it happens to everyone anyway, tell us at this panel and Q&A, but we only have half an hour today, you have no history or future or feelings of your own, you are my decoration and my proof of diversity, you are the authority on all eastern culture so tell me your story and pronounce your name but leave out all your hopes and pain.

All I feel is rage.
This grief is only the surface.
I am enraged.
For the love of God,
see us,
hear us.

— J.S.

My Voice Was Taken


These last few week I’ve been reading about the many assaults against Asian-Americans, and I was hit with a lightning bolt of a memory I had nearly forgotten.

It is my very first memory. I was four on my first day of preschool. The only Asian in class. I didn’t speak English. When the teacher found out, she forced me to sit in the corner all day. She told me not to talk or turn around. I wept the entire day.

My mother, when she picked me up, cussed out the teacher and switched me to another school. But it was too late. A year or two later, as I learned English, I lost much of my Korean. The trauma destroyed my native language. My tongue had been burned of its millennia of heritage in my still-forming mouth.

To this day I can still understand Korean just enough, but when I try to speak I get tongue-tied. A block. It is apparent why. My voice was strangled. A teacher failed her “non-compliant” student. A system allowed racist violence against a child. A teacher did not understand she had a non-English-speaking American in her class, and instead of including him with even the smallest gesture, simply cut him off in a corner. The teacher was a cog in a system not funded with resources to equip their educators. That child never had a chance.

Our voices are still strangled. When I am yelled at violently in traffic because “Asian driver.” Spoken very slowly to by a cashier. Spoken over constantly in meetings. When people I supervise don’t take me seriously because they are not used to an Asian in the lead. When Asian jokes are told with zero hesitation. When people who look like my father go on a walk and are killed.

I realize I am lucky. My experiences are not as bad as others. My pain though, like any pain, is still pain. And I am not tougher for what I have gone through. I was made less. I was stripped of my home tongue. But no: I will not be stripped of my voice. It will not be taken. We each have a voice, gifted by God, just the one we are given. You have a song and it must break free. You have a microphone to pass to a young uncertain child, that they may sing too. Your voice. Speak. Your voice will carry you.
— J.S.

I Am Invisible: Will You See Us?


With the recent hate crimes against Asian-Americans, I am reminded again I am invisible.

When I was a boy, someone had spray-painted a swastika on my father’s dojo. My dad painted over it, but on hot humid days we could still see that Nazi symbol like a pulsing writhing scar.

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

In middle school I remember being assaulted, shoved around, called “ch-nk yellow belly,” having fries thrown at me during lunch (I sat alone) which were drenched in ketchup, some kid yelling “your dad killed my dad in the war” and then I watched his dad pick him up from detention.

At weddings, funerals, leadership meetings, conferences, I am often the only Asian. And I am invisible. I have literally sat in rooms before where I speak and no one looks my direction. Not even glances. I once called my wife in a dramatic panic, asking, “Do I exist?” And she knew what I meant. The invisibility.

I could tell you a hundred stories like this, and a hundred more. I have. And, well—no one hears. Or remembers. I know my experiences pale in comparison to racist violent acts done to so many others. I only wish I was heard. Seen.

A couple years ago I was a guest at a panel where we discussed race. I shared how I felt invisible. Afterwards, a wonderful Black woman approached me with tears in her eyes, hugged me and said, “I see you. I see you. God sees you.” Over and over, she whispered, “I see you.” And I was so moved, I wept with her. “I see you.”

I still hear her. Thinking of it now, I still weep. For a moment, at least, I was seen. We saw each other. We have so much work to do—but that day, that was enough for me. I was seen. To see is to make visible.

— J.S.

It’s Bad News and Good News: It’s Not All Up to You


Culture breakdown.

There’s a philosophical principle in South Korea called Hongik-Ingan (홍익인간), the devotion to benefit all of humanity. It’s a good thing, but it also has some very dark implications.

Basically, many Koreans are told that if their life doesn’t measure up to a surplus benefit, they might as well take their own lives. In other words, always contribute and never consume—or die.

The upside is that Koreans (and easterners in general) have a remarkable work ethic. We work crazy hard. But the downside is that if any of us encounter failure, disaster, or even imperfection, we immediately fall into an abyss of worthlessness.

I’m convinced this is one of the reasons why South Korea has the tenth highest suicide rate in the world.

The westernized philosophy of American Exceptionalism is not a lot different than 홍익인간. You see it in hustle-porn podcasts and bootstraps literature: “Believe it, dream it, achieve it, ”—but with the hidden clause, “And if you can’t, it’s all your fault. Why can’t you just …?” The eastern judgment is based on how others see you, but the western judgment is based on how you see you. It’s the same problem wrapped in different coats.


The overarching message: If you fail, you’re somehow no good. If you can’t beat this, it’s your problem. If you haven’t succeeded, it’s on you. Bigger, faster, more, or you are literally smaller, slower, less.

So when it comes to mental health, racial trauma, chronic illness, problems in the larger system—all of these are considered “excuses.”

Both the east and west are brutally unforgiving to those in uncontrollable circumstances. “Maybe you’re depressed because you’re not trying hard enough. You’re homeless because you didn’t do your homework in high school. You got abused because you were asking for it. You’re always sick because you don’t have faith. That wasn’t racism, you just weren’t acting right.”

These shaming statements revolve on the same terrible axis: that when life is bad, you are bad, and that you attracted the terror to yourself. We believe this because it fits a logical worldview. But it is not a rational one.


Here’s what I know. Your goodness absolutely does not hinge on what happens to you. There is no 1:1 ratio of your value and your life, of your effort versus outcome, no matter how someone got here. And no one ever became successful by themselves; no one is a self-made person. So it is also true that no one has ever totally failed themselves.

If it were all on you: every rainstorm would be your fault, every disaster would be your doing, winning the lottery makes you a saint, and being Jeff Bezos makes you god. Which, of course, is straight up lunacy.

Sometimes the environment or system or leaders or our own bodies were hostile, and so we never stood a chance. Unfortunately our world is not always kind to those “lesser” because we see it as their fault, therefore they’re not given an opportunity, which only reinforces a vicious cycle. You and I simply do not get better by being told, “Hey it’s entirely your fault, so good luck.”

Yes, I believe in both personal responsibility and interdependent community. We must make wise choices. I’m proud of much of my culture and how strong we are. But our choices can be limited by the mechanisms that surround us. We can always choose, but the world often determines how far we move.


All our philosophies may have many strengths, but they are built on a lie: that somehow it’s all up to you. The truth? It never was. At times the world around you has failed you. And sometimes you need help, and you won’t be able to contribute for a time because you need others to support you. And it’s okay to ask for that.

It must not be shameful to ask for charity. Any culture that makes this shameful is in itself a shameful culture that must be dismantled. You and I need help. We need each other. We need the gift of grace, a God-given help outside ourselves. We need to be okay to fail. And that does not make you less. The best of us emerges when we find where we need help.

My hope is that my daughter knows: your worth never hinges on your work. Sometimes life is just hard. It is unfair. It is ruthless. You will need help. That does not make you less. In fact, to ask for help makes you more. It makes you yourself.

Or as esteemed theologian Captain Jean Luc Picard says, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”

— J.S.

Knowing Ourselves Requires Knowing One Another


Last summer I wrote a piece on my own experience with race and racism. A blogger then publicly blasted some harmful views I was expressing.

As I read her words, I felt she was right—but I had a hard time seeing where I fell short. So I asked my friend, with her permission, to help me. How did I get this wrong? She first pointed out what was good. Then she kindly and firmly pointed out the various ways I missed the mark. Slowly and painfully, I saw how much I had messed up.

In particular: I was invalidating others’ experiences to boost my own; I was subtly drawing disproportionate comparisons, hijacking language and images that did not belong to me; I was mostly absorbed in self-pity and blame instead of sharing a vulnerable experience. When I saw it, it clicked: I was way, way, way off.

The easy thing to say here could be, “I’m still learning, I had no idea, show me grace, I’m sorry.” And that’s true. But my words were harmful. There’s no way out of that. I have to sit down, take the L, and simply be wrong. There’s no defense, excuse, rationalization, “but”—I was wrong, plain and simple.

This can’t be about my realization or epiphany, but about tending to the injury I caused.

Even though I’m a POC, that doesn’t make me free of criticism in matters of race and racism. Even though I wrestle with depression and anxiety, I still get it wrong about mental health. And as a chaplain dealing with grief: I’ve gotten that wrong too.

We can only become self-aware through the awareness of others. Or like C.S. Lewis says, “My own eyes are not enough for me; I will see through those of others.” To see is painful but necessary. We need others to see where we have fallen for deception, conspiracies, biases, agendas. It can truly happen to any of us. And even though I’d like to think I’m a friend to the wounded and weary, I still miss the mark. A lot. What I can do is not only examine how I went wrong, but act based on those new convictions. To rethink how I enter for the wounded, not just for my own catharsis. It shouldn’t be anyone’s burden to educate someone on the basics of humanity, but thank God for sending friends who took time to school me.

J.S.

I Nearly Lost My Faith Again


I have to be honest. Last year, I nearly lost my faith again.

Like many of us, I was in a bad place. I kept turning to the church for hope.

Online and off, I asked how to deal with the isolation, the loss of George Floyd, and hate crimes against Asian-Americans because of “China virus.” I was angry and afraid. I needed something, anything, to speak to my anxiety.

But the church did not hear my worries. It turned these events into a culture war that I barely understood. The answer for our suffering was apparently self-righteous politics and posture.

I know many churches, including mine, have done good things in this time. Yes, I still love the church, always. But my inbox, comments, and interactions told one story: too many Christians were more offended by my grief rather than listening to it. They couldn’t wait to argue.

I kept hearing, “If you don’t believe ___, you’re not a Christian. You’re deceived by worldly distractions. Quit looking at church, look to God.” When I protested or wore a mask, I only heard, “You’re a liberal leftist Marxist.” I didn’t understand many of these replies. They seemed cold and irrelevant to our hurt.

I waited for reassurance, lament, repentance. But the church fortified its doors and armed itself with conspiracy theories instead. It made persuasive transmission of information as the primary goal. So I prayed and wept alone.

Was I alone? To grieve the evangelical church’s fear of man to call out prejudice, injustice, and misinformation? Or the “both sides have a point” neutrality? Or that King David’s redemption story is extended to perpetually abusive politicians but never to those like George Floyd?

No, my faith can’t rest on people. But that doesn’t relieve my sense of abandonment. Trying to seek God in a church last year was like needing water in a desert but told “those secular people” were withholding it. Where is the water? How long, O Lord?

I hold onto one thing. I keep picturing Jesus’ hands stretched to both criminals on his left and right. It is my one hopeful vision in the desert. A gracious vision for this nation. Jesus reaching for someone like you and me is almost enough for the next moment. Almost.

— J.S.

Not Lectures or Lessons, but Leaning in to Listen


If someone tells you their experience with depression, doubt, racism, sexism, abuse, classicism, trauma, grief—it’s because they trusted you. Maybe they told someone else and got laughed off, shut down, invalidated. Their voice was cut off. So they came to you with hope, at a risk, heart open.

Sometimes when I am weakened, grieving, or depressed, the response I get is complete disgust. There is something vile in the human heart that feels revulsion at “weakness.” There is some terrible urge to look at a wounded person and say, “Stop that, don’t cry, be strong.” I think part of the reason we do this is that we’re so afraid of our own vulnerability, we despise seeing it in others.

The same too when we see anger. Anger can be abusive, yes. But underneath rage is often pain. To lecture an angry person to “calm down” will only injure the injured. When we’re most angry in our wounds, the most healing response is to be angry for and with, not at. To shame a person for their emotion is to shame them for being human.

I think there’s an urge to preach advice at hurting people because it feels powerless not to say anything. But tossing advice on an already hurting person is to give them a burden on top of their burden. Out of good intentions, we tend to impart information or theology or logical points to ”fix” them—but when you were wounded, what did you need? More words? A sound argument? I-told-you-so? No. The best gifts I received in these moments were presence and silence. To bear the load together.

When someone opens up with their painful story, it’s important what you do right then. You’ll be one more person who turns them away, or you’ll be the one who opens a door. Your ears can save a life. You can be the miracle they were praying for.

— J.S.

Why I Lose Faith


To be truthful:
I find it hard to call myself a Christian these days. Almost impossible. These days I glance at my Bible and I want to throw it in the trash. I want to walk away without looking back.

I keep wondering: Does the Bible produce jerks? Or are jerks attracted to the Bible? Either way I’m not sure why I stay.

Yes, I still believe. My faith is still the pivotal anchor by which I stand. But it seems western evangelicalism has forcefully gone out of its way to be anti-medicine, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-poor, anti-mental health, and completely against the Black community. It seems the western church only marches when they feel “persecuted.” (Ask any Christian in the east about real persecution.) How did the church rationalize such a bizarre norm? When did western Christianity become such a predictable, politicized, cliched, cartoonish one-dimensional silo of reactionary bullies and brats?

I’m not saying anything new, and perhaps I’m naive—but are not Christians called to be the most fiercely compassionate citizens of earth? So compassionate it makes no sense? The ones who hold ourselves accountable by the highest standards of holiness and justice? To be for our neighbors, the wounded, those in need? To transcend the political and institutional trappings of the tiny slice of history we’re living in?

I’m reading that first century Christians were most known for their 1) personal ethics and 2) radical generosity. Despite the church’s many problems through history, Christians were at the cutting edge of art, education, scientific breakthrough, and human liberation. Christians founded hospitals, universities, libraries, orphanages, shelters, and were at the forefront of protests. Am I romanticizing the past? Or do I long for something like this today?

Any time I bring this up, I get called a “liberal.” It’s apparently the worst insult in the world. But if someone having “empathy” and “compassion” is an accusation of being liberal—doesn’t that say more about the one making the accusation?

If I have to choose between today’s Christian and today’s liberal, then sign me up for the latter. As it is, I have no home and no faith to call my own.
— J.S.

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.]

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.

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.

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 Really Had Faith …”


I’ve been told, “If you had just prayed more – read more Bible –believed more – claimed your promises – confessed all your sin—then you wouldn’t be so depressed.”

Or, “If you had just exercised more – done more yoga – eaten more kale – get more motivated – stop being selfish—then you wouldn’t be so depressed.” “If you had just – if you had just – if you had just—“

None of those things are bad things. But they never guarantee that you or I will make it. They’re not some meter to fill up to prevent depression, as if being “good enough” means you’re immune. If these things don’t work: it’s never your fault. It doesn’t say a thing about you. Depression is a liar, a whole world turned into fog. But it does not make you bad, lesser, or wrong.

At my most depressed, at the end of the tunnel where there’s more tunnel, at my very rock bottom—my tiny bit of faith was the rock that kept me going.

It’s not that when you have faith that your depression and anxiety are gone. But it’s when you’re depressed or anxious, your faith might be the only thing that keeps you strong.
To survive, sometimes, is faith enough.

— 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

Even If I Don’t Get It


Once I had this friend who was embarrassed by my laughter. At the movies, he would literally shove my shoulder to tell me to quiet down. At first I just stopped laughing around him. But eventually I stifled my laughter around everybody.

That same friend couldn’t believe it when I was sad about something, or hurt, or not enjoying myself. I was being a downer, I guess. I was interrupting his life.

We went hiking once and he kept telling me to smile. “Why don’t you laugh?” he said. He knew I had lung issues and breathing problems. But he wouldn’t slow down for me, not for a second.

We’re not friends anymore, but here’s the thing: I don’t think we were ever friends. He wanted a customizable, checklisted, wishlisted type of robot that met his every whim. That was all. He couldn’t imagine another person with needs beyond his own. And I was happy to cater to him. There was something about his bully-like authority that I was attracted to, as if I got strength from his domineering. But no, we were never friends. I was his rug, his lapdog.

I could be mad at him, but I’m guilty of the same thing. Sometimes I don’t understand a person’s fears, dreams, and goals, and I judge them for it. I don’t get their hobbies or the movies or music they like or the fact they love quinoa and kale. Mentally I belittle them for being them.

We do this with mental health, gender, race, culture, their stories: it’s as if we withhold permission for people to feel hurt about the things that don’t hurt us. “It’s never happened to me, therefore it never happens” is the most destructive lie that destroys connection.

But I want to get it. I want to get your fear, anxiety, pain, your worries and heartaches and shame. Your whole story. To really listen means that another person’s story is more important than my own right then. But that’s how we grow. That’s how we heal. That’s how we find laughter, loud and free.

I’m sorry I didn’t listen earlier. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. I want to. I want to hear you, and by hearing, fully see.

— J.S.