Jonathan Tjarks is something of a rarity. Hes a popular staff writer for The Ringer, where he writes about basketball and also life. Tjarks is also a Christian who maintains a personal blog where he writes about the Bible (hes also written for TGC: Your Neighbor Is Probably a Unitarian Universalist).
Curious about how a Jesus follower like Tjarks fares at a place like The Ringer, and how his faith and work interact, I (Eugene Park) interviewed him recently on my churchs podcast. Heres an edited transcript of our conversation.
Could you share a brief testimony of your faith?
I didnt actually grow up in the church. My parents were really secular, and I grew up in a science-first household. For us, politics and evolution were religion. I had no grid for the church at all growing up, and I lived a pretty normal lifestyle. Then I got really into partying, drugs, looking for meaning in life in the world, and not really finding anything. When I was about 24 or 25, a co-worker of mine, a pretty strong Christian, shared the gospel with me and brought me around his family and church. I didnt really have much going on in my life at the time, so it was appealing. But I just didnt really believe in supernatural things. I was very much raised to believe in materialism, and the idea of Christianity seemed hocus-pocus. But I respected the way my friend lived his life, and so I kind of looked into Christianity. I could get behind the idea of Christianity. But I couldnt believe in a God.
I could get behind the idea of Christianity. But I couldnt believe in a God.
So thats where I was for a while. Then I kind of had this spiritual experience. It was almost six years ago now. I was at a New Years Eve rave rolling on ecstasy. Im at this concert, Im out of my mind, and then I see the mask from V for Vendetta on the virtual background. Everyones dancing and Im watching and thinking, Oh theyre really worshiping this mask that could be a demon. I just had this sense of, Oh my gosh, there are spirits in the world. This is crazy. I freaked out and thought if there are spirits in the world, theres probably God. And if theres a God, then I better be on his side, and I better be a Christian. After that I called my friend, trusted Christ, joined the church, and started walking with God from there.
How has your experience been in the church, being relatively new to the faith? Any interesting observations about the church?
Well, I think for me, the biggest thing I had in my head was: Oh, Ive got to be a Republican basically, to be a Christian. So I was pleasantly surprised. In my head Im wondering if this is going to be a right-wing rally, but it hasnt been anything like that at all. I feel, at least in my church, politics is less important than it is in the world.
As a Christian in sports media, how do you combat the temptation of letting your work define who you are, especially since your writing is the subject of constant scrutiny on social media?
Thats one of the great temptations in American society. Its all about how identity comes from your profession. When you meet someone it always starts, What do you do? Its so hard to not make your work part of who you are, especially if you have a cool job where people always ask about it.
Honestly, its something I constantly struggle with. I know for me personally, I try to keep work and personal life separate. Im not on social media as much because it just became too hard. Work was following me around constantly. Thirty years ago, if Im writing for a newspaper, I write the article in the paper and its done. One person might talk to me about it. But now in my profession, you write an article, and youre getting feedback constantly about it. So for me, I try to keep myself separate from social media so that I have some distance to live a normal life.
Im at a point in my career where I have a name in my industry, people know who I am, people follow me. And if all of my friends were in this industry, then it would be, Look at me. Im a writer at The Ringer! But I have these friends at church who dont know anything about sports. They couldn’t care less. And so for them its, You write about basketball? Thats bizarre.
In your work at The Ringer, hows your experience been as a believer? Do your coworkers know about your faith? How do they interact with you about it? Are they hostile, neutral, interested?
Theyre more, Wow, thats interesting. Media is such a secular industry. In my experience, people I know in the media who are Christian make up maybe 1 percent or 2 percent? Christians are an anomaly.
Media is such a secular industry. In my experience, people I know in the media who are Christian make up maybe 1 percent or 2 percent? Christians are an anomaly.
Because I work remotely, I dont see my coworkers as often, but Im intentional when I see or run into them. Ive shared my testimony with a few people. I dont know if that necessarily did anything for them.
No ones ever said anything bad about my faith, at least to my face. In my my line of work, if I was an outspoken Republican, itd be a much bigger deal than if I was a Christian. If I said Go Trump! that would be a big deal. But me talking about Jesusto them thats just weird.
Given that, do you have any advice on how to share your faith with your coworkers? For many of us in a secular workplace setting, we get fearful about talking about Jesus. How do I drop that in a conversation? Do you have any advice on doing that in a winsome manner?
Just invest in people naturally and build relationships as best you can. I look back to the guy who shared the gospel with me initially. We became friends first, and once you become friends it lowers the barriers. Between me and him it was more about sharing life. We became good enough friends that I met his wife, I met his kids, I went to his small group. In that sense it was a natural transition. And thats what appealed to me more than him giving me 12 Bible verses. In my experience, its more about sharing your life with people. If youre walking with God and walking with Jesus, thats what shines through in your life.
Few people get asked about their lives. Most people are just waiting to talk about themselves.
Honestly, in my experienceand part of this is being a journalistfew people get asked about their lives. Most people are just waiting to talk about themselves. The act of being intentional and asking questions about other peoples livesI think people respond to that. Everyone is so self-oriented, self-motivated, just waiting to talk about themselves. Give them an opportunity, and that opens the door.
Sports can be a source of idolatry that distracts more than aids your spiritual life. As a Christian and being heavily in the sports world, how do you ensure sports doesnt become a distraction or idol?
The advice I give, especially to my friends about to get married, is to pick one sport. Because if youre going to be married, you cant be a fan of all sports. Theres just not enough time. Im a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, but Im not going to live or die by them. You can have your one team. If you have three or four teams, its not going to work!