Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: May, 2014

Going Fast Alone Over Going Far Together

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Sometimes the right story can really transform the imagination.  I’ll never forget going into our little neighborhood cinema in Downtown Tacoma and seeing the film Into the Wild.  It is a true story about a young man by the name of Christopher McCandless, who experiences disillusionment with the dreams promoted by his family and schooling in Western culture.

  •  The facade of what society deems as success

He realizes the deep brokenness behind the facade of what society often deems as success.  After giving away the money he had saved for law school, he went on a journey to live in the Alaskan wilderness with almost nothing but his will to discover life, freedom, and truth.

  •  Fleeing society to live in the wild

Christopher encounters all kinds of new friends on his journey from Georgia to Alaska, but leaves them all in pursuit of his dream to flee society and live in the wild.  He loves the books of Tolstoy, London, and Thoreau; he delights in their rugged individualism, and their rejection of mainstream success.  He has only one thing on his mind throughout his travels: to get to Alaska and experience life the way it was meant to be, in its purest form, with nothing but the rivers, sky, fresh air, and trees around him.  It takes him about two years, but he finally manages to get to Alaska.

  •  Living in an abandoned bus in the middle of the Alaskan  wilderness

After several months of living in an abandoned bus in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, he cannot find any more animals to hunt. There is a scene where he is screaming about how hungry he is out under the open sky.  Desperate, he searches out berries to pick and eat.

  • Trapped in the wilderness and starving to death

But the next day he awakens to a growing pain in his stomach and realizes that he has eaten berries that were poisonous.  If left untreated, his digestive tract will stop functioning, and he’ll starve to death.  Trapped in the wilderness because the river is too high for him to cross back over, he cannot get back to civilization and get help.

  • Dying alone in the wild with no one to share his pain  

In a very moving closing scene, he realizes what has happened and breaks down and weeps.  He knows he is going to die alone in the wild with no one to help him, or even someone to share his pain.  His body is weak to the point where he can barely move.

  • Life is only to be experienced when it is shared

With his last efforts he scratches into his journal a final untimely revelation:  Life is only to be experienced when it is shared.  Soon afterwards he lies down on the mattress in the bus with his head looking into the sky, takes his last breath, and dies.

  •  What a disturbing conclusion!

As I left the theatre, I could not shake its powerful, and even disturbing hold on me.  What life, beauty and potential there was in this young man.  His imagination and hope for another way of life was so powerful that it was able to shake him out of cultural complacency.  But what a disturbing conclusion!

  • Disconnection and isolation, in the end, took his life

In escaping the traps of culture, he lost the hope that is found in relationships.  He needed others in his life.  Individual pursuits, no matter how worthy, could only take him so far. Disconnection and isolation from others not only wore upon his spirit; in the end, it took his life.

  •  Using different techniques to keep from having to live  interdependently with others

I remember walking out of the movie theatre shocked and saddened that such a promising life could end in such a tragic way.  But we do this same kind of thing all the time, using different techniques to keep from having to live interdependently with others.

  •  Choosing to go fast alone over going far together  

Shane Claiborne says in his book The Irresistible Revolution, “Community is what we were created for…  But that doesn’t mean community is easy.  For everything in this world tries to pull us away from community, pushes us to choose independence over interdependence, to choose great things over small things, to choose going fast alone over going far together.”

How can we live more interdependently in everyday life?

Pursuing Empathy and Friendship

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Many times in my life I find it hard to practice empathy and sometimes I have forgotten how to be a friend.  I am learning how to empathize with others needs and feelings.  It is difficult to seek to understand others when I think I am not in the mood, but I am coming to practice this more over time.  This has been challenging for me as I am learning what friendship means.

  •  Pursuing a sense of empathy and understanding

We need to pursue a sense of empathy, understanding, comfort and friendship with others.  This is the call of the communal imagination.

  •  Do we care about each other?

Do we like each other?  Do we want to know each other?  Do we care about each other?  Do we share any aspect of our lives together?

  •  Living into our questions

These are the questions that the body of Christ must live into together in the parish.  God has comforted us and so we should comfort others with our friendship and empathy. There is no greater gift we can give to someone.  This stems from love and grace. Relational revelation all around us awaits to be discovered.

  •  Being friends with those who are seemingly “different” from us

We need the communal imagination if we are to be friends with those who are seemingly “different” from us.  We need to seek to understand others constantly.  This is how the gift of friendship is cultivated within the parish.

  •  Our imaginations need to be alive

Our imaginations need to be alive if we are to be in relationship with each other.  We will fall apart without imagination leading us on.  Our lives are full of differences and we cannot run from our connection to one another.

  • Empathy and friendship are gifts that hold us together

The imagination is inspired by grace.  Empathy and friendship are gifts that hold us together as being a part of the human race.  The body of Christ needs some relational empathy and friendship to survive in our local context.  We need this grace to show respect to others in all their diversity and uniqueness.

  • It is by imagination that we cross over differences

Wendell Berry, a long-time advocate of local community in North America, says, “It is by imagination that we cross over the differences between ourselves and other beings and thus learn compassion, forbearance, mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, and love …”

  • The equality of friendship

Where there is equality and empathy, there is friendship.  We treat our friends with respect.  We value our friends.  We show grace to our friends.  We love our friends.

  • The communal imagination has empathy for others

We need to befriend others who are seemingly “different” from us.  We need to pursue friendships with others who don’t like us very much.  The communal imagination has empathy for others.  We need to have empathy together as the body of Christ in the parish.

How can we seek to understand others and pursue friendship?

Our Powerful Vocation of Faithful Presence in the Parish


I have sometimes denied any expression of power within myself because of a fear of manipulating, controlling or dominating others.  A good use of power is something I have rarely seen in life.  I am coming to trust the powerful vocation of faithful presence within myself as an expression of love, grace, listening and relational care in the place I live.  It has taken me a long time to understand that the power within me can be used for the good of the world.

  •  How do we express and respond to power?

How do we express and respond to power in everyday life together?  The parish imagination is fascinated with this question.  There is a good use of power and bad use of power.  A lot of the models we have seen of power have been the negative, violent and colonial type.

  •  Power that is based on love, care, relational connection

Power that is violent and colonial is damaging to all.  It is destructive.  Power that is based on love, care, relational connection, humility, powerlessness, listening, grace and solidarity is truly beautiful and good for the human race.

  •  Expressing power authentically in a good way

We need discernment to express power authentically in a good way.  We need to learn to respond to colonial power structures with a spirit of nonviolence and love as the body of Christ in everyday life.  The body of Christ can be a countercultural presence to colonial power structures in our culture.

  •  Power needs to be realigned as something larger than domination or force

Richard Rohr writes, “Power cannot, in itself, be bad.  It simply needs to be realigned and redefined as something larger than domination or force.  Rather than saying that power is bad, the Bible reveals the paradox of power.  If the Holy Spirit is power, then power has to be good, not something that is always the result of ambition or greed.  In fact, a truly spiritual women, a truly whole man, is a very powerful person…  If we do not name the good meaning of power, we will invariably be content with the bad, or we will avoid our powerful vocation.”

  •  Called into a powerful vocation of faithful presence in the parish

Christians are called into power, but not the colonial, violent type of power we so often see all around us.  Christians are called into a “powerful vocation” of faithful presence in the parish together.  Christians are called into the parish imagination.

  •  Expressing power through Christ living in us

The parish imagination is powerful.  The parish imagination is countercultural.  Good power comes from within us.  We begin to express power correctly when we allow Christ to live within us as the body of Christ in everyday life together.

  • Good power is of the nature of love and grace extended to others

Good power does not impose anything by force.  Good power is of the nature of love and grace extended to others.  This is the most powerful thing the world will ever see.

How can we express power through love and grace?

Being Responsible Only for the One Action of the Present Moment

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I was taught by my upbringing that it is the big things that will supposedly change the world.  I was raised in a family were we went to a big Catholic church every week where God seemed to be too big to be sought.  The priests were impersonal and distant to me.  I believed that God was far removed from my small world in the particular place I lived, but I am coming to understand that it is in the small acts of love where God is moving and working within me in everyday life.

  •  Love is sometimes perceived as too small and ordinary  

Loving others is all about what the world perceives as too small and too ordinary for it to possibly be of God.  Love is not “spiritual” enough for us.  Love is not considered “religious” enough for us.  Love does not fit into our programs and services.

  •  Love cannot be boxed up or figured out

Love cannot be controlled because it is everywhere.  Love cannot be boxed up into propositional statements.  Love cannot be figured out.

  •  Love is relational, mysterious, subversive, countercultural, miraculous

Love is relational.  Love is mysterious.  Love is subversive.  Love is countercultural.  Love is miraculous.

  •  Paying attention to the small, hard to see things

We are to pay attention to the small, hard-to-see things of life in the parish.  “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him…” (I John 4:16).  The communal imagination needs eyes for the small.  It is through the small that we live our lives.  Christ always manifests himself to us through the small.

  • Being responsible only for the one action of the present moment

Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, says in her book Loaves and Fishes, “Young people say, What good can one person do?  What is the sense of our small effort?  They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.  But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus did the loaves and fishes.

  •  Doing the small things that bring relational care

Our love could be multiplied again and again as we do the small things that build relational care in the parish.  Are we on a path that will give our lives to explore the small things of love?  Jesus is waiting for us in the small particulars of life.

  •  Collaboration and partnership around the small things

He is wanting some collaboration and partnership around the small things where he lives and dwells.  “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love…” (1 John 4:7).

How can we become an expression of love by paying attention to the small things in everyday life together?

Discovering What God is Doing in the World


I have always wanted to be a part of a community where I can share life with others.  But I have not always had the awareness of the importance of place to create a context for this to happen.  So much of my life has been a search for authenticity within myself disconnected from place and others.  This is noble to some extent, but I do need shared life to live into the way of Jesus.

Insecurity and anxiety have arisen within me at times as I have stepped into a commitment to place where I have become rooted and linked to others.  There will be struggles I must face my whole life as I seek to know and be known by others.  But I am discovering that there is a hidden communal imagination within me that is leading me to love, grace and humility which is who I am in my true self.

  • Reconnecting to place

Each person’s journey back into place will be different.  But we need to get reconnected with a place, a local context to inhabit as the body of Christ in our day.

  •  Moving back into the neighborhood

As Alan J. Roxburgh says, “We discover what God is doing in the world and what it means to be the church as we move back into the neighborhood.  This is both a simple and radical proposal.  It’s radical because for many of us there is little connection between where we live… and what it means to be a Christian.  That’s the tragic state of Christian life in North America…  A radical way we can re-form Christian life in our time is by the simple decision to reconnect with our neighborhoods, by asking what God is doing there.”

  • Being ready to listen

The neighborhood has an unceasing number of relational revelations to teach us if we are ready to listen.  God has been working and manifesting himself in particular places for centuries.  That is where relational, holistic ways of living take place.

  • Large enough to live life together, but not so big there is a relational disconnection

Some people want to care for a large city or region — perhaps even a country — but when it comes to relationships of care, these are all too big.  The neighborhood is large enough to live life together, but not so big that there is a relational disconnection due to an overwhelming number of people and places.

  • When life becomes fragmented

Tim Dickau in his fascinating book Plunging Into The Kingdom Way gets after this problem: “If you work in one place, shop in another, play in a third and ‘go to church’ (which is bad theology to begin with) in a fourth, life becomes more fragmented.  When you are part of a community that inhabits a neighborhood with a vision to be involved in its transformation, life itself becomes more integrated and whole.  Our communities become kinder, and we begin to consider each other’s welfare as we make economic, social, and political decisions.”

How can we explore becoming connected to place again?

Taking A Conversion To Place Seriously

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My conversion to the importance of place happened about ten years ago as I started to become disillusioned with many of the faith expression I have seen in my North American context in the Pacific Northwest.  Looking at church as a building or meeting once a week were there was very little relational connection together Monday through Saturday in a local context felt like a dualism to me.  I have struggled with what this all means and sometimes I want to abandon the whole thing.  But committing to a relational context in the place I live together with others is bringing about a new imagination for something more holistic in me.

  •  Taking place seriously

We need to take ownership of our place.  We need to invest in our place.  We need to take some responsibility for our place.  This is what the parish imagination is about.

  •  Ownership, investing and responsibility with a listening posture

We need to do these things in an anti-colonial way.  Colonialism will damage the parish.  But taking ownership, investing and responsibility with a listening posture; will bring about the collective good of the place we inhabit together.  Colonialism does not exist within the parish imagination.

  •  Intending the good of our place, the good of the world

Wendell Berry says, “We cannot intend our good, in the long run, without intending the good of our place – which means, ultimately, the good of the world…”  All goodness exists within participating citizens who care about place.  In this is the preservation of the world that we live in.  We cannot pursue our own good without pursuing the collective good of the place we inhabit.

  •  An integration of self with place

We all want the best for our lives, but we get mixed up if we pursue this individualistically.  We get mixed up when this is not integrated with our commitment to the parish.  A dualism is created within us when we do this.  When we do not have an integration of self with place, we do not understand life holistically.

  •  Being converted to the importance of place

The self needs to be converted to the importance of the parish.  This will bring out life within us all, as we live together taking some ownership of the place we inhabit.  We must be intentional about pursuing the good of our place.  We must be intentional about our responsibility to the parish.

  •  The gift of creating a local fabric of care

We must be intentional about our investment in our place together with our lives.  This is all gift.  It is a gift to create a local fabric of care through the parish imagination as the body of Christ in everyday life.

  • All of us have gifts to contribute together

All of us have gifts to contribute to our locality.  There are many ways to contribute our lives to the lives of others in the place that we inhabit together.  All of us have relational gifts that contribute to the local fabric of social care in the parish.

How can we take place seriously in our lives?

Reconnecting With Others Constantly

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So many times I think I am alone in life only to discover that God is slowly working through my relationships to reveal to me a deeper compassion, solidarity and love.  I am learning to be alone at times through silence and solitude.  This is important to my connection to others as my love for others is constantly growing within me.  And if I lose sight of the love within me I have lost everything.

  •  Silence and solitude reconnects us with others constantly

Many people think that silence and solitude separates us from others, but I believe that it actually reconnects us with others constantly.  How is this possible?  I really don’t understand it fully, but I would say that it is a part of the mystery and beauty of our spirituality to be both alone and together at the same time in our locality.

  •  Being both alone and together

This is an embodied expression of the mystical imagination.  It doesn’t make sense to our overly rational minds.  How can we be both alone and together?  This is one of the deep mysteries of our faith that is hard to understand.  But I believe it is authentically true.

  •  Realize how deeply connected I am to others

Murray Bodo says, “In Silence and solitude I relearn that I am in others and they are in me, whether or not we are physically present to one another.  My own uniqueness discovered in the One who made me and dwells in me, is my simultaneous discovery of everything that is in the same One who inhabits silence and solitude – a silence and solitude I carry with me in the tabernacle of my deepest self.  A silence and solitude I forget is there when I abandon retreating into that center and allow myself to be distracted by the proliferation of things and people, by noise and sound that obscure the way back into the center of myself where I realize how deeply connected I am to others. If I continue to immerse myself in other things and people, I paradoxically become alienated from them and myself.  I lose myself in them and resent their demands on my time and attention.  If I take the time to withdraw periodically into silence and solitude, I reconnect to myself and others from whom I’ve grown alienated.”

  • Practicing a mystical solidarity with others

Our silence and solitude always draws us into a mystical solidarity with others in our neighborhood.  There doesn’t need to be a lot of words and talk for this to happen.  We just need a presence to a practice of silence and solitude in the midst of everyday life in the place we inhabit.

  •  Becoming reconnected to those we are called to love

This practice of silence and solitude will cultivate miraculous relational revelations as we find ourselves more connected as each day passes.  We will become constantly reconnected to those we are called to love in our locality through this practice.  Our presence to this practice makes all the difference in the parish.

How can we explore solidarity with others through silence and solitude?

Hospitality to the Poor, Oppressed and Marginalized as a Way of Life


As I have lived at the Tacoma Catholic Worker for the past four years I have learned a lot about hospitality as a way of life together with others.  I am learning to share life with people I did not think I had anything in common with.  The particular house I live in is called The Guadalupe House and the primary function of its hospitality is proving showers, transitional housing, meals and mail to friends who struggle to have these basics needs met in their everyday lives.

  • A weekly liturgy dinner for the poor

We have four meals every week together and on Tuesday nights we do a weekly liturgy dinner for the poor where our friends can come and share their spirituality with others in a nonjudgmental way.  A lot of our friends live in shelters, cars or sleep outside.  Some of our friends also have houses and apartments too.  This is beautiful because it brings the poor and the middle class together in friendship and love.

  • Finding the commonalities rather than our differences

At the dinner table everyone is equal as we find our commonalities in realizing that we all need to eat whether we have a lot of money or not.  I am eating with folks of different races, languages, classes, ages.  This has been so countercultural and beautiful to experience.  The lesson I am constantly learning is to find the commonalities with others rather than our differences.

  • Using our houses in a hospitable way

The Tacoma Catholic Worker has eight houses all within one block in our neighborhood.  It is kind of like an urban village where the poor are welcomed and not shunned.  We use our houses in a hospitable way where we live with others anywhere from several months to several years.  We give our friends a place to work on their goals of getting income, work, housing, sobriety, reestablishing relationships with children and becoming healthy physically and mentally.

  • Providing a refuge for someone struggling with immigration

There is an ICE detention center for immigrants close by and we recently have worked with an organization that helps get others out to work on their immigration.  One of the rooms at The Guadalupe House is for someone coming from ICE.  It is a blessing to provide a refuge for someone that is struggling with immigration and a new life in this country.

  • Seeing Christ in the poor

I am learning so much from the Tacoma Catholic Worker.  One thing our community constantly practices is seeing Christ in the poor by our compassion, love and hospitality in everyday life together.  I see the Tacoma Catholic Worker as an expression of being the church together in our neighborhood where we live out the works of mercy with others who are hurting and lonely.

  • Eating together and showing hospitality could change everything

The simple acts of eating together and showing hospitality in the place we live could change the body of Christ and the world around us.  This is the most revolutionary thing I have ever seen and experienced.  As I continue on in my journey here, the poor will continually teach me of Christ among us.

How can we practice hospitality as a way of life?

Learning Wisdom Through the Writings of Wendell Berry


  • The need for better communities

“If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action.  We are going to have to rebuild the substance and integrity of private life in this country.  We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods.  We need better government, no doubt about it.  But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.  We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.”  A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural

  • How can a society live when its communities die?

“…for I cannot see how a nation, a society, or a civilization can live while its communities die.”  Another Turn of the Crank

  • The truth of the imagination to prove itself in every life and place in the world

“One of the most profound of human needs is for the truth of the imagination to prove itself in every life and place in the world, and for the truth of the world’s lives and places to be proved in imagination.”  Home Economics

  • Cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness

“If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence in our society, then one is under an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness in it.  If one deplores the destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy, then one is under an obligation to live as far out on the margin of the economy as one is able: to be economically independent of exploitive industries, to learn to need less, to waste less, to make things last, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand and resist the language of the salesmen and public relations experts, to see through attractive packages, to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige…”  The Long-Legged House

  • The destruction of local economies, neighborhood, and community

“The mess that surrounds us, then, must be understood not just as a problem in itself but as a symptom of a greater and graver problem: the centralization of our economy, the gathering of the productive property and power into fewer and fewer hands, and the consequent destruction, everywhere, of the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community.”  What Are People For?

How can we care for our local economies, neighborhood, and community?

Creating Beautiful, Healthy Rhythms


My life has been so fragmented that sometimes I want to give up any searching for what is authentic within me.  Fear, confusion, frustration and pain all leave me in my melancholy where it is hard to be grateful while seeing all of life as sacred.  Sometimes I allow the dominant narratives of the media around individualism, competition and mobility to create unhealthy rhythms in me.  But I am learning a more healthy way of life that creates beautiful rhythms in the place I live.

  •  God’s presence is always living within us

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  God’s presence is always living within us and our locality.  Even in the most seemingly God forsaken place, God is always with us.  God is intertwined into our world.

  •  Our rhythms bring awareness to God’s presence within us and around us

God is intertwined into our locality.  God is intertwined in our relationships.  God will never leave us abandoned and alone even though we can often feel like this is happening.  Our rhythms bring awareness to God’s presence within and around us.

  •  Rhythms that are relational and contextual

The more rooted practices and rhythms in our locality that we develop, whatever they may be, the more we will be connected to the mystical imagination within us.  We need to become creative and intentional with exploring unlimited possibilities of rhythms that can be experimented with in our locality.  Rhythms are always relational and contextual to our locality.

  •  Finding intentional rhythms within ourselves

I cannot tell you what rhythms will work for you and you cannot tell me what rhythms will work for me.  That’s why it is dangerous to have a centralized hub of power telling you what to do outside of the particular context.  This will not work and will result in colonialism and exploitation which doesn’t represent the gospel.

  •  Rhythms are about intentionality

Simon Cross says, “We might conceive of all lives having rhythms…  In this context, a rhythm of life is again all about intentionality.  We choose to do certain things at certain times, to accept certain parts of life as necessary, and to incorporate ways of being into our way of life.”

  • Doing away with unhealthy rhythms

Intentionality, spirituality and locality need to find a way to fit together in everyday life for rhythms to actually develop and have some sustainability.  We can cultivate a rhythm of fragmentation and speed that is unrooted in place and violent in the name of God.  This is not a good representation of the body of Christ and will do much damage.

  •  Creating beautiful rhythms for the common good

But we can also create rhythms that are helpful, beautiful, relational, convivial, rooted, peaceable, loving and for the common good.  I hope we will chose to orientate our rhythms around the latter of the two.  If this does not happen, it is questionable what kind of a future we will leave our children.

How can we create beautiful, healthy rhythms in our lives together?