Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: September, 2014

Discovering the Tacoma Catholic Worker


After about five years of living in Downtown Tacoma, I started to become more curious about the poverty in our parish.  I asked myself, “Who are the poor and what are people doing to be in relationship with them in our neighborhood?”  I soon learned about the Tacoma Catholic Worker which was a few blocks from where I was living.

  • 8 houses and a community garden all within one block

The community was founded in 1989 when a Jesuit priest named Bill Bichsel, who is now 86 years old, and some other friends wanted to care for those with mental illnesses in the neighborhood.  The Catholic Worker consists of eight houses and a big community garden all within one block.  Our Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship was (and is) so inspired by their commitment to proximity within the parish and the poor among us!

  •  Making space to be more present in everyday life

As I studied the writings of Dorothy Day and New Monastic writers like Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I was so intrigued by their emphasis on hospitality and their understanding of community as a way of life.  I wanted to make space in everyday life to be more present to the poor in our neighborhood, to understand their uniqueness and listen to their voices.  I was convinced that this is where I would find Christ residing in the lives of the homeless, the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, the mentally ill, and the addicted.

  •  Seeing Christ in the poor

My leadership began to take a new shape as I was drawn to see Christ in the poor in everyday life, to share life with them, to become their friends, to love them and learn their names.  What a powerful movement this was of God in my life, to lead me to care for the poor, to work less so that I could be more present to them by making space within my way of life.

  •  Moving to the Catholic Worker in September 2010

I wanted to be with the poor, so I asked some of my new Catholic Worker friends what I would have to do to become a Catholic Worker.  Moving into one of their houses intrigued me a lot.  They soon made space for me to practice my faith among the poor in community with them.  I moved into one of their houses at the beginning of September 2010.

  •  A way of life based on simplicity, love, compassion, justice, and hospitality

This has been an amazing experience for me!  It is what I believe God had been leading me to and I have found something that resonates deeply within me.  The Catholic Workers promote a way of life that is based on simplicity, love, compassion, justice, and hospitality.  I have now been at the Catholic Worker for about four years, and I have learned so much from the poor of our neighborhood.

  •  Making space within myself for the poor

Their uniqueness is always speaking to me.  Christ is teaching me to follow him by having a more simplistic way of life where I make space within myself for the poor as an act of hospitality.  Seeing Christ in the poor in everyday life is helping me to understand what life is without the illusions of escaping what is hard.  Our Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship is learning so much about making space in our lives for the poor among us through collaborating with the Tacoma Catholic Worker.

Where do you find God working within you in your own context?

Do We Have the Courage to Live in Weakness?


I am discovering in my life that when I am vulnerable my relationships seem to be healthier.  Things like forgiveness, solidarity, humility, compassion, gentleness, love and laughter all seem to be expressed in me when I am embodying a sense of vulnerability.  This feels good to me.  It is meaningful and brings value to others in whatever stage of development our relationship is in.

God is showing me the power of vulnerability.  This has been hard for me as I have been taught by my culture that men should not show vulnerability in life.  But I don’t care about this cultural narrative anymore.  I want to be weak, vulnerable and compassionate within myself.

I want to trust God that when I am weak and vulnerable I am strong.  I want to lose all the answers that I thought I once had.  Living in the freedom of vulnerability is where the Spirit is leading me in everyday life.  This is the best place for me to be and I find it authentic.

  •  Where there is vulnerability, there is humility

Where there is vulnerability, there is humility.  Where there is humility, the life of Christ is living within us.  It can be hard to let ourselves be exposed for who we really are in all of our pain, but it is a practice that the body of Christ must take seriously if we want to be relational in the local context we inhabit.

  •  Delighting in weaknesses

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

  •  Experiencing God’s power within us

When we demonstrate some humility and practice vulnerability with one another, that is when we are most fully walking in the Spirit of Christ.  When we are weak and vulnerable, that is when we experience God’s power within us.  A theology of place can only be lived into through vulnerability.  There is no colonialism with vulnerability because it will help us not to impose our way of life on anyone and lead us instead through living into our questions about the mystery of life.

  •  Seeking to live in humility with one another

There is no colonialism with humility because it will lead us into deeper honesty around connecting with others through our struggles.  There is no colonialism when we learn to listen and expose our own brokenness to others through our vulnerability.  The place we inhabit will require that we be vulnerable if we want to stay there for any length of time.  Our relationships will demand it if we seek to live in humility with one another.

Do you think humility and vulnerability are interrelated?  What is your experience around this?

Book Review – When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd

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I love this book!  Sue Monk Kidd describes her spiritual crises in life where she entered into a deeper transformation of growth through discovering her true self.  Sometimes it is frightening to enter into our questions that might disrupt what we think life is about.  But this is what this book is about, dismantling the false self to uncover what is much more authentic in ourselves.

  • The journey from false self to true self

“Am I being asked to enter a new passage in the spiritual life – the journey from false self to true self?  Am I being asked to dismantle old masks and patterns and unfold a deeper, more authentic self – the one God created me to be?  Am I being compelled to disturb my inner universe in quest of the undiscovered being who clamors from within?”

I find that new stages of growth are difficult to face, but are so essential.  My false self is comfortable, familiar and is much more acceptable.  The true self is mysterious, authentic and compassionate.  When I am grounded in my true self I am living with a deeper sense of peace within.

  • Waiting is the rawest kind of agony

“Waiting seemed the rawest kind of agony, I wanted God to simply whisk away the masks I had spent most of my life fashioning, to hoist up from my repressed well the lost and neglected parts of myself, to solve my problems, heal my wounds, and alleviate the inexplicable sense of discontent and pain I was feeling.  And mind you, I wanted all of this now, immediately, or at the very least soon.”

Waiting is so difficult to embody in a hurried, immediate gratification society.  I identify with Sue Monk Kidd’s struggle and agony in waiting.  This is not taught to us in our culture and can be hard to learn.  Sometimes the pain is too much.

  • A spiraling journey that we undertake throughout life

“The life of the soul evolves and grows…  The process isn’t a one-time experience but a spiraling journey that we undertake throughout life…”

The life in our soul is a continual process of growth throughout our entire lives.  It is an unpredictable journey of waiting, risk, embodiment, experimentation and trust.  This is not a one time thing, but a lifelong embodiment.

  • Living with questions

“I lived with questions about who I had been and who I was becoming, and about whether the growth was worth the pain, risk, and upheaval.  I lived with questions about how to adopt parts of myself that I had orphaned, how to heal old wounds, how to relate to an expanding vision of God and the world.”

This book encouraged me not to be afraid of my questions.  I need to live these, be okay with the tensions, the uncertainty and move into them without fear.  The questions will help me to uncover my true self.

  • Spiritual growth has no boundaries

“Spiritual growth has no boundaries.  My journey would spiral on, for there were wingless places in me – life and soul still unborn.”

There are parts of me that are still unborn, yet to be discovered.  This is exciting and frightening!  My life is calling me to let these unborn places within find a sense of expression, embodiment and freedom to live.

What keeps you from discovering your true self?

Learning to Embrace the Miracle of the Present Moment


I often wonder if miracles still exist today in everyday life.  Sometimes I have doubted that they do, but I have been looking at the whole thing wrong.  Every time I have embraced the present moment, I am embodying a miracle.  This is a miracle to live in the present moment.

So I am slowly becoming a believer in miracles.  As I was walking down the street the other day, I started to consider that in this moment right now I have what I need for life, for presence, for love, for gratitude, for compassion, for solidarity.  Nothing is keeping me from embracing the present moment.  It is living, changing, mysterious, miraculous, evolving, undefined and it is my home.

  •  Jesus went to solitary places

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place…”  (Mark 1:35). 

  •  Cultivating a healthy relationship with the present moment

I believe Christ practiced silence and solitude because he was cultivating a healthy relationship with the present moment.  It affected all his relationships.  It gave him solidarity with others.

  •  Practicing silence and solitude

Jesus understood the ecology of his relationship with the present moment and his relationship with others.  That is why he practiced silence and solitude.  It was a part of his passion.

  •  To live in the present moment is a miracle

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Our true home is in the present moment.  To live in the present moment is a miracle.  The miracle is not to walk on water.  The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.  Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature – and within us – in our bodies and our spirits.  Once we learn to touch this peace we will be healed and transformed.  It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.  We need only to find ways to bring our body and mind back to the present moment so we can touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.” 

  •  The true self is discovered in the present moment

We need to become connected to the present moment in our local community as the body of Christ in everyday life.  This is our home.  This is our identity.  This is where the true self is discovered.

  •  Where all beauty is found within and around us

It is an on-the-ground miracle to embody living in the present moment.  This is where all beauty is found within and around us.  When our bodies touch the present moment the mystical imagination sings songs of freedom.

  •  The present possibility

Mary Jo Leddy writes, “…there is a more ordinary mysticism to be found in discovering the liberating attitude of gratitude.  This is not given rarely or only to a few but exists as a present possibility for all of us…” 

Have you ever experienced this miracle of living in the present moment?

Top 5 Things that I Learned Through the Summer of 2014


Now that the summer is over and the fall is here another season in my life has gone by.  As I reflected back on the last three months, it seems God is moving in me in many different ways.  There are so many things I could share, but these are some of the themes that I am coming to a deeper understanding in.

1. A deeper understanding of the importance of gratitude.  Gratitude is not always easy for me.  In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult practices as I live in the North American culture of consumerism where we are always wanting more all of the time.  I have had to discipline myself to be content in the present moment.

It is very easy for me to see what is not and forget about what is, the good gifts that life has brought me in this stage of my life.  I am alive.  I can breathe, walk, run, sleep, enjoy relationships and good food as well as many other things.  I have another year to experience the sacredness of all of life.

2. A deeper understanding of what faithful presence means to me.  This personal practice of faithful presence in the local community or parish where I live has shaped me tremendously.  After a decade of faithful presence in Downtown Tacoma, I am learning to appreciate the small things.  I am learning to experience the hidden yet present God in everyday life.

I am understanding that the kingdom of God lives within me.  And I am becoming an expression of love through my years of faithful presence. Faithful presence is bringing an awareness within me of God’s presence in everyday life within me and around me in all situations.

3. A deeper understanding of contemplative spirituality.  I have been so encouraged by the work of Phileena and Christopher Heuertz who started a center for contemplative activism in Omaha, Nebraska around two years ago called The Gravity Center after working twenty years with the poor around the world.  Their work revolves around the idea that community is not enough to sustain what God is calling us to in the world, we need to develop a contemplative spirituality of silence, solitude and stillness.  Encountering their work has been affirming and inspiring to me as I have thought about this kind of stuff for awhile now.  

4. A deeper appreciation for community.  I am learning to not take my relationships for granted.  Reimagining what love, grace and humility mean for me in my relational context is forming me to be a gentler person who is more mindful and aware of the people in my life who have loved me day by day.  This deeper appreciation for community is a desire in me that will grow more and more as the years pass.

5. A deeper understanding of my own personal vocation.  I think I am getting more clarity around my vocation as a reader, writer, local practitioner, contemplative activist as well as a neighbor and friend to the poor.  It seems that God is grounding my life and shaping this personal vocation for me in ways that are producing more awareness of my true self in the world in the context I live in.

What is one thing you grew in deeper understanding of this summer?

Being Rooted and Linked in the Twenty-First Century


The last ten and a half years of my life have been an experiment in living relationally in the local community of where I live in Downtown Tacoma.  The first five years of this process was disorientating as I stopped believing in a lot of traditional church structures.  The church I had known was no longer providing what I needed for my own growth and formation.  So I started to listen more deeply and cried out to God for a church in North America that has lost a sense of connection to place, community, authenticity, formation, incarnation, embodiment and imagination.

  •  The teachings of Christ are lived out locally

The teachings of Christ will only be lived out locally together.  Christ’s teachings are always about what is before us locally and relationally.  We cannot separate the teachings of Christ from the local, everyday life of daily living together in the parish.

  •  Being rooted and linked is essential

Christianity was meant to be a movement among us of the parish imagination.  So being rooted and linked is essential to partnership with God in the world.  God works through the parish imagination as a movement of locality.

  •  Being a troubling alternative to the power imbalances in the empire

Michael Frost in his book Exiles says, “The Christian movement must be the living, breathing promise to society that it is possible to live out the values of Christ – that is, to be a radical, troubling alternative to the power imbalances in the empire…” 

  •  Is it possible to live authentically together?

It is possible to live authentically together in our local context.  The parish imagination is leading us to this.  The parish imagination does not fear empire.  Being rooted and linked will teach us the wisdom of the parish imagination as the body of Christ in everyday life together.

  •  Listening deeply in the parish

We need to resist the abstract by becoming practitioners in our local community.  The parish imagination resists what is impersonal and abstract.  A movement of locality will cause us to become practitioners who are rooted and linked.  This embodies love into our neighborhood contexts.  This causes us to listen deeply in the parish.

  •  More intimate, local, connected, and authentic

Robert Inchausti asks the question in his fascinating book Subversive Orthodoxy, “Will we make our lives more impersonal, global, abstract, and artificial or more intimate, local, connected, and authentic?…” 

  •  A movement of locality

A movement of locality causes us to become more connected and authentic in everyday life.  The abstract will get us nowhere.  The abstract will lead us to noplace.  The abstract will lead us to dislocation.

  •  Not getting trapped in the box of the abstract

Being rooted and linked through a movement of locality will help us not to get trapped in the box of the abstract.  The abstract will only lead us to deconstruction without imagination.  We need more of a parish imagination that is rooted and linked.  We need a movement of locality that spreads throughout the land with great imagination!

Do you think that living locally is important?  Why or why not?  What is your experience?

Is It Possible To Live Without Expectation?


God has constantly shattered my expectations in life.  I want God to be this for me or I want God to work in me in this way that I have formulated myself.  This always leads me to frustration and a deformed hope is held onto.  I am learning to evolve, grow, live into my questions and embrace peace.

  •  Living with openness, receptivity and patience

When we practice contemplation as a way of life; we have to live with openness, receptivity and patience.  We need to understand the dangers of our expectations.  We need to understand the dangers in controlling the process of the mystical imagination.

  •  God develops life within us in ways we do not expect

This way of life is mysterious.  God develops life within us in ways that we do not expect.  We will constantly be upset or disillusioned if we put too much weight on the rationality of it all.

  •  Embodying a contemplative spirituality

We cannot live by our rationality if we are going to embody a contemplative spirituality of love and compassion in the world.  We cannot figure God out.  We cannot figure out the mystical imagination.

  •  Beginning right where we are

We are limited in our understanding of life most of the time.  To live out a contemplative spirituality we must begin right where we are in the place we inhabit without expectation and control.  We must live with openness, receptivity and patience.  There is nowhere else to start.

  •  No expectations, no achievements

Kathryn J. Hermes says, “To become a contemplative, one must simply start to contemplate.  I say simply because to begin to contemplate one must be able to honestly begin where one is; just start, and nothing more.  No expectations.  No achievements.  No stories to tell of wisdom gained.  One simply must just begin.  And after fifty years of contemplating God everyday, one must begin the first day of the fifty-first year in the same way…”

  •  Approaching each moment as a beginner

It doesn’t matter if we have lived a contemplative life for decades or years or days, we always approach each moment as a beginner to new revelations.  These are the seeds that could speak to us at any time if we are listening and aware.  So much revelation comes to us in the ordinary moments of everyday life.  We do not expect such ordinariness to enlighten us, but it constantly does over and over again.

  •  We cannot force our growth

We need to learn to have an openness and receptivity as we live as the body of Christ in the parish.  We cannot force our growth.  We cannot force our discipline.  These are good things to strive for, but ultimately revelation and understanding is given by God in ways that take time.

  •  As a gardener preparing the soil

We only begin as a gardener preparing the soil of our lives for openness and receptivity.  Our contemplative way of life helps us to listen and lay down our expectations in how we experience God.  We cannot control God or ever will control God.  The mystical imagination understands such things.

How have you become aware of the life of God within you in everyday life?

Does God Really Live in the Ordinary?


In my life I am learning that God is in the ordinary.  This doesn’t make sense to me a lot of the time, but this is how God is revealed in the world.  So I am finding that the ordinary is drenched in the sacred, the divine possibilities all around me. There is no escaping this.

In my worst moments God is there.  In my best moments God is there too.  God lives within me through the ordinary.  I am understanding that God lives in the hidden places of the ordinary in you and in me.  This causes great wonder to arise within me as I think about it!

  •  Seeking God in the ordinary

Seeking God together as the body of Christ often happens within an ordinary local context.  Days and nights, weekends and weekdays, fall, winter, spring, summer; all these take place within the ordinary moments and cycles of life. The ordinary is mundane, but the beauty of God can be discovered there.

  •  God is incarnate in the ordinary

Ronald Rolheiser reminds us that “If God is incarnate in ordinary life then we should seek God, first of all, within ordinary life.” 

  •  Jesus was very human and ordinary

Jesus was a very ordinary man.  If we were alive when he lived in Nazareth and got close to him, we would probably have found him to be very human and ordinary.  In fact, I believe a lot of his miracles and parables stemmed out of the ordinary.

  •  Seeing the sacredness of the ordinary

It was the ordinary people with whom he had ordinary relationships.  It was and is very ordinary to be hungry or sick or lonely.  Christ always saw the sacredness of the ordinary.  Let’s look at the parable of the mustard seed.

  •  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches” (Matthew 13: 31-32).

  •  The process of ordinary growth

In this parable, as in many of his parables, Christ uses what is ordinary to demonstrate what the kingdom of God is like.  Here he is referring to such ordinary things as a small mustard seed which turns into a garden plant and then a tree.  He is referring to the process of growth when something is planted in a garden and birds perch on tree branches.

  •  Seeds, birds, branches, trees and gardens are all very ordinary

Seeds, birds, branches, trees and gardens are all very ordinary everyday-life things.  Christ doesn’t tell us strange religious stories to explain life.  He puts everything into the ordinary so that we can relate and understand.

  •  Drenched in divine possibilities

Barbara Brown Taylor says, “The most ordinary things are drenched in divine possibilities.”

Do you think you can experience God in the ordinary moments in everyday life?

Top 5 Ways We Pretend to Seek Truth While Abandoning Honesty


I have been thinking a lot about the relation of truth and honesty.  What is truth if not an honest embodiment of something beautiful in everyday life?  It seems to me that truth is embedded in an honest discernment, questioning, reflective way of life where growth toward living fully alive is priority.  Here are five ways I think we pretend to seek truth, but abandon honesty in the process:

1. We abandon the embodiment of love and talk about God.  It seems that we are more concerned about converting people to intellectual ideas about the gospel than loving others unconditionally in everyday life.  So many people seem to believe in God, but do not live a meaningful life.  I think it is because we do not have much to invite others into.

Therefore, we are overly focused on the intellect and not an embodied experience of love through the communal imagination.  This idea of evangelism has become a manipulation in the name of God and we say it is of the Holy Spirit.  I think it is dishonest and destructive.

2. We go to church and abandon local community.  Going to church promotes a dishonest life a lot of the time.  I think it is destructive to be a part of a gathering were we do not live within the local community of where the gathering is at.  We like to go to church without any concern for a local way of life together.

We like to pretend we are the body of Christ together when the reality is that the church cannot be found Monday through Saturday in a particular place a lot of the time.  Can we stop going to church as we know it in North America and become embedded in a local community in everyday life together?  This promotes faithful presence in our context, a relational way of life, listening, collaboration and face-to-face connection which is more honest and truthful.

3. We pretend to have all the answers and rarely listen.  Arrogant Christianity is so common in our culture today.  We have used the Bible to devalue others, prove we are right and overly focus on judgment instead of love.  Listening and learning from others is forgotten in our arrogance.

4. We read the Bible and have no interest in caring for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  A lot of people say that they take the Bible literally, but do not like to take the teaching of Jesus about the sheep and the goats seriously. The story is in Mathew 25 and teaches that whatever you do to the least of these you are doing to Christ.  The church pretends to worship God while neglecting to care for the poor, oppressed and marginalized.

5. We hide behind our sin and never really become vulnerable.  We rarely pursue ongoing growth, spiritual formation, listening to our lives and contemplative spirituality because we live in the lie that our lives will always be characteristic of our individualistic sinful ways.  We ignore the teaching of Jesus to deny our individualistic and colonial ways making the excuse that we are just “sinners.”  This keeps us from becoming vulnerable, taking our own growth seriously and cultivating humility within ourselves throughout our lives.

What is a step you can take to live a more honest way of life?

Top 10 Sins that are Destroying the Church in North America


I have been thinking a lot about some of the things that have disillusioned me about the church in North America.  Our typical models of church have frustrated me for years, but I cannot just abandoned my spirituality because of my feelings about the church.  I must mourn and dream for the church that could become something beautiful in our culture.  Here are the top ten sins that I think the church needs to face if we are going to embody something beautiful in our world:

1. The abandonment of local community.  We have abandoned a local way of life in pursuit of the “good life.”  We are destroying the world and abandoning our commitment to culture through the lack of investment we have in the local community we live in.  This is ignored as we do not seem to care very much about what is local and settle for the idea of “going to church.”

2. The refusal to live in proximity to one another and become neighbors in everyday life.  We do not want to become neighbors and face one another in everyday life.  We like our individualism and do not like any discussion of proximity to a particular place.  The idea of parish, a local community where you live, is despised when it comes to our ecclesiology.

3. Upward mobility.  We are more interested in our economic advancement and making money than being the body of Christ together in a particular place over time.  We have almost no vision for decades of rootedness in the place we find ourselves living.  We always want something better and move on after three to five years.

4. Consumerism.  We have abandoned simplicity.  We take high paying jobs so we can buy more things that we do not need.  We are not aware that working forty to sixty hours a week outside of our local community is making us useless because there is no faithful presence when this is happening in everyday life.

5. Patriarchy.  Women have become marginalized and ignored.  Men are seen as leaders while women are not and told they can’t be.  What a mistake that men do not realize the asset that women are to the church.

6. Embracing judgement to the world instead of love.  There is so much judgment from the church toward others in the world.  But we are called to lay down our judgment and embody love in our context in the world.  Without love the church is nothing and does more damage than good.

7. Dualistic thinking.  The sacred/secular divide is destroying the church.  We have lost the ability to see all of life as sacred.  The world is a sacred vessel of enlightenment, revelation and wonder.

8. The abandonment of practicing hospitality to the poor, oppressed and marginalized.  We do not like to open our homes, our tables, our lives to the poor around us in the world.  We have lost the wisdom of hospitality and have forgotten that Christ lives in the poor.  The lack of experimentation, practice and embodiment of this is making the church useless.

9. The refusal to listen.  We love to preach the gospel with words, but we do not like to embody a deep sense of listening to others and the local community we live in.  Listening has been ignored, undervalued and thrown to the wayside.  It takes too much work and time to truly listen in life.

10. Our arrogance in thinking we have all the answers for everyone.  We have become arrogant in thinking we do not have anything to learn from anyone else.  We have become know it alls and impose our prefabricated answers onto everyone around us.  This is colonial and abandons any sense of vulnerability on our part.

How can we dream of a church that does not practice these types of sins in our culture?  Do you think the church is destined to sin or is there something more beautiful to be embodied together?