Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Category: Communal Imagination

Refusing To Be Discouraged 

IMG_7606As I have lived at Guadalupe House for the past six years, I am learning not to be discouraged in our work. When I allow myself to embrace the spirit of criticism or discouragement, I lose my sense of humility, vulnerability, and compassion. And that is the worst hell I can possibly create for myself as I live out my life as a Catholic Worker. It is a betrayal of my true self because the deepest ground of my being is love.

  • Learning through mistakes 

“We should not be discouraged at our own lapses… but continue.” Dorothy Day writes, “If we are discouraged, it shows vanity and pride. Trusting too much to ourselves. It takes a lifetime of endurance of patience, of learning through mistakes. We are all on the way.”

  • Embrace my own vulnerability 

Learning through my mistakes is difficult, but it helps me to embrace my own vulnerability and learn what it means to love.

  • Love is a mystery 

The word love is a mystery to me. Do I understand what it means? Do I even care to ask the question of this profound mystery?

  • Why am I so afraid of love?

Am I truly afraid to embody it? Why am I so afraid of love? Honestly, I don’t know.

  • We are afraid of the word love 

“We are afraid of the word love and yet love is stronger than death, stronger than hatred. If we do not emphasize the law of love, we betray our trust, our vocation. We must stand opposed to the use of force,” states Dorothy Day.

  • Live into the mystery of the unknown 

3d-abstract_other_the-mystery_61883It is hard to live up to these words of Dorothy Day, but my longing is to try the best I can. Maybe the fear of love will be too much, but maybe I might be surprised what happens if I continue to live into the mystery of the unknown.

  • Workers, guests, friends, and strangers 

I am always seeing God’s love through the people I encounter at the Catholic Worker in everyday life. It is truly a mystery that is hard to explain. Workers, guests, friends, and strangers all have something to give.

  • So much hospitality 

It all is amazing and never ending. I am so grateful to be a part of a community with so much hospitality. It makes me happy when I think about it. This gives me hope and meaning in my life.

  • God at work in people who don’t have the slightest interest in religion 

“The longer I live,” says Dorothy Day, “the more I see God at work in people who don’t have the slightest interest in religion…”

  • The most authentic expressions of God

Sometimes, the people who have the least interest in religion are the most authentic expressions of God to us. I was never taught this, but my life experience at age forty two is showing me how true this is in life. How weird! How backwards!

  • Refusing to be discouraged 

So I am refusing to be discouraged in this season of my life. Even though others may think my life is strange or unconventional, I am really grateful for what my life has become as a Catholic Worker. I am learning to see the sacredness of all of life and am finding God in all my relationships and experiences. And I am learning that I do not have to shy away from love as I do my best to embody it in our community in everyday life together.

Why is it so hard to refuse to be discouraged?

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist

Does God Care If We “Go to Church” or Not?

images (42)As Easter is here this week, I get sick of hearing about “going to church.” I am more interested in being the church together with others in everyday life. Community has been hijacked by the concept of “going to church.” In my opinion, church makes us dead, zombie-like bystanders who worship the status quo.

  • Do something that will help us to discover our true self

I have no interest in becoming a person who can’t evolve, think for themselves, and live into the mysterious paradoxes of life. For the sake of authenticity, please don’t go to church. Maybe Jesus is calling us to stop “going to church” and instead do something that will help us to discover our true self, our authentic self. The idea of “going to church” has become something we use to keep us from focusing on our responsibility to engage the world with justice, community, love, solidarity, compassion, risk, forgiveness, vulnerability, and honesty.

  • Be the church together

What can you do to be the church and stop going to church? Community, sharing life together in a particular place in everyday life, is one of the most overlooked things in the twenty-first century. It is so simply yet almost impossible in our hyper-mobile culture. Our intentionality is gone so we are left with the idea of “going to church.”

  • Very little local culture today

There is very little local culture today. Almost everything is taken over by corporations who franchise everything for our consumption. Let’s stop consuming religion and start loving our neighbors together as we love ourselves. Do we even love ourselves anymore? Maybe that is why we have a hard time loving our neighbors.

  • Missing the point of life

I don’t think that God cares if we “go to church” or not. What God cares about is if we live into our true selves and embody a lifestyle of love and compassion in the world. Nothing else matters. Without love, you can “go to church” all you want and completely miss the point of life.

  • Totally neglect the interior life

So many people “go to church” and totally neglect their interior life, their true self, their authenticity, a way of love in the world. But instead become arrogant, judgmental, and mean in the name of their God who is supposed to be love. It is all weird to me. Without love, everything will be weird (there is no shock there).

  • Church in North America is a joke

Embodiment1To me, the systems of what we have created as the church in North America is a joke. I can’t take it seriously. There is almost no contemplative dimension to help us to listen deeper and discover our true selves as well as community together because proximity is something very few people like to talk about or practice. But how can we love our neighbors as ourselves when we do not live in proximity in everyday life?

  • Take care of yourself

So this Easter, do yourself a favor and don’t “go to church.” Do something more worthwhile for your soul, to take care of yourself. Maybe that is what God is leading you to. What a heretical thought!

But maybe we need more heretics who aren’t afraid to give up the status quo and “stop going to church” to discover something more authentic.

How can you take care of yourself?

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist

Condemning the True Self and Becoming a Pharisee


I am learning to take responsibility for my own feelings in life.  Most of the time negative emotions are shunned and looked at like they are bad, but I don’t buy it anymore.  The church wants people to be happy, put a smile on your face and pretend everything is okay when maybe it isn’t.  Maybe I feel unhappy about the lack of authenticity, honesty, vulnerability and truthfulness I sense around me sometimes.

We seem to use God for our own agendas.  I feel sad.  My sadness is revealing to me how I have a need of connecting with others authentically which is not always being met.  So my lamentation is teaching me to reimagine a way to connect with others that is healthy, life-giving and inspiring.

  • Taking responsibility for myself

I have not been taught how to take responsibility for myself.  I have not been taught to feel my feelings, especially if they are of the negative sort.  Sometimes I feel so much anger, depression, insecurity, irritability and sadness that I don’t know what to do.

“We may have been taught to be responsible for other people,” says Melody Beattie, “but not responsible for ourselves…”

  • Sad, difficult and frustrating

Being responsible for myself is hard.  I want to control others so much sometimes that I don’t know how to be responsible for myself.  I get lost many times as I do this kind of stuff in everyday life.  It is sad and difficult and frustrating.

  • I struggle to believe in a God who is love

I want to accept myself so I can be happier in life.  Loving myself is so important for me as I didn’t received a lot of love when I was younger.  I struggle to believe in a God who is love.  But I know there is some reality to love in the world.  This is one thing I can hold onto in the midst of my confusion and struggle.

  • Accepting ourselves

Amy Hollingsworth writes, “…if we accept ourselves we are better equipped to accept our neighbor.  So accepting ourselves is always the starting point to something greater – a deeper maturity,… and ultimately, a greater acceptance and understanding of our neighbor…  How we see ourselves affects how we see others.”

  • Allowing my life to be broken open to compassion, love and grace

In the midst of it all I am allowing my life to break me open to compassion, love and grace.  I do not want to respond to my life with hatred, apathy, fear, cynicism, hopelessness and isolation toward the world I find myself in.  This is bull shit and pulls me away from my true self – which is authentic, honest, compassionate, embodies humility and love instead of arrogance.

  • Each of us has a choice

Erin S. Lane states, “Each of us has a choice in how we will respond to our heartbreak.  We can either let it take us out of the action in favor of a simpler life where we belong without question or question without belonging, or we can let it lead us into more of a vibrant life in which the contradictions of our faith open us to the death of illusions, the suffering of community and the resurrection of our real selves…” 

  • The death of illusions

These death of illusions in me are difficult and most of the time I don’t think I can take it anymore.  But they are necessary in me.  My true self cannot come to life without this death of what is made up of illusions.  The resurrection of my true self, the real self that I am is powerful and mysterious.

  • The true self made up of what is authentic

This is God’s gift to humanity, the true self made up of what is authentic within us.  The true self is the greatest hope for the twenty-first century world we live in.  The church tries to keep it down, condemn it as a heretic, bury it, conceal it, deny it, but God is leading us into the unknown authenticity of the true self.

  • The true self is the foundation of community

Any form of community can only be cultivated by those connected with the true self within us.  The true self is the foundation of community and all authentic expressions of love.  Without it we become Pharisees – the religious ones who Jesus constantly confronted because of their lack of love in the name of God.

Have we experienced our true self in life?

Let Us Love in Actions and in Truth


It seems to me that sometimes our theology keeps us from loving others.  I am coming to see that any theology that does not lead me to love others is destructive.  God is love.  God is not judgement, condemnation and fear.

In my own life I am understanding more how God calls us beloved.  We are loved by God because we are unique and there is no one else is like us in the entire world.  I like that thought!  Our creator is abounding in loving kindness and leads us to make the space to be an expression of compassion into the world we live in.

  •  Let us love with actions and truth

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth …”  (1 John 3:18).

  •  Making space for others in our lives

The actions we need to love in truth have a lot to do with making space for others in our lives.  Without making space for others we cannot listen to them, be present with them, see the value and mystery within them, or sacrifice for them.  All of this takes time to develop, and we must put a priority on being in relationship like this in the parish.  Nothing else will do for the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life.

  •  Too busy

As Hugh Feiss states so clearly, “If we are too busy to make time for people who need us, whether they are strangers or neighbors, there is something wrong with our priorities …”

  •  Having no time to be relational in everyday life

We must not be too busy for others.  We must instead allow the communal imagination to set the priorities in our lives together.  How tragic when the body of Christ does not have time to be relational in everyday life.

  •  Love one another

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us …”  (1 John 4:11-12). 

  •  In our own uniqueness

Loving one another in the parish entails making space for each other in our own uniqueness.  This must become a priority to all in the body of Christ.

  •  Basic universal acts of love

“To merely welcome another, to provide for him or her, to make a place,” Dallas Willard writes, “is one of the most life-giving and life-receiving things a human being can do.  They are the basic universal acts of love.  Our lives were meant to be full of such acts …”

  •  The most meaningful thing we can do

The most meaningful thing we can do as the body of Christ is to make space in our lives for others out of love.  This is relational and this promotes love.  Our lives should be full of love for others as we become an expression of Christ’s life here on earth in the place that we share life with others.

How can we make space for others in our lives?

Becoming Dreamers Again


I am learning to take responsibility for my anger and other feelings in my life.  This has been so good for me.  As a person who is feels things deeply, I need to learn to listen to my feelings like anger and not place blame on someone else.  Feeling my anger and taking responsibility for it without suppressing it or pushing it away is a good practice that helps me to live into my authentic self.

I have had a lot of anger in myself sometimes.  My anger speaks to me if I will let it.  I used to think that my experiences of the church, my family, or other relationships or things that happened to me in life made me angry.  But this is not true.

My anger is not caused by something else outside of myself like how someone is treating me or by life situations not working out the way I expected them to.  No, my anger is mine not caused by what someone else did.  I must take responsibility for my anger and not live my life blaming or judging everyone around me because I feel anger at times.

Taking care of my anger is important because it is a part of me.  It is telling me something deeper that I must seek to understand about myself.  My anger a lot of times covers up the vulnerable need that is not being met in my life.  Instead of pursuing this need with vulnerability, gentleness, empathy and compassion; anger demands what I want aggressively as it blames and judges.

I find this lesson hard to take because I think that the church and all the injustice in the world makes me angry.  But is my perception wrong?  Maybe my intellect cannot understand that nothing can make me angry.  I have believed this my whole life that others make me angry by what they say or do.

But I don’t believe it anymore.  I still feel anger, but it is not caused by any person or institution or situation.  It just is.  It is not good or bad.

It is a feeling within me I must take responsibility for and figure out what it has to say to me in my own healing journey of exploration.  Anger is usually not accepted well by others and we can easily be condemned by it, especially if you are trying to be connected to the church in some way.  And I have always desired to be connected to the body of Christ, but not in its traditional forms.  I desire for the reformation and transformation of the church in the twenty-first century.

It seems like God is leading me to take responsibility for the anger that I feel when I think about the church a lot of the time.  The church is not responsible for my anger.  It has not made me feel angry, but I honestly do feel anger.  This is the paradox and tension that I live in.

I think my anger is leading me to take responsibility to be the change I want to see in the world.  I am tired about excessively venting about the church.  My anger leads me to heal, grow, love, show compassion, humility and grace.  I want the church to be a loving community of hospitality, justice and creativity where we love our neighbors as ourselves in everyday life together.

This is my dream.  I think my anger has been good for me because as I take responsibility for my anger it is turning into compassion and dreams are being born in me for the church in this time.  I feel we need more people who take responsibility for their anger to allow it to shape their dreams so the body of Christ can be a more loving community in the world.  I have hoped for a long time that the church would become dreamers again.

Somewhere along the way we have lost our ability to dream.  Maybe because we have used our anger to blame and judge instead of allowing it to speak to us, feeling the pain of it in all its dimensions, have we lost touch with our humanity as dreamers.  This is one of the greatest crises the church must face if we are going to embody love together.

  • The seed of anger in us

“All of us have a seed of anger in the depths of our consciousness.  But in some of us, that seed of anger is bigger than our other seeds – like love and compassion.  The seed of anger may be bigger because we have not practiced in the past.  When we begin to cultivate the energy of mindfulness, the first insight we have is that the main cause of our suffering, of our misery, is not the other person – it is the seed of anger in us.  Then we will stop blaming the other person for causing all our suffering…”

  • We are primarily responsible for our anger

“Whenever the energy of anger comes up, we often want to express it to punish the person whom we believe to be the source of our suffering.  This is the habit energy in us.  When we suffer, we always blame the other person for having made us suffer.  We do not realize that anger is, first of all, our business.  We are primarily responsible for our anger, but we believe very naively that if we can say something or do something to punish the other person, we will suffer less.  This kind of belief should be uprooted.  Because whatever you do or say in a state of anger will only cause more damage in the relationship.  Instead, we should try not to do anything or say anything when we are angry.”

  • Looking deeply into our perceptions

“Most of the time anger is born from a wrong perception…  Every one of us must practice looking deeply into our perceptions…”

  • Nothing can heal anger except compassion

“Nothing can heal anger except compassion.  This is why the practice of compassion is a very wonderful practice.”

  • We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering

“In a time of anger or despair, our love is still there also.  Our capacity to communicate, to forgive, to be compassionate is still there.  You have to believe this.  We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering.  We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate…”

  • The greatest relief comes from understanding

“When you are angry, you want to ease your suffering.  That is a natural tendency.  There are ways to find natural relief, but the greatest relief comes from understanding.  When understanding is there, anger will go away by itself.  When you understand the situation of the other person, when you understand the nature of suffering, anger has to vanish, because it will be transformed into compassion.”

  • The tender way of taking care of your anger

“To understand ourselves, we must learn and practice the way of non-duality.  We should not fight our anger, because anger is our self, a part of our self.  Anger is of an organic nature, like love.  We have to take good care of anger.  And because it is an organic entity, an organic phenomenon, it is possible to transform it into another organic entity…  So don’t despise your anger.  Don’t fight your anger, and don’t suppress your anger.  Learn the tender way of taking care of your anger, and transform it into the energy of understanding and compassion.”

All quotes taken from the book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you think other people or situations make you angry?  Or do you take responsibility for your anger looking for something deeper in it about yourself?


Questioning a Life of Consumerism


I have always been drawn to simplicity.  Having what I needed and not much more is how I have lived all of my life.  I have never had large amounts of money.  I have learned how to be content in every circumstance and to trust in God as the sustainer of my life.

  •  Possessions and economic status

This has helped me to learn how to devote myself to my parish.  In my local context, I have learned to live with what I need: the basic necessities of food, shelter, clothes and relational connection.  My relationships are more important to me than my possessions, my economic status or anything else I may have.

  •  The cost to simplicity

Sometimes practicing simplicity is painful and there is a cost to it, but I am learning that even this plays a role in the shaping of our lives together.  Our imaginations become freer.  We have space to be faithfully present in our local context to love, listen, learn, and show empathy.  I am learning that simplicity needs to be the priority in our lives if we are to be in genuine relationship with one another.

  •  Questioning life

As I grew up, I really started to question life and how it works.  I began to ask myself, “Why am I doing what I am doing?”  I began to think about my motives and priorities.  Questioning the pursuit of money and affluence was on my mind a lot.

  •  How God fits into this

Thinking about how God fits into all of this was hard for me.  Sometimes I remember feeling convicted over selfish acts that disregarded God and others. I began to ask, “Why aren’t my motives in life and my priorities becoming more focused on others instead of myself?”

  •  The importance of putting others first

I wondered what would happen if I embodied this more.  I saw that the gospels had many stories and teachings on the importance of putting others first.

  •  Reevaluating how I used my time

Reevaluating how I used my time became a common practice.  Why was I watching so much TV?  Why do I need so much stuff?  Why am I so obsessed with fashion and being cool?

  •  Why?

Why was everything so fast-paced?  Why was I investing so much time in a social life with people who are like me and make me feel good?  Why was I so into sports, movies and the internet?  Why am I so focused on myself to the point of disregarding others?

  •  Gave away things, changed priorities, and shifted focus

This didn’t seem right to me, and so I started to center my life more on relational simplicity.  I gave away things, changed priorities, and shifted focus. I became liberated from the imagination of the empire and started to move more toward the communal imagination.

  •  Left my job as a teacher

When I first moved to Downtown Tacoma, I left my job as a teacher and took several jobs in the neighborhood where I made less money.  This was a move that not many of my friends or family really understood.  So I just did it without a lot of support from others.

  •  Took jobs within walking distance to where I was living

At first, I took a job as a dishwasher at a local restaurant.  I also worked at a bar as a janitor and then as a parking lot attendant.  All these jobs were within walking distance to where I was living in the neighborhood.

  •  Focusing on the relational context I was in

These jobs helped me to become more faithfully present and integrated in the parish.  I developed lots of relationships when I really didn’t know the neighborhood that well.  This shaped me tremendously by helping me not to place such a high priority on the narratives of consumerism.  Now I could focus on the relational context that I was in.

Do you have a story of simplicity to share?

Top 10 Manifestations of Simplicity


In a society that is so addicted to consumerism is there any way to practice a simplicity in everyday life that will bring peace to our world?  These are some of the questions that I have wrestled with over time.  Simplicity could shape our lives in tremendous ways that we will not always understand.

But I am discovering that sometimes I fear simplicity.  Maybe simplicity will create too much havoc in my family.  Maybe I am afraid that I will discover a lack of identity around things that do not have to do with consumerism.  Maybe I will have a mental breakdown without all the stuff I think I need.

This fear runs so deep in me that I would rather live in my lies than face the reality of my addiction to consumerism.  Sometimes I do not want to face my false self that I have constructed over many years of hard work.  Letting go of this feels like a death to everything that I think I am.  But I am finding that simplicity creates new paradigms of clarity, truth and hope within me.

This is what I long for as I struggle with the courage to face my own fears around simplicity.  Simplicity moves me into a greater integration with my true self.  The false self is exposed as a fake, an illusion, something that is not healthy and life-giving to me.  I want to embrace the Jesus of simplicity, peace, love, compassion and humility.

Here are 10 manifestation of simplicity that I think are important in life.

1. Courage

It takes courage to simplify our lives.  It takes courage to search for and enter into a lifelong process of discovery about what really matters in everyday life.

2. Embodiment

This process of discovery is relational.  It is embodied in the place that we live. Without simplicity, we will not be able to connect very well either to God or to one another.

3. New Values

Richard J. Foster notes, “As we strive for simplicity we take energy away from the direction the world is heading and refocus it on a new, life-giving vision for living together.  Simplicity engenders new values which bring about new decisions which brings about a new society.”

4. Risk

What will people think if we live a life of simplicity?  We might stand out too much and become something other than the status quo.  But it is worth the risk.

5. Integration

When we embrace simplicity, it will shape us in ways we cannot understand. Simplicity redefines everyday life and all our relationships.  It helps us to become integrated into the communal imagination.

6. A commitment to place

Our place and our everyday relationships in that place are what really matter in life.  This is so integral to our spirituality.  Without a theology of place, we cannot live into the courage of simplicity and embrace a holistic counterculture. Simplicity is not necessarily an act of ethics or morality, but rather an act of courage.

7. Creativity

Courage is everything to our spirituality.  It takes courage to be in relationship with others.  It takes courage to forsake the status quo and be creative with our everyday lives.  It takes courage to see life through the eyes of beauty and simplicity.

8. Synergy

It takes courage to become rooted in a place.  When we intentionally practice simplicity, we draw energy away from the individualistic, consumeristic thrust of society and create a new synergy.  Simplicity empowers us to imagine a life that is not bound to the North American status quo lifestyle.

“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me”  (Colossians 1:29).

9. Rediscovering beauty

This energy of simplicity is about finding value in what truly matters so that society can still remain beautiful.  What hope is there for society if there is no return to simplicity?  What hope is there for us without beauty in the world?

10. Hope

What hope is there if everyday life should lose all its value?  Simplicity could save our civilization.  Maybe we could be the ones who preserve some value and beauty in life.

Does simplicity make you afraid in certain ways?

What Will Draw Us Together?

Hand Reaching Out BW

I find that humility is one of the most uncommon traits to live by in the twenty-first century.  There is so much talk these days of theology, but where is the humility in it all.  Humility is the embodiment of love and life.  Humility is a manifestation of our true self.

In my own experience, I am coming to see how important humility is to community.  Without community, there is really no need for humility.  And maybe that is why humility is so rare in our time because community is hard to find in a world of individualism.  Our individualism masks over our brokenness leaving us dishonest, distracted and arrogant a lot of the time.

Did the life of Jesus demonstrate brokenness and humility or did it represent power and wealth?  I think a lot of us would like to think that Jesus represented power and wealth, but this is not true.  Jesus came to us representing compassion, vulnerability, humility, brokenness and a nonjudgmental spirituality.  Jesus lived in a particular place in community with others as this shaped him throughout his entire life.

A life of individualism forsakes the embodiment of community, humility, love and the deep bonds that draw us together in everyday life.  The humility of Jesus is what I am being called to as I struggle with my own woundedness, brokenness and pride.  I find myself asking the question, “Where is the humility of love within me?”  It is always present within me, but is sometimes hard to find because I bury it with my individualistic pride which narrows my scope on life to blindness and arrogance.

  •  Christ’s whole life was a demonstration of humility

The birth, life and death of Jesus all demonstrate his brokenness in multiple ways.  He was poor, unrecognizable, rejected, persecuted, suffered pain, came from the most unlikely of places.  Christ’s whole life was a demonstration of humility and brokenness.

  •  Our perceived perceptions

Most of us probably would not have recognized Jesus in his day if we saw him.  He was too common and too broken to be recognized.  Our preconceived perceptions sometimes want Christ to be something he is not.

  •  Unfamiliar to our Western forms of spirituality

He most likely would not fit our picture of a good American.  He was too weak for that.  His brokenness and humility are unfamiliar to our Western forms of spirituality.

  •  Discovering life through our brokenness together

As we embrace humility and authenticity toward one another, we begin to grasp the communal imagination.  Our imaginations become stirred with new ways to live out the gospel in our relationships with one another in the parish. We begin to discover life through our brokenness together.

  •  Taking on a humility that connects us relationally

We start helping others through the pain of living.  We take on a humility that connects us relationally.

  •  We are all wounded

June Ellis, who embraced a Quaker spirituality of authenticity says: “We are all wounded; we all feel inadequate and ashamed; we all struggle.  But this is part of the human condition; it draws us together, helps us to find our connectedness.”

Do you think that our woundedness and struggles throughout life draw us together or apart?

A Mystery to Participate In


Does Jesus really want us to believe in him if we do not practice what he taught about love, community, humility, grace, compassion, kindness and authenticity?  It seems that Jesus is not really an idea to believe in but more of a mystery to participate in.  I want to participate in the mystery of the body of Christ here in the place that I live.  Christ is drawing me into community where I find the many faces of God through my neighbors as I practice my spirituality in the twenty-first century.

  •  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash”  (Matthew 7:24-27).

  •  A practice-based approach to life

It seems that Christ is emphasizing a practice-based approach to life.  He must want his body to practice his words and teachings.  It is within the context of shared life, proximity, living into the ordinary, seeing the sacredness of life and a commitment to a particular place where the body of Christ can practice their faith as a way of life together.

  •  Christ’s teachings are practiced together in everyday life

This is very foreign to the dominant paradigms of the day, but Christ’s teachings are always based on practical life situations.  They are best practiced together in everyday life. The apostle Paul passed this on as well.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice …”  (Philippians 4:9).

Or, to the church in Corinth,

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ  (1 Corinthians 11:1).

They must have grown to know Paul deeply and have been encouraged in what they had seen in his relational life among them.  He is encouraging them to live with a grounded practice-based theology within their local context just as he did.

  •  On-the-ground practice based-theology

We should develop our theology not just from an intellectual or theoretical perspective, but from what I call an “on-the-ground practice-based theology.” All theology should be practiced, tested, and even discovered in the context of real-life experience.  It should not dismiss everyday life, but instead integrate it with the intellectual stimulation that comes through learning new information. Learning is both intellectual and environmental within the context of the locality we live in.

  •  The integration of both/and

It is not either/or but an integration of both/and.  Just as the church cannot be separated from locality, so the academic and intellectual cannot be separated from the environmental and local contexts of life.  We desperately need the paradox of combining the environmental learner in local relational contexts with the intellectual academic learner of the classroom.  A Christianity that doesn’t hold to this paradigm is likely to be empty and irrelevant to life.

  •  The body of Christ in everyday contexts of life

Why do many people question the existence of God today?  I think it might have something to do with the reality that many people have never seen the body of Christ in the everyday contexts of life.  All they have seen is what we box up inside of a building or cram into a ministry one day a week.

  •  Others have not experienced grace and love from us

It doesn’t seem holistic to a lot of people—me included.  They have not felt from us God’s love. They have not experienced from us God’s grace.  We have not fascinated them with God’s beauty.

  •  Creating a culture of imagination

I think it is important to have an awakening around this on-the-ground practice-based theology.  Let’s take the theology of the intellectual in the classroom and integrate it with the on-the-ground practice-based theology of the neighborhood.  There need not be any dualities between the two.  Let them become one and we will see a culture of imagination rise from the dead.

In what ways do you take a practice based approach to your spirituality?

Loving Our Ideals of Community Will Destroy Us


Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Shane Claiborne down in Alabama at a Lent retreat.  Typically, Shane speaks in front of at least five hundred people when he shares, but this weekend was different because there was a tornado warning on the day he arrived and only about twenty people showed up because of it.  I had never been to Alabama before, so to experience tornado sirens go off on the first evening of the retreat was interesting to say the least.  But because there were so few of us, I got to spend some good one-on-one time with him.

I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner next to him at the same table for several days.  Previously, I had read some of Shane’s books like The Irresistible Revolution which had had a dramatic influence on me.  So I really appreciated all the conversation that I got a chance to have with him that weekend.

I was really excited.  I had a hundred questions for him.  Back home, I am known for asking many questions and sometimes wearing others out if they are not in the mood for it.

After many hours of conversation with Shane, I remember asking him what he thought was the most challenging thing he had learned about living in community in his neighborhood of Kensington, Philadelphia at The Simple Way for the past fifteen years or so.  I will never forget what he told me that day.  He said the most important thing he had learned was that learning to love his community unconditionally is so much more important than getting caught up in the ideals of what he thinks the community should be.

I thought this was such profound wisdom and I’m thankful for having the chance to spend some time with him that weekend.  I have been inspired by Shane for many years through his books, so having the chance to hear him in person say these words to me was very powerful.  This conversation has had a profound influence on me to this day.  His words have always stayed with me and I think about them often.

  •  God’s grace shatters our dreams

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his insightful book Life Together, “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream.  The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams …”

  •  Loving our dream of community more than the community itself

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, “By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…  Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse.  Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

  •  Facing a great tension

We always face a great tension between the ideal of what we want life to be like and the reality of life as it is.  The communal imagination is not built on a “wish dream” or an illusion, but on reality.  We will struggle sometimes to figure things out relationally in the parish.  It is not always easy and we might often fail.

  •  Learning to live with grace towards one another

But we need to keep trying to learn to live with grace towards one another.  Without grace, we will build our lives on a lofty illusion of how things ought to be with little contact with reality.  What we are building will not last very long without grace.  When we love our ideals of community more than the reality of the community, we will become disillusioned and bring an oppressive agenda into it that will quickly poison everything around us.

Do you get caught up in loving the ideals of community more than the reality of it?