Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Category: Stories

Making New Mistakes


Last night I went to a neighbor’s house for a celebration of his fortieth birthday.  It was a wonderful celebration of friends and neighbors who share life together.  As I was sitting at this amazing table in their house, I was struck by all the love in the room.  I ended up seated by one of my friends in her sixties and I asked her jokingly about what wisdom she could give me through her six decades of life.

She said something that really struck me as profound.  She said, “Keep making new mistakes.”  This kind of sounded weird to me at first, but I think I got what she was saying.  We need to grow, risk, try, experiment and stumble through life as we live having the courage to keep making mistakes as we get older.

This shows that we are alive.  This shows that we are remaining open with a willingness to experience life in new ways as we live into various embodiments of love, compassion and humility.  “Keep making new mistakes.”  I like that!

When we “keep making new mistakes,” we live a life where the ideal of being perfect is seen for what it is.  This is a denial of our humanity.  It is not realistic to be perfect, and pushes us away from one another as we focus on our shared strengths rather than our share weaknesses.  Our shared weaknesses are the very foundation of relational connection with others and community.

Shared strengths bring with it a lot of competition, division and the placing of our ideals onto others causing resentment if things do not go our way.  Shared weaknesses bring vulnerability, honesty, brokenness, humility, empathy and solidarity.  These are the traits that we share in common with everyone: our limitations, weaknesses, brokenness and pain.  What if we created community around our share weaknesses giving ourselves permission to keep making new mistakes throughout life?

Maybe this is success: to make new mistakes throughout our entire lives. When we fear making mistakes is the day we start to slowly die before our time.  If we live in fear of making new mistakes, our dreams will die and our true selves will never be realized.

As I thought about this a little bit last night, I am astonished by how profound this insight to “keep making new mistakes” is to me.  What new mistakes will I have this day, this week, this month, this year, this moment?  That is the question to live my life in.  Where are the new mistakes that keep me alive and free to be myself?

I am not called to be someone else, but I am called to be me.  When I have the courage to keep making mistakes as I have more years behind me, I will slowly come to understand who I am and what life is about more.  Maybe making new mistakes will bring about what I am most longing for in life: shared life together with others.

How are you making new mistakes?

To Embrace Gentleness in All Things


I am going through a season in my life where being gentle with myself is important.  After being tired from living by my condemning mind that wants to put on me guilt and shame constantly for not measuring up to some ideal standard I hold within myself, I am done with all of that.  I now want to be gentle within myself no matter what.

  • Gentleness is what I strive after

Gentleness is what I strive after, not some rough judgment from my intellect.  I want my body to heal and learn to not fear what is within me.  Discovering my true self will not happen without being gentle.  Holding life, God, myself and others gently is what I need in this time.

  • A crazy dream

I had a crazy dream the other day that kind of freaked me out.  Here is the recap.  In my dream I woke up to find a heavy weight on me and I couldn’t move.  This scarred me so I kept repeating to myself, “The kingdom of God is within you.”

  • It was all in my dream

I was afraid to open my eyes so I didn’t.  Eventually I fell back to sleep and it was over.  When I woke up in the morning, it seemed so real.  But I think it was all in my dream.

  • Trying to process the fear within me

Not completely understanding the dream I asked a couple of friends about what they thought.  Some said that maybe my unconscious might be trying to process the fear within me that is keeping me from living into my true self.  And as I have had lots of struggles with fear in my life, this seems like it might have something to say to me.

  • The kingdom of God is within you

I have been thinking a lot about the teaching of Jesus that says the kingdom of God is within you.  The kingdom of God is within you, what a profound thought!  Half of the time I do not believe it or embrace it.  Maybe this dream is calling me to be more open to this way of life where I believe that the kingdom of God is within me.

  • Living into my depths might take too much courage

Maybe the kingdom of God within you has to do with gentleness, love, compassion, grace, joy, peace, beauty, courage and deeper enlightenment.  Am I scarred to enter into a gentleness toward myself and others in everyday life?  Living into my depths might take too much courage that I don’t think I have.

  • A deeper inner awakening

But maybe God is calling me to a deeper inner awakening that is found in being gentle without fear keeping me from my depths.  Gentleness is beautiful and full of life.  In the midst of a violent society, gentleness is subversive.  As a man, gentleness is looked at as a weakness because men are supposed to be strong showing no sense of vulnerability.  But gentleness is vulnerable, kind, loving and compassionate.

  • This gentleness all starts within myself first

And this gentleness all starts within myself first before it can be an expression to others in the world.  If I cannot be gentle with myself, I will not be gentle to others in any way.  Gentleness may be my salvation as I learn to value myself as created in the image of God.

How have you experienced gentleness in your life?

Struggling With Running Away From It All  


I have always struggled with the relational contexts that I have lived in.  The family I was born into, my cultural context, and my religious experiences all left me with an overwhelming desire to run away, to escape from it all.  Struggle has characterized my life for so long that I have often wanted to leave these contexts altogether.  You see, I didn’t just learn individualism from my educational and entertainment experiences: this was the coping mechanism I learned as a matter of survival for the first three decades of my life.

  • Rarely did I experience a lot of love that connected with me

The family situation I was raised in, my mom and dad plus five sisters and one brother, was often difficult for me.  My parents did love me in their own way, but rarely did I experience a lot of love in a way that connected with me as a young kid.  Sometimes it got so bad that I wanted to deny my family upbringing, even though this is where I came from.

  • Had a hard time getting along with one another

The members of my family had a hard time getting along with one another, as many families often do.  It was common for my parents to fight and yell at each other, and I did not want to be around them very much as I got older.  My mom would often threaten to leave after a fight with my dad.

  • Ashamed of my upbringing

We lived in a three-bedroom little rambler house with only one bathroom.  We were poor and my dad often had to work two or three jobs just to pay for basics like food and utilities.  I became ashamed of my upbringing. Sometimes, the tension was so bad that I didn’t know what to do.

  • Angry at God for the kind of family I was born into

As this tension grew over the years, the desire to leave my family and never speak to them again had crossed my mind many times.  Sometimes, even still, I find myself angry at God for the kind of family I was born into.  Why couldn’t I be from a more supportive, loving family who valued me the way I am?  Why couldn’t we all just get along together?

  • Growing up in the United States

Growing up in the United States has not been easy for me either.  I felt suffocated by the culture’s expectations for me to be popular and successful. The pressure to find my identity in money, possessions and a prestigious career left me disillusioned.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest during the time of the grunge music scene.  I could always identify with bands like Nirvana who struggled under the pressure to measure up to something they did not value very much, to be somebody they were not.

  • Disillusioned with the unbalanced life of individualism

I was left disillusioned with the unbalanced individualism that characterizes so much of the Western world.  Over the course of time, though, I began to realize that running away from it all may not be the best option (although sometimes I still feel like it).  Instead, I have had to learn to face this situation with a new imagination for engaging life where I am.

  • The constraints of popular culture

Living within the constraints of popular culture has been one of the hardest experiences of my life, because it constantly promotes an individualism without interdependence.  This always left me feeling disconnected, fragmented and lonely.  Many times I have wanted to leave my cultural context and move out of the country altogether.

  • Pain and difficulty will not just disappear

Sometimes I think this will bring me to a better place where many of my problems will disappear and life will be much easier.  But I know that this isn’t true.  Leaving my life will only cause me to face my challenges somewhere else.  Pain and difficulty will not just disappear by leaving where I come from.

  • Not truly relational and authentic

My experiences with religion and the church have not left me faring much better.  It always seemed that the people I encountered were not truly relational and authentic.  The churches and cathedrals I encountered promoted an individualistic spirituality that did not always support interdependence in everyday life.

  • Rarely fit in with churches

They seemed to offer services, but I was looking for deep friendship and relational meaning.  Their projects and propositions were frustrating for me, an ordinary guy who needed meaningful connection in everyday life with others. Consequently, I have rarely fit in with churches that felt like an institution.

  • Living in anger or cynicism will not do

And yet staying connected to people of faith is what God has been calling me to do.  Living in anger or cynicism will not do.  But pretending that I am happy about the ways I have experienced my Christianity has not been helpful either. It is so much easier to give up on the church than to have an imagination for something more.

  • I cannot completely abandon the relational contexts that I live in

I am coming to understand that I cannot completely abandon the relational contexts that I live in. There may be times that I must leave those contexts in order for God to teach and awaken me, but I am discovering that the Spirit uses the people and places to which we are called to transform our lives and give us hope.  I can no longer abandon my sense of responsibility to where God has placed me.

  • The reality of friendship, family, and community

I have discovered that the Spirit gives me strength and support to make decisions that can bring life and healing.  God has used my struggle of place to give me courage and love.  I can no longer use my human agency to lead a selfish lifestyle detached from my relational context.  All my experiences have helped me realize that the reality of friendship, family, and community is a miracle that requires divine grace, both if we’re to live together faithfully, and to respond with loving courage when we don’t.

How have you struggled with the relational contexts you live in?

Beloved Friend Bix Dies at 86


On Saturday February 28, 2015 my friend Bill Bischel, or as we called him Bix, died in his home (Jean’s House of Prayer) around 7:30 pm.  Bix was 86 years old and struggled with a heart condition for many years.  He was surrounded by loved ones for 3 days as we sat with him to vigil and reflect on his wonderful life.

  • Caring for others with mental illness

The Tacoma Catholic Worker was Bix’s home as he co-founded it with others back in 1989.  Back in the 70’s he co-founded the G St. Community which eventually became what the Tacoma Catholic Worker is today.  It was founded on caring for others with mental illness, sharing life together and advocating for peace and justice in the world.

  • Influenced by Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi

Bix was a man who was heavily influenced by the social activist Dorothy Day throughout his life.  He loved the works of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.  Protesting against the violence of war and nuclear weapons in particular was his passion.  Being imprisoned many times for his resistance became common to his way of life as he raised awareness of the capacities of these weapons and the amount of money we spend on them.

  • The Plowshares 5

In 2009, Bix was involved in a Plowshares action in which he and 4 others cut through 3 fences of the Naval Base Bangor here in Washington.  Bangor has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States as they harbor the Trident Submarines that carry them as first strike weapons.  The Plowshares 5, as we called them, sought to pour blood on the weapons, hit them with hammers and plant sunflower seeds around them (sunflowers are the only thing that survives nuclear radiation).  They cut through the first fence at around 2:00 am and got caught in the morning several hours later about 20 feet from the nuclear stockpile as 3 of them were senior citizens that could not walk very fast.

  • Promoting peace in our world

The military was humiliated and did not want to take them to trial as the publicity would get out, but had to because it was such a huge violation of perceived trespassing, conspiracy and vandalism.  In this case, Bix got 3 months in prison and 6 months of house arrest.  This is just one of the many actions Bix did to promote peace in our world.  I will always remember this as one of the great stories of our time, especially here in the Northwest.

  • Loved the poor, oppressed and marginalized

Bix was a Jesuit priest who had a heart for social justice and the poor.  He played a part in helping to start not only the Tacoma Catholic Worker but a food bank, medical clinic, nativity house (a day shelter), an overnight shelter and a low income apartment building in our neighborhood.  Bix was a beloved person in our neighborhood for several decades from the 70’s onward.  He loved the poor, oppressed and marginalized in everyday life for many years.

  • Compassionate man of humility

I will always remember Bix as a light hearted, compassionate man of humility.  He seemed to love to laugh.  Opening his home to others was something he did a lot of over the years as he followed in the ways of Dorothy Day who practiced a radical hospitality toward those in need with nowhere to live, nothing to eat and nowhere to go.  This was such an example to all of us at the Tacoma Catholic Worker as he practiced a personalism where he wanted to take personal responsibility for the poor rather than allow the government to take care of them.

  • Loved to hear about the stories from his life

Whenever I was around Bix I would wear him out with questions because I loved to hear about the stories from his life.  He would tell me stories of trying to visit Dorothy Day several times, but just missing her in the 60’s and 70’s.  I loved the story of when they got Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, to come to Tacoma.  Or when he would travel around the U.S. as a hitchhiker.  He would tell me about playing baseball or football in high school.

  • I am glad I got the chance to know him for a time in my life

I particularly like the story about when Bix prayed for this building in the neighborhood and it burnt down the next day.  He did not know at the time that the city planned a demolition burning of it beforehand on that day.  The stories that Bix told were wonderful and I am glad I got a chance to know him for a time in my life.

  • Moving on in his memory

I will definitely miss him for sure.  This is the first time that the Tacoma Catholic Worker has existed without him being present in some way.  It will be different for sure, but we will move on in his memory working for peace and justice on behalf of the poor.

  • What you do for the poor you do to Jesus

Bix taught me that what you do for the poor you do to Jesus.  We will all miss Bix so much, but will continue on at the Tacoma Catholic Worker honoring the poor and working for a more peaceful world.  I will miss you Bix my beloved friend.  Goodbye.

How has this story touched you?

28 Simple Ways to Become Compassionate


We are trying to do something new at the Tacoma Catholic Worker where we live in relationship with so many who are marginalized and have no voice in our culture.  This saddens me because the poor have so much to offer us.  Many of them no longer believe that others care about what they have to say or who they are.  Even though we do many services for those on the margins, we are reluctant to really listen to them and the things they care about.

So we are trying to be better listeners to the poor, oppressed and marginalized in our neighborhood.  This week at our Tuesday night liturgy meal, I facilitated a conversation with a bunch of people about their thoughts on a specific question.  The question I came up with was: How can we become more compassionate people?  The question thrown out there was especially for those who might feel marginalized and voiceless.

Many people who come to our liturgy are extremely poor, with no homes, very little money and a lot of mental illness.  Some are depressed, most are hungry for food, thirsty for something to drink and hurting for relationship.  Some of the people have given up on God or been rejected by the church because of the way they look and act.  Some are drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, immigrants, have recently come out of prison, unemployed, disabled, struggle with their physical health or are working beneath a livable wage job where they get treated unfairly.

But on this day I found out that those who feel like they have no voice have some prophetic things to say to us.  I am coming to see that there is no salvation outside the poor.  It is the poor who save us from the illusion of the affluent life of meaninglessness that it seem many of us pursue on a path of upward mobility.  Why are we so afraid to listen to the cries of the poor?

This night I broke out of my fear to open myself up to really listen to those who Jesus said what you do for one of the least of these you are doing to me.  We need to listen more to Jesus through the poor.  This could change everything about how we experience life, care for others and live in community.

Here are 28 ways that were expressed in our conversation about how we can become more compassionate toward those who feel marginalized.

1. Focus on what we have in common with one another

2. Show love and respect

3. Share some food together

4. Don’t be so judgmental

5. Take a posture of understanding

6. Listen and hear others

7. Have more availability for others to take showers in our homes

8. Engage in action that comes from the heart

9. Become open to the wisdom they bring to us

10. Be compassionate toward yourself first

11. Live for the benefit of others

12. Find ways to be together

13. Share our assets

14. Daily acts of kindness and reflection

15. Cultivate patience

16. Have a true motive of genuine care

17. Come out of your own box

18. Respond to suffering

19. Get to know each other

20. Share our thoughts and stories

21. Share our lives together

22. Engage in the process and conversion of compassion

23. Walk with others

24. Take it slow

25. Stop to pause before we immediately respond to someone

26. Realize that we all want the same thing, not to be dehumanized

27. Help someone out while feeling with emotion

28. Refuse to be bitter and hateful

What has touched you through this story?

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?

Have We Abandoned Our Call to Be Wounded Dreamers?


My own journey in life has led me to feel the pain of dreams falling apart, expectations going unfulfilled and willfully living unaware of the responsibility I have to be the example in the world I long to see.  This is a constant tension within me.  But getting in touch with my pain is helping me to become a more compassionate person when it would be a whole lot easier to become angry and cynical.

  • Getting in touch with our own pain

One of my favorite writers Kelly Bean states, “Getting in touch with our own pain and becoming aware of our own brokenness is not an easy path, but it’s one that leads to our own transformation as well as the possibility of forming authentic relationships.  No matter how many good intentions we have, if we are not becoming more self-aware and taking active measures to continue toward growth and healing, our work and our relationships can only go so far and may end up causing more harm than good over time…”

  • Working out a way of love in the world

It seems that the path toward growth in our lives starts with where we live.  I have decided to stop running from my pain and start learning what it means to love instead.  Isn’t this the simplest and hardest thing to do in life.  To stay rooted in a particular place for a decade or longer just might be the most radical thing we can do to work out a way of love in the world.

  • Becoming a wounded dreamer

Even though many dreams have fallen apart over the years and expectations have gone unfulfilled at times, I am learning to have the courage to believe in the possibilities God has placed inside of me.  I am becoming a wounded dreamer, a believer in life.  A practitioner of grace, gratitude, compassion and love is what I am becoming even though it is difficult.

  • I had a dream

I had a dream yesterday in which I was seeing miracles of love all around me.  I saw people quitting their high end jobs and simplifying to become more faithfully present to their context.  I saw people apologizing for the hurt they have caused others with the hope of reconciliation.  I saw others opening their homes and their tables to the less fortunate.

  • Communities flourishing

In my dream, I could see communities flourishing as hundreds of people became rooted and linked in particular neighborhoods rekindling a passion for local ways of life as the body of Christ in everyday life.  I saw others learning from their neighbors, laying down their prejudices and opinions in order to love and show compassion.  Great joy flowed within me as I reflected on my dream.  Life is not always supposed to be easy and we are to become wounded dreamers in the midst of it all.

How can we become wounded dreamers again?

What is Neighborhood Night Out?

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Yesterday we had a great block party in our neighborhood that was so much fun!  It brought so many people out who live in houses, apartments, cars and even outside.  There weren’t too many cool hipsters at this party.  It was mostly for the poor, those with low income housing or no housing at all.

  • Neighborhood night out

We called it our neighborhood night out.  It was put on by the Tacoma Catholic Worker where we have eight houses within one block.  The block most of the houses are on is called G Street.  We blocked off a section of it from 14th to 15th Street right between some of the houses.

  • Painting a giant mural of a sunflower on the street

Lots of families showed up with small children or elementary age kids.  One of the things most the children were excited about was painting a giant mural on one of the intersections of G Street.  The mural was of a giant sunflower!  It was so much fun to see how the children were so engaged in the painting even after a lot of the adults got tired and took a break.

  • Serving around 200 plates of food

There was a lot of joy and laughter on the faces of the children as they painted and played in the street.  We also had a crafts table, bubbles, chalk art, badmitten and lots of free food.  We served around 200 plates of hotdogs, hamburgers, chips, watermelon, pasta, salads, beans and desserts.  I had the honor of serving food which the line took almost an hour to get through.

  • Reflecting on one another, God and our neighborhood

In honor of our Tuesday night liturgy, we took the first half hour for a space to reflect on one another, God and our neighborhood.  The theme of the liturgy was on loving God with all of your heart, soul, mind, strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.  This was great as the sharing was done in the street by the sidewalk in front of some of the houses.  We sat on the nearby grass or brought out chairs to sit on as we listened and pondered on our life in the neighborhood.

  • Block party not just for white people

The block party was not just white people, but folks of many different races were enjoying the evening with us.  This wasn’t just a party for those labeled “cool” in their 20’s and 30’s.  No, this party was inclusive toward those older in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and above.  This was a party for families and younger kids also.

  • Creating an environment of hospitality and welcome

The painting of the mural on the street was so amazing!  It was fun to see new and old faces.  We ended up meeting neighbors down the street who we hadn’t seen much of before.  We hoped to create an environment of hospitality and welcome in our neighborhood.  I think we accomplished this and had fun doing it!

What do you think of a neighborhood night out block party?

5 Reasons Why the 4th of July is Difficult to Get Excited About


As I have become more aware of the history of our nation it does not make me proud to call myself an American.  We have murdered Native Americans to take this land, enslaved African Americans to build our economy and have recently given corporations the rights of a human person which has resulted in major injustices in the world.  Our country is the only one to have ever used a nuclear weapon upon another country.  We have become colonial as we have dominated the world with our Western way of life destroying beautiful cultures in the process.

This makes me sad to call myself an American.  So as I live through the fireworks and attend a BBQ with friends this year I will also try to be in solidarity with all those who suffer because of our freedom here in the United States.  I will live to be the change I want to see in the world.  I will get up another day and pursue love, grace and humility within myself as an expression to the world.

I am grateful in many ways of having the freedom to pursue life in the way I think is best for me here in America, but some of my difficulties with the celebration of our independence on the 4th of July are:

1. We have used our freedom to become violent, kill and exploit others around the world. This is really what our country is founded on.  There would be no independence of the United States if we were not colonial.

2. We have used our freedom to pursue consumerism and neglect hospitality, social capital and neighborliness with others.  Our families, education and entertainment experiences have taught our lives a hyper-individualism that is all about being “successful” by making money to buy things.  This is often times more important than building healthy long-lasting friendships in life.

3. We have used our freedom to pursue countless hours of entertainment while neglecting personal growth.  How many hours do we give to watching sports, TV, movies and surfing the internet?  This will make it difficult to become intentional with reading, silence, friendships in community, solitude, reflection, exercise and authentic conversation or any others means of personal growth.

4. We have used our freedom to claim liberty and justice for all when the poor are oppressed, marginalized and ignored in our country.  We need to practice having the imagination to see Christ in the marginalized among us.  The United States claims liberty and justice for all, but what about those who work jobs without livable wages, the mentally ill, people suffering from abuse, immigrants and those of other races who become oppressed because they are not white?

5. We have used our freedom to celebrate our independence over interdependence in a local community.  We have become a people who embody an individualism that has created extreme fragmentation, loneliness and unnecessary stress to our lives.  Living above place is not in our consciousness.

What do you like or not like about the 4th of July?

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

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?