Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: authenticity

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

Becoming Self-Aware in Everyday Life


Sometimes I resist self-awareness.  I go through life blind to what is really going on within me.  When I do this it is extremely unhealthy because I end up isolated from my authentic path.

  •  The illusions of the false self

Authenticity is harder to find when I am not self-aware.  My true self is buried within me over all the illusions of the false self that I have created.  The false self is what my ego gravitates toward, but it is not who I am at the core of my being.

  •  Self-awareness and authenticity

I cry out to experience some liberation from my false self to have an understanding of my true self, created in the image of God.  When I am self-aware, I truly live my life from what is authentic to me.  This is my freedom as I live deeply into my body in the place I live.

  •  Confusing, difficult and impossible at times

I have been on a path to understanding myself for the past two decades.  It all started back in the early 90’s.  It has felt confusing, difficult and impossible at times.  I have recognized that my own humanity is very complex and has very deep levels that I do not always fully understand.

I crave food, sleep, sex, comfort, rest, companionship with others, rhythms, integration, mission, learning, thinking, contemplating, silence, meaningful work, healing from pain, freedom from anger, the disappearance of sadness, looking good, cleanliness, exercise, leisure, celebration, touch, affirmation, happiness, money, possessions and fun experiences.

  •  Listening in silence and solitude

In the midst of sorting out what is a healthy expression of my humanity, I have had to cultivate a practice of listening in silence and solitude.  There are boundaries, liberties and limitation to all the things I experience within myself.

  •  Lifelong process

My silence and solitude has helped me to discern what is going on inside of me.  I ask the hard questions within myself constantly to try to understand myself.  I have gotten much better at this over the years, but it is a lifelong process of working out my identity in the parish.

  •  Without deepening your own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love

Thomas Merton writes in his book Contemplation in a World of Action, “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others.  He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas…”

  •  So important to becoming our true self

Understanding ourselves is so important to becoming our true self.  Understanding ourselves is a connection point in our relational context.  The more we understand ourselves, the more ability we will have to live relationally in our local community.  When we are on the path of self-understanding, we will start to experience our spirituality more holistically.

  •  Our awareness becomes alive and free

Our awareness becomes alive and free within the mystical imagination.  Our awareness leads us deeper into ourselves and the place we inhabit together.  Silence and solitude creates this self-understanding, this awareness.

  •  Becoming whole and connected

Phileena Heuertz says in her wonderful book Pilgrimage of a Soul, “Self-Awareness is central to becoming whole and connected…”  

What is something you practice to become self-aware in everyday life?

Top 9 Ways that Memory is Subversive

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Often times the mind is disconnected from an embodied experience of our spirituality.  It seems that the intellect gets the most focus in our Western ways of life far more than the body does.  I am coming to see that the mind that fosters the memory for an imagination within us is so important in our embodied experience of love, grace and humility.

There are so many memories that have become helpful for to remember who I am.  I am talking about my true self without all the fabricated illusions I have created within me.  The true self that is deeply connected to love, compassion and empathy.  My memory is a powerful tool to help me to become an embodied expression of love in the world.

There have been seasons in my life where I have forgotten who I am.  In these seasons, I usually become cynical, depressed, isolated and frustrated with everything.  I spiral down into an amnesia of hope, life and peace.  When I integrate my mind (memory) with my body (an embodiment of love) I start to live again.

Recently a friend of mine died.  And the memory of his life and legacy has inspired me to reimagine everything that is valuable to me.  Death and funerals have a way of stirring the imagination through grief to find what is authentic in life.  When I think about death, it always puts me back in touch with my authentic memory that inspires what is truthful in the midst of my experience.

Here are 9 ways that memory is subversive.

1. It is dangerous to the status quo

Memory is subversive.  Memory can be dangerous to the status quo.  Memory is life-giving to us individually and together collectively as the body of Christ.

2. Cultivates imagination within us  

What is the body without the memory of the mind?  If we did not have minds to remember, we would be dysfunctional.  Memory infuses the mystical imagination.

To have a memory of the beautiful is a powerful practice in the parish.  Our reflection and rest holds this memory within our souls.  We cannot function without our memory. 

3. We live within our depths

We need our memory.  We need to remember the divine mysteries all around us.  We need to remember the divine mysteries within us.

4. We become our true selves

We are all called to memory.  All of us are called to memory in the place we inhabit together.  The memory cultivates the mystical imagination within us.  The memory calls us to be ourselves.

5. Calls us to an inner revolution that is decentralized and organic

The memory calls us to reimagine.  The memory calls us to love, grace and humility.  The memory is calling for an inner revolution that is decentralized, organic and subversive.  The memory can connect us to authenticity and honesty.

6. We experience all of life as sacred

Our reflection and rest directs our focus toward God and the sacredness of all of life.  We are called to rest in God.  We are called to a memory of reflection in the place we inhabit together.  God’s rest is our abundance.

7. Puts us into a posture of living

God’s rest is our strength.  God’s rest is our identity as the body of Christ in everyday life together.  Our reflection and rest puts us into a posture of living.  Our reflection and rest puts us into a posture of listening to our local community.

8. We depend on God

Lynne M. Baab writes, “…our rest indicates that we depend completely on the God who created and sustains us…” 

9. We remember each other

God is the one we remember through each other.  God is the one we remember through the parish.

Is an authentic memory important to you?

5 Ways We Can Live More Authentically


I have been thinking a lot about authenticity lately.  This is a word that has a lot of mystery to it.  The embodiment of authenticity is something I haven’t seen much of in the North American context.  Here are 5 ways I think we could move toward authenticity a little more in everyday life together:

1. We can become rooted in a local community for decades.  Rooting in the parish is essential.  Without this, there is no context to be the church Monday through Saturday in everyday life together.  Authenticity is embodied relationally and locally.

Community will be abstract if there is no commitment to place.  It will become an affinity group of homogenous people who all think alike.  When we root in a place, we become neighbors with all kinds of people crossing gender, class, religion, age and race barriers.

2. We can learn to listen to others, God and our own lives.  Listening is one of the most authentic things we can do.  Listening promotes love and the valuing of others.  It creates a pathway for a new way to experience our humanity in all kinds of ways.

Listening makes us vulnerable.  Listening makes us powerless.  Listening puts us in a posture of humility.  Listening is always about radical honesty with one another.

3. We can become neighbors.  We need to live in proximity to one another.  When there is no proximity between us, there is no neighborliness because we will not be neighbors in everyday life.  We accept living in different neighborhoods too easily.

When will we embrace the same neighborhood for the common good together.  There is no more authentic way to be the church together in everyday life.  We can only be an expression of love locally in a neighborhood that we live in.  We need to remember this!

4. We can participate in the mystery of God by seeing the sacredness of all of life.  Our lives are steeped in dualities of the sacred/secular.  This is destroying our spirituality.  We desperately need to recover and heal from this!

Recovering the need to see all of life as sacred is essential to our sanity.  We need to practice an embodiment of experiencing the sacredness of all of life through a deep contemplative spirituality.  There are no secular dimensions within us or our world if we could only see.

5. We can collaborate with others in the place we live.  Collaboration has been undervalued.  To develop any sense of community there needs to be a posture of collaboration among us in the place we live.  Without this all we have is division, colonialism and competition in the name of God.

This is ridiculous and we need to reimagine how we can collaborate more in everyday life together for the common good of our neighbors.  This is authentic and caring.  We need a faithful presence of collaboration, social capital, neighborliness and compassion among us.  This is how we can authentically seek God together as the body of Christ in the twenty-first century.

What does authenticity mean to you?

Longing for Community in Everyday Life


In the year 2000, I had a profound experience of extreme loneliness after I had finished college.  I was uprooted from my relational network around the college I went to in order to take a job in the field of my study somewhere else in a new place.  This was hard for me because I moved to a place where I didn’t know anyone.  I had so much anxiety that it was hard for me to be at peace as I became depressed and lost a lot of energy to live.

I spent a whole year or so struggling with a longing for relational connection, peace, interdependence, and community.  My faith in God seemed to be gone.  I was becoming angry, disillusioned, and disheartened.  I was wondering was there anyone in the place I lived that I could connect to and become friends with in the state I was in?

It seemed I was abandoned by God and lost.  I was experiencing a dark night of the soul where I spent a lot of time crying in my brokenness and pain.  God was leading me to see a need for some sense of interdependence and community in my life.  Up to this point, I had not really experienced or seen what that could look like in everyday life.

  •  Individualism, fragmentation, loneliness

How can we be the body of Christ together in the day-to-day of life despite the individualism, fragmentation, and loneliness we all experience at times?  I have experienced many years of trying to be connected to people of faith who have no commitment to one another, or to the  place where they live.  It  has been frustrating.

  •  A slow turning towards a Culture of Imagination

Many times I have wanted to give up because it seems that all of our spirituality is lived out of a Western individualistic paradigm.  But I want to encourage others not to give up. There is another path to a way of interdependence within the body of Christ in everyday life.  And it seems that there is a slow turning towards a Culture of Imagination that God intended from the beginning of creation.

  •  Discovering interdependence

I have often asked myself the question, “What is life about?”  I don’t know a lot of the time, but I am discovering that I need an interdependence with others to even open up the question.  This cannot be discovered in isolation from others.

  •  Living into my context with more authenticity

The context of my relationships in the place that I live is the medium that helps me to discern what life is and who I am.  I must resist the temptation to run away when the relational revelations come at me too strongly and I lack the courage to face them.  These situations have the power to break down my arrogance and help me rely on God in order to live into my context with more authenticity and imagination.

How can we live interdependently with others in everyday life in the place we live?

New and Better Ways to Escape Reality


I am beginning to think more about the many things that take my attention away from faithful presence to the place I live and the people around me in my life.  I am called to love.  I am called to humility.  I am called to grace.  This needs to be an embodied practice within me.

Sometimes I have found myself too preoccupied with things that do not help my relational connection with others.  I am tempted to escape into the internet with countless sites of social media and websites.  The virtual world of the web takes me away from the face-to-face of everyday life.  My head hurts from too much time spent in this virtual world.

I have been tempted to spend countless hours in front of my computer screen watching Netflix TV shows and movies.  Recently I had to cancel my Netflix account because it was becoming too much for me to handle as there are so many things to watch that take up a lot of my time.  I am tired and exhausted from all of this.

I have had to look at my social life also.  It is fun to go to social events and parties.  But sometimes all it turns into is small talk with many acquaintances where I could be more intentional by spending my time deepening a few relationship in a more authentic way.  Sometimes the discernment to say no to some things is hard so I can say yes more profoundly to what I really care about.

There are so many things that distract me from a way of love, authenticity and community.  These are the things I want to base my life on, but often times I am on the path of addiction to screens and the approval of others.  I cry out to God for the freedom of authenticity and life to flourish within me.

  •  Engrossing and addictive distractions

Gus Gordon writes, “The genius of our culture is to provide all the necessary fillers, new and better ways to escape reality.  It convinces us that life would be incredibly dull without distractions and cravings of every kind.  We are seduced to live our lives in terms of engrossing and addictive distractions.”

  • Distractions are the North American way

For some reason we think that there is life in our distractions.  Distractions are the North American way.  Distractions are the norm.  Distractions are predictable.  Distractions are controlled by our own agenda.

  •  Escaping our lives and responsibilities to one another

We love to escape our lives and responsibilities to one another for the thrill of distractions sometimes.  Distractions, we think, are the ultimate path to our “happiness.”  But the truth is that distractions always lie to us.  Distractions take away our imaginations for something countercultural.

  •  A technique to escape reality in the place we live

Distractions scare the mystical imagination with images of the “real world” promoted by the empire.  Distractions are a technique to escape reality in the place we live.  Distractions are addictive and irrelevant to true life.  When will we be tired of being seduced by our distractions as the body of Christ in the parish?

Why are we so distracted to what is truly meaningful and authentic in everyday life?

The Things I Have Learned Through Ten Years of Rootedness


It has been ten years since I moved into the neighborhood of Downtown Tacoma to become a part of its life.  I remember back in 2004 when I left my life in Kent, packing up my apartment and leaving a life of individualism behind me.  Over the course of a decade in the parish where I live now I have learned many things about life that I would have no understanding of otherwise.

  • Challenged to live authentically and relationally

It was kind of a risk to leave a lot of what I thought I knew and allow my spirituality to be shaped within me through the relationships of this new place.  I thought I understood how to love, connect, listen and show compassion.  But this place has challenged me to live authentically, relationally and not hide from who I am.

  • The questions that haunt me

I started to question a lot of things within me such as: “Maybe I don’t have all the answers.  Maybe I don’t understand how to love.  Maybe I am afraid of being known by others.  Maybe my human experience is not authentic.”

  • Learning to face my fears

I had to learn to face my fears, to allow others in my life, to listen to others of a different perception than my own, to face poverty and practice hospitality.  This has scared me.  This has shaped me tremendously.  This has shown me ways to do something different.

  • The illusion of independence, the life of interdependence

Giving up a life of comfort and ease has not been easy for me.  Sometimes I want my life of individualism back.  I want to go back to the matrix where I can do anything I want and live in the illusion of independence where I do not see the consequences of my actions.  But I am finding that the life of interdependence is much more what I was meant to live.

  • Seeing all of life as sacred

Sometimes I can feel absent and yet remain faithful to being present.  It is all so ordinary and hard to explain how a decade of my life in this place has helped me to see everything as sacred.  I am being freed of the traps of my own dualities and liberated to see all of life as sacred.  This place has caused me to focus on what I love, what I am for, what is authentic, what is beautiful instead of just falling into despair.

  • God is revealed through the ordinary things of life

Eating together, doing common work, learning together, practicing hospitality, walking the streets, spending time in public spaces, engaging in ordinary conversations, laughing, dreaming, listening, storytelling, showing love and compassion all have revealed more of God to me through the ordinary things of life.  I have learned to be grateful cultivating a way of life in which gratitude lives in me, guiding me when I am tempted to live in my depression and idealism.  Happiness instead of sadness is living more within me because of my relationship to this place, this community, this way of life.

How has being rooted in the place you live shaped you?