Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: community

Being Socially Engaged in the World

the_palette_knife_people_living_tight__really__abs_abstract_art__abstract__32c72d6af963b7a1875205e334808628My experience with church has not been a good one. I have been constantly sickened, disillusioned, and bored with what I have been presented with as “church” in North America. I think there is some beauty to the idea of God in the world, but what we have created of that expression with very little community and contemplative spirituality is disheartening to me. A church without a rootedness in community and contemplative spirituality is very shallow, hypocritical, colonial, and lacks the mystery that is so essential to the vulnerability of love.

  • A new way to be the body of Christ together

I have been drawn to the phrase “the parish” or the “parish imagination” to describe a new way to be the body of Christ together in everyday life. The word parish was initially used by Catholics to describe the geographic place where people lived who went to a particular building for a service. If you did not live within the proximity of the building you were not encouraged to go there for a service. The parish meant the local, geographic place where you happened to live in proximity with others.

  • Local, geographic place

I grew up Catholic, so this is a familiar concept for me, but I want to reframe the parish as the local, geographic place of a particular neighborhood in which we happen to live as neighbors with one another. Let’s not think of the parish as a building or a service, but as a particular place where we become rooted and practice becoming neighbors in everyday life. This is the place where we do not shun proximity anymore. We get out of our cars and we put away our cell phones long enough to encounter friendships face to face in everyday life.

  • Crying out to be loved, seen, and valued authentically

This is not a ministry, a program, a lecture or anything else that we try to make the body of Christ into. It is simply the risk of living in a place, not above it, so we can learn to love others well together. Our neighbors are crying out to be loved, seen, and valued authentically. We are the ones called to do this together in everyday life!

We are the body of Christ touching others with our love without any words, but with deep listening.

  • Unity, compassion, and authenticity

Let’s stop our boxed up ways of “prayer” and “worship” and “church,” getting out of our dualistic thinking and upwardly mobile ways, and learn to find our spirituality in our love for our neighbors. “Church” as we know it needs to be reimagined in the twenty-first century as having everything to do with loving our neighbors together in everyday life. To do this we must live as neighbors and work together as body of Christ to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength as Jesus taught us to with unity, compassion, and authenticity.

  • Our addiction to money, power, hierarchies, buildings, and rules


We need to have the courage to follow Jesus with courage and lay aside our addiction to money, power, hierarchies, buildings, and rules. Maybe God is trying to tell us to stop going to church and learn to be present together as neighbors, learning to love, listening deeper in the world right where we live. Maybe this is the new movement of the “church” in the twenty-first century world. It feels a lot better to me as someone who will never go to church again in my life because for me it is not authentic.

These church systems keep me from deep thinking, finding my true self, exploring risk, connection, and solidarity.

  • Are we afraid to be neighbors?

Just as Jesus had trouble with the religious people of his day, the Pharisees, we need to challenge all the ways in which the church does not show love together in the world. Are we afraid to be neighbors? Have we become twenty-first century Pharisees in our own world of “church” as we know it? I am convinced that the “church” has done so much damage in the world because we have gravitated more toward the spirit of the Pharisees rather than the spirit of Jesus.

  • Is spirituality really about rules or about love and compassion?

Are we motivated by love or by the fear stirred up by modern day Pharisees? Is spirituality really about rules or about love and compassion? I can’t stand rules, but love and compassion are so beautiful and healing to me. I am on a path of transformation leading me deeper into the place I live in community, in the parish.

We need a new imagination for our lives today.  

  • Being socially engaged in the world

 What I do resonate with is “church” as living in a particular place in community with others, being present as neighbors, being socially engaged in the world together, practicing hospitality, deep listening, and seeing God in the face of my neighbors in everyday life. There is so much life here as I have been rooted in my neighborhood of Downtown Tacoma for over a decade. Community is my priority more than money, possessions, power, influence or anything else. My relationships here are teaching me not to be a narcissist, to be kind and compassionate.

  • Learning to live in the present moment

I am learning to live in the present moment and to see all of life as a gift. There are so many unexpected gifts in community, in the parish. I want to explore with my life a parish imagination within me in the place I live. May I align my dreams to that imagination.

  • Express our love without words

 We need desperately in the twenty-first century to be the church instead of hold onto our addiction of “going to church” or else nothing will change in our times. In our local community we have the opportunity to be the church together and express our love without words. This is a whole new way of life together. This gives me some hope into the future as I try to figure out the meaning of life in the world which can be difficult.

  • The sacredness of place

 As Sarah Bessey states so eloquently, “In our world of globalization, technology, and mobility, we’ve misplaced the sacredness of place.”

  • Dare greatly with vulnerability

There seemed to be a sacredness to place, to the earth, to the land we walk on that has been ignored in our time. Can we live in the questions that foster deep meaning within us leading to the unexpected gifts of community in the particular place we find ourselves in the world? Can we dare greatly with vulnerability to embrace the parish imagination in the twenty-first century?

Why are we afraid to be neighbors in everyday life?

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

Wake Up and Regain Hope

images (44)I have lived in my neighborhood in Downtown Tacoma for over twelve years now. When I first moved here I had hopes of being a blessing to this local community in all kinds of ways. As time has gone on, it seems I have lost hope. It seems I cannot readily assess what I am doing here and if anything really matters anymore.

Is community really that important in this world? Do I really believe in a deep embodiment of love, compassion, and truthfulness anymore? I think I am struggling to find my path of meaning, purpose, and authenticity.

Sometimes I think, “Everything around me doesn’t matter anymore.” I am losing hope in who I am and what I can do in the world. Does any of it really matter anyways? Drowning in a sea of depression, anxiety, and fear has made me question what I once held value in.

But this place is calling me back into a way of solidarity. Where will I go if I move on in anger, disillusionment, and fear? I am called to live right where I am. I cannot give up my hope of love, humility, vulnerability, and compassion.

I say to myself, “Wake up and see the wonder of life all around you.” Don’t move on because there is no better place for me somewhere else. This is my life right now. At this moment, there is no better time to live and embrace my own pain than now as hard as it might be.

Stay where I am and learn to express the deepest ground of my being. Let love lead me to deeper places of truth, vulnerability, and honesty. I want to be free, alive, and hopeful for the future. Let me smile on this day with gratitude, stability, and peace.

  • Getting away from the mindset of upward mobility

God is calling us to an integration of stability in everyday life together. By stability, I mean a rootedness in our local context. By stability, I mean resisting the temptation to live somewhere that is better than where we are. An integration of stability is about getting away from the American mindset of upward mobility.

  • An embodiment of stability

We are often desiring to move to the best possible neighborhoods, the best possible living conditions, the best possible career at the expense of neglecting our neighbors and making the parish secondary to everything else. But what we do not understand, is that an embodiment of stability in the place we inhabit together is how we love our neighbors. Without an integration of stability there is very little love for others, there is almost no relationship with the parish, and there is hardly any deep listening.

  • Take root in a local community. living and loving there

Marlena Graves states, “We cannot love well and be loved ourselves if we are not committed to a community…  Loving and being loved require that we become stable… We take root in a local community, living and loving there…”

  • Reconciliation, embodiment, and deep listening

Our stability will shape us constantly. A place we inhabit together is a powerful medium of liminality. We will be challenged with the relational ways of reconciliation, embodiment, and deep listening. We cannot escape this anymore. This is our calling. This is our path to following the teachings of Christ to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

What stands out to you?

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4 Books I love on Community


1. Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus by Kathy Escobar 

“If we can’t accept the paradoxes in ourselves, it is impossible to accept them in others.  This means we won’t be able to live in free and generous ‘with’ relationships because we will constantly be consciously or unconsciously working to squeeze the paradox out, instead of learning to live in its tension.”

Mercy and compassion are essential components of love…  The essence of downward living is embodied in a life of extending love, mercy and compassion to others.”

“Like pain, we need to accept doubt as part of our experience instead of resisting it.  This can be extremely difficult for those experiencing a deconstruction-reconstruction process when it comes to faith…” 

“A Life of descent invites us to give away power as much as possible… Genuine power diffusion means giving it away to people who aren’t typically influential.  The least.  The last.  The marginalized.  The oppressed.  The not quite as pretty, talented, educated, or socially accepted individuals.”

“Making room for equality sometimes means we have to let go of our tendency toward perfectionism…”

“…a central part of our role in relationship with each other is to become dignity-restorers.  We do this by helping people draw out and express their natural creativity.  To create, is to directly connect with the image of God within…  The creativity that is in each person is a natural reflection of God’s creative image inside of us…”

“Community gives us a different set of eyes…”


2. Community and Growth by Jean Vanier 

“To live in community is to discover and love the secret of what is unique in ourselves.  This is how we become free.  Then we no longer live according to the desires of others, or by an image of ourselves; we become free, free to love others as they are and not as we would like them to be.”

“Some people flee from commitment because they are frightened that if they put down roots in one soil they will curtail their freedom and never be able to look elsewhere…  But freedom doesn’t grow in the abstract; it grows in a particular soil with particular people.  Inner growth is only possible when we commit ourselves with and to others.  We all have to pass through a certain death and time of grief when we make choices and become rooted.  We mourn what we have left behind.”

“No community grows without times of trial and difficulty; times of poverty, persecution, tensions, and internal and external struggles; times which destroy its balance and reveal its weakness; times of difficulty which are inevitable when a new step has to be taken.”

“A community must be a sign of the resurrection.  But a divided community, in which everyone goes their own way, preoccupied with their own sanctification and personal plans, and without tenderness for the other, is a counter-witness. All the resentment, bitterness, sadness, rivalries, divisions, refusals to hold out a hand to the ‘enemy’ and whispered criticisms, all the division and infidelity to the gift of the community, are profoundly wounding to its true growth in love.”


3. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine D. Pohl 

“Gratefulness to God and gratitude for life can strengthen persons for the long journey toward wholeness and justice.”

“A willingness to ‘stay with the process’ or to stay in connection with a community during difficult or uncertain times allows progress to be made in spite of the messiness.  Although giving things ‘time’ does not guarantee that we will move forward or find healing, slowing processes down often provides opportunities for giving attention to relational issues.” 

“Creating a community that lives truthfully necessarily involves individuals committed to the practice…”

“Hospitality was a central practice in the first fifteen hundred years of the church.  During the Late Middle Ages, however, its special features were undermined for a variety of reasons, and hospitality came to be identified with the lavish entertaining of the rich and powerful.  Its practice often served to reinforce power and influence.  The connection with poor people, with equality, and with crossing social and cultural boundaries was nearly lost.”

“Part of the challenge of recovering hospitality involves helping people to notice it and to tell stories about their experiences as guests, hosts, and strangers. Becoming more attentive to hospitality and story-telling allows us to recount the blessings of welcoming strangers and to learn from some of the challenges.”


4. Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz

“Grace in community brings us closer together, not in a way that creates unhealthy fusion but in one that validates the human struggle we all face.”

“I use my false center to label everyone around me.  The more differentiated someone is from me, especially based on her or his nationality, religion, or sexuality, the more I use descriptive terms to highlight our differences.”

“Understanding the humanity of Christ has helped me embrace my own humanity.  Seeing Jesus validate needs, behaviors, and passions that don’t seem divine is an invitation for me to grasp the implications of his incarnation. I’ve come to understand that spiritual doesn’t only mean divine but in some ways becomes the hinge between what is human and divine – and sometimes it’s expressed in very material things, including my humanity.”

“We’re learning that gratitude isn’t a throwaway at all.  It does indeed make and break community.”

“…the gifts of contemplative spirituality carry us into the most ordinary and restless parts of our lives.”

“Most of real life consists of living in the ordinary, in-between times, the space and pauses filled with monotony.  Most of real life is undramatic…”

“Although we should know better, many of us are surprised when we encounter boredom in our communities, relationships, and vocations.  We are surprised when we find ourselves living restless, discontented lives.  We want more.  We want meaning.  We want to be part of things that are significant and vocations that make a difference.”

“So now, as we strive toward faithfulness, may we throw ourselves on the mercy of community, allowing our lives to be woven together to create vibrant tapestries of hope.”


What stands out to you through these books and quotes?  Which book would you like to read the most?

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?

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?

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?

Top 11 Reasons Why Love Matters


Love seems to be so simple yet one of the most difficult things to practice.  I am coming to find that my true self is love.  When I love is when I have connected to that authentic part of me which is love.  I believe that I was made to be an expression of love.

When I don’t love I am living out of my false self.  The self that is masked in illusions, pretense and the fabrications of my own making.  The false self is a fiction that sometimes I want to believe in.  The true self is what I am called into which is love.

Love is always the best way to live.  No one wants violence against them, oppression and abuse.  And love is never oppressive, abusive or violent.  There is hope in that.

Here are my top 11 reasons why I think love matters above anything else in the world.

1. Without love nothing makes sense

Without love nothing makes sense in the place that we live.  Everything gets really weird really fast without love.  How many of us have known people who get really weird by becoming controlling, judgmental, and manipulative around “spiritual” themes or “ministries”?

2. Everything else is a distraction

I think this happens because we are not rooting our faith in love.  It is rooted in something much more appealing to us.  There are a million things to root our faith in besides love and we are being pulled to do just that.

3. Spirituality is rooted in love 

But David G. Benner says, “No account of Christian spirituality is complete if it fails to give a central place to love …”

4. Love builds community among us

Love is what makes the communal imagination holistic.  Love makes the body of Christ live.  Love is what brings healing to our lives.  Love builds community in our neighborhood.

5. Love makes us human

Love is what will shape the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life. Love keeps us sane.  Love makes us human in so many ways.

6. Love is the greatest thing we can do

John M. Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association, emphasizes that, “Loving each other … might just be the greatest thing we can do …”

7. Love brings liberation

Our love could be the thing that brings liberation to us all in the parish.  Our love is to be a part of our salvation, redemption and sanctification as the body of Christ.  As we live together in the proximity of a neighborhood, we will all be shaped through relationship.

8. Love will do ordinary relational miracles of reconciliation between us

We can become great through love.  We cannot become great in any other way!  Our love as the body of Christ together in the particulars of everyday life will do miracles among us.

9. Loves guides and teaches us what is real

How we show that we are spiritually attuned to reality is by our love.  Love is the way of a relational life in the parish.  Love guides and teaches us how to discern what is real.  Love is the only relevant factor in our relationships within the body of Christ in the particulars of everyday life.

“There is one thing we must understand, however,” writes William A. Meninger, “and that is that our love must dominate our action and give it direction …”

10. Loves makes us a “peculiar people”

If love is not present within us, we literally have nothing to build our faith on together.  If love dies within us, we soon become less than human.  We become objects to the systems of our culture and cease to be a “peculiar people” in our local context.

11. Love shapes us constantly

Love must possess and dominate all that we do.  Love must shape us and change us constantly.  Love must capture our imaginations and become communal in the place where we live.  Everything we do must stem from this love.

Why do you think love is important?

Book Review – Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick by Jamie Arpin-Ricci


Vulnerability is often times one of the most difficult things to practice in an individualistic culture that celebrates pride, violence, arrogance and power.  But I have found Jamie Arpin Ricci’s book Vulnerable Faith so encouraging to me as I have longed to embody a vulnerability within myself in everyday life as I share life together with others.  Oftentimes we do not have much of an imagination for vulnerability.  So we see a lot of the church live in its arrogance, wealth, consumerism, mobility and apathy toward all that is rooted in being an expression of love.

Jamie shares in this insightful book about the story of St. Patrick’s life.  How he was enslaved and came back to the land of his slavery after his escape to be an expression of compassion, humility and love.  St. Patrick lived out of his vulnerability and because of it influenced many people throughout history.  The story of St. Patrick’s life is used by Arpin Ricci as an example of courage, vulnerability and perseverance in the midst of the struggles of life.

He also couples this with the wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous.  Creating a culture of vulnerability, honesty and humility that AA promotes is very helpful when it comes to how we live in community with one another.  Community is best lived through vulnerability.  In fact, I have learned that St. Francis of Assisi thought that complete vulnerability was the central message of the gospel.

I really love this book and am so grateful that Jamie has written it at such a time as this.  When the church is struggling to find its way in our postmodern culture and institutional religion is decaying rapidly, we need a new imagination for what is truly authentic for us.  Jamie has called us to a communal imagination that is embedded in vulnerability through the stories of Little Flowers Community, St. Patrick’s life and the principles of AA.

When we do not desire vulnerability, we will struggle to love others.  We will struggle to love ourselves and our actions will be attached to guilt, shame and fear.  But what freedom we could experience through an open embrace of vulnerability.

In vulnerability, we will learn that the essence of God is vulnerability.  Vulnerability actually makes us strong, courageous and wise.  When many men in our culture think that vulnerability is the ultimate weakness, I am learning that this is a fabrication of our false self.  Men often times are afraid of the authenticity of vulnerability.

But it is in vulnerability that we find our true selves in the midst of everyday life.  I have found that a contemplative way of life where we practice awareness, listening and silence is almost impossible without vulnerability.  Vulnerability always leads us to a sense of creative compassion.  Vulnerability leads us to a way of life that is rooted in truth and life.

I highly recommend Jamie Arin Ricci’s book!  It is one of the best books on vulnerability and its essential role in creating community among us that I have read in a long time!  This is essential reading for anyone interested in authenticity in the twenty-first century.  He also wrote a fantastic book called The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom back in 2011.

  • Presenting a false face to others

“All of us are prone to this instinct toward pretense.  It is ingrained in us as a way of thinking and acting that we are rarely aware of how often we present a false face to others…”

  • Hope in honest brokenness

“There is more hope in honest brokenness than in the pretense of false wholeness.”

  • Retreating back to some form of pretense

“When our pretense is exposed, whether by circumstances or by choice, what lies beneath is all the fear, shame, and uncertainty that we have worked so hard to deny, ignore, and conceal…  It can produce in us a deep sense of panic, a loss of control, spurring us on to attempt to restore order and stability, usually by retreating back into some form of pretense or another.  After all, the appearance of stability feels much more preferable than acknowledging the chaos that lies beneath the surface.”

  • The so-called freedoms we enjoy

“…too many of the so-called freedoms we enjoy are mere illusions, pretenses covering over the truth that we are, in fact, enslaved to fear…”

  • Learning the disciplines of peace

“…we are well served in learning the disciplines of peace, both internal and relational.  Practices such as meditation and reflection are so important…”

  • Community is the inevitable and essential result of faithfulness

“Community is the inevitable and essential result of faithfulness, inseparably linked to the work of God in our hearts and in the world…”

  • Seek to restore relationships at any cost

“In truth, the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost.”

  • Community is a grace

“Community is a grace because of how it serves us in the very process of transformation…”

  • Can we trust each other enough to be that vulnerable?

“Such community, by nature and necessity, reflects relationships of deep intimacy and vulnerability.  This raises the inevitable question: can we trust each other enough to be that vulnerable?”

  • Building and sustaining community

“The practices and disciplines of building and sustaining community could fill volumes (and has).  From mystics to anthropologists, we learn how critical that quality of a community is to the health and well-being of people.  Yet, community remains one of the most elusive goals to so many… in our individualistic Western societies.”

  • Openness and vulnerability are what we are called to

“In fact, vulnerable faith produces in us a grace and patience for the same failings in others that we have admitted in ourselves.  We are no longer motivated to judge others to bolster our own sense of righteousness or protect our own moral purity, but are drawn to those who need grace and hope.  I have to keep reminding myself that openness and vulnerability is what I am called to…”

  • Faithfully embracing love right where we are

“…faithfully embracing love right where we are at can turn the course of empires…”

  • The centrality of love

“Above all is the centrality of love at the heart of vulnerable faith.  Vulnerability will thrive only where love abounds – a love that is generous, gracious, patient, compassionate, humble, curious, joyful, and full of hope…”

What comes to mind when you think of vulnerability?

5 Reasons Why Shared Life Together is Important  


1. It is a seed of life that will grow and flourish

Are we not all called to share life together to some degree?  I think we are.  In my neighborhood of Downtown Tacoma, I have come to see a shared life with my friends there as a true gift from God.  It is a seed of life that will grow and flourish over time.

2. We need friends to both celebrate and cry with us

It is nice to be connected to other people of faith who care for the place we inhabit together.  Shared life will sustain us through life.  When we have good times, we need friends to celebrate with us.  When we have bad times, we need friends to cry with.

3. Keeps us from becoming isolated, disconnected and depressed

Life is a mystery and we need to live in relationship with others or we will easily become isolated, disconnected and depressed.  The pain we all experience in life will destroy us all if we are not committed to a place, where we live in the context of shared life with friends who care for us as human beings instead of objects.

4. We show our love for God through our love for others

For years I have studied the life and work of Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.  After years and years of loving the poor and trying to live in faithful service to God, she shares at the end of her autobiography The Long Loneliness:

“The only answer in this life, to the loneliness we are all bound to feel, is community.  The living together, working together, sharing together, loving God and loving our brother, and living close to him in community so we can show our love for Him.”

I have experienced a lot of pain and disconnection in life.  My college experience was a common one, I believe, for many of us.  Central Washington University is where I chose to study to become a teacher.  As I moved to Eastern Washington to a little town called Ellensburg, I did not know very many people there or the place I was moving to.

The several years that I lived there, I became connected to the students at the school.  Surrounded by lots of people on a daily basis, I had developed many connections with others.  It was a sad day for me when I graduated and moved back to Western Washington, because I was pretty much alone again.  It seemed like I was starting over.  All my relational connections in everyday life were gone.

Being uprooted from my college experience and moving on to become a professional left me extremely lonely.  After moving to Kent, Washington, where I knew hardly anyone except for some family members, I was out in the world on my own.  I was now a professional teacher and I started working for a school district.

But I didn’t like it very much.  It wasn’t really what I thought it would be. Monday through Friday I went to work, and mostly stayed in my apartment the rest of the time.  Depression and loneliness soon began to overwhelm me as I started to sleep a lot.  I was extremely disconnected from relationships with others.

After struggling for about a year, I slowly began to see my need to take some initiative in the relationships around me.  When I started to open up to relating with others, I began a process of healing within myself.  And this has led me to who I am today.  For many of us, it seems like college is the closest experience we will ever have of sharing life with others in everyday life.  And yet college is very temporary.  When it is over, we often feel disconnected and lonely.

In our early years, we all enter a very communal experience through elementary school, if we stay at the same school.  We are with the same students all year in the same classroom.  There is quite a bit of shared life in the classroom.  It is a little different in middle school and high school in that we have many different classes and teachers, but it is still very much an experience of shared life with peers.

That’s why some people say our high school days are the best days of our lives because most of us will never share life with that many people again the rest of our lives.  When those days are over many of us go to college and then get married, work a career, buy a house and often have little connection to any real community life.  We are a lonely society that has been disconnected from shared life with others.  How sad it all is.  But we have tasted little bits of its potential through our years in school.

5. We become fully attentive to our situation

Norman Wirzba points out so elegantly, “We live in a broken and wounded world and in a culture that encourages isolation and fragmentation.  But from a practical standpoint, the desire for wholeness means that we make our local community and habitat, the native network of relationships that directly feed and nurture us, the focus of sustained attention…  This is not so that we can avoid what is foreign, different, or exotic.  It is rather so that we can see more clearly and understand with greater honesty the requirements, limits, and potential of our life together.  It is so that we can become fully attentive to our concrete situation, celebrate the gifts that we are to each other, and take responsibility for our collective needs.”

What keeps us from shared life together?

Knowing and Being Known in Community

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Community has become one of the major themes of my life as I have been exploring this for over a decade where I live.  At first, it was very unfamiliar because I was taught to live individualistically not interdependently.  And this was a big paradigm shift I had to make in order to stay rooted in a particular place and share life together with others.

Now my life is about living relationally as I seek to know and be known by others.  God is revealed to me through the local community I live in.  God is revealed through the relational context I find myself in.  God is revealed to me through the place I walk on the earth.

  • Having the courage to live relationally

We must have the courage to live relationally and allow ourselves to be known by others.  Now of course we will never know each other completely, but as each year passes, if we are present, we can allow ourselves to be known more and more.  This is not a fast process; it takes years of sharing life together in a particular place.  But without relationship there is no shared life.

  •  In the midst of our relationships

Robert Mulholland Jr. in his book Invitation to a Journey stresses a relational spiritual formation in which he says, “Our relationships with others are not only the testing grounds of our spiritual life but also the places where our growth toward wholeness in Christ happens… But holistic spirituality, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, takes place in the midst of our relationships with others, not apart from them.”

  • Being an expression of God’s goodness and love

We need others to manifest God’s goodness and love to us.  We also need to be an expression of God’s goodness and love to others.

  •  To live in communion

The wise monastic Thomas Merton explains, “Mere living alone does not isolate a man, mere living together does not bring men into communion.  The common life can either make one more of a person or less of a person, depending whether it is truly common life or merely life in the crowd.  To live in communion, in genuine dialogue with others is absolutely necessary if man is to remain human.  But to live in the midst of others, sharing nothing with them but the common noise and the general distraction, isolates a man in the worst way, separates him from reality.

  •  Relational ways of knowing and being known

Relational ways of knowing and being known are necessary to our humanity as the body of Christ in local everyday life context.  There is so much noise and distraction that keep us from becoming known and relationally whole.  How can we rediscover our humanity together in the place that we inhabit?  What will bring us into a “genuine dialogue” with one another to know and be known?

  • Community won’t work if it is not relational

Our very capacity to grow in wisdom is dependent upon our relational way of being.  Community won’t work very well if we do not understand that it is relational.

  • Everything is relational

Life is relational.  The body of Christ is relational.  The Scriptures are relational. The neighborhood is relational.  Collaborations and partnerships are relational. People are relational.  God is relational.  The sacred is relational.  The ordinary is relational.

  • All knowing is relational

In other words, everything in life is relational.  All knowing is relational.  That is important to understand!

  • Desire to come into deeper community with what we know

Parker J. Palmer writes, “Knowing of any sort is relational, animated by a desire to come into deeper community with what we know …”

Do you think community is relational or not?