Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: parish imagination

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

13 Ways Being Rooted and Linked is Empowering

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As I have lived in community in my local context for quite some time now, I am finding that being rooted in a particular place as well as being linked to other places is important to my way of life.  How my imagination grows as I am exposed to different contexts where people are embodying love, grace, peace, justice, humility and compassion.  It is a mysterious thing to encounter the body of Christ in other places that strengthens my own expression of love where I live and share life together with others.

Here are 13 ways that being rooted and linked can empower us.

1. Will bring about a parish imagination

A movement of locality that is rooted and linked will bring about the parish imagination.  We must inhabit our neighborhood as a counterculture together.  We must experience locality as a movement working within us, shaping us, guiding us, leading us in the parish.

2. Is a protest against the empire of America  

This movement of locality is subversive toward the empire that we live under.  Corporate power loses its grip on us as we embrace this locality movement.  Living locally is a protest, in a way, against the empire of America.

3. We stop believing in the dominant framing story

If we banded together to live locally and became rooted and linked, over time, we could rise to become a holistic counterculture that would quietly threaten the powerful empire before us.  We would stop believing in the dominant framing story of the empire and seek an alternative parish imagination in our local community.  We would live by a different narrative that is much more holistic than the one that has dominated us for so long.

4. We live out the teachings of Christ together  

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

5. Is essential to partnership with God in the world

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

6. We become a radical, troubling alternative to the power imbalances  

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

7. Teaches us the wisdom of shared life together

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

8. We become practitioners that resist what is impersonal and abstract

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

9. We make our lives more intimate, local, connected and authentic

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

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

10. Keeps us from deconstruction without imagination

The abstract will lead us to dislocation.  Being rooted and linked through a movement of locality will help us not to get trapped in the box of the abstract.  The abstract will only lead us to deconstruction without imagination.

We don’t need anymore of that!  We need more of a parish imagination that is rooted and linked.  We need a movement of locality that spreads throughout the land with great imagination!

11. We repent of the kind of Christianity we have created

I believe we need to repent of the kind of Christianity we have created that has abandoned the practice of shared life in our local community.  We have abandoned a movement of locality and turned Christianity into something that is abhorred and distorted.

We have seen no need for the parish imagination.  We have ignored being rooted and linked.  We have a Christianity without Christ who had real face-to-face relationships with his neighbors in a local context.

Brian D. McLaren says, “…we are beginning to reassess and repent of the actual versions and formulations of the faith we have created…” 

12. We create something that is embodied and authentic

We have created this, but we can create something much different into the future that is more authentic.  We can create something together that is much more relational in the parish.  We can create together a Christianity that embodies the parish imagination.

13. Loving our neighbors becomes important to our practice

We can create a Christianity together where loving our neighbors is important in the local context of the parish.  We can create together a Christianity where being rooted and linked is important to us in everyday life.  I hope for the day that this becomes a reality!

What is your perspective on being rooted and linked?

10 Ways Pilgrimages Cultivate the Parish Imagination


I have experienced the blessing of being faithfully present in my neighborhood together with others for over a decade.  It seems that community can easily be lost without this.  But sometimes living locally can become too insular if we are not learning from other contexts in life.  I have had many rich experiences of learning from other places that has been so essential to my own growth and cultivation of imagination within me.

Here are 10 ways that pilgrimages cultivate the parish imagination within us.

1. Opens us to exploration

The parish imagination is undiscovered in a lot of our local contexts.  The parish imagination needs to be activated and embodied in everyday life by the body of Christ.  Our pilgrimages help us to explore and exercise the parish imagination within us.

Phil Cousineau says, “Remember again and again that the true pilgrimage is into the undiscovered land of your own imagination…” 

2. We become creative and free

Pilgrimage is about connecting to our undiscovered parish imagination among us.  There is unlimited potential within the parish imagination.  There is a lot of life that we can receive through the parish imagination.  The parish imagination is creative and free.

3. We learn from other contexts

Being rooted and linked helps us to inspire the parish imagination.  Learning from other contexts could help bring the parish imagination to life in our neighborhood.  Learning from other contexts will help us to become rooted and linked into the future.

4. We dream about the possibilities

When we go on pilgrimage and spend time with others who are embodying the parish imagination in another context from our own, we learn so much.  We become inspired by their everyday life together.  The parish imagination becomes contagious.  We need to dream about the possibilities of the parish imagination in our neighborhood.

5. We find empowerment and inspiration

When we start to dream and learn from other contexts, God will begin to shape us.  We will begin to see the importance of networking through being rooted and linked.  Our pilgrimages will empower and inspire creativity and innovation among us as we begin to dream again.

We must not let our dreams die within us.  We must cultivate the dreams of the parish imagination within us as the body of Christ in everyday life together.  The parish imagination is filled with dreams to be explored and experimented with.

Jenny and Justin Duckworth state, “…we learn so much when we go and spend time with others who are living out the dream in a different context.” 

The dream of the parish imagination is within us.  The dream of the parish imagination is among us.  The dream of the parish imagination is calling out from the world we live in.  The dream of the parish imagination is slowly breaking through to us as the body of Christ in everyday life together.

6. We become rooted and linked

Pilgrimage could awaken us to all of this.  Pilgrimage could help us to become rooted and linked.  Pilgrimage could help us through our struggles in the parish.  Pilgrimage could teach us to learn from others.  Pilgrimage could help us to be human.

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.  Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go.  I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you…” (1 Corinthians 16: 5-7). 

7. Furthers our own presence in our local context

Spending time with friends from other contexts will help us immensely.  We need support from friends in other contexts who are living into the parish imagination.  We need times where we experience pilgrimages as important to the furthering of our presence in our own local context.

8. Shapes our perspective on life

Pilgrimages shape our perspective on life.  Pilgrimages help us to strengthen our paradigm of being rooted and linked in the parish.  Being rooted and linked cannot happen without pilgrimage.  Being rooted and linked calls out for pilgrimage in us all.

9. Creates a posture of listening in us

When we go somewhere on pilgrimage, it should be intentional.  When we go somewhere on pilgrimage, we need to go with a posture listening and learning from the other.  When we go somewhere on pilgrimage, we need to embrace the paradigm of being rooted and linked.  Being rooted and linked will bring us empowerment through pilgrimage.

10. Helps us to see the sacredness of all of life

Pilgrimage is a sacred act of learning from another context, of listening in another context, of experiencing relational connection in another context.  This sacred act could add a lot to our own parish.  There is a sacredness to pilgrimage that cannot be ignored as we become rooted and linked.

How have pilgrimages shaped you?

10 Ways the Parish Imagination Will Lead You

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I love the idea of the parish as being a place where you live and become connected in everyday life in community with others.  This has been so healing for me as I have now lived in the place I am at for almost eleven years now.  Time has gone by fast and I am getting older, but this experience for me over the last decade has shaped me tremendously.

I no longer go to church because the parish to me is not a building or a meeting, but a place I am becoming faithfully present to.  The parish is the neighborhood that is becoming a part of my salvation, my identity, my history, my true self, my vocation, my passion, my hope.  A lot of times I feel like a marginalized exile, but I am coming to terms with losing all expectations of where my life will take me.  I am trying not to fear and just live into the authenticity I know right now.

After more than a decade of exploring this new paradigm of what I think the church is, I am becoming more free, creative and alive.  I am discovering my true self that is beautiful, authentic and beloved by God.  Vulnerability is not so frightening.  Fear is not so overwhelming.

Jesus is teaching me to love.  I am leaning to be less like a Pharisee and more compassionate.  I am learning that all that matters is love in everyday life with others in community.  This is what my imagination is drawn to.  This is my hope and dream for the world I live in.

Here are 10 ways the parish imagination has led me and can lead you too:

1. To love our neighbors together in everyday life

The parish imagination has been ignored for too long.  We need the parish imagination if we want any kind of legitimacy before our neighbors in our changing culture.  We need the parish imagination to love our neighbors in everyday life together.

Wendell Berry states, “…you must reach for a reality that is inaccessible merely to observation or perception but that also requires imagination, for imagination knows more than the eye sees…” 

2. To create an embodied expression

The parish imagination may seem like an impossibility, but if we lived more in tune with our imaginations God could do ordinary miracles among us.  We need to reach for the parish imagination at all times.  We are not the body of Christ together without an embodied expression of the parish imagination in the place we inhabit.

3. To follow the leading of the Holy Spirit of love, compassion and humility

The parish imagination is where the Holy Spirit is leading us.  The Holy Spirit is teaching us the importance of the parish imagination in the place we inhabit.  The parish imagination can embody things that we have never experienced before.  We can be faithfully present to the parish imagination in our everyday lives together in beautiful ways.

4. To become creative and innovative

God has created us with powerful imaginations that are extremely creative and innovative if we practice cultivating them.  God has not abandoned our imaginations, but resides within them.  God manifests love to the world through the parish imagination in the place we inhabit.

Richard J. Foster writes, “God created us with an imagination…” 

We are created with a parish imagination to be the body of Christ together in everyday life.  The parish imagination is intertwined with the local community we find ourselves in.  The parish imagination calls out to us in everyday life.

5. To embrace beauty

The parish imagination is beautiful.  The parish imagination is rooted in our ways of life together.  A holistic counterculture is absent when we are not passionate about the parish imagination.

6. To listen deeply

The parish imagination teaches us to listen deeply.  The parish imagination teaches us to give up our colonial ways and care for our neighbors.  The parish imagination inspires us to be human.  The parish imagination embraces us as the body of Christ in our local community as we share life together.

7. To embrace something deeper than words

The parish imagination is a powerful voice in the world.  It says more about the gospel than any words ever could.  The parish imagination speaks to our creativity and potential in all kinds of ways.  The parish imagination lives within us, we just don’t understand this yet.

The parish imagination cannot be oppressed by institutional Christianity anymore.  The parish imagination is tired of being ignored and not valued.  The parish imagination wants to have the freedom to celebrate and dance in us as the body of Christ in the place we inhabit.

Dorothy Day says, “The imagination is part of our lives – part of reality…” 

8. To welcome authenticity

The parish imagination is authentic.  The parish imagination lives within us.  The parish imagination is about embodying the life of Christ in the place we inhabit together.

9. To live in freedom

We cannot truly be alive without the parish imagination.  We cannot see without the parish imagination.  We cannot live in freedom without the parish imagination.

10. To become the hands and feet of Christ

Our spirituality will become anything but authentic without the parish imagination.  The parish imagination is where we become the hands and feet of Christ in our local context.  The parish imagination is where we find true peace and beauty.

Have you taken the risk to embrace the parish imagination within yourself?

Top 10 Ways to Cultivate a Parish Imagination in the Place You Live


Over the last ten years I have been cultivating relational connection in the place I live in Downtown Tacoma, Washington.  This place has shaped me tremendously.  I dream of a parish imagination where neighbors have a passion for collaboration, living locally and investing their lives to care for the place they live.  Here are 10 ways I think we can cultivate a parish imagination in our context:

1. Become rooted and live in a particular neighborhood for decades.  Rootedness is so difficult in a world where many of us are affluent in the West and have many options to move to a better neighborhood where we have more economic opportunity, a better living environment or feel safer.  Upward mobility is one of the greatest sins of the church.  We can only love our neighbors if we stay rooted in a place long enough to know them.  This is essential to create a parish imagination in the particular place we live in the world.

Wendell Berry states in his book Imagination in Place, “By means of the imagined place, over the last fifty years, I have learned to see my native landscape and neighborhood as a place unique in the world, a work of God, possessed of an inherent sanctity that mocks any human valuation that can be put upon it…”

2. Build a sense of social capital with neighbors.  We need collaboration not competition.  Collaboration builds trust or social capital with others where we live.  Collaboration builds a more peaceful world for the common good.

3. Find and celebrate the assets that exists in your local community.  Let’s stop focusing on all the problems in our neighborhoods and start looking for the assets.  What are the beautiful things happening in this place where we can build some collaboration around and learn to work for the common good together.  Every local community has its own particular assets.  We need to discover them and celebrate them.

4. Learn to listen to others.  Listening is so important when we think about collaboration with others.  We need to live with a learning posture that listens deeply to others.  Let’s stop imposing our views on others and start to embody some humility, vulnerability and compassion through listening.

5. Experiment with ways to eat together in everyday life.  Eating together is so subversive.  It centers our lives around a table that brings us together through our commonality of hunger.  Whether we are rich, poor or middle class the act of eating together makes us all equal and binds us together as neighbors in the world.

6. Practice hospitality.  Hospitality is the work of authentic social justice in the place we live.  We need to share our lives, tables and homes with the less fortunate.  Jesus was the master of creating environments of hospitality for others with his openness to love, compassion and empathy with his neighbors.

7. Value others as created in the image of God.  Everyone needs love, value and respect no matter who they are.  Let’s stop looking at others as “sinners” and start looking at others as created in the image of God.  This would change how we treat others in our lives.

8. Participate and contribute to the local economy.  Contributing to the local economy is so essential to create a parish imagination among us.  Whether we are starting a local business or just supporting the local economy by trying to keep our money in the community, this does a lot to build social capital and faithful presence.  We need to think local when it comes to how we are spending our money.

9. Access the sidewalks and walk more.  Cars have become a luxury that we possess because we do not see the need to live locally anymore.  Walking is so unique to our time in a world of hypermobility.  But walking is so healthy and helps us to get in touch with our bodies in the place we live.

10. Share stories about your neighborhood.  We have a story, our place has a story and God has a story.  These need to be intertwined into a narrative braid where we share stories of assets working together, characters who are contributing to the common good and the work of the spirit within us.  Storytelling could help us to have an imagination for community in the place we live.

What is a way you’re cultivating a parish imagination in the place you live?

Where is the Body of Christ in Everyday Life?


So many years have gone by where I haven’t experienced the body of Christ in everyday life.  I have almost given up on my spirituality.  I have often wondered, Where is a sense of community in everyday life?  What is the body of Christ doing together besides just gathering in a meeting or a building?  Why do we define church apart from an everyday expression in the place we live?

I don’t understand these things most of the time.  They are confusing to me and do not support my own growth, development and formation in the world.  I have always wanted to be a part of a radical movement that subverts the status quo, but what I have found is my Christianity being reduced to going to church.  This has bored me and has not supported my faith.

Why is it that this dualistic way of church is hindering us from experiencing life?  The church should not keep us from following what is authentic, but I am afraid many times it does.  This must frustrate God.  Why is this not more of a frustration to us too?

God is probably sad over the colonial, individualistic spirituality in North America that we have created through our lack of faithful presence.  As I have found that my spirituality is experienced as an embodied practice in the place I live in everyday life together with others.  It all comes down to listening, love, grace and humility.

I want to love the church and hope for its life in the world.  I want to be a part of a community in the parish in everyday life that can give inspiration to others.  So I am facing the temptation to stop loving the world, but God is calling me to love the place I live, to be a neighbor, to be a friend.

  •  Being cocreators of the future

We are to be cocreators of the future of the place we inhabit together.  It is our local responsibility, our local investment and local ownership that will develop the parish imagination among us.  Tom Sine says, “Incredibly, God invites us to be cocreators in giving imaginative expression to God’s new creation in the here and now…”

  •  Creating the parish imagination in everyday life

We are called to be “imaginative expressions” of the body of Christ in everyday life together in the parish.  There is no franchise approach to this.  When we cocreate with God through the parish imagination; our expressions will be organic, grassroots, creative, contextual, relational and based on our gifts together.  All our assets will come together to create the parish imagination in everyday life.

  •  The cocreation of beauty in our world

This is the cocreation of beauty in our world together in everyday life.  Our expressions of local responsibility could subvert the empire.  Our expressions of local investment could subvert the status quo.  Our expressions of local ownership could subvert the systems that are creating fragmentation, loneliness and isolation.

How can we be cocreators of the future of our world together?