Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joy Will Find A Way

I just heard the bells ring at the Russian Orthodox church down the block.  It's Christmas.

My Advent season has been spent mostly with folks who wait not with eager expectation of Christmas, but with a certain amount of dread, because of the grief and loneliness that are so much more palpable during the holidays.

One woman said she tried to come up with a project to do in the last week of December so she didn't have to think about Christmas. Several others told me they didn't celebrate. It was just a time of year to be endured.

Last year this caught me off guard. I was accustomed to approaching Christmas with nostalgic, warm, fuzzy feelings. I didn't know what to do with my friends in the DTES who struggled to find reason for hope. I didn't know what to do with my own grief, as it was the first time in my life I'd missed the Christmas Eve service at Emmanuel Baptist in Saskatoon. Rain poured down on our poorly-attended church service in the DTES, and I longed for the familiar.

This year, I let myself enter into the grief a little earlier. I participated in several 'Blue Christmas' services that my colleague Al led in the DTES, where we provided space for less-than-merry emotions people were experiencing. People could light candles for loved ones they missed, or for other pain they carried, and we remembered together that the Creator held our stories, and would not leave us.

Tonight, we did our church Christmas Eve service. We were blessed with nicer weather, and we partnered with another community, so there were more people, and a real tone of celebration. I was grateful. We closed our service with a song we've been singing at church throughout Advent: "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King". We inserted our own longings... "no more dying there... No more violence there... No more loneliness... We are going to see the King!". We remembered together that just as Christ came as a child to inaugurate his kingdom, he will come again and wipe away every tear, and bring total shalom. Nothing will be missing or broken. No one will be missing or broken.

I want to share one more song with you. At the end of each of the Blue Christmas services, Al played this song, by Bruce Cockburn, called 'Joy will find a way'. It's a song about death, but it has also become a Christmas song for me. This is the hope I cling to for myself, for my friends, and for any of you who may carry grief or disappointment or illness or family brokenness this Christmas. Whether we are blessed to taste this now, or whether we must continue to wait, know this... Longing will become love, night will turn to day, everything changes, joy will find a way.

Soon and very soon.

May this dangerous, inextinguishable hope break through the darkness for you, especially today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

This band I like.

So I was changing my laundry, and I found a glow stick in the dryer, among the clothes.  And I thought, I'd like to switch up the tone of the blog for a change, and write about Dave Matthews Band.

Over the Labor Day weekend, my roommates and I drove down to the Gorge Amphitheatre, which is in the desert plateau of central Washington, about halfway between Seattle and Spokane.  Kat was about to turn 30, and her birthday request was for us four to spend the weekend camping and enjoying concerts for three days and nights at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan.  

I've been listening to Dave Matthews Band for a good chunk of my life now - in fact, when I met Danice six years ago, they were one of the only bands in my collection that Danice actually approved of. :)  Seeing DMB live has been on my bucket list for some time.  It turned out this was the perfect year to cross it off.  DMB plays the Gorge every Labor Day weekend, but this time, for the first time, they brought about 20 other bands with them.  I particularly enjoyed John Butler Trio, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Devotchka, and the Roots.

The Gorge was breathtaking.  You walk up a road and over a hill to see a huge bowl-shaped stretch of grass covered in picnic blankets and people, with another huge crowd of people standing on the ground below them in front of an enormous stage, and behind everything, there's this beautiful backdrop of rocky plateaus, water, and sky.  This photo I stole off the internet doesn't do it justice.

Every day we woke up in our tents to the sounds of frat boys playing beer pong and hippies dancing and smoking.  We relaxed in the mornings, went to the amphitheatre after lunch to watch bands play all afternoon under the hot hot sun, and then stayed for a Dave Matthews Band concert every evening, with about 20, 000 people in attendance.  They performed three nights, three hours each, which means we experienced over nine hours of live Dave Matthews music, ten if you include the incredible acoustic hour of just Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds we watched one afternoon.  Ten hours is a lot for one band.  You'd think they would either run out of music or that we'd get tired of them.  But when we left the Gorge that final night, there were still songs we wished they had done.

Dave Matthews Band is possibly the best live band I've ever seen.  Here's what makes them great:

- No two live shows are the same, because the band members all do so much improvising.  Some of their songs had intros, musical interludes, or outros that were several minutes long, each featuring one or two instrumentalists who would play around with melodies, harmonies and rhythms on top of the chord structure of the song.  Dave loves to step back and let his band members take the spotlight.  Sometimes the band members will play off each other, making eye contact, smiling, showing respect for each other's skills, and pushing one another to play more difficult licks.

- Their songs and their style are unique.  The band mixes acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, violin, trumpet and saxophone, which makes them hard to classify in terms of genre.  They have unusual chord progressions, time signatures, and melodies in their songs.  The lyrics are rarely straightforward or obvious - they take some unpacking, and I like that.
- Their songs take you somewhere.  They have the ability to capture a mood and sustain it, and then take you into another mood in the bridge, and bring you back again, if necessary.  On the second night, they played my favorite song (possibly of all time), “Bartender”, which is a classic example of this, a song about redemption, with God playing the role of a bartender. It starts off with a simple, straightforward, powerful riff, builds in passion and intensity on the chorus, then hits a climax with this pleading, chanting, wordless bit that Dave does with his voice, and the band takes over, slowly winding down to a peaceful, grace-filled ending on the tin whistle. 
- The individual band members are very strange, eccentric, "un-hip" people.  It’s hilarious watching Boyd, this ripped black man playing or plucking a tiny violin, flinging his dreadlocks and contorting his mouth when he plays.  Tim can shred with the best of them on the electric guitar, but he's such a small man that he looks like a kid playing with his dad's instruments.  Dave moves his eyebrows strangely and dances spasmodically when he plays his guitar. But they don’t seem to care- they’re confident in their weirdness, lost in the music, uninhibited. And this makes them very hip, perhaps hipper than hip.

- The glow sticks.  This is apparently a "thing" at Dave Matthews concerts, and I know some people don't like it, and it could get old, but I thought it was magical.  People brought tons and tons of  glow sticks to the concert, and they'd throw them up all in the air at an appropriately epic moment in a song, creating a firework effect.  Sometimes when the band started a song that everyone was excited about, you'd see glow stick fireworks exploding all over the place.  Then people would gather the ones that fell near them and throw them all over again.  On the last night, everyone started connecting the glow sticks into a long snake, which wound itself slowly all around the amphitheatre.

In conclusion, they are a lot of fun to watch.  Kat, thanks for turning 30, and thanks for choosing such a great participatory gift for yourself!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Identity, Pride, Justice and the Church

Two events happened last weekend, and as I have been reflecting on them, I've had thoughts.  And when I have thoughts, as you know, I tend to write them here.

Event 1: Vancouver Pride Week.  This is a time when Vancouver celebrates gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) people.  Some of the events are over-sexualized, but in its best moments, Pride Week shows a marginalized group reclaiming pride in a deep and often denigrated part of their identity. 

Event 2: the Wiconi Family Camp and Pow Wow just south of Salem, Oregon.  This is where I went last weekend with 16 people from my church.  Richard Twiss (whom I quoted in my recent post about Aboriginal day) and his colleagues at Wiconi are all about removing barriers and building bridges to help First Nations people find abundance and life in God.  They affirm, respect and embrace First Nations culture as God-given.  They have been running this yearly family camp and pow wow for six years.

It was a great time of bonding for us as a church family, and also brought a lot of "firsts" for me:  first time drumming around a group drum at a pow wow; first time trying out my fancy dance moves in some intertribal pow wow songs; first time doing a sweat in a sweat lodge.  I also got to meet a lot of First Nations people and hear their stories.  Richard introduced the weekend by telling us that we're all two-legged stories, and that we should try to be good readers.  There were common veins running through the "stories" I "read": Native people finding God; being told by Christian leaders that in order to be true Christians they had to leave their culture behind; and experiencing shame and disorientation.  One woman from LA came to the camp for the first time, with her daughter.  She had recently been told by people in her church that her daughter should stop learning First Nations dances.  After a time of wrestling and confusion, on a whim, she googled "Christian pow wow" and found the Wiconi website.  She arrived at family camp after 24 hours of driving (lots of construction and traffic), still confused and unsure of what to think about her culture and her faith, and how to raise her little girl.

As I listened to more and more stories like hers, I couldn't help thinking of Pride week in Vancouver, and the very similar experiences of GLBT people in the church.  Both Native and GLBT Christians know the depth of pain in having fellow Christians suggest or imply that they should be ashamed of a fundamental part of who they are.

I know that some people will take issue with me comparing someone's race to someone's sexual orientation, in terms of how "essential" they are to identity, or how "changeable" they are.  One's race is obviously very essential to one's identity, and impossible to alter.  But I believe one's sexuality, though perhaps not equal to one's race in these respects, is at least comparable.  While sexuality is complex, depending on many genetic and developmental factors, I feel I can safely say that we don't usually choose our sexual orientation, and we can't usually change it.  Our sexuality is about more than just who we want to have sex with; sexuality interacts deeply with many parts of who we are, like our creativity, our friendships, our ways of expressing ourselves and relating to the world.  And from the evidence I've seen, efforts to change a same-sex orientation into a heterosexual one have rarely been successful, though those who are highly motivated can learn to live celibately or in mixed-orientation marriages.  For the many who have been forced (or who forced themselves) through these programs, the only thing that has changed is an ever-deepening sense of shame, similar to the shame felt by Native children in residential schools as well-meaning Christians tried in vain to change them into white children.  

At one point in my weekend, a Hopi woman at the camp cried out to God: "God, the people in Your church tell us that You created us in Your image, yet they can't love us for who we are."  Hearing her pain made me more convinced than ever that it is unjust and cruel for the church to make any group of people feel like they're disqualified from having been made in the image of God, or from experiencing the love and welcome of God.  It is cruel to suggest to these people that the only way to qualify as image-bearers or people worthy of God's love is to deny, hide, or alter a deep, undeniable and unchangeable part of their personhood.  Even the much more subtle "Don't ask, Don't tell" attitude in the church around sexuality is cruel, because it is another way of forcing people into hiding.  Jesus modelled a different way.  Jesus seemed almost magnetically drawn to the people the religious leaders threw out, those who carried the most shame, and he loved them until the shame slid right off of them and they remembered who they were again.

I know it's not easy.  There are theological issues we will have to work through.  There are the challenges of culture: figuring out what is syncretistic and idolatrous, and what is good and useful for worship.  There are the challenges of sexuality: figuring out what is impure and selfish, and what is beautiful and self-giving.  In the introduction to Richard Twiss' book, John Dawson, a white friend of Richard's, wrote this: "Far be it from me to comment on the complex cultures I see all around me.  It is up to indigenous believers themselves to separate the precious from the worthless in their cultures.  They know the Bible well and they know their cultures well."  I witnessed this thoughtful, prayerful discernment happening around me at the Wiconi gathering.  I'd like to see us say the same thing to GLBT Christians - to admit that same-sex-attracted Christians are the most qualified people to discern what in their sexuality is sinful, and what God delights in.  This is difficult work, and they will need the church's love, support and trust as they discern together.  They may choose to ask the rest of the church for help, but the work needs to begin and end with them, and so far, this has not often been the case.

At the Wiconi camp, I saw many signs of hope.  I saw First Nations people who had discovered God's delight in their cultural expressions, who were released to worship Him out of the fullness of their identity.  I saw strong people who had moved through suffering to a place of forgiving and blessing the very Christians who had hurt them.  I saw elders surround the woman from LA and her daughter at the pow wow, welcoming them into their family, honouring them with a special drum song, sending the little girl dancing joyfully ahead of them, in full regalia.  I saw the re-integration of these people's essential identity, their belovedness as children of God, with all the other God-given aspects of their personhood.  It brought tears to my eyes to see people move through depths of pain to depths of joy.

I believe that the way we treat First Nations and GLBT people are among the biggest justice issues in the Canadian church today.  As Christians, we must own our shameful involvement in residential schools, the suppression and near-obliteration of culture, and promotion of anti-gay sentiments, and we must begin to seek God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of these people.  Until we learn to radically welcome and support one another as Jesus did, vulnerable people will continue to live under burdens of shame and hate, and the church will be deeply impoverished for lack of their gifts and unique expressions of worship.  My prayer is that God will bring us back into the fullness of our identity as His beautifully diverse Bride.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Give away money ... save yourself!

One of the most common questions people ask me at our Jacob's Well workshops is whether I give money to panhandlers or beggars.  My thoughts have shifted on this topic over the last year, so I decided to try re-settle them into words and sentences.

Even though most Vancouverites who beg live in my neighbourhood, they don't beg as often here as they do in the downtown core, where all the money is, so I don't get asked for money nearly as much as people who work downtown.  (To be honest, I struggle more with whether to lend money to my low-income friends here on the DTES, whether the borrower-lender dynamic will strengthen or distort the friendship.)  Still, I probably get asked for money by strangers at least once a week. 

For most of my life, I thought it was best not to give money to panhandlers.  You can probably guess some of my reasons.  Giving away money to one person would not help solve any of the deep-seated root causes of poverty.   I didn't want to risk enabling or contributing to peoples' substance abuse and addictions.  I had also heard that many of them made more money begging than I did in my work at a non-profit organization.

In the last year, though, I have done some reading that has caused me to reconsider this, including this blog post by Emily Hunter McGowin (whom I don't know personally, but whose blog I somehow found), and a section in a book called Bent Hope by Tim Huff, who works with street youth in Toronto.  

Emily and Tim both know that money is a tricky thing.  Let's take a five-dollar bill.  In a physical sense, it's worth 500 cents, no matter what.  But in a spiritual sense, its value is changeable - it all depends on the circumstances and the state of our heart.  Jesus hints at this when he talks about the widow giving away her last two pennies (though I think he's really pointing out injustice and corruption in the church, but that's for another blog entry).  When given as an expression of deep generosity and surrender, like the widow's, the five-dollar bill can become priceless.  Dropped begrudgingly, guilt-laden, into a beggar's cup, it's worthless.  Clutched and loved, it's dangerous, the root of all kinds of evil; just when you think you're controlling it, you find it's controlling you. 

Let me use another example of the weird, changeable value of money.  Jacob's Well, where I work, is a non-profit community, depending entirely on the donations of churches and individuals to pay rent and staff salaries.  Essentially, we are beggars!  And yet as a community, Jacob's Well tithes every month, giving away 10% of what we get.  We recently gave some money to a non-profit that supports at-risk youth in Winnipeg, to encourage them.  One of the people on their staff was so blown away by this that she donated a similar amount online to Jacob's Well.  This is completely illogical!  Dollars and cents were sent eastward to them, and those same dollars and cents were wired back west to us.  A waste of time and energy, a zero sum, you might think.  But in Kingdom accounting, we both gained incredible amounts of encouragement through these mutual gifts, and we lost something important, too - we lost some of the hold money has on us.

Jesus says crazy things about money.  They're too straightforward, too easy to rationalize and spiritualize:

"Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." - Matt 5:42 

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back." - Luke 6:35

Why does Jesus ask us to give in such broad, undiscriminating ways?  Certainly for the sake of the person who is in need.  But could there be another equally important reason?

Maybe, Emily suggests, it's for your own good.  For your own spiritual formation and protection.  Maybe it's because, as Emily puts it, you're a "greedy, covetous, materialistic, rich pig of a sinner who needs to be transformed."

Yes, we're supposed to be wise with the resources we're given to steward.  But I agree with Emily: I believe Christ calls us to be even wiser about the potential soul-numbing, blinding effect those resources have on us, especially in our current cultural situation.  Money itself is not evil - it is merely a tool.  But in the Western world, and yes, in the Western church, this tool is a pickaxe, and it's stuck deep in us, because we love it too much.  We love the comfort of money; we love the privilege of deciding how much of it to hoard, how much of it to spend, how little of it to give.  As a resource and a blessing, it's meant to flow freely and generously and joyfully through our fingers into the hands of those who actually need it, but it sticks and stays, covered in honey of our rationalizations.  We abuse and misuse the privilege of wealth, and I think Jesus knew we would.

I like to think money doesn't tempt me, doesn't exert control over me, but I know that it does.  So I've started taking Jesus a bit more literally, and giving it to complete strangers who ask me for it, without being able to define what they're allowed or not allowed to do with it.  (After all, my employer, who gave it to me, made no such demands.)  Sure, it might be used to buy drugs... but I cannot pretend that I have not also misused money to numb pain.  It also might be used to buy food.  It also might be given away to someone else, accruing even more spiritual value.  Jesus does not ask me to discover or legislate what it is used for; He asks only that I let go of it.

As I open my wallet to give to the stranger, my hands whisper to my heart this truth: This paper note, this metal coin - it doesn't belong to me, and it never did, and it never will.  I was only holding on to it for a while.  It doesn't own me.  It doesn't provide for me - my Creator does, and will continue to do so, as long as I follow his instructions about what to do with it.

So that's where I'm at... I'm giving to panhandlers because it feels like freedom, it feels like joy, and every time I do so, it pulls the pick-axe a millimeter further out of my heart, and washes a bit more honey off my hands. 

Post-script: If people are still concerned about strangers unwisely using money, here's some great counsel from Tim :  "Set aside a jar on your kitchen windowsill, or at the corner of your desk, and every time you have gently said "no" to a person panhandling, take the coin you decided not to give and put it in that jar.  And when the jar is filled donate it to a mission or outreach or program that you know will use the money well for those who are homeless.  Be released from the strife caused by the battling little voices in your head telling you it is a bad idea.  But do something that will at least dam the flooding hypocrisy of speaking this great concern and doing nothing."  (128)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Aboriginal Day!

Today is National Aboriginal Day in Canada (as well as being the longest day of the year).  I have been on a steep learning curve in so many ways in the last few years, in terms of Aboriginal culture, history, and identity, and it's so good to be able to celebrate them today.

One of my god-daughters, Summer Breeze
I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about First Nations people and the Church, and the history of the pain Christians have inflicted physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, even culturally by suppressing and even extinguishing many of their customs, dances, and languages in the name of Christ.  I am praying for justice, which will involve the laying down of our wealth, privilege, and lives, and reconciliation (actually, for a new "conciliation", as Jodi pointed out to me, since we messed things up so royally from the moment of first contact that we cannot look back to a time when things were conciliatory.)  I am praying especially for First Nations cultural expressions of worship to be recognized and honored in the Church, rather than avoided and shamed, and that through this, the Church will actually be a preserver of culture, rather than a destroyer of culture.

I leave you with a couple quotes from an excellent book I just read by Richard Twiss, "One Church Many Tribes":

Doesn't it seem reasonable to think that, after nearly five centuries of steady evangelism, at least two or three Native Americans would have emerged as significant leaders in the contemporary Church in America?...   "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:21).  It may be difficult to hear or to accept, but I believe that because of clashing cultural worldviews, the Anglo expression of Christ and His Kingdom has said to the Native expression of Christ and His kingdom,  "I have no need of you.  I don't need your customs, your arts, your society, your language, concepts or perspectives."  If you look at a thing and cannot identify any value in it, you will have no perceived sense of need for it.  And if you have no need for it, then you get along without it. (58)

The Native community is to this day primarily viewed by Evangelicals as a needy but largely forgotten mission field, a group in need of
receiving ministry.  The flow of ministry between the Anglo and Native churches is almost always in a top-down direction, a one-way flow of goods, services, ministry and resources from the Anglo church to the  "lower  " Native church.  I would love to see some of our Anglo church leaders, when asked to help a Native church, say,  "Yes, but on one condition: only if you will in turn send your pastors and leaders to come and equip us with the grace and gifting God has given you as Native people."  When that day comes, it will verify that we are seen by our Anglo brethren as equal collaborers in the mission of the Church.  (58)

In America today, the entire Church is suffering spiritually because of the suffering of the Native expression of the Body of Christ.  We cannot escape our connectedness in Christ, and we must comprehend the Lord's requirement upon us to be more aware of the overall condition of the Body, not just those more prominent parts. (61)

It is from observing the quality of our relationships with one another that non-Christians will arrive at the conclusion that there is reality in Jesus Christ.  How awesome it will be when skeptical non-Christian Natives are moved by envy at the sight of Native and Anglo folks loving, preferring, honoring, enjoying and serving one another!  I have witnessed relationships serving as the basis for reconciliation, as well as relationships arising from reconciliation.  Regardless of which comes first, our relationships are the bridges that will endure and over which great, loving armies of ministry can flow both ways - to and from God's First Nations people. (172)

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It's been a strange few weeks since Easter. Jacob's Well flooded (no, the irony is not lost on us), and the space is unusable for at least a month. My laptop has been broken for a few weeks, which is quite disorienting considering how often I usually use it. I participated in our denominational general assembly and the Regent pastor's conference, so I've been with a whole bunch of pastors and other church-y people, where I have felt both a sense of belonging and a sense of distance and disconnect. Friends are going through difficult times, and it's hard to know how to help, and to be present in the midst of their pain. And what has brought more grief than I would have expected was the death of our pet hedgehog last Sunday, after only a month of having him in our house.

It is still the Easter season, and I am looking for signs of life and hope, a good discipline especially when times are hard. There is life. There is green outside, and inside too, as Kat has been growing all sorts of plants for our garden. I can find things to be thankful for.

But in this generally raw and challenging time, when I feel weak and tired, confession is what flows most easily. I've been trying to write down some confessions, since the same old sins crop up over and over. I thought I'd share one I've been working on and adding to for a while now. Some of the ideas are shamelessly plagiarized from Dorothy Day and Shane Claiborne.


For the times when I am overly impressed with myself,
imagining the biographies that will be written about me,
forgive me.

For the times when I am less gracious with myself than you are,
sinking into the ugly pit of self pity,
forgive me.

(For generally thinking too much about myself,
forgive me!)

For the days when you call me to be generous with my time and instead I am stingy,
hiding my laziness behind excuses like "taking care of myself,"
forgive me.

For the days when you call me to rest and be alone and instead I work,
hiding my compulsive "need to be needed" behind excuses like "this can't wait,"
forgive me.

When I let my impatience with the Church in the West harden into bitterness
instead of driving me to prayer and confession,
forgive me.

When I overexaggerate my own poverty,
and when I underestimate the challenges faced by wealthy Christians,
forgive me.

When I overestimate my spiritual strength,
and when I fail to let You shine through my weaknesses and vulnerabilities,
forgive me.

When I say beautiful things about kindness and grace to those on the margins,
but fail to show kindness and grace in my own home,
forgive me.

When I mentally compete with other pastors, non-profits, or communities,
focusing on where we differ rather than on how we fit together in the Body,
forgive me.

When I fail to mourn with those mourn,
but instead find secret reassurance that I'm not the only one with problems,
forgive me.

And above all,
when I lose hope in your kingdom,
when I lack faith in your power to do miraculous things,
(or when I try to dictate what those things should be
and exactly when and how they should happen,)
forgive me.

Teach me to wait in active hope for Your kingdom to transform the world.
Teach me to wait in active hope for Your kingdom to transform me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reverse Gentrification

Hey everyone,

I wrote an article that I'd love to share with you.  Finally, a wonderful current event to cover in Vancouver!  Tongue firmly planted in cheek.  ;)

(photo from

 APRIL 25, 2011

Mayor Frobertson held a press conference this afternoon during which he announced a new low-income housing project slated for construction in the heart of Yaletown, part of the city's attempts to revitalize the neighbourhood.

“We have a lot of hope pinned on this new development. As you know, council has been concerned about Yaletown for quite some time. Consumption runs rampant from Homer all the way to Beatty. It's a breeding ground for the most dangerous kind of capitalists. It's hard to say whether we can even call it a community anymore – one recent study found that 97% of Yaletown residents cannot name anyone else who lives in their condo building. To leave Yaletown to its own devices at this point would be unconscionable.”

Councillor Kerry Flang added, “Something has to be done in Yaletown – luxury has become an end in itself. Upward mobility has gotten so out of control that most of these unfortunate penthouse dwellers have no time or motivation to reach out and connect with other people. Even the yoga classes have failed to bring them fulfilment and inner peace. The little dogs aren't helping. Sadly, some have turned to anti-depressants.”

Frobertson reported that one city councillor had suggested bulldozing Yaletown and starting over. But after talking about some more creative solutions, council is now confident that by seeding Yaletown with a low-income population, revitalization will be swift.

The strategy, which has been dubbed “reverse gentrification” by council, has been met with some skepticism by the DTES residents who will be invited to fill the new low-income Yaletown housing. “I guess Yaletown is nice, with the seawall and False Creek and everything, but how will we afford to live there?” asked one shelter dweller who attended the press conference.

The mayor reassured him, announcing that tax breaks would be provided to stores and shops catering to the new low-income Yaletown residents. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “an 'Army & Navy' will be opening right on the seawall in 2013, and I've also heard that the owners of the old 'Save on Meats' are eyeing a Yaletown location beside the Cactus Club.”

DTES resident Fraser Stuart admitted that it would be difficult to leave the DTES. Like 90% of those who call the DTES home, he would prefer to stay. “I have found such a family, such a network of support in the DTES. I don't know if I would survive in a neighbourhood where no one stops and talks to you on the street. Where are the people in Yaletown who work for social justice? Where are those who volunteer? Where is the empathy, the community spirit? Then again, I guess that's why the mayor want us to move in.”

Councillor Raymond Flouie also spoke at the conference, focusing on a different angle: preserving the heritage of Yaletown. “Yaletown used to be where all the rail workers lived; it was full of warehouses and factories,” remarked Flouie. “How do all of these rich young professionals honour the industrial heritage of Yaletown? We can't afford to see this history die. We simply must bring back some folks who know what it means to work hard and get dirty for practically no pay. I can't think of anyone better than the minimum-wage-workers and binners of the DTES.”

At one point in the afternoon, Mayor Frobertson told a heart-warming anecdote about the early stages of the project. “I was discussing the plans with my favourite real estate developer, Bob Rennie, and I'll be honest, he was less than thrilled about it, worrying about what it would do to the real estate market in Yaletown. But then I quoted something he himself said: 'We need to have the less fortunate walking down the street next to the fortunate.' And the scales fell off Bob's eyes, in a sense, as he saw how it applied to Yaletown. We both sat there, marvelling at this beautiful vision of an inclusive Yaletown, enshrined in this wonderful new social housing. He now agrees that it is imperative to restore a social and income balance to Yaletown.”

Even though many residents of Yaletown have expressed their opposition to this reverse gentrification plan, council seems poised to go full-steam ahead with the project. “Frankly, we don't want to stop with Yaletown,” confessed Flang at the close of the press conference. “We're hoping the entire middle- and upper-class will soon reap the benefits of this reverse gentrification strategy. We have some very interesting ideas for Shaughnessy.”

(Photo from:

Post Scriptus (this is a real quote:)

One of the driving logics of gentrification in the Downtown Eastside is 'social mix'.  Yet every single time 'social mix' is proposed in a middle-class or rich neighbourhood, it is rejected. No one wants a social housing project, a detox centre, a methadone clinic, a food bank in their backyard. So why should a low-income neighbourhood accept this logic? SFU professor Nicholas Blomley explains that 'the language of social mix serves to justify giving the right to space and property to those with wealth, and taking it away from those who are poor. Social mix is a strategy used to expand hierarchical structures and mask asymmetrical power… It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing.'” - Harsha Walia, “Vancouver Approves Chinatown Towers, Prices Out the Poor,” Vancouver Sun.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Random Thoughts and Links on a Holy Saturday

Good Friday brought up a lot of thoughts in me.  Holy Saturday brings more.

- I spent part of the morning pulling a red wagon full of large rocks through the DTES, and dropping them off in various locations.  I got a lot of comments and funny looks.  I felt a bit like the disciples who were sent to get an untamed colt for Jesus, and the strange questions they might have been asked.  I felt foolish, but the good kind of foolish.

- Our church did an abridged Stations of the Cross walk around the neighborhood, stopping at different places to pick up and carry one of these rocks, and to read part of the crucifixion narrative and sing a short song.  We stopped at the Courthouse, and we stopped in alleys.  We ended at the beach at Crab Park, where we built a cross out of the rocks.  This is where we will celebrate Easter tomorrow.  Good Friday was the first service we did in this neighborhood, two years ago, before our "official" launch - this was our third Good Friday walk.  I believe it's significant our community of faith began by acknowledging Jesus' presence with us in the midst of suffering.

- Power has been on my mind a lot lately, and I was struck again by Jesus' downward mobility - how he had to give up all control and make himself completely vulnerable to betrayal, pain, and death in order to conquer death and the powers of darkness.  I was reminded that while following Jesus does bring life to the full, following Jesus will also sometimes - often - feel like carrying a cross.  It will feel like failing.  It will feel like death.  The way of Jesus leads down before it leads up.  I know today that are many things in me that still need to fully die, and one of them is my need for control, my need to feel like I'm succeeding and being effective and useful.  Kathy Escobar always writes about this on her blog, and I love it.

- Yesterday afternoon, I managed to finally finish this book, A Million Little Pieces.  I had been reading it for over a year, but only on Welfare Wednesdays, as a way to enter into the mindset of someone with a substance addiction.  But I decided Good Friday was also a good day to read it.  I know there's been a lot of controversy around how factual the book is, but I think it's quite valuable in terms of its vivid description of the mental, spiritual, and physical experience of addiction.

- I saw this video yesterday (linked off Kathy's blog), and really liked the analogy Brene Brown uses: a lot of people come to church or come to Christ looking for an epidural (a God and a community to take away their pain), and end up finding a midwife (a God and a community who sit with them in the midst of pain and help them push through it).  Watch this for the rest of what she says.

- I've got this song running through my head, "You Won't Relent," about God's unrelenting love and desire for us to surrender everything to him.

- Last night, I watched Of Gods and Men.  It's about a group of French monks who are wrestling with whether to stick it out at their monastery in Algeria during the unrest in the 1990s.  It's a beautiful movie, again, about surrender, and the cost of giving yourself fully to God and to a community.  Very moving.  Trailer below.

Now it is Holy Saturday.  I remember hearing someone once talk about Holy Saturday as a one-day mirror of the "waiting" space in which we find ourselves in salvation history: we are in between our own spiritual death and our full transformation and resurrection, in between the death of this earthly kingdom and the full coming of the next kingdom.  It's a good challenge to wait well, to wait actively, to hold on to hope, when your Savior seems at times to be so absent, whether hidden behind a gravestone, or away, preparing a place for you.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Haters, do me a favor... stay out of our hood.

This may be angrier than my typical blog post, but I really feel the need to get this off my chest.

There are suburban Christians who come into the DTES regularly to hand out tracts and to preach.  I don't think this, in and of itself, is wrong.  I am especially sympathetic with the ones who take the time to get to know the people to whom they preach.  I remember talking to one woman in my neighbourhood whose journey to faith and freedom from addiction began thanks to a woman from Abbotsford who stopped by her tent in Oppenheimer Park every Friday night to give her a sandwich and a tract, and to talk to her.

But there are some "preachers" who are really starting to get on my nerves.  My sources tell me you can find them at some of the Christian missions that make people to sit through a sermon before they serve them food.

I know these preachers second-hand.  I hear their words come through the mouths of some DTES Christians I know.*  It happens when the topic of gay people comes up.  Or Catholics.  (Two groups that are both represented in our community at Jacob's Well.)  When these topics are broached (or sometimes, just out of the blue), these otherwise loving and accepting Christians start parroting the words and attitudes of these preachers.  Attitudes of hate, prejudice, and exclusion, along the lines of: "God is angry at Vancouver and will judge us because of all the gay people,"  or, "The pope is the Antichrist."

I have no idea why you would come into a neighbourhood like the DTES and preach hatred and fear.  Especially toward two groups who are so well represented in the DTES (for example, one study I read said that 40% of homeless youth in Canada identify their sexual orientation as the primary cause of their homelessness).  Especially since they're also two groups who are quite involved in serving the DTES (I am thinking of the many lesbian feminists and Catholic sisters I know who work around here).  And especially in the presence of marginalized people who have experienced their fair share of hatred and fear already in their own lives.

I see this preaching as spiritual abuse - abuse of people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, who easily accept your spiritual authority, who are less likely to question the things you say, and more likely to swallow it whole.

If you want to preach to my friends, read Jesus' sermons to people on the margins.  They mostly contained words like "blessed are you."  Or, "what do you want me to do for you?"  Or, "go in peace."

Preach love.  Preach welcome.  Preach acceptance.  Preach hope.  Preach grace.  Preach resurrection.

And if you feel the need to preach hate, please, do us all a favour and stick to the suburbs.

Rant over.

On the topic of Christians, the church, and gay people, I highly suggest that everyone read a series of blog posts by my friend Wendy Gritter.  She has a way of approaching the issue (especially on a denominational level) that I had never before considered - as a "disputable matter," a category used by Paul for a different issue in Romans 14.  Believe me, you really need to check this out.  Here's the link to the first in the series

*Believe it or not, there are a fair number of Christians in my neighborhood.  Many people don't realize this, and they come preaching under the assumption that everyone in the neighborhood is heading to hell and is in dire need of some fire insurance.  In reality, a lot of DTES residents know God, know Him in a deep and tried-and-true way.  A lot of them have wrestled through a lot more crap in their lives than I have, and the fact that they cling to God in the midst of it all often amazes me.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Poetry, for a change.

At the 20th Annual Women's Memorial March, February 14, 2011

I arrive late, joining
a sea of umbrellas
braced against a pouring sky.
Already the fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
of some of those
three thousand women
missing and murdered
flow out through the Carnegie doors.

The elders lead a familiar refrain,
a depth of pain and pride
drawn by drums to the surface,
song spreading back through the masses
in sporadic echos.
I've only heard it
at protests and funerals
and I realize I don't know
which this is.

We march.
We take up space.
We stop, stand still.
Rain beads on hair, on beards,
drips off noses,
makes collective grief palpable.
We march again.

The police chief walks beside me.
From the edge, an elder blesses us,
thanks us for our solidarity.

When I leave,
I find myself running.

At the Pow Wow, February 15, 2011

My god-daughter sleeps through the drumming,
curled up in a ball,
pressed to my chest;
my red hair rests on her small, dark head.
She smells of smoked salmon.

Her father and brother and cousins surround their drum,
their beats pulsing as one,
resurrecting an ancient song.
I smile in pride.
These men are
all my relations,
all the more so since this dark-haired child
adopted me.

See, I say to her,
in the middle of the room,
our sisters are dancing! -
bells stitched into their coloured skirts,
feathers fanning the air,
stepping lightly,
faces strong.
Shawl-draped arms spread like wings
and draw us in.

Watch them all whirl.
There could be thousands of them.

P.S. The photos are not mine... I wish I had taken photos at these events!