Heartwarming Housewarming

We have a friend in the neighbourhood who pops by with predictable frequency. Through the summer, we’ve been were grateful for these visits. With her unstable shelter situation and her variable mental health, every visit brings with it the assurance that she is alive and well and embracing another day. She always comes by with treats. Recently we each received a card wishing us a happy thanksgiving, Halloween and belated birthday. The cards were signed from “her royal highness”

two weeks ago she approached me excitedly at church to tell me she has a new place! It’s in the notorious Regent hotel, whose owners are currently being sued for their negligence. The Sahota’s are known for taking advantage of the poor’s vulnerable housing position to charge rent for ill-maintained rooms. Another building of theirs, the Balmoral, was closed this summer and all the tenants relocated because it was deemed unfit to live in.
So my friend agrees that it’s not the best living situation, BUT, she has her own bathtub. Normally you’d have to pay extra for a room with a bathroom and even more for a room with a tub – paying around $800 for these basic accommodations.

I pick up a simple plant from Chinatown on my way to visit her and wait outside the front doors for Lena, my roommate who is along for the visit. I watch the cops arrest someone across the street. I wonder if this is one of the dealers the police have been cracking down on lately as they try to grapple with the opioid crisis.

When Lena arrives, we take a deep breath and exchange a look that says “here-we-go!” Neither of us has been in the notorious hotel before. We pull open the door and although there are signs everywhere about limited visiting hours, and guests needing to provide ID, the front desk workers don’t even bat an eye as we breeze through the lobby. I whisper to Lena it’s because we look like nurses and social workers. One win for privilege.

We beeline past the elevator – knowing from our neighbours that it is constantly malfunctioning and usually out of service, leaving many residents with disabilities stranded, cooped up in their rooms. Not wanting to risk it, we opt for stairs. The marble staircase is impressive, it hearkens back to the original grandeur of this building a century ago when it was located in the heart of the theatre district. The wooden floor that once carried tourists and business people is now littered with trash and rigs that we step over as we search for our friend’s room.

We find it, with a banner on her door bidding us “welcome”

our friend beams as she welcomes us in and shows us around. She points to the card table and suggests adding the plant to the small collection of dishes there. Besides her bed and a wooden chair this is the only furniture. She doesn’t have a kettle or a fridge yet, but she offers us tea, coffee or milk anyways.

She has great vision and sees the potential in the room – she imagines a fridge and a loveseat in one corner, a curtain draping over her bed, giving the illusion of a separate room. She shows us where she’s labelled on the walls “this is where the rats come in”. Today, she is hoping someone will come and fill those holes. In the meantime, a few rat trips are strategically placed. We peek through the plastic curtain on the window to check out the view. We watch the rats playing on the other side of her window. Just past them is the new condo development, sequel 138. Her window offers a view into their bright courtyard complete with skywalks and a glass elevator. The fresh, clean luxury of the new building is jarring in comparison to this crumbling, neglected hotel.

The finest feature of the room is the adjacent bathroom, and it’s true this room is nearly the size of a typical SRO room in the neighbourhood. The toilet leaks, the sink doubles as a dish washer and clothes washer, the bathtub constantly looks dirty thanks to someone’s attempts to paint it over. But it’s a luxury compared to sharing the dorm style toilets down the hall.
She continues to point out the character of the room. You can tell where a sloppy paint job attempted to cover up graffiti left from some previous residents. “This one here was a nude woman”, our friend explains. ”See she’s sitting, and there’s fish crawling up her crotch. That one there is another nude. It’s not really my style. I’m thinking of getting a bunch of flower pictures to cover them up.”
her optimism baffles me and her creativity inspires me.

When we ask about her neighbours, she tells us that when she came home after visiting us on thanksgiving evening, she watched her neighbour get beat up down the hall. It all started with a small yippy dog. Her stories both fascinate and terrify me as I try to keep up, discerning what is true and what is embellished by her paranoia. Then I wonder why not just give her the benefit of the doubt? Then I can step into her world and see things as she does.

As she sees it, this room is brimming with potential. Especially because she has her own bathtub.

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Improving Eyesight

Improving Eyesight

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”     Luke 4:18-19

We all are born blind to realities other than our own. This was true for me growing up in places where most others were Caucasian, middle class. We ate the same food at lunch, we had the same values for independence, creativity and achievement. There wasn’t much diversity, and if there was, difference was awkward and uncomfortable. So I ignored it, assuming everyone’s realities mirrored my own. I was colorblind. In my blindness, racism and othering didn’t exist. But as I began to pursue God’s kingdom values, I was invited to expand my circles and rub shoulders with people different than me. It was awkward and it was beautiful

Meeting Asha* for the first time  –I walked into her home – an apartment that was too hot in a cold Saskatoon winter that was too cold. I was expecting a joyful welcome and introduction to the Iraqi family. Instead, I was greeted by the daughter and ushered quietly into a room full of women, dressed in black, covered heads bowed respectfully. Sorrowfully.  They were grieving in an unfamiliar way. I learned that Asha* was grieving for her father who had just died back home, a world away. I heard her long for her husband, her family, her support back home in Iraq. In the midst of sorrow, I saw the beauty in these Muslim women’s practice of togetherness, even when my first instinct was to let her grieve privately. I was humbled as the daughter served me food and cared for me, honored me amidst all the other distractions. Out of this, a curious, beautiful friendship was formed.

I began to seek out interactions like this. I searched for opportunities to sit at the feet of First Nations elders, to celebrate Chinese New Year, to make dulma and dumplings and momos and samosas. I learned to shake my booty from the Congolese cultural group in the west end of Saskatoon, I learned to belly dance in my kitchen from my Afghani roommate and I learned to don myself in a sari at a Bengali New Year celebration.  I’m a bad cook and a worse dancer but my eyesight is improving!

The scales began to fall from my eyes and I saw and I noticed – why are there way more First Nations people in my poor neighbourhood than in the rest of the city – at the local soup kitchen or in prison or in foster care? Why are others applying stereotypes to my Asian friend? Why is it only the white people who are talking from the front at church? Why are my friends living in a tent or in their car or numb to the effects of their bud bug ridden home? I need to first see these discrepancies to begin to get to the root of the injustices I’ve been blind to. And I see these only when I am up close, in proximity with the poor, the powerless,  and those with stories that have been different than my own.

*not her real name

Lord, Teach us to pray

Parables from the neighbourhood

I often reflect on how much I have learned about God’s heart by spending my life among my neighbours who experience poverty. It is easy for me to see how Jesus would treasure and honour my neighbours if he encountered them on earth today. When Jesus taught, he often spoke in parables, creating relevant, resonant stories to make a point. A few weeks ago,  some interns and I responded to Jesus’ teaching on prayer by crafting some parables out of the lessons we are learning from our neighbours
In Luke 11, Jesus responds to the disciples request “Lord, teach us to pray”

“  Jesus said to them, “If one of you has a friend and goes to him in the night and says, ‘Friend, give me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine is on a trip and has stopped at my house. I have no food to give him.’  The man inside the house will say, ‘Do not trouble me. The door is shut. My children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you bread.’ I say to you, he may not get up and give him bread because he is a friend. Yet, if he keeps on asking, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.  I say to you, ask, and what you ask for will be given to you. Look, and what you are looking for you will find. Knock, and the door you are knocking on will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, will receive what he asks for. Everyone who looks, will find what he is looking for. Everyone who knocks, will have the door opened to him. “
We see this same persistent, desperate, trust emulated among our neighbours. This constantly challenges my middle-class desire to be self-sufficient. Here then, is where I see God’s heart in my neighbours:

How many of you then, when you have a felt need, bring it before the community I’ve provided you with?

Every Sunday in church, Dan announces his need for a TV before everyone gathered. You chuckle at the frivolousness of this ask in light of the real inadequacies faced by him and others in the neighbourhood – homeless, hunger, illness, loneliness – the things you consider real, deserving needs. Yet his ask ruminates in your mind and in others’ as he persistently reminds the church every Sunday of his need. Until one sunday he comes in and brazenly announces, “Well, someone here gave me a TV, so you all can just forget about it!”


 

Suppose this woman is diagnosed with cancer again.

It is has threatened her vocal chords, her abdomen, immune system before 3 separate times. When she finds out, it doesn’t crush her but she starts praying more.  She reads psalms aloud so her whole spirit can absorb them.  And she invests more and more in the church and community, rather than conserve her energy.

One day she walks into a church and she is thrown backward by the force of healing.  She believes with certainty at that moment that she is healed.


Suppose then a group of Chinese seniors and youth go to city council to prevent a condo development in their neighbourhood. They say to council, “Do not approve this rezoning application, for in our neighbourhood we find community and livelihood, and it is threatened by gentrification.” And the city council will answer, “I disagree, because there needs revitalization and more supply of housing.” I tell you, even though city council will not deny the rezoning application because they represent their constituents, they will deny it because of the group’s persistence.


 

If you then, who are selfish and apathetic, know how to give good gifts to your neighbours,  How much more will your generous Parent in heaven give good things to those who ask?

Scarcity in a land of abundance

There once was a powerful, loving, generous King, yet his children lived lives of scarcity. How did this come to be?

Scarcity in a land of abundance

Entering the year of 2017, I had the impression that the theme God wanted me to experience this year was abundance. This sounds very nice and all, and I was quick to embrace this promise. I have big hopes for this year – for partnership and provision as I pursue the dream of starting a new servant partners site in Saskatoon. I love the idea that God would meet my needs abundantly in this endeavour! I really don’t have much evidence to indicate that God won’t. I am privileged and wealthy by most standards – I have never experienced real lack and I have lots going for me as far as education, health and support networks. Yet in the face of recent discouragement, I’ve realized that my habits and beliefs more readily follow a well-worn mindset of scarcity rather than this new route of abundance.

Time and time again I’m faced with stories in the scriptures of our God of abundance that challenge my scarcity mindset. Can you think of any? I was struck by 1 King 19. This is the story people often use to suggest that God speaks to everyone in different ways and it’s not always in dramatic miracles, often he is nudging us along with his “still small voice”. Yet when I read this story recently I was really impressed with the promises that still small voice of God had to share with a weary, distressed Elijah.

Elijah is literally fleeing for his life. Tired, lonely and afraid in the wilderness, he just gives up and begs for death to come. Instead, God shows up and provides sustenance for his journey. An angel brings him food and drink, not once, but twice!  That miracle bread must have been laced with superfoods like kale and chia seeds because he now has enough energy to walk for 40 days to the mountain of God. He has an unfiltered conversation with God there that reveals his discouragement – “I’ve been working for you zealously Lord, but all of my friends are dead and the bad guys are trying to kill me too. What’s the point?!” This is where that famous mountaintop experience happens where Elijah experiences the powerful works of God and his gentle presence. Then he has the same conversation verbatim and the Lord answers him with ABUNDANCE.

The good Lord lets Elijah in on his behind the scene work – he tells Elijah: “I’ve appointed a new King, he’s ready for you to anoint. I have a replacement for you who’s ripe for the role of prophet, so go on and retire already. And your friends are not all dead, there are 7000 believers who are holding out with you. That’s enough for a rocking retirement party.” I’m impressed with God’s care for Elijah that in all of his legitimately felt lack, God orchestrated abundant provision.

I have so much in common with Elijah…except for the death threats, dessert walks and cave-dwelling bits… actually, only one small but critical point. When discouraged, I easily assume a spirit of scarcity. As I plan for building a team for Saskatoon, I wonder who my partners in this work will be. God gave Elijah 7000, and I still have a hard time believing he’ll give me 5. I wonder how I’ll pay the rent when my hours are spent building relationships in the neighbourhood rather than at a conventional workplace. God gave Elijah miraculous food in the wilderness and has provided for me through others’ generosity for almost 3 years. Still, I refuse a much needed raise for fear there won’t be enough in the pot for next month. When I settle into this scarcity mentality, I tend to want to control and manipulate my resources to provide for myself. This reveals my disbelief that God is a generous King who provides richly for his children. Brother Andrew accounts a similar mindset in this way: ”wasn’t I claiming to depend on God, but living as if my needs would be met by my own scrimping?”

I’m not the only one who lives a contradictory life of scarcity in a land of abundance. As I look around our nation, I relate to Elijah’s weariness. People of Canada, we are not finding our hope in God. We are living fearful and protective lives that claim there is not enough to go around. We build personal, impenetrable kingdoms of security and saving for the future that are soundproofed from the cries of the vulnerable, the oppressed, the foreigner, the stranger. We are fearful there is not enough to go around. Not enough jobs, not enough homes, not enough time.  “We settle into an attitude of poverty – a dark, brooding, pinched, pattern that hardly goes with the open heart of Christ that we are preaching” (Brother Andrew). And I wonder, where will I find partners in this land to live in prophetic opposition to our idol of money, savings, security by living an open, generous, dependent life? Most days, I scarcely believe that I’m cut out for this!

Please appreciate that while I write this, I am savouring a FREE piece of “Vancouver’s best cheesecake”. God loves me so much and provides richly for me!

These walls have ears

My dining room wanted to share some thoughts and impressions with you about what it’s like to host 8 women and their friends:

thump. thump.  thump. pause. Knock. Knock. I swing open and reveal a guest at the door. Scrape another folding chair across my floor, go on, and pull it up here. It’s a real pity that there are a finite number of leaves to add to this table. The crowding, the scootching, the scramble to find another plate, another cup, another chair. My walls exhale to make way for your guests , but I don’t mind–

especially the children.

I love to have them crawling, rolling, dancing and building forts on my floors. The children and I, we proclaim our delight loudly, ensuring the downstairs neighbours can get in on our fun too. In our exuberance, we keep only one thing hushed, but I’m sworn in. Only they can tell you the source of the countless marbles you discover in the strangest places when you clean the house on Sunday afternoons.

For these children’s sake, I wish I were carpeted in a thick, woolly, cushion, to catch these kids when they fall off their chairs. Is anyone keeping track of how many kids fall off their chairs in this house? Those white folding chairs from Ikea are the worst for it.

But for the sake of your dance parties, my floors will remain a solid, inviting, hardwood.

So, dear occupants, you keep me busy, you keep me alert, you keep me young, my friends, my family, you make me flexible. You are not easy on me. I bear your scuffs and bruises – children’s fingerprints on all surfaces, scuff marks on floorboards from constant scene changes, stains from nail polish and coffee spills, punctures and tears on the wall from the revolving art and decor I display. These scars bear witness to the rich life I host here, and for this dear occupants, I am grateful.

These walls have ears, and let me tell you, when I see you inviting a neighbour over for the first time and I  sense trust being built, I long to extend a space of comfort to you all.

When your team is talking about ethnic identities, when you’re having these real talks where you exchange pain for forgiveness and hurt for grace, I long to extend a space of understanding to you.

When you study scripture and sing and cry out for more of God’s wonder in this neighbourhood, I long to tremble and shake with the filling of the Holy Spirit that is tangible in this place.

These walls have ears and let me tell you, when the youth come in all their hyper energy and teenage angst, I long to extend a space of acceptance to each one.

When your friends and neighbours gather to lament and this space is filled with your palpable sorrow, I long to extend a space of comfort to you all.

When your peers gather to read a play or watch a movie or play a game together, I long to extend a spirit of light-hearted fun and a space of belonging to each who enters.

At the end of a long week, when you’ve loved and hosted to a point of satisfied fatigue, but your resolve is weary and your reserves are low, I long to extend a space of rest.

These walls have ears,

and they notice

the heaviness with which people enter this space,

they notice

a listening ear and a meaningful embrace

and they notice

the lightness with which people go forth from this place.

 

what an honour to say it is my walls that contained these stories, it is my floor that support these transformations. What an honour it is be host to a sacred space.

 

all my love and hospitality,

The Not-So-Yellow House

May this be the year

may 2017 be a year that we abolish the barriers of class, race and ideology that keep us segregated from our neighbours and keep too many vulnerable people excluded and marginalized. may a global movement of radical love and courageous inclusion begin in our communities, with those unmet friends nearest to us.

may this moment from history shape 2017: ‘“Watch Night” is a gathering to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law. When the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States were proclaimed free. Since that date 146 years ago, African-Americans have celebrated the good news of freedom in local churches on New Year’s Eve. Like the slaves who first gathered while the Civil War raged on, we proclaim freedom for all captives in Jesus’ name, knowing that it is not a reality for millions.” (a snippet from the book of Common Prayer)

In the coming year, May we see more glimpses of this prophecy fulfilled in the coming year? Isaiah 25:

4 But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord,
a tower of refuge to the needy in distress.
You are a refuge from the storm
and a shelter from the heat.
For the oppressive acts of ruthless people
are like a storm beating against a wall,
5 or like the relentless heat of the desert.
But you silence the roar of foreign nations.
As the shade of a cloud cools relentless heat,
so the boastful songs of ruthless people are stilled.
6 In Jerusalem,[a] the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will spread a wonderful feast
FOR ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD
It will be a delicious banquet
with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.
7 There he will remove the cloud of gloom,
the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.
8 He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The Lord has spoken!
9 In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”

here is a glimpse of my weekly “banquet table” in Vancouver. Our intern, snapped this photo and captioned it “Taking a step back (literally), I thought, ‘man, our church is beautiful.'”
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HERE’S TO A HOPEFUL 2017!

Welfare Food Challenge 2016

In the 2 years I’ve lived in Vancouver, I’ve built meaningful relationships with people who survive on welfare rates (of only $610/month). One such friend recently shared this theory with me: “middle class people live in their insulated homes and do everything possible to promote personal security and stability, they self-protect and actively avoid pain. But those of us in poverty, we experience a lot of hardship. And it’s that hardship that inspires us to action”. I’m doing the Welfare Food Challenge again this year to get a small glimpse of the hardship my friends experience.

With rent ever increasing but welfare rates frozen at $610/month, that leaves only $18/week left for food! This modest budget doesn’t even include any money for transportation costs! The challenge is to eat only what I can buy with 18$ for a week, no freebies, no charity. So far for me that’s:

Oatmeal
Lentils
Yogurt (50% off at NoFrills cha-ching!)
coffee from the dollar store 😦

Before you write me off as solidarity saint, allow me to insert the disclaimer that this is nothing like what my friends experience. Week after week, month after month, they ration and scheme and wait in food line ups or go hungry. And for me, in a week’s time, I’ll be lounging here gorging myself on chips and dip again! The generous stories and experiences of my friends inspire me to action – to call our government to raise the rates after almost 10 years of no increase!

I’m sharing my journey with you not to prove how much I love lentils, but in hopes that you’ll be inspired to action along with me! There’s an agenda behind this “experience”. My goals this week are to spread the word about inadequate welfare rates, sign the petition, and take time this week to listen to someone’s story. Are ya with me?

for the petition and other actions yo can take:
Take Action

stay tuned for Odes to Oatmeal and Lentil Literature!