Sunday, June 30, 2013

Confronting the Powers in the Way of the Cross

Part 1: He Knows Your Name

It is Good Friday again. Our 5th as a community. Again, we take to the streets following the way of the cross.

Our first stop, Oppenheimer Park, is teaming with people on this beautiful sunny day in March. Oppenheimer is considered the "front yard" for mNy of our neighbours who are homeless or who inhabit rooms that measure 6'x9'. We listen to a Flamenco piece, done on strings, full of passion and tension, an almost palpable push and pull as we imagine Jesus betrayed by one with whom he has shared his life and for whom he walks this road.

Our gathering was noted by those hanging out in the park. Groups who come and go to "see the poverty" of our neighbourhood are common place around here, especially around holidays. And as we leave a woman calls after us in a drunken slur from the bench where she is sitting "I love you guys!!" Without missing a beat a voice from within our crowd yells back, "we love you too Hilda!!"

I am reminded on this way of the cross that Jesus too knew the names of neighbours as he walked this road, and called them by name, calling forth our humanity.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Being Good Neighbours

One of the issues facing our neighbourhood right now is gentrification, and what it means to be a good neighbour when higher-income people are moving into a low-income neighbourhood, often displacing poorer people.  I (Beth) am currently writing a series of blogs about gentrification, and I invite you to engage with me in the comments section over on my blog. But on this blog, I wanted to post something written by another member of our church on the same topic.

Last year, a man named Mike Comrie wrote a letter to the National Post, describing his life as a middle-income father-of-two in the DTES.  It was fairly scathing, as you may guess from the title: "Raising kids amid the hookers, junkies and drunks of Vancouver's worst neighbourhood."  You can read it here.

Krista-Dawn Kimsey, a God's House of Many Faces member and mother of two, wrote a letter to the editor in response to Mike.  It was never published, to our knowledge.  But I'm very happy to post it here, and to showcase her excellent thinking and writing, and her gracious way of living in this neighbourhood.  I hope it spurs some further thought and reflection.



Dear Mike,

I would like to ask you if you see yourself as the “good neighbor” that you are looking for in the DTES. I am also a resident of the DTES and have lived here with my family of 2 kids of a similar age to you (3 and 7) for a few years. We lived right on Hastings Street for a year and now live a few blocks away from Strathcona Elementary. I can commiserate with you over the outrageous housing prices. I don’t see us ever affording to buy in this city even though both my husband and I are college graduates and come from middle class family support structures. I would also join you in inviting other families to raise their children in this neighborhood; it’s a great place for a family to thrive. But my recommendation to new families would be to please buy elsewhere if they share in your opinions of this community and place their hopes for the ideal lifestyle arriving at their doorstep through gentrification. What this neighborhood needs is better neighbors who seek the welfare of all its residents, not new neighbors waiting for cultural annihilation.

I’ve lived in major urban centers most of my life, in all kinds of neighborhoods and also have always had the choice to stay or go. My experience of the DTES is that it is the most welcoming place I have ever lived. This “disturbing new community” that you describe has been a foundational teacher to me and my kids on subjects like generosity, hospitality, acceptance and most significantly, respect. My kids love walking on Hastings, and we also accept the generous gifts of people who have nothing but want to affirm kids being kids. My kids have been given all kinds of gifts, from money to toys to tricycles by the “dodgy” characters that you refer to. The chorus of “kids on the block” to hide their drugs is a kind and respectful act by people who have not received a fair share of kindness in their life. The streets we walk on are their bedrooms and living rooms, not because they all want to live there, but because the city is refusing to listen to the community’s plea for dignified and affordable housing options. Kids are intuitive, they can instantly know if someone is safe or not safe. What they need are parents to teach them how to engage with people who at first glance to them seem fearful, not parents who affirm that there are people so different than themselves that you need to walk on the other side of the street to avoid them.

Perhaps the bus stops and streets are dirty because neighbors who are not living in crisis have not taken responsibility to care for one another. Do you really think there is a kind of human being that enjoys going to the bathroom on the street? Are there not hundreds of apartments and homes in the DTES filled with people with clean bathrooms? When the city is glacially slow to take on responsibility to provide a decent number of public washrooms, couldn’t we know each other’s names and stories enough to answer the door and see a friend who needs to use a bathroom, or a washing machine. People on the streets know each other’s names, they know what their lives have been like, they know when they go missing after 12 hours. Do you know your neighbors in your condo like that? Who is going to teach your kids that people are more important than stuff? It wouldn’t take too much time when you walk with your kids and see a bunch of needles on ground to pick them up and get the name of person who owns the closest sharps container. They are all over, and I’ve found people to be most grateful. We all want to be safe when we walk down the street, not just you.

You don’t have to look far for excellent neighborhood teachers here. People in the Carnegie Community Center know how to identify the dignity in each person in a second. Families in homes like St. Chiara’s, Servants and 614 can show you how to eat dinner with people suffering on a mental illness journey and oppressed by addiction without feeling afraid. I’ve found the best teachers are the ones who are sitting on the park bench in Oppenheimer, while my kids play. So many people in this community have time to share what they are passionate about, where they have come from, what they wish their neighborhood could be like. You could dream with them, and join them in the fight to have those dreams be taken seriously even though they aren’t going to bring big profits for the city. There are lots of people here who can fan the flame of courage to move you along the journey from initial contact to greater engagement and solidarity.

Where I wouldn’t look for help in creating a caring community is the police department. Our residents association invited them to address some people’s safety concerns. All they did was drill into us that there are “bad guys” who will do anything to get our stuff. How many more news stories to we need to see to know the truth that those who are the most dangerous to our kids are more likely to be in our own extended families, or living in quiet suburban neighborhoods behind closed doors?? When we did get the statistics in writing, it was clear that neighborhoods like Kits have higher rates of all kind of crimes than Strathcona and the DTES.

What the DTES really needs is for the city to listen to what the current residents have identified themselves to help them be better neighbors that have the ability to provide for themselves. The city’s refusal to listen to the community and block destructive condo developments like Sequel 138 are only going to bring greater responsibility to us all currently living here to model what a thriving community looks like. How can our current neighbors thrive when their basic needs of decent housing, healthy food and a good night’s sleep are out of reach for them? When Sequel 138 new neighbors sign their lease they need to sign on for a steep learning curve in how to look for and affirm our common humanity. Not use stereotyped preconceptions that identify “dodgy” people as unsafe and look for something to arrest them for. My neighbors won’t be arrested for their drug use because they do it in their backyard, where the smoke comes through my windows to my kids. But they sure would be arrested if they smoked in the breezeway of the Sequel 138.

I agree with you Mike, drug addiction does horrible, horrible things to a human soul. And all of us have a responsibility to speak, write and engage with each other that affirms our common dignity and our human right to thrive. The city is refusing to put those values into action by honoring their earlier policy of replacing 1 SRO to 1 unit of dignified social housing, so ever more new neighbors will be coming just because it’s a cheaper place to live. If these new neighbors like yourself are only coming in hopes that they will create a new kind of community to displace the one that established themselves here for decades, then the soul of Vancouver will be lost. Instead of waiting for something of value to come to this neighborhood, you could take time to make friends with your neighbors and realize the gems that have learned how to survive despite crushing odds. The people here are complicated, just like you and I. But I’ve seen just as atrocious behavior in residence association meetings from people with comfortable homes and 6 figure incomes as the brawls outside the bars. Violent behavior is everywhere, including ourselves. This community has its share of violence, but more often I’ve experienced it’s ability to listen, accept and have each other’s back. The city should be coming down here for lessons in how to develop a supportive community, and import those ideas it to the other neighborhoods that have created Vancouver’s reputation for being a difficult city to know anyone in.

So Mike let’s do the neighborly thing. Let’s get together over coffee and introduce our kids and hear each other’s stories. We could meet at the new doughnut shop down the street from you, the one that sells them for $4.50 each. I’ll bring a friend of mine on welfare and we can start the conversation by brainstorming how he can pay for his dinner since his $8 allowance to live that day went to a coffee and doughnut.

Krista-Dawn Kimsey

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Nation Not Our Own

A long day's journey from where I live, there resides a small nation surrounded on all sides by a far larger, far stronger nation. Over time, this small nation has seen its borders trespassed, its children stolen, the sustenance of its land and water despoiled and eroded, its culture and language threatened with extinction, all by that larger nation which surrounds it. The life of this nation has been challenged now for over a hundred years, but remarkably-miraculously, even-its people still hold on to their heritage. Despite relentless efforts to eliminate their identity, they have not forgotten who they are. And now, faced with continuing threats to their self-determination and livelihood, they must hold on to that more than ever...

The above lines could describe countless indigenous nations all around the world. Whether "surrounded by" Canada, the US, Brasil, India, Australia, or numerous other nations, First Peoples everywhere have shared the oppressive experience of colonization. But lest we make a grave error, let us remember that this is not simply a destructive pattern belonging to a regrettable but finished past. We all move in the currents of history, and the channels it has dug are not undone in a day, a year, or even a hundred years. Colonization is a contemporary experience for indigenous peoples. And it is an experience I-a white, male, middle-class descendant of British settlers-profit from.

What does it mean to follow the God who delivers slaves from their oppressors in Egypt, when I am an Egyptian?

It's a question that led me last week to a territory about an hour's southwest of Houston, in central BC, the traditional lands of the Unis'tot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. At the Unis'tot'en camp, one family has built and moved into a cabin directly in the way of a proposed natural gas pipeline, the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP). Here in BC, there has been a lot of noise about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, transporting raw bitumen from the tar sands in northern Alberta to the coastal town of Kitimat, where it would be shipped overseas to China. There's a lot of good reasons to oppose it: dangerous potential for spills for tankers navigating to and from Kitimat, the several major watersheds in BC crossed by the pipeline, the fossil fuel dependence it would further entrench in the Canadian economy, devastating impacts of extraction practices on land, forest, water, and rural communities in Alberta... What people don't know is that Northern Gateway is just one piece of a whole Energy Corridor the Harper and Christy governments want to develop, including numerous pipelines crisscrossing BC, a new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant in Kitimat, and the Site C Dam. Northern Gateway is still under review, but PTP was already approved as of April this year. And if it is built, the Northern Gateway pipeline could very readily slip through along the same route, PTP paving the way.

This is what colonization looks like today. Historically, large swaths of land in BC were never legally ceded over by First Nations peoples to the government, meaning much of this industrial development is essentially illegal, imposition on foreign lands. At the Unis'tot'en camp, the Wet'suwet'en First Nations are again taking up their territorial responsibility, asking all visitors - politicians and corporate reps included - to abide by traditional protocol analogous to the United Nations' requirement for Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) with indigenous peoples. When I arrived at the camp, I was asked to explain who I was, why I was there, and whether I had been involved in industry harming their traditional territories. It was their decision whether I would be allowed on their lands. Anyone who fails to respect this protocol has been turned away.

In respecting their protocol, however, I experienced a profoundly humbling welcome, one of gracious acceptance rather than arrogant entitlement. I stayed with the family and some of their other allies about four days, long enough to do a little cabin renovation, chop timber and cook on a wood stove, almost freeze in an attempt to sleep outside in the wintery conditions, and to dip my head into the rushing waters of the nearby Morice River, one of the few uncontaminated rivers remaining in the area. I left with a strong desire to return, to continue my own journey out of Egypt by walking alongside an oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and self-determination.

Posted by Jason Wood member of God's House of Many Faces

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Children and Poverty

BC has the highest percentage of child poverty in the nation. This is something that should not be! But it is.

We are not sticking to the rules for the challenge in regard to the child in our household. It is good for him to experience limits in terms of choice. Every morning he asks, "how many more days do we have to have plain oatmeal for breakfast?" And then groans no matter the response. One more day is too many in his mind. But I am not worried about that. I am worried about the parents who have to feed their children on this amount of money and I honestly do not know how they can do it. The amount of bread and peanut butter we could afford this week ran out today, on day 3 and we don't even have to feed him lunch because he gets it at school. There is only enough fruit for one serving every other day and 3 carrots, 3 potatoes and a spaghetti squash are all the veggies we could do and we aren't eating meat or eggs. That again is for 4 people.

More than anything else I am struck by the plight of children and their parents when it comes to having to make do on this amount if money. This must be set right!

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Welfare Food Challenge

Many in our church are on social assistance. Almost all live at or below the poverty line. Personally I (Jodi) felt like taking the challenge this week to live on a food budget if $27/person would not be an especially big deal. We live on close to this amount most weeks. However I am starting to see things very differently. Today is day 3 of the challenge. Here are some of the "rules" that are making this pretty tough.

You cannot use anything you already have on hand. This includes spices or oil for coating a pan, a teaspoon of sugar or coffee unless it comes out of your whole budget. Since I am the only coffee drinker in the house, no coffee.

There are 4 of us in our household. Three adults and one child. We are cheating all over the place for the kid. Otherwise this is nearly impossible to do healthfully. More on that later.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gospel Seeds

July has been a busy month. Jodi spent the month with the Sicangu Lakota in South Dakota and then met up with 18 people from God's House for our second trip to the Wiconi Living Waters Family Camp and Pow Wow in Turner Oregon at the end of the month. Through out the month one question has been, why, after 500 years of missionary endeavors with the indiginous people of North America are there so few who would identify as following Jesus? And what, if anything, can be done now to rectify that? One Native elder who was asked this question responded, "The gospel was never planted as a seed in our cultures. A seed adapts to its environment, it takes on some of the characteristics of the life around it. The gospel was always brought to us as an already formed plant, a plant that had the characteristics of Western culture. Now we need to let the gospel be planted as a seed and see what will grow." It is interesting that when we first attended Wiconi Family Camp and Pow Wow, Allan, a Kwakwat'l man said that it was the first time he felt like he could be Native and Christian at the same time. Even though we use many indiginous forms in our ways of being church this was the first time he was seeing Native men and women worshipping Jesus in culturally appropriate ways. Not only historically, but even today I am amazed at how many Native people I meet who believe (because they have been told it over and over and over again) that they need to choose between being Native or following Jesus, they cannot do both. But this is a complete denial of the fact that culture bears some aspect of God's glory. That culture is an expression of our humanity and yes, our humanity is fallen, and something of its true nature is obscured by sin, but it is also an expression of the nature of God, we are made in God's image, and our cultures will also bear something of God's image. The gospel both brings out the "God light" in culture and corrects the lies of sin in culture. Missiological practice tells us though that it is the people in the culture who, by the Spirit of God are able to discern what is of God and what is not. However it is outsiders to Native culture who continue by and large to say what cultural practices are of the devil and what of God, without an insiders understanding of those practices, and the seed of the gospel continues to not be given space to take root.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Goal Posts: What are we trying to do here?

Recently as a community we went through the core values we wrote down over 3 years ago. These were to shape what we were setting out to do, and yet were written in a void, based on educated guesses about the needs and dynamics of the community. It was a little scary for me (Jodi) to put these in front of our whole community to examine, evaluate and dream with. Yet at the end of the process I was deeply encouraged by our re-committment as a whole community to essentially the same values we had set out with. In the next few posts I would like to lay out some of these values and a bit of the work we did to translate those values into the particulars of our context and to dream about the gospel bearing fruit. Core Value: The gospel changes everything. The gospel is the "power of God" that changes unbelievers and believers alike. The gospel is wholistic in its nature, changing the spiritual, social, economic, political, cultural, ecological, emotional, physical, moral, judicial, educational, and familial dynamics of individuals and communities. As gospel people we desire to be wholistic in our ways of representing the gospel in our community. We explored where we have seen these things happening in our community currently, and were encouraged that we could give examples of the gospel working in our community in each of these areas. Two I want to touch on right briefly, are ecology and education. Our farm, Red Clover Urban Farm, is a hub in our life together as a community. As we care for the land that was otherwise abandoned in our neighbourhood we are also finding ourselves restored, and with something to offer to others. Check out our new website and the update as to what is going on at Red Clover Urban Farm
In the area of education we are gaining deeper insights into the dynamics at play around education in our neighbourhood. Those of us who are new to the neighbourhood are beginning to understand that residential schools have an affect being seen even today. We knew in moving into the neighbourhood that lots of kids were having trouble with school attendance. By grade 3 many kids of the low-income kids were only in school 2-3 days a week on average. Someone explained to me that while most people in the world see education as a road to improving your lot in life, for many aboriginal families education was still a painful part of a healing journey because of the generational impacts of the trauma of residential schools. What does the gospel look like as a piece of that healing journey? One mother in our community who's parents were a product of residential school, and whose partner is a residential school survivor said that she has hope that her son's children might be able to be free of the generational impacts. Her son, however is making great strides. As a 3rd grader he was attending school 3 days a week. Now, in grade 6 he has had perfect attendance for the past 4 months and has only missed 15 days this whole school year. Please pray for kids, and families still struggling in this area.