Sunday, April 29, 2007

Thinking About the Cost of Housing...

When I woke up this morning I turned on the tv news and caught the end of a special report on housing in Canada. The gist of it was this: as you move west the cost of housing is literally through the roof. That's if you can afford a roof at all! The report looked at how much house you could get in different cities for $350,000. By the time you get to Edmonton, there's not much available at that price. They did show a small home - apparently not all that well kept - for $350,000. It was listed as a "tear down", meaning that for $350,000 plus the price of tearing down the house, you could have a lot for construction of a brand new "dream home". In Vancouver, $350,000 could get you a living space of about 700 square feet. You get the idea.

As I sat there watching, I couldn't help thinking of the 14,000 Canadians who are currently homeless on any given day - living on the street or in charity shelters or in makeshift "tents" under bridges or in back alleys. And I thought of the one billion people in the world who do not have basic decent shelter. Images of the shanty towns I visited in Nairobi flashed through my mind. Then I thought about an ad on tv that I find particularly disturbing - I can't honestly remember what store is being advertised (some sort of direct sale box store) but a young couple is boasting about the $750 faucets they got for just $350 (or something like that). I'm thinking, $350 for a faucet!? Have we totally lost our minds?

In Canada, the poverty level (measured as a Low Income Cut-Off or LICO) is based on the proportion of income spent on food, clothing and shelter. If an individual or family spends 20% more of their income on food, clothing and shelter than the average in that area, they're considered poor. It's a relative measure. In cities like Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, poor people spend half of their income or more on housing alone. So, I think to myself, what's going to happen as more and more people migrate from rural areas to urban centres? Are there creative solutions that might alleviate the pressure and preoccupation people have when it comes to finding adequate shelter?

I spent about 10 days out west last fall and, as you can imagine, everyone was talking about the cost of housing. In East Vancouver, I visited a church that opens its doors a couple of nights a week to the homeless. And I heard about a couple of businessmen from that congregation who had bought hotels in East Vancouver, renovated them and used them as single occupancy rental units for low income housing. I was impressed that they would put people ahead of profits... This winter I met a couple of people that are involved in an organization called the Multi-faith Housing Initiative (MHI)in Ottawa. Their ultimate objective is to encourage churches to find creative ways to meet the housing needs of people in their communities. The organization owns a couple of properties - a home and six units in a condominium complex - which they rent to low income earners. But even more importantly, the MHI is encouraging churches and their congregations to get directly involved by using church property and individual homes for low income housing alternatives.

Oh - one other thing about East Vancouver... because of the cost of housing, people are beginning to live in various kinds of "community" arrangements, sharing space and expenses. And, they're discovering some of the non-fiscal benefits of living in community. To be fair, they've been driven to it out of necessity, but maybe we could learn from their experience. Interestingly, the church has become something of a hub in the neighborhood and has gradually developed innovative responses to other community needs. Hm. I wonder... might this model work in other places? For those of us who are Christians, doesn't it remind you of a few verses in Acts where it seems that the believers in Jerusalem were actually living in community - "selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need..." (Acts 2:45). Hm. I wonder...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stretcher Bearers

I'm thinking about my grandfather this morning. He died 18 years ago and there are days that pass when my memories of him are buried somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind. But I was reminded of him yesterday because he was one of the Canadian soldiers who fought at Vimy Ridge during the First World War. He never talked much about the war - like many veterans - and I was too young to really want to know the details of his war experience.

As I watched the news coverage yesterday though, I found myself imagining what it must have been like for him. He was a stretcher bearer during the war. I don't know if he had any special training for that posting, or if it was just a random assignment. And I can't obviously totally comprehend what he experienced as he dashed along the front lines, dodging enemy fire to retrieve the wounded. I've watched enough war movies to know that it must have been incredibly dangerous work. Maybe it was very rewarding - rescuing the wounded from death or capture. I don't know, but I know my grandfather was a gentle man.

For me, as I've "grown up" with this knowledge that Grampie was a stretcher bearer during the Great War, the image that has taken shape in my mind is one that has transferable principles. I always think of Grampie when I read the account of the friends who carried the paralytic man to see Jesus. They transported him on a mat (or stretcher) and then, when they got to the house where Jesus was teaching, there was such a crowd that they couldn't go in through the door. They were somehow convinced that Jesus could help their friend and so determined to accomplish their mission that they took their friend up on the roof, cut a hole and lowered him down to Jesus. It's a great story. It reminds me of Grampie.

It reminds me that I'm not just responsible for myself, but that there will be times when I can be a "stretcher bearer" for someone else. Or, there will be times when I'll need the services of stretcher bearers myself. It may be due to physical injury or illness, or it may be on account of emotional pain. Weakness comes to all of us at some point in the journey and it's great to know that there are those who are willing to not only come along side, but who will risk their own safety to rescue others - to rescue me. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said that we ought to love one another and that the evidence of this kind of love is that we would be willing to lay down our lives in order to save someone else. As I post this, I'm grateful to my grandfather for being that kind of man.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Word About HONESTY

It may be another "frog in the kettle" thing, but have you noticed how honesty has kind of gone out of style? And with it, trust and integrity and doing the right thing. Really - who do we trust any more? Not politicians, or lawyers, or the RCMP, or teachers, or clergy - ask kids today if they trust their parents and parents if they trust their kids... In fact, when I think about it, we live in a world of distrust and the sad thing is, we've come to take dishonesty for granted. I truly think that many teens today assume that everyone cheats and lies and steals, and it's no big deal. You only tell as much of the truth as you have to.

So, yes - the environment is in trouble, and yes, global warming is serious. Absolutely. And yes, we should not just be concerned - we should change our behavior: in a nutshell, we need to live within the natural limitations of the planet. But seriously, the environment is not our most serious problem. Maybe it's more of a symptom of the cumulative effect of humanity's lack of integrity.

Think about it. Who are we trying to kid? We NEVER get away with dishonesty - ever! Our lies will always catch up with us, eventually. Oh, we may get away with it for the time being - pass the exam, get the job, keep the relationship, protect our reputation. But even if no one knows - if we're never "found out" - we know that we're not "real" and of course, God knows.

Now - what's to be done? What about starting where we are. Right now - commit to honesty and integrity. Commit to being a person who says what he means and means what he says. Look at your watch and take the 24 hour challenge. For the next full day, commit to total honesty - no half truths, no white lies, no holding back on relevant but slightly awkward information, no exaggerations, no empty platitudes or unwarranted flattery - and obviously, no outright lies - and no avoiding difficult situations until the 24 hours is up. Oh, and no fudging on the time!