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Contrasts

Ask anyone who has been there, or even seen pictures of Vancouver, and they will tell you it is beautiful.  It is called the City of Glass and is perfectally framed by a backdrop of mountains to the north.  Obviously, I would not be one to disagree with that claim; however, there are other parts of Vancouver that are not quite as beautiful.  On Sunday, September 28th, we headed to the downtown eastside (DTES) to discover a part of the city that has become both famous and notorious. 

We began the day with a great lunch in Chinatown.  It is not everyday that I get to eat steamed dumplings!  Then we proceeded to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park for instructions on that day’s activities.  The park was quiet retreat that honored both one of China’s great 20th century leaders and the significant Chinese heritage in Vancouver. While we were there we gathered together and Amy Hunter (a Nieucommunities staffer) split us into groups of three and gave each of us a map.  For the next few hours we were to follow the map around the city to experience its diversity and culture through sights, sounds, tastes, and even smells (and there were many!).  Colletta was grouped with Amber and I and our journey began going back into Chinatown.  If you want to follow our exact route you can follow it on Google maps.  We went up Pender St., turned left on Gore Ave., left on E. Hastings, right on Abbott St., left on Water St. all the way to Canada Place.

Building in front of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Building in front of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with the City of Glass rising above.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with the City of Glass rising above.

The three of us probably spent 45 min. to an hour going up Pender St.  We had a blast!  It was so much fun going into the little Chinese bakeries and finding interesting and delicious things to eat.  Gateway to ChinatownI found steamed buns in one (actually in many), something that I would eat for breakfast every morning when I went to China.  Amber bought a puff pastry that she got everywhere because it was huge, flaky, and covered in powdered sugar! I do wish I had a picture of that!  Colletta got one of the best Chinese deserts I had ever tasted.  It was sort of like a canoli, only it had a lot of almond in it and it was dipped in chocolate on one side.  The areas was very busy and full of locals and tourists alike.  One thing that I did notice that stood out to me was that it seemed the local Chinese population was quite elderly.  It didn’t seem like there were many younger people in the area.  Perhaps they have moved to different areas of the city.  In any case, it was just a curious observation.

Nothing could have prepared me for what came next after we turned from Pender onto Gore and then onto Hastings St.  I have been to several poverty areas or areas of higher homeless rates in the U.S.  The one that comes to mind the most is New Orleans.  Now in pre-Katrina New Orleans the homeless population mixed in pretty well with the popular business areas.  For instance it was well known that there were many homeless people who hung out around Jackson Square, but it was still an area that was vibrant with tourists and businesses.  There was very little seperation between the two.  In other cities there is usually a transition to the poorer areas of town before you get to them.  Nothing like the stark contrasts that we experienced that day in Vancouver.  As soon as we left vibrant Chinatown we entered East Hastings, an area that is quite the opposite.  Where there were many Canadian Chinese, there was now, only one block over, very little.  Instead the streets were filled with hundreds of men or women living a very different kind of lifestyle.  Either homeless or addicts or mentally ill, and unfortunately some combination of the three.  The air reeked of marijuana being smoked openly, we were even offered it twice that day.  There were no businesses open (granted it was Sunday, but I contrast that with Chinatown which was still very busy regardless of the day) and the buildings were obviously not in good condition.  That morning we had talked about what it meant for us to submerge into a culture the way that Jesus did in the particular culture of his time.  I will always remember Amber’s question as we walked out of that area:  “How do we submerge into that?”  I still ask myself that, how do we live incarnationally among such a culture?  I don’t quite know, but thankfully there is an organization there trying to do just that.  Jacob’s Well is a ministry that Nieucommunities partners with quite a bit that brings the Kingdom to an area that is in desperate need of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
Bringing the Kingdom to the DTES

Bringing the Kingdom to the DTES

Once we reached Abbott St. we turned left and after only a block we were back into lively Vancouver.  Not even a block outside of the poverty that we had just walked a Ferrari passed us by.  We had entered Gastown, a historic and touristy area of Vancouver.  The place was amazing with its historic buildings and brick roads.  So we finished out our map at Canada Place beyond Gastown where all of the cruise ships take off.  So what began in an area of lively business finished in an area of lively business. 
Charming, Historic, and Wealthy Gastown

Gastown

But I just couldn’t believe the stark contrasts in between.  I have just never been to a place like that before, where only one block separates poverty and wealth in such black and white terms.  We were given a time
Discussing God's presence in the DTES at Victoria Park

Discussing God's presence in the DTES

when we were suppose to meet back together at Victoria Park.  Talk about coming back in a different mood. 

Victoria Park

Victoria Park

A couple of the girls were still crying because of what they had witnessed that day.  It was incredible, but we had to keep asking ourselves what is God doing here?  And realizing that God loves these people, he loves them more than we ever could!  The whole time in the back of my mind I kept hearing the song God of This City.  “And greater things are still to come in this city.”  And we made that our prayer.

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Questions and Faith

Over the weekend I received a call from a friend of mine back in Arkansas.  I hadn’t talked to him in awhile so it was great to hear from him and we talked for over an hour.  We have always had an interesting relationship because while I have always “had” faith, he hasn’t.  In high school and into our early twenties he was an agnostic and would tell me about his desire for faith, he just had a lot of questions.  After a lot of prayer and a lot of conversations over a couple of years and his girlfriend’s persistence, he finally started attending church.  It is amazing and beautiful to see how far he has come in his journey.  He is at a point where he believes in God and enjoys going to church.  The problem is he is afraid that many at his church resent him.  You see, there is something special about him…he asks questions!  He doesn’t take churchy answers for granted and won’t accept the easy answers and I pray that never changes.  What is sad is that the church (most modern churches) is not a place where he is welcomed to explore his questions, and that is tragic.  What safer place should there be?  Especially when it comes to questions about God.  Anyways the conversation made me think of a paper I wrote in college about interpretation (hermeneutics) and discipleship, so here are a couple paragraphs of it:

(Jacques) Derrida also warns about the dangers of exhausting a text.  In his interview with Evelyne Grossman he states “Imagine that someone claimed to have said everything that needed to be said on the subject of this poem or that line of Celan, that someone claimed to have exhausted the subject.  That would be terrifying; it would be the destruction of the poem.”  Does this not ring true of the state of Christianity today?  Has the text not in some way been exhausted?  Is this why (G.K.) Chesterton complains that Christianity has some how lost its wonder?  Take for instance a child growing up in Sunday School.  The modern church structure is one of “yes, but” discipleship that stifles creativity and individuality.  Rather than empowering people in a way that will allow them to grow spiritually on their own or from each other, the current system makes them look only to a pastor, priest, or Sunday school teacher for guidance (or answers).  Such a system seems to work to cultivate a spiritual life in a child or an adolescent; however, this becomes problematic when they become young adults and enter the university.  On the one hand the student has professors that encourage critical thinking, something that the Church never encouraged when it came to faith, while at the same time the student no longer has the spiritual guidance of their former pastor or priest.  This more than anything else is the reason why many conservatives fear the so called “liberal” agenda of American universities.  It is not because the student is being force fed liberal values, but the students are learning ways of becoming independent and begin to question these former institutions that in a sense suppressed their intellectual faculty.

This circles back to Chesterton’s need for both a feeling of security and wonder.  On page 166 Derrida simplifies the way in which he reads a poem, “Here is what I believe on can reconstitute, what that could mean, why it is captivating and beautiful and strong, while leaving the unsaid intact, inaudible.  That will, moreover, authorize other readings.”  If the Church would instead teach the Bible in just such a way then they will have the opportunity to still guide participants in a “sound” or “good” theology, but at the same time empower them and give them the freedom to figure out for themselves what the “unsaid intact, inaudible” is.  This, I think, will create a faith or spirituality that can survive and contribute to the life of an individual because it is his/her own personal faith, rather than something that was fed to them in a building with a steeple.  So in this sense Derrida’s form of postmodern hermeneutics offers religion, specifically Christianity, a way to rekindle wonder back into the tradition and empower the people which it serves.

All of this is to say that Church should be a safe place.  A place where people can come with questions and find a warm, loving environment in which to explore faith and Jesus.  We should never be afraid of questions and never offer shallow answers to deep questions.  Rather than love that conveys a level of disrespect both ways.

My prayer is that my friend will never stop asking questions and never accept the easy answers.  I hope he wrestles with faith and in doing so fall ever deeper in love with God.  I believe that God is pursuing him and that he is much closer than he thinks to finding Him.

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Definition of Missions

I was reading through Transforming Mission again this week and found this definition of mission that I really enjoyed:

Mission therefore means being involved in the ongoing dialogue between God, who offers his salvation, and the world, which – enmeshed in all kinds of evil – craves that salvation. (Bosch, p.400).

The qoute acknowledges that first and foremost mission is above all God’s mission (missio Dei).  He is reaching and at work in the world.  It is because loving the world with the Gospel of Grace was first God’s mission that we the church are able to do so, both in word and action.  That is the other reason I like the quote so much, it is broad enough that it does not give priority to word or deed in defining mission.  For so long the church has tried to give an order of importance when it comes to mission.  Do we preach the Gospel or do we live in such a way that fights for justice and love our enemies as ourselves?  We must realize that you can no longer separate the two.  There is no either/or.  It is time that Christians “repudiate as demonic the attempt to drive a wedge between evangelism and social concern.” (Bosch, p.406).

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