Thursday, March 22, 2012

Housing

If I really want to stress myself out (and who doesn't love to do that?), I try to find a bigger home for my family in Vancouver.

At present, the five of us live in a 750-square-foot attic suite in a 100-year-old house in Vancouver. We've been looking for a new place off and on for the last three years, the intensity of our search increasing when I feel I just can't take the noisy bodies crashing into each other and the furniture (and me!) anymore.

But we are still here in the attic, which is symptomatic of the reality all Vancouverite renters face: there is just not much to be had.  Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote an article last month noting that the vacancy rate in Vancouver is 1.4% (In NYC it's abut 3%).  Which means, practically, that what is available is usually overpriced and being fought over by ten other people.  Buying our way out of this madness is, financially, not an option for us (the teeny-tiny house across the lane from us sold for $700,000 last year).  And as a pastor, I'm committed to staying in my "parish" (so the 'burbs are out, too).

So we keep looking for a bigger place to rent, in our neighbourhood, and...we're still here. In the attic.

Mainly because of the FEROCIOUS beast sitting next to Isaac here:


This is Yofi, our ten-year-old dog.  She's been with us since we took her in as a three-month old abandoned puppy.  And she's a very good girl.

Unfortunately for Yofi (and by extension, us), while there are lots of dog-friendly parks around Vancouver, there are very few dog-friendly rentals.  Maybe this is true everywhere in North America, I don't know.  What I do know is that if Yofi wasn't in our family, we would already be in a bigger space.  Most of the landlords are are up-front about that fact in their ads: no smoking, no drugs, NO PETS.  (I don't know why they capitalize, but I interpret it as shouting.  It makes it easier to just write them off as bad people).

The thing is, I know the landlords are probably not bad.  Like as not they just have allergies or canine-phobia or don't want any extra mess or noise.  But the fact remains: we are five people and a dog stuck in a kind of crazy small space.  And while the no-dog landlords are not personally requiring us to offload our 10-year-old-patient-as-heaven-with-Ephraim-jumping-on-her-even though-she-has-a-bad-leg-and-she's-tired-and-she-just-wants-to-sleep-little dog, it sure as heck feels like it sometimes.

(Also, some places just obviously don't want kids, let alone dogs.  If you have a 3-bedroom, 1000 square foot home for rent in Vancouver and say "no more than three people" allowed, what you are really saying is "Suck it, families.")

If I can take a step back (and I have to, or I'll go crazy) I try to locate our relatively benign situation in the global problem of housing shortages and discrimination.  It helps a little.  Land "lords" are power-brokers all around the world, not just in Vancouver.  The higher the demand and the more desperate the renters, the more particularity and preference landlords can leverage over potential tenants.  And my own (again, very benign) experience has given me a tiny window into the powerlessness of the tenant side of the relationship.  You want your family to have something better, and you can't give it to them.  Not because you're bad, and not because you're not willing to work for it, but because you are you and they don't want you.  (Some recent examples of actual discrimination:  Israeli Arabs being denied access housing in parts of Israel because they are not Jewish; Roma people (Gypsies) being refused housing or evicted from housing in Eastern Europe; gays and lesbians facing housing discrimination in Anchorage and elsewhere in the States).

This stuff happens, all the time, and without fabulous Canadian tenants' rights to fall back on.  Which quickly puts things in perspective, helping to reign in my personal stress and frustration.  We do have safe, affordable housing.  We can stay where we are.  Our current landlords do not complain about the three-boy racket constantly being made right above their heads.  No one is bulldozing our house or kicking us out of their country or denying us a home because of our ethnic background or sexual orientation or religion.  This kind of stuff happens regularly around the world, and it rarely makes news.  But it has made it into my view, and I remember it every time I start to whine about being stuck in our attic.

Perspective on the enormity of one's own problems can only go so far though, and thank God, He takes it further.  There are consolations as well.  The consolation of continuing to welcome our neighbour kids into our little home and finding 750-square-feet doesn't seem to bother them.  The consolation of having our rates of consumption limited by sheer lack of space.  The consolation of having paid off our debts by spending far less on housing than we want to because we are stuck, pure and simple.

These are real, serendipitous consolations.  I didn't plan them.  And while they do not negate entirely my frustration and even anger at times, they keep me mindful that there is good in being where we are, for as long as that may be.  And in the meantime, anger and frustration have their own reward: compassion for those around the world who are in the same (though much more storm-tossed) boat.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Girls

The world is a dangerous place for girls and women.

If you don't believe me, just walk with me along Kingsway as the night shift of working girls is beginning or ending (or, alternatively, at 9:30 in the morning after dropping your kids off from school, it'll work then too).   Cars have slowed down next to me to see if I was for sale even when every inch of my body except my face was covered.

Or watch the news, and hear stories like this one (about an infamous "honour killing" here in Canada), this one (about a modesty squad attacking an 8-year-old in Israel), and this one (about forced marriages for young Australian girls).

Or, alternatively, just listen to Rush Limbaugh.

Rachel Held Evans has already responded with her usual eloquence to Rush's off-the charts offensiveness and the corresponding failure of evangelical Christians to critique and correct him.

For my part, I offer a story.

It was January of 2010.  I was 9 months pregnant with my third son, and walking by myself from one shop to another in the west side of Vancouver (which, it should be noted, is more affluent and generally considered safer than my own east side neighbourhood).  It was late afternoon.

As I walked to the next shop, a man passed by me on the sidewalk, took one look at my swollen stomach, and said (verbally--out-loud--in my face),

"Slut."

I was by myself and he looked a little crazy.  So I did what I think most would agree was the wise thing to do:  turned bright red, felt his shaming words sink deep into my stomach, and kept on walking.

I went home and told my husband about it.  As Matt works in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside amongst a community with higher-than-average rates of mental illness, he wasn't too bothered by it.  Just another crazy guy, right?

The recent comments by Rush Limbaugh reinforce my fear of the still-present, still-pervasive danger for girls and women like me all around the world.  It's not just crazy people who use the word "slut" to diminish and disrespect their fellow God's image-bearers.  It's popular pundits, too.  The only difference between the crazy on the street and Mr. Limbaugh is that the first made his judgment based on my sexual activity as evidenced by my pregnant body, while the second made his judgment based on a woman's sexual activity as evidenced by her using contraceptives.

(Also, the crazy man is crazy.  Which, as my husband pointed out, excuses him a bit.  What's Mr. Limbaugh's excuse?)

Mr. Limbaugh has of course apologized, after losing more than 20 30 of his advertisers who were pressured by their customers to disassociate from him.  And that, I think, is the good news of the story (if you can keep following it long enough without throwing up).  Limbaugh was venomous towards a woman (venomous, mind you, not vitriolic) and thousands of men and women stood up to him.  Their willingness to do so gives me hope.  They know, as I think we as a world are learning better, that what we say and how we say it matters.  (Or as Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of his heart a man speaks").  Mr. Limbaugh made explicit that he wasn't "just" calling her a name. He was also calling for her to be objectified and visually victimized by him and other men.  And by doing so, he made clear what women and men have long been saying: a society in which it is acceptable (or funny/witty/whatever) for men to call women "sluts" is a society in which women are not safe (if the still-steady rates of so-called honour killings, girl-kidnappings, forced marriages, domestic violence, and sexual trafficking don't persuade us of that fact already).  "Slut" is not only a moral evaluation of a woman's behaviour, it's also a judgment of what she deserves (be that violence, disrespect, or being shamed into silence).

All of us--male and female--were created for something better, for the safety and dignity that is not earned but simply invested in us by right of God creating us in His image.

That being the case I pray for you, Mr. Limbaugh, that God may bless you with a corrected and convicted heart, out of which respect for your fellow image-bearers may flow without impediment.  And not only yours, but all those in the world for whom women are not considered or spoken of as worthy of respect, dignity, and safety.

(If this gets your ire up, consider donating to these girl/women-friendly works):
Servants Anonymous
International Justice Mission
Days for Girls
Faith Trust Institute