Monthly Archives: April 2009

Building an Ark in the City? Whose gonna believe you?

W.S. Merwin recently won the Pulitzer prize for poetry.  Here’s a poem of his called Before the Flood:

Why did he promise me
that we would build ourselves
an ark all by ourselves
out in back of the house
on New York Avenue
in Union City New Jersey
to the singing of the streetcars
after the story
of Noah whom nobody
believed about the waters
that would rise over everything
when I told my father
I wanted us to build
an ark of our own there
in the back yard under
the kitchen could we do that
he told me that we could
I want to I said and will we
he promised me that we would
why did he promise that
I wanted us to start then
nobody will believe us
I said that we are building
an ark because the rains
are coming and that was true
nobody ever believed
we would build an ark there
nobody would believe
that the waters were coming


God is into Real Estate

 David Plotz has spent a serious amount of time reading the Old Testament and he has discovered strong connections betweeen God and real estate.   Plotz says there’s a book to be written about this topic.  I agree!  It’s nice to know that the topic of property ownership is a major theme in the biblical narrative.  Here’s a quote from Plotz:

The overarching theme of the Bible, particularly of Genesis, is real estate. God is Trump-like, constantly making land deals (and then remaking them, on different terms). When Sarah dies, for example, there are two verses about her death, and a whole chapter about Abraham negotiating to buy a burial site for her in Hebron. It’s not just land that the Bible is obsessed with, but also portable property: gold, silver, livestock.

There’s a great book to be written—not by me—about Biblical economics, and what all these transactions indicate about the nature of Judean society. I’m not sure what it tells us about the current housing crisis, except perhaps that the Israelites were just as maniacal about land ownership as we are. None of them wanted to rent in the Promised Land. They all wanted to own (and there wasn’t even a mortgage interest deduction).

Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour

A while back I developed a seminar presentation on the topic of Suburban Living vs. Urban Living in Toronto.   Now I find out there’s a nifty little tune called Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour by the recently rediscovered 70s singer Rodriguez whose album Coming From Reality will be re-released in May 2009.

Looks like I will be changing the name of my seminar presentation to Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour Ride to match the title of this catchy song.   Groove to the sounds of the original tune with a link to a free download of Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour recorded in 1970 with the producer Steve Rowland (The Pretty Things and the Cure).

More about Rodriguez here and here and here.

The Christian Community Development Association Comes To Canada

In the spring of 2008 I was invited to be a panel member at the “New Suburbia” conference sponsored by the Salvation Army here in Toronto.   The topic of the panel discussion was the “Future of the City.”  The other panelists were Noel Castellanos (CEO of the CCDA), Wayne “Coach” Gordon (co-Founder of the CCDA), Rick Tobias (CEO of Yonge Street Mission) and Rob Joustra (lead researcher at Cardus).

The conference dealt with the issues of poverty, community development and the future of Canadian cities.  There was an opportunity not only to gain from the learning and experience of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), but also from local partipants engaged in this area.  The Salvationist had written an article about this conference, but the article seems to have disappeared from their website and I wanted to preserve the content of that article here as a reference:  (Update:  The Article does exist on the Salvationist website.  It had only been moved.)

May 26, 2008

The Christian Community Development Association Comes To Canada.

The New Suburbia Conference

The Christian Community Development Association ( is an American-based, association of over 3,000 individuals and more than 500 organizations from grassroots, community-based groups to some of the largest relief and development organizations in the world.

The mission of the CCDA is to inspire and train Christians who seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities. The vision is for holistically restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation. Christian Community Development consists of eight key components.

1. Church-Based

2. Presence in the Community (Relocation)

3. Reconciliation

4. Listening to the Community

5. Holistic Approach

6. Empowerment

7. Leadership Development

8. Redistribution

On May 2-3, the CCDA made their first foray into Canada at “The New Suburbia” conference in Toronto. “The New Suburbia” was organized and hosted by The Salvation Army Corps Ministries Department (THQ) as an integrated mission forum. The 150 delegates to the institute came together from a variety of agencies and churches, representing a diverse denominational spectrum.

The guests from the CCDA were Noel Castellanos, CEO of the CCDA, Wayne “Coach” Gordon, co-founder of the CCDA and presently with the Lawndale Community Church in Chicago and Robert Lupton, FCS Ministries Urban Ministries in Atlanta. The workshop titles were: Church-based Community Development (Gordon); Indigenous Leadership Development (Castellanos); Harnessing the Forces of Gentrification for the Kingdom (Lupton).

On Friday evening at “The New Suburbia”, a panel discussion was held entitled “The Future of the City”. The panel members were Noel Castellanos and Wayne Gordon from the CCDA; Rick Tobias, CEO of the Yonge Street Mission and lecturer at Tyndale on urban ministry and poverty issues; Rob Joustra, lead researcher for the Hamilton-based Work Research Foundation, a Christian public policy think-tank; Heikki Walden, a Toronto real estate agent active in the New Urbanism movement. The moderator of the evening was Major Floyd Tidd of the THQ Corps Ministries Department. The evening was a lively two-hour interaction between panelists and delegates on topics such as the role of race and class in issues of poverty, the “suburbanization” of the downtown cores, and the further shape of ministry in responding to these powerful forces.

The New Suburbia

The focus of the two-day event was an effort to broaden and extend the conversation regarding the massive demographic and economic shifts taking place in cities throughout Canada and the US (and in many places Europe). From the 1950s to the 1970s, thousands of people moved wholesale out of the downtown areas into the newly constructed suburbs. These trends are now reversing as people flood back to the downtown cores. New housing, mostly condominium residences, are sprouting up everywhere. This is good for the cities because they desperately need the money generated through property taxes, and consequently politicians are not in a position to say no the developers.

The new urbanites are a boon to the cities because of the money they bring with them, in rents, property purchases, money spend of entertainment and on amenities. So everybody wins, everybody except the poor and disenfranchised, that is. They are being uprooted and moved out of their historical neighbourhoods in the downtown areas, to the suburban inner and outer rings, further and further away from the new developments. And further from the services that they regularly access.

There demographic and economic shifts are implications for both the outer suburban communities and the downtown/inner city communities. While urban planners and developers think strategically 25 to 40 years into the future, church communities typically vision the future no more than five years ahead, forever playing catch up. These factors and a host of other ideas and concepts discussed at “The New Suburbia” have massive implications for the mission of every church in every city. “The New Suburbia” was for many missional leaders the start of a new conversation on how to expand God’s Kingdom in the cities.

Geoff Ryan of the Salvation Army, and also now with Cardus, was an organizer and facilitator of this conference