The first time my husband and I painted our bedroom, the experience was something of a coup for me. We had just gotten married and decided it was time to buy our own place, settle down, and make ourselves a cozy nest. Applying those first brush strokes of Dill Pickle Green on the walls, I felt like a grown-up. I felt accomplished. I felt unspeakably proud.
In North America, home ownership has become a rite of passage. We feel entitled to own four walls atop a piece of land.
For many Christians, the goal of home ownership flows straight from the pages of Scripture, a logical outcome of the biblical theme of inheritance and “possessing the land.” Didn’t Yahweh promise Abraham’s descendants a home in which to live? “I am the LORD, who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of” (Genesis 15:7).
In God’s Design, Elmer Martens highlights the significance of land in the Old Testament: “For Israel, land is the promised land, the good land, and as such is symbolic of a rich quality of life. To be in the land is to be the recipient of the blessings of God. For the land is a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ (Deuteronomy 26:9), a land with blessings of security, a land free from molestation, and above all a land with the blessing of God’s presence.”
For many, the modern equivalent of Abraham’s “promised land” is home ownership. But is it right to equate God’s blessing and presence with our ability to buy a house – or with a congregation’s ability to own a church building?
Is it wise to spend so much time, energy, and money on purchasing real estate? Even financial advisers warn that real estate isn’t as smart a long-term investment as it once was. (We only have to think back to the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis to understand why this may be true.)
For the majority of people around the world, home ownership is forever out of reach. And, here in Canada, issues surrounding the housing crisis are complex, calling into question our lust for property and purchasing power.
One problem is the contrast between the outrageous cost of real estate and need for affordable housing in urban centres. In Vancouver, Canada’s most expensive housing market, the average detached house sells for $1.1 million, and condos are an average of $480,000. In Victoria, the price of a bungalow is $452,000, with condos at approximately $267,000. In Toronto, the average detached home will set buyers back $850,000.
Many young people turn to the rental market. But middle-class renters are often plagued by a roller coaster of emotions, including dim resignation over never being able to own a house, seething resentment toward the current system, and a vague sense of guilt.
As one Vancouver Magazine writer puts it: “To protest too much about our situation seems bourgeois, given we eat organic vegetables, drink good wine, and go on vacation
every few months.”
For others, the situation goes beyond mere frustration. Each year, thousands of Canadians – including countless immigrant and Aboriginal families – find themselves without any home at all.
In 2007, the Canadian government estimated 150,000 Canadians were homeless (in shelters or sleeping outside). Other assessments placed the number as high as 300,000.
To account for these statistics, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness points to factors such as federal budget cuts, insufficient low-cost housing, poverty issues, and public systems that are allowing vulnerable citizens (such as at-risk youth or people with mental illnesses) to fall through the cracks.
While many of us spend time choosing paint colours, our country faces a massive housing crisis. Thousands of people go to sleep each night without a place to call home.
As evangelical Anabaptists, our response must be one of hope and help. We can ensure that every person has a place to sleep at night by supporting organizations like B.C.’s More Than A Roof Mennonite Housing Society (see “Reaching our Neighbours,” pages 16–18) or Habitat for Humanity. We can encourage congregations to launch housing initiatives like those at Southridge and Gateway churches, which both run shelters, or Winnipeg’s House Blend Ministries.
We can humbly seek the Lord for wisdom when it comes to buying (or renting) a house or church building. Jesus himself had “no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), so perhaps home ownership isn’t the highest priority.
As we seek shelter in Jesus for ourselves and for others – whether we own four walls or not – we can remind ourselves that Jesus is preparing an eternal home for us, where we will forever enjoy the fullness of God’s presence (John 14:2).
I wonder if mine will be painted Dill Pickle Green?