IVP - Strangely Dim - September 2011 Archives

September 30, 2011

Sex Trafficking at the 7-Eleven

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine wrote a novel about sex trafficking that was set in the southern United States. I remember reading the rough draft and struggling to digest the idea of sexual slavery in America. In fact, I thought it might be a bit of a stretch.

Global sex trafficking . . . now that's a more likely story. Villages with dirt roads, one-room shanties with tin roofs, girls who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, corrupted government officials with black-stained teeth who slip foreign money between the robes of their donkeys--seemingly more compatible images with terms as atrocious as "human trafficking" and "modern-day slavery."

It's funny how comfortably we think of America as a "global super power" yet how troublesome it is to think of it as a "participant in global sex trafficking." But there's no getting around it.

Between 2001 and 2005 there were an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves in the United States (according to the Department of Justice)--a significant percentage of the nearly two million children exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year (UNICEF).

Sadly, the global sex trade, a 32 billion dollar a year industry, is thriving in the same country that officially ended slavery almost 150 years ago. In a Huffington Post article, Dan Rather diagnosed this pervasive inability to imagine sexual slavery in the United States with one word: denial.

It's a hard concept to get our minds wrapped around.

Last week I was at the Religious Newswriters' Association conference--a gathering of journalists who were some of the most culturally aware folks I'd ever been around--when a gentleman from a national research firm asked me what I was working on. I gave him my elevator pitch for our recently released book God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker: "It's the story of an undercover investigator who spent four years rescuing victims of sex trafficking all over the world," I said. Then I added, "including within the United States."

god in a brothel.jpg

"Huh. In the United States?" he said, nodding. Then, after a slightly awkward pause. "Really? The U.S.? Is that right? Huh."

And so I told him about the image I can't get out of my head, the one from the book where Daniel poses as an interested customer, gets picked up by a Lexus-driving pimp at a 7-Eleven and is escorted only a few blocks to a modern single-story home where he purchases a young Asian girl. I told him I think about it every time I pass my local 7-Eleven, the one that sits just a few blocks from my house, where hundreds of meaningless and impulsive transactions take place every day.

Then I told him about the recent Chicago Sun Times article following an eighteen-month investigation that led to a major bust right here in Chicago. The girls who were rescued weren't from Central America or Southeast Asia; they were from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, in some cases trafficked from the city bus stop or their local grocery store.

Even with organizations like International Justice Mission and The Polaris Project increasing their platforms, with campaigns like End Slavery Now and Stop Human Trafficking gaining momentum, with stories of arrests and rescues in major cities splashed across the news, and, yes, even with celebrities like Demi and Ashton getting involved, conversations like the one above and the ones inside my own head, remind me that we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, one of the privileges of working in publishing is that we get to nudge people just a little further down the road.

This fall (October 20-November 10) Daniel Walker will be traveling to the United States from New Zealand where he serves on the local police force. He'll be speaking at churches and college campuses from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in partnership with Compassion International and Hagar International to raise awareness about the global sex trade.

If you're close, stop by. If not, share this post. Or pick up a copy of the book and continue to learn. And when you tell your friend or your colleague or your pastor or your aunt what you're reading and they say, "Sex trafficking? In this country? Really?" Tell them that America is as global as they come.

Posted by Suanne Camfield at 8:43 AM | Comments (3) are closed

September 11, 2011

Ten Years On

I had just decided to start taking morning walks in my new neighborhood. I stepped out into the autumn air and walked down to the park and back. Along the way I saw the shell of a nut that had fallen from a tree, chewed ironically into the shape of a peace sign by some unknowing hippie squirrel. I drove into work listening to an album of songs by Paul McCartney, and I replayed "Silly Love Songs" at least once.

Shortly after settling in at my desk Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, I got a call from my wife. She sounded half asleep but wanted to tell me what she had seen on the news: a plane had flown into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.

It didn't take long before word spread throughout the office. The executive leadership team was away on retreat, but Jim Hoover, the senior staff on site, pulled together a time of prayer in our central conference room. A little twenty-inch television carried the picture as well as its feeble antenna allowed, and my friend Al Hsu interrupted our prayers to point out that the second tower was falling, falling, falling. We winced and cried and prayed and privately raged. Our world had been scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

It's ten years now. A lot has happened since then--in the great big world and in our little world. A lot of my coworkers have moved on to new work or retirement and been replaced by people whose September 11 story is different from IVP's story. Such is the nature of calamity: it makes its mark on all of us at the same time, but with time the experience becomes more diffuse, the story settles into our memories and we learn to manage it in increasingly distinct ways, and the mark ceases to unite us. Ten years on the feeling of September 11 is still fresh; many of the children of the victims are still children today. But as we continue to live and move and have our being, we are each making sense of it on our own. Eventually we ourselves will move on in the most profound sense, as the generation that witnessed September 11 is laid to rest, and it will slip silently into the long litany of the wrongs we have done, and the wrongs done to us.

What remains is the truth: with September 11, as with the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina and the Holocaust and all the calamities of our collective memory, what scatters us wounds us, and what wounds us scatters us. The world cries out daily for a shepherd who can collect us and bind our wounds. We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned his or her own way. And Christ has borne the iniquity of us all--because he can, and because he loves us. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:52 AM

September 9, 2011

"I Am Nodding My Head, an Emphatic Yes" to Sara Groves's New Album

We love to hear who's reading our books and what impact our books are having in people's lives. So it was exciting to read the following from Sara Groves on the release of her newest album:

Much of this album was influenced by Chapter 9 of Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (a book I read each year): "Structures become more important than the people who live in them. Machines become more important than the people who use them. We care more for our possessions with which we hope to make our way in the world than with our thoughts and dreams which tell us who we are in the world."

Peterson goes on to explain how vastly different man's work is from God's work. Invisible Empires is looking at two skylines: one that is frenetic and man-made, and one that is eternal and not built in vain (Psalm 127). "People are at the center of Christian work. . . . We travel light. The character of our work is shaped not by accomplishments or possessions but in the birth of relationships."

I (along with others here at IVP) am an avid Sara Groves fan. In an industry inundated by new albums and new artists every year (much like the publishing industry's flood of new titles each year) her lyrics strike me as similar to IVP books: distinctive in their authenticity and honesty, not afraid to wrestle, full of truth, thoughtful, biblical, beautifully written . . . I could go on and on here, but I'll stop.

I'm not the only one who thinks this, though. Here's another ringing endorsement for her, this one specifically for her last CD, Fireflies and Songs, from TheChristianManifesto.com. Apparently they couldn't find enough adjectives to describe her music either: "5 Stars: Raw. Pure. Innocent. Soothing. Crisp. Beautiful. Honest. Amazing. Moving. Clear. Intense. An immense flow of emotion comes pouring out of Groves during Fireflies and Songs, resulting in one of the best albums of 2009."

Invisible Empires is no exception. The music of Sara Groves and the writing of Eugene Peterson is, as you'd expect, a great marriage. And while Sara isn't a Likewise author and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction isn't a Likewise book, taken together they exhibit many core qualities of our Likewise Books and Strangely Dim musings: a faith that's lived, not just talked about; authenticity; an understanding of the countercultural, simultaneously difficult and joyful nature of following Jesus; a commitment to people and relationships; a desire to see God's kingdom come, his justice done.

Though Sara's new CD doesn't officially release until October, lucky for you you can download it early here. Also lucky for you, you can buy A Long Obedience in the Same Direction here. Both are great companions for an active, thoughtful faith that is showing a broken world who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.

***

The phrase "I am nodding my head, an emphatic yes" in the title of this post is from "Open My Hands" by Sara Groves, Invisible Empires.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 12:45 PM

September 6, 2011

Every Journey Begins

"The Seven Storey Mountain was published October 4, 1948, . . . but the book did not begin to sell until Christmastime. Then it began to sell strongly: 31,000 copies in December, 60,000 in January, with 10,000 sold on one singularly lively day. The Seven Storey Mountain was a best-seller, but the New York Times refused to list it as one, on the grounds that it was a religious book, like the Bible."

life you save.jpgPaul Elie writes in his book The Life You Save May Be Your Own about four significant American Catholic writers of the mid-twentieth century--Thomas Merton (author of the aforementioned Seven Storey Mountain and countless other significant writings), Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy and Dorothy Day--about their overlapping literary and personal lives, and the times that led to their prominence and shaped their worldview. In an earlier post I likened them to the authors of our Likewise books, mainly because of Elie's repeated return to the words of Jesus that connected these authors and which function as a common theme of our books: "Go and do likewise." Here, midway through his book, Elie starts to dig into the question: What made the moment right for for this renaissance of literary American Catholicism?

The answer is perplexing, especially given the various insurmountables in place:

  • The New York Times has since made room among its bestseller lists for religious writings, but at the time to write religiously was to court literary anonymity.
  • Catholicism in mid-century America, despite its cultural strength, was still broadly considered an immigrant's religion.
  • In the wake of victory in World War II and a roaring postwar economy, to question American greatness was to invite suspicion on yourself.
  • In the midst of broad prosperity after a long economic depression, to suggest the inability of wealth to satisfy the soul's longing was, to borrow from St. Paul, to kick against the goads.
Really, given the times, Merton's success doesn't make much sense. The memoir of an intellectual hedonist turned Trappist monk could hardly tap into the lived experience of a broad reading public. The journey toward Catholicism was not a journey that many people were prepared to undertake, and the stops along the way--a remote village in France, a boarding school in Britain, long conversations with a Buddhist--were literally far-fetched for the average reader. And yet The Seven Storey Mountain sold in quantities and at a pace that makes publishing professionals like myself salivate and would-be bestselling authors (also like myself) wail and grind our teeth.

Elie's take on the matter?

The book became a best-seller because it was a religious book, not in spite of the fact. It is . . . a firsthand account of one person's religious experience, the aspect of religious life so many books . . . left out of the story. Not only does Merton tell about what life is like behind the walls of a cloistered monastery; he tells what it feels like to be in the grip of God. And he does so in such a way as to make the reader feel not only that such an experience is possible, but that it is necessary, vital, and attractive, the center of life, just as the Catholic tradition insists it is. The Latin motto he uses to close the book--SIT FINIS LIBRI, NON FINIS QUARENDI--makes his point clear. Let this be the end of the book, not the end of the search. Merton's search will go on--and so, it is hoped, will the reader's, as the reader takes the book's insights beyond the book and into his or her own life.
seven storey.jpgMerton, you might say, was launching a shot across the bow of contemporary religiosity. Christian faith is not a static thing, a fixed position or "standing" that one achieves, but rather a journey that one undertakes. This is not a new idea nor a uniquely Catholic one; writers from the foundation of the church to the present have argued and illustrated the pilgrim nature of the Christian faith. But stasis is the constant threat looming on the horizon of any faith practice; meanwhile, any faith that is vital is on the move, entering constantly into the tension of life as it is handed to us, bearing the faith that has been handed down to us.

Merton's book is considered acceptable and orthodox among Catholics, as evidenced by the imprimaturs of his abbot at Our Lady of Gethsemani and of the Archbishop of New York, Francis Cardinal Spellman included on the copyright page. Imprimaturs scare us; they suggest something asserted rather than embraced. But Merton's book is an example of a faith that is only constrained enough to run free. It declares allegiance not only to the faith once for always delivered to the saints but to the human condition and spiritual quest that all people share. Merton's book, and the books of Elie's other writers, are Catholic, but they are also catholic--universally significant, inviting all with legs to walk on a journey with the God who created them in love, and who loves to recreate them.

Elie ends his assessment of Seven Storey Mountain's successful launch with the agenda of all his Catholic authors, and I would argue, a challenge to all authors with the audacity to think that their book might carry the imprimatur of God's blessing:
The spirit of the age; the nature of the Church; postwar anxiety; divine providence--these abstractions pale in light of the personal challenge Merton [and, by extension, Day and Percy and O'Connor] makes to the reader. . . . God exists, he insists. The way to seek God is firsthand, through religious experience. So I have done. Here is the story. Now go and do likewise.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:26 PM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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