December 20, 2011
Christ, Our Light
Every summer I work at a wilderness island, Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior close to the Canadian border. One thing I love about living so far north is the seemingly never-ending amount of daytime. I rise with the sun at 6 AM, and then watch the last glow of sunset around 11 PM. It's a season of light.
There's no cell phone coverage, no roads, no cars. My groceries arrive every two weeks on a small boat. Here, I am forced to slow down, make do, and get by with what I have.
On my hike to work at the ranger station each morning, I might snack on wild raspberries, or stop to enjoy the fog wisps over the harbor. A moose and her twin calves may block the trail, and I marvel at their gawky grace. Wolf tracks imprint the shoreline. The quiet is broken only by birdsong and wind in the birches.
As I relax into the rhythms of creation each summer, week after week, I find myself remembering something deep in my bones. In wilderness, I feel connected to the one who created it all. And, I love the days... filled with light.
At home, just outside of Chicago, it's the Christmas season. I find myself sucked into the tyranny of the must-dos. There's holiday baking, Christmas cards, and shopping for my self-imposed ideas of the perfect gifts for friends and family. I dash to the grocery store each time I run out of shortening or eggs, and I find myself in the car more than I'd like, driving on endless errands. Horns blare, "Santa Baby" plays on store intercoms, and jets roar overhead.
I wake up in darkness, and by afternoon I'm snapping on lights around the house to fend off the twilight. The sense of connectedness to something deep that I felt in the summer is almost obliterated by now, victim to white noise and busyness. I miss the light.
It's now, right before Christmas, that I remind myself to slow down and spend time remembering. Remembering how to be quiet. How to pay attention. And, remembering to soak up some light.
One way to go deeper and slow down is to spend time with the prayers and writings of the church fathers and mothers, and the scriptures that frame the Advent season. It is in these ancient words that we remember our connections to something deeper than the passing whims and demands of the moment. It's a way to be quiet, and pay attention. And it's a reminder of the light that has illuminated our faith.
As I compiled the Ancient Christian Devotional series during the past five years for IVP, I fell in love with some of the writings of Ambrose of Milan. He lived around 333-397 and was known as a pastor of souls as well as a scholar. When I meditate on his words, I can understand why. His writings from so many centuries ago remind me of whose child I am, and of the deep roots of my faith. His words bring me back to the light.
One of my favorite Ambrose passages is excerpted in the Christmas week readings in the Ancient Christian Devotional (Lectionary Cycle C). Ambrose writes of Jesus:
Such ancient words! But they still illuminate the darkness.
As I paged through old prayer books and stacks of Ancient Christian Commentaries, looking for writings and ancient prayers to include in the devotional series, I came across this prayer from a Celtic abbot, Columbanus. He wrote, "We ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your spirit."
"You are...our light." This Advent season, amid the tumult of to-do lists and self-imposed expectations, I'm trying to slow down and connect again with those ancient words. I am reminded of the light, even when the season dictates that these are the darkest days of the year. I rejoice with the familiar lines from the ninth chapter of Isaiah that open the readings for Christmas week:
December 1, 2011
Behind the Anti-Trafficking Tour
Thanks to our IVP Books print publicist, Suanne Camfield for this post!
It was late Wednesday night when we finally met. After circling the airport three times, I spotted him in black dress pants and a dark winter coat. After months of planning, plotting, strategizing, exchanging emails, and conference-calling, Daniel Walker, author of God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue, had finally touched down in Chicago.
I was busting at the seams.
The Anti Trafficking Tour that had begun in California exactly one week earlier was already a success. Kicking off with the Global Forum on Human Trafficking and followed by college and church events, crowds of all ages were responding to Daniel's message about modern-day slavery. But while my coworkers and I had heard great reports from the field (our online publicist Adrianna Wright, who had accompanied Daniel to California, told us, "He's pretty much a rock star"), I don't think any of us were prepared to hear Daniel's story firsthand.
We had invited Daniel to "IVP Day" --our annual, offsite company-wide gathering. After a few jetlagged hours of sleep, Daniel stood at a podium in front of all ninety-plus of us and began with a warm New Zealand "G'Day", making the room ripple with laughter. It wasn't long, however, before his comments turned serious: today, more than two million children are exploited in the commercial sex industry. As an undercover investigator, Daniel had rescued hundreds of these children, but couldn't possibly save them all. His encounters with girls like Maria, Paks and Jenni were enough to make a person clap in triumph at the same time she weeps in disgust. Hope and despair, all wrapped up in the same twisted story.
Maybe that's why, after Daniel finished speaking, our staff lined up to shake his hand and offer their own word of thanks. It's not everyday we get to see the fruits of our publishing labor, a tangible reminder that what we do--behind computers and marketing plans and spreadsheets and cover designs and packaging peanuts and forklifts--matters. What we do actually makes a difference.
Over the course of the next ten days, I listened to Daniel's story another dozen times. From Chicago to New York, in radio and magazine interviews, on city campuses and in suburban churches, even in the halls of MSNBC, I heard Daniel advocate for young girls, boys and women with clarity, passion and conviction. I watched crowds at every stop swipe at their tears and gasp in disbelief, and even though by the end l had heard the talk so often that I could anticipate each word, at every stop I found myself doing the same thing. I witnessed firsthand what happens when kingdom people catch a vision for the least of these.
Through our Anti-Trafficking Tour, in partnership with Compassion International and Hagar International, nearly a hundred children vulnerable to being sold into slavery were sponsored by individuals and families like you. Because of Compassion's extraordinary prevention program, these children will not fall prey to the wiles of human traffickers. In addition, Hagar International collected hundreds of emails from those interested in the difficult but critical work of restoring rescued victims physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The tour was the first of its kind for IVP. It had its ups and downs; details got rearranged, directions misconstrued, hotel reservations mysteriously lost and meetings cancelled and rescheduled. But when it was all said and done, Daniel gave more than twenty interviews, spoke to nearly a thousand people and--always a perk for a publisher--we sold a lot of books. More importantly though, the Anti-Trafficking Tour helped all of us here at IVP embrace and live out one of our core values: "to influence, engage and shape the university world and our contemporary culture for the sake of Jesus Christ and his kingdom in the world."It's why we love being behind the books.