the monk and the merchant

20121220-214807.jpgTerry Felber’s The Legend of the Monk and the Merchant: Twelve Keys for Successful Living is a quick read. The twelve keys are introduced through the interaction between a young man, Julio, and his grandfather, which takes place in 16th Century Venice. I liked the characters and enjoyed the story, but found the constant interruption of the dialogue between Julio and his grandfather for the purpose of inserting a success principle to detract from the book. I would have much preferred the lessons to be woven into the story. Moreover, the principles were presented in all caps, which was both distracting and annoying–it felt as if the author assumed his readers to be incapable of extracting the lessons for themselves. It would have sufficed to list the twelve keys at the end of the story.

The principles are very basic–work hard, save money, etc., but the study guide provides opportunities to dig deeper and even challenge some commonly held notions of the role of believers in the marketplace. I look forward to spending more time in the study guide to further my personal and professional growth.

While the author would likely describe himself as more of a “king” than a priest, he emphasizes the biblical mandate to assume both of these functions. We are part of the priesthood of all believers, yet we also have a duty to exercise godly authority in the sphere(s) God has called us to, including the business world, government, education, media/entertainment, etc. We cannot segregate any part of our lives from the influence of Christ. Whether we are in full-time ministry or whether we occupy the marketplace, all work should be viewed as a vocation or calling from God.


In spite of the fact that I was irritated by the somewhat condescending structure of the book, I’ve been cogitating on some of the author’s premises all day. In the study guide, he discusses a common misconception of those in ministry: “It is the responsibility of others to give financial support to my ministry activities.” Felber calls this “displaced responsibility to the highest degree {emphasis mine},” which arises from an entitlement mindset.

I work for a non-profit and draw my salary from the support received by the organization, which is a mix of private donations and corporate grant funding. We recently sent out our end of year giving letters and are, of course, hoping for a good return. Am I foisting my responsibility on others by taking a salary that, let’s face it, depends on the benevolent response of others to our pleas for financial help?

one big thing

20121219-190838.jpgSocrates famously said the unexamined life is not worth living. One Big Thing is a tool for self-examination that leads the reader on a journey to a purposeful and intentional life. This is not a comfortable book that can be read from cover to cover and then checked off one’s reading list. It includes searing questions and provocative insights into the responsibility to be who I am created to be. This may not entail doing what I enjoy or what others have come to expect from me, but it requires doing–and most importantly being–what I am wired for. There is a world of difference between being committed and being fulfilled, but we often pack our lives with so much busy-ness that we never bother to examine the distinction. Sadly, Christians can be especially vulnerable to over-committing, sometimes out of guilt, but often with a sincere desire to make a difference. As a result, we become overwhelmed and ultimately ineffective because we lack clarity about the one big thing we are created for.

I encourage you to take time to slowly and purposefully read through this book. Don’t be afraid to make changes or eliminate activities that don’t align with how you are wired. Examine your life and be intentional about acquiring the skills and discipline necessary to live out your One Big Thing.

going deep

20121219-192238.jpgI enjoyed Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence by Gordon MacDonald, but felt it was definitely written for pastors and other leaders within a church setting. Sadly, the objections voiced by “GMac’s” colleagues to investing deeply in a small group of future leaders are all too typical in our churches. Instead of focusing our efforts on strategic initiatives that will bear fruit in the long run, we busy ourselves with flashy, short term projects that simply maintain the status quo. MacDonald challenges his readers to adopt the approach modeled by Jesus in training up a small group of committed followers who would then replicate His work across the globe. This approach is time-intensive, sacrificial, and messy–which explains why we tend to prefer investing in programs over people.

The message in Going Deep is valuable, not only for churches, but for ministries, non-profits and even business leaders–but the “churchy” dialogue may put off readers who would otherwise benefit from the content.

California’s Proposition 35


Just when I thought passage of Proposition 35 (the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation” or CASE Act) was a given, opponents have begun crawling out of the woodwork to voice their discontent with the initiative. Even the Sacramento Bee has taken an official position opposing the measure.

It is difficult to fathom why anyone would come out against an initiative that will provide much-needed protection for children who are sold for sex day in and day out in virtually every city across our state. Initially, naysayers were reluctant to openly oppose Prop 35—and for good reason. Who would say they’re fine with pimps and traffickers profiting from the sale of other human beings, including children?

But once the word got out that it was socially and politically acceptable to favor the rights of outspoken traffickers over their voiceless victims, those of us who think society owes a duty of legal protection to the vulnerable find ourselves fighting for an initiative we never considered wouldn’t pass.

The Sacramento Bee calls the CASE Act “flawed,” the LA Times calls in “unnecessary,” the Ventura County Star says it’s too narrow and the Erotic Service Providers Union says it’s too broad. Some California State lawmakers are upset because they weren’t invited to weigh in, as Proposition 35 is the people’s initiative, thus bypassing the legislature. Just for the record, lawmakers have had ample opportunity to pass legislation that could already have facilitated the prosecution of traffickers and the protection of children. But they didn’t. And now the people have an opportunity to speak.

I support Proposition 35 because I believe in a world where children will not be sold for sex.

The reality is that we currently don’t live in that world. Peruse the overtly sexual ads on Backpage, read the creative euphemisms for solicitations for sex with kids on Craigslist and Facebook, check out the number of minors rescued in our region alone by the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force (250 and counting), or simply drive along North Watt Avenue (or wherever the track is in your neighborhood—trust me, there is one) and then try to avoid the conclusion that the sexual exploitation of children is an enormous problem in our state.

While it is true that California has a human trafficking statute, it does not provide adequate protection for minors. In fact, children are not even officially recognized as being victims of trafficking unless their perpetrators are convicted under the state law. In its final report on Prop 35, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that a grand total of 18 individuals are presently serving time for trafficking offenses.

Based on that figure, some—like the Sacramento Bee—simply conclude that “the crime may not be at a crisis level—at least not yet.” I beg to differ.

I recently had a conversation with one of the girls I work with about this very issue. She has spent a good portion of her 15 years in and out of juvenile hall and I asked her how many other girls she encountered there who had been sold for sex. Her answer: almost all of them. That’s hundreds of girls in a single facility in a single county in a state with at least one juvenile hall in each of its 58 counties. Add to that the thousands of potential victims in our child welfare system and the untold numbers of runaways who are especially vulnerable to being trafficked and then ask yourself how many more children have to be sexually exploited before we can call it a crisis?

I will be the first to acknowledge that Prop 35 is not the silver bullet in the fight against sex trafficking. The proposition doesn’t address the massive demand side of the equation. And while it defines victims, it does not require anyone to actually identify them. But it does contain several important provisions to protect children.

Specifically, the CASE Act adopts the federal definition of sex trafficking, under which the exchange of money for sex with a minor is a trafficking crime. The federal law does not require proof of force, fraud or coercion because those elements are inherent in the sexual exploitation of children. Prop 35 also increases criminal penalties for traffickers, which should serve as a deterrent. Currently, most traffickers are charged with pimping and pandering and serve very little, if any, jail time.

The CASE Act amends the evidence code so that prior evidence of having been commercially exploited (i.e. prostituted) is not admissible to attack the credibility or character of a victim of sex trafficking in a civil or criminal proceeding. This aligns with the existing Rape Shield Law, which prohibits evidence of a victim’s prior sexual history in rape cases.

One reason why so few traffickers are prosecuted as such is that victims—especially minors—are reluctant to testify when they are painted as willing participants in the crimes perpetrated against them.  We do extensive trial preparation with the girls from Courage House who are called to provide victim testimony in trafficking-related cases to ensure that they are not re-traumatized through the experience.

Prop 35 also requires traffickers to register on the state sex offender registry and to provide information regarding their Internet identifiers. The California registry was established under our state’s Megan’s Law in 1996—the CASE Act simply brings the registration requirements into the 21st century. There is no reason why we should continue to allow traffickers and other sex offenders to assume anonymity so they can victimize children online. Parents have a right to know if a trafficker poses a danger to their children whether in their neighborhood or online.

As we prepare to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, it is unconscionable for Californians to continue to turn a blind eye to the scourge of modern-day slavery. We have a long way to go in terms of identifying victims and providing access to comprehensive care and treatment for those who have endured unspeakable trauma at the hands of their traffickers. Still, the CASE Act is a good start and contains common-sense provisions that will make life in our state less comfortable for traffickers and safer for vulnerable children.

wisdom meets passion

20121219-192513.jpgI just finished reading Wisdom Meets Passion: When Generations Collide and Collaborate by father-son team Dan Miller and Jared Anzaga. Even though I was able to read through the book in a matter of hours, there is a lot of substantive content here that I’ll be poring over in the days and weeks to come. The material could not have been more timely for me, as I’ve been evaluating my effectiveness in both the marketplace and ministry contexts and looking for solid, yet innovative ways to improve.

Gaining the perspective of two authors of different generations and distinct cultures, each with unique life and work experiences, is tremendously valuable. The book offers a broad range of approaches for those looking to use their time and money to make a significant difference in the world. It also provides an insightful view into the dichotomy between baby boomers and their offspring. While the former tend to seek a measure of certainty before proceeding with ministry or philanthropic initiatives, the latter are driven by the possibility of effecting positive change in undeserved or oppressed populations.

As diverse as the two authors are, they express a common concern for Christians who expend their resources on selfish, temporal pursuits. But the book is not merely a condemnation of the typical American or western way of life. The authors combine their collective practical wisdom and creative passion to help readers establish a strategic plan for meaningful, fulfilling work.

The authors have inspired me to dream big. To eliminate meaningless tasks that are the hallmark of a small life and to dig deep for any as-yet untapped or under-utilized resources. And to be intentional and disciplined about developing those into an economically sustainable model of social entrepreneurship.

liberty and justice

Over the last couple of months, several girls I work with have been called to testify against their traffickers and other perpetrators. The experience of sitting in a courtroom facing one’s tormentor for hours on end is unnerving to say the least. I am sympathetic to those who question the wisdom of having minors serve as witnesses in sexual assault and trafficking cases. It goes without saying that I would never encourage a young woman to testify if I believed the experience would place her in physical or emotional danger. The last thing I want is for girls who have endured the horrors of sex trafficking to be re-traumatized. Still, there are times when victims are compelled to testify. And the reality is that most trafficking cases collapse without a credible witness.

Although my experience is admittedly limited, I have found that with proper preparation and a solid support system, our girls have been empowered by the process of testifying. Not only have they seen justice served in their own cases as defendants are convicted, their faith in our justice system itself is restored.

During a recent meeting with a Member of Congress in Washington DC, I remarked that children who are trafficked for sex in this country are the most overlooked population I have ever encountered. In spite of nationwide efforts to raise awareness about the “issue” of sex trafficking, the children who are trafficked still go unnoticed. Our child welfare and juvenile justice systems do not identify children who have been bought and sold for sex as trafficking victims. They are simply viewed as runaways or problem children who are “acting out sexually.” As a result, trafficked children are either placed in homes with well-meaning foster parents who receive no specialized training in how to deal with trafficking victims…or they are sent back to the very circumstances from which they were trafficked to begin with.

The girls I work with have usually been cycled through numerous foster homes, group placements and juvenile detention facilities, none of which are specially equipped to care for minor victims of sex trafficking. They have been victimized by parents and other family members, by so-called “boyfriends” who exploited them, and by their clients and customers who purchased them as a commodity—without any legal recourse, let alone restitution.

To say that they have a jaded view of justice is an understatement. But when a child who has gone unnoticed by a system that is supposed to protect the vulnerable is given a platform and a voice, a world of change can happen.

For the first time, she can face her trafficker on a level playing field. Cleaned up and sitting meekly at the defendant’s table under the watchful eye of an armed bailiff, he doesn’t wield the same power over her as he did on the street. She has the force of the law—and a tenacious team of advocates—on her side. As one young woman who recently testified put it, “he finally doesn’t have a hold over me anymore.”

It has been said that justice is the firm and continuous desire to give to others what they are entitled to. For perpetrators, this means a sentence commensurate with the severity of the crime they have committed. For victims, justice means an opportunity to be fully restored in body, soul, mind and spirit.

“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” Psalm 82:3