Worth Reading - 7/1

1. What makes a writer? This is a thoughtful discussion on the task of writing and its difficulties even for those who do it a lot.

Anthony T. Grafton, a professor of history at Princeton University and past president of the American Historical Association, has a list of books he’s written longer than your arm. He’s a meticulous archival scholar and broad thinker, director of centers, recipient of awards, a man whose prose, gentle and gracious, appears with frequency in the rarefied periodicals that still publish for a general, educated readership.

Yet he insists that he is not a writer: “I’ve never felt I could claim to be a writer in that full sense. It just seems arrogant.”
As a journalism student, I was told repeatedly that there is no such thing as objective reporting—an accurate assessment. Every person approaches events from a perspective, an existing worldview or set of assumptions that shape how they perceive and share those events. A reporter’s approach is no different.

Because this is true, Christians must practice discernment when filtering through news updates. Am I reading that something happened (an event) or what someone thinks about something that happened (a commentary)? Most of the news we receive today is a mixture of both, if not heavier on the commentary side. This kind of reporting often buries whatever truth it contains in conjecture and opinion.

Just as very human reporters craft news stories, very human editors make value judgments about which stories to feature. The decision of what goes on the front page and what leads the evening newscast is a worldview decision.
Years ago, a colleague mentioned what he had learned from Job. I was surprised to hear that his study had yielded a markedly different conclusion than mine. In his words, “Job got everything back and more for his suffering. He was blessed with more children and more money than he ever had before. That’s what the story shows us — doing the right thing always brings blessing and prosperity.”

While the first part was true, I disagreed with his conclusion. He subtly was echoing the message of the so-called “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” — that God’s goal for us in this life is perfect health, total happiness, and financial gain. In this life. “We simply need to name what we want,” it says, “live the right way, and then claim our victory. That is what living for God looks like.”

I contend that this approach is not living for God. Such thinking is idolatry. It is elevating God’s gifts above him, the giver. And that is a great assault on God’s value.
A good way to measure a country’s debt is to compare it to its GDP. The United States deficit averaged -3.03 percent of GDP from 1948 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 4.60 percent of GDP in 1948 and a record low of -12.10 percent in 2009 (low is bad). Greece averaged -7.19 percent of GDP from 1995 until 2014, reaching an all time high of -3.20 percent of GDP in 1999 and a record low of -15.70 percent of GDP in 2009. In other words, Greece spends about twice as much (as a percentage of it’s GDP) as does the U.S.

Let’s imagine two countries—Greece and the U.S.—as if they were persons: GDP would be the person’s “income”; the deficit would be “additional credit card debt”; and interest on the deficit would be like “interest on a credit card.”

The U.S. has a high income (16.7 trillion a year) and every year adds about 3 percent to the total it owes the credit card companies (the national debt). No one is too worried that the U.S. will default on its loans so the credit card companies give them a low interest rate (2.43 percent).

Greece, on the other hand, has a relatively modest income (242 billion, or 1/70 the size of U.S GDP) and adds a lot more to its debt every year (7 percent). Greece has a low credit score (i.e., the credit card companies aren’t sure Greece will pay off it’s debt) and so is charged a high interest rate (about 15 percent).