Worth Reading - 7/7

1. The world has a lot of problems. We tend to focus on those things that are wrong with the world. Nicholas Kristof points out, however, that globally there is a lot that is right with the world and better than ever that we should be celebrating.

Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a bit gross.)

“There are deworming campaigns now, so it’s much rarer that we go into surgery for obstruction and see a big mass of worms,” explained Agatha Neufville, the nursing director at the Ganta United Methodist Hospital.

Nine out of 10 Americans say in polls that global poverty has been staying the same or worsening. So let’s correct the record.

There has been a stunning decline in extreme poverty, defined as less than about $2 per person per day, adjusted for inflation. For most of history, probably more than 90 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty, plunging to fewer than 10 percent today.

Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read.

2. Bethany Jenkins wrote a very good post at The Gospel Coalition that emphasizes the deepest calling all Christians have: to be a child of God. She encourages readers not to over-spiritualize our discussions of calling, since that tends to make a gift God gave us for mutual benefit into an individual idol that must be served.

It does mean, though, that work isn’t a means of expressive individualism but of faithfulness. God’s far more concerned with how we work—with faith, hope, and love—than with what career we have.

Too often we overspiritualize “calling” and make it about self-expression instead of faithfulness to God and service to others. We search for the perfect job—just what we’re “called” to do—and use “calling” as a trump card to replace perseverance, risk, and qualification.

Yet there is no Job Charming. Most of us could do any number of things. We simply must make a vocational choice (using the classic disciplines of prayer, community, and Scripture reading), work deeply at it, and be faithful in it. As Paul summarizes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

Even if we feel “called” to a particular work, we usually experience that “calling” in retrospect. It’s far easier to look at the past and see confirmation than to look into the future and feel confident. Yes, the Lord speaks to us and calls us in advance, but the primary way he does so is through his Word. We step out in faith, work heartily, and—in retrospect—feel increasingly confident that we’ve been faithful and obedient in our vocation. Such humility recognizes that time, experience, and community are vital pieces of our vocational formation.

3. A good reminder from Hunter Baker that professors and other professional thinkers have blind spots. More importantly, the pastor's point is very important that social justice cannot be reduced to economic freedom.

An African-American pastor (bi-vocational, I think, based on his comments) raised his hand. He affirmed what I had said about free markets. I specifically recall him saying, “You’re right about people moving up and improving their lives over the years. I’ve seen those times in my own life when the comma moved on my income” (great expression, “when the comma moved”).

But he went on to criticize my presentation on social justice for being too narrow. By way of example, he pointed out that for African-Americans who have succeeded in the market in a variety of endeavors, there are some things that may not change as much as their income. He discussed encounters with law enforcement, informal barriers in the area of housing, and a few other things.

4. While the causes of poverty are not entirely based on individual behavior, George Will argues in a recent article at National Review Online that studies show individual behavior has a huge impact on poverty rates. Specifically, sequencing education, job, marriage, and children is pretty nearly a guarantee you will escape poverty.

In healthy societies, basic values and social arrangements are not much thought about. They are “of course” matters expressing what sociologists call a society’s “world-taken-for-granted.” They have, however, changed since President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed “unconditional” war on poverty. This word suggested a fallacious assumption: Poverty persisted only because of hitherto weak government resolve regarding the essence of war — marshalling material resources. But what if large causes of poverty are not matters of material distribution but are behavioral — bad choices and the cultures that produce them? If so, policymakers must rethink their confidence in social salvation through economic abundance.

5. This satirical video by John Cleese from 1987 speaks to our time.

My posts around the web:

a. On Monday I had my inaugural post at The Green Room published. That platform is for those writing and discussing for the faith and work movement. My post is about the need to continue to conversation, despite the feeling we're saying the same thing an awful lot.

How many times have I cited Colossians 3:23 in my writing and wondered if people were tired of reading about working heartily for God?

It does not take too long publishing on a single topic to feel like you have already written on everything there is to be written about the basic ideas. Without defaulting to pure human interest, it sometimes feels like the theory has been beaten to death.

And yet, here was someone who was unaware of the depths of the literature on the subject of work. This individual had not read a single one of the myriad of blog posts that flood my social media feed each day, much less the carefully crafted essays that I’ve spilled out over the previous years.

b. On Wednesday, The Intersect Project ran a piece I wrote rebutting a faulty review of Ben Sasse's book. 

A certain degree of self-reliance is, however, necessary for community to flourish. In the traditional Baptist rite of the church potluck, the community relies on people to bring sufficient food to meet the needs of a large population. There is always someone, often the young bachelor (that was me, once), who brings an unopened can of baked beans as a contribution. The potluck works when enough people are sufficiently self-reliant to bring enough food so that everyone­­—even the baked-bean bachelor—can eat. If the majority of attendees, however, simply brings an unopened can of food or nothing at all, the community will collapse.

Or, to shift metaphors, a tent relies upon the rigidity of its poles. Each one, independently, must be able to stay rigid to support the structure, though the tent cannot provide shelter without other poles. This is a form of necessary self-reliance that enables community. That is, I believe, what Sasse is arguing for.