Update.

My writing project is underway. It’s going pretty well, but I have to confess that I’m having a harder time than I would like staying focused. I basically have the attention span of a tsetse fly and for that I blame Congress.

For the past five years, work has been synonymous with gulping from a fire hose and now I have to learn how to sip from a glass.

I’ve also had some technical hiccups. The blazing-fast internet service that was supposed to be up and running two days ago wasn’t – and as much as I love Starbucks and their free wifi, I was hoping to be working from home by now. Plus my cell phone broke a few days ago so I’ve been battling with that company’s customer service department to get them to attach my old number to the new allegedly smart phone I purchased, but to no avail. They were able to give it a new number, complete with the area code of a state I’ve never lived in, and now they seem perplexed that I’m not a fully satisfied customer.

I’m pretty sure this is all nothing more than a desperate and possibly conspiratorial attempt by the tech companies to keep me from browsing the results of the Iowa Caucus. Did I mention I’m having trouble staying on task?

Technical challenges notwithstanding, I see that Bachman is out, Rick Perry is reevaluating his campaign and my man Santorum is making his mark. I know I’m a little cranky because of the whole not being connected to the human race thing for the past week – still, I am confused how Rick Perry rose to become a serious contender in the first place. Gov. Perry says his comments alluding to secession were made in jest, but there are certain principles so fundamental to who we are as a nation that even the suggestion of violating them is distressing. I would put the preservation of our Union at the top of that list.

There are critical differences between a union and a confederacy and in the debate over states’ rights and a proper view of federalism, I feel like the distinctions are not articulated clearly enough.

A confederacy is a group of states held together by a contract. Wikipedia defines it as “an association of sovereign states.” If one state breaches the contract, the other states may not be thrilled, but the association can more or less happily go on.

A union is a covenant relationship that creates a new entity greater than its individual elements – like a marriage. If one state unilaterally walks out on the relationship, the entire union is dissolved and the nation as we know it is no more.

America is a union. We are not a confederacy.

Americans in 1864 understood the ramifications of secession. In his second Inaugural Address, a somber Lincoln reflected on the beginning of his turbulent presidency:

“On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago, all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it—all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects, by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

Why did the war come? If talk of secession is simply an expression of dissatisfaction with the workings of the federal government, why did we fight a four-year Civil War that scarred the soul of the nation and left 600,000 Americans dead? Why not just let South Carolina {or for that matter, Texas} go and forge a “new birth of freedom” with the remaining states?

Because we the people are in covenant with one another. For better or for worse.

The concept of a Union based on covenant is uniquely American and distinctly Judeo-Christian. Why so many believers would rally around Gov. Perry without seriously challenging his statements regarding secession is beyond me. I’m not questioning the sincerity of Perry’s faith or impugning his character. I’m just saying he has some explaining to do. And I wish the church demanded a bit more of our political {and other} leaders. That’s all.

As for the other Rick – I loved Santorum in the Senate and will never forget the day he cleaned Barbara Boxer’s moral compass during the debate on partial birth abortion. I still don’t understand why he didn’t get more traction earlier on in his campaign. I once asked some friends who understand politics way better than I do what they thought the problem was and they said Republicans are still upset that he lost his Senate seat back in 2006. And that is why I will never understand politics.

Also, Santorum speaks in complete sentences, which may explain why he hasn’t been as popular as other candidates who equate conservatism with lower taxes and leadership with take our country back.

With the Republican field thinning, it is time to weigh the remaining candidates carefully, looking past the gloss to pose the hard substantive questions. Justice and righteousness are the foundation of the King’s throne and were once the basis of our civil government. We should be insisting that candidates explain their views of justice – not just asking about whether they can ease our pain. Potential presidents should be held to a high standard of personal and public righteousness.  Times may have changed, but the standard hasn’t.

Campaign slogans may make for good bumper stickers, but they do nothing to resolve economic and geopolitical crises. “Anyone but Obama” will not do. In California we were so desperate to remove one former governor that the recall campaign mantra was effectively “Anyone but Gray Davis.” And look how well that turned out.

“We can succeed only by concert. It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.” {Abraham Lincoln’s Annual Message to Congress, 1862}

Now, back to my writing project…

Less and more.

9/9/11: I had to revise this post…when I’m tired I find myself defaulting into hyper-critical preachy mode, which is exactly what I DO NOT want to do…or be. Romans 12:21 says to overcome evil with good. This sounds simple enough, but I’ve developed the bad habit of responding to evil (or my perception of evil) with sarcasm, which often devolves into outright contempt. Not good. And certainly not conducive to overcoming evil.

So here’s the new version. A little less sarcastic and a little more good.

*****

I flew into DC from the West Coast early this morning under the wispy remains of Hurricane Irene. While she has caused havoc elsewhere, Irene (whose name means peace) has singlehandedly driven out the oppressive heat and unrelenting humidity that has been hanging over the Capital for months. I am grateful for this silver lining.

When it comes to extreme weather, I firmly believe less is more. As Thomas Paine said, “Moderation in temper[ature] is always a virtue.”

Summer in DC creeps up on you. First you’re enjoying the balmy evenings and the fireflies and then you’re emptying the five-gallon tank in your industrial strength dehumidifier twice a day.

But today fall is in the air and everything just seems more normal…more tempered. Of course in DC, “normal” is a relative term. So if normal means being inundated with seventeen different issues in a single afternoon, then today is about as typical as it gets.

Sometimes I think people here take themselves way too seriously – myself included. I’m getting ready to leave my job of five years as a congressional staffer and I am astounded at the piles of paper I’ve produced – not to mention a hard drive full of assorted documents and thousands of e-mails. These all represent projects I invested my life in that are now, for the most part, forgotten. A few have been completed and celebrated, but so much of what I’ve done will be relegated to the recycle bin.

I’ve been through three congressional election cycles and each time I watched as the staffers whose bosses lost their seats had to clear out their spaces to make way for the new representatives. Huge trash and recycling bins would be parked outside the offices, filled to overflowing with suddenly meaningless work product. Endless hours – entire lives – reduced, reused and recycled…or hauled off in some dumpster to a landfill. Sobering.

Other times, I think we don’t take ourselves nearly seriously enough. We are human beings made in the image of a creative, passionate, awe-inspiring God. Yet too many of us wind up in a work environment and routine that is demeaning and demoralizing. I spent most of the last five years working in a cubicle. I don’t get cubicle world. I’ve said this before but couldn’t we come up with something more outside the box than…a box?

Taking your life – my life – seriously means taking the time to think…and pray. You may disagree with me on this, but I believe we are wired to be in constant communication with the One who made us. He is the Server and we are the workstations…or something like that. While Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, you have to have something objective to examine your life against – some standard or ideal that exists outside of your own mind. A fruitful thought and prayer life isn’t the product of a five-minute daily meditation or even fifteen minutes of morning “quiet time.” As my best friend often says, “there’s just no substitute for taking time to think about things.”

During my tenure as a staffer, I heard lots of complaints that Congress doesn’t do enough. I disagree. Congress does plenty, but people here simply don’t have the the time to fully contemplate what – and why – they are doing. It used to be that gravitas was a virtue. Now we’re all about momentum and efficiency. Decisions are made and legislation is drafted, passed, signed and enacted…often without reflecting on the full scope of consequences.

If less really is more, than maybe Congress should start doing its fair share.

By the way, my favorite bill ever was last year’s H.Con.Res. 155: the “Complaint Free Wednesday” Resolution, which asks Americans to refrain from complaining on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so they can reflect on the maxim that “having a positive life begins with having a positive attitude.” Yes. And maybe we should ask Anthony Robbins and Deepak Chopra to solve our national debt crisis and authorize a defense budget.

Okay, a little sarcasm leaked out there. I’ll work on getting gooder.

In the meantime, I’m going to follow the path of Irene and downgrade my activity. It is time for me to learn to do less…and become more.

“If men of wisdom and knowledge, of moderation and temperance, of patience, fortitude and perseverance, of sobriety and true republican simplicity of manners, of zeal for the honour of the Supreme Being and the welfare of the commonwealth; if men possessed of these other excellent qualities are chosen to fill the seats of government, we may expect that our affairs will rest on a solid and permanent foundation.” Samuel Adams