That headline above poses one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask themselves. Unfortunately, it’s too often one of the last questions all of us ask of ourselves.
The question has a particular relevance for people working on the Hill. At the surface level, everybody in Congress, working for Congress, reporting on Congress, seeking to influence Congress and trying to get to Congress has beliefs, or at least claims to believe certain things.
But whatever you profess to believe, can you have absolute certainty that what you say you believe is what you actually believe, as reflected in what you think, do and say? And how do you know the difference between the one and the other?
Believe it or not (did you catch the pun?), I’m not referring to the professed political, religious or ideological beliefs that shape appearances, what you seem to be or what you want the world to think you are. What I am talking about are the beliefs at the core of your being that actually define who you are and determine what you do.
Why is this such an important question for congressional aides? It’s not simply that aides by definition work for somebody else and thus are routinely called on to defend, explain, conceal, justify or rationalize away what “the boss” says or does, or doesn’t say or do. It’s important because such a fixation can make it even more difficult than it normally is to ask ourselves the hard question headlined above.
Allow me to illustrate with an example from my own life and years on the Hill. Alcoholism runs in my family, a fact I was grimly aware of from a very early age. I saw what it can do, physically and emotionally, to people and families, the misery, pain, and emptiness. And I vowed early in my life to “never be that way.”
But then I came to Washington, D.C. and to the Hill. Booze was and is today quite prevalent. It’s not for nothing that Washington, D.C. routinely ranks among the top cities in America for per-capita alcohol consumption. Plus, a lot of people working on the Hill are only a few years past boozy campus cultures, which makes this a peculiarly relevant example.
If you’d asked me the first day on my first Hill job about drinking, I would have quickly said I would never let that become a problem, I grew up in an alcoholic home, saw what it did to people, etc. etc.
“A lot of people working on the Hill are only a few years past boozy campus cultures.”
But then over the months and years that followed, it became easier and easier to declare those things but then do quite the opposite. Places like the Tune Inn, Hawk N Dove (remember that one!?) and, especially, Bullfeathers became regular haunts.
“Pub grub” (self-explanatory) and “draft beer” (or bourbon, or whatever) and “networking” (jobs, allies) and “targets of opportunity” (come on, you know what this one means) became fixtures, creating the major rhythm of my life — work during the day, keep working in the night, and partying.
It took a long time but eventually I learned that sooner or later decisions do indeed have consequences in life and not just for me. Today, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for the blessings of (29 years of) sobriety and a generous measure of the courage required for the honest self-awareness that requires regularly asking myself the headlined question above. Would that I had asked it sooner.
The point I’m getting at is this: The way to know if you really do believe what you tell yourself and the world you believe is to look at your actions and ask yourself: Are these the actions of somebody who believes X?
Jesus had no patience for hypocrisy, especially among those in high places. The 23d chapter of the book of Matthew in the New Testament is the “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees” scene in which He directly addressed the issue of personal authenticity:
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. ***For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called ‘rabbi’ by others …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may be clean …
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also appear outwardly righteous to others , but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
But this isn’t simply a question of saying one thing and doing another. It’s why we all do that so often. It’s that “within you” (and me, and everybody else) that is the problem. Too often, we know what we should do, but we go right on doing the wrong thing. The Apostle Paul put it this way at Romans 7: 15 — “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
And why is that? It’s that thing none of us these days wants to acknowledge exists but which is nevertheless an ever-present reality. And the solution is something many folks working on the Hill and off scoff at, choose to ignore, are afraid to think about, or have never heard it explained. It’s our sin problem, the one problem we can’t solve by ourselves.
Want to know more? Let me buy you a cup of coffee or a sparkling water or whatever at one of the Hill office complexes’ cafes or restaurants, and we’ll continue what could prove to be the most important discussion of your life. It changed mine in more ways than I can count, all of them for the good.
* This post originally appeared July 21, 2018, on HillFaith. It is re-published from time to time to encourage consideration of one of the most important questions any individual can confront.
*** Go here for an explanation of phylacteries and fringes in Jewish culture, ancient and modern.