Give a brief description of what you do in your job.
I am a legislative correspondent for Senator Coons from Delaware. This means that if I did only my basic job requirements, I would take several meetings every week with constituents and lobbyists and respond on behalf of the Senator by phone, email, and physical letters to approximately 1,500 constituent messages per month. These messages come from Delawareans who range from angry to delighted with positions that the Senator has taken or events unfolding in the state, country, and world. I’ve responded to messages about greater sage-grouse protection, GMO labeling, and offshore drilling, as well as personal vendettas with railroad crossings and backyard pet trespassing disputes. While the variety is interesting, I thankfully get to do more than just answer letters and take meetings. Working with a very team-oriented staff, I’ve had the opportunity to jump on larger projects. These include policy advising and writing memos, planning events, and even leading the charge on a few minor bills—check out Senate Bills 2628 and 2608!
What has given you the greatest joy in your work? What has been the hardest?
When I was first hired, I thought slogging through “policy” (having never studied political science) and writing letters all day would be the hardest parts. While I am currently trudging through a few books on Senate procedure, working in the Senate with no previous policy experience has been riveting. I never realized how much of our lives are touched by federal policy. My portfolio alone spans agriculture, energy, environment, animal welfare, transportation, science, and technology. I should say, at my core I am an agricultural specialist. My favorite interview question I’ve have ever been asked was, “What do you think about most?” Without a doubt, my answer is: farming. Although, I love to dream about agriculture, this broad range of topics I cover requires great curiosity and has brought out my inner generalist. Senator Coons is endlessly curious about the processes driving the world and is therefore interested in improving those processes. Finding a job that demands that I am constantly reexamining what others have accepted “as good enough” is my greatest joy.
The fact that writing letters to constituents is my main task is the most challenging part. Writing has always demanded more focus than I prefer to offer, but I have come to appreciate this task as it channels curiosity and reexamination into action, positions, and positive change. My day consists of so much topical switchboarding and set-shifting that I’ve also started to do some writing in my personal time to corral my wandering thoughts that parade throughout the day and late into the night.
What is one thing you’d like others to know about your job?
Schoolhouse Rock forgot to mention a few things in their song and video about how a bill becomes law. I know, it’s simplified for kids and it was the basis for my understanding of the legislative process in middle school. I’d like to clarify though, that when you are tempted to say there is “gridlock in Congress” or “nothing is getting done” or “Congress is on recess and they aren’t even at work in DC”, remember that there are more than 10,000 congressional staff members who serve Members of Congress, hard at work every day, forming relationships across party lines to accomplish change and progress. Our work is not as black and white as it gets portrayed; there are constant negotiations over both minuscule and huge issues every day. I work on a team of more than 40 people who serve the Senator helping him understand the many sides of every issue he is faced with.
Also, if you are in DC, you should call ahead and schedule a tour of the Capitol with your Senator’s office. Every office has staff to do that too!
How have you experienced Christ’s presence in your job?
I’ll return to my previous point; while there might be partisan gridlock, there’s more than just two sides. In every issue we face, resolutions require overlapping negotiations affecting and affected by industries, organizations, families, government leaders, existing regulations, overarching social structures, discussions about sustainability, and those of morality, personal gain, and the greater good. Further, after negotiations conclude, these “wins” and “losses” are shared more like a messy, communal bowl of soup than clean, individual slices of pie.
While I am obligated to promote the Senator’s position when responding to constituents on his behalf, I am constantly reformulating my own opinions and positions. Thankfully, I work for a Senator who takes his faith very seriously and allows his faith to permeate and challenge his decision making. On the other hand, I find that many of the constituents who write or call in to our office identifying themselves as Christians are locked in to a position and are vehemently opposed to the “other side”. It concerns me when others mention how irrational, rigid, and out of touch Christians sound when they receive similar letters or calls.
While taking a stand is important, I find that hunkering into a position is the easier path to take, and sometimes the lonelier path. Holding a theology that is multi-partisan and even flexible, that is guided by humility, and that leaves room for error, mystery, and reformulation has allowed me to build unlikely partnerships without compromising my faith. I tend to follow the agrarian poet, Wendell Berry, when he says, “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world… Love someone who does not deserve it.” These relationships grow within the common goal of shaping a world with more love, more humility, more justice, and more grace. It should be mentioned that, while saying that was easy, living in the unknown is hard and it makes for messy theology. Nevertheless, the tension between firmly believing something and firmly believing that you might be wrong is another messy bowl of soup worth sharing.
Nathan, what a delight to see you using your gifts in a way you’d perhaps never planned! Stay in touch. You’ve come a long way from Core 100! Be blessed!
Thanks Dianne! I think it was in Core 100 under your mentoring at Dordt where I learned a good deal about the importance of writing things down and a maintaining a holistic world view! Thanks for your insight that helped jumpstart this journey.