The Sabbath Mutiny

The "palace intrigue" of a political campaign offers a young staffer the chance to learn courageous discipleship.

For ancient Israel, Sabbath rest probably seemed dangerous.

Like that of most of their neighbors, Israel’s economy was predominantly agrarian. No one worked for a salary, with weekends off and paid sick leave. Most Israelites were farmers. Every day they spent sowing, tending or reaping translated into healthier, more productive harvests—and thus a safer, healthier lifestyle. Voluntarily limiting the fruits of their labor by taking one day a week off from tending to the land and keeping it, and then giving up an additional 20–30% of the fruits of their labor in the form of sacrifices and donations, was a clear statement that the community of faith believed that their flourishing and livelihood depended on something more than just their labor. It had to seem insane to Israel’s neighbors, and it likely had a measurable negative impact on most peoples’ “bottom line.”

This can be hard for some Americans to get our heads around. But it should not be a foreign concept to people who work in politics.

The schedule on my first campaign was absolutely punishing. Monday through Saturday, we would arrive at the office between 7:00 and 8:00 AM, and we wouldn’t usually leave for home until at least 9:00 PM, sometimes later. Sundays were a little easier: Roughly 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, giving me just enough time to get to a 7:00 PM worship service and get one full night’s sleep before starting the process over again. But I was a brash college graduate, conditioned by Campus Crusade to be bold in my declarations of faith, so I made sure before I took the job that senior staff would give me Thursday nights off so that I could make it to my small group for prayer, fellowship and Bible study.

By the middle of the summer, the campaign was not going well.

For weeks—or maybe months, I can’t remember—my colleagues and I were convinced that our boss, the regional director, was unsuited for his job. On more than one occasion we found him sleeping at a local coffee shop when he claimed to be going to meetings. As the campaign wore on, his day-to-day directives bore less and less resemblance to the strategy we were hearing from senior staff. And on top of all of this, his conversation around the office was becoming increasingly vulgar and sexually explicit.

We grumbled. We considered quitting. We talked about breaking rank and bringing our concerns to senior staff. More than one teammate spoke openly with me about helping to lead  “a mutiny.” If I helped them make their case to senior staff that the current regional director was a liability, they would support me as the new regional director. The conversation felt comically dramatic and conspiratorial, maybe even a little lurid. And so, despite our boss’ increasingly erratic behavior, I declined.

My Breaking Point

Then our boss physically assaulted one of my colleagues during a staff meeting, shoving him violently against a wall for questioning our strategy. After my colleague stormed out and called senior staff to announce that he was quitting effective immediately, a member of senior staff asked to meet with me privately at a campaign event to discuss the incident. I took the opportunity to…well, to mutiny. I was honest about what happened, and I was open about the larger pattern of behavior that led up to the incident. When the senior staff member asked what I thought they should do, I told him, “Honestly, I think the office would run a lot better if Anita or I were in charge.”

“Anita” was and is a friend from college—brilliant, talented, funny and brutally hard-working. We had gone through our program together and just graduated that spring with ambitions to make our careers writing plays, movies and short stories. Neither of us had ambitions to work in politics or public service. I had taken a job with the campaign as a stopgap, something to pay rent and rack up interesting stories before getting a day job closer to my actual field. Not long after I took the campaign job, Anita was looking for temporary work while she applied for her own day jobs in entertainment, and I suggested she join me. I thought that, at best, this campaign would be something that would come up as a near-forgotten anecdote when one of us gave an interview to The New Yorker about our “early years” a few decades down the line.

But by the time our boss attacked our colleague, I had become deeply invested in the work we were doing. I had stopped applying to other jobs and had begun trying to figure out what it might look like to pursue a career in politics when the campaign was over. Anita was talented. I was passionate. And I thought either of us could probably do our boss’ job better than he could, so I made the suggestion.

The senior staff member took my suggestion in, thanked me for being frank with him, and told me he’d probably be giving me a call that night with an update.

After the meeting, I went back to the office and, while our boss was out, I told my colleagues that I’d reached a breaking point. I was tired of how untrustworthy, unreliable and off-strategy our boss was. I was going to spend the rest of the day re-organizing the office so that I could be well-prepared to follow-up on that day’s campaign event the next morning, and that they were free to join me if they’d like. They did. When our boss returned and told us we could leave for the night, my colleagues looked at me for a response. I told him we were going to stay and finish the work we had assigned ourselves. He walked out, and we never saw him again.

Later that evening, I got a phone call from a member of senior staff. Our boss was fired and they were going to promote…Anita…to take his place.

“We appreciate your work,” he told me, “but you take those Thursday nights off for your church group, and we can’t have the person in this role doing that.”

When I tell this story, I usually skip over the part where someone else got the job, because it didn’t last very long. Like I said, Anita is brilliant and talented and hard-working. It was only a few more weeks before she got offered a full-time job at a movie studio and my boss’ position was open again.

I got the job this time.

Sort of.

Because there had been so much turnover in our office, filling the role quickly was important and I was the natural next choice. Keeping the region running uninterrupted was worth sacrificing one night of work a week. But me continuing to take that one night off a week meant I had a lower title and a lower salary than Anita or her predecessor.

The message was clear: Give yourself entirely to this work or the work won’t reward you.

DECLINING TO KEEP UP

For Christians who believe we are made in the image of a God who both worked and rested, and who believe we are called to embody his rhythms and character, successfully navigating a career in any field might mean achieving less than our ambition demands or talent allows. This is especially true for those of us who work in fields that offer the potential to make a disproportionate amount of money, garner national acclaim, or wield significant influence over the lives of others—fields like finance, media, the arts, technology, and, of course, government and politics.

I spent a decade of my life in New York City. I went to college there. My first campaign was there, along with most of my jobs until I moved to DC. If you’re a college-educated white-collar twenty-something, you probably have at least 100,000 peers in New York who are all as smart as you, as talented as you, as motivated as you, and who all want the same things as you. The rhythms of life in New York and in many industries train you to understand that staking your claim for a day off is insane, that the day you take off is the day someone else will surpass you.

And while the idea of “self-care” is rising in popularity, for many people, those moments of restorative stillness come erratically. Rest, sabbath, self-care—whatever words you might use to describe taking time off from your work mentally and physically, for most people, it is still functionally a luxury. There is social pressure and career pressure against it. Making it a consistent part of one’s life is usually aspirational at best.

This isn’t a triumphalistic story. The message isn’t, “Be obedient to the things God says and he’ll give you the things you really want.” Yes, I earned more trust and more authority on each campaign, and sometimes that did mean I was able to guarantee myself a night off or a Sunday morning off with less pushback, but not always. And there wasn’t actually any making up for lost time or missed relationships. While my teams won more often than we lost, several of my peers and colleagues surpassed me in their work and in their careers. I think that even Anita, who left politics entirely, has probably had more of a tangible, positive influence on politics and policy through her work in entertainment and her associated charity work than I’ve had through my political and nonprofit career.

And that’s actually okay.

We’re not called to win. And we’re not called to reshape the world in our image. We’re called to witness—courageously, counter-culturally, and even sacrificially. Sabbath is scary, but it is necessary for living a godly life. And it is survivable.


LEARN TO PRACTICE SABBATH AND MORE

If you are “in the trenches” of politics, public service or advocacy, you’re facing a unique set of stressors and challenges, including balancing idealism against career goals, staving off cynicism, sharing a Bible study with professional opponents, or finding rest when you’re not allowed to turn off your phone.

We want to support you as you navigate the tensions between Christian growth and the demands of a modern political lifestyle. Visit our events page for more information on booking a class that can help you live out your faith “in the trenches” in restorative and life-giving ways.

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