The value of doing one thing at a time

Lately, I’ve been at a loss in this respect, but I found this HBR article to be very helpful:

The Magic of Doing One Thing At a Time

The author’s point:

when you switch away from a primary task to do something else, you’re increasing the time it takes to finish that task by an average of 25 per cent.

But most insidiously, it’s because if you’re always doing something, you’re relentlessly burning down your available reservoir of energy over the course of every day, so you have less available with every passing hour….

When you’re engaged at work, fully engage, for defined periods of time. When you’re renewing, truly renew.

I’m hoping to be able to get back into this type of mode.


The long view: don’t let the perfect to be the enemy of the good

Ronald Reagan In His Own Hand
Ronald Reagan thought out and thought through his own policies

I don’t remember exactly when, and I don’t remember the exact words, so I can’t provide a citation, but some time during all the rancorous politics of the 1990’s, George Will made the comment that for as much as conservatives disliked (and worse) Bill Clinton, he hadn’t done [or wasn’t going to do] any long-term damage to the Republic.

Now, I was a person who absolutely hated the Clinton presidency. He was so obviously a liar and a scoundrel, it was a travesty that a man like this should become President of the United States.

But after Will’s comment had a chance to sink in with me, I knew he was right. Having a President like Bill Clinton enabled the opposing forces within the Republic to coalesce; we had the small conservative revolution of 1994, and the Clinton presidency was largely neutralized, by forces that the founders had built into the American system some 200 years earlier. See Federalist 51, for example: “the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others.” This is not a fool-proof system, but this principle continues to function properly in our day.

The notion that that, whatever political forces were in the ascendancy at the moment, opposing forces would coalesce, works for both sides of the political spectrum. George Bush, who had promised a “humble foreign policy” but eventually posited “the Bush doctrine” of “preventive war” – was mightily opposed, first in the congressional elections of 2006 – the Democrats made a mighty surge to win back congress, much as the Republicans did in 1994 – then in the 2008 Presidential election, when McCain was called “Bush 3”, to elect an articulate spokesman for their own causes, Barack Obama. And we’ve seen the effects again even during the Obama presidency, as the Democrats tried to do too much, and various Republican and right-leaning movements coalesced to bring the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives.

* * *

In my lifetime, I have seen several schools of thought among Republicans as to “how to elect a Republican president”. Richard Nixon articulated the view that, as a Republican candidate, you should “run as hard to the right as you can to gain the nomination, then run as hard as you can back to the center in the General Election”. He did this, and it worked for him. Now, he had some problems of his own making, but those problems don’t necessarily negate the validity of this political strategy. In 2004, Karl Rove posited, and Rush Limbaugh popularized, the notion that we should exclude the center – and expand the right as much as possible, so as to create a right-leaning majority. Of course that seems to have worked for Bush in 2004 – but somehow Bush, Rove, and Limbaugh had promised too much, damaged the credibility of the party, and the backlash of 2006 and 2008 soon followed.

* * *

Now the National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein has published a somewhat lengthy analysis of the Republican presidential campaign so far, specifically addressing the question “Why is a party that leans so far to the right poised to nominate a candidate whom many conservatives deeply distrust?” He concludes:

For many Republicans, [no alternative to Romney has] crossed the threshold as a credible president. … [No one of them] has emerged organically from the ferocious antigovernment backlash that emerged during the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency and then erupted early in Obama’s. None of the heroes of that movement—from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin—felt ready to run in 2012, either because they were too young or too recently elected, or both. Other veteran Republicans potentially attractive to those voters also passed, including Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Republican voters were left to choose from a field filled by an older generation that many of the newer activists view with suspicion. “In the next primary election, whenever it is, you’ve got a real group of potential candidates who are truly conservative and pro-growth,” says Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, a leading economic conservative group. “It is an evolution. Republicans went bad, and now [the movement] is getting better, and it’s going up through the House and Senate, but it hasn’t produced a national leader yet.”

I would disagree with Brownstein that it was an “antigovernment backlash” that happened in 2006 and 2008. Nevertheless, we are at a point at which we may be left with Romney the nominee, and even maybe a “President Mitt Romney”. Which brings me to my point. Neither a Romney presidency nor an Obama presidency in 2012 is going to do long-lasting damage to the Republic. The system of government set up by the founders of this country is a pretty good one.

* * *

There was another school of thought on “how to elect a Republican president”, and that was Ronald Reagan’s way. Reagan had lost an election to Gerald Ford, but meanwhile, he was hard at work. A “Goldwater” Republican during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Reagan was a person who took the time to think through how conservative ideas and principles ought to play out in the real world. It was his thought and his policies that led very quickly (within 10 years) to the demise of the Soviet satellite of nations and eventually the Soviet system of government. And it was his economic attitude and policies that enabled the US economy to recover from the stagnation of the 1970’s to become the growth engine that it had become through the 1980’s and 1990’s and beyond.

From this perspective, it’s very hopeful for Republicans to have names like Christie and Ryan and Rubio and Jindal in some high-profile places. Ron Paul has, and articulates, some good ideas, but the weaknesses of his libertarianism (and his personal weaknesses) are very evident. Sarah Palin may have been a pretty candidate who espoused conservative principles, but she was just a “stopper” and a window dressing. The real heavy lifting of the Republican party will need to be accomplished not by someone who merely claims the mantle of Reagan, but by someone who can genuinely do what Reagan did, and that is, to think through the problems of the day, and understand how best to solve these problems with the best of conservative principles.

The American System not only allows for that, but indeed, it encourages it.

The Heart and Soul of the Reformation

The concept of “the righteousness of God” was at the heart and soul of the Reformation. Not only, “how is God righteous?” but “how can we, sinners, be righteous before a perfectly holy God?” That’s the question Martin Luther wrestled with. It’s the question that was at the heart and soul of the Reformation, and it’s the subject I discuss in my latest post:

The nature of the “righteousness of God”: Martin Luther was right

I want to thank all of you who responded

We were truly blessed by the response we received from our request for help yesterday. I am reminded of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, who said:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A little bit about my Catholic background – 1

I’ve been prompted to write about myself from two different perspectives. I’m not really shy about telling “my story,” and I’ve done so briefly, in the context of my church, and also here, a bit:

I’m a former Catholic — I was born in 1960 and raised in the Catholic Church by a devout family. But by the time I was in high school, I had also heard the Gospel from some friends — and I just could not comprehend why this “Gospel” was not what “the one true Church” was teaching, especially not if it was in the Bible. Needless to say, it created a great deal of turmoil in my spirit, and it set off a struggle that would consume me for a long time. In fact, that question — an overwhelming desire to find “the reason why,” motivates me today. But the issues I investigated in leaving Roman Catholicism continued to tug at my heart and mind. How could such a big, authoritative and seemingly wonderful thing have gone so wrong?

But there were two recent episodes that prompted me to go a bit deeper with this. First, in some comments at a blog where someone picked up some of the things I was writing about the early papacy, an individual questioned whether I was genuinely Catholic. Or at least, he suggested that I had only nominally been Catholic.

Here’s a quote from a commenter named Leo:

What I said, was “The catechesis you received must have been awful.”
I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, since there are two viable options:

1. You left because you did not really and truly understand what the Catholic Church really is, believing it to be something of your own misunderstanding.

2. You know darn well and believe that the Church was founded by Christ Himself and has been protected from teaching error on Faith and Morals yet you decided to leave anyway. That would be apostasy.

You also said, “And yes, I had a very clear understanding of the “Eucharist”.”

Well, that’s nice, but it does not negate what I said. My comment was, “Well, you certainly never came to believe in the Eucharist or you never would have left.”

Notice that my observation was that you would never have left if you had come to believe in the Euchrarist. You may have had a clear understanding of the Eucharist, but your actions display a complete lack of faith in the Eucharist.

So there you have it. This individual, who had never met me, imitates Christ (from the pericope of the woman at the well from John 4), and he tells me everything about myself, without ever having met me!

This is the sort of thing that’s prompted by a statement by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, to the effect that, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.” But Sheen here was speaking with a typical Roman Catholic style of exaggeration. Lots of people know what the Roman Catholic Church is.

So I qualified Leo’s statement:

There is a third viable option. I really and truly knew and understood everything the Roman Catholic Church said about itself; after a careful reading of Scripture, I decided to reject it as false. I was devout; I considered becoming a priest, and I attended Opus Dei “evenings of recollection” for two years. And I assure you, “the catechesis I received” through Opus Dei was only in the sense that it was purely Roman Catholic.

Nevertheless, I confess Jesus Christ as Lord — I am saved by grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone, and Soli Deo Gloria.

And then there have just been some of the individuals who have asked me privately to expand on this.

Regarding your Catholic experience, I think I am most interested in the events or influences in your life that moved your heart toward Jesus Christ, especially in such a way as to move you seriously toward studying for the priesthood. I find that fascinating, and I expect it would be quite moving.

So in what follows in the next few posts, I will try to give a little bit about that sort of thing.