Congressional Detail

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching . . .
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.”
(Prov 1:8-10)

Congressional Detail

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the spring of 1984 I took a one-month detail with the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)[1] which was interested in my dissertation research on technological and structural changes in beef packing and retailing (Hiemstra 1985a). OTA’s offices were located in rented space in Adam’s Morgan, a popular but sketchy neighborhood in Southeast Washington where walking even during the day required a touch of courage. But it did not matter—I loved the recognition that this assignment entailed for my dissertation[2] and I hoped that a permanent position would quickly follow my detail.

In discussions with my new supervisor, we decided that I would spend the first two weeks of my assignment catching up on interviews around Washington with industry and union leaders that I missed during my field work on the dissertation. The second two weeks of my assignment would then focus on writing a short report to be published by OTA (Hiemstra 1984). Because of the short turnaround time of this work, a key contact for me was the staff of the Joint Labor-Management Committee (JLMC) in Washington who knew all the players in the meat industry.

A particularly acute shortcoming of my field work came in trying to understand the dynamics of union contracts outside of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), who represented most of the workers in the beef pack and retailing industries. New, highly efficient boxed beef processing plants constructed on the high plains in those days were opening with contracts with other unions, like the Teamsters or the National Maritime Union. These new contracts offered fewer restrictions on management discretion and lower wages, which caused a lot of heartburn for the UFCW, and helped make boxed beef highly competitive with traditional carcass beef.[3] Older plants specialized in carcass beef were shuttering their doors all over the Eastern corn-belt, which is why Congress and the OTA were interested in my research.

In visiting with the JLMC, I learned that the Teamsters Union[4] employed an economist; I was given his contact information; and he agreed to meet with me.

The Teamsters, who normally represent truckers, were important players in the boxed beef story.[5] In conversations with the UFCW, the Teamsters continued to play an important role in representing workers in boxed beef plants both directly through organizing construction workers before the plants opened and indirectly by providing sample contracts for other non-UFCW unions to organize plants not represented by the Teamsters. What I hoped to accomplish by visiting with the Teamster’s economist was to hear the Teamster’s version of these stories.

In the interview, I spoke for about 15 minutes before I perceived that the economist was stonewalling me. I tested the stonewalling for another 15 minutes before I started to gather my things to leave. At this point, the economist waved me back over to my seat and proceeded to offer me a job with about a third increase in salary. The offer got my attention because it would have meant that Maryam and I could afford finally to buy a house of our own, but he cautioned me that I would not be able to ask for a further increase in pay—the Teamsters did not offer step-increases like the government. After treating me to a steak dinner in the executive dinning room, I asked if I might think it over and get back to him. He said okay, but he again cautioned me that I would need to get back to him promptly because the Teamsters would soon be going into contract negotiations and he needed the help.

Wow. How could I turn down a big pay increase at a time when I really needed the money? My conscience bothered me about working for the Teamsters, but my usual mentors simply congratulated me on the raise. The exception was Grandpa Frank who asked: “Why do you want to work for them bosses?” Frank was right; I knew in my heart that I could not accept this job, but how could I turn down “an offer you cannot refuse?” I resolved to ask for even more money, figuring that greed would induce them to withdraw the offer.

The economist took my salary request seriously, because he had cautioned me not to ask for a raise once I accepted the position. However, my proposal shocked the Teamster president, who turned me down much to my relief.[5]


Chandler, Jr. Alfred D. 1977. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; Belknap Press.


[2] A reporter for the Wall Street Journal interviewed me about my dissertation research but to my knowledge never published the interview.

[3] The food demands after the Civil War led to cattle being slaughtered in places like Chicago and shipped as a side of beef by refrigerated rail (and later trucks) to East Coast markets where retail butchers completed the processing (Chandler 1977, 300). Boxed beef further broke down these sides of beef into sub-prime units which were vacuum packed in plants closer to cattle lots. The additional processing lowered the cost of transportation, improved shelf-life, and allowed unusuable byproducts (like bone and fat) to be processed and sold more profitability.


[5] Boxed beef was reportedly introduced into Michigan years before after a trucker’s strike cut off shipments of locally slaughtered, carcass beef while boxed beef was trucked in from out-of-state packing plants on the Great Plains, which constituted a breech of the National Labor Relations Act (1935). I say reportedly in this case because business history is often hard to document and stories like this one are normally passed around by word-of-mouth, which is, of course, totally deniable should someone uncharacteristically decide to enforce the law.

[6] About a year later this president was indicted by a federal grand jury in an effort to clean up the union, but he was never convicted (

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Hickman Explains God’s Presence

Hickman, Closer than Close

Hickman Explains God’s Presence

Dave Hickman. 2016. Closer than Close: Awakening to the Freedom of Your Union with Christ. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Since I graduated from seminary in October 2013, I have spent increasing time working as an author alone. In my early seminary years, I was working as an economist full-time and traveling to classes once a month; later when I retired from government, I traveled to classes twice a month. Before and during seminary, I was a perpetual motion machine; now, I am still busy, but now I am busy alone. What’s different? I now longer feel a need to have music playing—I am content to work and live in silence. I share my day with God and am mostly at peace, even in the midst of daily chaos.


David Hickman, in his book, Closer than Close, writes:

“After years of striving to be close to Jesus, I stumbled upon the shocking reality that Jesus was already as close to me as he could possibly get. It was then that I discovered, in the words of Philip Yancey, ‘Jesus I never knew.’ Striving was replaced with abiding.” (xv)

When Jesus talks in the seventh Beatitude—Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God (Matt 5:9), he refers to the Jewish concept of shalom, where shalom (שָׁלוֹם) means “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace” (BDB 10002) and not the more limited idea of reconciliation, which remains more familiar. Hence, Hickman can say: “union with Christ has long been considered to be the central message of the Gospel” (xxvi) embodied in the word abiding and in the idea of being children of God—we are all brothers and sisters of our father in heaven.


Stilling, abiding is more than being members of God’s family. Hickman writes:

“What if the union I longed to have with my son was but a pale reflection of a ‘oneness’ I always longed to have with Jesus? What if Jesus never wanted to have a ‘close relationship’ with me? What if he always wanted to be ‘one’ with me instead?” (18)

This abiding is not a new idea, it is a very old idea that has its roots in the unity of God in the Shema (25-26):

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)

In some sense, the unity modeled by the Trinity abides most clearly in the Gospel of John.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:4-7)

Being Close

Obviously, Hickman wanders into the deep end of the pool here—I know that in my own experience, this sort of relationship with God “just is” and is hard to talk about it when people ask. How do you talk about the most intimate relationships with anyone else? It feels like something between bragging and betraying a confidence.

Hickman’s discourse on the union with God organizes around the meta-narrative of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. However, he recasts the biblical narrative in terms of union, disunion, reunion, and promise of perfect union (48). Stated in this way, our union with God models after the Trinity and models into our faith journey.

While many aspects of theology can come up, I found Hickman’s implication for the spiritual disciplines the most interesting. He summarizes his comments under four topics:  doing nothing, praying simply, staying attentive, and being led (104).  Let me focus on each in turn.

Doing Nothing.

Hickman writes: “it takes more faith to believe we are loved and accepted by God when we are doing nothing than when we are doing as much as we can for God.” (105) Repeat that ten times. Our salvation depends wholly on the work of Christ and does not depend on anything that we have done. Hickman uses the example of a child in the womb—the body of the child matures naturally as the child abides in the mother’s womb and has nothing to prove or do (107). This concept of abiding in Christ immediately affects our attitude about prayer.

Praying Simply.

Hickman makes a profound statement: “prayer is more about who we are praying to than what we are saying.” (109) Again, he draws on an analogy to one of his children.  Before he could speak; he asked for a bagel by pointing to the bagel and then pointing to his mouth (113). Prayer reminds us of a child pointing at things needed throughout the day.

Staying Attentive.

Hickman notes that “the question is not whether God is fully present in our lives, but if we are living fully aware of God’s presence.” (115) Of course, sometimes God needs to draw our attention a bit more dramatically than usual, because of our inattention.  Hickman refers to these as “love letters” from God (115).[1]

Being Led.

Hickman describes spiritual direction as: “The discipline of being led [which] involves the willingness to entrust yourself to someone else’s care.” (124) Spiritual direction is not counseling; it is not teaching; it involves having someone point to God’s work in your life and helping you find your true self in Christ.

David Hickman’s book, Closer than Close, is a fascinating exposition of the nature of God’s union with us. The New Testament discusses this relationship but details seldom appear elsewhere. In my case, Closer than Close gave me a framework for discussing my own faith journey. Words matter. If you are serious about your faith, then this book is for you.


Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

[1] I have sometimes talked about God’s little Easter Eggs in reference to scientific discoveries that God has placed in our path so that we would find them.  Hickman’s love letters focus on God’s revealing of himself.

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