Mark Hatfield shouldn't have had time for me, but all he needed was three minutes to redirect my whole life. And I still don't know exactly what he was trying to say.

When I heard this week that Hatfield, the 89 year-old former United States senator from Oregon, had died, I didn't think immediately of his anti-war passion during the Vietnam era, his denunciations of the nuclear arms race, or even his writings on being a Christian in public life. I thought instead about those three minutes when I, at the very beginning of my career, stood in a busy intersection at the U.S. Capitol talking with Hatfield about Christ.

He was probably on autopilot, rehearsing in his mind what he would say at the Appropriations Committee meeting later, for all I know. An annoyed staffer stood just behind him checking his watch, while he talked to one of thousands of young nobodies working on Capitol Hill. But three minutes was enough to change everything for me.

Hatfield, of course, was a prominent and respected U.S. senator, and I was nobody, one more young staffer working for a congressman who was then himself young and early in his tenure. But I had read a second-hand copy of a book by Hatfield on reconciling his faith with his political career, and, passing him in the hall of the Capitol, I stopped him to ask his counsel. Early in my teenage years, I'd experienced what I'd believed to be a call to ministry, but I had outgrown that, and now wanted to chase a political career.

There in Washington, working for a U.S. congressman, I was feeling really guilty and conflicted about that, though, and was being drawn more and more toward ministry. I thought Hatfield would give me a pep talk about how Christians were needed in politics, ...

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