Top Quotes from finishing Chuck Colson’s autobiography from the Nixon White House and Watergate. WH Y did this book resonate so much with me?

photo: Thanksgiving day, 2018

Four areas that really resonated with me in this book – WHY I connected with this:

  1. Salvation is both an event and a process: It is clear when Chuck is saved, but his detailed reflections on the process where he begins to change how he acts in more conformity to who he is was quite astounding. He tells the story not of an angry God pushing Chuck to mature faster, but a patient, loving Father who faithfully works by His Spirit to change our actions by changing our core desires. He moved Chuck from a man of pride in the wrong sense to a man of confident humility as an instrument of change in so many lives one on one.
  1. In reading I can hear echos of my grandfathers voice in my head: This story takes place in the year I was born, 1971. My grandfather had this book and I remember hearing him talk about Chuck often, it was almost like they were friends and Boppa was in the Fellowship with Tom Phillips and Howard, etc. I hear phrases and words from Chuck that Boppa said reflecting those times and years. This is why he was involved in business and prayer breakfasts and the church and fellowships the way he and his wife were. This is why he gave faithfully to Prison Ministries – this book captured him as it did me in mind-changing ways. He also wore the dark rimmed glasses like Chuck did :-); I miss him very much and have for many years now.
  1. Who doesn’t like being valued and needed by the boss? In Chuck’s case, he is valued by the presidents of the United States who regularly reaches out to him to accomplish a variety of tasks and missions. He flies to Florida with the Nixons for a weekend away just the four of them. As a Christian, then, he wrestles with no longer finding his identity in being needed to still working exceptionally hard and smart, now influenced ultimately by a mission for a higher King.
  1. Christian fellowship is like no other club in the world: When you see arch enemies politically and socially coming together around one table and then praying, something different must be going on. There are countless scenes in this book where the contrast of characters in one room is almost too much to get your head around. The only explanation can be that when Christ calls us to love others, including our enemies, he changes our hearts in a way from the inside out that we actually WANT to do that. That is why the title is Born Again – we are born a second time with a new and different nature.

Collection of top quotes I enjoyed

Chuck owns his mistake and names it:

Our fortress mentality plunged us across the moral divide, leading to “enemy lists,” a new refinement on the ancient spoils system of rewarding friends and punishing enemies. Other excesses came, as the shadowy form of the demon that would strike down the 37th President of the United States was now slowly taking shape—like a genie drifting out of a bottle.

In our small White House circle, machismo and toughness were equated with trust and loyalty; these were keys to the cherished kingdom guaranteeing continued closeness to the throne. Hubris became the mark of the Nixon man because hubris was the quality Nixon admired most. Small wonder that ambitious young men like Magruder and Haldeman’s other eager, unquestioning young lieutenants sought through tough talk and derring-do to prove their political virility to Nixon and those of us around him. Maybe it was bald stupidity to expect to get away with breaking into one of the most heavily guarded office buildings in Washington, but it sure was hubris. As in time I was to realize, whether we—Colson, Mitchell, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, yes, even Richard Nixon—knew about Watergate in advance, might later be important as a legal distinction, but it made little moral difference. We had set in motion forces that would sooner or later make Watergate, or something like it, inevitable.

A businessman, Tom Phillips, who was building culture in his sphere as president at Raytheon was who the Lord used to change Chuck:

When I entered his office it was the same old Tom, jet-black hair, athletic build, stripped down to shirtsleeves as always. But the smile was a lot warmer, radiant, in fact, and he looked more relaxed than I had ever seen him. In the old days, though always genial, he had a harried look—with phones ringing, secretaries running in and out of the office, his desk piled high with paper. Now there was something serene about his office as well as about Tom. “Tell me about yourself, Chuck. How have you been doing?” he began.

We had talked for twenty minutes and nothing at all had been said about religion. Yet Tom was different. There was a new compassion in his eyes and a gentleness in his voice. “Uh—Brainerd tells me that you have become very involved in some religious activities,” I said at last.

“I’d like to tell you the whole story someday, Chuck. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t think my life was worth anything. Now everything is changed—attitude, values, the whole bit.” Phillips was boggling my mind. Life isn’t worth anything, he says, when you’re president of the biggest company in the state, have a beautiful home, a Mercedes, a great family, probably a quarter-million-a-year salary. . . . But he had struck a raw nerve—the empty life. It was what I was living with, though I couldn’t admit that to Tom. I went back to Washington to struggle with my inner malaise—and Watergate—and Phillips’s astonishing words.

New Year’s weekend I found a breath of hope in a small news item from San Clemente, reporting that Nixon was reading a recently published book about Lincoln. I knew at once it was Elton Trueblood’s work on Lincoln’s spiritual life. Tom Phillips had given it to me in September to read and perhaps pass on to the President. I had found the book spiritually stimulating as it portrayed Lincoln’s slow conversion in 1862, his gradual turning to the Almighty for guidance and strength. I had sent my copy to Nixon in November. The President had never acknowledged receiving it, and I had wondered if he felt I was pushing him. Now I knew he was reading it.

Watergate was not just a disgrace but a dangerous unfolding act putting our nation at risk in ways we did not see at the time:

Never, in my opinion, has the American government been in greater peril, not even when the Capitol was threatened by Lee’s forces advancing across the Potomac. While the entire government was drifting aimlessly, a four-star Army general spent the last days of Mr. Nixon’s presidency taking almost full control of the governmental machinery, negotiating with his chief’s successor, asking the Pentagon to disregard any order from its constitutionally designated commander and in the final hours working sensitively behind the scenes so that the secretary of state and congressional leaders could persuade the President to step aside. Similar circumstances in other countries have resulted in bloodless coups. Fortunately for America, General Haig is a man of responsibility and integrity. And so it was that Mr. Nixon, exhausted by his last desperate convulsions, was unable to the end to recognize the lie with which he had lived or the apocalyptic forces it had unleashed.

In reading Grisham books, which I love, I have not been transported into the daily fear and realities of prison life like this (except of course in Innocent Man by Grisham). Chuck painted a photographic picture through his words:

Men lay on their bunks with glazed eyes, staring at nothing. There was some idle chatter, but unlike any group of men I had been with before there was no laughter, no jokes nor good humor. A harsh epithet, an angry outburst or the sounds of locker doors being opened and closed were the main sounds above a few pockets of conversation and the steady whining of the fan. I sat on the edge of my bunk trying to describe it all in a letter to the brothers at Fellowship House. While I knew that the stark drabness of my dormitory would be burned into my consciousness forever, in time as my sensitivities dulled I would get used to it. “I want you brothers to read this back to me when I am out of here and inclined to forget what the initial shock was like,” I wrote. “I want to be reminded how great the need is for prisoners to establish their identity and dignity as human beings. My heart aches. . .

I had just studied Hebrews 2 where we are shown that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers – I did not see this one coming at the same time in this autobiography:

For the rest of my life I would know and feel what it is like to be imprisoned, the steady, gradual corrosion of a man’s soul, like radiation slowly burning away tissue. Just as God in the Person of Christ was not ashamed to call us his brothers, so it was that I should not be ashamed to call each of these fellow inmates my brothers. Furthermore, I was to love each one of them. And would I—if I had not been here? Never, I admitted to myself. Out of these startling thoughts came the beginning of a revelation—that I was being given a prison ministry, both inside while serving as a prisoner and then someday later on the outside! Already I could see and feel that prison life did not provide the creative correction and training needed for a man to be able to make a new beginning on the outside. Instead it was geared to use the men as labor, punish them if necessary and disregard their inner spirits as of no consequence.

This is not a story of suffering which ends when Chuck flees to Christ as his daily refuge from the storm. It is a story of how the Lord transformed Chuck even through hard things getting harder:

Two days later I was summoned to the prison office. “It’s your attorney,” the duty marshal told me as he handed me the phone. The trip-hammer went off inside me again. Stupidly I still believed every call would be the one telling me I was free. “Chuck, are you ready for a tough one?” The voice on the other end was Ken Adams. How many tough ones are left? I wondered. “Go ahead, Ken.”

That I couldn’t be at my son’s side made the pain intense. I never once thought, however, that God had forsaken me. More testing, yes, and more teaching from him. I knew all the scriptural references that tell us to praise him no matter what, but alone by my bunk that cold, bleak January night I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. Surely God could not expect me to praise him for my son’s life being ruined! And how long must the agony continue? My license to practice law was gone, my son imprisoned, my dad gone, my compatriots freed and over two years of a three-year sentence still staring me in the face. Though I knew I could not give up, those next days were the most difficult of any that I had spent in prison, probably the most difficult of my life.

Chuck had opportunities to return to law and business and other ventures. He was being called to something different for which he had been uniquely shaped and prepared:

At the time, Harold suggested that we visit Norman Carlson, head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Carlson agreed to meet with us, and I spent the first half hour of the meeting telling him why his prisons couldn’t work, why prisoners weren’t rehabilitating—everything that was wrong with the system. That was a brash act on my part, telling the head of the prison system why his prisons were no good! I’m convinced the only reason he didn’t throw us out was that Harold Hughes was praying the whole time. When I finished, I asked Carlson if we could take inmates out of prison for two weeks, bring them to Washington, D.C., and disciple them as I had been discipled. He answered with a brief story and a question: “Mr. Colson, a few weeks ago my wife and I were at the Terminal Island Prison in Southern California. On Sunday we went to chapel. At one point in the service, the chaplain asked the inmates to join in with spontaneous prayers, and an inmate in the back prayed for me and my wife. Why did he do that?” The question startled me. “Well, Mr. Carlson,” I finally answered, “that man is a Christian, and we’re taught to pray for those in authority.” “But I’m the one keeping him in prison,” Carlson pointed out. I took a chance in that electric moment. “Mr. Carlson,” I answered, “that man prayed for you because he loves you.”

Today we have two great ministry efforts that complement each other. Through Prison Fellowship we seek to disciple inmates who will stand as living monuments of God’s grace, so that others may see the Gospel made incarnate—God’s invisible kingdom made visible in their midst—through the lives of prisoners redeemed by the power of Jesus Christ. At the same time, our BreakPoint ministry focuses on teaching a biblical worldview so that the Church once again can be salt and light as God intended, so that we live out the truth of the Gospel in such a way as to have a significant influence in reforming the moral values of our culture—thus helping to remedy the crime problem as well as other social ills. The growth of both of these ministries, which are necessarily conjoined and collaborative, stands today as a living testimony to God’s commands to overcome evil with good and defend the truth.

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