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Of God, Heroes, and Chuck Colson

April 21, 2012

(This post, one of our most popular, was originally published April 21, 2012. It was lost in cyberspace when we changed our web address, and recently found by a WordPress Happiness Engineer. We are reposting for the benefit of our newer followers and to restore our archives.)

I haven’t had many heroes.

For most of my life, however, I idealized certain individuals whom I surmised had unblemished characters and irreproachable motives. I was always shocked and dismayed when I learned – over and over – that someone I had assumed was purer than life left messy carbon footprints, just like me.

We humans are flawed, fallen creatures.  We make mistakes. We lie. We sin. And under duress, we are each capable of committing unspeakable acts of violence, deceit, selfishness, and betrayal.

It all started in the garden, baby. “She gave it to me to eat.” “But the serpent made me do it.”

Surveys show that only a small percentage of people believe that the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is literally true. You know, the one about God creating a perfect world, populating it with one man and one woman who literally “had it all,” but out of his selfless love and perfect justice, gave them free will, then had to watch them louse everything up for every new being until the end of time?

Yeah, that one.

But that simple story is replete with the most profound wisdom. It captures the essence and reality of human existence as it has been through every age.   It explains why the world is broken. Why we sin.  Why we yearn with hearts unfilled for reconnection with the One who wound our need for him into our very DNA.

The story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace lays the foundation for a Christian understanding of the world, a biblical worldview.  From this beginning, the Bible takes us on a journey of understanding who we are, why things are the way they are, how we can fix the brokenness of the world and our own hearts, and how we can fill the void within us.

Growing up in a Christian home in the Bible belt, I had heard the story of Adam and Eve countless times when the greatest teacher I ever had insisted that I must believe it literally.

Whoa! Literally?  Really? After all,I was a liberal Presbyterian from Memphis, Tennessee, a graduate of Rhodes College (okay, it was Southwestern at Memphis back in my day) with an MBA and decades of life experience. Like most well educated and worldly Tennesseans, I was more than a bit skittish about flirting with extreme Christian fundamentalism like those crazy hillbilly snake handlers over in East Tennessee. Couldn’t I just accept the story conceptually? Symbolically?

No, he insisted, if you do not fully understand and embrace the quintessential importance of the Fall as an actual historical event, you will only see through the mirror darkly. It matters that it is a true story. Because understanding the Fall is the beginning of understanding life.

I was amazed, confused, discombobulated.  This man, this renowned teacher and author, was an intellectual. A learned man of great standing who, before he became a Christian, was known to be mentally tough, ruthless, and agnostic.

That teacher was Chuck Colson.  In time, I understood what he was saying, and why he said it with such passion and conviction. And courage.

Chuck Colson was my hero.

At first look, Chuck was an unlikely hero.  He was not tall and imposing, nor conventionally handsome. I suspect he was an introvert.  He was a tough ex-Marine, a disbarred attorney, an ex-con whose life and reputation imploded in the Watergate scandal. He went from being one of the most powerful men in the country (as Special Council to President Nixon) to one of the most reviled.

Slate  writer David Plotz once described Chuck Colson as “Richard Nixon’s hard man, the ‘evil genius’ of an evil administration.”  Chuck notoriously quipped that he would walk over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon, a quote that quickly morphed into the more compelling “would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon.” Not the makings of your typical hero.

When Watergate happened, I was young and disinterested in anything that wasn’t about me. When Chuck’s conversion to evangelical Christianity was reported by skeptical reporters, I was only mildly curious. His founding of and passionate involvement in Prison Fellowship Ministries was only a small blip on my radar screen.  But in 2005, when I chanced upon a copy of his autobiography Born Again, I was Mrs. Eddie Settles. Eddie was struggling to find hope in a hellacious war waged on him by the IRS. (That story – or book – is for another day.)  Suddenly, Chuck’s life story had particular meaning for me. I read Born Again. And my life was changed for evermore.

A quick synopsis:

I shared Born Again with Eddie. We both began to read Chuck’s other books and listen to his Breakpoint radio commentaries. Like Chuck, we became passionate about the study of biblical worldview. A year later, we were thrilled to be selected for the fourth class of Chuck’s Breakpoint Centurions. (See Sidebar) For the next 13 months, Eddie and I were privileged to study with and about extraordinary Christian teachers and thinkers. Three residencies in the Washington, D.C. area allowed us to hear, learn, and worship with Chuck; the Centurions faculty; Prison Fellowship staff; and our amazing fellow Centurions. We emerged from the program with renewed hearts and a personal ministry that fed our souls and our minds.

Today, 80-year old Cbuck Colson met Jesus. Several weeks ago, he fell ill while speaking to an annual gathering of Centurions in Washington.  He had emergency neurosurgery to remove a pooling of blood on his brain. Though the first signs looked positive, earlier this week his family was called to his side to say goodbye.

For over thirty years, Chuck had spent every Easter preaching in prisons.  This was the first year he missed. His worldwide ministry transformed the lives of millions of people, from convicted murderers to CEO’s to single moms. His life was a testimony to God’s grace, and proof of God’s unconditional love for us, his flawed and fallen children.

For all of the things Chuck Colson taught me, for showing me how a life of courage and purpose and selflessness looks, for showing the world how God’s grace can defeat disgrace, I thank God for Chuck Colson.

Eternal peace be with you, Chuck, thou good and faithful servant.

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