Wednesday, October 12, 2016


“Exile remains exile, and Babylon remains Babylon, but both are penetrated, are charged, by the promise of deliverance. For Old Testament Israel, deliverance is understood as return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. For New Testament Israel, deliverance is arrival at the destination of the long pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem.”

-          Father Richard John Neuhaus – “American Babylon” (2009)

Ever since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President, I’ve argued as passionately as I could that he was not presidential material. I spent a lot of time outlining why, from policy differences where I could find them and by trying to determine his character traits based on the wealth of information that was readily available. To me, and many others, he was manifestly unfit for the high office he sought.

That was months ago. Since then, he has swept through a small army of Republican candidates like a hot knife through butter. That list included the candidate I was supporting, Marco Rubio. We’re now a month out from the general election and it appears that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump, are on the cusp of an unmitigated disaster. While I can’t predict it with certainty, I suspect that Donald Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton and the Republican Party may well lose the House and Senate. It’s the doomsday scenario that would give Hillary Clinton complete control of the agenda, including the nomination of Supreme Court justices, expanding the Democrats’ battle with the pro-life movement by repealing the Hyde Amendment and continuing America’s retreat from principle on the international stage.

Over the past few days I’ve been interacting with some of the people I know on Facebook. Most, but not all, are fellow Christians. Some aren’t pleased with me because of the positions I’ve taken vis a vis Mr. Trump. That’s fine. We’re all free moral agents.

I find the vast majority of their arguments in favor of a Trump candidacy unpersuasive, but there is one that I believe I need to consider. The argument they’ve forwarded is that Donald Trump is now a Christian and because of that he deserves a chance to be the President.

Does he?

I’m sure there are a lot of people who are howling that the idea that Donald Trump is now an Evangelical Christian. The internet is buzzing from coast to coast. The gloating is palpable, even through the airwaves. I know a few people here locally who’ve been savaging Trump since the now famous audio tapes were released. I get it. The defeat of their nemesis is immanent and they’re gloating, like the Philistines taunting Samson in the temple of Dagon or the Pharisees mocking Jesus at his trial. It’s going to be happening for a while, particularly as more and more revelations about Donald Trump surface. Trump’s adversaries and critics aren’t done and there’s not much we can do about it.

Is Donald Trump’s conversion sincere? Most would say no, but I’m not one of them. I take it at face value, in the same way I accepted Bill Clinton’s public repentance after the Lewinsky affair. I’m sure that a lot of people don’t accept Bill Clinton’s turnaround. But, as Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural, “let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

Having said that, does it now follow that I should vote for Donald Trump? 

I don’t believe it does.

First, conversion doesn’t erase all of Donald Trump’s character flaws in an instant. They were years in the making and I suspect rooting them out will also take years. Conversion to Christianity is just the beginning of what is, or should be, a life-long pilgrimage.

Second, and most important, I’m bothered that some Trump supporters, particularly Evangelical leaders, continue to push his candidacy. Why? Can’t they see that what they’re doing is lighting even more candles to entice the moth. If they truly care about Donald Trump and his soul they would do the things necessary to eliminate the temptation of political power and the obstacles the limelight have placed in his path. They need to ask themselves what is more important, temporal power or Donald Trump’s eternal destiny. They need to ask themselves, “Is my interest more in preserving my place of privilege and power than it is in Donald Trump’s soul?”

Donald Trump needs time and space, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get it. I doubt that he’s read about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), but many of his enablers have. They know full well that the early days after conversion to Christianity can be perilous. They know that the seeds of hope are sometimes sown into thorny ground, where “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

If Donald Trump is to have any chance of making his “confession” real, he needs to be separated from the thorny ground of politics. I fear that his enablers aren’t going to let that happen. Do they care more about maintaining their lofty perches than they do about Donald Trump? The best that I can say is that I’m suspicious of their motives.

I’m going to follow with the accounts of three people that will, I believe, demonstrate conclusively that what I’ve said is true. The first is Paul, the man who is considered one of the New Testament giants. He’s called an apostle. The second is Charles Colson, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, and the third is me.

Almost every Christian knows the story of Paul. The account of his conversion from Judaism to Christianity on the Damascus Road is high drama, particularly when Saul, as he was known prior to his conversion, was zealously persecuting Christians. The New Testament accounts shortly after his conversion show that there was a great deal of fear within the Christian community about him. Was his conversion sincere? There were, understandably, doubters.

What did it take to convince them? Time. Paul spent three years in Arabia, learning, absorbing, and having Christian truth “revealed” to him. You can read about it at the end of the first chapter of Galatians. It was time well spent. Well over half of the New Testament letters were penned by Paul. His missionary journeys brought Christianity to the Gentile world. In one sense, he established what has become, in some circles, a tradition. Graduate studies in theology are generally completed in a three year period.

There may have been doubters when Paul was “born again.” Time and Paul’s sincerity convinced them that he was indeed a Christian.

Charles Colson was once considered Richard Nixon’s hatchet man. As Nixon’s White House counsel, he was a key player in the skullduggery that became known as Watergate. He was ruthless. It was said he would have run over his own mother if it meant protecting Richard Nixon. Like the rest of the Watergate conspirators, he got caught. Unlike many of the others, he went to prison. While in prison he was, as we Evangelicals say, “born again.”

Was his conversion sincere or was he just lobbying for a reduced sentence? There were many skeptics.
In the end, he proved them wrong. Colson’s conversion was real. As I sit here, I’m looking at a couple of his books, “The God of Stones and Spiders” and “Against the Night,” which I’ve read. I’ve also read his classic, “Born Again,” which I’ve read but don’t have a copy of. 

While in prison, he started what has become one of the most dynamic Christian ministries in the world, Prison Fellowship, which provides support to inmates and their families on the outside trying to hold their lives together.

I’ve read many of the essays he penned over the years for Christianity Today. They reveal a man of remarkable insight and faith.

In 1993 he won the prestigious Templeton Prize for religion which” honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”

Charles Colson died in 2012. I have absolutely no doubt I’ll see him in heaven some day!

I present myself as a third witness, not because I consider myself part of the pantheon, but because the process of my conversion demonstrates the same pattern.

People who knew me in the mid-sixties saw an amoral, ruthless man. In those days, I wouldn’t have hesitated to hurt, or even murder, if I felt I could get away with it or it was going to be to my advantage. That’s the man I was.

But, Christ changed me, from the inside out. I was “born again” in August of 1969.

People who knew me prior to my conversion were skeptical. I don’t blame them. 

The last thing I needed was the limelight. Thankfully, I was assigned military duty in Panama. When I got there I discovered that while I went to work, I really never had any work to do. That freed me up to study the Bible, which I’d never done, to meditate on what my conversion meant, and pray.  I was able to spend extended leave time with an Australian missionary, Bruce Haste, at his ministry base in the mountains. I still have fond memories of trekking up the mountains with Bruce and his trail ponies, visiting villages and delivering villagers from the scourge of superstition and witch doctors. I can still hear the voices of the Lutheran Hour and Billy Graham crusades flowing from the short wave as we rested at his home in the foothills prior to our next adventure.

I needed those eighteen months. They gave me the opportunity to start my pilgrimage as a grounded Christian who understood what his faith meant.

That’s what I believe Donald Trump needs. Unfortunately, that may not be what he’s going to get. The power brokers are being merciless. I believe they’re throwing him right back into the fire in a desperate attempt to protect their positions of power and privilege.

It’s a battle they’re going to lose. It’s a battle the Republican Party is going to lose and it’s a battle people of faith are going to lose.  The barbarians are at the gates and they’ve almost knocked the hinges off. 

What’s next? What does this mean for the Christian community?

In a word, it means captivity. In two words, it means Babylonian captivity.

What do I mean by that?

It’s interesting. Some current Trump supporters are saying that they’ll still vote for him. But, their anger is so kindled that they’re promising to vote out every Republican who has either disavowed or distanced themselves from Donald Trump. That opens the very real possibility of the Democratic Party re-taking the House and Senate. If I were a Democrat, I’d be salivating at the prospect. I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Reconciliation? Come on, now, you know that’s not true. How does it go? Revenge is a dish best served cold!

Before he died in 2009, Father Richard John Neuhaus penned a remarkable essay that foreshadowed where we are today. Toward the end of the essay, he cites the work of Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre:
“Abandoning the idea of moral truth, politics is no longer the deliberation of how we ought to order our life together but is now, in the words of Alasdair MacIntyre, warfare is carried on by other means. All politics is combat politics. There is no longer, some say, a common American culture, and we should stop pretending that there is. There are only subcultures. Choose your subculture, take up its grievances, contentions, and slogans, and prepare to do battle against the enemy. Liberated from the delusion that we and our opponents can together say “We Hold These Truths,” we are urged to recognize the futility of being locked in civil argument and accept the fact that there is no substitute for partisan victory.”

By the early evening on November 8th, I believe we’re going to see that a great battle has been lost. The Babylonian captivity will begin.

Laws will change, gradually. In time the composition of our courts will change. There won’t be brown shirts marching or Nuremberg-like rallies. There won’t be any evidence of gestapo tactics. It will be done with the precision of changes in law. Social mores will continue to shift, from our current speed of a ballistic missile to light speed.  Targets beyond groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor will increase in numbers. People of faith will become the minority report. They will have no say in the decision making processes. For all intents and purposes, they will become the captives.

I’m painting a bleak picture. Believe me, I hope I’m wrong. But I don’t believe I am. Hillary Clinton is going to take control and she’s been waiting in the wings, like Madame Defarge at the foot of the guillotine, for a long time. She’s going to be releasing all that pent up energy on those she’s affectionately called her “enemies” for years. Once that happens, it won’t be long till those of us who are members of the household of faith will be “hanging our harps on the willow trees.”

The road ahead is going to be difficult. We’ll be passing by the “slough of despond” and the “pillar of salt.” We’ll be tempted to go along at the “hill of lucre.” It’s going to be a long, difficult journey.

But, I remain hopeful. At the beginning of this essay I offered the following snippet from Father Neuhaus’s masterwork, “American Babylon.” He said, “For New Testament Israel, deliverance is arrival at the destination of the long pilgrimage toward the New Jerusalem.” I believe it's critically important for people of faith to embrace those words.

The Christian church has, unfortunately, needed the chastisement that’s about to come. We’ve been stiff-necked and rebellious. Too many of our leaders have lusted for power and prominence rather than taking the Biblical road of servanthood. We’ve had a decades long affair with temporal power and we’re going to pay a heavy price for our rebellion.

Until that redemptive work is done, we’ll need to endure the taunts of those in power. We’ll have to stand firm in the face of their edicts.

But, if we’re patient and faithful, we will pull through. The grace we’re about to receive may seem to be painful, but it will be what we need.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016


  I just finished reading two books. The first was Bill Buckley’s “Up from Liberalism,” which was his critique of the Liberalism of the 1950’s and his staunch defense of Conservatism. I loved it, in part because Buckley was a master of language, in part because he infuriated Liberals, and in part because I believe in many of the Conservative principles he advanced.

The book’s last paragraph beautifully expresses how I feel about individual liberty – “I will not willingly cede more power to anyone…I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God.”

The other book, J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” has had an even more profound impact on my thinking.
Vance is an anomaly.  He was born Kentucky coal mining country and raised by his grandparents in Middletown, Ohio. His early life was chaotic. His mother was addicted to drugs and a series of men who drifted in and out of her, and his, life. She was sometimes abusive. The Kentucky and Ohio landscapes of his youth were in the throes of a downward spiral. The once proud coal country of Kentucky and southern Ohio had been decimated. Unemployment, drug addiction, and perpetual government dependence had become the norms.

Yet, somehow, Vance escaped that fate. “Hillbilly Elegy” is the story of a man who clawed his way from desperate circumstances to a law degree from Yale and a budding career as an author and contributing opinion writer at the New York Times.

How did he do it?

While he was brutally honest about his family’s problems, he also talked openly of his love for his mother and her love for him. He heaped pages and pages of praise on his grandparents, whom he affectionately called “Mamaw” and “Papaw,” and the powerful impact they had on his life. While they were often crude and sometimes violent, Vance credits them with teaching him the value of hard work and education that opened the doors of opportunity for him.

So, J.D. Vance has clawed his way out of dire circumstances. He’s proud of his hillbilly roots. He’s not bitter, but he still casts a wary eye on elites and politicians, as he well should. They all too often have this nasty habit C.S. Lewis’s master demon, Screwtape, described as “an ingrained habit of belittling anything that concerns the great mass of their fellow men.”

Vance and I come from different parts of the country, but there are some common threads in our respective experiences. My father was a hardworking man, a chipper (ice man), by trade. He was also a roaring alcoholic. He died when I was six. My mother was an uneducated immigrant from Newfoundland. When my father died, she had a complete nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for a couple of years, which meant my brother, sister, and I became wards of the state during that time. Somehow, propelled by her love for us, she clawed her way past shock treatments and God knows what else to bring us back together. For years after that our lives were lived in tenements or government housing projects, under the ever-watchful eye of welfare department bureaucrats.

All these years later, I occasionally find it hard to believe we’ve done as well as we have.

Vance is quite charitable when it comes to his views on elites. I wish I could say that, but I can’t. I don’t like them and I don’t like being around them. I don’t feel comfortable in their worlds. I feel far more at home being around blue collar workers than I do being around movers and shakers. I prefer the company of the powerless to schmoozing with the powerful. 

I guess you can take the boy out of the tenements and housing projects, but you can’t take the tenements and housing projects out of the boy.

In his New York Times column this morning, Vance wrote about Hillary Clinton’s recent comment about “baskets of deplorables.” It was a very revealing Freudian slip. She later tried to temper her remark, claiming that she didn’t mean to vilify millions of Donald Trump supporters or other Americans who aren’t racists, bigots, homophobes, or xenophobes. But, the damage had been done. Hillary’s contempt for millions of her fellow citizens and her own brand of bigotry were exposed.

Vance finished by suggesting Hillary Clinton and her elite friends consider Jesus’ words about specks and planks (Matthew 7:3-5).

It was good advice. We Conservatives and Donald Trump’s “delporables” have our blind spots and prejudices, but so do Hillary and her fellow elites. Maybe it’s time for them to concentrate on their own sins rather than ours.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Ever since the carnage in Orlando my moods have careened wildly, from tiny slivers of hope, to despair, to grief, then rage.

I’d like to be able to say that my hopes are ascendant, but they’re not. Any solution to the ongoing slaughter seems to be all but impossible. The agencies tasked with protecting us from the evil in our midst are overwhelmed. F.B.I. Director James Comey recently said that stopping the lone wolves intent on murder and mayhem is like looking for a thousand tiny needles in a huge haystack. He admitted that the Bureau’s resources are paper thin. There are too many lone wolves and not enough agents or tracking mechanisms to deal effectively with them. In essence, he was telling us that incidents like Orlando have become part of our everyday landscape.

My despair deepens as I ask myself, “Who can fix this?” Can Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? Our political parties? Governors? City or County Commissioners? The answer to each of the questions is, unfortunately, “No!” 

We’ve all seen it played out. “It’s the Republicans’ fault.” “It’s the Democrats’.” “It’s the Muslim world’s.” “Conservative Christians are to blame.” It’s maddening. Recriminations aren’t solutions, but we sure love wallowing in them. What else can I feel but despair when this seems to be the only response to the terror we can muster up?

Then, grief sets in. I turn on cable news. The names and faces of the slain scroll, like the after credits of a Hollywood film. So many of the faces seem to be joyful. They’re brief glimpses of lives that once were, with promising futures ahead of them. But, they’re all gone now, taken by a malevolent creature I’ll forever refuse to give the dignity of a name.

I don’t know any of them, but I know that had parents, friends, and loved ones who are feeling an even deeper sense of grief that I am. I think if the names and wonder how wounded my heart would be if I saw the names of my sons and daughter as they passed by on the screen. “Jarrod Thomas Dillon…Born October 30th, 1968.” “Elizabeth Noel Hook…Born December 17th, 1970.” “Michael Joseph Dillon…Born November 14th, 1973.”

My grief intensifies, then gives way to deep seated rage. Like an Old Testament warrior, I want to “dash them to pieces.” But who are they? I can’t see their faces, nor do I know their names. They’re more like wisps floating around in the mists of evil than human beings. How can I possibly direct my rage against something like that? It might hit some target, but would it be the intended target? Would it make me feel better in the end?  No! It would be like running the proverbial fool’s errand.

But, the rage doesn’t go away. It lingers. I’ve got to release it and the only direction that makes sense to me in my muddled state is heaven itself. I ask the same questions that have been asked for millennia: “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?” “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

There are no bolts from the blue in response, but I find myself once again realizing that somehow, some day, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight.”
We really need to cling to our hopes for the future, but what of today? 

For me, the clearest expression of what you and I must do today comes from the mouth of Samwise Gamgee, Frodo Baggins’ companion in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” At a perilous point in their journey, Frodo is so burdened by his task that he’s ready to give up. Samwise reminds him of the past and the promise of a beautiful future- “How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.” He reminds him that others before him felt like giving up, but didn’t because “they were holding on to something.” And, finally, he reminds Frodo of what they held on to. “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”
And, so it is for our time. It’s come full circle. There is some good in the world and we must do our part and fight the good fight of faith to preserve it.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


In my last op-ed, I wrote about the groundswell of support Donald Trump is getting from white, working-class Americans. As far as they’re concerned, he can do no wrong. He’s convinced them that, if elected, he’ll make America “great again.”

I’m not a Trump supporter, but I have friends who are. They don’t understand why I won’t vote for him. I tell them that voting for Donald Trump would be like voting for Vlad the Impaler.  I also have a few Progressive friends tell me I should vote for Hillary. I can’t. I have a conscience. I’d no more vote for Hillary Clinton than I would for Lizzie Borden and her axe. 

Right now, the so-called smart money seems to be on Hillary. Democratic Party big-wigs are licking their chops, sensing that their champion is going to beat Trump to a bloody pulp.

It may well turn out that way, but that hasn’t stopped the Trumpkins. He’s promised them that he’ll make America great again and that’s enough for them. Sound logic and good sense should be prevailing, but they’re not.  Trump’s supporters keep on believing and dreaming. 

Who doesn’t occasionally dream? When I was a kid, I dreamed of playing left field for the Boston Red Sox. My hero, Ted Williams was closing in on the end of his career and, in my flights of fancy, I visualized myself taking his place, hitting the big home run or making the game-saving spectacular catch in front of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. But, two realities got in my way. First, the Red Sox weren’t in the market for a no-hit, no-field wonder and, second, Carl Yastrzemski, a future hall of famer, was waiting in the wings.

The closest I ever got to the Green Monster was an occasional bleacher seat.

Reality can be a brutally efficient teacher. One of my best buddies in high school was a guy named Stevie McNeely. He was a great guy, blessed with Irish wit and a sense of optimism like no one I’ve ever met. He could always see the bright side. His real claim to fame was that his cousin, Tom, was an up-and-coming heavyweight boxer. Stevie would occasionally brag about Tom and his undefeated record. He was my best friend, so I pretended to be impressed.

We didn’t see much of each other after we both graduated from high school in June of 1960, but, our paths did cross again in the fall of 1961. Tom was going to be fighting Floyd Patterson for the world heavyweight title in December. 

By the time the fight with Patterson came, Tom McNeely’s record was 23 and 0. Quite impressive! Stevie told me that Tom had dreamed he was going to knock Patterson out. I didn’t want to insult my best friend, but I couldn’t help but laugh. “Patterson’s gonna’ kill him, Stevie. The only way he’ll ever beat Patterson is in his dreams.”

It nearly ended the friendship.

Tom McNeely kept on dreaming. On the night of the fight, he daydreamed all the way through the pre-fight announcements about who was going to sing the national anthem at his first title defense.

Then, reality set in.

The fight lasted four rounds. According to the official count, McNeely was knocked down eleven times before the referee mercifully ended his dreams. It took a few years, but Tom was eventually able to look back at the fight with a sense of humor. He said that, while the official count was eleven, he was convinced that Patterson had knocked him down twelve or thirteen. He even joked that he was being hit so hard and so often that he thought “the referee was sneaking in some punches.”

The only heavyweight title fight I’ve ever read about that matched it for brutal efficiency was the Primo Carnera – Max Baer title fight in 1934. Baer knocked Carnera down thirteen times, but it took him eleven rounds to do it. 

I have friends who are Donald Trump supporters, so I’m going to try one last time to get through to them. There’s no good outcome for you in this election cycle. Hillary may win or Donald Trump may win, but you’ll lose either way. Hillary and the Democratic Party don’t like working class white men any more. Your pockets aren’t deep enough for their tastes. And, Donald Trump has no intention of fulfilling his so-called promises to you. As they say on 42nd Street, he’s going to shoot you right through the grease.

You may not like it, but I’m writing this as someone who cares about you. It’s time to wake up! By the time these two are done with you you’re gonna’ wind up with cauliflower ears and pug noses. That’s the reality that’s about d crash down on you.