Louis Zamperini, b. 1917 – d. 2014

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalA great number of people may not be familiar with the name Louis Zamperini, but the man’s fame is beginning to spread. In May the Whittier Daily News carried an article reporting that this ninty-seven-year-old would be the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Rose Parade, this after the book about his life, Unbroken, hit the New York Times best-seller list. On top of that, a movie based on the book is due out this coming December.

The only sad part of this story is that Louie Zamperini passed away earlier this month. The joyous part, besides his successful athletic career and his World War II heroism, is his transformed life. Some might even say Louie was a miracle.

As a fifteen-year-old, Louie was bordering on juvenile delinquency, though I don’t know if that term was in use yet.

Thankfully, his success as a runner provided him with a meaningful channel for all his energy and drive and got him off the streets and into school. After setting records at USC, he made the 1936 US Olympic team.

However, another turn in his life lay ahead. World War II dashed his hopes of returning to the Olympics to run for a medal.

While serving in the Air Force Louie’s plane was shot down. He and two others survived, only to be adrift on the Pacific Ocean for forty-seven days (one man died a month into the ordeal). Unfortunately the two US servicemen were “rescued” by the Japanese and consigned to a prisoner of war camp. The treatment there was cruel.

Once again, events in Louie’s life changed him:

He returned from the war a haunted man, filled with bitterness and rage, his once promising running career over. Suffering from what today would be recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini took to heavy drinking. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

God had preserved and protected this man for a reason, though. He had not seen the last of dramatic twists in the direction his life would take. In what I consider to be Apostle-Paul-like fashion, Louie changed again, this time not because his circumstances were different, but because he was.

Then everything changed.

After attending a 1949 Billy Graham revival tent meeting on the streets of Los Angeles at the insistence of his wife, Cynthia, Zamperini said he experienced a rebirth and Christian conversion that was to guide the rest of his days. (Obituary, Whittier Daily News)

Probably the greatest evidence of his changed life was his ability to forgive those who had tortured him, in particular the commander in charge of both the prisoner of war camps in which Louie was taken. In essence, when he met Christ, the supernatural power of His Spirit brought peace to Louie’s life.

After Louie met Billy, the former POW never had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the Bird [the commander responsible for his torture]. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him. He forgave Jimmie Sasaki [a Japanese man who had graduated from USC] for pretending to be his friend when he really was his enemy. The turmoil of his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the right path.

Zamp began to speak about his experiences. He wasn’t afraid to talk about his new faith, but he resolved that he would never push his thinking on anyone (Awesome Stories, p. 12).

No need for Louie to try to make people listen. God clearly has opened a door for the world to hear bout this one changed life.

I don’t know if the movie will mention Louie’s coming to Christ or even Victory Boys Camp, the organization he founded in 1952 for troubled teens. But that’s OK. Louie Zamperini’s life can be an example that prepares soil for some or shines the light on the path to Jesus for others. God can use him even now after he has heard the “Well-done, good and faithful servant,” from the Master he served.

When he was adrift on that raft back in 1943, he’d prayed

If you will save me,
I will serve you forever.

For years he struggled to live the life God had saved without serving Him in return. I don’t really believe in “bargaining with God,” but it’s apparent that God in fact wanted Louie to serve Him.

Louie fought against God’s call on his life. His wife wanted him to go to listen to that preacher Billy Graham, and Louie said no. Over and over he said no. When he finally gave in, he left early. His wife asked him to go back. Finally he agreed, only if they would leave at the point that the preacher would tell them to bow their heads.

Zamp returned to the tent, fully planning to leave at the predetermined time. Then, he heard Billy say these words:

    What kind of life are you living? Are you satisfied with your life?

Louie reacted to Dr. Graham’s words:

Just then, my whole rotten sinful life passed before my eyes and I began to get an inkling of what I feared I had to do. Only I didn’t want to do it. Why? Men prefer darkness to light. How could I give up the parties and the liquor and living for the moment and the fun? (Devil at My Heels, page 241.)

Zamp grabbed Cynthia’s hand and told her they were leaving. When he got to the aisle, something made him change his mind:

…I got to the aisle. I stepped onto the sawdust path and knew it was my crossroads of decision. I fought against it, perhaps harder than I’d ever fought, but in the end I made my decision, turned right, toward Billy Graham, released Cynthia’s hand … (Devil at My Heels, page 242.)

(Awesome Stories, p. 11; quotes from Louis Zamperini’s autobiography)

From The Rag Bag – 2014

All-3-Wilderking-BooksJust bits and pieces of this and that today.

Good news on the Christian fantasy front. Accomplished author and all-around nice guy Jonathan Rogers is re-releasing The Wilderking Trilogy, his middle grade fantasies about the feechie folk. They’re being published by Rabbit Room Press, the independent publisher that is putting out Andrew Peterson’s final Wingfeather Saga novel later this year. If you’re interested, you can pre-order Jonathan’s books from RRP.

I’m sad the blog tour for Donita Paul’s One Realm Beyond is over, though I still have a number of sites yet to visit. I love blog tours! 😉

Sticking with the genre for a bit, the nominations opened this week for the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction. Readers can nominate a book at either the award site or at SpecFaith. Already we have twenty-eight books that have been nominated. I hope readers will consider taking a look at that list and turning them into to be read books.

And now to the Olympics. I haven’t seen much of the Sochi games. To be honest, it’s a little hard to get excited about winter sports when we’re having days with temperatures reaching the high 70s. One of the highlights for me came early when snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first US gold medal of the games. As it turns out, Sage is related to Gerry Jennings, a good friend, former colleague, and former neighbor of mine. She told me about him over a year ago–excited about his chances of making the Olympic team. And now he’s won gold!

I saw a Facebook notification about the women’s gold medal hockey game and hurried in to turn on the TV–just in time to see them receiving a consolation speech, having just lost in overtime. So was it disappointing that I’d missed the game or relief that I hadn’t spent two hours watching a game we lost? A little of both.

I’m about ready to call it quits as far as Yahoo! mail is concerned. That’s been my public email where editing clients write me. But there’s some glitch going on, though I downloaded a Yahoo! optimized edition of Firefox. I can read emails, but I can’t reply. I can type the H in Hi, but as soon as I try to add the i, a chat box opens. Yea, somethings not right. I keep holding out, hoping they’ll fix whatever is the problem, but no such luck.

The California drought persists in the southland. In our next-to-rainiest month we’ve had about an inch of rain, if that. Supposedly this week we had a chance of some rain. Tuesday was indeed cloudy, but today winds off the desert brought high temperatures and clear skies. It just feels so wrong, especially when so much of the rest of the country has been struggling through such a hard winter.

PowerElements_of Story Structure finalOn the writing front, I’ve made some small progress on the prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, but of course the real news is Power Elements of Story Structure, my writing instruction ebook. Just the other day, I got an email from Amazon–an ad really, for books in the education category, and Story Structure was the first on the list. I have to admit, that was . . . kind of a cool feeling. Sort of like seeing your book on the bookshelf at the book story, I imagine. Of course, I have no idea how many people Amazon sent that particular ad to. But it was nice to think that people I don’t know might see it and consider buying it.

Speaking of the book, if anyone has read it and would be willing to write a review, I’d be very grateful. I understand those are a big help in selling books on Amazon.

I think I’ve hopscotched from one topic to another enough for one day. Blessings on you.

Thoughts Conjured Up By The Olympic Wrap

I didn’t watch the Olympics closing ceremony last night. I turned it on briefly, then flipped to an old Columbo re-run. The wrap of the London games wasn’t my bailiwick, and the little bit I I did see had me scratching my head.

The theme seemed to be this great oneness of nations, and yet all these countries had just spent two weeks trying to separate themselves from all the others and stand a head taller on the medal stand.

Every member of Mexico’s soccer team that took the gold belted out their national anthem during the awards ceremony. American gymnasts, swimmers, volleyball players, shooters, runners, wrestlers, rowers–all of them–expressed a special pride in representing their country, and some wept openly. Great Britain, proving to be gracious hosts, still cheered loudest and longest for their own winners.

So what was all this oneness touted in the closing ceremonies?

It made me think of two specific things from Scripture. First, in the last times, there will be some kind of one world collective or cooperation. I know many think it’s a one-world government, but if so, it must be short lived because there will be factions rising up against one another. Nevertheless, for a time, there will be some semblance of unity: “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18).

That brings me to the next point. Jesus did not come to earth to unify us. I know this is a horrible thing to write in this day of tolerance. I especially hate to write it because Christians are looked down upon as hate mongers. But truth is what it is. And Christ Himself said He didn’t come to make peace in the sense we normally think of it.

“Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

Christ, stating plainly that He came to divide, goes against this current trend of group think. It seems to me that whatever the Bible proclaims, the world wants to challenge or deconstruct or devalue. Creation? No, the world started with a big bang. Heterosexual, monogamous marriage? No, any “loving couple” should have the right to marry. Man, born with a sin nature? No, man at worst is born a blank slate, but probably with good hearts. Hell? No, a loving God would never mete out eternal punishment just because people worshiped Him in their own way. God a Sovereign Judge? No, He’s given authority to Man and He is all about mercy, not justice.

On and on it goes. Dividing those who take God at His Word from those who don’t.

So for me, I just couldn’t watch a sham of a celebration–one that didn’t match the events of the games themselves, and one that certainly isn’t going to play out in the future in a positive way. No, in some ways, the Olympics, though I loved them and will miss them, are antithetical to what the Bible says. With all the pageantry and joy and celebration, it’s easy to lose sight of reality.

Published in: on August 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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Medal Count

It’s the Olympics, and most of the world is putting great stock in gold, silver, and bronze. Some small countries have won a medal for the first time in their history. Great Britain has enjoyed a surge in the medal count the past few days after being shut out of the gold for the first few days of the games. China leads the total number of medals won and the number of gold–until the US inches ahead for a day. Russia and France, Brazil, Italy and Germany are doing their best to collect a respectable amount of hardware, too.

I’ve spent a good part of my adult life either playing sports or coaching, so I understand the drive to win, to beat out that opponent, to come out on top after hours of preparation.

In truth, sports are not particularly different from all of life. In fact, I maintain they are a microcosm of life, with all the joys and disappointments, unexpected turns of events, unfair circumstances, conflict, and camaraderie. And success.

But what happens to the hardware in the end?

After the dust settles, and everyone has seen the gold or silver or bronze hanging around the winners’ necks, what becomes of them? Some go into safes. I know this because recently the news reported that an athlete had given his medal to his parents to put away for him. Their home was broken into and the safe, with the medal inside, removed. No indication that the thieves were after Olympic medal, but nevertheless, it’s gone.

Another athlete auctioned his medal off to raise money for the needy. Others have said they put their medals with their other trophies. Some have given a medal to a parent or some other supportive person who they credit with making it possible for them to be successful.

Perhaps when these athletes grow old they’ll take out their medals, polish them up, and remember their glory days.

One thing’s for sure. There will be a day when every athlete leaves their hard-won medal behind.

Peter mentions the perishable quality of gold in his first letter: “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable . . .”

A little later, he makes the point again: “you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold . . .”

James brings it up, too, in addressing wealth: “Your gold and your silver have rusted . . .”

Paul specifically mentions the Olympic prize–a laurel wreath, at the time–in his letter to the Corinthians: “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath . . .”

All this focus, all this attention, all this talk, all the conditioning, training, strategizing . . . and the prize is ephemeral, even in its significance. Who remembers the winner of the 1952 200 meter high hurdles? Or the marathon or high jump? Whatever fame or glory so many of the winning athletes gained hasn’t lasted and serves them not at all in the life to come.

I’m not bringing an indictment on athletes. Remember, I think sports gives us a snapshot of all of life. I think we all are going for our gold, whatever we perceive it to be–relational bliss, a home with the mortgage paid off, a new car, another pair of shoes, a better job, a book contract, a pay raise, even a parental pat on the back or atta boy.

But what if we put our energies toward the imperishable rather than the perishable?

Peter says the imperishable is “the living and enduring word of God.”

All flesh is like grass
And all its glory like the flower of grass
The grass withers
And the flower falls off
But the word of the Lord endures forever.

He also said earlier that we were not redeemed by perishable things like silver and gold “but with precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” By implication, then, the redemptive work of Christ is imperishable, too.

The living and enduring Word, and the precious blood. I wonder what it would look like if the bulk of our efforts focused on the imperishable rather than the perishable.

Published in: on August 7, 2012 at 6:02 pm  Comments (6)  
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After I lost the start to my original post, I decided I’d save that one for another day and send you all to your television sets to enjoy the Olympics. It’s a great time.

I’ve loved the Olympics for as long as I can remember, even before I had the privilege of attending a few events in the 1984 Summer Games held in Los Angeles.

My favorite so far this year are the women’s and men’s indoor volleyball matches. I’ve also enjoyed the water polo. The announcers explained some things that I’ve never understood before, so the game makes more sense to me now.

I watched cycling on the first day–just because that was on, and it was The First Day! I would watch all the US basketball if I had cable, but it’s probably a good thing I don’t.

Gymnastics–I watch, but I hate every recital of the horrible injuries these young people have sustained on their way to reaching this phase of their career. It’s horrible hearing about their concussions, torn ligaments, broken collarbones, sprained ankles, knee surgeries, and more. If any other kid had the collection of bruises and medical issues these athletes have, we’d be calling social services to investigate whether or not they were subject to abuse.

To make matters worse, the media praises “pushing through” or a quick recover. They make heroes of the kids that take the punishment in order to win.

But a good spanking to help shape their character? My no! How can you suggest such a thing?

Just a little inconsistency there.

So gymnastics isn’t my favorite sport, to put it mildly.

I’m sad that the media builds up athletes to be heroes before they’ve done anything. There’s the girl that was to win the gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all around who didn’t even qualify. And the men’s team slated for the gold medal that didn’t even get on the podium.

Then Michael Phelps and the anticipation that he would come away with the most medals of any US athlete ever. So in his first event, he barely qualified for the final and didn’t medal.

Or how about the man the media has been building up to replace him–the one whose time is now, but who couldn’t keep the French swimmer from overtaking him in the relay?

The question is, what happened? The implication is, you let us down. But it was the media who built the expectations and made us viewers think these are scripted sure things that we have but to sit back and watch.

Well, no, the other athletes who have worked and dreamed just as much as the media darlings just might have something to say about the outcome.

It’s time the media started reporting instead of trying to predict.

Now go, watch, and enjoy. 😀

Published in: on July 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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