Monday, December 15, 2014

The Eternal Optimist

Minister Paul Williams once described the Disneyfication of American culture as Disney taking the bite out of children’s literature. He suggested that when Disney finished with a classic story, little of the original remains.By his definition, it might mean J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is no longer a sweet boy and “It is only the gay and innocent and heartless who can fly.” Or as Thomas De Zengotita suggested in Mediated: How The Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, the key word becomes heartless.

Williams suggested a trip to the playground quickly reveals this lack of heart, children being by nature self-centered and heartless.  We reacted in horror when we saw this play out a few days ago as we watched an adolescent Tulalip Indian lad, who as far as anyone knew, was an angry, confused, mixed up adolescent, and who seemingly lacked adequate moral foundations. The boy invited his friends to join him at his school lunch table so he could take them with him as he killed himself.

One invited guest declined for personal reasons. That pastoral family of one of our ministers still rejoices beause their daughter is still alive. What do we do with a culture that chooses to be gay, innocent, and heartless, while continuing to beckon future generations to join them in their self-absorbed lifestyles?

Numerous studies support findings in which Fortune 500 CEOs make multi-millions annually. And if you are fortunate enough to lead a major oil company, you can multiply that figure several times. One Exxon Executive found himself earning a whopping $144,573 per day. But while the rich get richer, the American church sits on the political sidelines, often as gay and innocent and heartless as children.

Since when is it morally ethical and right for an executive to earn 100-250 times the salary of an average employee, irrespective of the company’s health, while they slash the health and pension benefits of their work force? Is that treating others like we all want to be treated? Or is it that they “deserve” that by right of  their title, status, position, or whatever else they measure life by?

It reminds me of what Stephen Carter said: “If everything we do is protected by ‘my rights’ there is no longer any reason for dialogue or community.” I know; business is business! Nothing personal; it is all about the bottom line! Well, Carter said something else worth noting: “Those who love democracy should love its rules.” He also recognized that “our ability to discipline ourselves to do what is right rather than what we desire is what distinguishes us from animals.”

Nevertheless, this attitude is so culturally ingrained that a neighboring Michigan School Board refused a salary increase to its district teachers for four consecutive years while giving measurable increases to everyone in management. Simultaneously, the Board increased the teachers work load in teaching hours and reduced the benefits on such items as health insurance.

The church too often sanitizes this kind of  injustice by turning blinded eyes to the practiced heartlessness, like a Disney movie that rejoices because “We are so blessed by God.” We believe our American lifestyles is our birthright. Admittedly, the church helps feed the hungry, but it does little if anything about the grossly unequal distribution of wealth in the world that continues to widen to Grand Canyon proportions while economically violating the vulnerable.

If anyone challenges this issue of distribution and calls for more equal distribution, we use very selective words that designate them as political enemies--Communists, socialists, traitors to the American Dream.

All the while, poverty claims 2.7 billion global residents that live on less than $2 per day. Among these are 9.2 million of our neighbor’s children (25,000 each day) under the age of 5 that die annually, mostly from “preventable” diseases. Another 2.5 billion people have no access to safe sanitation, and some 900 million lack access to clean water, resulting in nearly 11,500 additional people dying unnecessarily every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Because I still believe “in the beginning God…” I am forced to ask myself is God just wasting his time with us; or is He really our Creator, Redeemer, and Eternal Optimist. If he is Who we bekieve him to be, what does that require from us?

From Warner’s World at

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Redemption is a Reality

From my early adolescence, the name of Louie Zamperini (January 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014) lurked as a memory of an American distance runner. He became a World War II POW survivor and in 2010 Laura Hillenbrand wrote a best-seller about his experiences. It has been adapted into the 2014 movie “Unbroken".
An Italian immigrant family moved to California, where Louie became the target for bullies. Older brother Pete involved Louie in track. Louie quickly gained recognition and started running seriously, He quit drinking and smoking. Following Pete’s advice, he ran, ran, ran. He became a self-obsessed fanatic, going undefeated through high school, gaining a scholarship to USC, and trying out for the Olympics.
The 5000 metres seemed his best opportunity. Running on one of the hottest days ever in New York, he survived the collapse of co-favorite Norm Bright and several others, and fnished with a superb spint. A dead-heat tie with American record-holder Don Lash qualified the 19-yar-old as the youngest American ever in that event. 
He finished eighth in the 5000-meter distance event, but his final lap of 56 seconds caught the attention of Adolph Hitler, who insisted on a personal meeting. As Louie told it, Hitler shook his hand, and said simply "Ah, you're the boy with the fast finish". Bill 'Stern's Sports Newsreel recorded Zamperini climbing a flag pole during the 1936 Olympic games and stealing the personal flag of Hitler.
Zamperini set the 1938 collegiate mile record of 4:08 minutes despite severe shin cuts from competitors attempting to spike him during the race, His record held for fifteen years and earned him the nickname "Torrance Tornado". He enlisted in the United States Army United States Army Air Force in 1941, earned his wings as a second lieutenant and deployed to the Pacific islands as a bombardier on the B-24 Liberator bomber Super Man.
When Super Man became no longer flight-worthy, and with several crewmen injured, the remaining crew were reassigned to Hawai. There, they were assigned to search for a lost aircraft and crew. They were given another B-24, The Green Hornet, recognized among the pilots as a defective "lemon plane". On May 27, 1943, mechanical failures caused the plane to crash, killing eight of the eleven men aboard.
Zamperini and crew-mates, Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips and Francis "Mac" McNamara survived with little food and no water, Subsisting on captured rainwater and small fish eaten raw, they caught and ate two albatrosses, using pieces as bait to catch fish, and fended off shark attacks while nearly capsizing in a storm. They survived multiple strafings and McNamara died after 33 days at sea.
Adrift 47 days, Zamperini and Phillips reached the Marshall Islands and were captured. Held at Kwajalein Atoll for 45 days, they were transferred to the Japanese POW unit at Ofuna, for unregistered prisoners. Zamperini spent his remaining time at Tokyo's ┼îmori POW camp and Naoetsu camp in northern Japan. Throughout captivity, they were severely beaten and horribly mistreated until the end of the war in August 1945.
In 1946, Louie married Cynthia Applewhite. Drinking heavily while trying to forget his POW abuse,  escape his haunting nightmares and dreams of strangling his captors, his life and marriage unravelled, Cynthia became a born-again Christian at a1949 GrahamCrusade in Los Angeles. Louie reluctantly accompanied her in hopes of preventing their pending divorce, with continual prodding by Cynthis and her newfound Christian friends.
 Zamperini described becoming a born again Christian after Graham reminded him of his continual prayers on the life raft and in the prisoner of war camps where he repeatedly promised to seek and serve God. Accepting Christ led to forgiving his captors and escaping his nightmares. Later Graham helped him launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker.
A favorite theme became "forgiveness". He visited captured guards from his POW days and shared his forgiveness, particularly with some of those who had committed the worst atrocities held at Sugano Prison. In Tokyo, in October 1950, Zamperini went to Japan, gave his testimony, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ through an interpreter (missionary Fred Jarvis). The colonel in charge of the prison encouraged prisoners who recognized Zamperini to come forward and meet him again. Zamperini threw his arms around each of them and again explained the Christian Gospel of forgiveness to them. The prisoners were surprised by Zamperini's genuine affection for those who had once ill-treated him, and Zamperini told CBN some gave their lives to Christ.
Zamperini last appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno June 7, 2012, speaking about his life in general, the 1936 Olympics, and his World War II exploits. Until his death, he lived in Hollywood and served at First Presbyterian Church. His death was mistakenly announced previously when he was classified as killed in action, following his B-24 Liberator crash with no survivors reoirted. FDR even sent Louie’s parents a formal condolence note in 1944.
His actual death came 70 years later, via pneumonia on July 2, 2014 in Los Angeles, at home, aged 97.
I am not a fan of war, horror, and violence, but Laura Hillenbrand tells this graphic story with extraordinary skill, great empathy and sensitivity. The paperback version is 406 pages, but Hillenbrand tells a graphic story. Spending seven years in massive research, with an army of assistants, she has given us a low-key testimonial of a profound religious conversion every bit as powerful as the story told by Chuck Colson.

This may not be an easy read for some, but the takeaway of Louie’s survival and resilience—and redemption--will be worth it all. From Warner’s World