For a while I felt almost addicted to “Office” re-runs. I personally love the show, and have found it helpful in connecting me to both those a bit older and younger than myself. But I knew the only way to get out of the TV rut was a good book. Reading stuff for ministry isn’t too hard since I dedicate some of my schedule to read and study. Reading stuff at night time becomes harder because its not necessarily part of my job. The only prescription is not more cow-bell-though who couldn’t use more cow-bell, but simply a good book. Some of my previous books which have helped me out of the night time rut include Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, No Bag for the Journey (a fellow Jesuit High alum turned Episcopal Priest chronicles his journey riding a bike across the country), and The Glass Castle.
This time, Unbroken came to my rescue. The most exciting book I’ve read in a long time.
Laura Hillenbrand can certainly spin a yarn with the best of them. Her biographical writing rivaled Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer, but she did a great job of simply getting out of the way to let the story of Louie Zamperini almost tell itself. Sometimes I feel guilty recommending something already on the best seller’s list, because its obviously not a gem that I’ve discovered. But this book kept me up late into the night for a week or so, as I clamored to get to the next page and chapter of Louie’s life.
After crashing at sea, floating without food, surrounded by sharks, Louie and the pilot were intercepted by the Japanese. It only got worse, as they POW camp-hopped all over Japan. The brutal treatment they received at the hands of the Japanese really tied me into an emotional knot with anger and sadness wrapped around each other.
I can’t imagine what I would have done after being liberated from such an evil (37 % of Pacific POW’s died as compared to 1% in Europe). When men in one camp became free, some no doubt thought about repaying their captors’ evil with evil. But after a Thanksgiving service, “They were told that they must not seek revenge; they were officers and gentlemen, and they were to behave that way.”
This was one of the most memorable lines in the book. I wonder what I would have done if someone tried to stop me from retaliation and only gave me the “you’re a gentlemen, so act like one” command. Not sure that would have worked for me. I might have said, “Etiquette class and cotillion does not a gentlemen make,” and would have at the very least given each guard an atomic (though I would have probably used a different word) wedgie.
But it did “work” for these guys, at least on the surface, and for a time. Most didn’t retaliate in the slightest. I guess that says a lot about the “greatest generation.” Unfortunately though, the scars of the P.O.W. experience were decidedly deeper than the skin, and many like Louie remained haunted by their tormentors back in the States.
In fact, it was only through a one-time enemy’s act of atoning sacrifice that would free Louie from the nightmares and anger. After he had seen (through the eyes of faith) an enemy die FOR him, he put aside his quest for revenge and returned to Japan to share the gospel instead of mete out judgment (which he actually had plans to do!).
That sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient today to curb our retaliatory dispositions to those who truly deserve retaliation. Showing “class,” or trying to play the “bigger man” might stop the action, but it will not stop bitterness, anger, or nightmares.
Unbroken describes itself as a story of redemption, and it delivers. Ultimately it is only through Jesus, that any of us can experience such holistic redemption.