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How “Unbroken” Hero Lou Zamperini Saw the Light

Posted on 29 December 2014, 9:05

Every now and then, while channel surfing, I’ll come upon some evangelical preacher seemingly captivating his audience, so much so that when he asks audience members to come up on the stage and profess their faith, many of them parade to the stage as if mesmerized, fall backward into someone’s arms, claim that they are healed of some long-standing affliction, and shed tears while praising God.  Such scenes perplex me and I wonder if it is all an act or if I am simply too ignorant to appreciate what is going on.

The Billy Graham crusades I occasionally watched were not quite as dramatic as most of the evangelical events, but I still wondered what he said in his sermons that motivated all those people to leave their seats and march up to the front as if they had suddenly come out of a life-long stupor and now saw the light.  I just didn’t get it.  I still don’t.

Apparently, Lou Zamperini, (below) the real-life hero of the just-released movie “Unbroken,” felt the same way when his wife asked him to attend a Billy Graham crusade one night in 1949.  “I knew I was a sinner and was living a rotten, drunken life, but I didn’t need someone to stand in front of me and tell me, so I fought it,” Zamperini told me when I interviewed him at his Hollywood, California office in 2001.  “I told Cynthia I would go, but that as soon as he said ‘every eye closed and every head bowed,’ I’m out of there.”

lou

But something happened that night that turned Zamperini into a different person. “I experienced a 180-degree turnaround and ever since then my life has been successful,” he continued his story with a sincere nod.  I pressed Zamperini for an explanation as to what prompted the “turnaround,” but he just smiled and said something to the effect that it is something you have to experience yourself to understand.

Zamperini was the first person I had ever talked with about such an evangelical conversion and it made me rethink them.  He was a sincere, intelligent man who had held on to his faith for some 52 years and had no reason to fabricate such a story.  He was my “white crow,” the one who proved that all such evangelical converts are not victims of temporary brain washing.

Zamperini, who transitioned from this life last July 2, at age 97, was a mere 85 when I interviewed him.  I had read his story in his 1956 autobiography, Devil at My Heels, long before the current best-selling book about him was released a few years ago, and was anxious to hear his story first hand.  It was a story in which the limits of human endurance went far beyond what most of us living in an Epicurean world can even begin to imagine. As I wrote in the April 2002 issue of Running Times magazine, for Zamperini,  endurance meant surviving in the rigid domain of despair, beyond the reach of help, or rest, or pity.  It meant living from day to day with the heart tearing itself between hope and fear, merely subsisting under a cloud of doom with no finish line in sight.  It meant starving and thirsting while confined to a life raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days. It meant fighting off sharks while the enemy shot at him from above.  It meant being tossed around by waves that towered over him during an all-night storm on the 46th day.  Then, with the maddened fury calmed, and after being taken prisoner by the Japanese on a small island, endurance meant living with the tyranny, torture, and torment of his captors, including the threat of decapitation, while confined to a box-like cell measuring six by three feet, and being fed only fish heads and rice scraps. And then there were two cold winters with a minimum of food in a POW camp in Japan, his weight dropping to around 76 pounds. 

I was interviewing Zamperini for a running magazine because he had been a standout middle-distance runner during his high school and college years, making the 1936 Olympic team at age 19, between high school and college.  In fact, he shook hands with the Devil himself at those Berlin Olympics when German Chancellor Adolf Hitler had him escorted to his box.  “Ah! The boy with the fast finish,” Zamperini recalled Hitler’s reaction as he was introduced to him. 

After telling me that story, Zamperini opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out the German flag with the Nazi swastika that he took from in front of Hitler’s office at the Reich chancellery.  After seeing Hitler and his entourage pull up in a vehicle and go into the chancellery, he and a friend decided they wanted the flag as a souvenir.  “After they went in, there were just the guards there,” he recalled with some amusement.  “I timed them marching back and forth and planned it so I could get across the street and grab the flag before they saw me.”  But he couldn’t quite jump high enough to reach the flag and was caught by the guards after a shot was fired in the air.  There was some discussion before Hitler came out and told the guards to give him the flag and let him go.

But Zamperini’s real story began with the war and his service as an Army Air Corps navigator.  When his B-24 developed engine trouble during a search mission and crashed at sea, his 47-day endurance test on the life raft began.  He and two other survivors of the crash subsisted on a few raw fish, a half-dozen uncooked birds, a couple of shark’s livers and rain water.  “We ate everything, eyeballs included, and it tasted like a hot fudge sundae with nuts on top.  It was delicious,” he said of tearing into and eating the birds like a wild man.  He told of catching two sharks by the tail and swinging them into the raft, as one of the other two survivors of the crash put a signal flare down their mouths while Zamperini cut them open with a broken signal mirror.

After undergoing such adversity, many a man would say that there can’t be a God because a fair and just Creator would not permit such suffering.  In fact, Zamperini leaned in that direction until that Billy Graham crusade.  Although he had not been religious, he had called for God’s help many times during his two-and-a-half year survival struggle.  “Lord, save me through the war and I’ll seek you and serve you,” was, he said, his frequent petition, one that he would quickly forget after the war.  While his wounds slowly healed and his physical strength returned, there were bad scars and his hatred for the Japanese soldiers and guards who had brutalized him festered, at least until his conversion at the Billy Graham crusade. 

It was at that crusade that Zamperini began to understand what was happening.  His physical shell had been freed, but his soul had remained imprisoned.  The craving for revenge had shackled him even more than his captors had.  In 1950, he returned to Japan and confronted many of the guards who had beaten him, most of them now prisoners themselves, having been convicted of war crimes.  But rather than lash out at them, Zamperini befriended them.  The former prisoner was finally free.  He devoted much of the rest of his life to operating a boys’ camp designed to teach physical, mental, moral, and spiritual fitness to young people. 

And so whenever I channel surf now and encounter one of those evangelicals seemingly spewing nonsense, I stop to think about how one person’s venom might be another person’s elixir, how people are at different stages of spiritual development and with different needs.  If a person finds peace of mind while living a life of love and service to others, that is, I believe, what is most important.  Unfortunately, the chaos, madness, and turmoil in our materialistic and hedonistic world today suggest that few people have such peace of mind and motivation.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.

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Next blog:  January 12  

 


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A Suicide Prevented?

Posted on 15 December 2014, 10:00

Suicide is one subject on which spirit messages coming through various mediums all seem to agree. While there are some conflicting messages relative to suicide by terminally-ill people, the messages overwhelmingly condemn conventional suicide. They strongly suggest that the individual who hopes to escape from his or her problems here in the material world does not do so.  That does not mean that the person finds himself in “hell,” as some religions teach, or even experiences a “fire of the mind.” Much seems to depend on the motivation, the degree of despair, and the overall mental state of the individual at the time he or she attempted the escape from this world.  The important point is that nothing is gained by the suicide and it may even set the person behind in his or her spiritual evolution.

One such message was communicated through the trance mediumship of Gladys Osborne Leonard by Claude Kelway-Bamber, (below) a British pilot killed during World War I.  Claude told his mother that nothing can kill the soul.  “You see, therefore, a suicide, far from escaping trouble, only goes from one form of misery to another; he cannot annihilate himself and pass to nothingness,” Claude said. He further stated: 

claude

“I know now the whole mistake lies in looking upon death as the end of ‘activity,’ with a renewal at some indefinite date, whereas as a matter of fact it is an incident only, though a very important one, in a continuous life.  Your feelings, your memory, your love, your interests and ambitions remain; all you have left behind, and even that which one cannot at first realize, is the physical body, which proves to be merely the covering of the spiritual to enable it to function in a material world.  Man truly is a spirit and has a body, not vice versa.
.
“I have told you that I, in common with hundreds of other men here, go down to the battlefields to help to bring away the souls of those who are passing out of their bodies.  We are united for the work, having ourselves endured the horrors of war.  Spirits unused to it cannot bear the terrible sights and sounds. We bring them away so that they may return to consciousness far from their mutilated physical bodies, and oh, Mum, I feel quite tired sometimes of explaining to men that they are ‘dead’! They wake up feeling so much the same; some go about for days, and even months, believing they are dreaming.

“Death works no miracle, and you wake up here the same personality exactly that left the earth-plane.  Your individuality is intact, and your ‘spirit body’ a replica of the one you have left, down to small details – even deformities remain, though, I am told they lessen and disappear in time.

“People with narrow, set, and orthodox beliefs are puzzled by the reality, the ‘ordinaryliness,’ if I may coin a word, of the spirit world.  If it were described to them as ‘flashes of light,’ ‘mauve and sapphire clouds,’ ‘golden rivers,’ etc., it would more readily approximate with their preconceived ideas.  They require ‘mystery’ about the future life.  I often laugh when I hear them complain they can’t believe in ‘solid’ things like houses, and gardens in the spirit-world…

“The first time I was sent down to help our enemies I objected but was told to remember they were fighting for what they believed to be right and in defence of their country, too.  I saw rather an interesting meeting between an Englishman and a German who had killed each other.  They met face to face and looked at each other steadily.  The Englishman held out his hand.  His erstwhile enemy, taking it, said, ‘What d—- fools we have been!’”

At another sitting, Claude had this to say:

“I have often heard people ask why God permits wickedness.  If it were impossible for man to sin, he would no longer be a free agent but an automation.  As man is on earth to learn his lesson and develop his soul, he must have his mettle proved.  There would be no good without evil.  Contrasts exist and are necessary; just as day and night, wet and fine, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, are only realized and appreciated through their opposites.”
That communication was set forth in Chapter Three of my most recent book, Dead Men Talking.  In Chapter Two, another fallen World War I warrior, Bob Boylan, in communicating with his mother via the automatic writing form of mediumship, also mentioned suicide.  He said, in part:

“Warn all with whom you talk against suicide.  I do not gather from what I hear that curses afflict any poor soul that makes that mistake.  But the self-inflicted death disarranges and delays the plans that are being shaped for the individual.  Every detail of life is worked out with a thoroughness only possible in spiritual geometry.  A sudden break necessitates rebuilding the whole theory.  It may require skill for you to tell what you have to tell and yet restrain broken-hearted ones from throwing themselves across the invisible line.  Of course, they want to rejoin their darlings.  But that will be later.”

According to Jane Katra, Ph.D., (below) those messages, or at least one of them, may have prevented a suicide a hundred years after they were communicated.  Jane was one of several people who were to receive a review copy of Dead Men Talking.  Just before the book was released during July, I informed Jane that White Crow Books, the publisher, would be sending her an advance copy.  “While I was anxiously awaiting for my copy of the book to arrive in my Eugene, Oregon post office box, I received a message on my answering machine from my friend in Durham, North Carolina thanking me for sending her a book,” Jane picks up the story.  “I called her back to tell her that I hadn’t sent her any book, and she promptly responded, ‘Why, of course you did! Your name was on the label!’ She then told me that she’d opened the book and read on the first page (to which she had opened the book) about how ‘Suicide doesn’t help at all’ because ‘The character we form here, we take with us, we cannot get away from it.’  She knew at once that she was to make a phone call and read that passage to her friend who had told her that she was planning to kill herself.  The book’s messages from the dead prevented the woman’s suicide. All three of us believe that the book was mysteriously sent to North Carolina to save a life!”

jane

Jane later determined that when she was attending a conference of the International Association for Near-Death Studies in North Carolina some years earlier, she had asked White Crow Books to send her a supply of a book she had co-authored with Russell Targ, The Heart of the Mind, to be sold at the conference.  To avoid shipping the books from her home in Oregon to the conference in North Carolina, she asked that White Crow mail them to her in care of her friend in Durham.  The Durham address went into the White Crow computer as Jane’s and that is how Dead Men Talking found its way to the friend’s house.

Coincidence?  Possibly.  Spirit-directed synchronicity? You be the judge. 

An interesting You-Tube talk on suicide by Dr. Carla Wills-Brandon can be found at
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pi33RXRWFLk

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.

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Next blog post:  December 29

 


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Do young atheists bond in a collective flight from death?

Posted on 01 December 2014, 11:15

A web site called The Friendly Atheist recently came to my attention. The first thing that struck me was that the editor and eight of the nine regular contributors all appeared to be in their 20s or early 30s, the ninth contributor perhaps in his 50s.  Their brief biographies suggested that most of them were raised in religious homes and are now rebelling against organized religion without any consideration for alternatives.  One wrote that she was raised by a Catholic mom and Jewish dad, and that “steered” her toward skepticism.  Another said she was a “recovering Catholic” who found it too difficult to reconcile Catholic dogma and doctrine with her growing feminism.  Still another young woman claimed she had escaped from a conservative Christian home school cult.  A very young-looking male said he was “turned off” by his Sunday School classes.  A young woman grew up in a non-religious home, but apparently read something along the way about Christianity’s “angry God” and decided then that she wanted nothing to do with religion.

I occasionally weaken and fall victim to saying what’s on my mind, as unfriendly as it may seem, and in this case it just seemed to me that they are all still wet behind the ears – too young and too lacking in experience and exposure to have well-formulated opinions on such an important subject, in effect, the most important subject there is, and certainly too young to be preaching or proselytizing on a subject that involves much more study and research than their tender years could have permitted. 

Like so many atheists I have met over the years, they seem to assume that all “believers” accept an anthropomorphic God, reject biological evolution, and subscribe to all the many superstitions associated with organized religions.  Moreover, they all come across as assuming that that a belief in the survival of consciousness at death requires a belief in the anthropomorphic God of Christianity. 

I couldn’t resist sending an e-mail to the editor of the site telling him of my impressions, although I felt certain he would read it with a self-righteous smirk, if he read it at all, and that it would be a waste of my time.  I prefaced my remarks by saying that I have no religious affiliation and that many of my Christian friends consider me an “atheist,” since I, for the most part, dismiss the idea of an anthropomorphic God.  I further pointed out that I accept the strong evidence for Survival with about 98.8% certainty, meaning I am still a “skeptic” of sorts, at least to the extent of my 1.2% uncertainty about the evidence.  But that 98.8% certainty meets the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of our criminal courts, for me at least, and provides me with a conviction that goes well beyond the blind faith of religions.  This conviction translates to great peace of mind in my 78th year of life as I struggle with possible terminal health problems.

The main point I wanted to get across in my e-mail is that one does not have to have proof of the existence of “God” or even believe in “God,” at least an anthropomorphic God, in order to believe in the survival of consciousness after death. Or to put it another way, one should not reject the overwhelming evidence for Survival because he or she is incapable of wrapping his or her mind around the idea of God, or is turned off by that unjust, capricious, vindictive, and angry God of orthodoxy.

I further stated that I was not going to address the evidence, as it would require volumes.  Moreover, these young non-believers usually go to Wikipedia or some other debunking site and cite the ignorant, distorted, and biased misinformation set forth by know-nothing debunkers. But, as an example of the evidence, I mentioned Leonora Piper, the subject of my book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife.  Although Piper’s mediumship convinced many distinguished scholars and scientists of the existence of a spirit world, a person can go to these debunking sites and find many reasons to believe that she was nothing but a charlatan.  In fact, I didn’t think much of Mrs. Piper when I first read about her 20-25 years ago, primarily because I didn’t really understand what was going on with her mediumship.  I devoted perhaps 50 hours to reading the research, including repeated readings of it, before I began to appreciate and understand it; yet these young atheists are able to write it off after spending a few minutes gullibly reading a debunking web site.  I know many of them are smarter than I am, but not that much smarter.   

It is easy for young people to live with the nihilistic philosophy of atheism.  They are too occupied with careers, raising families, and escaping into the unreal world of television and mass entertainment to concern themselves with death.  With much bravado, they say they will be ready when death comes knocking and that they will jump into the abyss of nothingness with little fear.  They give little or no consideration to the likelihood that such bravado almost always erodes and turns to despair and hopelessness with age, retirement, fewer family attachments, and deteriorating health.  In his 1969 book, The Immortalist, Alan Harrington, an atheist and humanist philosopher, states that “a very few individuals, most having a remarkable capacity for self-deception, manage not to fear the end.”  He goes on to say that the rest – those claiming they are not afraid of death – are either lying or are so escaping into trivialities that death rarely enters their minds. “But fear waits behind the door nevertheless,” he continues. “And the day they peer out and discover nothingness, the result can be catastrophic.”

If I am interpreting Harrington correctly, atheists tend to bond with each other as a “collective flight from death,” the underlying fear often being a subconscious one.  The feeling that they are all marching into the abyss of nothingness together offers some comfort and a bit of courage. 

Harrington goes on to say that “an unfortunate awareness has overtaken our species: masses of men and women everywhere no longer believe that they have the slightest chance of living beyond the grave.  The unbeliever pronounces a death sentence on himself.  For millions this can be not merely disconcerting but a disastrous perception.”

Harrington believed that when people are deprived of rebirth vision – the belief that we live on after death – they “suffer recurring spells of detachment, with either violence or apathy to follow.”  He saw mass-atheism as responsible for most, if not all, of society’s ills.  No doubt he would have included the recent turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri in this category.  “...behind the proud and gleeful faces of the rioters, the raging countenances, the expressions of abandon, greed, and hatred, the contempt, and derisive laughter, can be detected the face of people desperate to be reborn,” he wrote, referring to riots in Detroit and Johannesburg.

Erich Fromm, another humanistic philosopher, agreed with Harrington.  “The state of anxiety, the feeling of powerlessness and insignificance, and especially the doubt concerning one’s future after death, represent a state of mind which is practically unbearable for anybody,”  he offered.
 
To quote William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology:  “Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet. In the practical life of the individual, we know how his whole gloom or glee about any present fact depends on the remoter schemes and hopes of which it stands related.  Its significance and framing give it the chief part of its value.  Let it be known to lead nowhere, and however agreeable it may be in its immediacy, its glow and guilding vanish.  The old man, sick with an insidious internal disease, may laugh and quaff his wine at first as well as ever, but he knows his fate now, for the doctors have revealed it, and the knowledge knocks the satisfaction out of all these functions.  They are partners of death and the worm is their brother, and they turn to a mere flatness.”

Sadly, most people don’t really grasp all of this until they are nearing the abyss, if then.  In the meantime, they smugly act as if they have it all figured out.  If only these young atheists could understand it now, they might more effectively “live in the present” and have no need for that “collective flight.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.

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Next blog:  December 15

 


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Personal Recollections of Abdu’l Baha Abbas and the Baha’i Outlook by Wellesley Tudor Pole – What is the special appeal voiced by Baha'u'llah and his son, which has resulted in so many of their followers the world over asserting that they are no longer Jews, Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, as such but have become Baha'is? Read here
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