Unbroken: Christmas Songs in June

My wife and I don't get to see a lot of films these days at the cinema. With a little man in the house, going out to do anything is no small effort. It's always a challenge to procure a babysitter at the last minute (we seem incapable of planning ahead, despite our most desperate attempts to do otherwise), and we then we have to drive an hour to the theater. As a result, most films I see these days are rentals. But when I found out that the book Unbroken was being made into a film, I immediately told Sara I wanted to see it, and we did so last weekend. I liked it, and if you enjoy a good movie, you should see it. But as always, the book was better. Much better if for no other reason than it gave a profound richness and depth that the movie lacked.

The book/movie tells the story of Louis Zamperini's life. Louis was an Olympic runner who served on a bomber in World War II, one that went down in the Pacific while searching for another downed aircraft. I doubt that I'm giving away too much of the plot when I mention that, after the crash, Louie and two fellow airmen were stranded on a raft in the Pacific for more than 40 days.

I'm impressed how author Lauren Hillenbrand does not skip over those torturous weeks adrift in the ocean, wondering if they would ever be rescued. She details all that they did to stay alive, afloat, and sane all at the same time. Louie and his mates discuss how someone else had stayed afloat for more than 20 days and had nearly gone insane. Louie, thus, was resolved to do everything he could to keep his wits during the ordeal:

Within a few days of the crash, Louie began peppering the other two with questions on every conceivable subject. Phil took up the challenge, and soon he and Louie turned the raft into a nonstop quiz show. They shared their histories, from first memories onward, recounted in minute detail. Louie told of his days at USC; Phil spoke of Indiana. They recalled the best dates they’d ever had. They told and retold stories of practical jokes that they’d played on each other. Every answer was followed by a question. Phil sang church hymns; Louie taught the other two the lyrics to “White Christmas.” They sang it over the ocean, a holiday song in June, heard only by circling sharks.

When I read that last sentence, I began to tear up at the thought of these men trying so desperately to remind themselves of home while away from. They sang songs of Christmas, of home, of good times in order to survive their ordeal.

As a reflected on so terrible a circumstance as Zamperini experienced, I realized Christians do the same exact week when we come together as a spiritual family. Paul commands the church to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). One might say that, in a way, worship IS about and for us because it refocuses our priorities and reminds us of homeland, that we are only pilgrims here and this world is not our home.

When we come together as a church, we often sing of heaven. We sing about sweet Beulah Land that will be our home forever. We sing about the place God is. We sing about what Jesus did for us, what he's doing for us even now, and what he will do for us at the end of time. We sing in an effort to preserve our sanity in the midst of an evil world filled with satanic forces hostile to the people of God.

Like Zamperini and his friends, it's easy for a Christian in this world to feel as if he is adrift in a hopeless ocean of despair. But speaking of home and singing songs of merriment and joy helps us preserve our sanity, reminding us that it won't be this way forever.

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