My dad loved writing a blog post so much he wrote another one! He told me this one is too long to publish (again, we tend to say more words than necessary, but I think it’s a lovely trait to have as a trial lawyer and a pastor turned teacher!) but I’m doing it anyway because it is just that beautiful.
Tonight my dad brings you a really beautiful story of forgiveness and grace on Good Friday. I am so honored to be the granddaughter of Joe Parris and the daughter of Steve Parris.
Peace be to all of you on this Good Friday.
Contemplating Good Friday, I am always blown away by Jesus’ forgiveness of those who had betrayed, abandoned, tortured, and subjected Him to a most humiliating, excruciating, slow death.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34a)
Jesus meant this forgiveness to His core. It is the first of the so-called Seven Last Words of Christ.
Thankfully, neither you or I will suffer the tortures and death Jesus endured. But, we all have suffered to various degrees a wrong by someone that left us wounded, angry, depressed, betrayed, and even hateful. Some folks hold tight to unforgiveness as if it were a precious stone that is pulled out every now and then to rub with the hope that somehow the nemesis will be struck a thunder bolt of karma.
A path of anger and hate leads to a joyless, toxic and barren spot in our journey of life that can affect our perception of our judgment, who we are and the goodness of God’s mercies. If we can only unburden our heart of the anger and hate, and replace it with forgiveness, then joy can flourish and life is lived with a lighter load.
Let me tell you a true story about unconditional forgiveness that brought joy where there was hate.
The events of this story happen in the mid 1940s to the late 1950s. This is about Joe Parris; my dad, Katie’s grandfather. To me, he will always be “sir” or “Dad”. To Katie and her brother Joe (yes, he was named after his grandfather), Dad is “PopPop”. For you, dear reader, I will use his name: “Joe”.
Joe grew up on a remote farm along the Obey River in Tennessee, the third of what were eventually 13 children. He attended high school in the county seat of Livingston, Tennessee where he met the girl that he would eventually marry, Polly Speck, and be by her side when she died after 60 years of marriage. When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, like thousands of men in their early twenties and late teens, Joe enlisted with the hope of adventure and pay-back. Joe was full of vinegar and cocky confidence; a fist fighter; wanting to take those passions against the enemy. Looking at Joe in the picture below, taken after a boxing match at an army base in Tuscon, we see the confidence and take-all-comers look. He was a tough man.
Joe became a pilot in the US Army Air Forces. (The progenitor to what is now called the US Air Force.) This allowed him to wear the treasured “crush cap” which only USAAF officers could wear. It distinguished the wearer from other soldiers; a symbol of cool and special abilities. You were a chosen one with that cap.
Eventually Joe was deployed to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations. The military acronym was CBI, which the pundits quipped stood for “Confused Beyond Imagination”. Stationed in India, Joe piloted a C-46 Commando from India over “The Hump” of the Himalayan Mountains to China, delivering fuel, food, supplies, personnel and weapons to the Chinese army, and exfiltrating priests and other refugees to India. It was extremely dangerous flying because of the stormy and cloudy weather conditions that swirled through the mountains, no directional beacons in the mountains to guide them, the Japanese air patrols, no weather stations, and no place to land in case of an emergency. The flight route became known as The Aluminum Trail because of the numerous carcasses of crashed aircraft. But, as we see in this photograph of Joe paddling a canoe during a day’s leave near his airbase in India, he has no sign of fear or stress from the job. Just that old-school cool with the USAAF issued aviator sunglasses, starched uniform, custom made flight boots, and his crush cap.
Eventually, luck and fuel ran out for Joe and his crew on a return flight to their base in India. Their plane flew into clouds rushing in hurricane force winds flowing over the Himalayas. Their plane was soon covered with heavy ice as Joe tried to coax the plane higher to get out of the jet stream and avoid crashing into a mountain side because they had zero visibility. Their plane was tossed around, and they became disoriented of their position. They ran out of gas and they bailed out over Burma. Joe and another crew member were captured by the Japanese and interned in a large Japanese POW camp in Rangoon, India. The military sent the dreaded telegram to Joe’s father, Cosby Parris, informing that Joe was missing in action. Because the Japanese did not report the identity of POWs to the International Red Cross, Joe’s fate was unknown to family and friends. The remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain over which the Hump pilots flew compelled the belief Joe’s body laid dead in the mountains.
Joe, along with the other prisoners suffered the horribles the Japanese meted out to prisoners. Joe’s crew member died in Joe’s arms from the maltreatment and malnourishment.
Eighteen months after being captured, Joe and his fellow POWs were liberated when the Japanese abandoned the POW camp from fear of being surrounded by Allied Forces that were closing in on Rangoon. Although Joe was in pretty good physical shape when liberated, the cocky confidence had been replaced by fear, loathing and hate of the Japanese. We can see the stress and fear pouring out of Joe’s eyes in this picture taken within days of his liberation, even though he was safe in a military hospital and given a new uniform. The various jungle fevers caused him to constantly sweat through his shirt. A small detail tells us the depth of Joe’s brokenness from his POW experience: he has not bothered to remove the stiffening in his cap to create the “crush cap” so treasured by airmen.
Eventually, Joe returned to the United States, married his high school sweetheart, had a son they named Michael Joseph Parris, and continued serving with the newly created US Air Force. Joe and Polly were set. Joe was a career officer doing what he loved to do (flying), and Polly enjoyed the officer wife’s life of charitable work, fundraisers, parties and backyard barbecues. The only thing missing was a second child. For five years they yearned for another child that never came. But, life was good, and they were happy.
Then, Joe received the news he was ordered to transfer to Japan. He was staggered. How could the US Air Force send him to live in the country of the people who had so horribly treated him and others? He hated the Japanese. Not the frivolous way the word “hate” is used today as a fungible hyperbole for dislike or displeasure. But, Joe hated with the hate of biblical intensity. Joe sought to change his transfer order because he could not go to the land of the people he hated, who had tortured him, and killed his crewman.
Joe’s pleas were dismissed, and off he went to Japan. Eventually, he bought a house and moved his wife and five year old son Mike to join him. Joe seethed with hate for the Japanese, and the unfairness of his superiors who would make him suffer being in Japan. But, as time passed, Joe began seeing the Japanese in a different light than the awfulness of the POW camp. He came to realize the Japanese people were kind, very family oriented, gentle, and loved children. Gradually, the dark matter of hate was released by forgiveness, and replaced by joy. Then, as if to bless that transformation, the unexpected happened. The long desired, but abandoned hope, of a second child was conceived. That child now types this story.
When I was in my 20s, Dad told me that it was God’s will that led him to live among the Japanese; and, God’s grace that let him put off the weight of hate from his heart. Next to marrying my mother, and having my brother and me, Dad said the forgiveness God put in his heart for the Japanese people, and replacing it with joy was the greatest blessing he had ever received.
As you search your heart for forgiveness of those who have done you wrong, pray to our Father to come into that dark, stony place of hurt, anger, betrayal and hate; and empower forgiveness so that we can live a joyous life full of light.