August 5, 2020 by Kevin Park
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8
I am a bit of a movie buff, and I've been watching more movies than usual during this pandemic. I want to highlight one movie that makes me deeply repent as a parent; it is also a movie that has made a deep impact on me.
It happened some 15 years ago when my two oldest daughters were 8 and 5 years old. My wife was working the night shift as a nurse, and I had a lot of work to do, so I rented a video for my kids at the local Blockbuster.
It was a cartoon movie with a cute little girl on the DVD cover with a running time of 90 minutes, enough for me to relax a little and start on my work. I never heard of the movie, and I didn't read the liner notes, but I did note that it was an anime produced by Studio Ghibli where movies like Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service were made, movies that my kids had seen and liked.
I plopped the kids down in front of the TV and started the movie and went into my bedroom office. I didn't hear a peep from them. This was a good sign. Then, after about 90 minutes, I hear loud wailing in the other room. My two daughters ran to me, sobbing uncontrollably, tears running down their cheeks like faucets, drenching their pajamas.
This was not your regular garden variety cry. They were sobbing convulsively and hyperventilating! I was startled! I hugged them both and asked, “What's wrong?! What happened?!”
I couldn't understand my 8-year-old, and my 5-year- old was crying just as hard, holding onto the hem of her older sister's pajamas. After a few minutes, I heard their halting words, “The boy … sniffle … and the girl … sniffle, sniffle … they all … sniffle … died!” “It was so … sniffle, sniffle … sad, daddy!” And then, choking back tears, their haunting words that are still seared into my heart: “Daddy … why … did you … get this movie for us?!?!? Waaa!!!…”
Yikes! What the heck was this movie about? I thought it was a harmless kids' cartoon. Did I scar them for life? I finally read the liner notes, and the movie was about young siblings trying to survive the devastating fire bombings in Japan near the end of World War II. I looked up the movie online, and here are the words of just two film critics: “A devastating heart-stab of a movie, this certainly isn't a family film.” “The most upsetting film you'll ever see.” The movie I chose that may have traumatized my girls forever? Grave of the Fireflies. And to this day, my two daughters remind me of my great child-rearing blunder (thank goodness, in a jovial way).
I owed my kids to watch the movie myself, but it took 15 years to do it. I finally watched it this past week. And it was one of the most heart-wrenching cinematic experiences of my life. The movie is hauntingly beautiful and relentlessly devastating at the same time. It depicts childhood with charmful accuracy against the backdrop of the merciless, dehumanizing evil of war. It is one of the rare movies that gripped me and would not let me go. It makes me think of the phrase, “War is hell,” in a much deeper way. And yes, I showed it to my grade-school daughters without a preview or supervision.
After finally watching it for myself after all these years, I can truly repent of my blunder as a father. I remember that day 15 years ago, hugging my kids as they were sobbing and apologizing to them profusely, and hearing the stumbling, healing words of my daughters, “It's … sniffle … ok, Daddy … sniffle … it's … sniffle, sniffle … ok.”
This is how many pastors might feel in day and age of trying to do our best in very challenging circumstances. We've spent most of 2020 trying out livestreaming, most of us for the first time, fine-tuning, correcting and Googling our way through it. We've probably made a blunder or two along the way. Maybe we've preached a sermon that didn't convey what we were hoping, or missed a Zoom meeting. Perhaps our Session isn't in alignment with our thinking on when to resume in-person services. It's a difficult time for all of us pastors, as we guide our churches, manage our own households, handle our own grief and do it all while probably being exhausted.
This is a good time to practice forgiveness. Practice grace with yourself, your congregation, your family and your pastor; Practice gratitude when someone extends grace to you.
I thank goodness for God's grace revealed through my young daughters on that day. Indeed, “love covers a multitude of sins.”
Thanks be to God!
Rev. Dr. Kevin Park serves as English Ministry Pastor of the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. He is interested in emerging Asian North American theologies and various expressions of theologies of the cross. His current research includes critiquing what he calls “Ornamental Multiculturalism,” and articulating a theology of divine beauty as a key theological resource for multicultural theology and ministry for the North American context. He holds a Ph.D. and Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and Master of Divinity from Knox College. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Toronto.