Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer

Article excerpt

Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. By Michael Lapsley, ssm, with Stephen Karakashian. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2012. xiii + 256 pp. $25.00 (cloth).

It is significant that the first section of Michael Lapsley s memoirs covers the 1990 mail bombing that caused him to lose his hands, an eye, and part of his hearing. Lapsley, an Anglican priest and member of the African National Congress, was living in exile in Zimbabwe when he was targeted by the South African government as a result of his activism against apartheid. The bombing and its aftermath function as a moment of rebirth for him, as he struggles to accept his new disability and begins to chart a course for his life that centers on healing and reconciliation for those affected by violence.

Lapsley is perhaps best known now for his work with his Institute for Healing of Memories, the organization he founded after apartheid ended and which has now taken him around the world. Redeeming the Past is important for the way it provides the context from which that work emerged. As a young New Zealand-born priest sent to South Africa in 1973, he was confronted by the reality of apartheid and used his position as a university chaplain to speak out against white rule. Lapsley is strong in this section, describing the conflicting tensions inherent in being both a priest and a political activist. His experience of ministry challenges the ground of his faith: "I began to realize that my understanding of the gospel did not take account of the sheer magnitude of evil. ... I could no longer even depend on it, and spiritually speaking, I felt the ground shifting under me" (p. 62). Lapsley comes to terms with this by adapting his faith: "In order to solve my faith problem, I would have to act politically. . . . [Scripture] was not primarily about what happens when you die; it was good news for the here and now" (p. 64). He joins the ANC, seeing the political movement as an extension of the religious impulse toward liberation. As part of reclaiming his faith, he moves from committed pacifism to open support of the ANC s armed struggle.

Lapsley s increased prominence forced him into a long exile in Lesotho and then Zimbabwe. Returning to South Africa with two prostheses replacing his hands, he realizes his commitment to South Africa's liberation requires him to fill a new role, that of healer. He sees the psychological trauma many South Africans have experienced and commits himself to changing it, to help "break the chain of histoiy-a chain that in so many countries means that the oppressed in one generation become the oppressors of the next" (p. …

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