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From the Blog
FORGIVENESS AND REDEMPTION: Hope and Courage in Dark Times
On April 28, 1990, Reverend Michael Lapsley had just come home from a farewell party on a quiet evening in Harare, Zimbabwe.
As he started going through the mail, he came across a bulky envelope that purported to contain religious literature. Once he opened it and turned over the first page, BOOM! An explosion sent him flying backward, bloody and unconscious. The next day when he woke up in the hospital, his two hands were missing, one of his eardrums was shattered and his right eye was blind. Reverend Lapsley had no doubt about the identity of the sender. "It came from (South Africa’s) death Squads," he recalled painfully. His membership with the African National Congress (ANC) and peaceful opposition to the Apartheid regime almost cost him his life. However, and predictably, the Reverend never sought revenge. His response was a peaceful one. The incident changed his life and made him more eager to preach forgiveness and brotherly love.
At a recent luncheon at the St. Paul Lutheran Church on May 18 in Los Angeles, Reverend Lapsley told his audience, made up mainly of members of the Interfaith Community United for Peace and Justice, that there were two kinds of memories—a destructive memory and a redemptive one. "Most of the human family is characterized by destructive memory," the Reverend said. "Parents and grandparents teach their kids never to trust others. Imagine if (former South African president) Nelson Mandela had said, ‘Let’s get the bastards!’" Reverend Lapsley, like Mandela, chose the redemptive kind of memory and has been preaching it around the world ever since his tragic incident in 1990.
Reverend Dr. George Regas, Professor Emeritus from the All Saints church in Pasadena, wore a mix of dignity and remorse on his solemn face. He spoke with the eloquence of a deeply introspective and educated man, "Is forgiveness possible on a national level?" He asked. "Can a nation stand up in shame before it can stand up in dignity?" He went through a long list of American past and present war iniquities, beginning with Hiroshima and Nakasaki and ending with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which he termed "morally repugnant."
Reverend Lapsley spoke of Restorative Justice, an expression he said that could not be spelt in American idiom. "How can you restore relationships damaged by injustice and wrong deeds?" One of the first actions of restorative justice, he said, is for the victimizer to "acknowledge" the wrong. "So often we forget to say we’re sorry!" He cited 9/11 as an example. Whereas the United States gained the sympathy of the whole world following the tragic incident, that sympathy quickly dissipated when the United States invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, the latter being totally unprovoked and simply wrong. "This," the Reverend added, "is an example of a victim that turned into a victimizer." Something he himself avoided at all cost because, as he explained, "we must release that poison within and not yield to the automatic impulse of revenge." If retained, pain will turn into aggression, he argued, and aggression will inevitably turn the victim into victimizer.
The Reverend spoke with a passion born of a long experience of trying to cope with his own pain and the cruelty of the world, a world he hopes to change word-by-word, lecture-by-lecture and country-by-country. The New Zealand-born Reverend demanded that torture be abolished all over the world, beginning with the United States, which is supposed to be a beacon of justice and liberty.
"How do we react when evil happens to us?" Reverend Lapsley asked. "When the poison is inside, we need to channel it out." The forgiving Reverend certainly practices what he preaches. The people responsible for maiming him have long been forgiven. His message is simple, "Forgiveness is the only way to redemption."