Maseru — Any system which belittles the underdog not only emasculates the victim but, in the process, it also dehumanises the oppressor.
Father Michael Lapsey aptly sums this up in his book Redeeming the Past, My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
“I began to realise that, whether white people appreciated it or not, everyone, white and black oppressor or oppressed, was a prisoner of the system.”
It is this worldview, rooted in Christian compassion and forgiveness, that runs through the narrative of Redeeming the Past, My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer, providing a poignant but assertive account of an Anglican cleric’s fight against apartheid.
The author epitomises the modern multinational/multicultural man.
He was born in New Zealand, ordained as a priest at a tender age in Australia, went to South Africa as a missionary in 1973, fled apartheid persecution to Lesotho, and further ran away from Lesotho to Zimbabwe.
He now leads an international organisation, the Institute for Healing of Memories, which seeks to assist victims of trauma globally to “accompany other people on their journeys to healing and wholeness”.
There could be no better person at the helm of such an initiative than Father Lapsley who experienced a dastardly bombing that robbed him of both hands and his right eye in 1990.
The apartheid regime decimated lots of freedom fighters in exile and Father Lapsley was on the hit list, marked for death.
A motif of fighting and triumph runs through the narrative. Upon reaching South Africa, it did not take the author long to realise that the system of apartheid, while claiming to be rooted in godliness, was pursuing a bastardised interpretation of the Bible.
“The apartheid regime often attempted to justify its repression by a perverse reading of the Bible. It was a choice for death carried out in the name of the gospel of life.”
It was this paradox that spurred him to side with the oppressed blacks, despite being white, a decision which put him on a collision course with the apartheid regime.
His role as a priest in the liberation movement directly challenged the religious and moral legitimacy that the South African government of the day claimed.
Father Lapsley’s traumatic loss of both hands and his right eye while holed up in Harare captures the plight of Sadc states during those days.
South Africa’s neighbours bore the brunt of apartheid retribution for harbouring anti-apatheid freedom fighters.
Sadly, this tragic incident happened towards the end of apartheid.
But Father Lapsley is not one to court sympathy. Instead, this traumatic experience stirred an uncanny fighting spirit in him; not fighting to seek vengeance, but fighting to pull out any other fellow human beings who might be stuck in self-pity and all the attendant hopelessness.
In the book he says his theology is grounded in the need to tightly follow a context.
According to him, theology should be a living organism, continuously in a state of flux, that is, having an ability to evolve in response to the material conditions in which people live.
“That was after all, Jesus’ way. His teachings were so often prompted by what people brought to him; he did not bring sermons to them.”
The plot of the auto-biographical book unfolds in an accessible prose style with a stream of consciousness strand. It starts with the bombing incident; then back to the build-up of souring relations with apartheid and the ensuing fight against the evil apartheid system; and then the healing and recovery part; and finally a new beginning of not just his personal healing, but also of reaching out to heal “brokenness” in all its forms, globally.
A candid confrontation with the ugly side of a personal experience in this world, Father Lapsley’s book urges everyone to courageously face the unpalatable realities of life as a way of finding permanent closure on traumatic experiences.
“Many people wish to deal with the past but are fearful of confronting it.”
The account winds up on an optimistic note.
Titled, Looking forward: Daring to hope, the short chapter courageously confronts what many clergymen and women would baulk from.
He posits the following hard questions, the sort of questions that have dogged Christendom in recent history:
(i) “Why . . . did God not stop the genocide in Rwanda?”
(ii) “Why did God not step in to stop the genocide in the former Yugoslavia?”
(iii) “Why did God allow Aboriginal children to be stolen from their parents or the violence and trampling of human rights to continue in Zimbabwe?”
(iv) “And of course I might ask, why did God not prevent my bombing?”
He concludes by revealing that which keeps him going; the internal energy that helped him transcend physical brokenness to become a healer:
“In my own case, when people sought to kill me and failed, I already had a victory.”
After the victory over dark moments, the challenge is to turn personal misfortune into a life-giving force that can turn around brokenness into a positive inspiration.
Indeed, the compelling account is worth sparing time to read for everyone because everyone has their own brokenness, one way or the other. All humanity has some dark chapter in life that needs to be confronted and dealt with.
In the end Redeeming the Past, My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer provides a gust of fresh air into the stuffiness of hurt, pain and brokenness, presenting humanity at large with a liberating platform.