Yesterday I heard a sermon by a truly great man, Fr Michael Lapsley, who leads a ministry in South Africa. The sermon was called ‘Forgive and Forget’.
Micheal Lapsley is an Anglican priest whose ministry focusses upon ‘healing the memories’.
It’s about enabling people to move beyond the pain of victimization towards forgiveness and reconciliation.
Why do I call this man truly great? Why did his sermon have such power? Because Michael Lapsley, worker for peace, white man resisting apartheid, in 1990 received a letter bomb. It was carefully placed between two religious magazines. It exploded in his hands. He lost both hands and forearms, and an eye and has permanent damage to the wall of his brain. It is what he has done with this suffering and the way he helps others to move towards forgiveness and freedom that is so inspiring, empowering and challenging.
I would like to record just a little of what he said.
Forgive and forget. To begin with forgetting. Most times when the Bible speaks of forgetting it is ‘do not forget’.
The people of Israel are constantly urged not to forget the God who has set them free, and where they came from. Similarly, the Lord’s Supper is about a special kind of remembering.
This is a redmptive memory: seeing good come out of evil, life out of death.
Redemptive memory contrasts with the destructive memory, which forms a basis for mistrust, resentment, hate. These things are like a poison which has become attached to the memory of some incident or experiences.
How do we move from the destructive memory to the redemptive form of remembering?
This is a challenge for individuals, for communities, for nations and between nations.
(This is the issue which seems to prevent Australians from really dealing with our history of racial oppression and genocide. We don’t seem to know how to deal with the memories.)
Fr Michael said that this issue has more to do with how we feel about the past than with what we think about it.
It’s about how we tell the stories, not just the fact of story telling. We can tell the stories in ways that keep the hate alive, and nurture it: ‘maintain the rage’.
But if we do, we become perpetrators.
Here is one of the most challenging statements made: it’s from a South African leader, whose name I did not catch, but it wasn’t Mandela:
"Those who think of themselves as victims eventually become victimisers of others."
Imagine what would have happened if Mandela had come out of prison, as he had the right to do, determined to gain a revenge for what he had suffered. nursing the sense of himself as a victim.
Fr Michael suggested that there are several possible cycles here:
the victim becomes a victimiser;
the victim becomes a survivor, but again becomes a victim.
Or, some other event or process breaks the cycle.
A giant step occurs, when we see the difference between knowledge and acknowledgement.
Without this we are stuck in one of the two cycles above.
Acknowledgement means getting out the poison. It begins when there is a safe place, for the stories to be told in a way that does more than retaining the hurt and the hate. Acknowledgement begins when the story is told and believed. The knowledge becomes the basis for something new: forgiveness. (Next post)
First, though, this is a huge amount to deal with. It is so insightful and helpful, for individuals who have suffered abuse, for those who have tried to support and help, and for those of us who ache for our country to begin to acknowledge its past and find healing for a new beginning, a new community.
We need to remember, redemptively.