About 100 people gathered in the Asia room, including ten Society members, to hear a talk on "The Time Has Come to Forgive and Forget" – Fr. Michael Lapsley, SSM
Robert Ellsberg introduced Fr. Lapsley: Fr. Lapsley bears the marks of his story on his body. He is one of the founders of the Institute for Healing of Memories (IHOM). When he was a boy, he considered becoming either a priest or a circus performer. At age 17, he joined the Society of the Sacred Mission, an Anglican religious order. He was assigned to South Africa in 1973 and soon after joined in the struggle against Apartheid. He was expelled in 1976 and relocated to Zimbabwe. In 1990, he was maimed by a package bomb attack perpetrated by members of the Apartheid regime. He has overcome physical and psychological wounds to continue to work for justice. He returned to South Africa in 1992 to help victims of Apartheid heal their memories. H continues to travel the world speaking on forgiveness and facilitating workshops for trauma victims.
He spent 2 months at Maryknoll, New York in 2009. Fr. Lapsley has a long acquaintance with Maryknoll. He has always admired how many Maryknollers are committed to linking faith and justice, as well as their willingness to walk beside the poor and be a champion for their rights.
“Why did you come here today?” Did the title resonate with something in your life? The old Apartheid regime said we should forgive and forget, and move on. Fr. Michael looked in the Scriptures to see what the Bible said about forgetting. Often when the word ‘forget’ appears it is preceded by two words: do not. The three Abrahamic religions are the great remembering religions. In Hebrew Scriptures, whenever the Hebrews were lost, the Prophets called them to remember God; the reason they were lost was because they had forgotten what God had done for them. When a fellow Christian tells you that you have to forget, tell them they are talking junk.
What kind of memory does the Bible call us to have? It is redemptive memory – healing memory, which brings life from death. As humans we are all too aware of another kind of memory - destructive memory. How do we move from destructive memory to life giving memory? This question applies to individuals, communities (secular and Religious) and to nations.
It is often based in acknowledgment. There is an important difference between knowledge and acknowledgment. In an abusive family, many may have knowledge of the abuse but there may be a lack of acknowledgment. The recent acknowledgment by UK of the crimes committed in Ireland on Bloody Sunday – even though it is 37 years later - has finally started the healing of memories. Oppressed groups carry in their souls the memory of their oppression. The oppressors usually do not have – or claim not to have - knowledge (take for example the different views of the experience of slavery between Black and white Americans). Acknowledgment is not the end of the journey but the beginning of a new journey.
What does Bible say about forgiveness? On the Cross, Jesus prays for others to be forgiven, but does not himself say ‘I forgive’. Forgiveness is glibly looked upon as easy. Forgiveness is tremendously difficult. Forgiveness begins with admitting wrong. Then we go to God. Then we try to make amends.
As Christians we often reduce forgiveness to saying sorry, while ignoring the need for restitution and reparation. Zaccheus is an instructive story. He faces the reality of sin and commits to giving restitution four times over. Fr. Lapsley has met so many people who have forgiven that they may be free. The word in Greek for forgiveness has its root in the word used for the untying of a knot. In Christianity we often use forgiveness as weapon against causing harm. We tell the wronged person to forgive without first acknowledging their pain. If their pain is first acknowledged, maybe then they can begin the journey to forgive.
Forgiveness is a choice. At Apartheid's end, millions faced prospect of forgetting and burying the past. But the decision was taken to instead acknowledge what happened through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
(Fr. Lapsley a shared a short video about the TRC)
For 5 years South Africans shared to their stories of pain. Lapsley wondered of the many who did not qualify to tell their stories (20,000 stories told in a country of over 40 million). Lapsley decided to take steps to create a workshop for healing of memories. It is a 21/2 day experience for healing the memories of individuals on both sides of the Apartheid struggle.
(Fr. Lapsley shared a short video of an IHOM workshop).
(From the video) – The key is story-telling in the context of a journey. We choose the path of remembering and healing, rather than burying and forgetting. If we bury poisonous memories, they continue to damage and destroy – ourselves and those around us. The workshop culminates in rite of passage. Participants celebrate the step in their journey towards healing that they have taken through the IHOM workshop.
When people come to our workshop, we promise one step on a journey towards healing.
Lapsley is accompanied by Matoda, who is a member of the !Xhosa speaking people. Matoda was very moved by those he met here during his time in Maryknoll in 2009 and the stories he heard. 'My heart and dream for Maryknoll is that every wisdom and story can be captured'. He was a drama teacher in Capetown. He has participated in IHOM workshops which has been transformative for him. He has used his experience as a drama teacher to help those in workshops explore their painful memories.
Fr. Lapsley is often by members of the audiences he speaks to that he is a wonderful example of forgiveness. However, Lapsley have yet to forgive anyone. He has moved from victim to survivor to victor. Still, he does not know who sent the letter bomb that maimed him. If the perpetrator comes forward, then forgiveness is on the table. . If the person who did this (sent the letter bomb) to Lapsley is a prisoner in himself, I have the key to his prison. Lapsley believes a 1000 times more in restorative justice than in punitive justice (he was recently uninvited from speaking at a prison in the United States when the prison’s authorities discovered that Lapsley would speak on justice as a restorative process).
Lapsley hopes that in his broken-ness he is evidence of what hatred and war does to people. But 1000 times more he wants to serve as a witness to the power of kindness, love and justice over hatred and war.
Lapsley dedicated his talk today to the Maryknoll martyrs, especially the four women martyrs of El Salvador.