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Vindicate Suffering by Hearing and Remembering

When Australian-born Anglican Father Michael Lapsley was sent to South Africa in the 1970s, he encountered the still-extant Apartheid system. “I stopped being a human being,” he said about that experience, “and became a white man, because suddenly every single aspect of my life was decided by the color of my skin.” Deeply affronted by the race-based system, Lapsley spoke out against Apartheid, resulting in his expulsion from the country. Ultimately, his situation led him to become a chaplain to the armed wing of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, which, in turn, “secured his name on the white regime’s security forces’ hit list,” according to correspondent Lucky Severson, who prepared a nine-minute video news report on Father Lapsley for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of faith and society.

The segment tells of how Father Lapsley survived a package bomb that left him “as helpless as a newborn baby,” Lapsley says. “I could do nothing for myself. I still have no hands. I still only have one eye; my ear drums are still damaged. I’ll always need someone to assist me for the rest of my life.” However, his challenges are also the source of the power of his current ministry. His experience has become a bridge to the trauma, suffering and ongoing struggle others experience. “When people see me, they know I’ve suffered loss, and even though their loss may be very different, they’re still able to identify. So ironically the hands that I’ve lost [have] become a major asset” in his ministry to people with traumatized memories.

Lapsley conducts “Healing of Memories” workshops all over the world to help relieve the sense of being alone in the struggle, and give others who have experienced trauma a feeling of solidarity. David Campbell, a 1991 Gulf War veteran interviewed for the story, has participated in Lapsley’s workshop.

“First and foremost it gives me the feeling of not being alone,” Campbell said. “I’m not the only one out there suffering. It’s not just me, that I have these problems that I’ve got to deal with alone.”

Perspective and catharsis are outcomes of Fr. Lapsley’s work. “People become connected by the commonality of their pain,” Lapsley says, “and I would say that pain is transcended.” For more on understanding the impact of violence on the human psyche, explore the story and study questions in our feature article “The Massacre of the Innocents and the Soul of the Warrior.” Also see our feature article, “Hearing Job: Vindicating the Traumatized,” a reflection on Job 19:23-27a in which David G. Garber Jr. writes, “The vindication that Job seeks is for his plight to be heard, to be known, to be remembered.” 

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