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Redeeming the Past: My Journey From Freedom Fighter to Healer Hardcover – May 29, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Although he was broken physically, he has become the most whole person I know, truly a wounded healer. --Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Michael s life represents a compelling metaphor . . . a foreigner who came to our country and was transformed. His life is part of the tapestry of the many long journeys and struggle of our people. --Nelson Mandela
--Nelson Mandela

Michael s life represents a compelling metaphor . . . a foreigner who came to our country and was transformed. His life is part of the tapestry of the many long journeys and struggle of our people. --Nelson Mandela

Not quite three months after Nelson Mandela was freed from Robben Island in 1990, Anglican priest and African National Congress chaplain Lapsley opened a letter sent in the mail. The bomb in it blew off both hands, sent shrapnel through his body, and destroyed one eye . . . . Though severely injured, his mind and tongue remain intact, producing this most amazing memoir of a man who writes he "has never made a distinction between human liberation and my Christian witness." . . . Within three years of his attack, he opened the doors of The Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town, in the new South Africa, and launched a global Healing of Memories program. The book's final section highlights stories from this work, from Rwanda to Northern Ireland, from Colombia to North Carolina. With dry, self-deprecating wit, Lapsley treats readers to an emotional, gripping tale of a priest, his prosthetics, and his promise, as St. Teresa of Avila put it, to be Christ's hands in the world. --Publishers' Weekly

About the Author

Michael Lapsley was born in New Zealand and ordained a priest in Australia after joining the Society of the Sacred Mission. The society sent him to South Africa as a missionary in 1973. There he became chaplain to Anglican university students and became active in the anti-apartheid movement, ultimately joining the African National Congress. Exiled to Zimbabwe, he narrowly survived an assassination attempt. Later, he returned to South Africa and participated in the transition to the post-apartheid era. In 1998 he founded the Institute for Healing of Memories, a project that has taken him around the world to work with victims--as well as perpetrators--of violence and trauma. Stephen Karakashian is an American psychotherapist who has spent a number of years working with Fr. Michael and the Institute in South Africa. He lives in Portland, OR.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Orbis Books; 1st edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570759928
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570759925
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,489,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Mogale on July 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The history of South Africa and life stories of its people are well documented. Personally, I have always found the subject to be recycled over and over in various books, with few tweaks here and there.

However, "Reedeming the past" proved me otherwise. I saw the book as an open gallery of life. At the lobby various corridors were yearning to be explored. In each corridor, canvasses of life were waiting to enchant, sadden and revitalise.

The authors managed to place me behind every footstep Fr. Michael took, more especially Part 1&2 ("The bombing and its after"; "Freedom Fighter"). As a South African, it was almost tempting to skip these parts of the book, as we are still living with these memories of pain and hatred. However, I kept reading those parts of the book. It was intriguing to see through the spectacles of Fr. Michael.

Many stories have not surfaced of white people, who were on the same side as the oppressed. Furthermore, the book does not paint a romantic picture of a hero in the land of the dying.

The book depicts various stages that shaped Fr. Michael take on realities of life, from being a victim to survivor and to transcend the victimhood in order to become a healer not a victor.

Some chapters of the book have a great potential to become a valuable resource in school curricula or youth organisations. More especially, chapter 3(Disability- Accepting Brokenness); chapter 5(South Africa- Torn Apart); chapter 10(Breaking the chain of History); chapter 11(Truth, Amnesty and Restitution) and chapter 15(Rwanda and the Genocide) and also chapter 17 (Zimbabwe- The Agony Continues). Not many South Africans know enough about the atrocities that have happened and continue happening north of the border of South Africa.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rev. Matthew Arguin on August 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Michael during my time at seminary as a few of my classmates were preparing to visit South Africa. He is a very gifted and highly intellectual speaker and has an incredible story to share. Redeeming the Past is a highly engaging memoir that doesn't pull any punches. It presents the harsh realities of apartheid as they existed, and is not afraid to recognize it's lasting (and continued) effects in South Africa and on the continent as a whole.

At the same time, there is a consistent thread of hope, compassion, love, and a firm belief (and commitment to) the idea that even the most painful and traumatic events can be transformed into something life-giving. The life and work of Fr. Michael serve as a living example of how the actions of one person can help to create a tidal wave of change in the face of adversity.

As a disabled priest myself, I found his reflections on brokenness and healing quite profound. What makes this book particularly valuable is that Fr. Michael sees his experiences not only as an individual journey, but one that reflects the brokenness of the whole human family. In taking this approach, Redeeming the Past goes beyond the scope of one man, or the singular nation of South Africa, but extends to other parts of the world--and the situations they face--which cry out for healing and reconciliation.

While it is true that this book concentrates on Michael's is also a moving reflection on how each of us has a story to tell, and inviting the reader to share their own unique journey. A great read which I would recommend to anyone :)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By hmaw on August 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Undeniably, much harm has been rendered throughout history by many who profess to be staunch representatives of their various religions. But life is never as cut and dry. Herein this book, one finds a man who has activated religious doctrine with a universal humanism that is at once authentic and life-affirming. He is a priest from New Zealand who ended up living in the midst of Apartheid South Africa. So spiritually unsettled was he by the macabre nature of this State gone mad, that he enlisted within the ANC's struggle. The subsequent price would be a near-death experience via a letter bomb that cost him both his hands and one of his eyes. But as life would have it, Father Michael Lapsley survived this tragedy and lived to see a liberated South Africa. This book is a tale of sordid evil and yet soaring hope; and therein lies its charm. It documents the life of a man who refused to be paralyzed by the inertia of a pututively apolitical church, instead enlivening a theology that humanely spoke of and fought for a truly inclusive freedom for everyone. Although Father Michael writes through a religious lens, his journey is more undergirded by a spiritual experientiality that we all share and it is recounted with a heart of both defiance and compassion. Amidst the din of much human suffering and rampant apathy, this story arises to remind us that the longest night has an end, and of the hope-engendering and healing potency within human brokenness. As Michael pens "hope is not naive; it requires commitment, hard work, struggles and sacrifice." May our too often faint hearts dare to emulate but an iota of this man's courage.

Dr. Hakim Mohandas Amani Williams
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. E. Meagher on July 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
In 1955, Hannah Arendt, one of the most acute and eloquent thinkers of the twentieth-century, published a reflective series of profiles under the self-explanatory title Men in Dark Times. Self-explanatory except for the fact that it was also about women in dark times. In the Preface, she asserted the hopeful conviction grounding her effort:

"That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth--this conviction is the inarticulate background against which these profiles were drawn. Eyes so used to darkness as ours will hardly be able to tell whether their light was the light of a candle or that of a blazing sun."

The decades during which Apartheid stained South Africa, and for that matter the world, surely fit, if not defined, the meaning of "dark times." But they were not without flickers, even bursts, of light, which served both to highlight the darkness and to hearten the souls of all those striving to survive or overthrow it. Father Michael Lapsley was and is one of those bright, enduring, and resilient sources of illumination, a fresh flame struck in South Africa but now spread to other lands, wherever there is justice to be achieved and wounds to be healed.
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