Book Review: Acts of Forgiveness

I was excited to be tapped to review Ted Karpf’s new book, Acts of Forgiveness, as the offer came right as I was searching for non-majority voices in Christianity.  An Episcopalian priest and a gay man, Karpf was on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic both in the States and South Africa, providing compassionate pastoral care at a time when people were gripped by fear.  This memoir documents that time and more: following the author’s journey to acceptance and forgiveness.

What I find so compelling about this book is that Karpf does not shy away from showing us his uphill climb – truly, his ongoing struggle – with acceptance and forgiveness.  Karpf has lost what he thought would be his retirement home, was unceremoniously removed from a fulfilling and influential position in the church, and been left by his long-time partner, among other losses. Some of these are more recent and some not so, but it is evident that Karpf still acutely feels the hurt that each loss brought.  Yet through prayer, therapy, and wise mentorship, Karpf has found ways to accept and forgive.  It makes for some honest, if sometimes uncomfortable, reading.

If forgiveness is something you struggle with (don’t we all?), then I particularly recommend chapter two, appropriately titled “Forgiveness and Loving.” When asking Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s advice on how to pray for his ex, the archbishop’s response was “until you love him.”  Karpf tells us:

I was again flummoxed and frustrated. I had no inclination to pray for him; I wanted him to disappear.  So that prayer took nearly a decade to pray as well, during which I often had to ask myself, “Is there anyone or anything unforgivable?”  I must respond, if I am to remain faithful to scripture, my faith, and experience, “Probably not. No, nothing and no one is beyond forgiveness, but learning to accept that fact, and gain the stamina and will it takes to do it, may take a lifetime.”

Later in the chapter, Karpf reveals the cyclical and spiraling nature of forgiveness, a message received with his natal chart reading.  “You must learn to forgive your mother,” Dr. Chakrapani Ullal told him, “She needs your forgiveness in order to complete her karmic journey. This is not for your sake, but for hers. You must be the father she never knew.”  In so doing, it seems that Karpf found healing some modicum of healing himself, as well.

Being a father of two, parenting is interwoven throughout Karpf’s story.  Being a priest and advocate during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, death is as well.  But the two exist poignantly, sometimes heartbreakingly so, together in the later chapters.  His daughter’s suicide attempt, and the generously re-printed correspondence between Karpf and a young couple experiencing the loss of their daughter, cemented him in my mind as someone I would want to counsel me both through parenting and through dying.  “As I sit here contemplating my own death, which is really never far away,” Karpf tells us, “I can only report that the stripping away of controls or supposed controls leaves me emotionally and spiritually incapacitated at the front end, though it can become revitalizing and renewing at the far end.”  Perhaps he has already come out the far end of those contemplations, because I found comfort in his ability to delight in his children (even if they didn’t turn out the way he thought they would), and his gentle questioning surrounding death.

“Life comes at me at times with frightening speed and minimal understanding,” writes Karpf in the closing pages of his memoir.  Isn’t that true for all of us?  And yet here is Karpf, admitting his failures while gaining perspective. Allowing for forgiveness of himself and working on forgiving others.  Reminding us that forgiveness and love are a journey, and that, however hard those roads may be, we are not alone when we choose to follow them.

You can find Acts of Forgiveness for purchase at the link, but there are also several upcoming opportunities to win a copy: 

Also, the author will be “stopping by” the blog later today, so if you have any comments or questions for him, be sure to leave them in the comments section yourself!

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for your careful read. You nailed it perfectly, the struggle continues. I insisted on open honesty from myself throughout the writing process. It seemed that it might be helpful to others to just open it up to full scrutiny in order to move the story and me forward. Years of work at discovering self and owning a dark history as my heart and voice have been liberated to tell the truth.

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