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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
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    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
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    by Dion A Forster
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    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
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Monday
Jul272015

Heading home! The end of a research visit to Nijmegen, July 2015

In a few hours I will be boarding a bus from the Heygensgebouw just near my flat, it will take me to Nijmegen station from where I will catch a train to Schipol airport and then head back to Cape Town via Dubai.

I have had the privilege of spending another month in the beautiful city of Nijmegen working on my PhD research.  I am pleased to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project! I have a meeting with my supervisor this morning, and if all goes as planned I will have some corrections on the work I have handed in already, and then just one more chapter to write before I work through my whole thesis again and hand it in for examination.

The process from there is that it goes to a 'reading team' who evaluate the research, if it is approved I have to have it published in a book, and then come back in 2016 for a public defence and the award of the degree.

It is a little different from how the process worked with my first PhD (which I completed in 2005, defended and graduated with in 2006).  That seems like a lifetime ago!

This project focuses on the reading of the Biblical text under certain conditions (called intergroup contact theory) to facilitate engagement and reconciliation between racially diverse Christian groups in South Africa.  I was privileged to work with two Methodist Churches in my home town, Somerset West on the intercultural Bible reading project.

The theoretical components of the research focussed on a normative reading of Matthew 18.15-35 (locating a reading of the text within accepted academic Biblical scholarship, so I did a very detailed exegetical study of the passage).  Then, using an integrative All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach I 'mapped' possible readings of the text as an individual, collective, spiritual, political process (and a combination of these fields).  This exercise showed that Matthew 18 has a complex and textured view of forgiveness that involves faith (spirituality, belief, shared belief), polis / politics (recompense, social justice, human rights and dignity), and that it engages the individual person, as well as broader society.  Here is a diagram of Ken Wilber's AQAL theory that shows the different dimensions of identity, consciousness and meaning.

Next, I used a practice orientated research methodology to facilitate structured interviews with the reading group participants (this was to form a pre-intervention test of their understanding of forgiveness in relation to the chosen text).  I mapped their various understandings and saw that in large measure white South Africans have an individual and spiritual understanding of forgiveness, whereas black / brown South Africans have a more collective and social (political) understanding of forgiveness.  Each of the two Church groups then met separately to read the text and discuss it among themselves in a focus group setting - this also formed part of the pre-intervention testing and gave me more data to map the respective groups' understandings of forgiveness.  

Then, I facilitated a series of intercultural Bible reading engagements between the two groups, again in a focus group setting (in other words they met together to read and discuss the text).  We used the 'dwelling in the word' approach of Pat Keifert and Pat Taylor Ellison, see:  Ellison, P.T. & Keifert, P. 2011. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook. Minnesota: Church innovations).  

These intercultural Bible reading sessions were conducted according to strict protocols, employing mechanisms from intergroup contact theory to allow for a positive engagement between the participants that takes place within a safe space.  The intention was to minimize anxiety in the presence of 'the other' and to allow for an increased possibility for empathy for the person(s) and position(s) of 'the other'.  

Having completed those interventions, we then did a final post-intervention test to see if there has been any shifts in the understanding of forgiveness among the individual participants and the two groups.  This was done through a structured questionnaire on forgiveness, as well as a focus group discussion (both of these tools engaged understandings of forgiveness, as well as the intercultural Bible reading process).

The findings have been quite remarkable. I won't let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can say that some aspects of my hypothesis were proven, while other deviated from the expecation in some aspects, and other still did not turn out at all as I anticipated.  It makes for fascinating reading!

The hope is to provide two things out of this research, first an approach to using normative texts (in this case the Biblical text) as a reflective surface, and an engagement space, for intergroup contact among estranged or diverse groups.  Second, the mechanisms employed in the intergroup contact will be of use to Churches, businesses, and other communities that face challenges as a result of race, class, religious, gender or other distinctives - it allows for a positive engagement between 'in groups' and 'out groups' in a manner which can foster social cohesion, overcome prejudice and can facilitate positive engagement among the groups.

I have worked very hard on this project! It took quite effort to get back into the exceptionally technical work of dealing with a Biblical text in an academically appropriate manner - I had to dust off my old Greek exegetical skills, learn a whole lot of things about the culture and context of the Matthean community into which the text was written, and then develop a hermeneutic bridge (in the form of the AQAL theory) that could help us to see what contemporary understandings of the text may be appropriate.

The project also forced me to learn a great deal about empirical research methodologies, and particularly qualitative research methodologies (and the use of tools such as ATLAS.ti to do coding and interpretive work).  The new theoretical knowledge that I have gained on the Biblical text, forgiveness as a concept and process, the social and identity dynamics of South African communities, and of course I have learnt a great deal more about AQAL integrative theory and how it can be applied in these contexts (which is quite different form how I used it in my previous study in identity and cognitive neuroscience).  Among the most useful knowledge is what I have gained from reading and learning about intergroup contact theory and social identity theory.  This is a fascinating field.  I can see that I will use this, and my rekindled love for technical work in the Biblical text within my research in ethics and public theology.

For now, however, I have a few last meetings, some packing, and then the long trip home to my darlings! I can't wait to see them!

It has been great to have shared this time with friends, I have worked hard and learnt a great deal.  It is such a privilige!

On Wednesday I step back into class when I will be teaching a Masters module in Ethics of Pastoral Care, as well as my fourth and second year classes in ethics and Systematic Theology.

 

 

Wednesday
Jul152015

Back in Holland - Radboud University, Nijmegen 2015

On the 30th of June 2015 I boarded an Emirates flight for Dubai, heading to Schipol airport in Amsterdam.  From there I caught the train out to the beautiful Dutch city of Nijmegen (where I have been for the past two weeks to work on the completion of my 2nd PhD).

Of course I brought Doris my Brompton with me from Cape Town in the same way that I always travel with this amazing little bicycle - safely wrapped in the Brompton cover, clamps removed, draped with my clothes over the bike cover, and socks and shoes, and toiletries in packets packed around the spaces in the frame. I put a folded towel over the front fold, and a scarf or some socks or such over the left folding pedal. hen all of that goes into the Brompton B Bag.  At the airport I get them to wrap the B Bag in plastic to protect it.  My T Bag (that fits on the front luggage rack of the Brompton) becomes my hand luggage with my laptop and a few other bits and bobs in it.  Once the bike has been checked in for the flight I put the T bag on the luggage trolley and have a rolling hand luggage bag.  It is all quite convenient!  Here is a picture of Doris the Brompton, all wrapped up, with my T Bag on the train platform at Schipol airport waiting to catch a train to Nijmegen.

So, as mentioned already, the reason that I have been coming to Nijmegen for the past three years is to work on a second PhD.  I was very fortunate to receive a European Union 'Sandwich' scholarship for study at Radboud University, which is one of the world's top research Universities (in the top 100).  If you scroll through my previous Nijmegen / Radboud posts you will see that I am doing an interdisciplinary study on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation between black and white South Africans.  I am using a particular approach to reading the Biblical text (particularly Matthew 18.15-35) in a process called intercultural Bible reading and then applying two theoretical lenses to understand what happens in that process.  The two theories are social identity theory (particularly intergroup contact theory) and Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels) to 'map' the reader responses to the reading of the text.

I am pleased to say that I have the end of this project in sight! I handed in a very large portion of my study as a first draft.  I am busy working with the empirical (qualitative) data that I gained from the research participants in structured interviews and focus group meetings.  The findings are fascinating! I hope to be able to give Churches, communities, and even private and public organisations, some new insights into mechanisms that can help to bridge racial, cultural, and class distinctions.  The intention is to facilitate greater social cohesion and harmony between painfully separated groups (such as black and white persons in the post-Apartheid South African context).  Here is a picture of some of the commentaries that I have been reading to get to grips with the theological nuance, texture and depth of the Biblical text we used in our intercultural Bible reading process. It was quite hilarious to see the librarian's face when I walked out of the library with 17 books in my Brompton T Bag, unfolded my bike, hooked up the bag to the luggage mount and rode off into the distance!

I have been using a piece of software to work with my empirical data - I'm sure that anyone who works with empirical data in a qualitative manner will know ATLAS.ti?  It is all new to me! My goodness, but it is a very powerful software package that allows me to load my interviews, transcripts of the focus group meetings, documents, reports etc., into the software and then draw quotations, trends, networked relationships, hierarchies, nested meanings etc., from the data.  Based on those outputs I then test my theories in a deductive manner to see what worked and what didn't, why it worked or didn't, and can then hypothesise what may be useful for others, and what can be done to augment or correct the variance on my theory for my context.  As you know I am a committed Apple Mac user! For some years now I have only used Macs - I tried working on the little Lenovo Windows 8.1 tablet that I have from work, but my goodness, it just never seems to work! It hangs, quits the software, the touch screen stops working, the keyboard stops working... I am afraid that I can't work with it.  So, I have been learning how to use ATLAS.ti on my old 2011 Macbook Air!  Here is a picture of my Lenovo in the Radboud University Library next to the Erasmus Building.  

This is a beautiful space to work! For the first week that I was here it was SO hot, in fact the warmest they have had since they started recording temperature.  On the Saturday when I went to watch the first stage of the Tour de France (the individual time trial in Utrecht!) it was over 40 degrees! Unbelievable.  The weather has been much milder since, with three days of rain this week.  That makes for great productivity on my Thesis since I can't really do much riding in the rain (or at least I don't feel like doing much riding in the rain!)

The Tour de France in Utrecht was an experience of a lifetime.  I caught an early train from Nijmegen to Utrecth, the train was packed with cyclists and cycling fans.  Of course I had Doris my Brompton with me and we found a little space to sit, once at the station I unfolded and rode down to the time trial route which for some part ran along the beautiful canals and bridges of Utrech.  I stood around and watched some of the riders warming up and riding past, but the sun was SO HOT that it was almost unbearable!  So I decided to retreat to a shady spot on the other side of the canal and watch the action sitting on a grass bank, with an ice cold beer.  It was magnificent.  Certainly a memory that I will cherish for a long time!

Here are one or two more images from that special day.  I had a dinner appointment with some other post doctoral students and one of our Professors that evening, so I didn't stay for the whole afternoon.  I came back to Nijmegen and watched the 'big guns' ride the stage on TV and got ready to cycle to the dinner appointment.

And here's Doris on the canal bank.

This weekend I will be going to Munster to visit some colleagues who are there on sabbatical - Robert and Julie. I love that city as well.  It is just so beautiful, and of course it is a cycling city!

For now it is back to work. I am pleased to say that there are a number of other South African academics here in Nijmegen. This has made my stay so fun and not as lonely. We have eaten together a few times, done a great cycle out on the Ooij Polder, and even did a Zotero Master Class to share our 'jedi secrets' for citation management!  Here are a few guys in my flat learning how to sync their references and attachments from their computers to their iPads or iPhones using PaperShip.

Well, now it is back to work for me.  I am doing my best to get as close to a full first draft done before I head back to Stellenbosch at the end of this month.  Once I get home my teaching load is quite heavy, and I have a few post graduate students who want to hand in their theses this year as well, so I will be very busy with teaching, supervision and research.

Below are two last pictures of Nijmegen - on of the 1944 town square and beautiful old buildings, and another of the Nijmegen bridge which was the historical site of the Nazi defeat (depicted in the movie 'A bridge too far').


As always, I would appreciate your prayers for my family back home.  I miss them so much, and as Liam gets older he feels my absence so acutely!  Thankfully Courtney has been busy with Church and social activities.  Megie, my darling wife, has been holding the fort with work, kids, her studies and home! I am so thankful for her.  Please also pray that I make significant headway with my studies and do work that is not only academically valuable, but that can make a contribution towards the common good in South Africa.

Friday
Jun052015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 3

Today was the third and final day of the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town from 3-5 June 2015.

Once again I rode my trusty steed (a 2001 model BMW 650GS motorcycle) into the city for the meetings. It was surprisingly cold, although with clear blue skies as I drove into the beautiful Cape Town city bowl. I never grow tired of the beautiful view as one crests De Waal drive into the city.

Having parked just across the road from the CTICC (Cape Town Internation Convention Center) I made my way through security, now quite experienced at what beeps and what doesn't, and made my way upstairs for the first of my sessions.

I started the day with a session on agriculture, development and food security.  There were a few startling revelations in that session, notably that by 2050 the population of Africa will double, but our capacity to produce food will not.  In large measure this is because of too few commercial farmers, poor policy in agriculture and political instability and war threatens food security.  Water, of course, remains an additional challenge.  It was shocking to learn that there are 85 million malnourished persons in Africa, and that a large number of those are subsistence farmers and their families.  Again, the issue of gender inequality featured in this talk.  Women produce +- 80% of the food in Africa but only own 2% of the land.  Men tend to keep the best pockets of land for themselves and often don't utilize it fully.  What was also interesting to be reminded of is that Africa is the world's most resource laden continent - in other words, we are the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources, but because of extractive injustice (where our minieral resources are extracted and sold elsewhere in the world) we are so poor that we have to import food to support our populations. Lastly, we discovered that rural women tend to be better managers of farms, food and finance (better than urban women, and better than all men).  So, what's the lesson?  Well, I think that if we had targeted projects to support and uplift rural women we could achieve a great deal for the common good in Africa.  Naturally we need to develop commercial farmers and technologies to drive efficient and healthy food production that is not destructive of the earth's resources and that can feed growing numbers of people.

Next, I attended a workshop that sought to find solutions to drive development and growth in Africa in the next 10 years.  I was fortunate to be seated at the table of Minister Naledi Pandor - what a remarkable woman!  I was bowled over by her gentleness, her amazing grasp of policy, investment, technology and the complex set of social, political and economic aspects that are necessary for development and growth.  How I wish she could be our President in South Africa!  The process of this workshop was superb using new technology where we wrote on the tables and it showed up on screens in the front of the room.  There were about 6 such tables participating around issues such as education, investment, technology, policy and governance etc.

My second to last session of the day was another remarkable one - I participated in a workshop on security in Africa.  The point of this grouping was to work out what some of the threats and opportunities were that Africa faced in terms of security in the next 10 years.  I was in a group with Minister Mohamed Beni Yonis of Somaliland - a great peace keeper on the continent and a truly remarkable and wise man! His insights into social, economic and technology opportunities and challenges were astounding.  He also appreciates the central role that religion plays in shaping societies in Africa (both negatively and positively).  The meeting agreed that we shall need to spend a great deal more time and energy working with faith based organisations and the religious groupings in our various countries to address social cohesion, service delivery, poverty alleviation and also to work against violence and extremism.  Then, the man whose name is signed on most of my South African money, Mr Tito Mboweni, was also in our group! He is such a kind (even fun!) person.  He spoke about the dangers of ambition (he reached the pinnacle of his career as governor of the Reserve Bank before he was 50 years old).  However, the group agreed that African society will need to acknowledge the place and importance of young leaders - one participant jokingly said that in Africa, presidency is something one 'retires into' at 65 after a working career!  I am attaching an image of the drawing that contains all of our discussions and thoughts on security in Africa.

The final session was about economics, investment and trade on the continent.  South Africa's finance Minister, Mr Nene, commented that "unless we deal with corruption all of our development plans will fail".  The rest of the panelists discussed the challenges of competition and distrust between neighbouring and regionally close countries in Africa, the expensive cost of travel, and the need to see much greater trade cooperation and support among African countries.

The highlight of the day, for me, was when Archbishop Tutu was invited onto the stage to close the WEF Africa meeting in prayer.  He was overwhelmingly warmly received.  He began his prayer, as I have heard him praying before, by saying that God is weeping at the way in which we treat one another and the earth.  Yet, he went on in his jovial and loving way to say how happy God was to see the participants of the WEF and all those they represented who were people of good-will whose desire it was to make this world a better place for all by working for the common good.  You can listen to his prayer (which I recorded on my phone) here.

Attending this form was a remarkable privilige.  I have learnt so many things at the WEF this week.  In particular I understand that we face a number of wicked problems that require partnership, cooperation, and even sacrifice to solve.  Water and the environment, poverty and inequality, gender imbalances, massive growth in our population and dwindling resources are huge challenges.  Yet, I am hopeful.  It was amazing to meet creative, intelligent, passionate and committed people from all sectors of society who were working for good! The investment of time, energy, resources and self into these problems is sure to make a difference, and in many cases solve the problems we discussed.

I realise that South Africa is fast falling behind.  Our political landscape and our own social context of poverty and inequality is vexing growth and cooperation.  We shall need to do a great deal more to foster trust and a willingness to give up some things (like white power and wealth) and take up some things (like hard work, good education, and uncompromising moral standards).  As I drove home I kept thinking that as Christians we must always ensure that our speech is peppered with hope, our hands are strengthened by justice and our hearts are filled with love as we work for a better future.  We do need a much higher calibre of leadership from both government and the private sector.  But what we need more than that is active citizens who are willing to be deeply involved in shaping a better world.

Thursday
Jun042015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 2

Today is the 2nd day of the World Economic Forum regional meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

I only got into the CTICC just after 9am because I had to do a short radio interview at 8.15. Thankfully the rain has let up! So driving in was a little better on my motorcycle. As an aside, it must be one of the best ways to travel! I managed to park just across the road from the CTICC, whereas the drivers of cars first had to have their cars screened and cleared by a security team before they could enter the parking lot. In large measure this has to do with the number of foreign dignitaries, who are attending the forum, as well as the fact that Mr Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, spoke this morning. I attended the Panel discussion at which Mr Zuma spoke. Just a few minutes before that session he and the security entourage passed right past me. I was asked to stand still for a few moments as they passed. Then, as I was about to enter the venue of the presentation I saw my friend Archbishop Thabo Makgoba waiting to enter the venue. We talked for a while and then sat together in the hall. It was wonderful to see him being greeted by so many of the important and significant dignitaries, especially Mrs Graca Machel (see the attached photograph).

I was also grateful to have an opportunity to meet Mrs Machel and tell her about the research that I am doing on her for the American Academy of Religion. She was very kind! I even managed to get a photograph with her when I attended the panel discussion on bridging the gap between male and female economic inequality.

She is doing such amazing work to bring gender equality in society. It is a sad fact that women are most often the primary carers in the home and in society, they earn less than their male counterparts and get less access to the formal economy. On the whole women work harder and get less than men! While many countries and companies work for 'political' equality (representation in policy and decision-making positions). However this is not matched in wages, division of labour and human rights. The issue that should drive this agenda is justice and equality, not tokenism. The ethics of care is a reminder that care is not linked to only one gender. Women often get trapped in unpaid care that locks them to the home. Men work and so get economic independence, status and even the stimulus and recognition for their efforts. So simply put, let's distribute care and the division of labour in the home more equitably, and let's educate, lobby, and work for equal rights, opportunities and economic opportunities for both women and men.

One of the most interesting parts of the day was in the earlier panel discussion on Africa (the plenary session) when Anton du Plessis (from the Institute for Security Studies asked a question about security, good governance and corruption - I managed to record the response of Mr Zuma, it is in Apple voice recorder format (.m4a) and about 2MP.

You can download it from here.

He was clearly in the hot seat! His response was vague and tried to avoid the local context and his own challenges in South Africa. As I listened to conversations after that session it was clear that person's from all over the world were aware of this embarrassement!

In the broader discourse of the day, a great deal of the discussion on the morning has been about the development of Africa's youthful population. A few interesting statistics are that by 2040, 50% of the world's Youth will be African, and that there is a need to create 80 million jobs a year for African school leavers (for all of us to be employed). There was an emphasis on the fact that we need to train young Africans to be much more entrepreneurial, and also that education in Africa, while being widespread (about 90% of Africans get access to some form or level of education), is often not preparing young people for work or work creation.

I also attended a session on water security - it was shocking to be reminded that the World Economic Forum lists water security as the single largest challenge we face in the world today! Statistically the WEF shows that demand will be 40% higher than what the earth is able to supply by 2050! We are heading for a serious water crisis. What is needed is for us to change the way in which we use water, demand and supply are a huge problem. Wastage is another problem - it was reported that just 8 municipalities in South Africa account for 90% of wasted water, costing us 7 Billion Rand per annum! That is shocking! Lastly, we need technology and partnerships to manage water use policy and water supply and delivery.

As a Christian I am thinking how can we use this precious resource more justly? The reality is that people like myself can afford clean and reliable water, but the poor cannot! They suffer most when water is scarce. I will be attending a few more sessions during the day and will upload more reflections and thoughts as the day progresses.

Thursday
Jun042015

World Economic Forum - day 2

 

Please follow this link for an updated post with reflection on further sessions on gender equality, water security and the development challenges.

Today is the 2nd day of the World Economic Forum regional meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. I only got into the CTICC just after 9am because I had to do a short radio interview at 8.15. Thankfully the rain has let up! So driving in was a little better on my motorcycle. As an aside, it must be one of the best ways to travel! I managed to park just across the road from the CTICC, whereas the drivers of cars first had to have their cars screened and cleared by a security team before they could enter the parking lot. In large measure this has to do with the number of foreign dignitaries, who are attending the forum, as well as the fact that Mr Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, spoke this morning. I attended the Panel discussion at which Mr Zuma spoke. Just a few minutes before that session he and the security entourage passed right past me. I was asked to stand still for a few moments as they passed. Then, as I was about to enter the venue of the presentation I saw my friend Archbishop Thabo Makgoba waiting to enter the venue. We talked for a while and then sat together in the hall. It was wonderful to see him being greeted by so many of the important and significant dignitaries, especially Mrs Graca Machel.

 

I was also grateful to have an opportunity to meet Mrs Machel and tell her about the research that I am doing on her for the American Academy of Religion. She was very kind! One of the most interesting parts of the panel discussion was when Anton du Plessis (from the Institute for Security Studies asked a question about security, good governance and corruption - I managed to record the response of Mr Zuma, it is in Apple voice recorder format (.m4a) and about 2MP.

You can download it from here.

A great deal of the discussion on the morning has been about the development of Africa's youthful population. A few interesting statistics are that by 2040, 50% of the world's Youth will be African, and that there is a need to create 80 million jobs a year for African school leavers (for all of us to be employed). There was an emphasis on the fact that we need to train young Africans to be much more entrepreneurial, and also that education in Africa, while being widespread (about 90% of Africans get access to some form or level of education), is often not preparing young people for work or work creation.

 

I will be attending a few more sessions during the day and will upload more reflections and thoughts as the day progresses.  Please follow this link for an updated post with reflection on further sessions on gender equality, water security and the development challenges.

Wednesday
Jun032015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 1

I have just registered for the 2015 World Economic Forum meeting that is taking place in Cape Town.

I am honoured and excited to have been selected to be one of the 150 or so persons from civil society to participate.

I am looking forward to 3 days of learning and participating in the various sessions.

I have joined sessions on ethics and governance, economic stability and poverty, and the role of civil society as my primary points of participation. It is very exciting!

Security is super tight! I had to park about 2km from the CTICC and walk down. Registration was very efficient and simple.

I will tweet on @digitaldion and post some comments and reflections here throughout the next three days. So please do check back from time to time if you are interested.

Tuesday
Jun022015

Podcast - Prof Barney Pityana on Discipleship and Active Citizenship in South Africa

You can download Prof Barney Pityana's opening Keynote on Discipleship Active Citizenship which was delivered on 2 June 2015 at the Winter School of the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University from this link [mp3 file, 50MB]

The Winter School is hosted by Ekklesia and the Beyers Naude Center for Public Theology in the first week of June each year.  This year's theme is 'Changing the world? An invitation to faithful discipleship and responsible citizineship'.

I apologize for the poor sound quality of the recording.  I recorded it using my cellphone and so there is some ambient and room noise in the recording.  However, it is well worth the inconvenience to hear Prof Pityana's lecture.

I was deeply struck by a few comments that Prof Pityana made. Among them was the observation that the three most prominent public persons in SA at present (President Jacob Zuma, Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and the leader of the official opposition, DA leader Musi Miamani) are all ordained pastors of independent Christian Churches.  Prof Pityana discusses this phenomenon and asks some questions of the type of Christianity that is represented by these persons, and also how this reflects on us a nation.

I'd love to hear your comments, thoughts and feedback!

Monday
May252015

A chapter published in 'Restorative Readings The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity'

A new book for which I wrote a section has been published! The book is called ‘Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity’. It was edited by two wonderful friends, Professors Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch. This is a magnificent collection of chapters on issues related to reading the Old Testament text within the context of issues related to Christian Ethics and the Human Dignity discourse.  

You can order your copy of the book here (Wipf and Stock), or from Amazon.com here.

Congratulations Juile and Bruce! This is such an important book!  I have read the chapters a number of times and am so excited about the voices that will be added to the discourse.

The foreword was written by Walter Brueggemann.

Here is some additional information about the book:

The Bible has the unfortunate legacy of being associated with gross human rights violations as evident in the scriptural justification of apartheid in South Africa as well as slavery in the American South. What is more, the Hebrew Bible also contains numerous instances in which the worth or dignity of the female characters are threatened, violated or potentially violated, creating a situation of dehumanization in which women are viewed as less than fully human. 

And yet the Bible continues to serve as a source of inspiration for readers committed to justice and liberation for all. But in order for the Bible to speak a liberative word, what is necessary is to cultivate liberating Bible reading practices rooted in justice and compassion. Restorative Readings seeks to do exactly this when the authors in their respective readings seek to cultivate Bible reading practices that are committed to restoring the dignity of those whose dignity has been violated by means of racial, gender, and sexual discrimination, by the atrocities of apartheid, by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and by the dehumanizing reality of unemployment and poverty.

Friday
May222015

Bram Fischer on white privilege (still true 50 years later!)

What is needed is for White South Africans to shake themselves out of their complacency, a complacency intensified by the present economic boom built upon racial discrimination. Unless this whole intolerable system is changed radically and rapidly, disaster must follow. Appalling bloodshed and civil war will become inevitable because, as long as there is oppression of a majority, such oppression will be fought with increasing hatred.
SACP. “Letter sent by Bram Fischer to his Counsel in February 1965 when he went underground, and read to the court My goodness! This was written in 1965 and it is still as true for South Africa today (and particularly for me as a white South African) as it was 50 years ago! I spent the morning with Bram Fischer’s daughter and a group of concerned citizens at an AHA (Authentic Hopeful Action) meeting to strategize for a better future for South Africans and South Africa coordinated by my friend Paul Verryn. We must find a way to move forward with change for the common good of all South Africans! How is it possible not to act when we live in a nation where 20 million people go to bed hungry at night?
Thursday
May212015

Where to buy a copy of our book 'Transform your work life'

This week I have had the privilege and joy of preaching a series of services in the Dutch Reformed Church, Helderberg Congregation.  It is a vibrant mega-Church with a deep commitment to spirituality, evangelism, mission and social action.  Truly a wonderful group of people and a great model of a well functioning large Church.

The topic I was invited to speak on this week was 'Monday Morning Atheist?' Basically, we have discussed the tendency among many contemporary Christians to operate as 'functional atheists' outside of the time they spend in gathered worship.  Simply stated, one way of speak of an an atheist is as someone who lives as if God doesn't exist or matter in their life.  Many Christians are functional atheists when it comes to their work place, their community life, and in fact most aspects of their life outside of the times and geographical spaces associated with the gathered Christian community.

We have discussed different ways of remaining Christian, and being the Church even when we 'scatter' into the world (particularly the world of work).

Many persons have asked where they can get hold of copies of the book that I wrote with Graham entitled 'Transform your work life'.

If you want a physical (paper!) copy of the book you can order it from Loot in South Africa, or from Amazon in the USA (the US edition has a slightly different cover, so don't be surprised!), or from Cannaan Land in Malaysia.

Of course the easiest is to get a Kindle Copy to your smart phone, table or computer by ordering it here.

Rich blessing,

Dion

Wednesday
May202015

Hybrid identity, historical complexity, social identity and transformation - South Africa needs transforming individuals - Nico Koopman

This morning I attended the opening of the 'Talking Back' think tank on LGTBIQ identities and queer perspectives at the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University.

Prof Lious Jonker opened the event by telling some of the contested and liminal history of Stellenbosch, the Stellenbosch University and the location and identity of the Faculty of Theology.  He reminded us that just like places, geographical spaces, ideas and movements, we all have hybrid identities that are constantly developing, facing ongoing change and construction, yet they are located in a particular space and need to operate from there.

He shared some sections of Prof Nico Koopman's colum in today's 'Die Burger' newspaper.

Here is Prof Koopman's column.  It is a deep challenge to live for human dignity, take personal responsibility for the common good, and exercise tolerance and cooperation for the transformation of society for the better.

South Africa needs transforming individuals

Our societies need not only transforming institutions, we also need transforming individuals. We need people who impact positively on society, and who help society to reflect human dignity, with its three building blocks of justice, freedom and the healing of wounds of people who suffer under our socio-economic and political systems. We also need individuals who are focused on their own transformation and renewal.

Transforming individuals have the ability to deal with complexity constructively. Complexity has different faces.

Transformation people are people who can live with plurality. They embrace the multiplicity of identities and cultures, views and perspectives of reality. Religious and secular comprehensive meaning-giving frameworks help us with the development of an ethos of tolerance and embrace.

Renewing people understand that our lives are riddled with ambiguity, with multiplicity. They therefore know that the same notion can have divergent meanings for different people. For some people words like transformation and justice are a cause for rejoicing. For others they imply a threat, a reason for anxiety. The word reconciliation comforts some, while others feel the word frustrates their struggle for a life of human dignity.

Renewing people realise that to live as a human being, is to live with ambivalence, with duality. A situation, system, person or group is not singularly good or singularly bad. Both positive and negative aspects are present.

Agents of transformation reject oversimplification and see the nuances and shadings of issues. They realise that oversimplification leads to inadequate solutions.

People who value their own renewal and the renewal of society, also guard against anti-intellectualism and irrationalism. They embrace intellectualism. They want as many facts on the table as possible. They want to be informed before they make choices or act. Intellectual exertion helps to protect them from the almost irrational absolutisation of the own opinion, and the resulting stereotyping and stigmatisation, demonising and destruction of those who differ from one. The Christian tradition teaches that where people love God with all of their minds, anti-intellectualism and its negative outcomes can be overcome.

Transformation people live with paradoxicality, with apparent, but not real, contradictions. For example they understand that it is possible to create greater inclusivity without creating new exclusions.

People who serve transformation, are also people who recognise the tragic and dead-end (aporetic) character of reality. They identity with disadvantaged and wronged people. And where there is this love and concern for frail and vulnerable people, we develop the creativity, imagination and will to find renewing ways out of blind alleys.

Nico Koopman is dean of the Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University

I would love to hear any thoughts you have. We are indeed living at an intersection in South Africa between different classes, cultures etc.  We need people who are willing to live as transforming and transformative individuals for the common good of our shared future in South Africa. I am deeply challenged by this.

Sunday
May102015

Wow! So I will be attending the World Economic Forum on Africa next month!

I am not quite sure what 'qualified' me to be invited to participate in the World Economic Forum on Africa that is to be held in Cape Town next month (3-5 June 2015)? However, I am grateful and a little nervous to attend!

I was sent an invitation once before (about a year ago), but was not able to take up the invitation at that time. I felt then, as I do now, that there were others who could serve better in that realm and so I suggested that they invite some other South African academics and business leaders that I have worked with. Sadly the invitation is not transferable. So I thought that was it!

But recently I received another invitation to next months meetings. After checking with my HOD and our Dean if I could be released to go (which they enthusiastically agreed upon!) I completed my registration and received a confirmation of attendance on the same day!

I am not entirely sure what the 3 day meeting will entail. However, I am excited to participate and look forward to learning and bringing a perspective on economics that is shaped by the common good, informed from the ethics of my Christian faith. I have done some work in recent years on economics and justice, written a book and a number of articles on issues such as poverty, inequality, corruption and suffering, but also on faith and work and the responsible purpose of wealth.

I would appreciate your prayers.

You can read about the meetings here:

http://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-africa-2015

I will post information and details here as I receive them.