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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • 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
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Monday
Apr022018

A politics of forgiveness in South Africa? Is forgiveness even possible?

In my new book 'The (im)possibility of forgiveness?' I present the complexity of notions of forgiveness in South Africa. South Africa's apartheid history (and current reality) is extremely traumatic. It continues to dehumanize the majority of the citizens of South Africa. 

I tend not to speak of a 'post-apartheid' South Africa since I feel that even though we live in a democratic dispensation where apartheid laws have been dealt with, the daily reality of most of our citizens is that apartheid is more entrenched than ever before. Except, now instead of it being primarily a political system in which an unjust state is the supposed enemy, it is a subtle economic system that is deeply entrenched in the social imagination. Some find it extremely difficult to imagine a South Africa in which no person has too much while another person does not even have enough to survive. The 'enemy' we now face is so seductive. It runs across racial and class barriers, seducing us into greater and greater sin. We want to own more possessions, gather more wealth, live in greater opulence, and experience so much more freedom and pleasure. And so, the rich grow richer, while the poor grow poorer.

It is primarily Black South Africans continue to be systematically oppressed through this unjust (economic) system, with unequal ownership of land, and the dominance of whiteness in social spaces and the media. If you want to hear more about my reasons for advocating against the use of 'post-apartheid' as a reasonable statement, or category of thought, then please watch this short video. Simply stated, if I were to claim that we live in a post-apartheid society it would not be true in relation to the daily experience of most of South Africa's citizens. Not only would it be a lie, but it would be a callous lie since it would deny the reality of hardship, suffering and pain that people experience every day.

Hence, while South Africa is closer to democracy (where citizens have the right have to rights), the reality is that politically and economically those rights remain out of reach for most. We are in 'most apartheid' South Africa. In this context, forgiveness becomes a deeply political concept.

Hence I ask, for what reason would White South Africans wish to be forgiven? Is it so that we can be set free from the guilt of our past, and the ongoing guilt of our present way of living? Nathan Trantaal speaks of the 'gif [poison] in vergifnis [forgiveness]'. Forgiveness can be a weapon that creates wounds. A White South African can seek it from a place of power and dominance - asking to be set free without having to face the consequences of our sin (economic sin, racial sin, social sin).

So, if we were to think about a polis in which forgiveness was not only a belief, but a reality, what would it look like? What would it take to get there? I am inspired by Miroslav Volf's idea in 'The end of memory'.

I am often asked when I speak about forgiveness, whether when we forgive, are we expected to forget? I think that forgetting altogether can be dangerous. However, what if we were to live for a world in which a memory of justice, reconciliation, mutual respect, the celebration of diversity, and true wholeness was what we remembered instead of our brokenness, enmity, greed, and fear? How would we need to start living today as a society, a polis, to make such a memory real in the future? This is what Stanley Hauerwas would call a political eschatology.

In this reality forgiveness cannot only be only as a spiritual or a theological reality. It must be concrete, it must be real. The content of true forgiveness should be experienced in a society of justice and grace.

However, it is also inadequate to think that once a political or economic 'transaction' has been enacted that forgiveness would have been achieved - the transactional view of forgiveness is as inadequate as the purely spiritual view.

Please don't missunderstand me - I firmly believe that we need a redistribution of land in South Africa, we need a transformation of our economy, and we must work for a reality in which the majority of our citizens benefit from the bounty and beauty of our land. However, when these necessary things are achieved, we will not yet be reconciled - forgiveness will not yet be achieved. These social, political and economic realities are not the 'end' of forgiveness (its fulfillment or achievement), no, they are the beginnings of forgiveness. Beyond the transaction we need something more, something gracious, something spiritual, something that is shaped by justice but achieved in grace.

I hope that you can see why this notion of forgiveness is such a complex concern? I long for us to be honest about the complexity of the politics of forgiveness in South Africa. It is only when we are willing to count the cost, and even more, to live with grace, that we can move beyond poisonous forgiveness to life giving, life affirming, and real forgiveness. A forgiveness that heals instead of harms.

Here is a copy of the Stellenbosch University Forum lecture that I gave on this topic in September 2017. I was honoured, and very grateful, to be invited by the University to deliver this lecture. The lecture was entitled 'The (im)possibility of forgiveness? Considering the complexities of religion, race and politics in South Africa'. The lecture has been reworked and will soon be published in a book on Religion, Violence and Reconciliation in Africa (published by SUN Media).

Here is a direct link to the youtube link below.

Wednesday
Mar072018

Jesus was the first person to decriminalise sex work (John 8:7) - A conversation in public theology and Biblical ethics

The Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town has a tradition of hanging banners on the outside of their church building on Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. They use this as both a witness to their convictions on social issues (such as sexual identity, economic inequality, freedom of information, issues of injustice etc.) The banners are often quite controversial. I think that is part of their intention - to draw some attention to these important social issues, and invite conversation around them. Either because they are not discussed, or because they are not discussed in honest ways, or considered from a variety of perspectives, or the issues are not discussed and considered in public spaces.
This most recent banner is a case in point. Their prophetic statement is “Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work (John 8:7)”.
This bold statement has generated a great deal of conversation among Christians and other interested parties! I posted a picture of the banner on my facebook page and asked for some comment. The comments flowed in thick and fast, and what was clear was that this is a controversial statement! Some were strong in their condemnation of the banner, stating largely that it either misrepresented a ‘proper’ interpretation of the narrative of John 8 (many citing John 8.11 as a qualifier). Others took exception to the moral association of Jesus decriminalising sex workers (labelling such persons as sinners, and saying that Jesus would never condone sin). However, this latter group were not always aware of the structuring of aspects of the Johannine narrative that contest those who hold social and religious power (such as the Scribes, and Pharisees) - indeed one possible interpretation of the John 8 narrative was that Jesus was unmasking unjust power. A powerless woman is to be stoned, while an equally adulterous man is not engaged.
So, this is a complicated issue that highlights just how important it is for us to engage such statements, as this one by the Central Methodist Mission, with a measure of informed objectivity on our own convictions and the convictions that others may hold. You can read the comments on on my facebook feed here: http://bit.ly/John8v7
Well, I think this is an interesting discussion! So, please do watch my video in which I try to highlight some of the issues at the intersection of different publics and different perspectives on public theological statements, as well as touching on Biblical hermeneutics, the social (and moral) imagination of Christian communities and societies, and also the prophetic intention of this Church. Please share the video, and please also share your feedback, ideas and comments! 
As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!
Please subscribe and like the video, and you will be notified of new posts as they come: http://www.youtube.com/dionforster
Thanks!

 

Sunday
Jan142018

On Human Dignity: Trump's 'Sh*t hole' countries and the dignity of human persons

This week the President of the United States, Donald Trump, named African countries (among others) as ‘shit holes’.
It was another expression of his prejudiced and racist views.
You can read about it on various news sources. Here is a link to the VOX report: https://www.vox.com/2018/1/11/16880750/trump-immigrants-shithole-countries-norway
I am grateful to be born in one of the countries that he calls a ‘shit hole’. In fact, I am thoroughly, thankfully, and proudly African! While I could not choose to be born in Africa, I guess that I just got lucky!
But that doesn’t mean I am better (or worse) than any other person. How can geography possibly constitute a valid measurement of the value of the human life? That is simply nonsense.
Mr Trump would do well to reflect on the words of Steve Biko:

‘The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look but the great gift still has to come from Africa – giving the world a more human face.’

- Steve Biko

 
So, in today’s VLOG I muse about the different ways in which people value one another.
I share some ideas on how we might approach the dignity of the human person that is not linked to inadequate sources like geography, nationality, race, wealth, ability etc.
Thanks for watching! As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!
Please subscribe and like the video!
You can follow my work on:
Academia (research profile): https://sun.academia.edu/DionForster
Thanks!
Friday
Dec222017

A year to remember! So grateful for 2017! Grateful for all of you!

This has been a year to remember! Forgive me, but this is a bit of a rambling post! Please feel free to skip it if you get bored. I have used this post as an opportunity to re-collect many of the important people, events, places and happenings in 2017.

At the outset I want to say how mindful I am that the blessing of this year comes from the many wonderful people and communities that I am priviliged to be associated with. I have received much more than I deserve, and in many instances, been recognised for work that belongs to a group of persons, not just to me. In addition to this, I am also mindful that any achievement is only worthwhile if it can lead to service. My hope is that the work of this year bears fruit for my students, for the Church I serve, for the people of the world that God so loves, and in some small way may help us to honour and protect the dignity and sanctity of humans and creation. This is about Christ, and community, and undeserved grace.

As I was reflecting on this year I was struck by this beautiful quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, 'God is in the manger':

'While we endeavor to grow out of our humanity, to leave our human nature behind us, God becomes human, and we must recognize that God wants us also to become human—really human. God raised his love for human beings above every reproach of falsehood and doubt and uncertainty by himself entering into the life of human beings as a human being, by bodily taking upon himself and bearing the nature, essence, guilt, and suffering of human beings. Out of love for human beings, God becomes a human being. This is about the birth of a child, not of the astonishing work of a strong man, not of the bold discovery of a wise man, not of the pious work of a saint. It really is beyond all our understanding: the birth of a child shall bring about the great change, shall bring to all mankind salvation and deliverance.' – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger

I am truly grateful for this year! 

It included, my daughter finishing high school and getting accepted to study at Stellenbosch University! Courtney also got her drivers license this year. My wife, Megan, completed a brilliant Masters degree, and my son Liam, is going to Grade 5!

I continued so serve as the Chair of the Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology and the Director of the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do the work that I do. I truly feel like I am fulfilling my calling and spending my time and energy among magnificent people, doing interesting and worthwhile things - I am in my 'sweet spot'!

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • My book was published: Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.
  • I was awarded a 2nd PhD from Radboud University in the Netherlands.
  • The South African National Research Foundation awarded me an NRF Rating as an internationally recognised academic researcher.
  • I was blown away to be awarded a 'Distinguished Teacher' award by the University of Stellenbosch in November.
  • In January I was priviliged to attended the 'African Doctoral Academy' to do some advanced training on ATLAS.ti (a powerful software package for qualitative empirical research analysis).
  • The Wesley Works project nominated me to serve on their Board as a 'Director at Large'.
  • I was also nominated to the executive committee of the newly formed, Methodist Theological Society of South Africa.
  • I continued to serve on the executive of the Global Network for Public Theology, and was appointed to the editorial board of the International Journal for Public Theology.
  • Being appointed as an Associate of the Allan Gray Centre for Values Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town's Graduate School of Business - thanks to my friend Prof Kurt April, he remains an inspiration, a source of encouragement, and blessing.
  • I had the rare and magnificent privilege of participant in the G20 meetings in Berlin this year (thank you Prof Peter Petkof). As with the World Economic Forum that I attended in 2015, this was a remarkable event. It was particularly interesting to see how prominent religion and ethics feature in global policy.
  • I was also appointed as a fellow of the Berlin Institute for Public Theology at the Humboldt University in Berlin. I am so grateful for Prof Torsten Meireis, a senior academic and senior colleauge who is a great help and inspiration in my academic development. I count it a great honour to work with Torsten.
  • In September I was asked to deliver the Stellenbosch University 'Form Lecture' on the topic 'Is forgiveness really possible in South Africa?'
  • The Graduation of my first PHD student at Stellenbosch University, Dr Anna Cho! I am so pleased for Anna - she wrote a magnificent disseration in Biblical ethics. We have also published an academic article together on this theme.
  • Another highlight was meeting Prof Jürgen Moltmann and having lunch with him while on his visit to Stellenbosch! Thank you to my friends Prof Julie Claassens and Prof Robert Vosloo, for making this event happen.
  • And, as a final highlight to the year I was awarded a place at the 2018 Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies a Pembroke college Oxford. A particular honour is that I was asked to deliver the deliver the “Fernley Hartley Trust” lecture (Methodist Church of Britain) at the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies on Friday the 17th of August 2018 in Oxford. I’ll post more details in due course. I am already nervous! I am sure that Bishop Ivan Abrahams (President of the World Methodist Council) had something to do with this! Thank you Ivan.

Among my highlights in teaching and learning were:

  • Teaching a group of international Doctoral Students at Wesley House, Cambridge University (as part of a joint doctoral program between Wesley House and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC).
  • Teaching two courses (Masters in New Testament and another in Leadership and Ethics) at Radboud University, Holland.
  • The University of Cape Town, Graduate School of Business MBA program (Ethical Leadership).
  • A seminar (with my friend Sean Temlett) to the University of North Carolina MBA cohort who visited South Africa - this is an amazing group of people! This year was the 2nd time that I was priviliged to join Sean and this group.
  • And then of course, my own wonderful students! This year I taught courses in Human Dignity; Public Theology; Modern Theology and Contemporary Theological Trends; Faith and Public Life; Youth and Moral Formation; Apologetics (which includes issues such a faith and science, theodicy, secularism etc.).

 

Travel and conferences. I travelled a fair amount in 2017 (16 trips, of which 8 were overseas):

  • Holland in January for the ordination and commissioning of our wonderful colleague Rev Rineke van Ginkel with whom I work in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology - I recorded two videos while on that trip here and here. And here is a great interview that Rineke recorded to highlight her work in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology.
  • I was back in Holland in May to teach at Radboud University. While there I also spoke at a conference in Leuven (Belgium) at the invitation of my friend Prof Kobus Kok. Those were two magnificent trips! It was also wonderful to have the time in the evenings (after classes) to just work on the completion of my PHD dissertation. I sent the final full draft for examination on the 14th of May when I departed!
  • I visited Germany from 5-23 June to do four things (see these videos here and here). I participated in the Summer School of Stellenbosch University, the Humboldt University and the Universities of the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal. I also participated in the G20 meetings in Berlin. Then I delivered a Public Lecture at the University of Bamberg (such an amazing medieval city)! Finally, I returned to Berlin for the launch of the Berlin Institute for Public Theology (of which I am a fellow).
  • In July I was in Cambridge to teach on the International Doctoral Program at Wesley House, Cambridge University.
  • My second last international trip for the year was back to Holland do some doctoral seminars and defend my PHD! That was an absolute blessing and joy, and all the more so since Megan travelled with me! This little fun video shows some of the preperation for the defence and a bit of riding around Radboud University's campus. And here is a video about the PHD defence and the award of the degree.
  • My final trip for 2017 was a wonderful visit to New York, and Princeton University, and then on to the American Academy of Religion in Boston where I delivered a paper and had various meetings with publishers, editorial boards and research projects.
  • Within South Africa I participated in the Methodist Theology of Southern Africa founding conference at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, I spoke at a conference in Potchefstroom in honour of my Doctoral Supervisor, Prof Jan van der Watt, I spoke at numerous Churches and institutions around South Africa. And of course participated in many conferences at Stellenbosch University (many of which will lead to publications, such as the Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Violence conference, the Religious Freedom conference, the Historical Trauma and Healing of Memory conference etc.)

 

As I write this I am on leave. There is a great deal to look forward to in 2018! I am due for research leave in 2018 and have been invited to undertake some part of that research leave in Sweden at the University of Gothenburg's department of Religious Studies and Theology. I will also be spending some time in Oxford for the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies. And if my Humboldt Stiftung (Fellowship) is successful (please say a prayer!) I shall be spending some months in Berlin! It is my hope that Megie, Courtney and Liam will be able to join me for parts of those trips.

So, as the year ends, I want to give glory to God, express my love for my family, and give thanks to my colleagues and friends. I am truly grateful to share in this journey with each of you. May we continue to offer our selves, our resources, our passion, our training, our intellect, our creativity, and indeed our very lives, for the development of the common good, for justice, for peace, and for fullness of life.

I share my last little video for the year (recorded on the Campus of Princeton University) on the politics of forgiveness with you. May you be blessed at Christmas, revived, renewed, and replenished for what lies ahead.

 

Thursday
Oct122017

So grateful! A celebration! Defending my PHD - sharing the experience with Megie!

Yesterday was a truly amazing day! At exactly 16.30 (11 October 2017) I defended my PHD (which you can read about here) at Radboud University, Nijmegen. It was a wonderful joy to share it with my wife Megan. At Dutch Universities the defence and graduation takes place at the same time. Your dissertation (once completed) gets examined, and then you have to publish it as a book (which I did - see the previous link for details). Then you defend it in public, and the degree gets awarded at the same event! It was exciting, but also rather scary at the same time! I am so grateful that it is done and the degree of ‘Doctor’ has been awarded (which means that I now hold two PHD’s, one in Systematic Theology and one in New Testament studies).

You can watch a little video about the build up to the defence below. And here are a few pictures from the event (with the ‘pedel’ / ‘beadle’) who was a great sport! My thanks to Radboud University, my supervisors, Prof Jan van der Watt and Prof Chris Hermans, to the communities that participated in the research (they matter most in this project!) and to my wonderful family for their love and support.

 

Friday
Oct062017

Graduating with a 2nd PHD in Holland - the possibility of the (im)possibility of forgiveness!

I am so grateful to be traveling to the Netherlands tomorrow (with my wife Megan!) to graduate with my 2nd PHD at Radboud University, Nijmegen in Holland.

The graduation ceremony (and defence) will take place at 16.30 on Wednesday 11 October 2017 - if you read this beforehand you can watch the ceremony online via this link.

I started my research at Radboud University in December 2013. I worked on the project, and spent some wonderful months, at Radboud University between then and May 2017 when I completed the manuscript / dissertation. You can read all of my posts from Radboud and about this research (in reverse order!) via this link.

The research project is entitled:

The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading Matthew 18:15-39.(Click the title to read an excerpt from the book and see the table of contents).

In Holland it is required that the dissertation is published as a book. It has been published by African SUN Media in the Beyers Naudé Centre for Public Theology series on public theology.

Here is the full reference:

Forster, D.A. 2017. The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18:15-35. 1st ed. Vol. XI. (Beyers Naudé Centre Series on Public Theology). Stellenbosch, South Africa: SUN Press.

 

You can read the abstract below, and see copies of the cover of the book and the commendations in the attached images. If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so via African SUN Media.

I have some sections of the book under review for publication, and have already published the following article which is a shortened section of the Biblical exegetical component of the study:

 

Forster, D.A. 2017. A public theological approach to the (im) possibility of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35: Reading the text through the lens of integral theory. In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi. 51(3):1–10.
In this article I also discuss (in summary) the other theoretical component of my study - namely integral All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) theory.

 

 

I made one or two short videos of some of the central concepts (see the bottom of this post for a discussion of the empirical qualitative aspects of the study, and a discussion of one of the primary theoretical components).

I am truly grateful to my promoters, Prof dr dr Jan van der Watt and Prof dr Chris Hermans. They were encouraging, supportive, and wonderful guides along the journey. I learned so much and I am so grateful for the findings of the research and the fruit that it will bear for the participating communities.

Here is a video I recorded at my home University (Stellenbosch University) where I discuss how I worked with the participants to gather and analyse the theological (qualitative empirical) data on forgiveness.

In this video (recorded in Nijmegen at Radboud University) I discuss one of the primary theories that I used in the study, namely inter-group contact theory.

Here is the abstract from the dissertation:

This project engages the complexity of understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 within the context of an intercultural Bible reading process. The study shows that concepts of forgiveness among South African Bible readers are diverse, containing nuanced, and even conflicting, expressions and expectations - a politics of forgiveness. Some have suggested since such entrenched differences in understandings of forgiveness exist in South Africa, that forgiveness may be impossible. However, in spite of this complexity it is suggested that South Africans, and South Africa, could benefit from a rigorous academic engagement with the theologically and culturally diverse understandings of forgiveness that emerge from reading Matthew 18.15-35 in an intercultural Bible reading setting. The knowledge gained from this study may help persons from diverse histories, cultural identities, racial identities, and economic classes, to gain more integral, shared, understandings of forgiveness. In this sense, at least, the possibility of forgiveness may emerge. 

Considering the above, the aim of this study is to produce rigorous, textured, and credible theological insight into the complexity of differing understandings of forgiveness in Matthew 18.15-35 from 'ordinary' Bible readers of different cultures who are members of the same Christian denomination - the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit. This is achieved through structuring the study as a practice oriented research project in empirical intercultural Biblical hermeneutics.

Three theories informed the research design. First, Ken Wilber’s All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) integral theory is used as a philosophical framework that provides language and structure to ‘plot’ the theological understandings of forgiveness in the text, and in the reading of the text. Second, intergroup contact theory is used to identify the mechanisms and processes for positive intergroup contact that inform the intercultural Bible reading sessions. Third, the Biblical text is engaged in a scholarly exegetical process so as to avoid collapsing the thought world of the text into the contemporary context. This is a critical aspect of a credible engagement with the Biblical text. This process allows for the construction of a hermeneutic bridge to link aspects of the text to aspects of the interpretive insights of the contemporary readers engaged in this study.

As anticipated, the findings of the research process agreed with some aspects of the research hypotheses and varied from others. The findings of the post intervention research data and analysis shows that to a large extent (except for minor variations which are discussed in the study) the participants of the intercultural Bible reading intervention developed more integral understandings of forgiveness. This means that participants were far more open to accepting understandings of forgiveness that were not held within their in-group, but were more common among members of the out-group.

The primary conclusion of this study is that more integral theological understandings of forgiveness are evidenced among the majority participants in this intercultural Bible reading process which was conducted under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. Moreover, this study shows that one can give credible empirical content to, and explicate, the theological perspectives, and the hermeneutic informants, of readers of the Biblical text. This helps the ‘problem owner’, (i.e., the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Helderberg Circuit), to understand what some of the barriers to shared understandings of forgiveness may be. Moreover, it allows for the design of intercultural Bible reading interventions under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. The data shows that in this case, the participants of this study mostly became more open to a more integral theological understanding of forgiveness with the ‘other’.

This project makes the following novel contributions to scholarly knowledge and the construction of theory: In New Testament studies the research contributes towards a number of new hermeneutic opportunities that arise from reading the Biblical text from a social identity complexity perspective (informed by Ken Wilber’s integral AQAL theory). Moreover, in relation to intercultural Bible reading, the project provides new insights into how persons who hold different socially informed views of forgiveness may encounter one another constructively under the conditions of positive intergroup contact. In terms of empirical cultural Biblical hermeneutics this study is the first of its kind to provide insights into how Black and White South African Christians understand the concepts and processes of forgiveness in relation to Matthew 18.15-35. The findings show that there is a logic behind the socially informed theological understandings of forgiveness that are expressed by the participants. This holds value not only for Biblical Studies, but also for Systematic Theology in general, and South African Public Theology in particular. Then, from a methodological point of view, the interdisciplinarity of the theoretical approach that is employed in this research stimulates new avenues for scholarly theological study in relation to problems in practice.

Thanks for checking in and sharing in my joy! I appreciate it.

Saturday
Sep302017

Theology, poverty and economic inequality - a reflection from Volmoed

A few weeks ago I had a chance to attend a colloquium at Volmoed - a retreat centre near Hermanus in the Western Cape. This is the home of the South African theologian John de Gruchy and has been a place that I have visited regularly for some years now. It also happens to be on the route of the final day (day 3) of the Wines2Whales MTB race - so I have ridden on the trails of the Hemel en aarde valley many times. 

It is a place I love to visit. I have fond memories of family visits there (we spent a Christmas vacation there with our family), and of course of the many conferences, retreats and visits to John.

This last visit (where the reflection below was recorded) was the annual Volmoed, University of the Western Cape and Stellenbosch University colloquium. Each year John de Gruchy, Robert Vosloo (my colleague from Stellenbosch) and Ernst Conradie (also a friend a colleague, but from the University of the Western Cape) invite theologians from around the world for a two day series of conversations and reflections on a specific topic.

The topic of this year’s colloquium was on theology, poverty and economic inequality. It was an opportunity to reflect with economists, political theorists, activists, and theologians on this besetting and challenging issue in South Africa (and elsewhere in the world).

I recorded the reflection below while there, but have been so busy that I did not have a chance to upload it before now. How should we think about the economics, land ownership, and addressing the challenges of poverty and economic inequality in South Africa (and elsewhere)? I would love to hear your thoughts, reflections and feedback.

 

Tuesday
Aug012017

Religion and Public Life across the world? A week of teaching at Cambridge University

It has been almost two weeks since I returned from Cambridge. I had the privilege of teaching on a Doctor of Ministry course at Wesley House, Cambridge University. This particular degree is co-hosted by Wesley House and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. My senior colleague, and friend, Prof Bruce Birch (the Dean of Wesley Seminary) had invited me to teach on the course. It was such a wonderful blessing to be able to visit Wesley House again. I have been a friend of the Principal of Wesley House, Dr Jane Leach, for more than a decade.

You can find out more about this magnificent doctoral course at this link - I can highly recommend it for anyone who desires to engage in relevant, critical, theological study that will make a contribution in Church, society and academy.

The 'cohort' of students that I had the joy of spending a week with were amazing. It was a diverse group of academics from all across the world (18 in total, one colleague from Liberia could not get a visa). Each of them had a particular connection to the Church and was seeking to develop as both a theological and ministry leader to better serve in their context. The class discussions were deeply challenging, lively, and of an extremely high level. I was so impressed by the persons, their experience, knowledge and preparation for the course.

The week on which I taught aimed to bring together an understanding of Christianity as an historically 'glo-cal' phenomenon i.e., a faith that is globally oriented, yet locally contextualised. During the week we considered a number of aspects of the history, theology, geography, culture and demography of different Christianities across the world and across history.

We read Kim, S. & Kim, K. 2016. Christianity as a World Religion: An Introduction. London: Bloomsbury Academic. It is a wonderful 'survey' text that traces the development of contextual expressions of Christianity across the continents of the world in historical and theological detail. I can highly recommend this book.

In addition we also considered the work of Taylor, C. 2009. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. And some exceprts on the role of religion in public life from the brand new book: Kim, S. & Day, K. Eds. 2017. A Companion to Public Theology. Leiden Bosten: BRILL.

It was just such a wonderful experience to be in community at Wesley House - it is truly one of the most remarkable places of learning - a true scholarly community with a deep commitment to academic excellence and spiritual discipline. I learnt a great deal from the colleagues on the course, and in my preparation to teach the course was once again inspired and challenged to think critically and carefully about the role of the religion (and the Church) in public life. It can be a great source for good, but also a space of struggle. I was reminded just how much good work Christians and Churches do, and how much more work there is to do in service of God's Kingdom and humanity and the planet's wholeness.

Below are two videos: First, is a video I recorded in Cambridge on the content of the course and some of our focus points in Christianity as a Global / World religion. My thoughts were a little scattered, and I was also a little destracted by the persons walking past. But, it gives some idea of what I was thinking.

Second, I would commend this video, recorded with Prof Jan Jans from Tilburgh University (about a year earlier) on the death of religion and the rise of spirituality in Europe. It is also a very interesting discussion! Jan is a great friend who visits us at Stellenbosch each year. I love his energy and insights!

As always I would love to hear your thoughts, and ideas. How do you express your faith in your context? What is the role of Christianity and religion in your community?

 

Wednesday
Jun212017

A matter of conflict? Politics and sustainable development? A reflection on my visit to Berlin

I am coming to the end of a magnificent trip to Berlin, Germany. I arrived here almost three weeks ago to speak at and participate in a number of events. The title of this blog post is 'A matter of conflict? Politics and sustainable development?' It seems, as I reflect on my time here, that I have given a lot of time to thinking about the relationship between an ethics of justice and an ethics of care - how do we work of a world in which no one has too much while anyone has too little? How do we transform economic, social and political systems for the common good AND at the same time care for one another and the environment. This is the 'site' of conflict, that intersection between justice and care. My colleauge Dr Carike Noeth is a specialist in this field of study (having completed a great PHD on the ethics of care (and justice!) last year. So, this has occupied a lot of my thinking.

Prof Torsten Meireis, a senior colleauge in Ethics and Public Theology - who is a Professor at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin - invited me to participate in some events here in Berlin during the summer. It has been such a wonderful and significant visit. I have had the privilege of participating in a number of academic conferences, the G20 meetings in Potsdam, visiting and doing a lecture at Bamberg University, and working on a joint research project with Prof Meireis.

So, I arrived in Berlin on the 6th of June to participatein the first event which is a joint 'Summer School' program that is hosted by the Humboldt University, Stellenbosch University (where I teach), the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN), and the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Each year we meet in South Africa in February or March, and then in Berlin in June.

It was so wonderful to be here with South African and German colleagues - the event was arranged by Dr Clemens Wustmans from the Humboldt University and our topic was 'Religion, sustainability and politics'. The presenters included scientists, literary theorists, development specialists, religious scholars and theologians. 

In this picture you will see Prof Meireis. As mentioned I was in Berlin at his invitation. In part it was also to work on a joint research grant application for a project that he and I will collaborate on. The project focuses in the ethics of 'Welfare pluralism' in South Africa and Germany - in particular how notions of welfare are conceived and who participates in the conception and expression of these concepts (the state, civil society and the religious sector, the private sector etc.) I really hope that this project will be successful! It will be a great development for my academic career, and it will also mean that I will spend a lot more time with Torsten and time in Berlin! So, I will keep you updated on how that develops!

At the summer school I presented a paper entitled 'Thinking 'olive' instead of 'red' or 'green': Seeking to bring together sustainability and development discourses in Southern African Methodist Ethics'. The paper will be finalised and prepared for publication. In the meantime, here is a short Youtube video from my series 'It's not a lecture... Just a thought!' on this topic. You will also get to see some of Berlin and my beautiful Brompton Bicycle on this trip!

Then, on the 12th of June I went to the University of Bamberg where I did a public lecture with Prof Thomas Wabel who is also an ethicist and Public Theologian. The purpose of the visit (other than the lecture) was to hand over the 'leadership' of the Global Network for Public Theology from Stellenbosch (where we hosted the last global gathering in October 2016) to Bamberg where the next gathering will take place in 2019. Thomas takes over as the hosting chair, and I will serve (at the behest of Prof Nico Koopman) as the outgoing hosting chair on the international commitee. Bamberg was amazing! It is such a beautiful city! The lecture itself went well, as did the meetings. I was so surprised to see my colleague Prof Smanga Kumalo from UKZN and Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) arrive at the lecture! He had come to the city for some meetings and heard I was doing the lecture and so attended. That was very special. Here is a poster for the lecture, and a picture of Smanga and I before the event. The title of my lecture was ‘The (im)possibility of forgiveness? Nelson Mandela and the Politics of forgiveness in South Africa’.

The lecture is based on two large research projects that I have just concluded (if you see my youtube channel you will find details of both). They are, the research and work that I have been doing on Nelson Mandela and political theologies in South Africa, and my 2nd PHD (which I handed in at Radboud University on 14 May 2017!) which is entitled ‘The (im)possibility of forgiveness? An empirical intercultural Bible reading of Matthew 18.15-35’. In that research project I did a 3 year qualitative empirical study on how Black and White South African Christians conceptualize, understand, and express notions and processes of forgiveness in contemporary South Africa with its significant economic, social, political and racial divides.

The lecture went off well and there was a lively discussion afterwards. The President of the Bamberg University, Prof Ruppert, attended the event which was a great honor. Here is a picture of myself and Prof Thomas Wabel, where the 'GNPT' Batik cloth was handed over.

After returning from Bamberg I came back to Berlin to participate in the G20 Interfaith Meetings in Potsdam. This was a wonderful opportunity to further discuss the role of religion in the G20 nations in relation to sustainable development and migration - which are significant and important topics currently. What I found so interesting is the very important role that the G20 places upon religion and the religious across the world. The Pew Researcher (Brian Grim) spoke about their research that shows that 84% of global citizens identify that they are religious. This is significant. Of course we know that religion is often a source of conflict and social division, even abuse. Yet, at the same time it is also a great source of transformation, care, development and change. I was so grateful to be at this event thanks to my colleague and friend from Oxford University, Dr Peter Petkoff (pictured here).

Now I am on the last stretch of my stay in Berlin. Today and tomorrow I shall participate in the opening conference of the Berlin Institute for Public theology (of which I am a member). I will be speaking on Public Theology, globalization, politics and economics tomorrow. My paper is written, but I feel that I still need to rework it a little before I present. By Friday evening I shall be home with Megie, Liam and Courtney! I cannot wait. 

Trips like these are always so wonderful and significant. But, my goodness, there is nothing quite like being home with my family!

 

Wednesday
May242017

Justice, economics and historical consciousness - on a trip to Belgium

You may have noticed that I have not been posting to my BLOG as regularly in recent months. In part this is because Squarespace no longer supports posting to version 5 sites from their iOS apps. I mostly posted to my BLOG from my iPad or iPhone. So, if anyone has a solution for this please let me know! I would love to be able to post more regularly but need to be able to do so from my iPhone or iPad.

Well, here is a post that I prepared about two weeks ago when I was in Belgium.

In today’s VLOG I travel to Leuven in Belgium for a conference with my friend Prof Kobus Kok. It is a wonderful journey, and so much fun with my Brompton bicycle (cycle, train, bus, cycle!) It is awesome. But, I notice that the demographics of the Netherlands and Belgium differ somewhat. This got me thinking about the current concerns in Europe, the USA and elsewhere about refugees, ‘closing’ one’s borders, BREXIT and of course Turkey, France and Trump’s USA.

I discuss John Rawls’ Theory of Justice as one way of viewing how we might structure our societies economically and politically if we have a concern for our past history and our future shared wellbeing.

See John Rawls’ ‘A theory of justice’ here: http://amzn.to/2qg83OI

Thanks for watching! As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!

Please subscribe and like the video!

You can follow me on:
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Thanks

 

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, ideas!

Saturday
Mar112017

Life and Lecia - an analogy

Like me, my Leica camera is well worn! It shows the scuffs and scars of everyday life.

However, it has kept its sharpness over the years. I, on the other hand, have tried to soften some of my edges as I grow older - it is a work in progress. It takes thought and deliberate intention. I am grateful for life. And yes, I am grateful for my Leica. It slows me down. I have to think about light, shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. Every shot is deliberate, it is composed, considered.

This is not an action camera. It is a tool that invites reflection. When the picture is taken it has a story - some moments in history, accumulated experiences captured in time.

Why the return to my camera in recent months? Well, for the past three years I have been working on a big research project - a second PhD. It has been a wonderful journey! I have learnt so much. However, for those who have ever undertaken such a task you will now that hardly a moment goes by where you do not feel guilty that you are not reading, thinking, and writing. Such a project is started with an end in mind - it is teleological. The end invites action in the present. That can create pressure.

My PhD is done. The manuscript was completed and sent to my promoters at Radoubd University. I am not awaiting feedback from one of them (I already had feedback and the final 'sign off' from one). Once that is done the manuscript will be prepared for examination and defence in Holland.

So, that pressure has lifted. It has given me a bit of a psychological 'margin' - some space to think, to reflect, and to pick up my camera again without feeling guilty! It is a gift. 

I hope to post pictures here from time to time. However, you can follow me on Instagram - @digitaldion to see almost daily pictures under the hashtag #Leica365 

Wednesday
Mar082017

Is the Church failing the nation? On Minister Dlamini and South African social grants

In our 3rd year Public Theology / Ethics class today we discussed the notion of a just society in which all citizens have the right to have rights, and the resources of the nation are shared for the common good.

We considered that a just society is one where power is used to safeguard the rights of the least powerful, and where economic policy is implemented, not for the benefit of the privileged or the elite, but for the benefit and protection of poorest of the poor. 

John Rawls's theory of justice was discussed, as was God's preferential option for the poor. In particular, however, we pointed out that in a country where 83% of our citizens say that they are members of the Christian faith, denials of justice and the abuse of the less powerful are failures in our witness and work as the church! 

Minister Dlamini is a member of a Christian church. Has her denomination held her to account for her poor servanthood, for her failure to be a good steward of the trust of the South African people? Have the members of her family, her community, her Church, reminded her that a nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, not its richest and most powerful?  

Christians in South Africa, we have so much work to do to witness to justice and work for the common good. We are called to do so - it is a responsibility.

I am grateful to be able to wrestle with these issues with colleagues and comrades in Christ. Thank you for your companionship on the journey!

Here is the article that prompted this post:

PAYMENT CRISIS 

Dlamini unwittingly gives grants support 

08 March 2017 - 06:57 AM Steven Friedman 

Poor people across the country owe a debt to Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini. Entirely by accident, she may have produced a national consensus in support of social grants.

Dlamini presides over perhaps the most disgraceful incident in the past two decades, an exercise in breathtaking contempt for 17-million people who receive grants. There are two possible explanations for the crisis her ministry has created for the grants programme.

Either it did not care, over several years, about making sure grants would be paid after the Constitutional Court overturned its agreement with Cash Paymaster Services — or someone sought to benefit financially from ignoring the order. Both explanations mean her department sees the people who are entitled to grants not as citizens with rights, but as a means to some other end. Which, of course, makes it all the more ironic that it has given grants an unexpected boost.

Before the grants story became national news, the programme’s only friends were a handful of academics, activist nongovernmental organisations and the poor themselves.

Elites here are divided on most issues, but not on prejudices against social grants, which are often derided as hand-outs that create dependency. The right complains that they place a burden on middle class and affluent people, who are expected to sustain others who lack their abilities. Many on the left, and within the governing party, see them as an embarrassing admission of defeat by a state that should be running employment programmes rather than giving money to the excluded.

Commentators across the racial and political spectrum join in this assault on grants, sometimes by spreading legends. A former ANC Cabinet minister claimed, without any evidence, that rural people avoided working the fields because they receive grants. A bank economist claimed that tens of thousands of women fell pregnant simply to receive grants: when asked for his information source, he said a friend told him.

Dlamini’s disaster may have changed all that. None of the commentators or politicians who have criticised her, which means everyone outside the ANC’s patronage faction, have questioned the need to pay grants. It could be a long time before it will again be fashionable to denigrate them. If the assault on grants ends, Dlamini’s scandal will be a disguised blessing for the economy as well as the poor. Grants are, with the programme to provide treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, the country’s most important success story in the post-1994 era.

Research shows that, contrary to the urban legends, grants are not only a lifeline for poor people: they also help to kick-start local economies. Few people fritter grants away — they are more likely to use them to meet social needs. In some towns, before the grants programme was rolled out, men stood in line for a handful of mining jobs. After grants arrived, people were more likely to be standing in line at stores or, more importantly, buying and selling on the streets. No wonder that studies have found that grants are the most effective antipoverty tool introduced since democracy arrived.

One reason grants are effective is that the decisions on how to spend them are made by the recipients rather than policy makers.

One of the greatest blocks to development here is the gap between what many policy makers think poor people need and what the poor know they need. The more people are able to decide for themselves what their priorities are, the more likely is it that the money will not be wasted.

An end to the campaign against grants might also help the debate to focus on the real world. As this column has pointed out, millions of South Africans will remain outside the formal job market for a very long time, whatever we do and so they will require support to enable them to live productive lives.

Finally, the political costs of harming the grants programme may be severe. Research shows, predictably, that people who receive grants value them and would be angered if they did not receive them, so protecting grants is essential to maintaining a semblance of social calm. The fact that no one in the debate has denied that failure to pay grants would be a catastrophe suggests that this reality too is now accepted.

For all these reasons, if Dlamini’s indifference to those who receive grants has made them a source of national pride and their protection a priority across the spectrum, she will have made, despite her best efforts, a real contribution to the campaign against poverty.

• Friedman is research professor in the University of Johannesburg’s humanities faculty