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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
  • 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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Wednesday
Nov012006

Is your faith simply a delusion?


I love reading stuff that is challenging. The book that I am dipping into at the moment is "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins.

It makes for very interesting reading indeed. Of course it has caused quite a stir among religious people! Dawkins pulls no punches. However, in the process of trying to take a digg at religious fundamentalism, he makes the mistake of naively believing that all religious persons are to be painted with the same brush.

I read a review of this book that is even better than the book itself! You can read the whole review here. It is skillfully writen and has a keen insight into both Dawkins' style and his aim.

Here are a few extracts from the review. (P.S. I do still encourage scholars, theologians, and persons of faith to read this book. It is always a good idea to be informed on what people may be thinking about you and what you believe! However, this book is not for the faint hearted - if you're not sure what you believe, it is probably not worth reading.)

A comment on Dawkins' theological insights:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don?t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince.

A critique of Dawkins' concept of God:

Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ?existent?: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.

And lastly, some insight into Dawkins' favourite subject!

In its admirably angry way, The God Delusion argues that the status of atheists in the US is nowadays about the same as that of gays fifty years ago. The book is full of vivid vignettes of the sheer horrors of religion, fundamentalist or otherwise. Nearly 50 per cent of Americans believe that a glorious Second Coming is imminent, and some of them are doing their damnedest to bring it about. But Dawkins could have told us all this without being so appallingly bitchy about those of his scientific colleagues who disagree with him, and without being so theologically illiterate. He might also have avoided being the second most frequently mentioned individual in his book ? if you count God as an individual.

In the light of his love for himself, maybe the title of the book should have been "The Richard Dawkins delusion"?

Need I say more? Read the book, but also read this wonderful book review by Terry Eagleton.

Friday
Oct272006

My chapter for an upcoming book is done at last!

Some weeks ago I delivered a paper at the Southern African Science and Religion Forum. The title of my paper was:

Identity in relationship: The ethics of ubuntu as an answer to the impasse of individual consciousness

After presenting the paper I had to edit it to get it ready for a book in which it will be published called "Indigenous knowledge systems".

Well, the great news is that I managed to complete my edits this morning (in between a thousand interruptions!) However, it is DONE! Tick.

You can download a copy of the chapter below if your interested to read how the ethics of ubuntu can help scholarship in consciousness studies and identity to overcome the impasse of an identity crisis that is looming as a result of consciousness emulation in strong artificial intelligence.

ubuntu and identity Dr D Forster 2006

Friday
Oct272006

The outcome of the Doctrine, Ethics and Worship Comission's (DEWCOM) discussions on same sex relationships

A number of persons have emailed to ask how the presentations and discussions on the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's attempt to grapple with same sex relationships went this week.

Here is one of the Sumissions made by Greg Andrews. You can also find his reflections on the meeting, which is very well put, in his blog post "Dassie finds hawks may be doves" (26 October, 2006).

Wednesday
Oct252006

Bluebulls are faster than Cheetas! Scientific evidence...

This post is in honour of my good friend Dr Bentley! He is an ardent supporter of the South African Bluebull rugby team (who recently drew the Currie Cup final match with the Free State Cheetas! VRYYYYYYYSSSSTTTAAAAATTTT!)

However, I was sent this amazing video of a Blue bull outrunning a cheeta in the wild. It is amazing, never before seen, footage of this kind of event in the wild! The video is not that large (2MB). Download it and be amazed!

Click here to download the Video file

Monday
Oct232006

I just can't connect the dots.

Wow! Take a look at my Clustr map (the most up to date version should be on your left somewhere near the top of this blog). Can you believe how quickly the dots have returned?!

You may have noticed that somewhere in September I cleared my map (it was by mistake, I'm sorry to say - one wrong click and all the dots disappeared. I was quite sad! I had put a few of those dots there during my travels around the world (I'm still missing one from Korea!)). It took ages for the dots to start coming back again!

Then, I post something about George Bush being drunk, or possibly something about transgender sexuality (I think it is more likely to be the latter, rather than the former) and VIOLA all the dots re-appear!

Isn't it scary to think that each one of those dots could represent some person searching for "transgender" and "sex" somewhere on the web? MMmmmmm...... Makes one think doesn't it?

I haven't been brave enough to do it myself (search for those terms, that is)... What if someone sees me? What if some l33t haX0r from a 'warez site', or 'all free serialz', or 'free mp3 downloads', or 'porn king' is 'sniffing my packets' (and no that is not some kind of sexual innuendo, it means to trace someone's movement online!). PS. I inserted all those terms to see whether I get a whole lot MORE hits to my page from strange places! Watch the dots, and let's see if it works!

How about one of you types that ["transgender" AND "sex"] into google and see if my website comes up? Wouldn't that be a HOOT! Let me know what you find! I would be very interested to hear!

Of course, the easiest way to get 10 000 hits to your page is to post it to www.digg.com and manage to get 'dug' to the front page. We all live in hope.

Sunday
Oct222006

Choose your battles.

As I grow a little older (please note the word little), I have come to realise that I have to choose my battles carefully. Sometimes it is simply because I don't have the time to get involved in all the things people ask me to get involved in, at other times it is simply a matter of being wise enough to get involved in enough things to make a real difference. The cartoon below says it all!

Friday
Oct202006

GW Bush is drinking again! (Late Late Show)


Anyone who has ever had the joy of watching CBS' late, late show with Craig Ferguson (what a great Scottish accent he has!) will truly appreciate this next video.

When I watched this, I laughed so hard that I almost wet myself! It is one of the funniest videos I have ever seen! Of course it is a bit of 'TV trickery', but who cares? It's FUNNY!!!!!

Watch it, and let me know what you think. Is George Dubulya Bush drinking again!?

Wednesday
Oct182006

Eunuchs and transgender sexuality in Matthew's Gospel...

I was sent the attached paper (please download the PDF) by a colleague of ours. It makes for a fascinating read!

It is a very accessible exegesis of Matthew 19:12. It poses the question whether our traditional reading of this text is valid in relation to the prevailing view of eunuchs in Matthew's cultural and religious setting.

It also offers some remarkable insights into heterosexist readings of scripture and the the dominance of masculinity in modern biblical scholarship (and of course popular Christianity).

This has been a real eye-opener for me. I have never thought of any other reading of Matthew 19:12 than the heterosexist askesis approach (i.e., that what Christ demands, according to this passage, is sexual purity and fidelity. Which, is of course, what we assume the Eunuch to embody).

However, this transgender understanding of the Eunuch, particularly as it relates to cultural understandings of both sexual morphology and social acceptance, challenges that view fundamentally!

From what I read in this paper, 1) Either Matthew records this saying, and intends quite a different reading from the one that has become accepted in modern scholarship (i.e. heterosexist askesis), or 2) it is a later redaction of Matthew to make a point to support social and cultural norms that prevailed after the 5th century 'outlawing' of transgender eunuchs. Of course this is quite plausible as well since this text is a logion with no other text to compare it to (from either the Gospels or the Epistles).

I would love to hear what your thoughts are!

Please click here to download the PDF file.

Tuesday
Oct172006

How's that thesis coming along?

Sound familiar?

Now get back to work [insert name here]*!

*[names removed to protect innocent parties]

Monday
Oct162006

Stanley Hauerwas' genius! The mystery of learning, an incomprehensible titles to a thesis!?

The address below was given by Stanley Hauerwas at the Duke University PhD Commencement (something akin to a European Graduation). It is humorous, deeply challenging, and will strike a cord with every person who has ever done a piece of academic work in which they have "struggled to say what defies saying"..... Wes, Ruth, Phidian, Pete, Jenny... you all know that feeling too well!

Let me ask you this question: Have you ever been to a graduation and understood the title of someone else's thesis or dissertation?. No? Well, neither have I....


"The simple cellular cultures in the stomach of the east African Mossie in the months of July and August as they relate to global warming and the consumption of fossil fuels in the Southern regions of East Asia"

Or some such...

A colleague of mine, Comrade Phidian Matsepe used to say "If you want to hide something from an African, just put it in a book". Of course he was making the point that we are lazy when it comes to reading.

I want to encourage you to read the next few paragraphs, let me know what you think! Why should we have Universities? Are they even relevant in the current milue, are they relevant in Africa? Do we still need the 'ivory tower' of the academy? Should people spend years of their lives studying towards degrees whose titles even other Doctors cannot understand?

Enquiring minds want to know! Stanley Hauerwas also gave some thoughts on this. It makes for a wonderful read. Maybe it will inspire one or two more Africans to make the African voice heard in the world academic arena.

FOR DAPPLED THINGS

Commencement Address for Ph.D. Ceremony Duke University, 1996

--by Stanley Hauerwas

The Divinity School, Duke University

Being the smart people I know you to be I assume most of you have just discovered one of the most important survival skills an academic needs--that is, how to get through commencement exercises without dying of boredom. It has been some years since you went through a commencement. You had forgotten how long they can be. You forgot to bring anything to read. Desperate, you turned to the Commencement program and to your delight discovered the listing of the dissertation titles. Even better, you discovered your dissertation title. Then you thought, "I can get through the rest of this event by reading the other dissertation titles."

Of course that is when the trouble begins. You are on the brink of having your Ph.D conferred--which surely puts you among the brightest of the bright in this society--but you discover not only do you not have a clue to what most of the other dissertations are about, but you cannot even read their titles with understanding. After discounting the hypothesis that this might have to do with your limitations, you then begin to wonder about the institution from which you are graduating. For you could understand just enough about some of the titles to make you wonder what kind of university would allow someone to graduate with a Ph.D working on this kind of stuff. Just remember the person sitting next to you is probably thinking the same thing about your dissertation.

All of which is to say, "Congratulations on the completion of your work and welcome to the rest of your life!" I realize that some of you will not stay in the university, but from this moment on, for better or worse you are citizens of the university. You owe us. I realize this is not a time to tell you, "You owe us," but if we are to continue to be a place that can graduate people who cannot understand the person next to them at graduation, we are going to need your help. We need you to help us tell those who are not part of the university why they should want to support communities and institutions who produce people like you and me.

The humbling experience of not being able to communicate with the person next to you is not something that is peculiar to this occasion. It is in the character of the modern university. I served on a committee in the university for some years that required me to be confronted by people from other disciplines. When I first heard about random walks, I thought this must be someone's project from the School of the Environment to lay trails in Duke Forest. Imagine my surprise to discover "random walks" is a subject in the Department of Mathematics. Then there was tribology. I thought surely this was an area in the Program in Literature dealing with the Star Trek episode about "Tribbles." That is, I thought it possible this was another profound probing by cultural studies to illumine the production and reproduction of the capitalist subtext. It turns out the subject does have to do with capital, since it involves oil. For tribology is the study of friction, and oil can reduce friction. There is, moreover, a Journal of Tribology, so we know it must count as an academic discipline!

Some within the university, and many external to the university, think the fact that we cannot understand one another's dissertation titles is surely an indication that something has gone wrong with the contemporary university. They assume what is wrong with the university is nicely exemplified by occasions like this. What could I possibly say that would be of interest to such a diverse group? Yet this occasion but reproduces the everyday politics of most universities, whether they be large or small, research universities or liberal art colleges. When faculties come together to discuss matters of common concern, we discover the only matters about which we have a common concern are which parking lot we got assigned, the conditions of Card Gym, or perhaps, health insurance. The issue is no longer the two-cultures made famous by C. P. Snow, but the many cultures both between departments and within departments. Departments often are names for diverse methodologies which share nothing in common other than perhaps proximity of offices and labs.

Yet I am not convinced that such a view of the university, and/or of your work in it, is justified. This is an odd position for me to take since I am a theologian. Theology may once have aspired to be the queen of the sciences, but such an ambition today by any discipline would only be laughable. Moreover, theology--like philosophy and, I think, many of the humanities--is a discipline where there is nothing new to learn. For us all the "data" is in. So we cannot pretend to produce the kind of knowledges that seem to legitimate the current proliferation of disciplines. The problem for theology is how to understand what we know by attending to those in our past who struggled to say what defies saying. That, of course, requires being initiated into a discipline, which means theologians also write dissertations with titles that are not immediately understood.

Our inability to read and understand one another's dissertation titles is not in itself a sign that something has gone wrong, but rather a testimony to the discipline, the sheer hard work, necessary to understand a few things well. That you are all receiving a common degree at this time indicates you share more in common than your dissertation titles suggest. You have each submitted yourselves to the discipline of the past and current masters of your craft in order that you exemplify in your own life the passion of your subject.

I realize, of course, that the language of passion may seem far too dramatic to characterize the years you have spent in your doctorate work. Drudgery may seem closer to the mark. Yet surely passion must infuse the drudgery; for otherwise how are we to explain the exactness of your dissertation titles? Such exactness is required by the details--details, moreover, that can be appreciated only by those who have submitted themselves to the discipline necessary to see why such details matter. That you have now made those details matter surely suggests that at one time and at one place you fell in love. Or put differently, at one time and at one place you were possessed with the desire to want to know, for example, why butterfly wings differ, how songbirds sing, or why Trollope is the greatest English novelist. The reason you cannot easily communicate what you have learned is that the truth is in the details of such study, details that can only be appreciated by undergoing the discipline you have undergone.

But why would anyone want to undergo such discipline? Stanley Fish explains it this way:


"Literary interpretation, like virtue, is its own reward. I do it because I like the way I feel when I'm doing it. I like being brought up short by an effect I have experienced but do not understand analytically. I like trying to describe in flatly prosaic words the achievement of words that are anything but flat and prosaic. I like savoring the physical 'taste' of language at the same time that I work to lay bare its physics. I like uncovering the incredibly dense pyrotechnics of a master artificer, not least because in praising the artifice I can claim a share in it. And when those pleasures have been (temporarily) exhausted, I like linking one moment in a poem to others and then to moments in other works, works by the same author or by his predecessors or contemporaries or successors. It doesn't finally matter which, so long as I can keep going, reaping the cognitive and tactile harvest of an activity as self-reflexive as I become when I engage in it." (Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change, p. lb)

But remember, Stanley also reminds his students when they express admiration or Milton's poetry that Milton does not want their admiration: he wants their souls.

Fish's account may be peculiar to literary criticism and, no doubt, other literary critics would be quite critical of his understanding of why he does what he does. Yet I think he rightly indicates why many of us are attracted to the details of our disciplines. I have noticed, for example, that the highest accolade one mathematician can give another is to describe her work as "deep." A physicist's work must be "elegant." Yet just to the extent our work attains such beauty, it becomes hard for us to understand one another, though we may and should come to appreciate what one another does. Yet such appreciation is hard won and even harder for those who are not part of the world we call the university. Which means they (that is, those not part of our world) can rightly ask why they should pay for Stanley Fish to get such pleasure from the study of poetry?

There is no easy answer to this question, though I think there are answers. We can begin by observing that there exists no intrinsic tension between a Fish-like understanding of our work and our work being useful. I was once giving a lecture at Iowa State University (long before the wonderful novel Moo had been written). Since I am a compulsive jogger, I was running around the campus in the dark of the early morning. I passed a huge building that was fronted by enormous Greek columns, but because of the dark I could not read the inscription above the columns. I came around later after the sun had come up and discovered that chiseled in marble above those columns was the wonderful word, "MILK." I thought, what a wonderful way to organize knowledge! Indeed I hope that chairs of the departments of Physics and/or English at Iowa State University report to the Dean of the School of Milk.

Yet as useful as the study of milk is, such usefulness often cannot provide adequate justification for the practices actually required for such study. For milk, no more than poetry or virtue, is not an end in itself but rather gains its significance as part of a network of needs and goods that represent a community's traditions. The university represents those set aside to serve and remember those goods through the patient love of details. Why we should be paid, or better--privileged, to do such work is because we believe the world in which we live would be the poorer if people like us and our passions did not exist. As those who have been privileged to have been given the time for the work represented by this ceremony, you now have the duty to help those not so privileged understand our passions as a contribution to our common goods.

That we cannot read one another's dissertation titles, therefore, may not be a sign of failure, but rather an indication we are rightly reflecting the truthful differences that make our world so beautiful. Such beauty makes it difficult for us to understand one another and in the process we are humbled not only by having to acknowledge all that we do not know, but even more by that which we have tried to know. And humility is that virtue most required if we are truthfully to tell one another what we know but do not understand. Moreover, I believe God enjoys the details, and we would not truthfully reflect God's creation if we hid the differences required by the details. Accordingly, I can do no better than to close with the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscapes plotted and piecedfold, fallow, and plow;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

And so, I pray, may your life and work be dappled, as you go forth from this place. [http://www.duke.edu/web/FacultyForum/vol8/ffoct.htm]

Monday
Oct092006

How to improve your student minister's preaching!

I, like my good friends Peter, and Pete, am responsible for shaping and moulding student preachers. Let me tell you that it is often amazing and exciting to hear wonderful, deep, challenging, and life changing messages coming from one's students! However, at other times it is quite painful listening to bad theology, poor delivery, and the same old message on love that has been preached in the chapel each year for the past 1000 years!

One of our students sent me the link below. I have decided to implement this method in trial services in the chapel. Watch the Shockwave Video and tell me whether you think it will improve the quality of preaching in the Chapel! Our preaching lecturer, Rev Sifiso Khuzwayo, just needs find a way to rig this into our pulpit and we're in business!

At least this time it will be the preacher, and not the congregation, that suffers if there is a terrible sermon!

Here's the Video: http://www.glumbert.com/media/tonguetwister.html

Friday
Oct062006

An eventful week!

My good friend Dr Bentley reminded me this evening that I had not updated my blog in a while.... Ha ha! Thanks Wes.

I don't have much time to write. However, I hope that a few photographs will compensate for that. The big events of this week were:

1. A scan to see our unborn son, Liam (Bliksem John), on Monday.
2. My Doctoral Graduation on Wednesday.
3. The John Wesley College Leavers' dinner and Valedictory service.

Each of these events was deeply special and significant in its own way. Liam is growing and developing very well. My Doctoral Grad was a great affirmation for years of study (my wife, Megan, worked out that I had been studying for 17 years since completing my schooling... It has passed far too quickly!) The College Valedictory service and dinner was truly a special event. We have had a remarkable group of students this year.

So, here are the pictures.

This photo was taken in the ZK Matthews Hall (google that name, it belongs to a truly significant South African Christian figure!) at the University of South Africa. Amazingly, the guest speaker on the evening was a Theologian from Scandanavia. By the way, how silly is that hat?

This next image is a picture of me standing in front of the Dean. The Dean reads a short resume (CV for the South Africans) for each Doctoral Candidate, and then reads the abstract of his or her Thesis before asking the Vice Chancelor to confer the Degree. I was the second Doctoral Graduate on the evening. It is quite nerve wracking standing up there... Quite a fuss is made of the Doctoral students, since the Masters students only have the title of their thesis read, and the undergraduate degree students only have their names read. Many fellow students offered congratulations, quite a few said they aiming for the 'red gown'. I'm sure many will do it! As an aside, I was the youngest person to receive a Doctoral degree this year. It feels like quite an honour (it also shows that they'll give a degree to just about anybody ;-).

This third photograph was also taken by my good wife! Here I have just been 'capped' (kneeling in front of the Chancellor, Prof Barney Pityana - also a name worth googling! He is a great guy, he came to speak at our humble seminary's 10th Anniversary celebrations in 2004 - he remembered me from that event and was quite excited to bestow the degree. It made it seem more personal). In this photo I am about to shake the hand of some senior functionary of the University - I am still not quite sure who he was. From here I moved forward to stand before the Registrar of the University who placed my Doctoral hood over my shoulders, and then off the stage and back to my seat.

UPDATE: Here's a short Video of he ceremony (if you haven't already had enough!). It is a flash based video hosted on youtube. So, if your internet connection is slow simply start it up and then come back in a few minutes, it will be loaded, restart it and watch!

Now on to the rest!

This last photograph is a photo of our staff and students outside the College Chapel. It was taken just before our leavers' service and dinner. In the centre, from left to right, my friend Wessel Bentley (mentioned above), then me, then Rev Madika Sibeko, Dr Neville Richardson (fondly known as 'the captain'), and Rev Ruth Jonas. Neville is the Principal of the seminary, I am the Dean, Madika is the co-ordinator of training for the ordained ministries, and Ruth is the co-ordinator of training for the lay ministries. The four of us make up the full time staff of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit.

Well, that's the news from this week! Much blessing to all. I have a busy weekend ahead. However, I hope to share some of the projects that I've been working on in the next few weeks. I have been asked to write a chapter for a book on Wesley's sermons (44 scholards from different countries have been asked to work on one of Wesley's sermons each). I am also preparing an abstract for the paper on Wesleyan Theology in Southern Africa that I will present at the Oxford Institute in August next year. However, this weekend I am celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Bryanston Methodist Church, officiating at a wedding, and conducting the Confirmation Service for Bryanston. Celebrations all round!