• 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.

What is this? Scan it and see!

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Noam Chomsky - The Political system in the USA as an example of the use and abuse of power.

A few people have asked me who this Noam Chomsky is that I have spoken of on a few occasions on my blog.

Quite simply, he is a very astute political observer. He is a Professor of Linguistics who has become quite famous for unmasking power in all sorts of systems, not the least of which the American government.

I have read a number of his books and listened to quite a few speeches. One of the endearing themes in his writing is that the elite most often control power in any system, and that they will do whatever is necessary to further their power at best, or simply protect it at worst. These elite persons may be elected officials, or the chosen members of a caucus group.

He is convinced that democracy no longer functions in America. When I listen to his reasoning, I tend to agree. Furthermore, I am quite certain that democracy doesn't function in very many power systems at all these days. What we have is oligarchy, i.e. a system where a few elite persons allow the 'dumbed' masses to participate to some greater or lesser extent in the dominance of power within the system (e.g. a nation may allow the masses to vote, but then their vote is really only a choice between the few powerful groups, or persons, who represent a fairly narrow spectrum of public opinion). In most countries, for example, the gap between the radical left and the radical right is not all that vast in reality.

It is quite an interesting idea. This 7 minute clip from YouTube is quite good in illustrating such a system in action in America. [By the way, if you are on a narrow internet pipeline, YouTube will cache the video for you. Simply press the play button and come back to it in 10 minutes - get it back to the start and you should be able to watch is quite easily].

My reading of Chomsky has certainly helped me to approach the forms of benevolent dictatorship that we encounter in spheres such as government, and church polity, with a greater measure of insight and caution. I can begin to understand who rules, and why they are in power. I also come to understand who is appointed to which posts, and who is fired from others (and of course why that happens). I am less naive about power and how it is used (whether that relates to the power that I hold and use, or the power that others hold and use over me).

The whole recent debate about the use of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's "brand" by its ministers speaks of the hegemony of survival by the powerful elite. For more on this particular debate please see Greg's blog (you will have to scroll back a few entries to September 19th to get his post on this story).

For an entirely different take on the emerging black elite in Southern African politics, and the division of wealth and power in the New South Africa, do a google search for Prof Sipho Seepe. I attended a lecture he gave some weeks ago which was an incredible insight into just such tactics. He spoke of certain vice chancelors being appointed to South African Universities, some of whom have not published a single scholarly article - all that was required was praise of the ruling party, and a R10 card membership.... Can you imagine such a person representing the intellectual capital of our nation at international gatherings. As Prof Seepe pointed out, it is little wonder that many look upon our degrees with scepticism.

Granted, neither Chomsky nor Seepe represent the mainstream. But then, neither do I. Mainstream supports the status quo, I have always like a bit of agitation to change for the better.

If you're sly, or perhaps mainstream enough, you may just be tempted to buy your card (whether it is for the BMC or the ANC, the Zanu PF, or the Republican party). However, if you live on the side of truth you may just be willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of virtues and principles. I long for that, in fact I pray for it. I'm not so sure that I always manage to do it.

As my friend Alan Storey is known to say about people who live with integrity and truth (commenting on the life of Jesus), "if you want to live the truth, you had better look good on wood".

What do you think?


George Bush is the Devil... It's official!

This video is hilarious!!

At last someone at the UN is talking some sense.

Yesterday President Hugo Chavez went on a rant at the United Nations calling George Bush the Devil. When he got into the speakers' podium (the same one from which Bush had addressed the gathering on the previous day) he said it still smelled of sulphur!

He pointed the UN to a book by Noam Chomsky (you have heard me refer to this book before. It is called "Hegemony and survival") and encouraged them to read about Bush's evil dictatorship. You can read about Naom Chomsky (a Professor of linguistics, and perhaps one of the most astute political commentators and authors at present) here:

For those who are on my grandma's internet (i.e. you have thin constipated pipes - not of your own choosing of course) you can read the full transcript of his speech here


It's been busy....

I have had one or two nudges via email to update my blog. I'm sorry that I haven't had time to put anything worthwhile up for a while.

After coming back from a glorious week of retreat at the uMariya uMama waThemba Benedictine monastery in Grahamstown (you can read about it on Pete and Peter's blogs) I have found myself quite busy!

This week I had to finish editing a book that I have been working on for Prof Jan van der Watt at the University of Pretoria (the book is on the ethics of the New Testament and has articles by a number of realy big names, including Dr Richard Hayes from Duke Divinity school). Thank goodness that is now done. I finished writing up the corrections and edits for the preface and conclusion this morning. I also had to draft all of the tutorial letters for the undergraduate and honours students in Systematic Theology, Ethics and Spirituality at the University of South Africa. Prof Kretzschmar, with whom I work, is on sabatical so that leaves me holding the baby. Then of course I had my normal day jobs (teaching my own students and running things at the seminary, as well as preparing for weekly worship services at the Bryanston Methodist Church). Did I mention that I came back from the retreat and found that I had about 100 scripts to mark [that means 'grade' for our American friends]? Well, that was fun....

Anyway, I enjoy being busy. I have done quite a bit of the forward planning for 2007 already (the seminary year plan, prospectus, term dates, provisional timetable, academic and board meetings etc.) it always helps since the year starts at quite a pace with the January seminars starting in the second week of January. Of course, it is also a good idea to look ahead since we will be having a baby sometime around the end of January or the start of February! Then time and energy will be at a real premium.

The only major tasks I have left for this month are to edit the paper I delivered at the South African forum of Science and Religion (SASRF). It is being published in a book called "African indigenous knowledge systems". My paper was entitled "Identity in relationship: The ethics of ubuntu as an answer to the impasse of individual consciousness".

I also need to write up the LONG overdue chapter for the book on Mission that Wessel Bentley and I have been working on (sorry Wes!).

And then, I need to work on the little book that we want to get out to help Methodist members and clergy to engage on the issue of same sex relationships. I'm still not sure where to go with that one!? I'll keep praying about it.

So... If you haven't seen anything posted for a while it is quite simply because I haven't had a lot of free time! It will come ... (the free time, and and updated blog!)

By the way, the lovely painting above is entitled 'The reading room'. It is from here.


That's some bath robe

A few of you know that know me well, know how I managed to finish my Doctorate in just over two years. I did have one year before those two, but had to change my topic when I changed Universities after taking up my current post. Somehow the two years feel quite a bit longer than they are. They have been filled with so much activity, growth and change!

The long and the short of it is that I managed to do it by making the sacrifice of waking up at 4am every morning for most of those two years (except on Sundays). By the way, this is my word of advice to anyone who is writing a thesis or dissertation. Please, don't torture yourself by trying to work on it once a week for a few hours. You will find that you spend half of that day, or morning, or afternoon, just trying to find your notes, remember where you were last time, and get your mind into gear. My friend Dr Kevin Snyman told me "write a page a day", even if it is not a good page, at least the thoughts are on paper. Once they're out there you can always go back and work with them.

I would 'write my page a day' (or a few more sometimes) by working from 4am to 6am and then get ready to go to chapel, into the office, and the classroom.

There were many (read MANY) mornings where I thought it would be much nicer to stay snuggled up in bed. I am a poor sleeper at the best of times, however, the pressure of getting to sleep knowing that I had to wake up in four or five hours didn't make falling asleep any easier. You know how it is. When you KNOW you have to wake up shortly, and you desperately NEED to fall asleep, it just never seems to happen as it should... I guess it has something to do with the pressure that causes the release of adrenalin which in turn counteracts the melatonin.

On those mornings where I felt I had nothing to write, when it was cold and I would rather be in bed, when I knew I had meetings, classes, and appointments that would take me into the night, when I knew I would need all of my energy to deal with crises and conflicts... On those days, I would pray - asking God to help me get up, switch on my computer, and at least put a few words on that 'one page a day' (however unintelligible the words may have been).

[By the way, that is my theory about Doctoral work! If you do it for long enough, it doesn't really matter whether what you write is sensible, profound, or of particular academic value. As long as it baffles your promoters, and has LOTS of technical words on LOTS of pages, you'll get the degree!]

However, I am sidetracked again... On THOSE days, I would pray, and then I would think about those lovely red doctoral robes, the awful hat (called a bonnet), and the terrible gold hood (couldn't they have found a nicer hood for Doctorates!?). I often promised Anne, Emily, Melanie, Lerato, Madika, Phidian, Victor (and latterly, Ruth and Neville) that when I get the degree I will wear my Doctoral gown for a whole month! I fantasized that it would be my reward for the lost hours, lost energy, and lost brain cells. That thought, mixed with God's grace in response to my prayers, somehow got me out of bed.

My friend, Dr Neville Richardson, tells me that in America a Doctorate is called a 'terminal degree', supposedly because it is the last degree that one can do. I guess that accounts for at least some of the blood that goes into getting the red robe!

Well, here's a picture of the gown in question. I've worn it once (and no, I didn't wear it for a month. It's simply too hot and heavy for that). Somehow it looks so much better on my daughter, Dr Courtney Forster!

I pray that she may find the strength to face far greater challenges, and make far greater sacrifices, in order to reach her potential and honour God. Today she wears the robes. Simply living as a young person with all of the challenges, demands, and temptations of this era, takes great courage, faith, and commitment. I continue to rise early [not quite 4am, but not far off], now I simply pray... There's little writing taking place in those early hours these days; just praying. I pray for her, for our Church, for the student ministers, my colleagues, and you never know - I may even be praying for you once in a while [it's a great gift my friend Kevin Needham taught me]. Courtney, and all of you, deserve the sacrifice, and God seems to enjoy the company while everyone else is sleeping ;-)


Spirituality podcast 14 - 5 September 2006 - scast14.mp3 (4.5MB) "Leadership in ministry / Working with volunteers"

This second podcast is in the form of a Radio broadcast that the Revd Christopher Harrison (senior minister of the Bryanston Methodist Church), Dr Derek Verrier (a lay Methodist with a Doctorate in leadership) and I recorded for a Christian radio station in South Africa called 'Radio Pulpit'

Click here for this podcast (4.5MB). I have had to host this file off site (I am experiencing bandwidth shortages), so if you have problems accessing the file please email me and I will try to sort it out.

This broadcasat deals with the subjects of developing your leadership ability and working with volunteers.

This show forms one of ten broadcasts that we have recorded entitled 'The ministry and me'. They are aimed at helping lay and ordained ministers to be more effective in their ministry.

We have just been asked to do another 10 shows. If time permits we hope to record these over the next two months.

This current series of broadcasts are still airing on Radio pulpit (you can either listen via streaming audio from their website, or you can tune in to 657Khz on AM Radio, or you can tune in your DSTV decoder (find instructions on the Radio Pulpit website).

To download the MP3 audio file click here.


Spirituality podcast 13 - 5 September 2006 - scast13.mp3 (4.5MB) "Time management and personal leadership"

Today's podcast is in the form of a Radio broadcast that the Revd Christopher Harrison (senior minister of the Bryanston Methodist Church) and I recorded for a Christian radio station in South Africa called 'Radio Pulpit'

Click here for this podcast (4.5MB). I have had to host this file off site (I am experiencing bandwidth shortages), so if you have problems accessing the file please email me and I will try to sort it out.

This broadcasat deals with the subjects of Mentorship, time management, and personal leadership.

This show forms one of ten broadcasts that we have recorded entitled 'The ministry and me'. They are aimed at helping lay and ordained ministers to be more effective in their ministry.

We have just been asked to do another 10 shows. If time permits we hope to record these over the next two months.

This current series of broadcasts are still airing on Radio pulpit (you can either listen via streaming audio from their website, or you can tune in to 657Khz on AM Radio, or you can tune in your DSTV decoder (find instructions on the Radio Pulpit website).

To download the MP3 audio file click here.


Trust me, I'm a...

Doctor, or Docter!?

My friend Wessel (who is SO ALMOST a Doctor himself) got me thinking about this subject last week.

Check out Wessel's blog (You can read his hilarious post on the confusion here, and my comment, which makes the distinction between 'Doctor' and 'Docter', here).

On Friday my wife came home with this cool badge for me! (She did buy it in Pretoria, by the way, which could account for the spelling error). We're still sort of celebrating the whole thing. It hasn't quite sunk in yet - I guess because in some ways it not that big a deal, but in other ways it is. Here's the badge -

However, I'm fairly certain that it should say this:

Hey... Trust me I'm a ... something


Scooters, Mods, and Lucodaze

This must be one of the coolest adverts ever! Has anyone ever seen the movie Quadrophenia? It starred a very young 'Sting' (when he was still the lead singer and bass guitarist for 'The Police' - the band that is, not the juristic arm of the state... Anyway, you know what I mean!).

The movie chronicled a battle between two rival groups, the Mods and the Rockers, that took place on Brighton beach, 1964. It is a fantastic insight into the Mod subculture in 1960's. Of course, for a Vespa lover like me, it is a wonderful movie to watch for all the cool scooters!

This advert is clearly styled on the movie. The lead character even shares the name "Jimmy". There are a few classic Vespa's in this one. I would LOVE to add some extra mirrors and headlights to my old 1968 Vespa! However, I fear that Megie and Courts would not be seen in public with me.


Spirituality podcast 12 - 31 August 2006 - scast12.mp3 (19MB)

Today's podcast is in the form of a lecture entitled "The redemption of cultural intimacy" which was delivered by Dr Willie J Jennings from Duke Divinity school.

Here is some information about Dr Jennings:

Dr. Jennings teaches in the areas of systematic theology and black church and cultural studies. The author of numerous articles, his research interests include these areas as well as liberation theologies, cultural identities, and anthropology. Dr. Jennings is a native of Grand Rapids, Mich. An ordained Baptist minister, Professor Jennings has served as interim pastor of several North Carolina churches and continues to be an active teaching and preaching minister in the local church.

You can read Dr Jennings' official biography here:

The lecture took place at the John Wesley College chapel in South Africa.

The welcome was done by Rev Dr Neville Richardson (the Director of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit in the MCSA). The word of thanks at the end (which is superb!) was done by one of the John Wesley College students, Rev Izeman Puleni.

I'm afraid that sound is not so good during the question and answer time (last 6 minutes or so).

Please do send comments, thoughts, ideas and feedback.


You can download the file here: Spirituality Podcast 12 scast12.mp3


It's all in the details

Take a look at the detail on this baby. It is a hand made model of a 1950's Vespa scooter; it is perched on my desk by the way (another shot taken with my camera phone). I believe that it was made by crafters from old Coke cans! It is a beautiful model. I love looking at it during the day - it makes me smile!

I smile because someone sat and studied a Vespa to get all the little bits just right. Then he, or she, took something worthless and shaped it to make something of true value! Well, we all know where this could go if it were a sermon.

It's a thing of great beauty, to celebrate an occasion of great joy!

I received it as a gift from my darling wife Megan.

My doctorate was finally awarded last week Wednesday (signed and sealed!) Other people may have received a book, or a voucher - but my wife knows exactly what I love! And... I love her for it!

My heart is glad!

(PS I realise there are a lot of exclamation marks in this post - I'm happy! That's why!)


Ordination 2006! It sort of dates me....

Below are the Ordination group of 2006. As I was participating in the Ordination service, hearing the names of each one (particularly my colleague Paul Smit), I was remembering that I screened almost all of them for entry into the ministry. I have trained just about all of them (either in Phase 1, or at College), and there I was watching them get Ordained.

It felt good in many ways - I am reminded again just what a great privilege it is to form people for ministry!

Here is the article that I wrote for 'The New Dimension' the Newspaper of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Credit to them for the Ordination Photo! Thanks Anne!

"Wathint' abafazi, Wathint' imbokodo!" (translated, "When you strike a woman, you strike a rock!"). This was the slogan of the brave women who marched on parliament 50 years ago in protest of the unjust pass laws of the Apartheid government. How fitting then that this year would also mark the milestone of the 30th anniversary of the Ordination of women to the Ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa! The celebration of women in ministry was the central theme of this year?s Ordination service, held in the extended Northfield Methodist Church on the 20th of August 2006.

The preacher on the day, invited by the Presiding Bishop, was the Reverend Joanne Browne-Jennings. She has been visiting South Africa, and teaching with her husband the Reverend Doctor Willie James Jennings, at John Wesley College for the past three weeks. Joanne and Willie hail from Durham North Carolina where they both teach at the Duke University Divinity school. Joanne's message was a wonderful reminder to the Church of the role and value of women in ministry. She also delivered a powerful charge to the Ordinands, reminding them to 'birth' the ministry God had been developing in them during their training, and to faithfully craft their ministry according to God's perfect plan. Pictured above is the Reverend Jennings, together with her interpreter from John Wesley College, the Reverend Izeman Puleni, as she preached with passion and enthusiasm.

The first woman ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa was the Reverend Constance Oosthuizen (pictured below with the Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, Bishop Gavin Taylor of the Limpopo District, and the Connexional Secretary, the Reverend Vuyani Nyobole, as they were praying for the Reverend Alan Booth who was being Ordained).

The laying-on of hands by Bishops and Presbyters, mingled with prayer, praise, and promise, marked the culmination of at least five faithful years training by the Ordinands. A highlight of the Ordination service is always when the congregation shouts "They are worthy", a statement that acknowledges their gifting and calling to the Ordained ministry. Adding further to the joy and celebration of the day was the presence of two Deacons (Deacon Claire Engelbrecht and Deacon Baden Clack) who were also Ordained by the imposition of hands. It is wonderful to see more and more persons offering for the ministry of Word and Service within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. In total 32 persons were prepared for Ordination under the caring guidance of the Reverend Themba Mntambo and his team this year.

At the Ordination banquet, held the night before the ordination, the Reverend Olivia le Roux expressed thanks on behalf of the Ordinands to Dr Richardson, and the Reverends Madika Sibeko, Ruth Jonas and Dion Forster (the staff of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit) for the hard work that had been put into shaping them for the work of ministry over the last 5 years.

The Education for Ministry and Mission Unit trains just short of 300 persons on an annual basis. An interesting fact to note is that currently ministers in training make up just a bit less than half of the active ministers serving in the MCSA - this is a huge task that requires the very best care. Please could we ask you to regularly pray for the Unit, its staff, and of course for all student ministers and deacons? Moreover, we would wholeheartedly encourage Districts, Societies, Organisations, and individual Methodists to consider supporting the work of the Unit as it prepares women and men for serving our Church throughout Southern Africa. Ministers in training, and their families, often make great sacrifices to fulfill their calling to ministry. Please consider sponsoring a student, or student family, at our Seminary (John Wesley College). Alternatively, you could consider sponsoring some books for the library, or donations of clothes, working computer equipment, and toiletries to aid the ministers in their training.

We look forward to seeing the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ for "healing and transformation" grow in the years to come. This year, however, we especially celebrate the wonderful gift of women in our ministry - both those women who are ordained, and those who faithfully serve Christ in their local Churches.


Falling in love again... What am I to do?

Every now and then it just happens... You're living your life and out of nowhere it just hits you... You see her and you just can't help it. It's love at first sight!

What am I talking about? Well, here's a picture of my latest love! Yesterday I took delivery of a 1968 Vespa VLB 150cc Sprint. They are extremely rare! This is the one with the square headlight (whereas all the other Vespa's have a round headlight).

This baby is in need of a little 'tender loving care'. As you can see her bodywork is a little worse for ware. But hey what can you expect after 38 years of hard labour!? The great news is that after 37000km's she starts on the first kick, idles like a dream, no gearing problems, and even makes it up to about 60 miles an hour! (yup, the speedometer is in Miles, not Kilometres. Also, you'll notice that it does not have any mirrors or indicators - that's how they were in 68! Also, it doesn't have a key! You simply kick it and it goes... So, I have cary a bicycle chain with me to chain it up every time I park it at the mall or on campus! Ha ha! It is hilarious! But boy, do I get some stares of amazement when I drive it. Evertime I park some 'old timer' comes up to check out the bike and tell me about his experiences on a Vespa in the Jurasic age).

Pictured above are my 1980 Vespa P200E (Orange - original colour, but restored), and my NEW Vespa VLB 150 Sprint (grey, rust and a few bumps - original paint - still to be restored). If you click on the image it will enlarge.

So, if you see my nipping around Pretoria between the seminary and the University of South Africa, or the University of Pretoria on this beauty, simply smile, wave, and don't covet! It's a sin!

So there you go Pete and Pete (good friends! How about you guys ride your bikes to PTA, and then drive down to Grahamstown for our retreat with me? It will be an ascetic experience! What do you think!?)

PS. You can check out a few more pictures of my Vespas (and some old one's I no longer own) in my Flickr Vespa set here: