• 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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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!?


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.


How's that thesis coming along?

Sound familiar?

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

*[names removed to protect innocent parties]


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.


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. []


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:


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!


The things that dreams are made of! Family, Vespa's and WAB.

Yesterday was a national holiday in South Africa (Heritage day). It was a warm spring day, the kind that I have only ever experienced in Africa. It was about 30 degrees celcius, with a very slight breeze, and not a cloud in sight! A perfect day to take my 1968 Vespa VLB 150cc Sprint for a ride.

My daughter and I 'suited up' (which in our terms simply means shoes that can tie and long pants), and off we went to visit my wife's parents. They live on the shores of an expanse of water (not quite a lake. In South Africa English we call that is not quite the ocean, a 'dam') called the Hartebees Poort dam. It is about 50km's away from our home.

It was a wonderful ride. My little scooter did so well for a machine that was made in 1968 and already has 34 000 miles on the clock! We cruised at 50 miles/hour for most of the way. My wife Megan, who is now 5 months pregnant with our son 'BJ' Forster [BJ stands for 'Bliksem John' - the South African readers will understand this one.... see more at the end of this message], followed in her car and took the photos.

All in all it was a wonderful day, spending time with the family and not doing much else. I had some writing and marking to do. However, I left it for the day and rather woke up early this morning to catch up on my work. By the time our visit was over and it was time to come home, an ordinary day had become a memory that will sustain me for months to come.

I guess I had better add some theological reflection to this just to please the clergy. Over the years activities such as these have had various names. The scholastic monks called it otium sanctum, (Latin for "holy leisure"). When I was a student at University we called it WAB, (which is student speak (a vernacular all of its own!) for Work Avoidance Behavior)....

Who cares what it is called? It was great!

By the way. My son will NOT really be called BJ Forster! Could you imagine!? That would be an insurmountable handicap in South Africa! The joke started when our 7 year old daughter suggested that her brother should be named John at which my wife and I both packed up laughing. I thought, if he is going to be John, then why not go the whole hog? So, Bliksem John Forster it was! (If you still don't get it leave a comment - I'm sure someone from South Africa will tell you why it is funny). Anyway, his name will be Liam, and possibly he will bear his dad's second name - Angus (no NOT this Gus - MY second name is Angus!), this takes care of my mother's Irish heritage, and my father's Scottish heritage. Plus, it is SO much better than BJ Forster in the New South Africa!


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.