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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
Jun112014

Nelson Mandela and the Methodists, a little preview

Next week on Thursday I will be presenting an academic paper on Nelson Mandela and the Methodists (particularly the Methodist Church of Southern Africa).

I have done lots of interviews, read so much, and even found a few interesting documents (like his Class / Membership card pictured here). He was a remarkable man, was formed by his African Wesleyan roots, but did move beyond 'conventional Christianity' in his later life. Will post more once the paper has been delivered.

UPDATE:

The paper was delivered and has been published in the academic journal Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae here.

Tuesday
Jun102014

Rev Dr Mvume Dandala on the Church as the hope for South Africa in the next decades

This year, 2014, marks 20 years since the dawn of participative democracy in South Africa.  There is little doubt that 1994 heralded the dawning of a new era in South Africa. We are better off in so many ways - all of our citizens have equal status before the law. We have made positive gains in health care for all, education for all, and in general South Africans have a higher life expectancy and even have better economic prospects.  See the OECD Better Life Index report for more details [1].

The reality is, however, that even though we are doing better, we are not nearly where we should be as a nation.  We have some serious problems - HIV and TB continue to have a huge impact on the average South African.  Moreover, South Africa has the highest GINI coefficient (we have the highest rate of inequality between the rich and the poor) in the world.  This means that unemployemt remains a problem, crime is difficult to manage and the majority of South Africans are still living in poverty [2].

All of this is compounded by ongoing human rights abuses and continuing corruption in government and the private sector.

My paper on Thursday will discuss these issues in detail using some of the most recent statistics from early 2014.

I will, however, also focus on the role of the Church in addressing these economic, social and political issues. South Africa remains a largely religious society, if the Church is doing its work we should be engaging the moral character of our citizens, and positively engaging issues justice.  I will post my talk once it has been delivered and published.

Dr Dandala did an excellent plenary talk this morning.  He spoke very strongly about the African nature and character that is required of the Church in South African society.  His talk was an acceptable challenge.  I recorded it and got his permission to post it here.

You can download Rev Dr Mvume Dandala's talk at the Stellenbosch University, Ekklesia / Beyers Naude Winter School on 10 June 2014 here (45MB MP3).

If you use or distribute the talk would you mind please referencing Dr Dandala and linking back here to www.dionforster.com?

_____

[1] OECD, OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2013 (OECD Publishing, 2013); OECD, How’s Life? 2013, How’s Life? (OECD Publishing, 2013), 17–31, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/economics/how-s-life-2013_9789264201392-en#page1.

[2] Please see the World Bank report on global inequality here:  http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI South Africa has a GINI coefficient of 63.1, which was the highest in the world at the time of the report in 2009.

Tuesday
Jun032014

Zotero or Mendeley? Which academic citation manager is better?

There is a well known saying among academics the world over, Publish or Perish.

It is true! In the academic world the publication of research is critical to one's career - I like to see it in a less 'survival' directed framework.  Namely, that I want to publish my research because I believe it serves the world and helps the Church and Christians in their task of making the world more just, beautiful and blessed.  Perhaps I am being a little idealistic?

Regardless, I try to publish a book over other year or so, and I also try to get about three scholarly articles in peer reviewed journals each year.  When you consider the work that it takes to do that while still teaching undergraduate and postgraduate classes, as well as supervising multiple Masters and PhD students, you can imagine that I need a pretty efficient system to keep a record of what I am reading, and easily get that information into my books and academic articles.

For some years I have been using Zotero as a citation manager.  It is a great tool since it is open source, it works really well on the Mac and PC, and it stores your reference database (books, articles, documents, web pages, videos, interviews etc.) in the 'cloud'.  It also has plug ins for Microsoft Word (on the PC and the Mac), and also for open source word processing software.  It is really easy to use!

However, I have been frustrated by two things.  First, it does not have an iOS client for use on my iPhone and iPad.  I often only travel with my iPad and when I have a few spare moments it would be great to be able to catch up on the latest journal articles and books and add them to my citation index for later use.  Alas, that cannot be done.  I have to wait until I am back at my Mac, fire up my web browser, either find the article or book on Google Scholar, Amazon, or Google books, and then add the source automatically.  Or worse still, if it is an older or lesser known source I have to add it manually.

My second frustration is that Zotero is not supported by the University of Stellenbosch Library system (I am a faculty member at Stellenbosch University).  This means I often search for titles in the library, and once I have found them there I have to search for them a second time (on Amazon, Google Books, Google Scholar, Gale etc.) to be add the reference to my library.

One of our library staff suggested I try Mendeley.  It is also a free piece of citation management software.  It also works on the Mac and PC (and Linux), and as a bonus it also has an iOS client! So that is great.  However, it is not opensource - that always worries me a little.  Often it means that if there is a problem, or the owners no longer make money from the software or loose interest in it your data could get 'stuck' in an outdated piece of software.  Opensource solutions tend to updated more quickly and over a longer period of time since it is the users who drive that process.

Still, it is worth checking out since it is tied into our University library system (a huge bonus that will cut at least one significant step out of my Zotero workflow).  Moreover, the University has some sort of agreement with Mendeley that allows faculty to have more space for storing references on online copies of PDF's and articles (Zotero charges for extra space).  It also works well with the Mac and has a lovely interface, and as I mentioned above it also has an iOS client.

Here is a little video from Portland State University that does a good job of comparing Zotero and Mendeley

Do you use citation management software?  I know many folks find the learning curve too steep and have stuck to manually entering every citation! My goodness, I simply don't have time or patience (or enough of an eye for detail) to do that well.

If you do use citation software what do you use and why?  If you use either Zotero or Mendeley I would love to hear your reasons for choosing one over the other, and any tips you may have to help me maximise my use of the software.

Wednesday
May282014

Why Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is wrong - law infused by religion is a bad idea

 

 

The lead story in the news this morning (28 May 2014) is a report that South Africa's Chief Justice, Hon Mogoeng Mogoeng, wants to "infuse laws with religion" to raise the moral fibre of the nation. He was speaking at the Religion and Law Conference at the University where I teach (Stellenbosch University).

 

While most faiths do develop the moral fibre of their adherents, this is not something that should be put into law! Yes, faith has a public role, and should have positive effects on public life, but religion should not get preference from the legal system of a nation. The law is intended to protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of their religious perspective. Laws should be based on the principles of justice and our shared human dignity - whether a person has a religious belief system or not, or differs with the religious beliefs of a minority, or majority, of the population, their rights should be protected in law. Religion on the other hand is based on beliefs that are not commonly shared, in fact some beliefs may run contrary to our common human rights (like the treatment of women and girls in some faiths, or the disregard of the rights of persons with a same sex orientation). Most people who want religion to be enfranchised in law want their religion, or religious convictions, to occupy that privileged place. I am guessing that Judge Mogoeng inadvertently expressed such a view. Indeed, nations like South Africa are deeply religious, and so we must take note of religious convictions and religious groupings. But such individuals or groupings should not be accorded special place before the law. Civic organization should enjoy the same access to the law and the same rights and privileges as a religious organization.

This does not mean that religious persons and organizations have no role to play in society, or in serving the nation. Quite to the contrary, campaigns such as Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption are wonderful examples of how people of faith are engaging social issues. The law protects their right to express their views and gather others to encourage them to change their values and behaviour. It was not always so in South Africa, a government that called itself 'Christian' oppressed its citizens, robbing them of their rights and dignity. No, we need a just, ethical, secular state that protects the rights of all citizens, including those who are religious, to be able to express their views in society.
By a secular state I do not mean a state that relegates faith from the public sphere and confines it only to the private realm.  Rather, I think of a secular state as one similar to that espoused in the constitution of South Africa - that is a state that is not partisan to any one religious group, or to persons with no faith perspective. Such a state recognises the importance of faith in shaping people's lives, their values, choices and actions, and so protects that right. Yet it does not accord higher value to any one group than another.

 

A religious state is a bad idea! I developed this idea in my recent book 'Between Capital and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State Relationships' (co authored with my friend from UNISA, Dr Wessel Bentley).

 

On the issue of a Christian government in any nation - I personally believe it is naive of believers of any faith to think that having persons of their faith persuasion in power will make things better for all. What Christians should pray for, and work for, is a just, ethical and unbiased government that looks out for the interests of all of the citizens of their nation. It is the role of the Church and believers to bring people to faith, that is not the role of the government. We should not long for a modern form of Constantinianism. Faith driven political agendas are destructive to faith and society.

 

Here's my view.


  • You don't want an anti-religious government (like that in the former USSR or China, where people of faith are persecuted). Faith is an important part of life. People should have the freedom to practise their faith as long as it does not destroy the rights of others.

  • You certainly also don't want a religious government (we have simply seen too many of these kinds of governments abusing people! Governments like those in Iran, and even the calls for 'religiously sanctioned wars and killings' in America which have confused religion with foreign and public policy) are harmful to faith and society! The problem with a religious government is that politicians are seldom 'religious persons' first and politicians second. Most politicians are politicians first, and they hold some religious conviction when it suits them. Also, if the religion in power is not your religion, or they belong to a different expression of your faith (e.g., Catholic instead of Protestant, or Suni Muslim instead of Sufi...) it can become extremely abusive. I certainly believe that we should have Christians in government, they should be salt and light! But, I don't believe that the Church should abdicate its role and function to the state.

  • No, I believe that one should work for an honest, impartial, just, servant minded secular state. A state that will protect and uphold the rights of all of its citizens, giving equal space for all to exercise their positive beliefs. Such a state serves the nation well and protects the freedom and rights of its citizens to live out their faith convictions within society. We have just such a system in South Africa. It can be uncomfortable for extremists and fundamentalists. But, I believe, as a Christian, it is the way of Jesus to make space for others. Let our love, not our laws, win the hearts and minds of those who hold different convictions from our own. I will write some more about this in the weeks to come.

Some years ago I was privileged to hear a lecture by Professor Martin Prozesky at the Joint Conferences on Religion and Theology at Stellenbosch University. The title of his lecture was the following: 'Is the secular state to blame for the decline in moral values in Southern African society'.

I recorded the lecture using my Macbook - so the sound quality is not all that great. It is not all that bad, but there were some instances when a few desks and chairs were moved in order to get some extra persons into the venue who arrived late. So please just skip through those bits.


The gist of the lecture is this: Does a secular state contribute towards the decline of moral and ethical values? Many religious groups and faith communities would seem to suggest that this is so. Martin makes an exceptional argument that a secular state (not to be confused with secularization) makes for a high moral and ethical standard in society.

The reasons, as stated above, is quite simply that the only alternatives to a secular state (i.e., a state that his not swayed in an direction by religious beliefs) is a theocracy (such as nations in which Islamic law is applied in the name of God), a anti-faith states (such as the USSR under Karl Marx). Neither of these are desirable for truly moral and ethical development. Rather, what is necessary is the kind of freedom that allows all citizens to participate in developing ethics for the common good of the whole of society.

He makes some wonderful statements about what ethics is in its broadest terms. He also discusses the notion of a secular state and makes reference to problems with Southern African constitutional democracy.

I found it most interesting! I would love to hear your comments and feedback!

Here's the lecture - it is a 10MB mp3 file.

If you do use this lecture or download and share it could I please ask that you reference it to Professor Martin Prozesky, 22 June 2009 (Stellenbosch), and also please send a link back to me here at http://www.dionforster.com


Thanks!

 

Tuesday
May272014

Inspired by the prophetic ministry of Rev Prof Peter Storey

I spent most of this morning interviewing Rev Prof Peter Storey about his role in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

He was Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe's chaplain on Robben Island. His life and ministry are a strong witness to courage, peaceable, work for God's Kingdom on earth.

His deep faith in Christ the motivation for his tireless work for justice, transformation and reconciliation in South Africa, frequently at great personal cost and threat to his safety.

It was inspiring listening to his life's story and ministry. He indicated that his ministry was shaped by the question 'What would it mean to be faithful to Christ in this situation?' The courage to ask that question, answer it honestly, and live the answer, is a spiritual discipline that will surely result in justice being served and God being honoured.

Saturday
May102014

The coolest #selfie ever! Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu

Today (10 May) marks the birth of one of the most remarkable and courageous Christian witnesses of our time - Beyers Naudé. Oom Bey (uncle Bey, as he was affectionately known) was a Christian minister who faced persecution. Y his countrymen, censure by both the Church and the state, and alienation from friends and the broader community for his witness and work against racial oppression in South Africa. At great personal cost he chose the good of others over his own. This wonderful #selfie of Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu is actually a photoshopped picture from this website (there are a few other really cool pictures there, such a Winston Churchill, Jacky Kenedy, and even their Majesties William and Kate!) This image was originally a picture of Oom Bey and Archbishop Tutu on the occasion of the Arch being awarded the Nobel peace prize. Happy birthday Oom Bey! Today I give thanks for your life and witness and pray that many more women and men would follow your example in South Africa, and elsewhere across the world! I am privileged to be a member of the Beyers Naudé center for public theology at the University of Stellenbosch. The center continues to honour the legacy of Oom Bey by working with the Church and broader society across South Africa (and even the world) to advocate for justice, foster reconciliation and present the possibility of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and wholeness for all people.
Wednesday
Mar192014

Changing the way that change happens - Social Innovation through Vocational Freedom

Today I had the joy of meeting with Francois Malherbe - an amazing guy who is facilitating a social revolution with 100 cups of coffee.  You can read about his '100 Conversations for Social Innovation' here.

I was deeply challenged by Francois' passion for seeing people flourish through discovering their passion and finding the tools, resources, and most importantly the relationships, to bring those passions to bear on the needs of the world.

When our coffee was done I was left with the feeling that he, and those who he will be meeting with over the next year, will be part of a revolution of change that changes how change happens.  What impressed me most was his focus on empathetic listening - a core value of people and relationships.  I experienced it as quite close to the idea of ubuntu that we hear so much about in Africa (if you're interested in a few other posts I've written on ubuntu follow this link).

Francois referred me to the TED talk of Ernesto Sirolli entitled 'Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!' Some of the rationale behind Francois' approach to social transformation and human flourishing stems from Sirolli's work and thought.  It is well worth watching the talk.

Thanks to @eksjaco and @findingfrancois - this has been the best cup of coffee this year!

Wednesday
Mar192014

Rev Vukile Mehana - Pastor, Politician or financial Profiteer? You decide.

I have been watching the rise in power of Rev Dr Vukile Mehana - the Chaplain General of the African National Congress (ANC) with some interest in recent years.  

It would seem that he holds powerful positions in three of the most significant sectors of South Africa society - party politics, religion and big business (see the reference to his interests in a media company considered to threaten media freedom in this article, and some broader information on some of his business interests in this Business Week article.)

Is he a Pastor, Politician or financial Profiteer?  What do you think?

Consider this in the light of a recent World Council of Churches document on the the 'Politicization of religion'.

Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the CCIA comments on this phenomenon, “The politicization of religion and use of religion in politics has often added to polarization, social divides and conflicts in traditionally tolerant communities around the globe".

I'd love to hear your perspective! Please post a comment below.

Wednesday
Mar052014

30 pieces of silver - a great resource for Lent on taking a stand against corruption!

The Bible Society has prepared this great resource to support Christians in taking a stand against corruption. It forms a part the 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption'. It comes at the start of Lent and will be a great resource to guide you through Easter. Please use it, share it, print it, email it, and support the EXPOSED campaign at http://www.exposedcampaign.com Download the PDF from here. It is a small PDF file of less than 1 MB.
Wednesday
Feb262014

Traveling along God's path

I came across this beautiful quote:

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Indeed, my experience is that I am truly free when I travel along the path of the source of all life. When I divert my course and go my own way I often find myself lost, alone, and unsure.

It is a great blessing and gift to be loved by God in Christ, and to receive the gift of life by living in that love.

Monday
Feb242014

The Argus Cycle tour (again) on a Brompton folding bicycle!

In a week and a bit I will be riding my 12th Argus Cycle tour. If you add the 12 rides together it equals almost 1500km of riding just along that one scenic route of Cape Town. I have had a few good rides (under 3h30) and at least one horrendous ride (6h+some! That is a year I would rather forget. Simple advice, don't ever try a new supplement on race day!)

Last year's race was the most fun of all - I rode with my darling wife Megie, and I did the ride on my 3 speed folding bike. A Brompton! It causes quite a stir - so much so that I ended up in this year's official race magazine (p.39 of the 2014 Cycle magazine - see the attached picture).

I will be riding on Darth the Brompton again this year, and will be joined by at least two other Brompton Brothers from the UK! Three of us among the 40 thousand - not a bad ratio! At this rate we will take over the race by.... Well a very long time!

Last year I had a fall on my mountainbike a broke my right hand, and three weeks ago I fell off my Vespa and got a grade two dislocation of my shoulder (AC joint) and a cracked shoulder blade. I did some training with my arm in the sling. It is almost 4 weeks later and I'd say it is 90% healed.

This Sunday I'll ride the Argus Mountainbike race on my 'bigger' bike (a Cannondale Scalpel 3, 29er).

Next Sunday Megie and I will once again hit the road for the Argus road ride. I'll be riding in a jacket and tie with my Brompton. If you see us along the way wave and say hi!

PS., if you click on the 'Argus' tag on this post you will see some previous posts with Argus tips, a picture with Francois Pienaar and Matt Damon and a few other things.

Wednesday
Feb192014

A blessing for absence

Today we have James Alison presenting a seminar at the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. (By the way I stall cannot believe that I am so blessed that it is my work to attend a seminar!) It is a wonderful to be reminded of the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness and the central role that this plays in the expression of our faith in the world. We know this concept is central to our belief, yet sadly we often separate belief from action. James is a wonderful Dominican scholar who has a deep understanding of René Girard and the 'fresh' and 'creative' reading of Biblical texts. The meeting was opened by Rev Laurie Gaum with the following meditation from John O'Donohue:
May you know that absence is full of tender presence and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten. May the absences in your life be full of eternal echo. May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere which holds the presences that have left your life. May you be generous in your embrace of loss. May the sore of your grief turn into a well of seamless presence. May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear from and may you have the courage to speak out for the excluded ones. May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life. May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging. May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight are one and may your longing inhabit its deepest dreams within the shelter of the Great Belonging. (Eternal Echoes 275)>
- A blessing for Absences John O'Donohue.