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

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

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Thursday
Apr282016

Celebrating Freedom Day! Is South Africa post apartheid or MOST apartheid 22 years later?

As we celebrate Freedom Day in South Africa we have so much to be thankful for! We have a constitution that intends the protection of all our citizens. We have a functional judiciary, we have section 9 institutions that are still free and fair, we have an active civil society and faith based organisations, we have beautiful citizens and one of the most beautiful countries on earth!
Yet, the reality is that we are still facing such significant challenges in South Africa! As you will see in this VLOG we are more unequal (economically) than we were in 1994, the Reconciliation barometer of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation shows that there is growing distrust between the races. Our nation is not yet in a Post Apartheid condition - we are not yet free! 27 April 1994 won the possibility of Freedom, but as citizens we need to find ways to make that freedom a reality for all - where every person is free to excel and flourish, where there is both personal and institutional solidarity for life.
I'd love to hear your take on this!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
I’d love you hear your feedback, comments, questions and ideas!

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Can you trust everything YOU read? The Bible and Christian ethics

The Bible is the most important source for Christians in moral and ethical decision making. It should shape both our beliefs and our actions. However, it is often abused and dealt with in a careful and responsible manner when it comes to Christian ethics.
In this VLOG I talk about a chapter I wrote in a book called 'Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity' (Claassens and Birch, eds) see it here:  http://amzn.to/1Nvuw0w
My chapter is focussed around the notion of hospitality and the need to create some space for the 'other', in this case the 'other' of the text and the 'other' of different readers of the text.
I also share a chapter that I wrote in 'What is a good life: An introduction to Christian Ethics' http://amzn.to/232BPi5
This chapter shows that as Christians we sometimes forget that our gender, age, education, race, social class and a host of other factors shapes how we understand and read the text - and that our reading may not be the only one!
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
I’d love you hear your feedback, comments, questions and ideas!
Please subscribe and like the video!
Sunday
Apr242016

Deep solidarity with humanity, creation and God

A few years ago, at the height of the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Southern Africa, I wrote that the Church would need to cultivate a deep sense of solidarity with HIV positive persons if it was to uphold the integrity of its witness and work. 
I wrote,

Schillebeeeckx notes that without true solidarity the “gospel becomes impossible to believe and understand”[i].  The notion of true solidarity cannot be divorced from contextual solidarity.  Our solidarity is not merely some spiritual concept that has no bearing on our real lives.  So, in relation to HIV/AIDS Haight reminds us, “Jesus cannot be Christ and salvation cannot be real without having some bearing on this situation”[ii]

The Southern African context is not unfamiliar with suffering and solidarity.  Albert Nolan wrote during the height of the atrocities of Apartheid in the 1980’s that solidarity with the suffering will be “the new starting point for modern theology and spirituality in most of the Christian world today”[iii].  
This weekend I came across the quote below as I was reading some ecological theology on the Sunday aftern Earth Day.
If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.
- Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace
This challenging quote, on the Sunday after 'earth day' reminds me that we need loving solidarity rather than conquering violence. The way of the prince of peace is love not conquest. Christ rules from a cross as a servant rather than a conquering King. I shared some of these thoughts in my recent VLOG on the Cross of Christ and the language of Empire.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, reflections and ideas - leave me a comment, send me a tweet @digitaldion.


[i] Schillebeeckx, E Jesus: An experiment in Christology.  Translated by Hoskings, H.  New York:  Vintage books 1981:623.

[ii] Haight, R, Jesus symbol of God. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books (1999:26).

[iii] Nolan, A, God in South Africa. Cape Town:  David Philiip publishers. (1988:43).

Thursday
Apr212016

The decline of religion and the rise of spirituality?

In today's VLOG I interview Professor Jan Jans from Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He was at Stellenbosch University to teach our Master of Divinity class and my third year Public Theology class on Secularism, Secularization and the decline of formal religion and the rise of spirituality in Europe. We learnt a lot of interesting things for our own context - you may find the same.
I apologize for my poor framing of the video in the first few minutes! I either need to learn to frame my camera better, or save up to get a camera that has a flip screen to see what my shots look like! It gets better and I am learning!
The books that are mentioned in today's VLOG are:
  • Linda Woodhead, 'Religions in the modern world: Traditions and Transformations' http://amzn.to/1Nm09tu
  • Diana Butler Bass 'Christianity after religion' http://amzn.to/1VlP7qH
  • Charles Taylor 'A secular age' http://amzn.to/2436WfS (This is a very important book! I get all my PhD students to read it). You can also read the following great 'introduction' and engagement with 'A secular age', entitled 'How not to be secular' by James K Smith http://amzn.to/1Wf43FZ
  • Peter Berger 'The Sacred Canopy' http://amzn.to/1VlPh1i and 'The desecularization of the world' http://amzn.to/1T0OxbU
I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
Remember, it's not a lecture, just a thought…
Please subscribe and like the video!
Thursday
Apr142016

Detrimental health? Just health and a just health care system

Prof Jean Pierre Wils delivered a paper at a biomedical ethics conference at Stellenbosch University in August last year (if I recall correctly). He made a deeply challenging and thought provoking point that contemporary ethics seems obsessed with just health care, but the more important ethical issue is just health. Simply stated, unjust societies contribute to illness among their populations. This is not just a matter of providing adequate health care, it is a larger issue, it has to do with gender, economics, access to a healthy diet, sexual and reproductive rights etc.

I was asked to write a paper in response to his paper - which I have done and it is currently under review for a special edition of the journal 'In luce verbi' in which his paper and mine will appear. I will let you know when they are published.

In the meantime I discuss the issue of just health care and the South African biomedical theological ethical context in this video entitle 'Detrimental to your health'. I'd love to hear your insights, thoughts and comments!

Thursday
Apr142016

Stellenbosch - The most unequal city in the world? Economics, inequality and justice

Is Stellenbosch really the most unequal city in the world?

Today I rode my Brompton through Stellenbosch - I had 25 minutes between meetings and wanted to get something for lunch. It was the first time I had been on the bike in more than a week. I came back form Johannesburg with a rather nasty flu and still wasn't feeling great. But it was awesome to be out in the sun and enjoying the fresh air and beautiful western Cape scenery!

As I was riding my bike I reflected on Stellenbosch, which is the most unequal city in South Africa (a country which is among the most economically unequal countries in the world).

Watch the VLOG for some beautiful scenery, and think with me about a better economic system in which no one has too much while anyone has too little.

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts! Don’t you love my old folding bike? It goes with me when I travel.

Saturday
Mar262016

Accepting the way of Jesus - A blessed Easter

“The Christian God is no little god of fortune, in whose kingdom it is possible to remain free of want and sorrow. Jesus—multiplying loaves and healing the sick—could have had all this; indeed can have it. Instead Jesus identified with the suffering and for the sake of their sicknesses became sick; for the sufferers’ sake he suffered abuse; in order to overcome death he, like everyone else, became mortal. To accept the way of Jesus means also to hold on to the paradox.”

- Dorothee Soelle, Suffering

Friday
Mar182016

The eschatology of politics, (losing) our civil religion and Žižek's analogy of canned laughter

The media cycle in South Africa, for the second week of March 2016, has been dominated by the supposed influence that a very wealthy foreign family (the Gupta's) have exercised on the South African state through Jacob Zuma. There have been rumours that the President Zuma, his family and cronies, have been on the Gupta 'payroll' in exchange for political favours. This week some senior political figures (deputy ministers among them) came clean, admitting that members of the Gupta family had offered them senior ministerial and state positions (such as minister of finance), while Jacob Zuma was supposedly in the same building.

Some are calling this a capture of the state - only the President can appoint persons to such posts. If a private citizen (a member of the Gupta family) can offer to get someone appointed, then it logically follows that they have power over the President to either coerce or instruct him to make the appointment they have promised.

It does seem that there has been some clear family benefit for the Zuma's since Mr Zuma's son suddenly received a 'gift' of shares in a mine that is owned by the Gupta family - see the Bloomberg report here. Of course the 'personal favor' that the President granted the Gupta family by allowing them and their foreign guests to land without permission or papers at an air force base in order to attend a Gupta wedding was also widely publicised. Many suggest that this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of corrupt activity, special favors, and the erosion of state autonomy.

So that is the background - I would like to reflect, however, on how I have read and understood the misguided media reports and public sentiment around this political issue.

Of course there have been calls from some South African citizens and opposition political parties for the resignation (or recalling) of President Zuma. In South Africa a politcal party is elected to office, the party deploys a president - as with Zuma's predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, if the person does not perform as expected the party has the right to recall them and replace them with another person.

Here is my first observation - I found it interesting that the largest majority of persons calling for the resignation or recall of Jacob Zuma are from the South Africa middle and upper middle classes. Now there are probably many reasons for this - they are the ones whose wealth is under threat as a result of corruption, economic downgrades etc. But another interesting intersection is that these persons are predominantly white. I don't hear the same urgent calls from my middle class black friends. So, I wonder if we (the white middle class) are not in some ways just as bad as the Gupta's? While they hold the President to ransom, white wealth, power (prominence) and privilege holds the nation to ransom in other ways. We see that privilege and power waning and so we, and media we control, are making our voices heard. Of course I could be wrong.

Second, I was struck by the naivite of the expectation that the resignation or removal of Jacob Zuma will solve South Africa's problems. Yes, what he is doing is problematic and harmful to our political system, to public confidence and it has economic consequences. However, I think we are falling into the trap of what Scot McKnight called the 'eschatology of politics' in his book 'The Kingdom Conspiracy':

Many fall for what I call the “eschatology of politics,” the belief that the next candidate or vote can bring in kingdom conditions.

I am of the mind that it is a naive mistake to think that the change of one corrupt politician will resolve the complex intersectional issues that we face in South Africa today. The intersection of our condition is ongoing racism, massive economic inequality, simplistic identity politics and a lack of political imagination for a possible future in which all South Africans enjoy the fruit of our beautiful land. Why is it, as Slavoj Žižek has said, that we have the imaginative capacity as human persons to creatively and vividly imagine our destruction and demise (through killer viri, natural disasters and world wars - to mention but a few narratives in popular film and television), yet we do not have the political imagination to imagine a world in which we can all flourish - a world in which each has according to what they need, and each one gives according to their ability, a world where no one person has too much while another doesn't have enough to survive?

Barack Obama used a very powerful line in his political rhetoric of his first and second campaings 'We are the ones we've been waiting for'.

It is a beautiful sentiment. What few people know is that it comes from a Poem written by June Jordan called 'Poem for South African Women' (presented at the United Nations on August 9, 1978) which commemorated the courage and commitment of the South African women and children who marched on mass to confront the Apartheid government on the 9th of August 1956 - you can read the poem here, and about the use of it in later political rhetoric here.

I think it is important that we heed these words - we are the ones that we have been waiting for! Yes, change corrupt leaders, yes, expect your elected officials, and civil servants, to work for the common good of your nation. However, in South Africa at least, the revolution of change will come when you and I start living the alternative. It will come when I find creative, tangible, and significant ways to share my privilige, to develop wealth for all, and the deal with my prejudice and ignorance. I need to live the alternative and not expect others to change society in spite of me.

Žižek once again helped me to understand how flawed it is to expect a political system to solve all of my problems - he likens it to contemporary religious participation. Let me explain. In his typical 'off the wall' style he says that America's greatest cultural contribution to the world is 'canned laughter', i.e., the kind of laughter that one hears on sitcoms on TV. He says you come home, you are exhausted, you flop onto the couch and turn the TV to your favorite sitcom. At certain moments in the comedy narrative the producers have inserted laughter as a cue - but you are so exhausted that you don't laugh. The television laughs on your behalf. And when the show is finished you say to yourself, 'That was so funny' - but you never even laughed. You have given over your responsibility to choose when, where and how to laugh. He says that religion acts in this way - we give over our beliefs. We expect our pastor or priest to do the right thing. And when we have been to Church, yet not done anything, we believe that we are faithful.

I think the same applies in our politics. In South Africa we have fallen for a false and subtle 'civil religion' - after the 1994 democratic elections we began to believe that God has miraculously brought us into a new social dispensation - the new South Africa. We had faith in it. Our Messiah was the forgiving figure of Nelson Mandela, our high priest was Desmond Tutu (and the content of his sermon was the talk of a 'Rainbow nation'), our text was the constitution, and our liturgy was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These are wonderful ideals, but they take work, real people, sacrifices, and commitment to achieve. We cannot just give over the achievement of transformation, healing and renewal in South Africa to politicians - this is the work of citizens.

Sadly, 22 years after the end of political apartheid we still do not live in a post apartheid South Africa. We remain as divided, if not more divided, than ever. When I meet with younger colleauges, students and friends on our University campus, I can see that they have lost their civil religion (perhaps not a bad thing! If your religion is killing you with slow violence, perhaps it is time to seek a truer faith?) These young people are impatient for change. It has been 22 years and very little is different for them. They no longer trust the 'big leaders', or the 'super narratives' - they are not sitting back and letting the television laugh for them. They are taking matters into their own hands, and sometimes the intention and outcomes are positive, and sometimes they are not.

So, yes, please do agitate for political change. Please do speak out against corrupt leaders in politics and business. Make your hard won vote count.

However, please don't fall for a false civil religion - live for something bigger, something more transformative, something more powerful. Please don't give over your right to transform South Africa for the common good of all to the state only - politics can become like canned laughter, it can become a naive form of eschatological politics. As we have seen all over the world, the next political leader, and the next political party, are unlikely to be much better than the one we have.

Please can I invite you to be the person you have been waiting for? Don't wait for a change in political leadership to live with love and grace in the presence of fellow citizens. Give of what you have, cross the boundaries that divide, seek creative and lasting ways to build friendships of trust, and relationships that are deep and honest. Be willing to discover 'the other', and in doing so you may just find yourself becoming a little more human, a little more like who you are, who you are meant to be.

I'd love your feedback, insights and ideas! What am I missing? What don't I understand?

Monday
Feb292016

Invitation to Steve de Gruchy memorial lecture by Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm

Professor Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany, and a close friend of the late Prof Steve de Gruchy, will give the Steve de Gruchy Memorial Lecture, on Tuesday 1st March 2016 at 19:00 at the Rondebosch United Church, Belmont Road, Cape Town. He will speak on the refugee crisis in Europe and the situation in the Middle East.

This is an open invitation to anyone who may be interested in attending. Prof John de Gruchy will also say a few words.

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday
Jan122016

Christians and pessimism - A reminder to live for hope from Oscar Romero and Henri Nouwen

Last year was a tough year for many people around the world. I know it was difficult for many of my friends and family. Over the last couple of days I have had a number of conversations with friends who are feeling hopeless and concerned about issues ranging from politics, to economics and the environment.

In my reading I have come across a few quotes that challenge me to remember that as a person of faith I should live by a different standard. Christians live with a hope that is real, yet our hope cannot be collapsed into history, past, present or future, in its entirety. Yes, we must pay meticulous attention to what is happening around is. We must act with courage, grace and love in all situations. However, our hope is larger than history, it is based on a reality that is more real than our perception of what we believe to be real. Our hope comes from being claimed by the God of history. Our hope is eschatological - the fullness of life through the fullest Person (Jesus Christ) in the fullness of time.

Living with this kind of hope takes courage. It takes courage to live for someone, and something, more important than our immediate reaction to people and events. It takes grace to act, and react, in a manner that is different from other persons and the rest of the world. It takes commitment to live for the common good rather than just one's own comfort and security. It takes hard work and patience to stay on the path of rightness and justice for the long haul.

I pray that I will have the wisdom to live in this way, and that others will choose the live a life that is much better than mine.

Here are some quotes that inspired and challenged me on this journey:

“Christians cannot be pessimists. Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy. Try it, brothers and sisters; I have tried it many times and in the darkest moments, when slander and persecution were at their worst: to unite myself intimately with Christ, my friend, and to feel a comfort that all the joys of the earth do not give – the joy of feeling yourself close to God, even when humans do not understand you. It is the deepest joy the heart can have.”

- Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

"To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work."

- Henri Nouwen, Bread for the journey (p.8)

And this quote about the importance of daily spiritual discipline in this life:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world — free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless… I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

- Henri Nouwen

Monday
Jan112016

An excellent book on the Theology of Migration, Travel and Justice by Joerg Rieger

I received a copy of my friend Joerg Rieger's book 'Faith on the road: A short theology of justice and travel' (2015, IVP Academic) in the mail today.

I had the joy of reading it last year just a few weeks before the recent crises of migration in Africa, Asia and Europe hit the headlines. Rieger's understanding of what it means to be a just society - even a just planet, deeply shaped how I feel about migration, travel and pilgrimage.

I was so honoured to be asked to write one of the commendations for the back of the book. Here is what I wrote:

'Faith on the road' explores the complexity of faith, identity, economics and social justice through the lens of travel. This is a superbly written volume that approaches these complex issues in a thorough and helpful manner. It has changed how I think about travel, migration and faith. I highly recommend this book!

Brian D. McLaren said the following:

From his reflections on travel in the Scriptures to his experiences as a motorcyclist, Joerg Rieger invites us to see how travel changes more than our location: it can change our hearts and transform us from tourists to advocates for justice and peace.

Indeed, I do think this is one of the most helpful books on issues of migration and travel at present. If you are trying to work out what a just, ethical, stance to migration (and migrants) should be I am sure that reading this book will help you. If like me, you have the privilege (and the responsibility) to travel in your nation, continent, or across the world, then this book is important to read! There are important ethical issues around travel, the environment, borders and globalization to consider. Or, if you are interested in notions of pilgrimage as part of your faith or culture, then this book will also help you.

Hey, if you ride a motorcycle and have faith - then this book is for you! Joerg and I have had many great conversations about our shared joy of motorcycling (we both ride BMW GS bikes).

Here is the publisher's description for more information:

Millions of people travel every day, for what seem like millions of reasons. Some travel for pleasure, others travel for work and education, and many more travel to find a new job and a better life. In the United States, even those who don’t travel far still frequently find themselves on the move. What can we learn from these different forms of travel? And what can people of faith learn from the Christian and Jewish traditions that took shape on the road? From the exile from Eden to the wanderings of Jesus and his disciples, the story of Scripture is a dynamic narrative of ceaseless movement. Those who let themselves be inspired by this movement, and are willing to learn from others and from mistakes made in the process, are well positioned to make a difference in the world, not only at home but also around the globe. In this revised edition of the author's book Traveling, Joerg Rieger reflects on how Christian faith reorients the way we think about and make journeys in our lives.

You can get your copy of 'Faith on the road' from IVP here, and from Amazon (either in print or kindle edition) from the link below.

Once you have read it I would love to hear your thoughts or questions! Drop me a comment below or contact me via Twitter or Facebook.

Friday
Jan012016

Let us all, together, struggle for the New South Africa - Happy new year (2016)

It is a new year. Of course nothing is different from yesterday. However, there is something special about a marker in time, a change of dates; it allows one to reflect, to take stock and to resolve to live more intently, perhaps even differently, beyond that point.

We ushered in the new year with friends. We talked, laughed, prayed, and even argued. I guess that there was hardly a gathering in South Africa that didn't have some conversation about the challenges we face in South Africa - many of which were exposed in 2015. We remain economically unequal. We remain divided by race and class. We remain suspicious and fearful of one another. We long for change.

I said to my family and friends that my commitment in the year ahead would be to work more ardently for the common good of all South Africans, and for South Africa. I am inspired by the following quote from Desmond Tutu's sermon at the funeral service of slain anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977:

We are experiencing the birth pangs of a new South Africa, a free South Africa, where all of us, Black and White together, will walk tall, where all of us, Black and White together, will hold hands as we stride forth on the Freedom March to usher in the new South Africa where people will matter because they are human beings made in the image of God… for the sake of our children, Black and White together, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the struggle for the liberation of our beloved land, South Africa. Let us all, Black and White together, not be filled with despondency and despair. Let us Blacks not be filled with hatred and bitterness. For all of us, Black and White together, shall overcome, nay, indeed have already overcome.

- Desmond Tutu (at the funeral of Steve Biko in 1977).

The task may be challenging and complex. It will require courage, sacrifice, perhaps even robust engagement, and above all grace and love. But just because it is complex we must not, and should not, shy away from doing what we can do. We should find ways to address what we can see needs to be done. We must move from a modality of blame to a modality of working together for the common good.

Rich blessing to you and your family, your community and our people and land in 2016. May the end of 2016 show that we have laboured well and achieved much.

Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.

- Rubem A. Alves (Brazilian educator and liberation theologian).