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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
Dec312015

Do you know the history of the 'Watch Night' service that is celebrated at New Year?

All across the world today (31 December) Christians in their millions will attend 'Watch Night' services to usher in the new year in a community of faith.

I have attended (and arranged) a dozen or so of these services in my life. It is a wonderful way to journey into the new year in faith and commitment, particularly if you worship within a community whose journey you have shared in during the year and they have shared in yours.

As I looked back on my own sermons and liturgies for Watch Night services, and the sermons liturgies of others, I noticed that the theme of many of these services is reflective - taking stock of the year that has passed. Others are anticipatory - looking ahead to the year to come and making some commitments.

It was Socrates who said 'The unexamined life is not worth living [ὁ ... ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ]' (apparently uttered at his before he was executed for corrupting the youth. It is recorded in Plato's 'Apology' (Ap. 35a5-6)). Indeed, it is important to take stock, to stop and reflect, to give thanks, to let go, and to find the courage and faith to move forward in hope.

If you are attending a Watch Night service today I do hope and pray that it is a meaningful and empowering service for your community and for you, and that it adds to making life worth living.

However, do you know what the history is of this particular service? I was reminded of it again today when I was reading my daily devotion Common prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (which you can access online daily for free at http://www.commonprayer.net).

Watch Night: Established in African-American communities on December 31, 1862, Watch Night is a gathering to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation becoming law. When the clock struck midnight on January 1, 1863, all slaves in the Confederate States were proclaimed free. Since that date 146 years ago, African-Americans have celebrated the good news of freedom in local churches on New Year’s Eve. Like the slaves who first gathered while the Civil War raged on, we proclaim freedom for all captives in Jesus’ name, knowing that for millions, freedom is not a reality. Our celebration is a commitment to join modern-day slaves and undocumented workers in their struggle for justice.

Perhaps this Watch Night we might be encouraged to remember that we live for more than ourselves? Perhaps we can be reminded of the establishment of this tradition and it can spur is on to ask forgiveness for the ways in which we have participated in and perpetuated injustice in our own lives and choices (the work we do, how we spend our money, how infrequently we serve the least of society). Perhaps it can also spur us on to living for freedom, the kind of freedom that comes from truly living not only in Christ, but for Christ and all those people and things that he loves?

May the year ahead be filled with joy, blessing, peace and flourishing for you, your family, your community, and even those who are different and far off.

Tuesday
Dec222015

Recreational reading for 2015 – some of my favourite (fun) books

I am an avid reader – naturally I have to read for my work. When I say that I ‘have’ to read, I mean that I love to read. I read as much as I can, as often as I can. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge!

That being said, not everything that I read is of an academic nature. I particularly enjoy reading outside of my field of study in popular philosophy, science (especially neuroscience), economics, biography and fiction.

I own too many books. Megan is constantly trying to get me to take my books to my office at the University. Indeed, I do have three walls full of books in my office (my most used academic books are there). At home we have a few more book shelves with a far wider variety of subjects outside of theology. In recent years, however, since I received an iPad for work in April 2012 I have mostly bought my books in Kindle format. Amazingly I still have that same iPad and I have read hundreds of books on it. It took a little time to get used to the Kindle format (I still like paper, the feel and smell of it, its texture, and the ability to use a pencil to mark a page, underline a sentence or write a comment in the margin of a book). However, when I was traveling like crazy in 2012 and 2013 it was wonderful to have my library with me on a single device!

These days if I buy a very important book (like Charles Taylor’s A secular age or David Ford’s The modern theologians) I will get a copy on Kindle, and if my research funds allow it I will purchase a paper copy for my office to share with colleagues and students.

For books that are really just being read for fun, I may even get a copy on Audible. I don’t often drive my car to work (most days I commute on my Vespa), but when I am driving, or flying, somewhere it is great to have a book to listen to. I also listen when I cycle on my own. It is a great way to get two things done at once. The first every audiobook that I listened to was Umberto Ecko’s The name of the rose – after that I was hooked and have listened to many more.

So, here are a few books that I read or listened to in 2016 (this does not include the academic books that I have read this year – perhaps I will do a separate list on that at some point).

These books are not listed in any order other than my purchasing history on Amazon! My favorites for 2015 are Ben Lovejoy's 11/9 and Simon Winchester's three great books.

Dan Brown Inferno

Inferno

I love the way Dan Brown writes. In particular I love reading how he describes the places his characters visit since I have been to many of these places. This was a great thriller - not as entertaining as entertaining as The Davinci Code or Angels and Demons, but a great suspense novel for anyone who likes to solve puzzles and riddles with a bit of history thrown in for good measure.

Max Barry Lexicon

 

This was a wonderful piece of science fiction. It is well written, has lots of twists and turns, and is very well researched (particularly if one has an interest in language, language theory, philosophy of language and the neuroscience of communication).

Kevin Mitnick and Steve Wozniak Ghost in the wires: My adventures as the world's most wanted hacker

I don't think this book will appeal to everyone's tastes. I have read one or two of Wozniak's books in the past and sadly he doesn't write well. Mitnick is a very interesting 'proto-hacker'. I read a lot about him when he was first arrested in alt.2600 and elsewhere. I also read his The art of deception many years ago. He is an interesting fellow and the pursuits of his hacking career are interesting and filled with adventure.

Mark Owen No Hero and No Easy day

I am certain that these two books will not appeal to a wide audience. Mark Owen is a former Navy Seal who was part of the team that apprehended (and killed) Osama Bin Laden. Since I had some specialist training during my national service I am always interested to read about the training of others, and also find it fascinating to see to what extremes people will push their bodies and minds. Most interesting for me is gaining some insight into the ethical decision making processes that go into war and warfare. I find it fascinating to see the conflict of values, and how ethical dilemma's are engaged and resolved in such settings. These books are full of bravado and are certainly not literary masterpieces. However, they were insightful.

Neal Stephenson Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon

This is another exceptionally well researched and beautifully written action adventure. It spanned a few historical periods and geographical locations. I learnt quite a bit about cryptography (both contemporary and historically) and found the combination of espionage, mathematics and action so entertaining.

Clive Cussler The assassin

I am not a fan of westerns. I can't even remember how I came to read this book. I think it may have been recommended on Mac Break Weekly. It was interesting, but I don't think I will read any more in this series. If you like Westerns and period Americana this may appeal to you.

Simon Winchester The Professor and the Madman and The man who loved China and The men who united the states.

The Professor and the madman

Simon Winchester is my favorite author at the moment. I suppose he can be related in some way to Bill Bryson's genre of historical biography. He writes beautifully. Every detail in his books is carefully researched and he uses impeccable English grammar to construct his narratives. Every time I read one of his books I feel emotionally and intellectually enriched. They are wonderful! The Professor and the Madman is about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary. That was my favorite 'fun book' in 2015.

Neal Stephenson Seveneaves

Seveneves

This was my second favorite book for 2015. It is science fiction at its best. Stephenson has a wonderful knack for telling stories. He clearly spends a great deal of time researching his subject and write beautifully. This book taught me all about the engineering of space flight. What it would take to survive in space if the earth were doomed, and the concept of genetic zygosity. Fascinating!

Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451

This book is a classic of science fiction. It sketches a picture of a world that attempts to reshape history through the destruction of knowledge and books. I read this during the time of the #Rhodesmustfall movement where statues were being removed in South Africa. It made me think a great deal about the totalitarian tendency to want to revise and sanitize history (not allowing memory a just and ethical allotment of the truth upon which to be judged). This is a must read!

Ben Lovejoy 11/9

This is an excellent cyber thriller. I was riveted from the first page to the last! It is another one of those books that is so well researched that one learns as you are entertained. I discovered so many things about the aviation industry, flight security and anti-terrorist initiatives through this wonderful thriller. This book is particularly special since Ben Lovejoy is a friend of mine who lives in the UK! I highly recommend this book!

Dave Eggers The Circle

Amazon voted this one of the best books of 2015. I agree. It is a very contemporary story about the power and influence of global surveillance and social networking (capitalist) enterprises like facebook and google. It reminded me a lot of Fahrenheit 451 (except for our time). It is a warning about privacy and greed and egotism. This is well worth reading!

Nicholas Nassim Taleb Antifragile

Taleb is one of my favorite authors. He is super smart. His books are always deeply challenging and creative. It is little wonder that The black swan is already a classic. Antifragile is sure to achieve the same hallowed status. It is philosophically sound and deeply challenging, even inspiring. It asks and answer the basic question 'what is the opposite of being fragile?' It is not being robust (i.e., mere surviving) it is being antifragile - that is learning to thrive in chaos and uncertainty, not just to weather the storm. This has been such a helpful book for me this year as so many things are changing rapidly in South Africa. It helps to offer a bit of perspective in uncertain times.

So, these are some of the fun books that I read this year. What have you been reading? I'd love your feedback on your favorite books of 2015, or comments on any of the books above! Please leave me a comment in the comments section below.

Thursday
Dec172015

#ZumaMustFall - the strength of democracy and the weakness of whiteness

South African social media has been abuzz with another catchy hashtag this week - #ZumaMustFall.

Thousands of South Africans reacted to President Jacob Zuma's shock announcement that he had axed a (relatively) trusted and responsible finance minister, Nhanhla Nene, and replaced him with a completely unknown small town mayor with no suitable experience or qualification for the post, other than patronage and loyalty to the President and his corrupt cronies (David van Rooyen).

It would seem from media reports that Mr Zuma decided to axe Mr Nene since he (Mr Nene) had refused to allow the treasury to approve a shady deal to replace Airbus planes for the beleaguered national airline carrier South African Airways (SAA). There is widespread speculation (including pictures and reports from persons close to the President) saying that Mr Zuma is involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the chairwoman of SAA, Dudu Myeni (who has been shown to be inept in her position and suggested to be corrupt - the deal in question seems run through with irregularities in the tender process, shady suppliers and middlemen getting payouts and financial kickbacks). It would seem that Ms Myeni allowed a contract with Airbus to expire by mistake (or through carelessness) with massive economic consequences for the national fiscus. When Nene said the nation would not pay for her mistake and it seems that Mr Zuma lost his cool and fired Mr Nene.

The repercussion of this decision - in a week where South Africa's economic rating was downgraded to just above Junk Status - was severe. Within hours the Rand fell to its lowest rate against the Dollar, Pound and Euro, since the early 1990's (over R22 to the pound, almost R16 to the Dollar and close to R17 to the Euro). The banking sector lost billions of Rands in value (as did other shares) as the currency was rapidly devalued. I read yesterday that Barclays Bank is now looking to sell it shares in ABSA bank in South Africa as a result. It is sure to have further direct and severe economic consequences. As with all such events the rich will loose value, but the poor will suffer most.

The reaction to Mr Zuma's clearly irrational and politically motivated decision was so sudden and strong that within a number of hours it seems he was engaged by political parties, business leaders and the labour movements - by the end of the weekend he had overturned his decision and appointed a previous minister of finance Mr Pravin Gordhan. Three ministers of finance in a single week. That must be a new record?

The Rand is now slowly recovering to its levels before this debacle (which was already a low value as investors have lost confidence in the South African economy, economic governance, labour unrest, and the openly corrupt national and business leadership).

Public sentiment - at least among those who control the media and have access to social media (which is still largely white, brown and black elites and the middle classes) was clear: #ZumaMustFall

The question is, whether the removal of Jacob Zuma is really a solution to the current social, political and economic crisis in South Africa?

I am always a little cautious of placing so much hope on dealing with an individual person. What is clear is that Mr Zuma is not solely to blame for the woes of South Africa. He clearly has support within the governing ANC party, so they should share some of the blame (and so should the population who keeps them power by their votes - which includes me). Moreover, the reality is that the challenges that we face in South Africa are not only political problems, they are social and economic in nature. Racial enmity, intolerance, ongoing racism and of course the massive challenges of poverty and economic inequality are huge concerns. In this regard the powerful and the privileged must share the blame for our current problems.

Craig Stewart spoke at the United Against Corruption public march in the Company Gardens in Cape Town yesterday. He made a very valid and important point:

Mr Zuma had used his privilege and power for personal gain and corruption. We have continually called for him to 'pay back the money' (R250 million used to upgrade his private home). 

White South Africans (who hold both power and privilige as a result of Apartheid) continue to use their privilege and economic power to enrich themselves - Stewart said it was time for these elites to find ways of 'paying back the money' for the common good of all South Africans.

I think his analysis is very helpful. Indeed, we will not solve South Africa's current problems only be removing a corrupt political leader. We need to take responsibility for our part in it.

White South Africans will have to be courageous in finding ways to redistribute their privilege, power and wealth among all of South Africa's citizens. I wonder if we will have the courage to support a movement #WhitePriviligeMustFall - or whether those who hold power and privilege can only see it and address it in others?

Indeed, as Tshepo Lephakga, a friend and colleague from UNISA points out - the majority of the South African population are not immediately and directly impacted by fluctuations in currency exchange - the present discontent is a problem for the priviliged (who are predominatnly white). Most of the black South African poor suffer the slow violence of poverty every day - the value of the Rand will only impact their lives further down the line. Those who are most vocal are the ones who currently have wealth and fear loosing it. Here is Tshepo's post:

 

Are people touched by the decisions made by JZ or the reactions of the global capital to the decisions made by JZ?I...

Posted by Tshepo Lephakga on Sunday, 13 December 2015

 

You can listen to Stewart's speech at the bottom of this post.

The further insight that shaped my thinking so far is that from Prof Steven Friedman the prominent political analyst.

Prof Friedman offered a very helpful insight, namely that in a very significant manner these recent events showed that perhaps Mr Zuma and his cronies are not as powerful as they thought they were. When they make irresponsible and bad decisions that have such visible negative effects democracy still functions - Mr Zuma was forced to undo his decision. Friedman further points out that what this shows is that there are (among the many factions in the ANC) clear fault lines between the rural political leaders and the urban political leaders. Friedman feels that it is far more important to have robust systems that can engage corruption and irresponsibility, than simply personalising politics (as is happening in the #ZumaMustFall movement) in the hope that removing one person will solve all of our problems. There still seems to be some power in our democratic system, as this last week's events showed. This is hopeful. We need to work to protect these freedoms.

So, this has been a tumultuous week!

I am thankful that the people of South Africa are finding their voice - the #FeesMustFall and the #ZumaMustFall movements (although very different) have shown that the general populace are finding ways of expressing their discontent with leaders (who should be servants) who are only out to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.

It has also helped me to understand much more clearly that the vocal minority do not represent the daily concerns of the majority - this does not mean that the concerns of this vocal grouping are not valid, but merely that we need a more nuanced solution to the problem. That solution will involve not only addressing the corrupt other, but also addressing the privileged self.

Here is Craig Stewart's speech - I encourage you to watch it. It is very helpful.

 

Craig Stewart (Director of The Warehouse.org.za) stood in front of hundreds of protesters today and gave the most inspiring, challenging and godly address I have ever personally heard someone share at a public rally. Thank you Craig for being a brave and faithful leader who with Liesl, Zach, Eliza and Vivian Stewart are inspiring and leading us forwards and Miles Giljam (@unitedagainstcorruption) for his leadership in uniting the church and citizens to stand up and call for justice and a new leadership to achieve it #ZumaMustFall #SouthAfricaMustRise #TheChurchMustSpeak

Posted by Annie Kirke on Wednesday, 16 December 2015

 

Here is Steven Friedman's post:

 

Thwarted attack reins in the ANC’s rural baronsby Steven Friedman, 17 December 2015, 05:48 SOMETIMES, failing to...

Posted by Steven Friedman on Wednesday, 16 December 2015

 

 

Sunday
Dec132015

The Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus

As a Christian disciple, how have you understood the Biblical injunction to 'take up your cross' and follow Jesus?

I think that contemporary Christians have misunderstood the intention of Jesus' command to His disciples.

Somehow we have forgotten that the social and historical context in which Matthew and his community where when he chose to include the saying of Jesus in his Gospel. Listen to Jesus words again: Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt 16.24). What did Jesus mean, and why did Matthew include this saying?

Well, Matthew is addressing a minority group, Jews who believed that Jesus is the promised Messiah. This had social, economic and political consequences for them. They were excluded from the political protection given to the Jews by their Roman occupiers. It meant that they were excluded from the social acceptance and protection of the Jewish community. It also meant that they were excluded from the economic community that sustained the Jewish community.

Somehow we have forgotten that context and collapsed the meaning of this text into a contemporary form of psychological suffering (illness, stress, relationship challenges etc.) This kind of understanding of 'taking up your cross' tends to privatize and individualize the Christian faith. It makes Christianity very small. Jesus' understanding of His power and the consequences of his gracious, transforming and loving reign is much more powerful. It has radical public consequences. It changes the way in which we live, the way in which we treat people and creation. It has a very different historical intention.

This kind of faith is not merely a form of 'moralistic therapeutic Deism' (as the American sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist termed Christian belief among contemporary teenagers in America). A friend of mine, Peter Storey, once described the contemporary view of Jesus as a mix between a personal therapist and a stock broker - in other words, we believe that God only wants to make us happy and wealthy.  This is not the Jesus that we encounter in the Bible. 

The eschatological intention of the Christian faith is not just happy individuals - it is a world that is radically transformed. It aims for political systems that manage power for the common good. It has economic systems that bring blessing for all persons. It works for the good of all humanity and all creation.

The following quote from John Howard Yoder is a very clear expression of the Cross of Christ and the Politics of Jesus:

The believer's cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded. The believer's cross must be, like his Lord's, the price of his social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of the path freely chosen after counting the cost. It is not, like Luther's or Thomas Muntzer's or Zinzendorf's or Kierkegaard's cross, an inward wrestling of the sensitive soul with self and sin; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come.
― John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster.

Living in this way has radical public consequences. It changes how we spend our money, who we vote for, what work we do, what we own, what we eat, how we relate to one another - of course it also changes how we are Church. I think the love of Jesus reaches all of the places, and so many more. And if I am to bear the name of the loving Lord, I should seek to find ways to be an expression of His transforming and gracious love wherever I am, and in whatever ways I can.

I would love to hear your thoughts!
Sunday
Dec062015

Advent, Violence and the Prince of Peace - beating our pistols into plowshares

On the second Sunday of Advent, which focuses on peace - the coming of the Prince of Peace, I am deeply convicted of violence. I am convicted that I live in a world where violence is advocated as a legitimate way of solving problems. I am convicted by the swift violence of wars, gun massacres, racist views and gender abuse. I am convicted of the slow violence of poverty and inequality. I am convicted by the violence of my fear to act, my lack of courage to do what is right and what is required. I pray to be more and more like the Prince of Peace. I pray to live in a security that cannot come from politicians, possessions, or pride. I pray to live from the security of the eschatological certainty of the just reign of God that will establish peace, true peace, inner peace, social peace. It will come. It is inevitable. I pray that when it comes I may have found the courage to live on the side of peace and that my words and actions would reflect those of the Prince of Peace.

I was caused to think about this issue because of an astounding, deeply disturbing, and perplexing comment that the President of Liberty University made at a University gathering in the USA where after last week's gun massacre he encouraged students and faculty to wear concealed weapons to violently oppose 'Muslims' should they attack the campus! This is supposedly a Christian University! I cannot fathom what Gospel Mr Falwell is reading! It is foreign to me.

What astounds me is that children of the Prince of Peace would advocate violence as a way of solving complex social and religious problems. This is not the way of Jesus - this is the way of another master, one who comes to steal, kill and destroy. I am challenged to live as Jesus does - by peaceable love and not by violence. It is a much more courageous choice. It takes much more love, it requires one to be Christlike - even in suffering.

You can watch a video and read a report on Falwell's speech here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/05/liberty-university-president-if-more-good-people-had-concealed-guns-we-could-end-those-muslims/

These two quotes inspire me and invite me into a new way of living. They seem to be more in keeping with the Gospel of Christ than the violence advocating statements of Falwell:

“The Christian community is the only community whose social hope is that we need not rule because Christ is Lord.”

- John Howard Yoder, Let The Church Be The Church

“Jesus gave (his followers) a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders — by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence — by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money — by sharing it. He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership — by drawing upon the gift of every member, even the most humble. He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society — by building a new order, not smashing the old. He gave them a new pattern of relationships between man and woman, parent and child, master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.”

-John Howard Yoder

Let's put down our weapons and beat our pistols into plowshares. Let's give up on our violent ways and live a radically different life - a life of peace that can bring about true peace.

Sunday
Nov292015

#LiefdeIsLiefde - on the weakness of Church law and the inevitability of just change

This article appeared on News24 today:

http://www.netwerk24.com/Nuus/Algemeen/meer-liefde-in-hof-as-kerk-20151128

For those of my friends who do not read Afrikaans, the article tells how Dutch Reformed theologians (among others from Stellenbosch and Pretoria) have engaged the law commission and leadership of their Church because of their retraction (or suspension, pending a church legal inquiry) of the decision to fully recognize persons with a same sex orientation within all aspects of Church life and ministry.

The Church's decision to follow this legal route is deeply disappointing and a very sad betrayal of its stance on the Gospel and human dignity.

It is encouraging to see pastors and theologians standing together on this matter of Christian justice. Of course the change is inevitable - in fact it is an eschatological certainty.

Justice will come because of the just nature of God.

The church's law commission can not subvert God's grace forever.

We are fortunate to have the choice to decide how we will place ourselves in relation to what God will do.

I agree with colleagues Nelus Niemandt and Retief Muller in this article. It is well worth reading. Let's continue to pray and work for justice in this important matter.

This quote below is very helpful. Of course the law referee to here is not Church law, but religious law as found in the Hebrew Bible. But the principle is equally valid!

“For while the law gives us a bottom-line way to live, the way of love calls us beyond the law. Love pushes us beyond duty, rather than stopping there, and acts when we don’t know for sure what the ethical thing to do is. If the ethical question is, “What must be done?” love adds, “I will do more.” If our ethical compass is not able to give us a clear direction to travel, love sets out anyway. The way of love provides a way when ethical demands have had their say or do not know what to say. Is this not what Jesus was calling us to?—to live beyond the law so as to fulfill it. In this way this story attempts to draw out the truly radical nature of love as expressed in the life and teachings of Jesus. For he expressed a love that pushed further than any law could express or command dictate. He exuded a revolutionary life that always sought to be faithful to the law by outstripping it.”

Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales

Aluta cotninua. Vitoria ascerta!

Saturday
Nov282015

Beautiful people, wonderful snow, and learning to read the story of Jesus

Yesterday I arrived in Arnoldshain just outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I am staying at Martin Niemöller Haus to speak at a conference on faith and work in a digital age hosted by the Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt.

It has been such a stimulating and challenging engagement so far. Prof Torsten Meireis (from Bern Switzerland) and I presented our papers last night.

I spoke about the importance of recapturing the notion of calling and vocation in work life. Luther insisted that God calls every person into the world daily. Up to the point of the Reformation the understanding was that God only called a few persons, such as nuns and monks, and that they were called to 'leave' the world behind. However after the Reformation the vita activa becomes as important for faithful Christian living as the vita contemplativa. The challenge is that slowly and subtly our attention turned from calling to vocation ('roeping tot beroep'). So we formed identity in our vocation - being the parent, being the teacher, being the worker. The notion of vocation is based on 1 Cor 7.20, we are to be faithful to God first. Our work is to be a means to that end, and not the end in itself. The following quote, translated from Prof Dirkie Smit's reflections on calling captures what I said:

God calls everybody, not only a select few, [according to Luther] and God calls them with a spiritual calling, and this spiritual calling is not a calling out of everyday life, rather it comes by way of everyday life, through the place and task in which persons find themselves. That is where they are called to be faithful and to honour God.  (own translation from Smit, 2003:9*)

By the way, the conference and proceedings are being done in German. ha ha! I managed my way through the presentations and the question and answer section with my very basic German! I learnt how to read French and German when I was busy with my graduate studies and did some work on Karl Rahner (in German) and Henri Le Saux (in French). But spoken German is an entirely different thing! My thanks to the participants for their patience!

It was wonderful to make new friends, Dr Gotlind Ulshöfer, Dr Brigitte Bertelmann and Dr Konstantin Broese among others. Such wonderful people!

The snow is lying thick on the ground! I tackled my jet lag yesterday by going for a beautiful walk in the forest in the afternoon. It was an act of 'holy leisure'.

Well, it is time to continue with the conference today, here is a quote that I came across that that may offer an invitation to a new way of reflecting on the story of Jesus:

When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.

N.T. Wright

 

*2003. 6 Riglyne vir prediking oor Christelike roeping. Burger, C., Müller, B. & Smit, D.J. (eds.). Wellington: Lux Verbi

Saturday
Nov212015

The secret of life is love

I came across this beautiful quotation today and wanted to share it here:

“The secret of life is love. In love we go out of ourselves and lay ourselves open to all the experiences of life. In the love of life we become happy and vulnerable at the same time. In love we can be happy and sad. In love we can laugh and weep. In love we can rejoice and must protest at the same time. The more deeply love draws us into life, the more alive and, simultaneously, the more capable of sorrow we become. That is the dialectic of the affirmed and loved life.”

- Jurgen Moltmann

It rings true for me.

The God who is love calls us to a life of love.

In responding to that call daily we become truly alive. Love is not only the core of life, but also the source of living - it brings about justice and it opens the possibility for joyful existence.

Last night Jurgen Moltmann was interviewed at the Homebrewed Christianity gathering here at the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta. I will post a link to that interview as soon as Tripp Fuller makes it available.

In the meantime I invite you to watch this lovely interview between Jurgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf on a theology of joy:

http://youtu.be/s04zdvrBz-c

Blessings from Atlanta!

I will share a bit of a 'travel report' as soon as I get a chance. It has been wonderful to visit New York, Princeton (the Seminary, University and our good friend Will Storrar at the Center for Theological Inquiry), and just as wonderful being in Atlanta.

At the AAR I presented a 'country report' on the scope and nature of public theology on a panel this morning, and tomorrow I shall present a paper of Nelson Mandela and African Christian Humanism in the Wesley Studies group).

Until soon,

Dion

Tuesday
Oct272015

Reading group in theology and philosophy - Slavoj Žižek, the death drive and zombies

On Thursday at lunch time our theology and philosophy reading at Stellenbosch University group has the honour of hosting Prof Ola Sigurdson from Gothenburg University. He is a well known Systematic Theology who is known for addressing important theological issues in a creative and rigorous manner.  

We will be reading his article: SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK, THE DEATH DRIVE, AND ZOMBIES: A THEOLOGICAL ACCOUNT

If you have a chance to read the article and have some comments or questions that you would like me to feed into the discussion please drop me a line @digitaldion - You can download the article here.

Monday
Oct262015

The launch of 'Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity"

This evening we launched the book of my colleague and friend Prof L Juliana Claassens, "Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity" which she co-edited with Prof Bruce Birch.

Among the contributors are a foreword by Walter Brueggemann, and chapters by Charlene Van Der Walt, Esias Meyer, Gerald West, Ntozake Cezula, Douglas Lawrie, Jacqueline Lapsley, and Cheryl Anderson.

I was privileged to write a little piece on the Bible and Ethics as hospitable conversation at the end.

Julie very kindly included me in this project and has opened many doors for me since then.

I am so grateful to her and can highly recommend this important text for anyone who wishes to read about the Old Testament and engage issues of human dignity and ethics.

Read more about the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Restorative-Readings-Testament-Ethics-Dignity/dp/1625647212

Wednesday
Oct212015

#StelliesFeesMustFall - economic justice and the importance of the voice of our students

These are important times in our nation as students across the country express their voice on issues of economic justice - here the #StelliesFeesMustFall students are visiting the Faculty of Theology.

Our colleague and comrade Thando Joka made a challenging and strong statement as a student of the faculty concerning the steep increase in university fees for 2016 and access to education for all.

Our Dean, Hendrik Bosman, responded by expressing a word welcome to the students and colleagues.

I am convinced that transformation and equality are essential to secure a better future for us all. If we cannot change the current inequality in South Africa, it is unlikely that there will be any place for me or my children in the country's future - white power and white privilege cannot continue. It will not be tolerated. We have to find ways of to make this nation a better place for us all.

I am not sure exactly what the answer is to these complex issues - but I can identify some of the problems. That is not a bad place to start. There are probably many answers, and many solutions. But there are some things that I can do, and must do.

How is it possible that some of us can live with 'too much' when others do not even have enough to survive? If you are interested in reading something that I wrote on the Christian faith and economics you can download and read this chapter that I wrote in a book some years ago.  Here is the reference:  

Forster, D.A. 2007. Upon our Lord’s sermon the mount: Discourse 8: Economic justice., in Reisman, K.D. & Shier-Jones, A. (eds.). 44 Sermons to serve the present age. London: Epworth Press. 141–150.

 

Megan, Courtney, Liam and I have been a steady journey of 'downward mobility' in the last year or so. We have sold things like cars, computers, gadgets. We have cut off unnecessary things like DSTV (cable TV) and subscription services. We have limited our household budget and tried to support more worthy and important causes.

We are attempting the 'live more simply, so that others may simply live'.

Interestingly I was teaching a class on human dignity and economics which was disrupted and ended today as the protesting students arrived.

What is certain is that we have work to do in South Africa. I am grateful for the energy and hope that I see among students and colleagues.

Friday
Oct092015

Love Wins! #LiefdeIsLiefde and the courageous witness of the Dutch Reformed Church

This week the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa took a very important decision - they have become decidedly more Christian by being a Church that seeks to welcome all those whom God invites and loves. Earlier in the week I wrote to some friends saying that I was praying for the denomination - their witness was on the line once again. This denomination is known as for having excluded persons based on something they could not choose. Of course in this instance I am talking about the fact that the Dutch Reformed Church excluded persons during the apartheid era based on their race. However, I am so thankful to say that the Synod of the Church is deconstruction that legacy, one brave and loving step at a time. Many Christians wanted them to once again opt for exclusion based on an attribute that persons do not choose. This time it would have been sexual orientation. Thankfully, they were wise enough not to choose that error again.

I am convinced of a few important points. First, the Church belongs to Christ. It is His body. As such He is the one who invites us. Our responsibility (in this regard) is to welcome those whom he loves and to facilitate a community of inclusion in which we grow together towards experiencing and expressing the tone of God’s Kingdom in our daily lives, and structuring it in society. You can read a little more about this idea in the following wonderful sermon that was preached by Samuel Wells - the Eucharistic table of the Lord is a wonderful metaphor to express unity in diversity, inclusion in grace, and the calling to extend the table of grace into the world.

Second, I am convinced that this is a faithful response to the message of the Bible. This week, as thousands of times before, well intentioned sisters and brothers have quoted passages from the Biblical text ‘at me’ to try and show me that I am error. I do my best to understand that their intention is loving correction, even though their method is betrays that they think either that I do not read the Bible, or don’t understand it. The former is not true. I read the Biblical text every day. The latter is true - I don’t always understand the content of Scripture, but I take it seriously and try to treat it as a critical and primary source for my spiritual, theological and ethical life. The texts that were quoted this week were more or less the same as those that others have presented to me for years and years. I find it so hurtful that persons who love God in Christ cannot love those who God loves and for whom Christ gave his life. How is it possible that we can use the Bible as a weapon of exclusion? I take the Biblical text way to seriously to abuse it in this manner. If you would like to understand how and why I hold my views on the inclusive nature of our Christian witness then please read this post I wrote in 2007 entitled ‘Lets Talk! Homosexuality and the Bible’, in particular please read the excellent article by Walter Wink on the Bible and homosexuality that is linked in that text. You can also read this chapter that I wrote for a text-book on Christian ethics called, ‘The Bible and Ethics’. Can I ask that if you are going to engage me on my views that you please respect the Bible enough to consider that there may be a variety of interpretations and understandings and that none of us is likely to ‘hold’ the whole truth? Can I also ask that you respect me enough to first read what I have written so that we can have an informed and open conversation.

Third, while I rejoice for the Dutch Reformed Church and give thanks for its faithful and courageous witness this week, my heart breaks for my own Church. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa was once a faithful and courageous witness to God’s love for all persons. Now, however, it is failing. The denomination remains in a protracted legal battle with my colleague and friend Rev Ecclesia de Lange who was dismissed from ministry because of her sexual orientation. I have been disciplined by the Church for blessing people who love God and long to be included in God’s blessing in their relationship. So, my own Church has a long way to go in its journey towards faithful Christian witness and ministry on this issue. Please pray for us, please help us, please don’t let us remain in error.