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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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Thursday
Jan022014

The dawning of a new era - Stellenbosch University

Today a new era dawned in my ministry and working life - on the 2nd of January 2014 I arrived at Stellenbosch University at around 7.50am to move into my new office in the Faculty of Theology.  

Yesterday my appointment as Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Ethics (with a focus on Public Theology) came into effect! I am truly grateful for this magnificent opportunity to serve the Church and society in the academy!

I am so excited about what the future holds in this new post! For some years I have been attached to the faculty as a staff member in Ekklesia (the Center for Leadership and Congregational) - however, this new post is as a full time academic with both undergraduate and post graduate teaching and research responsibilities.

I will be teaching Ethics and Systematic Theology and will have a particular focus on the Church's role in the various 'public' spaces of society (politics, economics, health care, education, the arts and many others).  This is where most of my attention and energy has been focussed in the last decades.  The Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED 'Shining a light on corruption' campaigns have aimed at precisely this, to support and empower the Church for making a positive contribution to the transformation of the nation and the world.

So, today I moved my stuff from my 'old office' in the Ekklesia side of the faculty building into the 'faculty' side of the building (which is pictured above - I took this photo about three years ago.  Isn't it a beautiful building?) Each of the departments are clustered together, and I am in the section for Systematic Theology, Church History, Ethics and Ecclesiology. It is a beautiful sunny office with rows and rows of book shelves and lots of wood - befitting the historical look of the Kweekskool buildings.

My prayer for this new sesion in my ministry is that I will have an opportunity to serve both the Church and the nation in developing critical though and ideas, useful tools, and well trained people who can bring about transformation and the renewal of society for the sake of justice and grace.

I am inspired by the following quote from a speech that former President Nelson Mandela gave at the Methodist Conference in Umtata on 18 September 1994:

One cannot over-emphasise the contribution that the religious community made particularly in ensuring that our transition achieves the desired result. The spirit of reconciliation and the goodwill within the nation can, to a great measure, be attributed to the moral and spiritual interventions of the religious community.

Now that a major part of the journey towards democracy has been traversed, new and more difficult tasks lie ahead of us. For, political democracy will be empty and meaningless, if the misery of the majority of the people is not addressed.

The Church, like all other institutions of civil society, must help all South Africans to rise to the challenge of freedom. As South Africa moves from resistance to reconstruction and from confrontation to reconciliation, the energy that was once dedicated to breaking apartheid must be harnessed to the task of building the nation.

I would appreciate your prayers for me, and of course also for Megie, Courtney and Liam, as this new phase in our lives takes shape.

I will remain the Chairman of the Board of 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' as our team works towards the G20 meetings in Australia in November 2014.  In addition to that I will also serve on one or two other boards (Unashamedly Ethical, the Power Group Charitable Trust, Half Time and Alpha).

Saturday
Dec142013

Departing from Holland - back home!

As I write this I am standing in front of the Huygensgebouw in Nijmegen waiting for the Number 14 bus that will take me to Nijmegen Station, from where I catch a train to Schipol and then fly to Dubai, and arrive in Cape Town a day and a half later. The weather at home is different - that I can believe! It is cold and wet here in Holland this morning!

This last week has been very fruitful and productive. I spent a great deal if time developing to Practice Oriented Research strategy I will be using with my focus groups. I also did a lot of reading and discussing on affective neuroscience and the disruptive mind. But my joy was spending days buried deep in the Greek text of Matthew 28.1-35 (in fact Matthew, the Synoptics and the ancient sources of the time). I learned a great deal about 'fictive kin', mimesis, ancient near eastern community structure, ancient Roman Law, and of course concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Bible.

I also had to joy of speaking at a Public Lecture on Nelson Mandela (Soetebeeck reeks I think it was called). A real highlight for me.

Then I did two longer rides on Doris my Brompton - one along the Ooij Dijk and another out to Germany (Kleve) - just beautiful! Cold, but lovely. Having a bike here was invaluable for bit commuting and fitness and sight seeing. I'm glad I brought Doris to England and Holland!

Now, I turn my head towards home! My beautiful family! I can't wait to be with them tomorrow!

Monday
Dec092013

Reflections on my first week in Nijmegen, Holland December 2013

I arrived in Holland last week on Sunday 1 December - I flew with Doris my Brompton all packed up from Heathrow Terminal 5 (British Airways) to Schipol in Amsterdam. I was a little worried since when Doris is packed in the B Bag with all of my clothes and toiletries she weighs in at around 27kg's and the BA baggage allowance is only 20kg's (a maximum of 23kg). Normally the extra weight is no problem because I am a Voyager (Star alliance) member with a 'few' airmiles - so I get to travel with 30kg.  But BA is not part of Star Alliance.

I said a little prayer, packed as well as I could, and headed to the airport at 5am (thanks Craig and Kath! You guys are AWESOME!) Thankfully my prayers were answered - the check in staff didn't even bat an eyelid.  I put Doris on the conveyer belt and off she went! Sadly because it was so early in the morning the bag wrapping service was not yet operating - so for the first time my Bromtpon B Bag went into the hold without any plastic wrapping.  However, it was a short flight (and very empty as well).  When I collected Doris at Schipol she was perfect! No damage, no problems.  So, I put the B Bag onto my luggage trolley (I take this with since it is easier to wheel than the wheels on the B Bag) and went to Schipol station for the 2 hour train ride through to beautiful Nijmegen.

The train ride was relaxing - with only one changeover at Utrecht where I literally walked from one side of the platform to the other.  On the first part of the trip I sat with an elderly Dutch couple who had just returned from a few weeks of holiday in Southern Africa - Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria falls (and they did it all by train!) amazing. They spoke very enthusiastically about the beauty of South Africa.

When I arrived in Nijmegen I fired up my 9292 app on my iPhone and saw which bus would take me to Platolaan near the Erasmusgebou of the University.  The guesthouse (gastehuis) is right across the road.  While it is called a guesthouse it is actually just a large block of flats.  I have stayed here before.  It is very comfortable and such beautiful views.  Last year I overlooked the Brakenstein woods, this year my view was of the Astro turf hockey fields and the main University building.

By the way, it snowed here on Friday! I couldn't believe it! It wasn't very heavy snow, but it left a beautiful white covering on the ground for a few hours.  It was absolutely FREEZING!

I was very pleased to be in my flat in Nijmegen - I unpacked my clothes and Doris, pumped up her wheels and then headed to the Coop shop in the town center which is open later on a Sunday for some supplies. It was wonderful to be on the beautiful cycle paths, quite a change from London where every ride is like taking your life in your hands! Here cyclists seem to have more rights than motorists - special cycle lanes, special traffic signals, and of course thousands of fellow cyclists! It makes a real difference!

When I got back home I set up my laptop and connected to the VERY fast broadband connection (wired via ethernet - thankful there was an ethernet cable in the room since I forgot mine at home!) And then set up internet sharing on my Mac so that I could use my iPhone and iPad for Facetime.  I immediately called Megie, Courts and Liam - by this time it was already dark. I miss them so much, I can't tell you.  There is an emptiness in my heart, a dull ache all day. I can't wait to get home next week! We had a great chat. It is such a blessing to be able to 'call home' for free and just chat to them for as long as we want with crisp, clear, video.

On Sunday evening I had a wonderful dinner with Professor Jan van der Watt and his wife Shireen and a fellow PhD student Alexander from St Petersburg in Russia (Alexander's wife and son were also with us - it was great to have a little guy around the place. It made me thing of Liam).

On Monday my work began big time! Sadly this year has been so busy with EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption and Unashamedly Ethical work and travel that I have done very little on my second PhD. I have done some reading, but had not had much time to convert my thoughts and ideas into text.  So, with my first deadline looming on Monday afternoon I worked from late Sunday evening, early Monday morning until I met with Prof Chris Hermans - my co-supervisor who is helping me with Practice Oriented Research methodology (since I am doing some qualitative empirical work in my current study). I managed to send him something worthwhile, and then I started working towards my deadline for Professor van der Watt - I am working on the text of forgiveness with him.

I had BibleWorks 9 fired up on my Mac (in Parallels of course) and was digging deeply into the Greek text to do a thorough Exegesis.

On Tuesday I had to spend the afternoon on a conference call with the other directors of TEE College, for which I am a director.  We did our final business for the year, of which a part was to receive the final results for the 2013 examinations. So the students should be getting their results very soon!

Then, I had two further deadlines, a Wednesday and Thursday meeting with Prof Chris, and a Friday meeting with Prof Jan.  So, every moment was spent behind my keyboard, reading and writing.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a friend Johan who lives in Holland - he connected with me via the internet.  He follows my blog and saw that I was in Holland.  It was great to spend some time with him talking about his work, ministry and research.  He used to be a community health worker here in Nijmegen (actually he taught health care at the University - he has a PhD in epidemiology).  Now he is studying theology and serving an international Church in his city. I was so inspired by his commitment and service!

On Saturday I took a few hours for exercise - other than walking to the main University building and cycling a few km a day for supplies, I have not been as active as I am back home.  So, I set out in WET and COLD weather for a 30km ride along the Waaldijk.  It ended up being 43km because I got a little lost on the way back (road works meant that I couldnt' get back along the road that I knew). It was awesome to be out! The scenery is beautiful, and it felt great to stretch my legs, open my lungs and just be quiet and reflective.

There were lots of other cyclists out - the group which seemed to be part of a cycling team were excited to see a guy on a Brompton! ha ha! I say if you can't fold it you shouldn't ride it!

By the time I took this photo I was rather soaked and a little hungry.  Ha ha. Still, lots of fun.

On Saturday and Sunday I spent the 'off time' working on some editing I am doing for the Sentinel Group on Transformation materials. It was a nice change of pace and I found it inspiring and also very encouraging to be able to 'tick off' a few projects.  Achievement is an important part of the human psyche - to be able to work hard during the week, cycle well on Saturday, and do good work over the weekend left me feeling content and blessed. I am very thankful for all of the opportunities that I have.

It was also wonderful to spend some time on Facetime during the week, and a few hours over the weekend, chatting with Megie, Courtney and Liam.  I cannot tell you how much I love them!! I look forward to being home in a week's time! Family, sunshine, and mountainbiking!

Sunday
Dec012013

62km 18 bridges in London on a Brompton - 1 awesome ride!

Here's a great video from Ben Lovejoy of our Bromtpon Night Ride (we rode 18 of London's bridges).  You'll see me on Doris my Yellow Brompton (wearing a sleeveless jacket over my high visibility jacket! It was COLD! Way to cold for an African boy!)  What an iconic ride.  I actually did about 21 bridges by the time I got home.

For an awesome ride report, written in iconic MI6 style, see Agent Orange (aka, Agent Red, White and Blue) great report - My Orange Brompton.

Thanks Ben, David, John, Andrew, Chris and the crew from the London Brompton Club.  That is a night to remember!

Here is my Endomondo GPS track from there ride.  The group split up at Richmond station where they caught the train home.  I rode the rest of the way to where I was staying. A respectable 62km.

 

Friday
Nov292013

Hermeneutics and homiletics - On Malcolm Gladwell's story of David and Goliath  

A good friend of mine @JohannGrobler alerted me to a fascinating TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell on the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath.  You can watch it on Youtube below.

It is fascinating to watch Malcolm share his perspective on this well known Biblical narrative.  He is not only a very creative and astute thinker - able to find a novel angle to well known data, and then develop a point that opens up new possibilities for thought - he is also a very engaging and effective orator.  I enjoyed watching the talk a great deal!

What Johann wanted to know was whether what was said about David (that he was probably more agile and skilled than Goliath as a warrior) and Goliath (that he was so large because of a cancer that causes unnatural growth (acromegaly). One of the side effects of this disease is short sightedness and double vision) were true.  Well, my answer to Johann's question is quite simply, I am not sure!  Unless we have medical evidence on Goliath's condition and corroborating testimony to substantiate the suggestions made about David by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell's theory is as plausible (or unplausable) as any other theory.  We cannot have absolute certainty on the theory without substantive evidence to support it. 

I can say, however, that I found what Gladwell said sensible and very interesting. What he suggests is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. He does offer some second tier evidence to support his hypothesis.  To support his claims about David's skill he cites historical documents and data about the effectiveness and accuracy of sling shot users in the ancient world.  To support his claims about Goliath he cites some studies from contemporary (modern) medicine - although I am sure in both cases there is probably equally significant evidence and cause for reaching different conclusions.  That is the nature of academic debate.  Simply because and article is published, or a point is substantiated, that does mean that it is more true than another point.  There are some very bright and intelligent people who believed all sorts of crazy things (with medical evidence to support their claims).

What struck me as most significant about this talk was the manner in which Gladwell has adapted the disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics so effectively in making his point.  What he is doing is very similar to what millions of priests, pastors, rabbi's and imman's do every week.  He has taken a narrative (in this case the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath) and interpreted it creatively in order to argue a particular point - the point here is found in his conclusion, i.e., that we must not be too simplistic about our accepted view of dominant narratives, and that giants may not always be what they seem (which implies that underdogs may also not always be what they seem).

Homileticians use this approach frequently, they communicate and idea by using 'foundational knowledge' as a connecting point with the audience.  Then they draw on other authoritative sources (in this case history and medicine) to introduce new knowledge that will support the reasonable acceptance of desired truth.  In Biblical studies we teach our students to understand that the text always has a historical context, that the 'players' in the narrative have depth to them (they are seldom what the narrator or author of the text has presented).  The intention is to use whatever data is available to unpack the deeper and more subtle truths about the elements of the story (the characters in the story, the plot lines, the intention of the author or narrator (what did he or she include or leave out, what was emphasised, what was underplayed - Gladwell does this a number of times in his talk), what was the situation of the recipients of the narrative (what did the author assume about them, their needs, their religious and social framework etc.).  The process us called hermeneutics - the science of interpretation.

I am grateful to Johann for pointing me to this great talk, and for raising the question that allowed me to view Malcolm Gladwell's talk with a more enquiring mind than just accepting admiration.

Friday
Nov292013

Remembering the life and witness of Dorothy Day

Today many Christians will commemorate the life of Dorothy Day. She was the co-founder of the Catholic worker movement, a deeply committed pacifist and servant of the poor.
Her life was shaped by a contemplative faith, out of which arose her quest for peace and justice in the world.

As with many great leaders she was not free from controversy. 

I have often considered that in order to bring about a substantial and lasting change in society there needs to be a family significant disruption of the status-quo. The 'powers' of every structure and age are resistant to change. It is seldom an easy process, but I do think that a peaceable approach, emanating from a position of deep faith, soaked in grace, stands the best chance of bringing change without resulting in significant brokenness.

My prayer is that I, and many others, will embrace the discipline of daily faithfulness to the Gospel of grace and peace, that in our prayer, our action and our words we will serve in small ways that contribute to the positive transformation and renewal of the world.
Tuesday
Nov262013

Shopping in London with the Brompton and a T Bag.

I went shopping at the Tesco's near to where I am staying today. I wanted to pick up a few supplies and so I pedaled Doris my Brompton M3L to the shops with the Brompton T Bag (by far my favorite bag in the Brompton range... Well, my favorite out of the three that I own - the B bag doesn't count of course since that is a bag to put the Brompton into when I travel. I own the T Bag (it used to be known as the touring pannier) and the C Bag).

I overloaded it slightly with milk, bread, 2L of Pepsi, and other bits and bobs. Regardless of the extra load (so much that I couldn't close the bag), it still handled like a dream since the bag mounts to the luggage block on the front of the bikes this keeps the center of gravity very low.

It is so convenient having the Brompton with me in London. As on previous trips, I ride it between meetings and appointments. I use it for sightseeing expeditions. And of course I also use it to run errands!

Sunday
Nov242013

Arrived safely at London Gatwick

I arrived safe and sound at London Gatwick airport. Doris my Brompton bicycle seems to have survived the flights as well as I did!

We almost missed the connection in Dubai due to delays from Air Traffic Control. I am so glad to be here!

I can't wait to see Craig and Kath, Rich and Karen and the kids! I'm on a coach from Gatwick to Heathrow now where I will meet Craig and Kath.

Tomorrow I have a few meetings in Kensington with the Alpha International team - so Doris will join me on the tube into London!

Wednesday
Nov202013

Multimodal transport and the Brompton bicycle

I am very fortunate to be on the faculty of one of the most amazing Universities in the world - Stellenbosch University in the wine lands around Cape Town.

The University is situated in a most beautiful setting, surrounded by magnificent mountains and vineyards. The town of Stellenbosch has experienced a property boom in recent years. Partly it is because of the University, but also because of the beauty and climate of the region. I live 20km from Stellenbosch in the equally beautiful city of Somerset West which is on the slopes of the Helderberg mountains overlooking the ocean. However while we share the Cape's beauty with Stellenbosch we don't benefit from the great weather - Somerset West is cooler, windier and the weather is less predictable (like most coastal towns).

The result of the growth in residence of Stellenbosch is quite severe congestion during term times. The 20km drive from home to University to teach can take 25 minutes during vacation times and over an hour during term times! Another nightmare is parking on Campus. As with many Universities, parking on campus is scarce and restricted. Frequently I find it easier to park off campus and walk or bike in.

This is where the Brompton works perfectly! I can load it into the boot (trunk) of my car and drive to Stellenbosch. Then I can either park at my office and leave my car for the day and only battle the traffic in and out of town at the start and end of the day. The Brompton then gets me on campus, to meetings, to the library and even into town if I need to buy anything. At times I have even opted to park my car outside of the congested area (at a shopping mall just outside of town, or at the station) and then cycle in and out of town. That is often quicker than getting through the narrow streets and traffic lights to get to and from the office.

Of course another benefit of the Brompton is that it fits neatly under my desk at the office, and can even be covered and taken into the Library or a lecture theatre without a rousing any interest or suspicion. I simply fold the Brompton and pull the cover over it, pick it up and go!

A final thing I love about the Brompton is it's carrying capacity. With the T Bag or C Bag I can carry my laptop, some books, my camera, and at times have even carried at data projector in the bag.

In this post is a picture of Doris in front of the Faculty of Theology building, and folded and covered in the journal section of the main campus library.

I'll be heading to the UK and Holland at the end of this week and Doris my trusty M3L Brompton (which is lighter than Darth my black M6L) will be packed into the B bag, checked onto the flight and taken along!

Tuesday
Nov192013

A last trip for the year! England and Holland

On Friday this week I have the great honour and joy of speaking at the Median 25 conference in Cape Town at 'Church on Main'. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear Mike Pilavachi, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Dr Nadine Bowers du Toit, Dr Frederick Marais and Nicky Gumbel (via telecast).

I have been asked to speak on the state of the Church in South Africa and Africa. I will draw on some recent statistical information and research about Church shifts in the country, as well as some of the most recent and groundbreaking research on global and continental Church shifts in the Christian faith. Diana Butler Bass' book 'Christianity after religion' is particularly insightful, as is the classic 'The next Christendom' by Philip Jenkins. I will also draw on some insights from the sociologist Peter Berger, and of course the missiologist Andrew Walls.

In short I am advocating for the Christian Church to be good news rather than just proclaimers of good news. I am advocating for a Church that is primarily relational in character, rather than propositional in nature. I am advocating for a Church that creates space for the asking of 'big questions', without feeling the need to give definitive and absolute answers on every subject. I am advocating for a Church that is humble, just, and merciful. In short, I am hoping to present a picture of a Church that is active with the 'things' that God is doing in the world - a Church shaped by the 'missio Dei' (the work of God). This Church, the missional Church, is alive since God is alive. This Church is powerful in doing good, since God is powerful in doing good. This Church is less concerned about programs and projects than it is about a servant identity that brings healing and transformation in society and the world.

I'll give a few examples, tell some stories, share a few statistics and give some ideas for consideration from the research and current discourse on the Church, and of course from my own experience.

Unfortunately I will have to leave the conference early since I am catching a flight to England on Saturday afternoon. I will be in London for a week for some meetings (Alpha International, EXPOSED, Unashamedly Ethical and then some academic meetings). On the 1st of December I move across to Holland where I will be going to spend 2 weeks working on my post doctoral research at Radboud University, Nijmegen where I am doing a second PhD.

I am looking forward to the time to read, reflect, pray and of course reconnect with friends and discover new things. I would ask for your prayers for Megie, Courtney and Liam. I will miss them so much in the 3 weeks I am away from home! However, the great news is that I will do very little travel in 2014! I return home on the 15th of December and will then have a lovely holiday with my beautiful family. Such a blessing!

Monday
Nov112013

Wines2Whales 2013 all done!

Well, the wines2whales 2013 race is all done! We had an awesome last day's ride - 4h47 from Grabouw to Onrus. Again, the tracks were super! The trails are well made and offer a great variety (single track, jeep track, fast descent, looooong climbs and amazing scenery).

I took a stupid fall about 35 KM into the ride while climbing a switchback above Houwhoek inn and broke my ring finger on my right hand. The downhill and single tracks were a little uncomfortable for the remainder of the race. But my riding partner Andre took us through the last 40 KM in style!

We managed to take about 3 hours off last year's time! Quite remarkable!

Now, I just need to keep up my fitness and loose a little weight before next year :-)

Saturday
Nov092013

Wines2Whales Race 2013, almost done!

We have two awesome days of riding - on day one we rode 5h15 for the 75km from Lourensford farm to Oak Valley in Grabouw. As usual the Gantouw pass was a serious climb. But Andre and I do well.

Today we rode 4h12 for the 70km 'single track' day on Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and Thandi.

Tomorrow we ride from Grabouw, through Botriver to Hermanus. It has been awesome!

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