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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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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.

Tuesday
Oct062015

#ChurchesUnitedAgainstCorruption - #UAC @SAChurchesUnite why it matters

A week ago (30 September 2015) thousands of Christians gathered in cities across South Africa to show their discontent with increasing corruption in government and business in South Africa. It was beautiful to see women and men from a wide variety of denominations and theological traditions uniting to show that they are not afraid to act against persons who use prominence or power in politics or economics for personal and unjust gains. I was pleased to participate in the gathering in Cape Town, and know of friends who participated in Durban and Johannesburg gatherings.

Of course there are various forms of corruption - persons who pay bribes, and persons who solicit them, so that deals can be done. These drive up the costs of products and services, meaning that less can be done for the common good.  Fewer schools can be built, fewer hospitals staffed, fewer meals dispensed, fewer persons brought to justice, fewer crimes are solved, fewer communities are safe, and it is the poor and the powerless who suffer first, and who suffer most.

Someone asked me whether marches like this matter. Of course on some level they don't. In truth, nobody will admit to being 'for corruption', even the most corrupt have a public rhetoric against corruption - it is what they need to retain the trust and inactivity of those who allow them to remain in office, or conduct corrupt business.

On the other hand events like this are of critical importance. They matter because we cannot be silent in the midst of injustice.  Events such as these matter because we are showing that more and more sectors of South African society are impatient with the injustices and inequalities that are upheld by corrupt persons and corrupt practices.  Events such as these matter because they show that we have a moral conscience, and that people from different religious groupings, and different traditions, can stand together.  They matter because they show that we are not powerless or voiceless.  They matter because they show that we are citizens who are engaged.

So, I would encourage you to act. Recognise that you have a right, even a responsibility, to speak out when things are wrong. Call those who abuse their office or position in business for unjust means to account. Remind elected officials that they are civil servants of the people, not civil masters. Remind businesses and business people that we, the consumers, are the ones who hold the wealth that allows them to operate, and if they will not do so for the common good we can exercise our right to choose someone or something else.

If you are a follower of Jesus it is important to remember that submission to his Lordship has political, economic and social consequences.  What we believe must change how we live - and it should always be for the common good. This is the way of the servant King. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, the church does not have a social ethic, it is a social ethic - we are to become what we believe, our story, our witness, our worship, is to reflect what we believe and what we hope for.

I would like to invite you to visit the Churches United Against Corruption website, or consider joining the campaign Unashamedly Ethical.

Monday
Oct052015

A prayer for Africa

'God bless Africa
Educate our children
Give us better leaders
And grant us justice
For Jesus Christ's sake
Amen.'

- from Kairos Southern Africa

Monday
Jul272015

Heading home! The end of a research visit to Nijmegen, July 2015

In a few hours I will be boarding a bus from the Heygensgebouw just near my flat, it will take me to Nijmegen station from where I will catch a train to Schipol airport and then head back to Cape Town via Dubai.

I have had the privilege of spending another month in the beautiful city of Nijmegen working on my PhD research.  I am pleased to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project! I have a meeting with my supervisor this morning, and if all goes as planned I will have some corrections on the work I have handed in already, and then just one more chapter to write before I work through my whole thesis again and hand it in for examination.

The process from there is that it goes to a 'reading team' who evaluate the research, if it is approved I have to have it published in a book, and then come back in 2016 for a public defence and the award of the degree.

It is a little different from how the process worked with my first PhD (which I completed in 2005, defended and graduated with in 2006).  That seems like a lifetime ago!

This project focuses on the reading of the Biblical text under certain conditions (called intergroup contact theory) to facilitate engagement and reconciliation between racially diverse Christian groups in South Africa.  I was privileged to work with two Methodist Churches in my home town, Somerset West on the intercultural Bible reading project.

The theoretical components of the research focussed on a normative reading of Matthew 18.15-35 (locating a reading of the text within accepted academic Biblical scholarship, so I did a very detailed exegetical study of the passage).  Then, using an integrative All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach I 'mapped' possible readings of the text as an individual, collective, spiritual, political process (and a combination of these fields).  This exercise showed that Matthew 18 has a complex and textured view of forgiveness that involves faith (spirituality, belief, shared belief), polis / politics (recompense, social justice, human rights and dignity), and that it engages the individual person, as well as broader society.  Here is a diagram of Ken Wilber's AQAL theory that shows the different dimensions of identity, consciousness and meaning.

Next, I used a practice orientated research methodology to facilitate structured interviews with the reading group participants (this was to form a pre-intervention test of their understanding of forgiveness in relation to the chosen text).  I mapped their various understandings and saw that in large measure white South Africans have an individual and spiritual understanding of forgiveness, whereas black / brown South Africans have a more collective and social (political) understanding of forgiveness.  Each of the two Church groups then met separately to read the text and discuss it among themselves in a focus group setting - this also formed part of the pre-intervention testing and gave me more data to map the respective groups' understandings of forgiveness.  

Then, I facilitated a series of intercultural Bible reading engagements between the two groups, again in a focus group setting (in other words they met together to read and discuss the text).  We used the 'dwelling in the word' approach of Pat Keifert and Pat Taylor Ellison, see:  Ellison, P.T. & Keifert, P. 2011. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook. Minnesota: Church innovations).  

These intercultural Bible reading sessions were conducted according to strict protocols, employing mechanisms from intergroup contact theory to allow for a positive engagement between the participants that takes place within a safe space.  The intention was to minimize anxiety in the presence of 'the other' and to allow for an increased possibility for empathy for the person(s) and position(s) of 'the other'.  

Having completed those interventions, we then did a final post-intervention test to see if there has been any shifts in the understanding of forgiveness among the individual participants and the two groups.  This was done through a structured questionnaire on forgiveness, as well as a focus group discussion (both of these tools engaged understandings of forgiveness, as well as the intercultural Bible reading process).

The findings have been quite remarkable. I won't let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can say that some aspects of my hypothesis were proven, while other deviated from the expecation in some aspects, and other still did not turn out at all as I anticipated.  It makes for fascinating reading!

The hope is to provide two things out of this research, first an approach to using normative texts (in this case the Biblical text) as a reflective surface, and an engagement space, for intergroup contact among estranged or diverse groups.  Second, the mechanisms employed in the intergroup contact will be of use to Churches, businesses, and other communities that face challenges as a result of race, class, religious, gender or other distinctives - it allows for a positive engagement between 'in groups' and 'out groups' in a manner which can foster social cohesion, overcome prejudice and can facilitate positive engagement among the groups.

I have worked very hard on this project! It took quite effort to get back into the exceptionally technical work of dealing with a Biblical text in an academically appropriate manner - I had to dust off my old Greek exegetical skills, learn a whole lot of things about the culture and context of the Matthean community into which the text was written, and then develop a hermeneutic bridge (in the form of the AQAL theory) that could help us to see what contemporary understandings of the text may be appropriate.

The project also forced me to learn a great deal about empirical research methodologies, and particularly qualitative research methodologies (and the use of tools such as ATLAS.ti to do coding and interpretive work).  The new theoretical knowledge that I have gained on the Biblical text, forgiveness as a concept and process, the social and identity dynamics of South African communities, and of course I have learnt a great deal more about AQAL integrative theory and how it can be applied in these contexts (which is quite different form how I used it in my previous study in identity and cognitive neuroscience).  Among the most useful knowledge is what I have gained from reading and learning about intergroup contact theory and social identity theory.  This is a fascinating field.  I can see that I will use this, and my rekindled love for technical work in the Biblical text within my research in ethics and public theology.

For now, however, I have a few last meetings, some packing, and then the long trip home to my darlings! I can't wait to see them!

It has been great to have shared this time with friends, I have worked hard and learnt a great deal.  It is such a privilige!

On Wednesday I step back into class when I will be teaching a Masters module in Ethics of Pastoral Care, as well as my fourth and second year classes in ethics and Systematic Theology.

 

 

Wednesday
Jul152015

Back in Holland - Radboud University, Nijmegen 2015

On the 30th of June 2015 I boarded an Emirates flight for Dubai, heading to Schipol airport in Amsterdam.  From there I caught the train out to the beautiful Dutch city of Nijmegen (where I have been for the past two weeks to work on the completion of my 2nd PhD).

Of course I brought Doris my Brompton with me from Cape Town in the same way that I always travel with this amazing little bicycle - safely wrapped in the Brompton cover, clamps removed, draped with my clothes over the bike cover, and socks and shoes, and toiletries in packets packed around the spaces in the frame. I put a folded towel over the front fold, and a scarf or some socks or such over the left folding pedal. hen all of that goes into the Brompton B Bag.  At the airport I get them to wrap the B Bag in plastic to protect it.  My T Bag (that fits on the front luggage rack of the Brompton) becomes my hand luggage with my laptop and a few other bits and bobs in it.  Once the bike has been checked in for the flight I put the T bag on the luggage trolley and have a rolling hand luggage bag.  It is all quite convenient!  Here is a picture of Doris the Brompton, all wrapped up, with my T Bag on the train platform at Schipol airport waiting to catch a train to Nijmegen.

So, as mentioned already, the reason that I have been coming to Nijmegen for the past three years is to work on a second PhD.  I was very fortunate to receive a European Union 'Sandwich' scholarship for study at Radboud University, which is one of the world's top research Universities (in the top 100).  If you scroll through my previous Nijmegen / Radboud posts you will see that I am doing an interdisciplinary study on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation between black and white South Africans.  I am using a particular approach to reading the Biblical text (particularly Matthew 18.15-35) in a process called intercultural Bible reading and then applying two theoretical lenses to understand what happens in that process.  The two theories are social identity theory (particularly intergroup contact theory) and Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels) to 'map' the reader responses to the reading of the text.

I am pleased to say that I have the end of this project in sight! I handed in a very large portion of my study as a first draft.  I am busy working with the empirical (qualitative) data that I gained from the research participants in structured interviews and focus group meetings.  The findings are fascinating! I hope to be able to give Churches, communities, and even private and public organisations, some new insights into mechanisms that can help to bridge racial, cultural, and class distinctions.  The intention is to facilitate greater social cohesion and harmony between painfully separated groups (such as black and white persons in the post-Apartheid South African context).  Here is a picture of some of the commentaries that I have been reading to get to grips with the theological nuance, texture and depth of the Biblical text we used in our intercultural Bible reading process. It was quite hilarious to see the librarian's face when I walked out of the library with 17 books in my Brompton T Bag, unfolded my bike, hooked up the bag to the luggage mount and rode off into the distance!

I have been using a piece of software to work with my empirical data - I'm sure that anyone who works with empirical data in a qualitative manner will know ATLAS.ti?  It is all new to me! My goodness, but it is a very powerful software package that allows me to load my interviews, transcripts of the focus group meetings, documents, reports etc., into the software and then draw quotations, trends, networked relationships, hierarchies, nested meanings etc., from the data.  Based on those outputs I then test my theories in a deductive manner to see what worked and what didn't, why it worked or didn't, and can then hypothesise what may be useful for others, and what can be done to augment or correct the variance on my theory for my context.  As you know I am a committed Apple Mac user! For some years now I have only used Macs - I tried working on the little Lenovo Windows 8.1 tablet that I have from work, but my goodness, it just never seems to work! It hangs, quits the software, the touch screen stops working, the keyboard stops working... I am afraid that I can't work with it.  So, I have been learning how to use ATLAS.ti on my old 2011 Macbook Air!  Here is a picture of my Lenovo in the Radboud University Library next to the Erasmus Building.  

This is a beautiful space to work! For the first week that I was here it was SO hot, in fact the warmest they have had since they started recording temperature.  On the Saturday when I went to watch the first stage of the Tour de France (the individual time trial in Utrecht!) it was over 40 degrees! Unbelievable.  The weather has been much milder since, with three days of rain this week.  That makes for great productivity on my Thesis since I can't really do much riding in the rain (or at least I don't feel like doing much riding in the rain!)

The Tour de France in Utrecht was an experience of a lifetime.  I caught an early train from Nijmegen to Utrecth, the train was packed with cyclists and cycling fans.  Of course I had Doris my Brompton with me and we found a little space to sit, once at the station I unfolded and rode down to the time trial route which for some part ran along the beautiful canals and bridges of Utrech.  I stood around and watched some of the riders warming up and riding past, but the sun was SO HOT that it was almost unbearable!  So I decided to retreat to a shady spot on the other side of the canal and watch the action sitting on a grass bank, with an ice cold beer.  It was magnificent.  Certainly a memory that I will cherish for a long time!

Here are one or two more images from that special day.  I had a dinner appointment with some other post doctoral students and one of our Professors that evening, so I didn't stay for the whole afternoon.  I came back to Nijmegen and watched the 'big guns' ride the stage on TV and got ready to cycle to the dinner appointment.

And here's Doris on the canal bank.

This weekend I will be going to Munster to visit some colleagues who are there on sabbatical - Robert and Julie. I love that city as well.  It is just so beautiful, and of course it is a cycling city!

For now it is back to work. I am pleased to say that there are a number of other South African academics here in Nijmegen. This has made my stay so fun and not as lonely. We have eaten together a few times, done a great cycle out on the Ooij Polder, and even did a Zotero Master Class to share our 'jedi secrets' for citation management!  Here are a few guys in my flat learning how to sync their references and attachments from their computers to their iPads or iPhones using PaperShip.

Well, now it is back to work for me.  I am doing my best to get as close to a full first draft done before I head back to Stellenbosch at the end of this month.  Once I get home my teaching load is quite heavy, and I have a few post graduate students who want to hand in their theses this year as well, so I will be very busy with teaching, supervision and research.

Below are two last pictures of Nijmegen - on of the 1944 town square and beautiful old buildings, and another of the Nijmegen bridge which was the historical site of the Nazi defeat (depicted in the movie 'A bridge too far').


As always, I would appreciate your prayers for my family back home.  I miss them so much, and as Liam gets older he feels my absence so acutely!  Thankfully Courtney has been busy with Church and social activities.  Megie, my darling wife, has been holding the fort with work, kids, her studies and home! I am so thankful for her.  Please also pray that I make significant headway with my studies and do work that is not only academically valuable, but that can make a contribution towards the common good in South Africa.

Friday
Jun052015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 3

Today was the third and final day of the World Economic Forum that was held in Cape Town from 3-5 June 2015.

Once again I rode my trusty steed (a 2001 model BMW 650GS motorcycle) into the city for the meetings. It was surprisingly cold, although with clear blue skies as I drove into the beautiful Cape Town city bowl. I never grow tired of the beautiful view as one crests De Waal drive into the city.

Having parked just across the road from the CTICC (Cape Town Internation Convention Center) I made my way through security, now quite experienced at what beeps and what doesn't, and made my way upstairs for the first of my sessions.

I started the day with a session on agriculture, development and food security.  There were a few startling revelations in that session, notably that by 2050 the population of Africa will double, but our capacity to produce food will not.  In large measure this is because of too few commercial farmers, poor policy in agriculture and political instability and war threatens food security.  Water, of course, remains an additional challenge.  It was shocking to learn that there are 85 million malnourished persons in Africa, and that a large number of those are subsistence farmers and their families.  Again, the issue of gender inequality featured in this talk.  Women produce +- 80% of the food in Africa but only own 2% of the land.  Men tend to keep the best pockets of land for themselves and often don't utilize it fully.  What was also interesting to be reminded of is that Africa is the world's most resource laden continent - in other words, we are the richest continent on the planet when it comes to natural resources, but because of extractive injustice (where our minieral resources are extracted and sold elsewhere in the world) we are so poor that we have to import food to support our populations. Lastly, we discovered that rural women tend to be better managers of farms, food and finance (better than urban women, and better than all men).  So, what's the lesson?  Well, I think that if we had targeted projects to support and uplift rural women we could achieve a great deal for the common good in Africa.  Naturally we need to develop commercial farmers and technologies to drive efficient and healthy food production that is not destructive of the earth's resources and that can feed growing numbers of people.

Next, I attended a workshop that sought to find solutions to drive development and growth in Africa in the next 10 years.  I was fortunate to be seated at the table of Minister Naledi Pandor - what a remarkable woman!  I was bowled over by her gentleness, her amazing grasp of policy, investment, technology and the complex set of social, political and economic aspects that are necessary for development and growth.  How I wish she could be our President in South Africa!  The process of this workshop was superb using new technology where we wrote on the tables and it showed up on screens in the front of the room.  There were about 6 such tables participating around issues such as education, investment, technology, policy and governance etc.

My second to last session of the day was another remarkable one - I participated in a workshop on security in Africa.  The point of this grouping was to work out what some of the threats and opportunities were that Africa faced in terms of security in the next 10 years.  I was in a group with Minister Mohamed Beni Yonis of Somaliland - a great peace keeper on the continent and a truly remarkable and wise man! His insights into social, economic and technology opportunities and challenges were astounding.  He also appreciates the central role that religion plays in shaping societies in Africa (both negatively and positively).  The meeting agreed that we shall need to spend a great deal more time and energy working with faith based organisations and the religious groupings in our various countries to address social cohesion, service delivery, poverty alleviation and also to work against violence and extremism.  Then, the man whose name is signed on most of my South African money, Mr Tito Mboweni, was also in our group! He is such a kind (even fun!) person.  He spoke about the dangers of ambition (he reached the pinnacle of his career as governor of the Reserve Bank before he was 50 years old).  However, the group agreed that African society will need to acknowledge the place and importance of young leaders - one participant jokingly said that in Africa, presidency is something one 'retires into' at 65 after a working career!  I am attaching an image of the drawing that contains all of our discussions and thoughts on security in Africa.

The final session was about economics, investment and trade on the continent.  South Africa's finance Minister, Mr Nene, commented that "unless we deal with corruption all of our development plans will fail".  The rest of the panelists discussed the challenges of competition and distrust between neighbouring and regionally close countries in Africa, the expensive cost of travel, and the need to see much greater trade cooperation and support among African countries.

The highlight of the day, for me, was when Archbishop Tutu was invited onto the stage to close the WEF Africa meeting in prayer.  He was overwhelmingly warmly received.  He began his prayer, as I have heard him praying before, by saying that God is weeping at the way in which we treat one another and the earth.  Yet, he went on in his jovial and loving way to say how happy God was to see the participants of the WEF and all those they represented who were people of good-will whose desire it was to make this world a better place for all by working for the common good.  You can listen to his prayer (which I recorded on my phone) here.

Attending this form was a remarkable privilige.  I have learnt so many things at the WEF this week.  In particular I understand that we face a number of wicked problems that require partnership, cooperation, and even sacrifice to solve.  Water and the environment, poverty and inequality, gender imbalances, massive growth in our population and dwindling resources are huge challenges.  Yet, I am hopeful.  It was amazing to meet creative, intelligent, passionate and committed people from all sectors of society who were working for good! The investment of time, energy, resources and self into these problems is sure to make a difference, and in many cases solve the problems we discussed.

I realise that South Africa is fast falling behind.  Our political landscape and our own social context of poverty and inequality is vexing growth and cooperation.  We shall need to do a great deal more to foster trust and a willingness to give up some things (like white power and wealth) and take up some things (like hard work, good education, and uncompromising moral standards).  As I drove home I kept thinking that as Christians we must always ensure that our speech is peppered with hope, our hands are strengthened by justice and our hearts are filled with love as we work for a better future.  We do need a much higher calibre of leadership from both government and the private sector.  But what we need more than that is active citizens who are willing to be deeply involved in shaping a better world.

Thursday
Jun042015

World Economic Forum 2015 - day 2

Today is the 2nd day of the World Economic Forum regional meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

I only got into the CTICC just after 9am because I had to do a short radio interview at 8.15. Thankfully the rain has let up! So driving in was a little better on my motorcycle. As an aside, it must be one of the best ways to travel! I managed to park just across the road from the CTICC, whereas the drivers of cars first had to have their cars screened and cleared by a security team before they could enter the parking lot. In large measure this has to do with the number of foreign dignitaries, who are attending the forum, as well as the fact that Mr Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, spoke this morning. I attended the Panel discussion at which Mr Zuma spoke. Just a few minutes before that session he and the security entourage passed right past me. I was asked to stand still for a few moments as they passed. Then, as I was about to enter the venue of the presentation I saw my friend Archbishop Thabo Makgoba waiting to enter the venue. We talked for a while and then sat together in the hall. It was wonderful to see him being greeted by so many of the important and significant dignitaries, especially Mrs Graca Machel (see the attached photograph).

I was also grateful to have an opportunity to meet Mrs Machel and tell her about the research that I am doing on her for the American Academy of Religion. She was very kind! I even managed to get a photograph with her when I attended the panel discussion on bridging the gap between male and female economic inequality.

She is doing such amazing work to bring gender equality in society. It is a sad fact that women are most often the primary carers in the home and in society, they earn less than their male counterparts and get less access to the formal economy. On the whole women work harder and get less than men! While many countries and companies work for 'political' equality (representation in policy and decision-making positions). However this is not matched in wages, division of labour and human rights. The issue that should drive this agenda is justice and equality, not tokenism. The ethics of care is a reminder that care is not linked to only one gender. Women often get trapped in unpaid care that locks them to the home. Men work and so get economic independence, status and even the stimulus and recognition for their efforts. So simply put, let's distribute care and the division of labour in the home more equitably, and let's educate, lobby, and work for equal rights, opportunities and economic opportunities for both women and men.

One of the most interesting parts of the day was in the earlier panel discussion on Africa (the plenary session) when Anton du Plessis (from the Institute for Security Studies asked a question about security, good governance and corruption - I managed to record the response of Mr Zuma, it is in Apple voice recorder format (.m4a) and about 2MP.

You can download it from here.

He was clearly in the hot seat! His response was vague and tried to avoid the local context and his own challenges in South Africa. As I listened to conversations after that session it was clear that person's from all over the world were aware of this embarrassement!

In the broader discourse of the day, a great deal of the discussion on the morning has been about the development of Africa's youthful population. A few interesting statistics are that by 2040, 50% of the world's Youth will be African, and that there is a need to create 80 million jobs a year for African school leavers (for all of us to be employed). There was an emphasis on the fact that we need to train young Africans to be much more entrepreneurial, and also that education in Africa, while being widespread (about 90% of Africans get access to some form or level of education), is often not preparing young people for work or work creation.

I also attended a session on water security - it was shocking to be reminded that the World Economic Forum lists water security as the single largest challenge we face in the world today! Statistically the WEF shows that demand will be 40% higher than what the earth is able to supply by 2050! We are heading for a serious water crisis. What is needed is for us to change the way in which we use water, demand and supply are a huge problem. Wastage is another problem - it was reported that just 8 municipalities in South Africa account for 90% of wasted water, costing us 7 Billion Rand per annum! That is shocking! Lastly, we need technology and partnerships to manage water use policy and water supply and delivery.

As a Christian I am thinking how can we use this precious resource more justly? The reality is that people like myself can afford clean and reliable water, but the poor cannot! They suffer most when water is scarce. I will be attending a few more sessions during the day and will upload more reflections and thoughts as the day progresses.

Thursday
Jun042015

World Economic Forum - day 2

 

Please follow this link for an updated post with reflection on further sessions on gender equality, water security and the development challenges.

Today is the 2nd day of the World Economic Forum regional meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. I only got into the CTICC just after 9am because I had to do a short radio interview at 8.15. Thankfully the rain has let up! So driving in was a little better on my motorcycle. As an aside, it must be one of the best ways to travel! I managed to park just across the road from the CTICC, whereas the drivers of cars first had to have their cars screened and cleared by a security team before they could enter the parking lot. In large measure this has to do with the number of foreign dignitaries, who are attending the forum, as well as the fact that Mr Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, spoke this morning. I attended the Panel discussion at which Mr Zuma spoke. Just a few minutes before that session he and the security entourage passed right past me. I was asked to stand still for a few moments as they passed. Then, as I was about to enter the venue of the presentation I saw my friend Archbishop Thabo Makgoba waiting to enter the venue. We talked for a while and then sat together in the hall. It was wonderful to see him being greeted by so many of the important and significant dignitaries, especially Mrs Graca Machel.

 

I was also grateful to have an opportunity to meet Mrs Machel and tell her about the research that I am doing on her for the American Academy of Religion. She was very kind! One of the most interesting parts of the panel discussion was when Anton du Plessis (from the Institute for Security Studies asked a question about security, good governance and corruption - I managed to record the response of Mr Zuma, it is in Apple voice recorder format (.m4a) and about 2MP.

You can download it from here.

A great deal of the discussion on the morning has been about the development of Africa's youthful population. A few interesting statistics are that by 2040, 50% of the world's Youth will be African, and that there is a need to create 80 million jobs a year for African school leavers (for all of us to be employed). There was an emphasis on the fact that we need to train young Africans to be much more entrepreneurial, and also that education in Africa, while being widespread (about 90% of Africans get access to some form or level of education), is often not preparing young people for work or work creation.

 

I will be attending a few more sessions during the day and will upload more reflections and thoughts as the day progresses.  Please follow this link for an updated post with reflection on further sessions on gender equality, water security and the development challenges.

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