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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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Entries in Christian (18)

Tuesday
May272014

Inspired by the prophetic ministry of Rev Prof Peter Storey

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

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

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

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

Tuesday
Feb182014

Faith matters: intelligibly unintelligible

I am reading Stanley Hauerwas' Approaching the end: Eschatological reflections on Church, Politics and Life. It comes highly recommend.  I found the following quote so helpful in thinking about the 'shape' of my own faith.

For I take it to be crucial that Christians must live in such a manner that their lives are unintelligible if the God we worship in Jesus Christ does not exist.

 

- Stanley Hauerwas, Approaching the end (p.67).

Indeed, the character of our lives, not our confessions, but our very lives, must seem strange to a world that is so obsessed with power, wealth, class and fame.  The way of the Christ follower must seem nonsensical to those who do not understand the God whom we love and know.  Of course it makes sense to us only because we know God and have experienced God's grace and power that transforms life, brings wholeness and motivates our reason for being who and how we are in the world.

If our lives, and the expression of our lives (our homes, our bank accounts, our Churches) resemble too closely to conventions of our time we need to take stock and ask whether we have not given in to one of the many false God's of the age.  We should be different, since God's nature and ways are different.  But our difference should not be a reason for division, but rather a call to real life, a call to full life, a call to move closer to the life giver.

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.
Wednesday
Feb292012

Global Corruption - a meeting in the Houses of Parliament

Today was such an amazing day!  

As I write this I am sitting in the Houses of Parliament in London listening to a presentation on International Corruption by Richard Alderman of the Serious Fraud Office.

The image on the left was taken at the entry hall into the House of Lords. It is such an amazing space! I decided to take it in black and white (the light was not great, and a building of this size and space is best captured in black and white!) 

Back to the presentation; what was clear from the presentation is that corruption, on an international scale, is an extremely serious matter. The costs and repercussions of corruption in the international arena have grave consequences for the poor.  Yet, the reach is also into the middle class and even the wealtheir members of society.  Corruption quite simply erodes the fabric of society making it unstable and leaving us all vulnerable.  If corruption is left unchecked it tends to increase, drawing in more and more persons and leaving more and more victims in its wake.

The presentation gave some insights into the manner in which corruption is hidden from the general public. In short, it is because we all have a sense of moral 'rightness' within us, we know that abuse of power, wealth, and position for personal benefit is unjust. Corruption is not only a matter for governments, it is also very prevalent in businesses, and even in NGO's and the religious sector.  In some instances companies are far more corrupt (and powerfully so!), and the consequences of their corrupt practises are far more severe, than those of governments.

What strikes me as I have listened to this presentation is that many countries in which corruption is rife have an overwhelmingly Christian population.  Why isn’t the Church forming its members to act responsibly in their role in government and business - in society in general?  In many of these instances it is persons who sit in our pews on Sunday, who are robing the poor, stealing form the nation, and breaking the law on a Monday.

Christians, what should we be doing about corruption in our midst?  What do you do if you are aware of corrupt practises in your work environment, or you have been involved in corrupt practises yourself?

What would God want you to do?  What would God want your Church to do?

Our meetings for EXPOSED continue today.  I would appreciate your prayers! Follow EXPOSED on twitter here and please 'like' us on Facebook.

Monday
Feb062012

Wishes of youth and the winds of war - I was a soldier once

For the last week or so I have been reading Ranulph Fiennes amazing book 'My Heroes' (see the link below).

It tells the stories of various brave and courageous women and men who did extraordinary things in face of great danger and hardship.

The story that most moved me was that of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina - the man who saved just over a thousand Rwandans from the genocide that ripped that nation in 1994.  I was moved to tears by the tales of women and children who were violently and brutally hacked to death by family and friends in a killing frenzy that spread through the land that year.  

Germiston Methodist Church - Stained Glass WindowThis weekend I was privileged to spend the weekend with my friend Andrew Evans, a wonderful minister of a Methodist Church in the inner city of Germiston.  He is doing such great work in his Church, Gospel work, building bridges between diverse communities, offering new life and hope to refugees and inner city citizens, and an ongoing place of identify and safety to the longstanding members of his congregation.  In the Sunday service where I preached yesterday we sang and prayed in Shona, Xhosa, Sotho, Afrikaans and English. It felt a little like heaven.

As I travelled home last night I had Fiennes book and the Church service on my mind.  Of course most of the Shona speaking members of Andrew's congregation come from Zimbabwe - they have fled physical and economic hardship in search of a better life in South Africa.  They come here, even though South Africa has experienced xenophobic violence in the last few years as desperate citizens of this nation fear that foreigners are taking their jobs and land.  Still, the prospects here are better.

Andrew is a good minister - he is doing the work of reconciliation and bringing about unity and peace in his community.  It is the work of Christ the reconciler.

In Fiennes' book he  notes, among other things, that the conditions that are necessary for genocide to occur include:

 

  • An impoverished population
  • A large gap between those who 'have' and those who 'do not have'
  • A clearly identifiable minority grouping that has access to wealth and power
  • The development of a racial or ethnic ideology that places groups of persons in opposition to one another
  • Corrupt, power hungry and irresponsible politicians

 

I wondered how many of these elements could be ticked off a list of criteria in South African society?  We have much work to do in order to bring equality, overcome animosity, and combat false and harmful racial and ethnic ideologies.

For some years I was an involuntary soldier - as many of South Africa's white males were before the end of Apartheid.  I was conscripted to military service.  I was supposed to go straight from school.  However, since I first went to study my conscription was delayed some years.  My life changed during that time.  As I think back on it now that was the period during which I went from being a boy to becoming a man.  I can clearly see how my innocence was eroded by the might of the military machine.

The memories and emotions, expresssed above, have been washing through my mind, finding place in my prayers, and space for contemplation and understanding before God.

I pray that young women and men may grow to adulthood without having to face the brutality of war.  I pray that in my own land we should find another as sisters and brothers and work together for transformation and justice for all. I pray 'Still let me live as Love and Life are one: Still let me turn on earth a child-like gaze..."

Wishes of Youth

Gaily and greenly let my seasons run:

And should the war-winds of the world uproot

The sanctities of life, and its sweet fruit

Cast forth as fuel for the fiery sun;

The dews be turned to ice—fair days begun

In peace wear out in pain, and sounds that suit

Despair and discord keep Hope’s harp-string mute;

Still let me live as Love and Life were one:

Still let me turn on earth a child-like gaze,

And trust the whispered charities that bring

Tidings of human truth; with inward praise

Watch the weak motion of each common thing

And find it glorious—still let me raise

On wintry wrecks an altar to the Spring. - Samuel Blanchard

 

Friday
Oct142011

Occupy Grahamstown! The poor, the state and the Church?

Last week I posted a video and reflection on the growing discontent with global poverty and the manner in which the enfranchised and powerful persons and organs of society are dealing with the poor. Remember what I said about the gini coefficient? The gap between the rich and the poor is not only an affront to God, it is serious challenge to national stability and safety.  Where some people have too much and others have too little a revolution is inevitable.  It is even more volatile in a nation like South Africa where the majority of the people are poor.  Since the Church is called by God to be an agent of healing, transformation and service to society I wonder what role the Church should be playing in reforming the global (and local) economy?  I am sure of one thing, there will be members of various Churches in the crowds that participate in riots, protests and marches.  Others are the sons, daughters, family and friends of Christians.  Of course it is also true that those who occupy positions of power and influence (politicians, economists, business persons, lawyers, police officers etc.) are also members of our Churches!  Surely we have a role to play!

Today I received the following email about an 'people's uprising' that is planned for the City of Grahamstown.  I would encourage you to read the statement - regardless of your political views or your perspective on poverty.  This statement gives a vivid insight into the growing discontent among ordinary South Africans.

What is the role of the Church in such a situation?  What should we be doing, saying and praying?

13 October 2011

Unemployed People's Movement Press Statement

Occupy Grahamstown!

Recapitalise the Poor!

As a movement of the poor we have taken great inspiration from the rebellion that has spread from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Syntagma Square in Athens, the Puerta del Sol in Madrid and now Liberty Plaza in New York. Our comrades in Students for Social Justice have been just as inspired by the growing spirit of rebellion that is jumping, like a fire, from country to country.

 On Saturday we will occupy Grahamstown. The students will march into town from the Botanical Gardens. We will march into town from the township and the squatter camps. We will meet on the square at the Cathedral. We will turn that square into a people's university, a people's kitchen and a space of people's power. Our aim is to bring the rebellion of the poor, the rebellion that has put thousands and thousands on the streets of South Africa in recent years, into dialogue with this global rebellion. The alliance between organised students and the organised unemployed is strong in Grahamstown. Together we can build strong foundations for the struggles to come.

 We have been inspired by this global rebellion because the comrades in Tahrir Square showed the world the strength of a united and determined people. We have been inspired by this rebellion because it has clearly told the bankers that their time of ruling the world is over. We have been inspired by this rebellion because it has clearly told the politicians that from Cairo to New York people are determined to rule themselves and to build their own power from the ground up.

 We will occupy Grahamstown in the name of freedom. We insist that all people have the right to organise themselves according to their own free choices. We denounce the ANC for the murder of Andries Tatane and all the others. We denounce the ANC for the repression of the Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Landless People's Movement, the Anti-Eviction Campaign and all the others. We denounce the ANC for their attempts to censor the media. We denounce the ANC for continuing to claim that the movements of the poor are a Third Force. The ANC insult us by making us live like pigs and excluding us from all decision making and then, when we rebel, they insult us again by saying that it must be a white academic that is making us rebel. The ANC is incapable of understanding that poor black people can, like all other people, think for ourselves. The ANC is incapable of understanding that they do not and have never had a monopoly on struggle. The ANC is incapable of understanding that they are the real counter-revolutionaries.

 We will occupy Grahamstown in the name of real democracy. We join the people of the world in showing our anger at the way that the capitalists have bought the politicians and the whole system. We will join the people of the world in insisting that democracy will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. Democracy is something that you do. It is not something that you watch on TV. Democracy is something that everyone can do. It is not something that experts like politicians or NGOs must do for the people.

 We will occupy Grahamstown in the name of justice. We join the people of the world in insisting that we will not pay for the crisis caused by the bankers. Their wealth must be expropriated and returned to the people. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. The predatory elite are publicly gorging themselves while the poor are starving, desperate and frightened. Last week Transnet advertised for 30 jobs - 30 boring and badly paid jobs. Ten thousand people came to apply. Forty people were injured when the gates were opened. The contempt with which the poor are treated in this country is incredible.

 It is not just the ANC that treats the poor with such gross contempt. Business is just as bad. We have not forgotten how the big companies colluded, in the midst of mass unemployment, to fix the price of bread. When we are strong enough we will fix the price of bread from below. We will take the struggle for bread that was started in Durban forward. Imagine one day when people around the country enter the supermarkets and begin eating the bread without paying. That will be the last day on which the capitalists fix the price of bread.

 We are not asking for higher taxes to increase funding for the state. Our municipality is a notorious kleptocracy. The ANC is corrupt from top to bottom. We do not want to struggle to buy Blade Nzimande a new car or more houses, cars, watches and sushi parties for Julius Malema and his friends. We do not want to struggle to finance Kebbelism. What is the point of the ANC getting more money to build houses when the houses that they build are unfit for human habitation, fall down in the first wind and are only given to ANC members?

 We are not anti-state. But our state is rotten to the core. Until we can build enough people's power to be able to discipline the state from below we will have to treat it as what it is, a vehicle from the predatory elite to feed off society.

 The capitalists in Europe are saying that the people must pay for the banks to be recapitalised. We say that it is time to stop all public subsidies for the rich. We say that it is time for the banks to recapitalise the people. Abahlali baseMjondolo has correctly insisted that the poor were made poor by the same economic system that made the rich rich. Therefore it is only logical that the billions and billions held in the banks on Wall Street must be used to recapitalise the poor. We are calling for a universal guaranteed income. It must be at least R2000 per month and it must be paid to all people without going through local councillors or party structures.

 Some of the comrades that were amongst the ten thousand in Bloemfontein are coming to Grahamstowm to learn from our struggle. Ayanda Kota was recently in Durban to be at the Abahlali baseMjondolo AGM. We are, day by day, building a national movement of the poor, by the poor and for the poor from the ground up. Every day our struggles and our movements are drawing closer.

Sekwanele!

Genoeg!

Enough!

Liziwe Gqotolo 073 440 5536

Siyanda Centwa 078 571 5507

Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462

I'd love to hear your feedback! If you're in Grahamstown (a city in which I lived for 4 years!) and plan to participate in this gathering please let me know.  God bless, Dion

Tuesday
Jun282011

No salvation outside of the Church?

This is quite a challenging thought! Of course I do believe that the Church is a central part of God's plan for the renewal and transformation of the world. However, I realise that I am not good at being Church.
The ancient Catholic dictum extra ecclesiam, nulla salus (“outside the church there is not salvation”) contains a significant sociological truth. Certainly it is not impossible for individual Christians to maintain biblical beliefs even if a hostile majority disagrees. But if the church is to consist of communities of loving defiance in a sinful world, it must pay more attention to the quality of its fellowship and find new models of Christian community.

Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (via invisibleforeigner)

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the role of the Church in the transformation of society, and also how we could be 'better' at being what the Church is truly called to be.

Wednesday
Dec012010

World AIDS day - I am positive

Please take a few minutes to watch this wonderful TED video featuring Mitchel Besser, a doctor who is doing extraordinary work in supporting some of the most vulnerable people, who undergo immense suffering, with a very simple and effective Mother2Mother HIV AIDS support system.

The title of this post may be shocking - indeed, I it is intended to be so!  I believe that if one person suffers we all suffer.  So, to understand my statement 'I am positive' please read these posts.

 

 

Today is World AIDS day. Today we remember that the Church has AIDS. We do not minister to people who are HIV positive, as if they were people outside of the body of Christ. Rather, we ask God to heal us, for all of us suffer from this disease.

 

Whether you are HIV+ or not, this disease reminds us that we shall all face death. It reminds us that we shall all be ill at some stage. It reminds us that we need one another to be strengthened and encouraged to face the reality of struggle. It reminds us that society can be cruel and that people can be judged for something that afflicts them. Most of all, this disease reminds us that we have a God who cares and longs to bring us healing and hope.

Prayer of invocation:

Loving God, you are our parent. You look upon us with mercy and compassion. You understand our weakness. Our suffering breaks your heart. Look upon us with love, grace, and compassion today. Father, you know the pain of losing your only son to death. Jesus, you know the pain of dying and leaving those whom you love behind. Spirit you are the giver and sustainer of life. With confidence we approach your throne of grace that there we may receive mercy.

Renew our spirits and draw our hearts, bodies, and minds close to yours. All of us are subject to the frailties of life. Strengthen us in our weakness, bring us wholeness in spite of disease. For those who live under the impending threat of death, offer them comfort and strength in the knowledge that death does not have the final victory and that in you there is true, eternal, and blissful life that lasts for eternity. For those who feel the pain of seeing a loved one die, fill them with courage through the power of your Spirit of life. Surround them with caring and loving people who will show to them the love that you want to give them in their time of need.

Help each of us to strengthen our resolve to obedience and service. Give us courage so that we would not shy away from facing our own frailty and pain. Move us to go to the places of death, like your beloved disciple John went to your cross, so that we may offer love and healing to those whom you love.

Let us delight in doing those acts of mercy that will bring healing and honour Your name.

Today we declare the faith that neither height, nor depth, neither life, nor death, neither angel, nor demon, nor anything in all creation can separate us from Your love. You are the creator God. You make a way where it seems none can be found, your bring forth living waters in the wilderness. We place our trust in You, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

 

A meditation to guide your prayers and actions today


Nosipho's story - no greater gift.

 

Nosipho is just thirteen years old - tonight she is lying awake next to her 8 year old brother and her 5 year old sister. Her father named her Nosipho when she was born. She remembers that tonight. Her name has a very special meaning. Nosipho was born to her proud parents, Mxolisi and Vuyisile, in a remote part of South Africa called northern Kwazulu Natal. There was no work there for Mxolisi so he went to the city to find work as a labourer working on the roads. Mxolisi wanted to live a good life and take care of his family as best as he could. So, he faithfully brought money back to his Vuyisile and Nosipho at every opportunity. He and Vuyisile were blessed with a son who they named Andile (meaning 'the family is growing'). They loved their children very much and had great dreams for their future.

However, with each year that passed it became more difficult for Mxolisi to be alone in the city. The months that Mxolisi and Vuyisile spent living apart took a toll upon their marriage and they would often disagree and argue. Once, when they argued, he told her that 'he had needs', 'like all men do'. And so, he decided to take a 'city wife', as many of his friends had done. Sadly, his city wife was HIV+, and so when Mxolisi returned home one December, himself HIV+ by this time, he gave Vuyisile another child, Thandi (which means 'nurturing love'), but, he also gave her the killer virus that would take both their lives.

Mxolisi and Vuyisile discovered that they were HIV+ in the year that Nosipho turned 8 years old. Andile was 5, and little Thandi was just 2. Thandi had already been infected with the virus her mother was carrying through the milk she drank from her mother?s breast. Sadly, both Mxolisi and Vuyisile died of AIDS within 3 years of discovering their status, Thandi, however, is still alive and now a little girl of 5.

Nosipho is a clever little girl. However, she hasn't been to school since her father died when she was 11 years old. By that stage her mother was already very ill and confined to bed, but at least then Andile and Thandi could stay with their mother while Nosipho begged for food and money at a traffic intersection on the edge of the township. She watched the other children going to school dressed in their smart school uniforms, with book bags that had pencils, paper, and no doubt some lunch to eat. She wished that she could be like them, but that would not happen - her mother eventually died as well.

Tonight as she lay in bed she was no longer a child, but a parent, overnight she had become a 13 year old head of a household of three. She knew that she had a much greater responsibility than other 13 year old children. Each day she has to get enough money from the cars and commuters that come whizzing by to feed her two siblings and herself. She has a small cardboard sign on which she has written in a child's handwriting 'No parents, no food, no work, 3 people to feed. Please help. God bless you'. She also needs to get a few rand extra every month to help pay for Andile's school fees. She wants him to stay in school and learn so that he doesn't have to suffer like his father did. She doesn't want him to suffer like she is suffering now. Whatever money she has left after she has paid his fees, when there is any, is given to the 'aunty' who looks after her sick sister, Thandi, while Andile is at school and she is begging at the traffic lights. She doesn't trust the aunty, she drinks, and she's sure that she hits Thandi. But, she has no option. It is too dangerous for Thandi to be with her at a busy traffic intersection.

There are other girls like Nosipho. In fact most of the child headed households in South Africa are headed by girls under the age of 15. Nosipho knows this because she meets some of them every Sunday at a little group for children like her that is held in the tin church near her shack. They sing songs, some kind ladies read stories to them from the Bible, and then they say prayers and get some food to eat. The church has also given her clothes and shoes for her and for her brother and sister. There is a lady from the government clinic who comes to visit their group once a month. She always asks Nosipho if she is safe, and asks if she and her brother and sister are getting enough to eat. You see, Thandi needs special medicine to keep her healthy, but she can only take her medicine if she eats properly, or else the medicine will make her sick instead of healthy. So on days when Nosipho does not get enough money, or food, to feed all three of them she lets Thandi eat first, so that she can take her medicine. Andile eats next, because he can't learn when his stomach is empty. Nosipho often lies awake at night hungry, but she knows that she is a 'gift' from her parents to Andile and Thandi ? that?s what her name means. Nosipho means 'a gift'. It?s the name her father gave her. She doesn't play anymore, she simply lives to be a gift to her brother and sister. Tonight she prayed to ask God to help her because a man has said he will give her R20 if she takes her clothes off and sleeps with him. She's praying because she is afraid. She has been told at church, and she has seen the posters, and heard the stories - Nosipho knows that's how little girls get sick and die ? but she needs the money. She wants to be a gift. She doesn't know what to do. Maybe God will do something to help her tomorrow? It is Sunday, she will ask one of the ladies to help her.

Reflection: Stories such as this are common in South Africa. In KwaZulu Natal the death rate is higher than the birth rate because of AIDS. Recent statistics from UNICEF have suggested that up to 50% of children are HIV+ and an increasing number of children are growing up without their parents. Children like Nosipho face a stark and dreary existence. They are robbed of their childhood and dignity in a quest to survive. Very often their only support comes from community organisations such as churches and civic groups. For most children the lack of access to food, or poor nutrition and feeding practises, coupled with infection, leads to their untimely death. Children who are born in rural areas who do not have 'bar-coded' South African Identity documents do not qualify for medical care, schooling, or any form of government grant. Sometimes the most basic of help, like helping children register for an ID Book, or offering children a daily meal, and seeing that they take their medication can mean the difference between life and death. Methodist Churches in Southern Africa train all of their ministers to offer support and care to persons who are infected and affected by HIV. It is a central part of their training for ministry. In the region of the world that has the highest rate of HIV infection it cannot be any different. The Gospel demands that we bring healing and transformation. Perhaps the work of the Church near Nosipho could keep her from turning to prostitution at the age of 13? All that is needed is a courageous group of caring people who will see her plight, understand what she needs, and help her to find it - food, shelter, and loving adult support. This is what Jesus would do.


[I wrote this story as a case study for a book that is in publication in the Cambridge Theological federation, UK. Please do not copy it without contacting me. I shall put you in touch with the publishers to get permission. Thank you.]

Silent reflection and prayer.

 

 

  • What do you feel? What do these feelings tell you about yourself?
  • What does this story tell you about the world, and others in the world?
  • What do you think God feels? What would God want you, or your Church, to do?
  • Knowing this, what do you need to pray to have the courage to do?
  • What will you do today? What will you plan to do tomorrow? What will you want to achieve by next year this time?

A benediction for today

 

Almighty God, by the power of your Holy Spirit open my eyes to see the world as You see it, my ears to hear the cries that You hear, my heart to have the courage to feel what You feel, and my life to be present to You and all those whom You love this day. Give me the courage to worship and serve you in faithfulness, to be a blessed and healing reminder of Your love to all whose lives I will touch. I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.


If you're looking for some facts on HIV / AIDS here are a few that may be of interest:

 

Have you ever taken time to consider the relationship between faith, economics, globalization and the suffering of people

?

 

Well, recently I did a post about the neurological causes of greed, and how these can be managed as a 'value transaction' in order to address some of the economic inequalities that we face across the world.

Let me show you a few basic analogous maps of the world to illustrate the economic inequalities that exist in the world.

First, here is a basic map of the world based on geographical land mass (i.e., this is the traditional manner in which maps are drawn - the area of each land mass is a represented equivalent of the actual land mass drawn to scale).

Now, take a look at this next map - this map is analogous of the world's wealth. In other words, the more wealth a nation has the larger it will appear on the map. Look how large North America and Europe are in relation to the rest of the world - it is also worth noting how rich Japan is on this map. Clearly, the world's wealth is concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is largely concentrated in the West. I shall, however, say something about the shifts that are taking place in the world's economy at a later stage.

Next, take a look at this map which analogous of poverty across the world. It is almost an inverse representation of the wealth map above - this map shows nations that are poorer as larger masses on the map.

Now, take a look at this map which shows HIV / AIDS infection across the world - it is interesting to note that 68% of all HIV+ people live in Southern Africa (that is 22.8 million out of the 33 million persons who are HIV+). I have just written a study on this for a new book on a Christian response to HIV / AIDS - it is shocking to see the prevelance of AIDS deaths in Africa. But please do take a look at the last map in this series.

This last map gives an analogous representation of where the world's Christian population lives. Isn't it sad to see that Christians live in most of the places where wealth, poverty and HIV / AIDS are significant problems? Clearly we have a few things to learn about money, God's economy, health care, reproductive care, women's rights, and sex!

OK, now I made mention of the fact that the world's wealth is concentrated predominantly in the North and the West - this is changing! Within the next 10 years the economies of the USA (North America), and most of Europe will show negative growth in some instances, and decline in others. The economies that are on the rise are China, India and Brazil (Australia is also a Southern Hemisphere economy that is growing at a significant rate). In other words, by 2020 we will see a completely different picture in global economic power! My advice is that you send your kids for a 'gap year' in China! As for me, I'm starting to study Mandarin!

If you're interested in a more detailed discussion of these shifts you can read this paper that I wrote for the Stellenbosch University Business school in 2009.

Sadly, Africa's economy will only show marginal growth since it is crippled by the impact of AIDS, political instability, underdevelopment and international debt. However, if we play our cards carefully the continent could be the next economic powerhouse after China and India since we are one of the only continents on earth that still has natural resources!

So, here's the point - did you realise that if we spent just 10% (190bn US$) of the annual world budget for military expenditure (1235bn US$) we could BOTH restore the earth's natural resources (cleaning up our water, replanting trees, creating environmentally friendly and more sustainable energy source), AND meet the basic water, sanitation, education and health care needs of the whole world! Just 10%... You can read about that research from Brown 2008 (entitled Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to save civilization) here.

Christians make up more than 40% of the world's population - surely we could take up our responsibility to manage the 'household of God' (oikos nomos - economy) for the transformation of the world?

What do you think? How do we do it? What practical steps can you suggest to start making a difference within your sphere of influence... As I've been doing this research in recent weeks I've been praying one text consistently:

The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Psalm 24.1 NIV)


If you're interested in an article / chapter that I have published on the subject of the environment and earthkeeping you can read  

 

 

  • More red than green ? a response to global warming and the environment from within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Forster, DA in The Epworth Review - the Journal of Methodist ecclesiology and mission Vol 35, No 2 (2008). This paper was also published in
  • Forster DA, 'More red than Green', in What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Forster, DA and Bentley, W. 2008. Methodist Publishing House, Cape Town. ISBN: 978-91988352-6. (2008:117ff. Chapter 7)


(This is not my area of expertise by the way, I am far more interested in justice and economics, but there was not much being written on this topic from our perspective so I took it upon myself to do some research in the area).

 

If you're interested in reading a chapter that I wrote on the Christian's response to Greed and Economics please see:

 

  • Upon the Lord's sermon on the mount - discourse 8 (a contemporary exposition of John Wesley's sermon on stewardship and the use of money from an African Liberation Theology perspective) in Shier Jones, A and Reisman, KD 44 Sermons to serve the present age (2007), London: Methodist Publishing house. ISBN: 97807162063


Oh, and if you're looking for my 'other' post on maps of the world please go here. This is the MOST clicked linked on my blog - isn't that amazing!?

 

For more posts on HIV / AIDS please follow this link.

 

Sunday
Oct102010

Christian leadership - An interview with Kate Turkington on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio

Yesterday I was phoned by the producer of Kate Turkington's radio program on Radio 702 / Cape Talk Radio to ask if I would be willing to do an interview on her show on some of the characters and characteristics of Christian Leadership.  You may stumble upon this page today, or in the months that follow.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts, insights and convictions in the comments below! I'd love to hear from you!

What is certain is that there are a wealth of resources on what it means to be a Christian and a Leader.  I have chosen a few points that are important to me - some of them were written up in my most recent book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' (with particular reference to one of the great Christian leaders in contemporary South Africa, Graham Power of the Power Group, Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical).

So, here are a few pointers:

An unwavering commitment to the person of Jesus and the ways of Jesus.

If one declares one's self to be a Christian in leadership he or she should naturally display a clear devotion to the person of Jesus Christ, and the ways of Jesus. I would suggest that a Christian leader should bear some resemblance to the character of Jesus (Phil 2:1-5 and Gal 5.21-23).  Moreover, a Christian leader should seek to devote his or her life to doing the kinds of things that Jesus came to do (to establish God's Kingdom of justice, mercy, grace, equality, provision and wholeness - c.f. Lk 4:33 and Lk 4:19ff).

A Christian leader should display integrity and courage.

All of the great leaders of the Bible (among whom I would count Jesus, David, Joseph, Moses and a host of others such as Esther) displayed great integrity and courage.

Let's talk about courage first - it was Christ's courage that cost his life.  It was Moses' courage that highlighted one of the central themes of the Bible (God's emphasis upon social justice), he set a nation free and courageously led them through very trying conditions in the desert.  David faced Goliath and many other enemies in his lifetime.  Esther won over a foreign King and saved her people.

Integrity is another hallmark of a great Christian leader.  The Bible is clear that we should not say 'yes, yes' with one breath and 'no, no' with the next (Matt 5.37 and 2 Cor 1.17).  Jospeh showed incredible integrity in not giving in to the seduction of Potiphar's wife. He was not swayed by the might of the King, and eventually he went on to save many nations - even his own brothers who had sold him into slavery. Of course David made a number of indiscretions in his life and faced grave consequences for that!

A Christian leader should seek to be a servant of God's will and the needs of the people.

One of the most shameful characteristics of contemporary leadership is that it is selfish and self fulfilling.  It is all about the leader.  However, the real reason for leadership is to serve a greater cause.  Christian leaders are called to live like Jesus did, as servant leaders (see Luke 9.46-50; 22.24-30; Mark 9.33-37; 10.35-45; Matt. 20.20-28).  Of course Jesus himself was a leader who recognized that his life should be lived for others - he served the will of his Father first and foremost, and sought to uplift others and bring out the very best in them (John 13.1-7).

In our time I have seen a few people like this.  Bishop Desmond Tutu was willing to sacrifice himself for what he believed God wanted for the nation of South Africa.  He would place himself in difficult situations, facing powerful groups and people, and even placing himself between waring groups, for the sake of peace and transformation.  His servanthood and sincere love for others won them over, changed first their hearts and then their minds, and later won the day!  

Nelson Mandela is another man who has done this in our nation. After all that he had been through in his lifetime he would have been justified (socially) if he was filled with revenge.  Yet, he held the needs of the nation as higher than his own.  He exemplified forgiveness and reconciliation and inspired others to do the same.

A Christian leader should be skillful, self controlled and humble.

The leaders of the Bible were all equipped for the tasks they were to take up.  Some received divine empowerment, others were trained in courts or under Godly mentors.  Some had previous life's experience that they could apply to their new tasks.

A person who is skilled and secure in what they are to do will have a powerful personal life.  They will be resolute and secure, not pandering to the needs of others, or selfish ambition and vein conceit (Phil 2:5).  I'm afraid that there are many leaders who have dismal private lives, and it shows clearly in their public life!

A Christian leader should do all that she or he can to lead first within their home, displaying the deepest and most sincere character traits in those relationships, and then from that strong base to lead in the broader community.

Some of the greatest weaknesses that we see in leaders who make mistakes in the Bible (David, Saul, Judas) etc., are mistakes that result from a lack of self-control, a lack of humility, and personal ambition and desire.  Christian leaders should have the needs of the people and the will of God as their primary motivation.

Finally, on my list, I believe Christian leaders should live by faith.

It takes faith to achieve great things for God and God's people!  A Christian leader will require faith in God's ability and God's sovereign Power and Will.  Many leaders in the Bible (Joseph and Moses, even Paul) had to rely on God to do things that seemed impossible!  Their faith in God, which arises out a deeply intimate relationship with God in Christ, gave them both courage and sustanance for the journey of leadership.

Well, that's my list for now!  I hope to be able to record the show this evening and put a copy up here after the fact.

Please fee free to add your thoughts, ideas and insights in the comments below!  I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday
Oct072010

Is God a heretic?

In Mark 2.13-17 to we read one of the many accounts in the Gospels where Jesus was judged by the Pharisees for fraternizing with sinners.

There is little doubt that the religious establishment of his day thought that Jesus was a heretic!

I was reminded of this today as I was speaking to a friend about one of my little books 'Christ at the centre - discovering the cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths'.  We were remarking how different Fr Bede's Christology was from that of his friend CS Lewis.  In fact, Fr Bede's theology developed in a very different way to CS Lewis' - I think that it may be because each of the men honoured the context in which they served Christ.  Lewis formed his faith in the University City of Oxford, while Griffiths formed his faith as a missionary monk in Southern India.  Both were committed to Jesus, yet that commitment found expression in quite different ways.

I was milling over our conversation as I was driving to a meeting at the University of Stellenbosch (where I was to give input into a new Master's degree for ministry practitioners).  My thoughts turned to two rather strange questions:

1)  I wonder how the contemporary Church would 'judge' God's radically gracious theology?

2) Would we, like the pharisees of Jesus' time, consider God to be heretic?

Here's a video I recorded while driving.

In the December 2008 volume of the Journal STUDIA HISTORIAE ECCLESIASTICAE I did a review on Richard Burridge's wonderful book 'Imitating Jesus: An inclusive approach to New Testament ethics' - Burridge makes an interesting point in his book, one that I tend to agree with.  He notes that if we read the words of Jesus (his teaching) we will see that he had a rather stringent ethic, a high set of moral standards.  Yet if we observe the actions of Jesus we will find that he acts far more graciously.  It is not a matter of incongruence, or cognitive dissonance, rather it is that the teaching of 'the law' finds it's fullest expression in a life of loving grace.

Perhaps the contemporary Church, and many Christians, have become too caught up in the stringency of 'the law' and have not held on to a lifestyle of loving grace.

Perhaps we would consider God to be unorthodox, maybe even a heretic? What do you think?

As for me, I am trying to be a little more like Jesus every day! I want His love for this world to run through my speech, my thoughts and my actions.  Some may find the company that I keep difficult to bear, the may even call me unorthodox, perhaps even a heretic!

Friday
Oct012010

The problem of pornography - porn on the Internet, an infographic

 

Wow! This is shocking! Take a look at the infographic below to get an idea of the pervasiveness of Internet pornography.

This such a troubling issue - in my regular counselling as part of my ministry the matter of addiction to porn has become increasingly common. At least once or twice a month I have someone coming to see me about this matter. Frequently it is wives who have discovered that their husband or son is visiting porn sites on their computer or cell phone. At other times it is men who feel convicted by this issue.

If you look at the bottom of this image you'll see that the most common day on which porn is viewed is a Sunday!  My goodness - that is a concern!  Here's what I assume.

- Most men view pornography on their personal computers and cell phones.

- This is done at home (and not at work).

- People view porn when they are not engaged in other mentally stimulating or physically taxing activities (e.g., work, sport etc.)

We need to do something about this.  I am convinced that pornography destroys relationships and objectifies human persons!

Here's what I suggest:

1. Don't place yourself in a situation where you can be tempted! It is far more difficult to fight temptation than it is to avoid it altogether! So, don't ever use you computer in private (make sure your laptop or home computer is in a public space where anyone can walk past and see what you're surfing)

2. Speak openly and honestly to your wife and sons about the challenges and dangers of pornography.

3. Pray that God will keep your mind from this temptation. And, this may sound a bit crazy, but dedicate your computer and cell phone to Holy Purposes! Dan Ariely's great book on the neuroscience of choice ("Predictably irrational") shows that when we make a simple oath like this it is a powerful motivation to do the right thing! I, for example, prayed and offered my cell iPhone, iPad and laptop for Godly use. It makes a huge difference.

4. Get support and help. A simple thing that I have heard about is to get an accountability partner who you agree can check your browsing history and cookies at any time, and someone that you can phone and pray (and even meet) with if you face temptation.

So, do you think I am being puritanical by expecting men (and women) to not access pornography?

If you agree with my perspective do you have any suggestions for combatting temptation? I'd love to hear from you!

The infographic comes from Guy Kawasaki's site here: http://holykaw.alltop.com/the-stats-on-internet-porn-infographic

Please visit his site if you would like a larger copy of the image.

Thursday
Sep302010

Could this be true? Study shows atheists know more about religion than professed believers.

Boing Boing is reporting the findings of an American study which shows that atheists have greater knowledge of some elements of religions than the followers of those faiths.  Boing Boing's report makes for interesting reading! However, what it fails to mention is that that while atheists may have far greater knowledge about certain elements of various faiths (by virtue of the fact that they would justify their stance by having reasons to support their lack of belief), surely they cannot have a better general, or overall, understanding of the subtleties of a particular religion?

For example, while many atheists may know some interesting facts about the creation narrative (I have even heard some atheist friends quoting words and portions of verses from the original Hebrew text to make a point), it is unlikely that they would have equitable 'technical' knowledge about others elements of a particular faith, e.g., the emphases of compassion, goodness, or love as expressed in those faith traditions.

Regardless, this is a an interesting article.  What do you think - is it true, do atheists know more about religion than professing believers?

A new Pew survey on religion in America finds that atheists and agnostics are more likely to be well-versed about different religions' beliefs and practices than people who profess a belief in those religions. For example, atheists and agnostics are more likely to know that during Communion (Catholicism's central rite), the wafer and wine are meant to transubstantiate into the literal flesh and blood of Christ -- they aren't merely symbolic, as 40% of Catholics believe. Atheists and agnostics are also more likely than Protestants to know that Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation (the majority of Protestants could not identify him).

Interestingly, Mormons are, on average, better versed on the traditional New Testament Bible than evangelical Christians and mainstream Christians, many of whom consider Mormonism to be apostasy.

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.