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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.
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Entries in Church (31)

Sunday
Jul132014

Today's sermon - Bishop Will Willimon from Duke Chapel on God and patience

It is Sunday! In a little while I will be in worship with sisters and brothers, who I don't yet know, in a beautiful Catholic Church near where I am staying here in Holland.

When you are a theologian who spends all your time in the Text, in the confessions and beliefs of the Christian faith, every day can be filled with learning and deepening of the knowledge of your faith. However, that could never compensate for the kind of growth that comes from simply being with others in community - the mystery of the Trinity is that we are made for one another. Our truest identity, our deepest meaning, is not something that comes only from our heads, it is ignited in our hearts and finds full expression through the work of our hands. We are people, and God's work with us, and in us, is with us as whole people, connected to other whole people.

This kind of work is slow. It is slow and messy because people are not all the same. That is the gift of course. We are not robots that get taken in for a firmware update. No, we are people whose lives are shaped through joy, pain, and even 'ordinary-ness'. The longest season in the Christian liturgical calendar is called 'ordinary time'. It stretches from Ascension Sunday to the start of Advent (about 22 weeks if I remember well). That is where most of the Christian life is lived, in ordinary time, among ordinary people, with ordinary experiences. I don't think many of us like living there, it is just too ordinary. We want drama, excitement, pleasure, novelty. I think that is one of the reasons why churches with great worship and drama teams, and entertaining preachers, draw such crowds. But sadly we cannot live there.

Tomorrow we return to our work, to our waiting, to our 'dailyness'. Amazingly the sermon I listened to early this morning by Bishop Will Willimon that was preached at a Duke Chapel reminds us that God is active in ordinary time. He remarks that God is patient. That is where and how God works, in time. Often God's work is slower than we expect, out of step with our expectation for the instant miracle, the sudden flash of brilliance, the unexpected solution.

I think this is true, it is true because God is working with people, ordinary people in ordinary time. The miracles of whole bodied people, free from suffering and pain, takes care and commitment. In ordinary time it takes commitment to a better diet and some exercise, to limiting our intake of alcohol and sugars and all the other bad things we consume. In our relationships it takes commitment to service of those who we love and live amongst. It takes a willingness to compromise, to see the side of the other, to look at things from their perspective and give a little, perhaps even take on a little. God is busy working with people, and that is a slow and deliberate task that takes time.

So today I have been encouraged to grow in patience and to be thankful for the work of God in ordinary time. May God bless you in every part of your life.

Here is Bishop Willimon's sermon (from about minute 40 to more or less 1h05). He is a remarkable man. I had the joy of meeting him at Duke a decade or so ago, and also at a World Methodist gathering some time later.

Sunday Service - 4/6/14 - William Willimon - YouTube

Saturday
May102014

The coolest #selfie ever! Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu

Today (10 May) marks the birth of one of the most remarkable and courageous Christian witnesses of our time - Beyers Naudé. Oom Bey (uncle Bey, as he was affectionately known) was a Christian minister who faced persecution. Y his countrymen, censure by both the Church and the state, and alienation from friends and the broader community for his witness and work against racial oppression in South Africa. At great personal cost he chose the good of others over his own. This wonderful #selfie of Beyers Naudé and Desmond Tutu is actually a photoshopped picture from this website (there are a few other really cool pictures there, such a Winston Churchill, Jacky Kenedy, and even their Majesties William and Kate!) This image was originally a picture of Oom Bey and Archbishop Tutu on the occasion of the Arch being awarded the Nobel peace prize. Happy birthday Oom Bey! Today I give thanks for your life and witness and pray that many more women and men would follow your example in South Africa, and elsewhere across the world! I am privileged to be a member of the Beyers Naudé center for public theology at the University of Stellenbosch. The center continues to honour the legacy of Oom Bey by working with the Church and broader society across South Africa (and even the world) to advocate for justice, foster reconciliation and present the possibility of God's Kingdom of justice, peace and wholeness for all people.
Friday
Jun072013

The Church and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's)

Yesterday I had a chance to do a presentation at the Stellenbosch University Winter school on the role of the Church in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's).  Here are the slides from that presentation.

The good news is that there has been some great progress towards achieving the 8 MDG's and addressing extreme poverty across the world.  However, it is critical that we finish well! It would seem that some early strides were made, and that now many governments have slowed their progress on more difficult issues.

The role of the Church is crucial in this process.  My reasoning was quite simple:

1.  The Christian faith is the largest faith on earth.

2.  Our scriptures are clear that we should work for justice for all people.  The earth is the Lords, we have stewardship of it and we need to do a better job of caring for one another and the plant.

3.  There are simple and practical things that we can do.  They begin with prayer but must move to action.

4.  I encouraged the listeners to move through the 4 stages of engagement (as mentioned by David Korten in his research), namely from A) Charity B) Projects C) Advocacy and Policy engagement to D) Social movements for change (e.g., like the suffigen movement in the last century).

I gave three examples:

- Micah Challenge Australia and the 'Finish the race' campaign at http://www.micahchallenge.org.au

- Unashamedly Ethical which is a global ethics advocacy community with support and encouragement http://www.unashamedlyethical.com

- Promising life, a South African project to work for the maternal health care and the reduction of infant mortality in South Africa (we have one of the best policy frameworks for basic health care, and great allocation of resources, yet delivery and implementation by the Department of Health in South Africa is dismal!) join them here http://www.micahchallenge.org.za

Of course I would encourage you please to sign up to EXPOSED and send a strong message to the leaders of the G20 that global corruption is not acceptable!  Go to the website or sing up below http://www.exposed2013.com

Sunday
Apr072013

Facing the facts about failure...

Today I have the wonderful joy of preaching at 3 services at the beautiful Mosaiek Church in Johannesburg.  This is a truly remarkable contemplative, missional, community of Christ followers.  I am so deeply blessed by their desire to fully integrate the contemplative lifestyle with a missional focus.  Encounter God, encounter the world.

I'll be speaking about failure and regret today.  It is not often that one can have an 'adult' talk with a Church.  I say this because so many Churches expect the kind of input that I give to my six year old, motivational, simple and entertaining.  This community, however, has moved largely beyond that point.  I see in them a desire for authentic living which inevitably means that not everything in life will be successful, victorious or filled with acclaim.  The reality is that much of our lives revolve around how we cope with the inevitability of failure and regret.

Two quotes have been living within me as I have prepared a few words to share with them:

O Lord, who else or what else can I desire but you?  You are my Lord, Lord of my heart, mind, and soul.  You know me through and through.  In and through you everything that is finds its origin and goal.  You embrace all that exists and care for it with divine love and compassion.  Why then, do I keep expecting happiness and satisfaction outside of you?  Why do I keep relating to you as one of my many relationships, instead of my only relationship, in which all other ones are grounded?  Why do I keep looking for popularity, respect from others, success, acclaim, and sensual pleasures?  Why, Lord, is it so hard for me to make you the only one?  Why do I keep hesitating to surrender myself totally to you?

Help me, O Lord, to let my old self die, to let die the thousand big and small ways in which I am still building up my false self and trying to cling to my false desires.  Let me be reborn in you and see through you the world in the right way, so that all my actions, words, and thoughts can become a hymn of praise to you.

I need your loving grace to travel on this hard road that leads to the death of my old self and to a new life in and for you.  I know and trust that this is the road to freedom.

Lord, dispel my mistrust and help me become a trusting friend.  Amen

- Henri Nouwen (A Cry for Mercy).

Then there is this remarkable insight from JK Rowling's commencement speech to the graduating class of Harvard University.  

At her Harvard commencement speech, "Harry Potter" author JK Rowling offered some powerful, heartening advice to dreamers and overachievers, including one hard-won lesson that she deems "worth more than any qualification I ever earned." In her speech, which I would highly recommend you google and read, she tells of how she failed catastrophically in her life –

I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.

However, she went on to say that,  

Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than I was and began diverting all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

She had ‘fallen’ into her life’s purpose through an embarrassing, costly and heartbreaking failure.

Here are two further insights that have been a great help to me on this path - and believe me, I am something of an 'expert' at failure (and regret)!

The greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. 

- Carl Jung

 First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!

- Lady Julian of Norwich


Tuesday
Mar122013

EXPOSED - Toolkits to mobilize Christians and the Church against corruption.

Last night we had a wonderful event to mark the second phase of the EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption campaign in Cape Town.  150 guests from every continent were present to participate in the launch of:

- A toolkit to equip and mobilize individual Christians and Churches to take a positive stand against corruption.

- A toolkit to equip and mobilize individual Christians in business to take a positive stand against corruption.

- The Global Call sign up tool to gather signatures with which to petition the leaders of the G20 nations.

Here are a few photographs and the official press release for the event.

Corruption is not just greed, the abuse of public influence, bribery, or secret and dishonest deals and money lost through tax evasion. Corruption kills!

Graham Power, the founder of the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical, reminded a gathering in Cape Town on Monday March 11 2013 that ‘We will never rid the world of systemic poverty until we rid it of systemic corruption’.

‘Over US$1 TRILLION goes missing every year from the global economy as a result of corruption (1) and it’s predicted that illegal tax evasion alone will be responsible for 5.6 million children dying in developing countries between 2000 and 2015 (2). That’s 1,000 children every day. We think it is time for us to take action,’ said Rev Joel Edwards, International Coordinator of EXPOSED, the global Christian campaign aimed at exposing corruption, one of the major causes of poverty.

Speaking at the event in Cape Town, South Africa, to mark the beginning of public action as part of the EXPOSED 2013 campaign, Joel Edwards and Mr Power were among leading international figures from the world of church, business and government who challenged millions of Christians worldwide to make a stand against practices which ultimately keeps the poor in dire poverty.

The event, attended by 150 members of the press, church, business and government also saw the launch of some vital resources and tools to help people across the globe take a stand against corruption. This includes online resources to help churches and businesses to sign the EXPOSED campaign’s Global Call for Integrity, and toolkits to help people challenge corruption wherever they find it – in their communities, in their business and financial dealings and in the government.

‘We want a million people to sign our Global Call for Integrity, a call for financial transparency and honesty, which will be presented to leaders of the most powerful economies across the world. But that’s just the start of it,’ said Rev Dr Dion Forster, Chairman of EXPOSED. He went on to say: ‘Each one of us must realise that we have a critical part to play in tackling corruption in our own lives and communities.’

South African businesswoman Michelle Harding spoke to the Cape Town audience, saying:   ‘My stand against corruption was worthwhile because I was being obedient to God.  I believe that leaders have to accept responsibility for change.’ She spoke of how, as the Managing Director of a plastic pipe company in South Africa which was part of a crooked cartel that had been fixing prices and rigging bids for decades, she woke up to corruption and has since helped to clean up her industry. 

Dr. Michael Cassidy, founder of African Enterprise and honorary lifetime President of Lausanne, added; ‘If a country decays it is the failure of the Church to be salt. If is the country is dark, it is the failure of the Church to be light. EXPOSED allows Christians to shine a light on corruption.’

The Cape Town meeting heard from Joyce Thong from Malaysia how, over the first six months of the campaign since the official launch of EXPOSED in October 2012, advocates across the world have been creating interest in the campaign and have started to challenge business, church and individuals on the issue of corruption. Ms. Thong challenged Church members to commit themselves and to take responsibility in their nations by making a personal commitment, and then extending that commitment into their community.

Activity now steps up, with people being encouraged to sign the Global Call for Integrity and get involved in the culmination of the campaign - a week of action and prayer including 2000 Vigils across the world from 14-20 October 2013 when it is expected many hundreds of thousands of Christian will gather for special church services, public gatherings and initiatives and activities designed to ‘shine a light on corruption.’

The Global Call for Integrity is an appeal from Christians around the world, who represent ordinary citizens, to encourage and challenge the leaders of the most economically powerful nations in the world (the G20) to press for more open tax regimes and greater transparency in payments to combat bribery and tax avoidance, urging them to ensure that financial dealings in business and government are open and honest.  The 1 million signatures will be handed to the G20 leaders before their meeting in 2014.

Amanda Jackson, from the EXPOSED team in London said, ‘The resources launched at the Cape Town event aim to highlight the issue of corruption in the next six months and help individuals, churches and organisations across the globe break the barriers of corruption in their own communities and sign the Call for Integrity.’

The Global Call Action Tool allows people to sign the Call for Integrity petition online and also gives access to online resources and widgets which may be embedded in other websites as the message spreads. The Toolkits for Church and Business provide clear, succinct and helpful information to mobilise individuals and Christian communities to take a strong, concrete and constructive stand against corruption.

EXPOSED aims to engage 100 million people across the globe – including Christians and people of other faiths or no faith - to consider practical and positive ways to resist corruption:

  • Light in my heart
  • Light in my community
  • Light in my world

The speakers at the Cape Town EXPOSED event were leading figures from the global church and business community who have direct experience of tackling or exposing corruption:

  • Dr Michael Cassidy – Founder of African Enterprise, Lifetime honorary president of the Lausanne Movement, South African theologian.
  • Rev Moss Ntlha – head of TEASA (The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa), respected Church leader, anti-apartheid activist and theologian.
  • Rev Joel Edwards – Director Micah Challenge International, International Coordinator EXPOSED.
  • Mr Graham Power – Chairman and Founder of the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical movements, leading South African businessman.
  • Mrs Michelle Harding – Leading South African businesswoman and champion for ethics.   

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

 

(1) Interview with Daniel Kaufman, Global Governance Director, The World Bank Institute, “Six Questions about the cost of corruption” April 8 2004

(2) www.christianaid.org.uk/images/deathandtaxes.pdf

EXPOSED is a coalition of Christian Organisations that aims to challenge the global Church, business and governments to highlight the impact of corruption on the poorest of the poor. The EXPOSED coalition partners include Micah Challenge International, British and Foreign Bible Society, American Bible Society, World Evangelical Alliance, The Salvation Army, Unashamedly Ethical, Tearfund,

Tearfund Nigeria, Global Day of Prayer, Global Prayer Resource Network, Asian Access, 24/7 Prayer, Jericho Walls Prayer International, Business Action Group, Network of Christian Forums,

Langham Partnership/Langham Preachers, Advocates International, Empower21, Malaysian Care/CANOPI, International Federation of Transformation Partners(IFTP), AJS (Associates for a more Just Society Asociación parauna Sociedad más Justa), Tax Justice Network, UNDP or UN Millennium Campaign, Global Poverty Project, Mosaiek Church, CONECAR, Europartners, 

Saturday
Sep222012

Blessed at the Alpha Workplace conference in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

I arrived in Malaysia just before midnight on Wednesday evening. This is the second wonderful opportunity that I have had to speak at the Alpha Workplace conference in Malaysia. Last year we met at the amazing Sutera Harbour in Kota Kinabalu. This year we are meeting at the DUMC Methodist Church with Dr Daniel Ho in Kuala Lumpur.

The purpose of this conference is to encourage integrate faith and work, and find ways to honour and serve God in every aspect and moment of life, not just in the local Church or on a Sunday.

Yesterday I had the joy of doing a plenary session on our book 'Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' see http://bit.ly/transformwork for details on this book.

Earlier in the day I had an opportunity to lead a workshop on the Unashamedly Ethical movement (see http://www.unashamedlyethical.com on that), and our campaign on Corruption and Poverty 'Exposed - Shining a light on corruption' (see http://www.exposed2013.com on this worthy campaign). We had a great response to all three topics. I am constantly blessed and encouraged to see how the Church here in Malaysia is serving society with love and courage. There is such remarkable creativity, works of mercy and justice, and a deep challenge to ethical and sacrificial living. It challenges me to find ways to be more faithful in my own life and ministry.

In this picture you see a great panel of Christian business and Church leaders L-R, Alvin Ung, Ken Costa, Datin Kathleen Chew Yeoh, Dr Philip Lyn, Dr Daniel Ho (Taken with Instagram at Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC)).

Please pray for the Church in Malaysia and the work of Alpha across the world!

Friday
Aug032012

The ABLI Forum in Uganda - The Bible and politics

The relationship between the Bible and politics has been somewhat controversial over the centuries.  There are those who say that intention of scripture is to direct our spiritual lives, as a result, for example, many South Africans were told not to mess with politics during the apartheid era.  Then there are those who understand that faith is a fundamentally political - since our faith addresses every aspect of our lives it has a significant impact on every choice and action that shapes life.

I am currently in Uganda to speak at the African Biblical Leadership Innitiative (ABLI) Forum.  It is a wonderful group of people who gathered here!  I am meeting many of them for the first time.  Others I have known for some years.  It is such a blessing to be with these sisters and brothers - we share many common objectives and ideals.

The vision of ABLI is to empower leaders (African and elsewhere) with Biblical truths that will foster integrity and justice in the world.  ABLI is working to raise up leaders so that nations will be transformed by God’s truth, love and justice.  The ABLI forum meets each year just before the meetings of the African Union and it focuses on sharing and discovering a Biblical approach to Good Governance, Conflict Resolution, and Economic Life.

I have the privilege of representing ‘EXPOSED – Shining a light on corruption’ and the Unashamedly Ethical campaigns at ABLI - this invitation came via our coalition partners Micah Challenge.  I have opportunities to speak and conduct a workshop with the leaders of the Bible Societies from across the world.  This is a significant opportunity to encourage our sisters and brothers to heed the challenge of Micah 6.8 ‘What does God require of you?  To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God’.

Among the thoughts that have shaped my input for this wonderful group are these:

Both religion and politics are concerned with how we should organize societies. Yet the tendency for Christians has often been to begin with the politics and work back- wards to find religious rationale for our political beliefs. As a result, most people read the Bible not to challenge our deeply held beliefs, but to affirm the decisions we've already made with our lives. 

- Tim Suttle God’s Politics.

As you will see on this blog, I tend to agree with the perrennial view of the Bible, namely that it is critical in shaping our individual and collective lives for justice, peace, mercy and wellbeing (rather than just a source document from which we pluck a few verses to support our individual choices and actions).

Of course such a view is seldom popular, since it does challenge the establishment somewhat.  It would seem that much of popular Christianity has a view of Jesus that is something between a personal therapist and a stock broker.  I think the loving way of Jesus is far more revolutionary and transformative than that!

When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.

- Dom Helder Camara

I found this quote from NT Wright quite helpful:

The chief political concern of the Scriptures is for God's wise and loving ordering of his world to be operative through humans who will share his priorities, especially his concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This concern was embodied by Jesus in his inauguration of 'God's kingdom' through his public career and especially his self-giving death, which together set the pattern for a radically redefined notion of power.

 —  N.T. Wright, New Testament Scholar at University of St. Andrews

I believe that the central political question is the management of public power in order that there should be an economically viable life for all members of the community. Thus justice is front and center and some texts, especially in Deuteronomy, are for the distribution of wealth in order that all may be viable. Obviously such justice is marked by mercy, compassion and generosity. The purpose is to create a genuine neighborhood for all the neighbors.  

 —  Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament Scholar, Columbia Theological Seminary

And of course no post would be complete without quoting something from Stanley Hauerwas!

The chief political concern of the Bible is to worship God truly. 

—  Stanley Hauerwas, Theologian and ethicist at Duke Divinity School  

I agree with this last quote wholeheartedly - the chief political concern of the Bible is to declare and celebrate the worth of God in every aspect of creation.  We do so by establishing systems that express God's ways, God's eternal shalom in our economic, political and social policies, as well as in the Church's work of mission and evangelism.

Children's Choir singing at the opening ceremony at Lake Victoria

Please could you pray for my family, Megan, Courtney and Liam?  I have had a lot of travel in the last few weeks.  Please ask the Lord to protect and bless them, to keep them healthy and to continue to provide for all our needs.  Please could you also pray for our EXPOSED, Micah Challenge and Unashamedly Ethical teams in South Africa and elsewhere in the world?  Please pray that the Lord would give them great love and boldness to stand for His standards of righteousness and justice in the Church, Business and Government. Frequently such a stance comes at great personal cost.  Please also pray for me as I travel and have chances to speak and to meet with sisters and brothers.  Please pray that God gives me wisdom, humility, conviction, passion and most of all His love for this world and the people and systems He loves and wants to transform. Please pray that I serve our sisters and brothers well at ABLI, and here in Uganda.

Thank you so much for your partnership in the work of God’s Kingdom!

Monday
Jun042012

Bigger stories - Are you creating bigger stories that transform communities?

This is a beautiful video by The Work of the People - it asks a few critical theological and missional questions.

What did Jesus come to do? If we know what Jesus came to do, and we are called to be the 'body of Christ, then what is the work of the Church?

I'll be using this, and a few other videos, as part of my lectures to a group of Master of Theology students in Missional Leadership next week.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this video, and particularly what you think about the mission of the Church.

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

 

Monday
Dec052011

Life, communion and community

This is a very powerful quote on community and communion:

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

Sometimes I do find it difficult to be a part of an honest, loving Church community. But, I realize that it is often my ego that causes me to feel this way. When I am honest, I have to admit that I cannot live without the gracious acceptance and love of God's people. I discover God, others, myself and what it means to truly live.


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