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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in compassion (2)

Wednesday
Mar312010

Work as worship - confronting the powerful, caring for the poor

A regular commentor on my blog (thanks Thomas!) left a comment on my post from yesterday.  Here's Thomas' comment:

Hello Dion, On the one hand, I like the holism of your theology. On the other hand, I feel that it does not do justice to the oppressed, from an existential point of view. It offers hope for the future. Yet (to advance just one aspect of this) statistically, hope across the globe fades in so many ways. That is one of the major stumbling-blocks for me. You ain't where the oppressed is, in this moment. Perhaps you could address this in a post sometime.

If I have understood Thomas' concern it is that an approach to 'work as worship' such as the one I espoused in my previous post tends towards addressing the powerful and rich at the expsense of caring for the poor.  If that was the case I would share Thomas' concern!

However, I contend that my theology does not advocate that at all.  Here are a few thoughts that underly my understanding of using our work life as worship in relation to the wealthy, powerful, and the poor.

1.  I agree wholeheartedly that ministry cannot be responsible unless it addresses the plight of the poor.  However, it is a mistake to think that such an orientation, i.e., and orientation towards the poor, must be at the exclusion of addressing the causes of poverty (most often greed among the powerful and rich).

2.  I would say that it is not realistic that every person should be expected to do ministry in all spheres of society all the time.  Thomas, what you may not know is that I served as a minister in South Africa's townships at various stages of my ministry as a Methodist minister (some of these periods were before 1994).  Moreover, I still continue to seek to address and overcome systemic poverty in the role that I currently hold.  I administer two large charitable trusts that do work, and fund work, in economic empowerment, food security, caring for HIV infected persons, caring for AIDS orphans etc.  This probably takes up about a third of my ministry time each week.

3.  If you agree with point 2 above, i.e., that we can't all be expected to minister in all places with equal intention and intensity; or at all levels of society at all times, then the following point needs to be accepted - namely, those who have significant access to the poor (and the systems that abuse and enslave the poor) must effectively and responsibly operate in that area.  But, that would also assume that those who have access to persons in power and access to systems that are powerful in society must engage those systems powerfully and effectively to work for the establishment of Christ's gracious Kingdom of Justice and love from that perspective.

So, if my daily work puts me in place with the poor directly it is likely that my primary ministry activity will be in that space.  However, if my daily work puts me in touch with society and power at another level then I must engage creatively and intentionally for Christ at that level (of course not exclusively!  We must all seek to address various levels of society at various times and in various ways).

I currently have that privilege (and responsibility) because of the ministry position I hold and possibly because of previous publications, research etc.  So, I think that it would irresponsible for me NOT to address the powerful, and systems of power, when I have a chance to do so!

I address this and a few other issues related to wealth, poverty, and ministry through work (and at work) in my new book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling'.

That being said, I hear that persons such as myself must always remember why we engage powerful persons and systems - it is for the sake of establishing God's Kingdom that includes all persons.

I have found the following quote from Henri Nouwen quite encouraging (please see the bit in bold if you don't feel like reading the whole quote):

 

Honest direct confrontation is a true expressionof compassion.  As Christians, we are in the world without being of it.  It is precisely this position that renders confrontation possible and necessary.  The illusion of power must be unmasked, idolatry must be undone, oppression and exploitation must be fought, and all who participate in these evils must be confronted.  This is compassion.  

We cannot suffer with the poor when we are unwilling to confront those persons and systems that cause poverty.  We cannot set the captives free when we do not want to confront those who carry the keys.  We cannot profess our solidarity with those who are opressed when we are unwilling to confront the opressor. Compassion without confrontation fades quickly into fruitless sentimental commiseration.

But if confrontation is to be an expression of patient action, it must be humble. Our constant temptation is to fall into self-righteous revenge or self-serving condemnation.  The danger hers is that our own witness can blind us.  When confrontation is tainted by desire for attention, need for revenge, or greed for power, it can easily become self-serving and cease to be compassionate.  - From Compassion: A reflection on the Christian life by Donald McNeill, Douglas Morrison and Henri Nouwen.

I'd love to hear any feedback, and always appreciate constructive input, words of caution and insights that can help to see the Kingdom of Jesus established at every level of society!

Well, to change tack, I am back in South Africa.  We landed this morning after a great flight from Hong Kong.  I am waiting to board my connecting flight to Cape Town.  I have to do a little work this afternoon, but I'm on leave for the following 5 days with my wonderful family!!  Praise be to God!

Tuesday
Mar022010

Is it possible to be a Christian and not do anything about HIV / AIDS?

Did you know that a child is orphaned every 14 seconds because of HIV / AIDS?  Did you know that 33 million people across the world at HIV+.  23 million of those people live in Southern Africa.  

Sadly, the Christian Church has not risen to the challenge to be an agent of comfort, hope and life in this very sad situation.  Partly I think it is because we lack a positive theology of for an HIV+ world.  In a recent chapter that I wrote for a book entitled 'Alienation and Connection' (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger, Lexington books, 2010.  My chapter is entitled 'Empire, apathy and economics:  Reflections on being Christian in an HIV+ world') I argued that there are 4 different approaches to HIV AIDS in Christendom.

 

  • Some say that AIDS is not an issue.  This view is common in Western countries, and regions of the world where HIV infection is not very high.
  • Some say that AIDS is a punishment from God.  This view is fundamentally wrong!
  • Some say that the Church should 'care for' HIV+ persons (as if the Church is free from AIDS while others outside of the Church have AIDS and require care).  This is a paternalistic approach to HIV positive persons.
  • Finally, there are those who have come to realise that the Church has AIDS!  We are all in this together and we have a responsibility to care for one another, as we should care for ourselves.

 

What is your view on AIDS?  What do you think God's perspective is on a world where children are infected through their parents?  Or what is God's view of the HIV positive person who contracted the disease through a poor sexual choice?  Your theological perspective will shape your ministry!  It is important to work out what you believe, and what you should believe, about this disease.

Please take a few minutes to watch this incredible video from TED.  Thanks to my friend Jon Hirst for pointing me to this great video resource.  Please could I also encourage you to visit the Lausanne World Pulse for some great articles on Christianity and HIV/AIDS?

Here is the blurb about the incredible statistics:

In this talk at the TED conference in Feb. 2009, Hans Rosling explains the HIV epidemic. 

He converts the best available data from UNAIDS and WHO into understandable Gapminder bubbles.

The two key messages are that the global HIV epidemic has reached a “steady state” with 1% of the adult world population infected and that there are huge differences in HIV occurrence between and within African countries. Many African countries have the same, relatively low, HIV levels as can be found in most of the world, whereas 50% of the world’s HIV infected persons live in a few countries in Eastern and Southern Africa (with 4% of the world population).

Hans Rosling closes his speech by summarizing probable reasons for the high HIV burden in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and he also claims that the focus must be on preventing further HIV transmission in these highly affected populations.

So, let me ask this question - is it possible to be truly Christian and do nothing about HIV AIDS?