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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 faith (11)

Sunday
Oct202013

Faith and Reason

I love theology. I love theology in this sense, that is, theology as an attempt to know something about God and God's nature and will.

There are few theologians that I love as much as Stanley Hauerwas. Here's one more reason why I love his theology:

[The claim] that some think theological claims must be grounded in empirical proofs is based on the assumption that there is an essential tension between faith and reason. Even Christian theologians have sometimes underwritten the assumption that the faith of Christians cannot be rationally defended. However, the very presumption that reason is one thing and faith is another betrays a distorted view of reason. What Christians believe is not a “take it or leave it” choice, but rather an ongoing claim that all that is exists by God’s good grace. The working out of that claim is never finished.

- Stanely Hauerwas

Via @irregulartheology.

Friday
Apr272012

When God speaks what do you do?

This week I have been at a very significant conference of influential global business leaders. It was a wonderfully inspiring time to listen to now many of these persons prevailed against significant odds to achieve what it they believed they had heard God calling them to do. Some took risks to start new enterprises and ventures, some gave up power, prestige and wealth to take up a life of service, others took a stand against an issue of corruption or abuse.

There was a fairly common narrative - God has a will for the world. God graciously invites us into His wonderful will and work in the world. However, it takes faith, courage, and obedience (and perseverance!) to faithfully achieve what God wants to do.

I am is servant - that is my calling. I am called to serve God. In doing so I have discovered that it most often means that I am called to serve God's people. This is blessed and rewarding work.

During this week I heard God speaking to me. It was very clear! Some may ask how I know that God was speaking to me - all I can say is that God spoke, I perceived it clearly and convincingly. I can only assume that this is similar to how someone like Wilberforce was encountered by God in order to give his life to fighting slavery. It takes courage to go against reason and seek to be obedient - I am trying to do that in my life.

So, I shall be spending time praying, thinking, reading, listening, engaging in community, watching the world, reading the scriptures and figuring out what it means to be obedient to God's gracious call to enter into God's loving, gracious, and just will for me and world.

I'd love to hear from you whether you have ever heard God speaking to you? If so, what did you do in response to that encounter?

Sunday
Nov062011

Freedom and responsibility

In recent months a great deal has been said about freedom - particularly in light of the emerging freedom of persons in Northern African countries such as Egypt, and most recently Libya.

However, this freedom is in danger of succumbing to a new form of tyranny. Tyrants are smart. They prey upon the desperate and the idealistic. Without the 'free' even knowing it they find their 'freedom' replaced with new forms of oppression and abuse.

Southern Africa has gone through this cycle more than once. Perhaps the most vivid example is to be found in the once 'freedom fighter' Robert Mugabe and the abuses that he has inflicted upon the people of Zimbabwe. I was born in the beautiful country. However, I have been a citizen of South Africa for some time now. Sadly, the liberators of this new home, many of whom received my vote, and my energy before and after the end of apartheid are turning out to be self obsessed tyrants in the making.

Perhaps we, you and I, need reminding that freedom is not the end. Rather it is just the beginning of what we desire (and need). Freedom is the moment where we pass from one kind of labour into another, from working for liberation to working for reconstruction and restoration.

The following quote from Victor Frankl was particularly inspiring in this regard:

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. Victor Frankl

I'd love to hear your thoughts on South Africa (and North Africa) and freedom and responsibility!

Wednesday
Sep212011

Intuitive? Try God!

I was alerted to this fascinating research, done at Harvard, by my friend Philip Collier.

In summary, the researchers found that persons who are capable of making intuitive decisions are more likely to be people of faith. Intuition is an extremely complex function of the human brain, since intuition relies on gathering lots of data, processing it at speed, and reaching a conclusion.

God is related to decision-making style, with those who rely more heavily on intuition reporting higher rates of belief, while those who are more reflective tilt toward atheism.
By linking religious belief to intuition, the study supports the idea that there is something in the cognitive makeup of humans that promotes belief in a higher power. For example, the natural tendency that people have to see a purpose behind random events, or the need to reduce uncertainty in their lives — as well as the anxiety it causes — may promote a belief in God.

The research makes no value judgement on intuitive versus reflective cognitive ability (since this is a matter or style rather than intelligence).

What do you think? Are intuitive thinkers more likely to be persons who hold faith convictions?

PS. My doctoral work was in cognitive neuroscience and theology. You can read more about that work on this blog by clicking the neuroscience link (tab) at the top of the page or the tag below.

Here's the link to the Harvard Article: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/intuitive-try-god/

Friday
Jun032011

We are fragmented, yet we hunger for wholeness...

This quote resonates very strongly:

We doubt the possibility of being at home in the world, yet we desire that home above all else. We are certain only of ourselves - if in a somewhat precarious way - and we work toward the certainty of something larger. We are fragmentary, even masters of fragmentation, and we hunger for wholeness.

Jedediah Purdy, For Common Things (25) via invisibleforeigner
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.

Sunday
Feb072010

A blessing for today... May God bless you with discomfort...

I came across this wonderful Franciscan blessing earlier today. It reminded me that I so quickly become comfortable in my life. I very quickly forget that I am saved by Christ to serve others, and in order to do that I need to be able to experience the pain and struggle of those amongst whom God is sending me.


There is a great Church in Pretoria that has the slogan (in Afrikaans) 'Leef iemand raak' The best translation I can give is something along the lines of 'live your life into the lives of others', or 'in your living, make sure you encounter others'.

I too easily get busy, distracted, selfish and when this happens I forget what it means to truly live - to live one's life for others. Here's the blessing - I would love to hear how you remain mindful of the needs, cares, and struggles of others. Please do share some insights that help you to remain connected and intentional about living your life as a gift from God, intended to be given generously for others.

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.
AMEN

Wednesday
Oct312007

The power of money! What hold does it have on you?

Money is a very powerful thing.  People die, and kill, for it (or the lack of it) each and every day...

Most people are unaware how much hold their money has over them.  We live as if we are truly free, yet for so many of us our decisions and lives are shaped by the decisions we make about money:

- what career will I follow?
- where do I choose to live?
- will I make it to the end of the month before the end of the money?

If you want to see how powerful money is, simply ask someone to tell you how much they earn... If they're silenced by your question, it is likely that they, like most of us, have been overpowered by money.

I am quite skeptical of pastors and churches that 'force' their members to tithe on their income (i.e., give a 10% of their earnings) by promising them that this sacrifice will bring blessing.  However, there is a faith principle contained in this practice...  The principle is not that God will bless you for giving God (the one who has no need for money) 10% of your income...  Sadly most of those Churches and Pastors are not using the money they get for the work of God!
However, the value of the principle of generous giving is that it forces me give away something that has a hold over me, without the hope of receiving anything in return.  Each time I give I find a bit more freedom.

And, of course, anything that has that much power over me must be subjected to the rule and authority of Christ - after all, he is not only my Saviour, he is my Lord!

As a minister I have had to make many choices that would seem counterintuitive in a consumer society... Today I was faced with a choice to earn more money to do something different to what I am doing now...  When my first thoughts turned to what I could get out of it I realised that this choice could not be made without prayer, and careful discernment.  Today I was reminded that I am controlled by money.  I don't want to be - I want only to be controlled by what will help to achieve God's mission of healing and transformation in the world.

Please pray for me.

Tuesday
Oct302007

Losing my religion... More and more people are doing the same.

If you were old enough to listen to contemporary music in the 1990's you'll remember the REM song "losing my religion".  The phrase actually comes from the American South where it is used to refer to being at the end of one's wits (usually it is associated with having lost the love of a significant person).


However, it would seem that all of America is starting to loose it's religion.  Recent research has shown that around 12% of Americans now consider themselves without any faith at all, that is up from 8% ten years ago.

The image in this post shows the changes in statistics... However, if you would notice they key points out '*Percent atheists, agnostic, or no religion'.  I am not sure that this accurately describes and emergent generations approach to faith. 

First, I think that there are many sincere Christ followers (in America in particular) who would rather have nothing to do with a religion held by it's President who sanctions war in its name, exploits the poor, plunders the environment, yet prays on Sunday.  Sadly George W Bush is a Methodist - if it were not for saintly America Methodists (among them Stanely Hauerwas), I would long have given up on United Methodism!  Sadly, the same can be said for almost every single denomination throughout the world (mine included!)  Heck, I am part of the problem!

Second, however, I think that statistics such as this do show us that we need to find news ways to SERVE people with the faith that we all need!  I think that as society changes we need to be ahead of that change, finding ways of taking ministry to where people have needs, not JUST asking people to bring their needs to where we can offer ministry!

Can you see the paradigm shift I am talking about?  One says "where do you have need, let us bring wholeness to you there".  The other says "we have wholeness here, bring your needs to us."  

Third, I think that measuring the effectiveness of any faith by numbers is dangerous business!  Just consider this for a moment - would you say that 12 people are less effective than billions today?  Well, if it was not for the effectiveness of the One (Jesus) and his remaining eleven disciples the billions would not be here today!  Churches that measure their effectiveness by seating capacity are measuring the wrong thing!  We should be measuring our depth, not our breadth.  We should be seeing what difference we are making to this world, not how many people are entertained in our services!

Last, I don't mind if people loose their religion, myself included.  In fact I quite often pray that God would release me from religion and free me to live a life of faith!  I don't want structures that bind, symbols that mislead, and communities that more concerned about sustaining themselves and their image in society!  I want to be part of something that is alive, flexible, life giving, life changing...

So, perhaps we need to embrace the loss of religion and find ways to discover and embrace faith.

Just by the way, we must not think that this will not happen in South Africa!  It has already begun.  Those of you who have children or grandchildren in primary school, just ask how many of your child or grandchild's peers go to Church...  Not many....  That means that their parents (even if they are people of faith) have lost their religion...  These will grow up thinking that Church is something strange and antiquated...

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Saturday
Oct202007

God's Mechanics: Vatican Astronomer reconciles religion and science

This very interesting commentary comes from Boingboing.net (see the link at the end of the post):

God's Mechanics: How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion" is the new book from Brother Guy Consolmagno, who is, in no particular order, a scientist, a Jesuit, a science fiction geek, an MIT alum and a Vatican Astronomer. Obviously, religion is a central part of Brother Guy's life, but so is technology, rationalism and science.

God's Mechanics is a relgionist's explanation of his faith, in terms aimed at showing techies how one of their own can simultaneously believe in supernatural phenomena and practice rigorous, materialistic science. The most interesting part of the book is an amateur ethnography of geek faithful, in which Brother Guy schleps up and down Rte 101 between San Francisco and San Jose, interviewing engineers, scientists and programmers about their practice of faith. Their answers surprise Guy (and they surprised me, too) with their variety and distinctiveness. There doesn't seem to be a single way, or even a small cluster of ways that technologists square up their religion with their science.

For my part, I'm a second-generation atheist. I think that our experience of the numinous is both undeniable and entirely biological: the state of spiritual peace is the result of tickling some evolved center of our brain, a bit of neurology that conferred a survival advantage on our ancestors whose numinous hallucinations of a higher order in the universe drove them to catch more antelopes, eat better, and have more babies. I have no need of, nor interest in a supernatural god or a supernatural universe.

But I'm not so blinkered that I believe all religionists to be deluded fools. There's clearly some serious value that smart, ethical people derive from participation in spiritualism and even organized religion. Brother Guy's exegesis on faith as a systematic way of organizing and exploring the human experience of the numinous was fascinating to me. It is is a thoroughgoing, charming, quick-paced trip through a wide variety of personal experiences of spirituality and religion.

The only place where this book lacks is in its exploration of atheism as an alternative to religion. Brother Guy delves deeply into the reason for faith, but skims lightly over the reason for its absence. At times, it seems like he's addressing straw men from my side, not our strongest argument. This is the beginning of a discussion, but it's not the whole discussion.
From Boing Boing.

Monday
Oct082007

Were you caught in 'the perfect storm (hype)'?

If you live in Gauteng (Pretoria, Johannesburg etc.) in South Africa then you will know exactly what I am talking about if I mention 'the prefect storm'. It turned out to be nothing other than 'the perfect hoax'. Today emails circulated the web, warnings went out on radio, people were even getting text messages warning them of 'the perfect storm' in Gauteng. Supposedly a storm so fierce was brewing in Gauteng that it was going to turn into a tornado by 6 pm! Well, my wife's company let their staff go home early, the roads were packed with early traffic...

Sure, there was a bit of rain, some lightning and thunder - heck, it was nothing more than a regular 'high veld' thunderstorm!

Now Saturday the 6th was an awesome storm in the Pretoria area! High winds, hail, and driving rain.

If you got caught by the hype of 'the perfect storm' then read this great post from thoselegends.blogspot.com. It makes for a very interesting read. If you got caught in the hype drop me a line and let me know (I know I was worried for a while!) Isn't human nature just strange?

I have often wondered about the mass mentality that overtakes groups... We get ourselves worked up, we feed of each others' neuroses, and eventually we come to believe just about anything. Does anybody remember the bad old days in South Africa when white South Africans feared 'die rooi gevaar' (the communist threat), 'die katolieke gevaar' (the liberal Catholic threat)...

I wonder what dangers we've created?

I seem to remember it being written somewhere that "there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18). Lord, give me the courage to be the a calm head in the storm, help me to follow your lead, your love, and not to be taken in by the hype of 'the perfect storms' of life.

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