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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.
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Entries in hope (9)

Tuesday
Jan122016

Christians and pessimism - A reminder to live for hope from Oscar Romero and Henri Nouwen

Last year was a tough year for many people around the world. I know it was difficult for many of my friends and family. Over the last couple of days I have had a number of conversations with friends who are feeling hopeless and concerned about issues ranging from politics, to economics and the environment.

In my reading I have come across a few quotes that challenge me to remember that as a person of faith I should live by a different standard. Christians live with a hope that is real, yet our hope cannot be collapsed into history, past, present or future, in its entirety. Yes, we must pay meticulous attention to what is happening around is. We must act with courage, grace and love in all situations. However, our hope is larger than history, it is based on a reality that is more real than our perception of what we believe to be real. Our hope comes from being claimed by the God of history. Our hope is eschatological - the fullness of life through the fullest Person (Jesus Christ) in the fullness of time.

Living with this kind of hope takes courage. It takes courage to live for someone, and something, more important than our immediate reaction to people and events. It takes grace to act, and react, in a manner that is different from other persons and the rest of the world. It takes commitment to live for the common good rather than just one's own comfort and security. It takes hard work and patience to stay on the path of rightness and justice for the long haul.

I pray that I will have the wisdom to live in this way, and that others will choose the live a life that is much better than mine.

Here are some quotes that inspired and challenged me on this journey:

“Christians cannot be pessimists. Christians must always nourish in their hearts the fullness of joy. Try it, brothers and sisters; I have tried it many times and in the darkest moments, when slander and persecution were at their worst: to unite myself intimately with Christ, my friend, and to feel a comfort that all the joys of the earth do not give – the joy of feeling yourself close to God, even when humans do not understand you. It is the deepest joy the heart can have.”

- Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love

"To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work."

- Henri Nouwen, Bread for the journey (p.8)

And this quote about the importance of daily spiritual discipline in this life:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world — free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless… I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

- Henri Nouwen

Friday
Jan012016

Let us all, together, struggle for the New South Africa - Happy new year (2016)

It is a new year. Of course nothing is different from yesterday. However, there is something special about a marker in time, a change of dates; it allows one to reflect, to take stock and to resolve to live more intently, perhaps even differently, beyond that point.

We ushered in the new year with friends. We talked, laughed, prayed, and even argued. I guess that there was hardly a gathering in South Africa that didn't have some conversation about the challenges we face in South Africa - many of which were exposed in 2015. We remain economically unequal. We remain divided by race and class. We remain suspicious and fearful of one another. We long for change.

I said to my family and friends that my commitment in the year ahead would be to work more ardently for the common good of all South Africans, and for South Africa. I am inspired by the following quote from Desmond Tutu's sermon at the funeral service of slain anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977:

We are experiencing the birth pangs of a new South Africa, a free South Africa, where all of us, Black and White together, will walk tall, where all of us, Black and White together, will hold hands as we stride forth on the Freedom March to usher in the new South Africa where people will matter because they are human beings made in the image of God… for the sake of our children, Black and White together, let us dedicate ourselves anew to the struggle for the liberation of our beloved land, South Africa. Let us all, Black and White together, not be filled with despondency and despair. Let us Blacks not be filled with hatred and bitterness. For all of us, Black and White together, shall overcome, nay, indeed have already overcome.

- Desmond Tutu (at the funeral of Steve Biko in 1977).

The task may be challenging and complex. It will require courage, sacrifice, perhaps even robust engagement, and above all grace and love. But just because it is complex we must not, and should not, shy away from doing what we can do. We should find ways to address what we can see needs to be done. We must move from a modality of blame to a modality of working together for the common good.

Rich blessing to you and your family, your community and our people and land in 2016. May the end of 2016 show that we have laboured well and achieved much.

Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it.

- Rubem A. Alves (Brazilian educator and liberation theologian).

Wednesday
May062015

What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

I discovered today that an article I had written some time ago had been published and made available to the public from the Theological Journal, HTS.

The details for the article are:

Title:  What hope is there for South Africa? A public theological reflection on the role of the church as a bearer of hope for the future

Please follow this link to download a copy from the Journal website: http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/2814 

Abstract:

What hope is there for South Africa? What role can the church play as a bearer of hope in South Africa? This article seeks to address these important questions. Firstly, it problematises the contemporary notion of hope in South Africa by showing that it is a complex theological and social concept. Next, a nuanced understanding of hope is presented by adopting a public theological methodology that brings dominant theological perspectives on eschatological hope into dialogue with the most recent statistics about the quality of life in South Africa from 1994, 2004 and 2014. The article proposes that the complexity of Christian hope necessitates an understanding of the present reality that is held in dynamic tension with the desired future – namely a present-futurist eschatology. Finally the article shows that from this vantage point the church, in its various forms and understandings, is able to be a bearer of Christian hope that can contribute towards shaping a better future for South Africa.

Reference:

 

Forster, Dion A. “What Hope Is There for South Africa? A Public Theological Reflection on the Role of the Church as a Bearer of Hope for the Future.” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Original Research: P.G.R. de Villiers Dedication, 71, no. 1 (2015): 1–10.

 

 

If you have a chance (and the stamina!) to read it I would appreciate feedback and comments.  There is an itneresting set of statistical data on living conditions in South Africa.

 

Tuesday
May052015

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Beyers Naude's life

Today the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University celebrates the 100th anniversary of Beyers Naude's life - a courageous witness to justice, reconciliation, hope and God's Kingdom on earth.

Pictured here (L-R) areDr Horst Kleinschmidt, Prof Denise Ackermann, Prof John de Gruchy, Dr Murray Coetzee who are all friends and researchers in the Beyers Naude Center.

The meeting was opened with a reading from Isaiah 32.1-8, and 15-20. A deep challenge for our current context.

Here is the text:

"See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The mind of the rash will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
No longer will the fool be called noble
nor the scoundrel be highly respected.
For the fool speaks folly,
his mind is busy with evil:
He practices ungodliness
and spreads error concerning the Lord;
the hungry he leaves empty
and from the thirsty he withholds water.
The scoundrel’s methods are wicked,
he makes up evil schemes
to destroy the poor with lies,
even when the plea of the needy is just.
But the noble man makes noble plans,
and by noble deeds he stands." ...

"till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free".

Prof Nico Koopman encouraged us to be inspired by Oom Bey's life to become "faithful disciples and active citizens" for the sake of the healing and transformation of our nation.

Friday
Feb132015

John de Gruchy devotion on Authentic, Hopeful, Action (AHA) in South Africa

Please find a devotion delivered by Professor John de Gruchy (extraordinary Professory of Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch) on Thursday 12 February 2015.

To find out more about the AHA movement please follow this link.

AHA

James 2:14-18

"Faith without works is dead!"

Pessimists say that the cup is half empty; and optimists, that it is half full.  Some people are pessimists by nature.  For them the world, the Hermanus town council, and the church are hopelessly falling apart, South Africa is going to the dogs (don't ask me what dogs have to do with it!), the government is totally corrupt,  people always let you down, young people have no discipline, tomorrow is going to be worse than today -- even when they hear good news they automatically add a negative comment, "yes, but!".  Optimists also seem to be optimists by nature.  South Africa is getting better, the dogs don't bite and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, people are always so nice, young people are a pleasure, and what a great day it is today despite the heat and south-easter, it could be worse.  It is easy to understand why people are pessimists, especially in circumstances such as we see every day on TV.   "It is," Bonhoeffer wrote shortly before his arrest, "more sensible to be pessimistic, disappointments are left behind, and one can face people unembarrassed.  Hence, the clever frown upon optimism."  But then he goes on to praise optimism because it is:

a power of life, a power of hope when others resign, a power to hold our heads high when all seems to come to naught, a power to tolerate setbacks, a power that never abandons the future to the opponent but lays claim to it, 

Pessimists may keep our feet on the ground but optimists keep hope alive.  But perhaps it would be best if we were all realists who accepted the way things are, for good or ill, and then got off our butts to make things better, neither bemoaning nor turning a blind eye to what is wrong or bad.  In the end, does it really matter if the glass is half empty or half full ?  What matters is whether we are going to do what needs to be done to fill the cup to the brim.  If we are not working to make the world a better place, things will get worse whether we are pessimists or optimists.

There were plenty of prophets of doom in the Old Testament.  The difference between a true prophet and false one was that whereas the true prophet told the political and religious leaders how bad things were and they had better change their ways, the false prophets always said things were just fine, "peace, peace, when there was no peace."  But the true prophets were actually being realists.  They were not just saying how bad things were, they were calling on people to change, to change their attitudes, change their hearts and minds, and start doing things differently.  The same was true of Jesus,  Jesus laid it on the line when speaking truth to power, when castigating the religious hypocrites of his day, and the corrupt rulers in the Temple and the Palaces of Jerusalem and Tiberias.  He did not have much faith in their willingness to change.  But he saw possibilities for healing and change in seemingly hopeless situation.  He saw the good in people rejected as irreligious, isolated because they had contagious diseases, shunned because they were tax-collectors and prostitutes, or simply ignored because they were poor.  He did not give up on them.  He exuded the power of life, and  hope.

The apostle James was clearly a realist.  He knew about the great gulf between wealth and poverty in his day but decided to do something about it.  To those who said they believed in God but did nothing to help the poor he retorted "faith without works is dead" and went on to say "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith."  Sparklekid Theo likewise tells us "Just get on with it!"  Yes, politicians are corrupt, the power outages are unacceptable, the conditions in the township are bad, but let's get on and do something to make life better for everyone.  That attitude releases the power of life and hope.  And there are many such good news stories being told today around South Africa that demonstrate this in big or small ways.  Listen to one from the kindergarten across the road from Volmoed:

January 2015 kicked off with great excitement and a school filled with 38 little children, some more happy than others to join our school.  Our classes bursting at their seams with small little faces eager to embark on this new exciting path of their lives.  From our 38 students 4 are from Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a number from farms in the area and then a host of children from Zwelihle.  Two of our 3 teachers will continue their education this year via Klein Karoo and I am so excited to see how quickly they are developing, not only in their teaching abilities but also in their confidence.

Immediately after the conference held in Stellenbosch last September to celebrate my 75th birthday, a group of participants got together and decided to do something about poverty in South Africa.  They called the project AHA! which stands for "Authentic, Hopeful Action."  They were realists who  did not simply want to talk about change but to act in ways that made a real difference to the lives of the poor.  I was not at that meeting, but I was made the Patron of AHA.  This means that even though  my "shelf-life" is coming to an end I can cajole people into doing things that might make a difference in the lives of poor people.   

The AHA website has many practical suggestions that could make a difference, some of them we could all do without too much effort.  For example if you don't already, you can give R 5 to the garage attendant whenever your car is filled.  This won't fundamentally alter the material conditions in poor communities, but if each garage attendant at Engen down the road got R5 from  five people a day, he or she would earn at least a R100 extra per week.  Multiply that by 10 garage attendants and that would mean a R 1000 would find its way into the life of the township!  And then multiply it across the country at every filing station! 

The list of possibilities whereby we can help make a difference to the lives of other people through authentic, hopeful action is endless if only we put our minds to it and get on with it.   At the very least we could go onto the AHA webpage, or talk to Theo over coffee,  to find out what even those of us whose shelf-life is short can do.  This is surely better than talking ourselves into a state of despair about the state of the nation!  Whether congenitally pessimists or optimists, let us be realists.  Poverty is a crime against humanity, especially in a country where there is so much wealth. We don't need a AHA moment or movement to tell us.  But we do need to act authentically and hopefully, and maybe.  some help to know what we can do, to show by our works what our faith means.  Instead of saying AMEN or ALLELUIA today, let  us all shout  "AHA!" 

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 12 February 2015

Sunday
Jun152014

Hope for the future and being a community of hope

This past week I had the privilege of doing the closing plenary address at the Stellenbosch University Winter School. The theme of the conference was hope. The quote below sums up what I tried to say.
“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Reinhold Niebuhr. In short, we act today for what we hope for and anticipate tomorrow. Moreover, everything worth doing is best done in community and partnership. Finally, we are all embraced in grace and love - the is the reason for hope! In this picture are the three keynote speakers (see *) and some of the other speakers and organizers of the great event (left to right) Prof Aben from Jos Nigeria (a visiting scholar), *Mrs Marlene le Roux, (back) Dr Danie O'Kennedy, (front) Dr Bruce Theron, (back) *Dr Mvume Dandala, *Dr Dion Forster.
Sunday
Apr042010

The greatest hope of all!

Luk 24:6 οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἀλλὰ ἠγέρθη. μνήσθητε ὡς ἐλάλησεν ὑμῖν ἔτι ὢν ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ

May the risen Christ bless you with new life today! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On Easter Sunday South Africa heard that a right wing white supremicist, Eugene Tereblanche, leader of the AWB was murdered on his farm. It would seem that he had a dispute with two of his workers who are accused of the murder. What makes this situation to sensational is the the infamous leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Maleme has been popularizing a song with the lyrics 'kill the boer' (shoot the farmer). Of course the media is connecting these two things. Many in the ANC have supported Mr Malema, defending his use of this song.

As a Zimbabwean who saw how white citizens where systematically abused in that nation I grow a little concerned when I hear such things.

But, I know there is hope for our nation! We need to learn the grace of forgiveness, the power of restraint, and the hope that comes from being one in Christ.

May this Easter bring peace to all across the world who live with conflict and fear.

Tuesday
Oct232007

Making the most of this day, come what may.

My wife has been facing some challenges at work recently. She works for a public finance company that does work for departments of the South African government. One of their primary tasks is doing skills development and upliftment training for unemployed school leavers, and persons who have been hired into posts but lack the skills to adequately perform the tasks their jobs require. It sounds crazy, but that's a reality. People are hired for many reasons other than competency to do their work. And, let me hasten to add, often these reasons are very good! Of course, at times they are not.

What she does sounds like wonderful work doesn't it? She is in charge of a team of people, managing them, overseeing a number of qualifications and short courses, helping the unemployed, and those we desperately need employment but face the struggle of going to work daily feeling inadequate to do what they have been hired to do.

Sadly though, as with most companies that do work for government departments, payment from the State is slow in coming.

Not only is the system of payment to providers fraught with inefficiency and unnecessary bureaucracy, but there is a great deal of corruption and maladministration in some government departments - this often stops payment completely. It has meant that the company my wife works for has had to wait for payments amounting to millions of Rands, some for up to a year, because the department that was supposed to pay them has had its accounts frozen, or the money that was supposed to be used to pay them has landed up in some government official's private bank account and has been spent, and many other such problems. As anyone who balances their books knows, it is difficult to survive from month to month when you don't have enough money coming in - no matter how much is owing to you! I have often prayed, and wondered, how many good companies have closed down because of poor cash flow? I am praying for their company. They do such good work.

Sadly the reality is that sometimes even the most noble and admirable work can be thwarted by evil and sinful people, and by corrupt and inefficient systems.

So, today she left for work feeling a little downhearted. I offer this prayer for her, and for all others, who face the prospect of this day with uncertainty and struggle, for those who are employed and unhappy, and for those who long to be employed but cannot find any work. For those who desperately need their employment but find themselves out of their depth.

A prayer for this day:

My God, you saw me in my unformed substance and numbered my days before I had lived even a single one of them. Be close to me today, my God, and help me to love you first, and to do my best for you in all that I do. Help me to live freely, and without the restraints of this world and my circumstances. Give me the assurance that ultimately you are in control of my life, and that there is nothing that I shall face this day that you cannot help me to deal with. And so, help me to approach all people, and all situations, with the love and openness that only you can give. Let me manage all my affairs in accordance with your will so that when I stand to give an account of this day, I may do so with confidence, and not be ashamed. In the name of Christ, the servant and the savior, I pray. Amen.

Here is something to consider:

"There is a two way relationship between prayer and life. Prayer can be seen as the focusing and redirecting of an attitude to God and to our fellow [human beings] that runs through all that we do. On the other hand we can see our daily life as something which prayer purifies, directs and consecrates. This interrelationship of prayer and life was expressed by William Temple in his well know saying "It is not that conduct is the end of life and worship helps it but that worship is the end of life and conducts tests it." Temple is here using worship in a brad sense to include all of life. For in worship, as the derivation of the work from worth implies, we declare what we value most. If in prayer I declare that I value God above all things and in my life I show that my own selfish interests come first I am making a nonsense of my praying. We declare how we value God as much by our actions, by the way we treat other people, by the manner in which we do our work, as by anything we say. If my actions are wrong or wrongly motivated prayer cannot make them right. If however, despite my failures and inconsistencies, I do on the whole want to put God above all things then prayer will help to purify my motives and clarify my judgment."


-- From The river within by Christopher Bryant

Scripture verse for today:

Col 3:23-24 (NIV) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Drop me a line and let me know if I can pray for you.

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Friday
Oct052007

A year ago today... The sadness of a bureaucrat... But, tomorrow is another day!

It was the 4th of October 2006. I was dressed in a jacket and tie. Megie was about five and a half months pregnant with Liam, it was just before a week long retreat with my friends Peter Woods, Peter Grassow (above) and Kevin Needham.... A year ago today I graduated with a Doctorate in Theology. You can read more about that week here (look for the past dated 6 October 2006).

So much has changed since then! Most magnificent of all of those changes was the birth of our little miracle, Liam. I can hardly believe that he is almost a year old!

Tonight I celebrate and give thanks for Liam as I end another day of fasting - I have done 48 of these so far, every Friday for children, parents, and those who long to be parents. I do it because God knows the intensity of my gratitude and the sincerity of my intercessory prayer.

But, I am also sad - maybe I'm just hungry and pensive, but I feel sad. I miss Peter Woods - he is preparing for his year long retreat and has long since stopped blogging. I feel like I have lost a good friend. I mourn the fact that next year there will be no Phase 1 center at Plumstead in Cape Town. I wasn't involved in the final move that saw all the students from that District being placed elsewhere, but I feel guilty. Somehow as each year passes my sense of responsibility and culpability grows within the Church. Responsibility, because like most of our Church's leaders I also wish to help to make the Church more faithful so that we can honour God by bringing healing and transformation to the world, but also culpable since I realise how inadequate I am to achieve that, but also because one is seldom untouched by the struggles and mistakes of our Church, my Chuch.

My friend from Malaysia, Sivin, posted the following insightful comment on his blog - it comes from an interview with Brian Mclaren. I wonder if I am being sucked into the bureaucracy, or maybe I am already a bureaucrat, or maybe there is hope that benevolent leadership can help to change the Church and the world, or maybe I am just hopefully naive?

Bureaucracy a gift? The conversation in this post seems to model divergent and convergent thinking …

“Whether we like it or not, hierarchy and its sibling command & control, are here to stay. That doesn’t mean that networked organisations and self-organisation are not valuable additions, but they are just that. Additions, not the norm.”

“I think the evidence is showing that hierarchy may be here to stay as a way of irrigating and organization with resources, but command and control have long given way to networked action based on relationships and intimacy. It’s how anything actually gets done, especially in large organizations. Don’t believe me? It’s the principle behind “work to rule” slow downs. Command and control aren’t synonymous with hierarchy - one can organize a resource allocation hierarchically but use distributed leadership to get the work done.”

When the 4th ends the 5th will come... I will go for a run tomorrow and try to figure out who I am, what I should do, and what I should not do...

On Sunday I preach at Alan Storey's Church, Calvary Methodist in Midrand! I always look forward to being there!