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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
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    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
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    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
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    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
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Entries in Jesus (18)

Sunday
Mar312013

Resurrection

A blessed Easter to all. May Christ raise you and the whole of creation to newness of life.

Resurrection

Long, long, long ago; Way before this winter’s snow First fell upon these weathered fields; I used to sit and watch and feel And dream of how the spring would be, When through the winter’s stormy sea She’d raise her green and growing head, Her warmth would resurrect the dead. Long before this winter’s snow I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow And thought somehow my pain would pass With winter’s pain, and peace like grass Would simply grow. (But) The pain’s not gone. It’s still as cold and hard and long As lonely pain has ever been, It cuts so deep and fear within. Long before this winter’s snow I ran from pain, looked high and low For some fast way to get around Its hurt and cold. I’d have found, If I had looked at what was there, That things don’t follow fast or fair. That life goes on, and times do change, And grass does grow despite life’s pains. Long before this winter’s snow I thought that this day’s sunny glow, The smiling children and growing things And flowers bright were brought by spring. Now, I know the sun does shine, That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime A flower comes. It groans, yet sings, And through its pain, its peace begins.
Resurrection - Mary Ann Bernard. From Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, eds., A Guide To Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room, p. 144)
Sunday
Dec232012

Reflecting on the Prince of Peace - not even God can use violence successfully

My friend Alan Storey gave an address (a sermon) at the 2012 Peace Conference in Lake Junalaska.

I was fortunate to get a transcript of his sermon.  It challenged and moved me deeply.  I was reminded that at Christmas I celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, and that His birth and my faith in Him has radical consequences for my life.

The way of Jesus is a bold, loving and gracious way.  It subverts the culture of power and dominance that occupies the popular mind of our time. It reminds me that Jesus came for peace, yet so much of the resources of this world, both financial and human, are spent on war.  The best of our minds, the majority of our budgets, are not applied towards peaceable aims - they are applied in the interests of vengence and violence.  This is an affront to the Prince of Peace who came to live among us, living our life and dying our death in order to overcome both sin and death by His love.

So, this Christmas I was challenged to remember that the Prince of Peace came as a man to die on a cross.  The sacrifice of his life was for the salvation and transformation of the world. At Christmas I am challenged to remember that the Jesus of the manger is also the Jesus of the Cross.

So, this Christmas can I please encourage you to read Alan's powerful message? It may not be all that easy! But it will be deeply challenging.

I had to face myself and my own denial honestly as I read it. Some of what you read may not be easy to hear - it was not easy for me. But, I would rather face my lies, and the lies of our world with honesty and courage, than be party to deception and simply tell myself that all is well.

The text below comes from 'The War Crimes Times' newsletter (Winter 2013, pp. 5-7 and are republished with Alan's permission).

Here is the editor's introduction:

This is a transcription of the final presentation of a four-day peace conference held at Lake Junaluska, NC, November 8-11, 2012. It was delivered on a Sunday morning, at a United Methodist conference center, by an ordained minister, to an audience largely consisting of religious folks including a good number of clergy men and women (many retired – well “past half time”), and it began with a scripture reading. By all indications, it was a sermon, a lecture on a topic of morality.

But the lesson, the moral, of this sermon was intended for more than the flock of faithful, mostly Christians, gathered that morning. This lesson needs to reach people of all faiths, people of no faith, and people in the highest offices of governments around the world. It is a lesson of peace.

At its conclusion, this sermon received a standing ovation. But not everyone rose. The few who didn’t were, I suspect, clergy too stunned by the bold challenges of Alan Storey’s concluding remarks.

The speaker made references to other conference presenters. The Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a co-founder the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who endured many beatings and arrests as a civil rights activist, had spoken of how the kindness and trust bestowed on him as a 14-year-old in a multi- cultural neighborhood helped form his character. Liberian activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, had remarked on the importance of channeling anger into a proper container. (A documentary film on her work was also shown.) Michael Nagler , author, teacher, and founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, had shared his definition of “nonviolence.”

Alan Storey’s remarks were introduced with a reading from Genesis (excerpts of chapters 6 through 9) – the account of the Great Flood, when God punished the evil people and spared the righteous. But when the waters receded, God promised to never again resort to such destruction, setting God’ s rainbow in the clouds as the sign of his covenant.

Here is the transcript of Alan's message which was entitled 'Not even God can use violence successfully' by the newsletter.

I wonder what you have just heard during the reading of those Hebrew scriptures. I wonder what you heard. What did you hear?

Did you hear Sunday school children singing, singing about animals going in two by two? Or did you hear children screaming panic-stricken, terrified, gasping for breath; people fleeing to higher ground, pleading, praying to be let into that ark – and if not me, then take my child. Knocking, banging, banging on the ark, let me in! Yet the doors of the ark remained sadistically closed.

What did you feel when those words were read? Did you feel the desperation, the despair, the drowning, the death?

And then after the 40 days, what did you see? The sunshine? Green lush, beautiful blossoming? Birds and bees? Or decomposing bodies, swelling, smelling – disease, decay gathered in every single nook and cranny?

The cruel results, the inevitable cruel results of divid- ing up a world with the simplistic notion that there are some who are wicked and others who are righteous, that there are two types of people in the world: good and bad. And if we can just get rid of the bad people, then we will have peace. There is an axis of evil in the world and if we can just destroy the axis of evil, then all will be safe and secure.

The persons who act on this notion of dividing the world into wicked people and righteous people should be brought before the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and all of creation – even if that person is God.

This deathly division between good people and bad people continues today especially in my faith tradition – especially in my faith tradition. The Christian faith, more than any other faith, has participated in this deathly division – dividing the world into good and bad, saved and unsaved, those who will be ushered into heaven and those who will be cast into hell. That thought process is nothing less than hate speech.

We go back to the text. These Hebrew narrators were incredibly courageous, risky in the extreme. You see, what these Hebrew narrators are trying to do is not endorse this primitive, partisan God or world view, but rather to cleverly, and with great risk, subvert it. They knew that the common world understanding of God was that God was some almighty superhero that would punish the wicked and bless the righteous. They knew that was the dominant religious world view and understanding of their time. So they risked casting God in that light in their narrative. They don’t believe it, they know that’s not so. But they cleverly start where the audience is.

There were righteous ones, just a few. God saved them and the wicked were punished and the audience applaud. Because that was their world view. Justice has been done, the wicked got what they deserved, and the righteous what was promised. And then the narrator moves to Act II. And we read that once the flood had subsided, wickedness remained.

Wickedness remained. In other words, God failed. God failed to eradicate evil through this weapon of mass destruction called the flood.

The narrator is bold to pen those words, “God failed.” God fails when God uses violence. Not even God can use violence successfully. Not even God. God’s war on terror became a war of terror. And God repents. Listen to these words: “I will never again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

And then God is converted and God takes God’s bow, not a rainbow, but a weapon, God’s bow, and hangs it up in the sky, just as a boxer hangs up his gloves – and says, “Never again will I fight.” It’s the great narrative of the disarmament of God.

God can do all things. God can do all things – except use violence successfully.

And you and I will not be converted to nonviolence until we first realize that God has long since been con- verted. It is impossible to be a peacemaker if we serve a violent God, an angry God, a God who needs blood to be satisfied. If the God we serve, if the God we worship, has blood on his hands (I use that male pronoun deliberately), then the likelihood will be that we will too.

Using violence, God fails. So how much more will we fail if we use it? And you and I witness the failure of violence all around us all the time.

Violence fails to deliver on what it promises – peace and security. Since 9/11, billions and billions and billions of your dollars have been invested in violence, military might. And this country is less safe than it ever was. It doesn’t matter how long you have to stand in line to wait to get onto an airplane – it is less safe, less secure. And if it is not more afraid, it is definitely more feared.

Ask the people of Pakistan who scan the skies for drones... where the people who fly them can have breakfast in the morning with their family, go to the office and sit in a comfortable chair and go to war in Afghani- stan; and then can come home and have lunch with their family, and then in the afternoon they can go to war in Pakistan.

There is no victory in vengeance. Satan cannot cast out Satan; violence cannot cast out violence. War is a poor chisel to carve out a peaceable future says Martin Luther King, and yet it remains our biggest investment.

If you know history, you will know that empires do not explode. Empires implode. And the reason why empires implode is because they spend more than they have on trying to defend (read attack) who they are.

And if you just question safety and security, you will be labeled unpatriotic. You can commit the most grave of sins in the name of safety and security.

Listening to the presidential debates, if you could call them that, president Obama was asked, “What is the greatest threat to America?” Notice, please, the very narrow nationalistic question that is. His answer: “Terror- ism, and China.”

I want to say to Barack Obama the greatest threat to America is not terrorism, it’s not China. The greatest threat to America is... America. You are your worst enemy. No one will explode you – you will implode. If God fails using violence, so will the USA.

God is a nonviolent God.

Now, a couple of years ago in my country, there was a murder that took place and it was discovered that it was a family murder. An 18-year-old girl killed her 13-year-old sister, stabbed her repeatedly. The mother, as you can imagine, grieved, like only a mother can grieve. And yet at the same time as she was grieving the loss of her daughter, she stood in solidarity with her other daughter, as only, you can imagine, a mother can do. She was reported to have said, “I want to hate her, but I can’t.”

She went to court every day when her daughter was on trial. She stood behind her and embraced her when she was convicted. She visited her daughter every available opportunity in prison and when her daughter was finally released, she welcomed her home.

Mrs. Du Toit, the mother, found herself in the painful, yet privileged position of God, being parent to both murdered and murderer. At one and the same time. “I want to hate her but I can’t. I’m her mother.”

God is not only a nonviolent God, but God is the heavenly parent of both murdered and murderer. And to take vengeance on the murderer is simply to multiply the grief of God. If someone had come up to that mother and said, “Let us kill this daughter,” she would say, “No – don’t double my grief.”

Not only is this a nonviolent God, not only does this God grieve on all sides of the border, but when we remember Saul traveling on the road to Damascus because he had written permission to extend his war on terror, he is stopped in his tracks with these words from the Divine: “Why, why, why are you persecuting me?”

Please notice what the Divine did not say. The Divine did not say, “Why are you persecuting them?” but, “Why are you persecuting me?” The Divine takes persecution personally.

It is not, “Why are you persecuting the Afghans, and the Iraqis, and the Pakistanis, and whoever else? it’s, “Why are you persecuting me?” We need to hear that question here today.

So not only is God a nonviolent God. Not only does God grieve on both sides. God takes persecution personally.

Our violence violates God. All violence – we see from that illustration – is family violence. Cain and Abel were

brothers. Did you know that death enters the Hebrew scriptures through murder? – reminding us that all violence is family violence? That there are seven billion chosen, chosen people in the world? That the apartheid between nations must come to an end?

There is something that distresses me more than anything else every time I listen to the president of this country speak. When he ends his speeches with the words, “God Bless America.”

Someone please remind him that there is a world larger than America. And not until he begins to have a vision for the world and not just a nation – (long pause)

The only flag I am prepared to salute, the only flag, the only flag that I am prepared to stand up for is the flag with a picture of the globe on it. Can you give your flag away? And claim a new flag? And certainly remove it from your sanctuaries.

Jesus said if you want to save your life, give it away. If you want to save your nation...give it away.

If you want to save your flag – give it away. If you want to save your religion – give it away.

We know that it is easier to identify with the victim than the perpetrator. It is easier to see the splinter in our neighbor’s eye than it is to see the log in our own eye. It is easier to watch a documentary called Pray the Devil Back to Hell than to face the devil in us and the hell that we create.

I watched that documentary for the first time here. I was deeply moved by it...the courage of woman.

I was inspired when one of them said, “With this tee shirt, I am powerful.” I was horrified at the children, the children carrying guns that were too big for them to carry. I wept at the senseless suffering.

But that was a distant devil to observe. Much more difficult to watch a documentary of the devil that we are, and the hell that we create. Some people here have asked me, “Gosh, listening to Bernard Lafayette the other night, – how is it possible to be able to draw that love from the wells that live within to be able to even love the person beating us?”

Now it is a fine question to ask, but I think there is an earlier question. You see, that question assumes that we are going to be the victim. That question assumes we are going to be the one who is going to be beaten and kicked. The balance of probability that any of us in this room are going to go through that is pretty slim.

You see, we identify with the victim. The question we should be asking is, “How do we stop beating and killing others who are praying for the love to be able to forgive us?” What our dollars do in this world –

You know the date. But do you know what happened during 9/11? 9/11. When country and the hopes of that country were shattered. The thousands of people dying, thousands of people dying, not just on 9/11, but the days after. 9/11. You know the day, you know what I am talking about. Yes, I am talking about 1973. 9/11. When Pinochet came into power in Chile with the help of our dollars, a reign of terror for 16 years until 1990 – we know the date.

The 20th of August 1998 – in Sudan, the Clinton administration bombs Al-Shifa pharmaceutical company that provided 50% of all medication in the Sudan. I went to the Sudan a number of years after that. I watched mothers carrying children, hopelessly dying of malaria,

not able to get medication. Do you know the date: 20th of August 1998?

We will not have peace in this world, we will not become peacemakers, until we know the dates of terror that we have inflicted on others as well as we know the dates of terror that others have inflicted on us.

 

By the way, the 20th of August 1998 was covered in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, The Guardian, the New York Times.

Last night we listened to Leymah Gbowee. She spoke powerfully about an analogy of violence and anger: pouring it into a violent cup or a nonviolent cup. I wonder if our problem is that we are not angry enough.

What makes you angry? When the price of gas goes up? Or when more of our children go and learn how to kill and we tell them that they are heroes when all they are are victims to the lie, the lie that says you can be a killer with honor. The lie that says you can actually be alive while you kill another.

We are addicted to violence. This nation knows that more than any other. It is never going to be easy to kick an addiction. We are always going to think, “One more drink.” And the one more drink becomes the first of many more. The alcoholic needs to admit that she is, that he is, powerless. And then join together with other people who feel powerless too. And admit their addiction, confess it.

“Hi, my name is Alan and I belong to the most violent nation in the world – that spends more money on the military than all other nations put together.”

Can we say those words? And only when we are able to admit that in the presence of others and then rely on a power – however you understand that power – that is higher than us, to begin to transform us. To make a stringent list of the things that we have done wrong. To admit them, and then to make amends. To go through, as a nation, a 12-step program. As the most violent nation in the world. Sign up. And then, in our powerlessness, we will discover what Michael Nagler invited us to see: nonviolence as that power that is unleashed when all desire to harm is overcome; and only then will we be feeling powerful again.

 

 People have been asking me, “Alan, what do we do, what do we do, where do I stand, what do I do?” Well, it is very difficult to transform a system that we are depen- dent on....for our livelihood. Very difficult. So what we need to do is in those little AA communities, confessing that we are a violent people, we need to somehow wean ourselves off the system that we are dependent on.

I mean, don’t you get it? Let me use Christian language for a moment. I am dependent – this is the contradiction Ilivewithinmylife –Iamdependentonmysinformy survival. Sin, meaning “wages of death, way of death.” I am dependent on a way of life that is in actual fact a way of death, for my survival. And when I turn against my sin, it feels like I am dying, even though I am coming alive.

We have to admit that we are dependent on our sin for our survival. But it, like all addiction, is killing us and those after us and those around us—not to mention God’s creation.

Now let me close.

If you had interviewed political analysts in the Middle Eastern region in December, 2010, and if you had asked them the question, “What is the likelihood of there being

a regime change in this part of the world – places like Tunisia and Egypt – places supported by these dollars, our dollars, superpower dollars?” the political analysts would have said that it would be impossible. That would be December, 2010. Interview those same analysts in Febru- ary, 2011, and they would say that it was inevitable. As intifada and the Arab Spring began to spread and take root – because a vegetable seller set himself alight which kindled the fire of freedom and justice in the hearts and minds of families in that region.

You see, political analysts are not to be counted upon in regard to what is possible in this world. Liberation, peace, will come like a thief in the night, and it is not for you and I to know dates or times.

The most amazing thing about the people who were involved in the struggle against Apartheid, for me, were that they joined the struggle with no expectation to see liberation themselves. And yet, they joined it, not for certain results, but because it was right.

We have to liberate ourselves from our addiction to certain results. Thomas Merton said that years ago, set yourself free from limiting results. Just do what you need to do. The results will come.

We heard that over these few days. Who knew that when a 14-year-old boy, when he is treated with dignity and respect and given a social security number and given a driver’s license, who knew that what that would do would refine a conscience that could lead a people that could set people free? Who knew?

It was an unmeasurable act of human relationship and we need to awaken ourselves to the unmeasurableness of our actions. That we cannot actually see the impact thereof – and so, do what you do not knowing what impact God will do with it through the world... Do you really think that Leymah Gbowee, last night, expected to be standing here, 15 years ago?

So what do we do? I want to ask you to do something specific. But the truth is that I am 44 years old. Right? If I have a good innings, I’m at half time. I’m at half time. And I am sorry to say that looking out at some of you, you are past half time. And looking at some of you more closely, it looks like some of you are in injury time. I’m serious. You don’t have too many years left. Okay? So why don’t you make them count? You have nothing to lose.

I want to speak specifically to the people of my faith – Christians, Methodists. When is the Methodist Church of this nation going to refuse to allow members of its church to enter the military? When? When will children’s church teachers teach the children that that’s the gravest sin, that there is nothing heroic in it, to kill family.

Why don’t you do it? Let us call the troops back home from Afghanistan. Tell them to hand in their guns and their uniforms. Do it! You have nothing to lose. The game is nearly over. It’s the right thing to do. There are people on that side praying, praying that you will do that.

Let’s lament, let’s lament. Let’s not build any more monuments.

I have stood here today for one person. His name is Bradley Manning. You asked me, “What gives me hope?” People have asked, “Alan, are you hopeful?”

I said, “I am hopeful because of one person, Bradley Manning.” Bradley Manning is 24 years old...24 years old. He’s spent the last 902 days in a military prison, most of which has been in solitary confinement in chains. Bradley Manning. All because he revealed documents that exposed the truth of the killing of Iraqis from an American helicopter. And he sits in one of your prisons. Bradley Manning.

You want to know what you can do? You can give your life for his freedom, because he has given his life for the freedom of this world. Pray for his sanity, pray for his healing. Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning.

If there is anything that I have said here that is true, may it set us free.

Please could I ask you to pray for Alan and his ministry? I can only imagine that it takes great courage and conviction to speak the truth so boldly.

Alan and I have just finished recording a series of about 24 episodes for 1Africa and CVC Media in which we did a survey of the whole of the Bible from the perspectives of poverty and justice.  The series is called 'DnA' and should be released shortly.  Please keep an eye on this website (http://www.dionforster.com) and Alan's website (http://www.aslowwalk.org) for details.

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.

Thursday
May172012

A reminder to live as a servant

I struggle to serve. I frequently pray that I would serve others with much more grace and intensity - I seldom get it right! Yet, I know this is the way of Jesus - kenosis leads to theosis (self emptying love is an aspect of the character of Christ).

This quote encouraged me in my quiet time this morning:

To weep with those who weep, to accept the role of a servant, to give up anger when we have a right to be angry — to do these things is to acquire the character of a person who fits in with Jesus Christ.

- Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (via mshedden)

At the World Prayer Assembly in Jakarta this year I experienced that great inner dichotomy between love of self and love of others. I am far too quick to want to 'get things done', to be involved in organizing and orchestrating events and situations. I am far too slow to listen, to wait, to be unseen, and to truly serve.

Today I pray that God would continue to transform my character and make me more like Jesus.

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

 

Wednesday
Jul062011

Be a servant, and be free.

In recent months I have become quite fond of tumblr - of course it is the people that one follows that make tumblr so worthwhile. One of the people whose posts most resonate with my own theology and spirituality is invisibleforeigner. I find such depth, encouragement and challenges in the posts from this person.

Today invisibleforeigner posted the following deeply challenging quote:

Be both a servant, and free: a servant in that you are subject to God, but free in that you are not enslaved to anything – either to empty praise or to any of the passions. Release your soul from the bonds of sin; abide in liberty, for Christ has liberated you; acquire the freedom of the New World during this temporal life of yours. Do not be enslaved to love of money or to the praise resulting from pleasing people.

Do not lay down a law for yourself, otherwise you may become enslaved to these laws of yours. Be a free person, one who is in a position to do what he likes. Do not become like those who have their own law, and are unable to turn aside from it, either out of fear in their own minds, or because of the wish to please others; in this way they have enslaved themselves to the coercion of their law, with their necks yoked to their own law, seeing that they have decreed for themselves their own special law – just when Christ had released them from the yoke of the Law!

Do not make hard and fast decisions over anything in the future, for you are a created being and your will is subject to changes. Decide in whatever matters you have to reach a decision, but without fixing in your mind that you will not be moved to other things. For it is not by small changes in what you eat that your faithfulness is altered: your service to the Lord of all is performed in the mind, in your inner person; that is where the ministry to Christ takes place.

— St. John the Solitary, Letter to Hesychias

This is a very challenging way to live - to live as a servant and to live as a free person. Our world encourages us to live as free Lords, Lords of our own destiny and making, not as free servants.

Over the last four years I have struggled to choose the path of service - perhaps it is because I am so addicted to being a 'Lord'. I qualified early in a unique and interesting discipline. I was afforded great opportunity and favor within the Church. This was not good for me. My ego sought the recognition and affirmation that others gave. I soon realised that I was becoming less and less Christ-like as I lived the life of a Lord, instead of the life of service, living like Jesus. So, I took up a post that called for service. I decided to give my energy, training and ability to serve the ideas of others. I dedicated myself to helping other people to become the best that they could be. It has often been a challenging journey.

My wife and I were wise enough to make some small commitments that have helped us. We have turned away opportunities for greater earning capacity - simply stated we did not want to be owned by money. We want to be free to respond to God's call to ministry, wherever and whenever it may come.

It is not always easy. But, we are striving to be free servants - choosing to serve. Sometimes we get it right. Often we don't.

Saturday
Jan222011

On War and American Christianity

“If I am close to being right about the place of war for sustaining the American difference I find that as a Christian I wish America as a nation was more “secular” and the Christianity of America was less American. Put differently I wish America was more like Europe. For I fear the Christianity of America, a Christianity that from a European perspective seems vital, is not capable of being a political challenge to what is done in the name of the American difference. In short, the great difficulty is how to keep America, in the proper sense, secular.”

 

Stanley Hauerwas, War and the American Difference (via invisibleforeigner)

A powerful quote indeed.  I met Stanley Hauerwas when I was doing some teaching at Duke in 2005.  He is a remarkable man - I am currently reading his autobiography 'Hannah's child: a theologians memoir'.  Wonderfully encouraging and very 'real'.  I mean it is real in the sense that it tells the story of someone who came to be a theologian by living an authentic life with courage, and writing and thinking what he believed.

The quote above is deeply challenging to me.  I have often wondered whether a life lived in Christ demands radical pacifism.  Does living under the authority of Jesus, the 'Prince of Peace', demand that we should be peacemakers to the exclusion of participating in any form of violence?  Does it mean that we should not defend ourselves, or come to the aid of others (particularly those who are defenseless)?

As a South African I underwent military training - it was compulsory for all males at the time.  It was a deeply challenging time for me.  I struggled with many aspects of the 'formation' required for military service.

When I read Hauerwas I am convinced that war is not the answer to difficult and complex problems.  It is powerful to achieve one's aims quickly.  However, it is most often the poorer persons in society who become the casualties in achieving the ideologies of the wealthy and the powerful.

Well, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday
Nov232010

Your life's project...

Christmas, at least as most of us experience it from year to year; is a season of consumption, when waists grow wider and wallets thinner. One of the most powerful biblical texts on the subject of consumption is Isaiah 55:1-5.  However, as we shall see it presents a very different perspective on consumption, wealth, and the identity that we, far to frequently, find in what we possess... Or at least in what possess us:

 

 

“Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor”

These words from Isaiah are profoundly revealing and, and in what they reveal they are deeply challenging. "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" Let me try to deal with the prophet's questions by asking one of my own.

 

Beyond mere survival, to what goal are you most directed? With what do you most concern yourself during the course of your waking hours?

Certainly, a variety of things require our attention: what we'll eat, what we'll wear, how we'll accomplish the tasks before us, what we think of ourselves, what others think about us...

These all concern us, but none of them dominates our lives in quite the way that something else does. That thing is so central that it has been called "The Project."

 

This is a challenging thought! It is impossible to find satisfaction and peace in transient and insubstantial aspects of life - at least this has been my personal experience.

 

In this message, which was broadcast on Radio Pulpit this week, I consider the topic of your 'life's project' and some encouragements for finding peace and sufficiency as we approach Christmas.

 

This may well form part of a resource that you can use as you prepare for Advent and Christmas. Christmas and advent resources that get beyond the superficial elements of the season are quite rare! If you have any suggestions of where to get resources for myself or the other readers of this blog please leave a comment in the comments below!

 

I can certainly suggest that you take a look at John van de Laar's resources - he is one of the most creative and theologically responsible worship resource developers I have come across. His liturgies, prayers, dramas and songs are exceptional. Please see http://www.sacredise.com.

 

Download the episode of 'The Ministry and Me' here (16MB MP3). I'd love to hear your comments, thought and feedback!

Thursday
Oct072010

Is God a heretic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a video I recorded while driving.

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

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

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

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

Friday
Sep172010

The body of Christ has HIV AIDS - an update

Some weeks ago I posted and entry entitled 'Christian and positive - when the body of Christ has HIV AIDS' A short while before writing that post I had recorded a brief video describing my thoughts on this matter. I only managed to upload my video last night. So I am posting it as an update here. Please see the video towards the bottom of this post. God bless, Dion Here's that original post with the new video inserted towards the bottom of the post:

Today my friend Grant Russell alerted me to an article posted in the Guardian Online Newspaper entitled Pastor's 'Jesus had HIV' sermon angers South African Christians by David Smith.

I can understand why the preacher in question, Xola Skosana, would preach such a sermon.  However, I can also understand why South African Christians may take offense to both the title of his message and the sermon's title.

First, let me say that I agree with Rev Skosana - the body of Christ does have AIDS!  

In an article that I have just published in the Epworth Review, Vol 32, No 2, 2010 (a theological journal that is published in England) I made exactly the same point.  You can read the article here: The Church has AIDS: Towards a positive theology for an HIV+ Church.

Here are two excerpts from my introduction to the article:

One of the most controversial statements in the contemporary Church is surely the assertion that ‘The Church has AIDS’! This statement challenges Christians to recognize that it is impossible to do theology and engage in Christian life and ministry without taking into account the impact of HIV and AIDS on the world...

Within the Church – the Body of Christ – there are many persons who are HIV+. This reality changes not only who we are as a Church, it also changes how we are the Church. In our creeds we affirm that the Church is ‘One’ – this unity is more than just a structural unity. Solidarity is central to the unity of the Church. It was out of this reality of true solidarity that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa adopted the following statement at its annual conference in 2005: ‘The Church has HIV/AIDS: We care. “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers” 1 Corinthians 12:26.’

This image is a photograph of a poster that was circulated in Methodist Churches in Southern Africa.  It bears the bold, and true, statement "The Church has HIV/AIDS - we care".

The point is this, Christians believe, according to Paul's theology, that the Church is the "body of Christ" (see for example 1 Corinthians 12:12, Colossians 1:18).  If there are members of the Church that are HIV positive then the Body of Christ is HIV positive.

That is controversial, but it is true.  If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers 1 Corinthians 12:26.

In my article I argue something similar to what the Guardian reports on Rev Xola Skosana - we are responsible for one another, and as such the whole Church (all across the world) must consider itself HIV +.  The HI virus infects the whole of the body.  Unlike cancer one cannot remove the ailing part of the body.  The virus affects every part of the body.  

Here are some statistics about HIV from the article in the Epworth Review:

South Africa’s HIV/AIDS statistics are fairly well known.6 Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest precedence of HIV infection in the world. Where it is left completely unchecked the HIV infection rate has risen to as high as 1 in every 2 persons (50 per cent of some population groups in Botswana).7 Of the estimated 33.2 million persons living with AIDS globally, more than 22.5 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa – that amounts to 68 per cent of all HIV+ persons in less that 10 per cent of the world’s geographic land mass. Each day more than 1,600 persons are infected with the virus. In most government hospitals more than half of the patients are HIV+. By 2009 the life expectancy of a person living in Swaziland8 had declined from 60 years of age to just 32 years.9 Compare this to the United King- dom where the life expectancy of the average person born in 2009 is 79 years.10 Approximately 4,500 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die of HIV/ AIDS-related medical causes each day.

In a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book entitled Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger) I developed this argument in a slightly different way.  The chapter is entitled Empire, economics and apathy: A theological reflection on suffering as a result of HIV AIDS.

I introduced the concept with another rather controversial statement, saying that any Southern African Church that does not have an HIV AIDS ministry cannot be a Christian Church!  [yes, I know that I will get into trouble for this one!]

My contention is this - if 68% of all HIV+ persons in the world live in this region, then the Church has a massive responsibility to see that God's loving will is brought to bear on this situation.  God cares about every person!  The Church is God's instrument, the instrument of the mission Dei (the mission, or work, of God).

So, yes, I agree with Rev Skosana - the Body of Christ is HIV+.  Perhaps I would have titled the message slightly differently.  Instead of saying 'Jesus had HIV', I would say that 'The body of Christ is HIV+'.

As a result I can understand how Christians may respond with shock at the statement that Jesus HIV.  That statement is not accurate.  But, I do believe that the point is well made.  As Christians we need to understand that we have a critical role to play in ministering to God's World.  And since this world includes HIV positive persons it is not a matter of 'us' and 'them'.  Rather it is a matter of 'us'.

Here is a video reflection that offers some further thoughts on this very important issue!

The body of Christ has HIV AIDS from Dion Forster on Vimeo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and ideas!

You can find the Guardian article on Rev Skosana here.

Wednesday
Sep012010

Another article published (Lausanne World Pulse) - Business as Ministry

It is always humbling to have an article published! I am particularly grateful that my article on Business as Mission was published in the September Lausanne World Pulse!

It deals with a subject that I am passionate about!

I'd be grateful if you'd read it here and encourage others to do the same.

Thanks!

Dion

Thursday
Aug262010

Christian and positive - when Christ's Body has HIV AIDS

Today my friend Grant Russell alerted me to an article posted in the Guardian Online Newspaper entitled Pastor's 'Jesus had HIV' sermon angers South African Christians by David Smith.

I can understand why the preacher in question, Xola Skosana, would preach such a sermon.  However, I can also understand why South African Christians may take offense to both the title of his message and the sermon's title.

First, let me say that I agree with Rev Skosana - the body of Christ does have AIDS!  

In an article that I have just published in the Epworth Review, Vol 32, No 2, 2010 (a theological journal that is published in England) I made exactly the same point.  You can read the article here: The Church has AIDS: Towards a positive theology for an HIV+ Church.

Here are two excerpts from my introduction to the article:

One of the most controversial statements in the contemporary Church is surely the assertion that ‘The Church has AIDS’! This statement challenges Christians to recognize that it is impossible to do theology and engage in Christian life and ministry without taking into account the impact of HIV and AIDS on the world...

Within the Church – the Body of Christ – there are many persons who are HIV+. This reality changes not only who we are as a Church, it also changes how we are the Church. In our creeds we affirm that the Church is ‘One’ – this unity is more than just a structural unity. Solidarity is central to the unity of the Church. It was out of this reality of true solidarity that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa adopted the following statement at its annual conference in 2005: ‘The Church has HIV/AIDS: We care. “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers” 1 Corinthians 12:26.’

This image is a photograph of a poster that was circulated in Methodist Churches in Southern Africa.  It bears the bold, and true, statement "The Church has HIV/AIDS - we care".

The point is this, Christians believe, according to Paul's theology, that the Church is the "body of Christ" (see for example 1 Corinthians 12:12, Colossians 1:18).  If there are members of the Church that are HIV positive then the Body of Christ is HIV positive.

That is controversial, but it is true.  If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers 1 Corinthians 12:26.

In my article I argue something similar to what the Guardian reports on Rev Xola Skosana - we are responsible for one another, and as such the whole Church (all across the world) must consider itself HIV +.  The HI virus infects the whole of the body.  Unlike cancer one cannot remove the ailing part of the body.  The virus affects every part of the body.  

Here are some statistics about HIV from the article in the Epworth Review:

South Africa’s HIV/AIDS statistics are fairly well known.6 Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest precedence of HIV infection in the world. Where it is left completely unchecked the HIV infection rate has risen to as high as 1 in every 2 persons (50 per cent of some population groups in Botswana).7 Of the estimated 33.2 million persons living with AIDS globally, more than 22.5 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa – that amounts to 68 per cent of all HIV+ persons in less that 10 per cent of the world’s geographic land mass. Each day more than 1,600 persons are infected with the virus. In most government hospitals more than half of the patients are HIV+. By 2009 the life expectancy of a person living in Swaziland8 had declined from 60 years of age to just 32 years.9 Compare this to the United King- dom where the life expectancy of the average person born in 2009 is 79 years.10 Approximately 4,500 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die of HIV/ AIDS-related medical causes each day.

In a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book entitled Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger) I developed this argument in a slightly different way.  The chapter is entitled Empire, economics and apathy: A theological reflection on suffering as a result of HIV AIDS.

I introduced the concept with another rather controversial statement, saying that any Southern African Church that does not have an HIV AIDS ministry cannot be a Christian Church!  [yes, I know that I will get into trouble for this one!]

My contention is this - if 68% of all HIV+ persons in the world live in this region, then the Church has a massive responsibility to see that God's loving will is brought to bear on this situation.  God cares about every person!  The Church is God's instrument, the instrument of the mission Dei (the mission, or work, of God).

So, yes, I agree with Rev Skosana - the Body of Christ is HIV+.  Perhaps I would have titled the message slightly differently.  Instead of saying 'Jesus had HIV', I would say that 'The body of Christ is HIV+'.

As a result I can understand how Christians may respond with shock at the statement that Jesus HIV.  That statement is not accurate.  But, I do believe that the point is well made.  As Christians we need to understand that we have a critical role to play in ministering to God's World.  And since this world includes HIV positive persons it is not a matter of 'us' and 'them'.  Rather it is a matter of 'us'.

Here is a video reflection that offers some further thoughts on this very important issue!

The body of Christ has HIV AIDS from Dion Forster on Vimeo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and ideas!

You can find the Guardian article on Rev Skosana here.