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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 Methodist (11)

Sunday
Dec072014

Speaking truth to Power - even addressing ourselves

Last week a senior minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa was Honoured for the role he played in serving South Africa during the apartheid struggle. He also happened to be a senior member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) during his life.

The event at which he was Honoured was held in a Methodist Church, and the prominent display of ANC banners on the stage has caused some concern and a lot of discussion on the matter.

I can understand why! Because of our history in South Africa we are very sensitive about the relationship between the Church and the State. As you may recall 'apartheid' ideology in South Africa had a strong theological underpinning. A particular Christian Denomination supported, endorsed and informed the apartheid Nationalist government from the early 1900's until the collapse of apartheid in the mid 1990's. In fact the Dutch Reformed Church was scathingly known as the 'National Party at Prayer' - thankfully that Church had bravely acknowledged their error and is doing a great deal to work towards a free and just South African society.

However, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa seems to be falling into the same trap! Somehow it was easy to see how problematic such a tie between the Church and the State was when it was 'their Church' and 'their political regime'. Now, however, it is 'our Church' (and its members) that occupy positions of power in business and the state (they should be positions of service, but I seldom see such an attitude among the powerful). It is 'our political party' that is in power. Even though we can see that all is not well - the government is unjust, it is subverting justice and covering up wrongdoing and unethical behavior. The ANC is engrossed in party political agendas rather than working for the freedom of all. And... The Church is silent. We found it easy to speak prophetically to others, but far more difficult to speak truth to power now. Perhaps it is because we are the ones in power!

So, it was the memorial to this prominent colleague that has caused public debate. In the Church ANC banners and colors were displayed behind the pulpit. The Secretary General of the ANC sat on the stage, and was listed as a key speaker, alongside the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

This goes against our Church's polity (as presented in our 'Book of Order'), and so many of our members were unhappy and voiced their concern on a Facebook post.

Of course there were those who tried to silence the conversation - some saying how much good a partnership between the state and the church has done for the community. Others trying to say that such critique should be done in private and not on a public platform - it reminded me so much of the struggles we had with conservative white Christians during the apartheid struggle!

This morning in my devotions I read the following passage:

Ambrose of Milan (339 – 397): A provincial governor in fourth-century Italy, Ambrose was drafted to serve as bishop before he was even baptized. Reluctant to serve the church at first, he took the task seriously when he finally accepted the call. Ambrose gave away all of his possessions, took up a strict schedule of daily prayer, and committed himself to the study of Scripture. Called from the world of politics to serve the church, Ambrose was a leader who spoke truth to power and did not back down, insisting that “the emperor is in the church, not over it.”

(from 'Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals, 7 December).

Indeed, we would do well to remember that the emperor is in the church, not over it.

Please pray for us. We need courage to speak loving truth to power, particularly when it is ourselves we must address.

By the way, the book that my friend Dr Wessel Bentley and I wrote called 'Between Capital and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State relationships' has a chapter in it written by the Rev Prof Peter Storey entitled 'Banning the flag in our Churches'. It is well worth reading in the context of this debate - please follow this link (copy and paste it into your browser) to get a copy of the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B008YSKUG4/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1417935998&sr=8-1

Wednesday
Oct082014

God is still weeping over South Africa - Archbishop Tutu's speech at the TRC reenactmen

 

Today Archbishop Desmond Tutu opened the reenactment of Truth and Reconciliation Commission conference in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.

The core of his message was that God is still weeping over South Africa. Even though our people were promised freedom, they still struggle in poverty, face oppression and are not truly free.

God is still weeping - the Churches and faith communities still have a critical role to play In working for the liberation of South Africa's people. God is still weeping - the Churches and faith communities must hold the servants and leaders of the nation to account for their leadership and stewardship of power and resources.

I recorded the speech (the recording was interrupted so it is in two parts). Please copy each link into your browser and you should be able to download the two recordings and listen to the.

Archbishop Tutu opening speech part 1
https://www.dropbox.com/s/vqf847oo9godzgk/Desmond%20Tutu%20TRC1%208%20Oct%202014.mp3?dl=0

Archbishop Tutu opening speech part 2
https://www.dropbox.com/s/1ij2evy4jn9r2pe/Desmond%20Tutu%20TRC2%208%20Oct%202014.mp3?dl=0

I would love to hear your ideas and feedback on Archbishop Tutu's opening address and the role of Christians, the Churches, faith communities and people of faith in the "re-humanization" of South African society?

I have the responsibility and privilege of representing the Methodist Church of SA at these hearings since our Presiding Bishop was unable to attend and asked me to participate on his behalf.

Wednesday
Sep102014

Was Nelson Mandela a Christian? Was he a member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa?

In an earlier post I mentioned a research paper that I had worked on entitled "Mandela and the Methodists:  Faith, fact or fallacy?"  This paper was published at the beginning of this month in the academic journal Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae (40th Anniversary special edition).  You can find out more about the journal here.

The paper was originally delivered as the closing plenary address at the Theological Society of South Africa, and today I presented it at the International conference on Religion and Media at Faculdades EST in Brazil. I still am not at liberty to make the full text of the paper available.  However, here are my slides from today's presentation.

 

So, was Nelson Mandela a Methodist?  Indeed, he self-identified as a member of the Church, and my interviews with Bishops and ministers of the denomination confirmed that he was a loyal member of the Church.  See this quote from Presiding Bishop Zipho Siwa:

Madiba remained a committed Methodist throughout his life. As a church, we hail the qualities that confirmed him as a true son of Methodism - a life of faith in God lived in service to others.
Bishop Zipho Siwa

Here are Mr Mandela's own thoughts on the matter (just one quote of many from his writings, speeches and letters that I found).

The values I was taught at these institutions have
served me well throughout my life.  These values were strengthened during our years of incarceration when this church cared for us. Not only did you send chaplains to encourage us, but you also assisted us materially within your means. You helped our families at a time when we could not help them ourselves…  I cannot over-emphasise the role that the Methodist Church has played in my own life 

 Nelson Mandela

Was he a Christian?  I would conclude that he was an African Christian Humanist.  The paper describes the full detail of what that means.  However, here are some reasons why I believe this to be true.  The following list of descriptors of Christian Humanism come for John de Gruchy:

  • Christian humanism is inclusive. “Being human” names our primary identity.
  • Christian humanism affirms dignity and responsibility.
  • Christian humanism is open to insight into our common human condition wherever it is to be found.
  • Christian humanism claims that the love of God is inseparable from the love of others.
  • Christian humanism heralds a justice that transcends material and sectional well-being.
  • Christian humanism insists that goodness, truth, and beauty are inseparable.

 

Mr Mandela mentions in many speeches and his own writings (see for example his address to the Methodist conferences in 1994 and again in 1998, and of course his autobiography 'A long walk to freedom' (particularly the sections on his early life)) that he was deeply formed by two primary communities.  First and most prominent was the African traditional (Xhosa) world view (which I cannot discuss in detail here).  Second was the Christian faith and the institutions of the Christian Church.  These shaped his identity in a profound way.  There is little doubt that like all persons his faith identity shifted and changed at different stages in his life.  Moreover, it would be dishonest to say that he was a Christian in the simple sense that this phrase is used in popular theology.  But, he identified with the Christian faith and with the church.

The important point is to ask, of which “church” was Nelson Mandela a member?

We have already concluded that Nelson Mandela was a member of the MCSA (Methodist Church of Southern Africa). However, of which aspect or expression of church within the MCSA was he a member? The real question is what do we mean by the expression “church”? Dirkie Smit suggests (1) that there are three general forms of being “the church”. I shall briefly present these below.

The local congregation

For many Christians this is most likely to be their primary perspective of the church, a localised community of Christians, organised around regular common worship. Philander points out that this is the physical place, and social group, that people often think of when they answer the question of where they “go to church”, or what church they are members of. Certainly from what we have already established Nelson Mandela was a member of this form of church in his early life (up to 1958). However, we could not say that he remained a member of a local congregation in the years that followed that. As has already been suggested this would simply not have been possible, considering his imprisonment, and later public profile.

The institutional, denominational and ecumenical Church

Smit further points out that for many people the term “church” refers primarily to the organisational or institutional structures. When some people hear the word “church” they may think of the confessional community that they are a part of (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox or Methodist). Philander notes that often this expression of church is what people would point to in answer to the question “what does the church say about unemployment in South Africa”. It could also refer to collective groupings such as Evangelical Christians, or even more formal groupings such as ecumenical bodies (like the World Council of Churches, or the World Communion of Reformed Churches). From what was discussed above one could conclude that Nelson Mandela held his strongest link to this understanding of church – he was a member of a denomination. This type of understanding of the church is often the point at which members engage with issues of social concern and engage policy. Mandela certainly sought to identify with, and engage, the MCSA as a denomination (as was clearly shown in the 1994 and 1998 addresses he delivered to the Methodist Conference).

The church as believers, salt and light in the world

Smit points out that the third way in which people think of the church, is as individual believers who are salt and light in the world, each involved in living out their faith on a daily basis in their own particular ways. This is a very important way in which the church can participate in being an agent and bearer of hope in society. In reading Nelson Mandela’s speeches and writings one can credibly maintain that he saw himself as a person of faith who lived out his particular understanding of his task in the world in this manner. He often refers, as was shown above, to the fact that he “formed” for his work in early life (both through African culture and the ministry of the church).

Here are the references to the articles pointed to above:

1. Dirk Smit presented a more nuanced perspective on the Church sighting six variation forms, “gestaltes”, in Dirk J. Smit, “Oor Die Kerk as ’N Unieke Samelewingsverband,” Tydskrif Vir Geesteswetenskappe 2, no. 36 (1996): 119–29.

 2. Dirk J. Smit, Essays in Public Theology: Collected Essays 1 (AFRICAN SUN MeDIA, 2007), 61–68.

 

Wednesday
Jun112014

Nelson Mandela and the Methodists, a little preview

Next week on Thursday I will be presenting an academic paper on Nelson Mandela and the Methodists (particularly the Methodist Church of Southern Africa).

I have done lots of interviews, read so much, and even found a few interesting documents (like his Class / Membership card pictured here). He was a remarkable man, was formed by his African Wesleyan roots, but did move beyond 'conventional Christianity' in his later life. Will post more once the paper has been delivered.

UPDATE:

The paper was delivered and has been published in the academic journal Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae here.

Tuesday
Jun102014

Rev Dr Mvume Dandala on the Church as the hope for South Africa in the next decades

This year, 2014, marks 20 years since the dawn of participative democracy in South Africa.  There is little doubt that 1994 heralded the dawning of a new era in South Africa. We are better off in so many ways - all of our citizens have equal status before the law. We have made positive gains in health care for all, education for all, and in general South Africans have a higher life expectancy and even have better economic prospects.  See the OECD Better Life Index report for more details [1].

The reality is, however, that even though we are doing better, we are not nearly where we should be as a nation.  We have some serious problems - HIV and TB continue to have a huge impact on the average South African.  Moreover, South Africa has the highest GINI coefficient (we have the highest rate of inequality between the rich and the poor) in the world.  This means that unemployemt remains a problem, crime is difficult to manage and the majority of South Africans are still living in poverty [2].

All of this is compounded by ongoing human rights abuses and continuing corruption in government and the private sector.

My paper on Thursday will discuss these issues in detail using some of the most recent statistics from early 2014.

I will, however, also focus on the role of the Church in addressing these economic, social and political issues. South Africa remains a largely religious society, if the Church is doing its work we should be engaging the moral character of our citizens, and positively engaging issues justice.  I will post my talk once it has been delivered and published.

Dr Dandala did an excellent plenary talk this morning.  He spoke very strongly about the African nature and character that is required of the Church in South African society.  His talk was an acceptable challenge.  I recorded it and got his permission to post it here.

You can download Rev Dr Mvume Dandala's talk at the Stellenbosch University, Ekklesia / Beyers Naude Winter School on 10 June 2014 here (45MB MP3).

If you use or distribute the talk would you mind please referencing Dr Dandala and linking back here to www.dionforster.com?

_____

[1] OECD, OECD Economic Surveys: South Africa 2013 (OECD Publishing, 2013); OECD, How’s Life? 2013, How’s Life? (OECD Publishing, 2013), 17–31, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/economics/how-s-life-2013_9789264201392-en#page1.

[2] Please see the World Bank report on global inequality here:  http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI South Africa has a GINI coefficient of 63.1, which was the highest in the world at the time of the report in 2009.

Wednesday
Aug072013

Leaving for London and Oxford tomorrow

Seven years ago I had the privilege going to Oxford University for the first time.  I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford.

You can read about that visit in these posts on my blog.

Tomorrow I will be heading to England once again.  I have some meetings with our London team for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' and will also be visiting my friend Tricia Neil at the Alpha International offices - they are doing such amazing work.

My very good friend, Dr Wessel Bentley (the Chief Researcher from the Unit for the study of religion at the University of South Africa) will be coming to Oxford as well.  Wessel and I have written a number of books together and have been friends for most of my ministry. I am so blessed to be able to share this trip with him!

Our most recent book is entitled 'Between Capiltal and Cathedral: Essays on Church and State relationships' - you can order it on kindle here and a paper copy here.

I will be presenting a paper at the Oxford Institute in which I argue for the importance of having a secular state.  I have often encountered a mistaken understanding in popular Christianity which assumes that if one has a Christian state (or head of state in some variations of that theme) then the nation will be better.  Sadly, research has shown that Christian political parties and Christian politicians often fair no better (and sometimes thankfully no worse) than their secular or 'other faith' counterparts.

In my paper I argue that what we need is a robust democracy with a just, secular, state that protects the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of their faith persuasion.

Think about this - there are three possible faith orientations in the modern state.

Religious state (such as in Iran, and currently in Egypt).  This is not helpful if you do not belong to that particular religion, or even to the variation of that particular religion that is the same as the persons who hold power (as we saw in Iraq under Sudam Hussein).

The anti-religious state - this is probably akin to what we saw in the former Soviet Union, Cambodia and China.  In this state religion and religious persons are persecuted.  Naturally I am not in favour of this approach since I believe that religious freedom and religious belief are central aspects to human flourishing.  Some of the modern anti religious fundamentalists (such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens) tend towards this approach - not only do they purport not to hold a faith position (which is utter nonsense! Of course they have a faith position, it is a form of secular humanism or scientism), but they wish to persecute and ridicule persons who do not hold their supposed 'no faith' position.  This form of fundamentalism is as dangerous as that of the fundamentalist religious state.

Neither of the two approaches above are Biblical or in keeping with the values of God's Kingdom.

My chosen view is that we should have a secular democratic state - this would seem to make the most sense to me.  In this state the rights of all the citizens are considered and advanced.  There should be no persecution of any sensible religious movement, and at the same time no privileged status accorded to any faith movement.

What makes this even more appealing for me is that I believe it leaves room for the 'Church to be Church' - evangelism, religious education, discipleship, mission, moral formation and the like are all functions of a healthy and effective Church.  I believe that the nation requires a strong, healthy, Kingdom minded Church.

Well, do let me know your thoughts on the above! Once my paper has been delivered I will post a copy here (it has already been published and so I will just need to get permission to share it).

I would appreciate your prayers for me and my family as always!

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.

Thursday
Oct062011

Giving thanks for the life of the Rev Dr Angela Shier-Jones

It was with great sadness that I learnt that Angie (Dr Angela Shier-Jones) passed away in September this year.  This is such sad news.  Angie had been struggling against cancer.

I remember a great conversation we shared last year when I was in the UK.  We were on the train after a meeting at LEAT and we were talking about dissease and faith.  The topic of our conversation centered around a special edition of the Epworth Review of which Angie was the editor for which I had written an article on being Christian in an HIV+ world.  As always her input was deeply challenging, a magnificent theological mind matched only by her pastoral heart!

Thanks for sharing the news of her passing with me Jenny.  I am deeply saddened by the news of her death.  However, I can only imagine what she is doing in heaven!  

Here are two wonderful memorial posts I would encourage you to take a look at.  Each of them gives a wonderful insight into one of the great (Methodist) theologians of our age.

Indeed, Lord, thank you for the gift of your daughter Angela.  Teach me to number my days correctly that I may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90.12).

Monday
May172010

Methodist Church launches an iPhone app - now that's missional thinking!

The Methodist Church of Britain has just launched an iPhone app - the application is available for free from the iTunes store and works on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (in fact the screen grab that you'll see in this post comes from my iPad - I have it expanded to double size to fill the iPad screen).

I think this is a marvelous, missional, idea!  In a context where persons are far more likely to want to structure their encounter with the Christian faith around their available time and location this is just another wonderful means of adding value to people's lives!  Don't get me wrong, I am still convinced that people need community and places of real connection (such as that offered by a local congregation).  But, we have to be honest - in Britain there are fewer persons who will want to make a faith connection through their local Church, than those who may be willing to receive a daily prayer and some reflection upon scripture on their phone (to read wherever they are).

The application is quite simple - it has a 'Spirit' section which has one part that offers prayers chosen from the Methodist prayer book and another section that offers thoughtful reflections upon sections of scripture.  The other part of the application offers news (naturally with a Christian, Methodist, and UK slant).

I think this is a great idea!  It even got some international news coverage!  We need more forward thinking like this in denominations across the world!

Tip of the hat to Thomas for sending me the link about this story at the BBC website.

Do you use a devotional application on your computer or phone?  Do you have any others to recomend?  Do you know of any other Churches or Christian groups that are offering similar outreach tools on creative technology platforms?  I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

Wednesday
Feb172010

Ash Wednesday

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments." -1 John 5:2

Today is the start of Lent - this is a season in the Church calendar that encourages Christians to become conscious of the cost that Christ paid for our lives, and also to recognize that our own lives are finite and precious gifts.  This not only means that my life is a precious gift to me, it means that your life is a precious gift to me.  I cannot be fully human without you.  

The discipline of lent reminds me that I have the capacity to choose (even if my choices seem limited, or insignificant) how I will serve God and others with what remains of my life.  I pray that this period of time will have some significance for you too.

I was saddened today by the dismissal of a colleague and friend of mine, Rev Ecclesia de Lange.  I have known Ecclesia for years - if I am not mistaken I interviewed her where she candidated for our ministry in the Methodist Church, I celebrated her growth through her studies and was present at the service where she was ordained.  I am reminded that the Church, just like me, is not always correct in what it does.  I shall continue to work and pray and do my little bit to see that God's Kingdom of love and grace is established wherever I can - even in the Church.

Isn't this image of the ashen cross lovely?  It comes from my friend and pastor Steven Lottering.

A few quotes left an impression upon me this week.  I thought I would share them with you on Ash Wednesday.

Teach us to sit still ... And let my cry come unto Thee.
- T.S. Eliot, from his poem, "Ash Wednesday"

And this one from a friend I met through the internet - a Methodist minister in the USA.  I thought this quote was both humorous and so true!  There must be more to being a Christ follower than giving up chocolate!

UthGuyChaz What if, for Lent, we gave up thinking that Jesus died so that we could go to church, hear a good sermon, and give up chocolate?

Then there was this one - it has a littl more 'bite' to it.

"It is terrible to die of thirst in the ocean. Do you have to salt your truth so heavily that it does not quench thirst any more?" -Nietzche

I live my life in public.  It is often costly to do so - I cannot hide who I am.  I find this quote comforting.

"Change occurs when deeply felt private experiences are given public legitimacy." -Gandhi

And lastly, from my good friend Pete's blog:

Silence frees us from the need to control others ... A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on that.- Richard Foster, from his book Freedom of Simplicity

Sunday
Jul232006

Mvume Dandala - World Methodist Council keynote address on Reconciliation

Dr Mvume Dandala, a past Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, now the President of the All Africa Council of Churches, delivered an extremely challenging keynote address.

He pulled no punches, addressing issues such as exploitation of Africa by rich and powerful nations, the pandemic of HIV / AIDS and the Church's lack of concern for true unity and reconciliation.

You can download the address here: Mvume Dandala's Keynote address (22.5MB's).