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

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

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in Radboud (9)

Wednesday
May242017

Justice, economics and historical consciousness - on a trip to Belgium

You may have noticed that I have not been posting to my BLOG as regularly in recent months. In part this is because Squarespace no longer supports posting to version 5 sites from their iOS apps. I mostly posted to my BLOG from my iPad or iPhone. So, if anyone has a solution for this please let me know! I would love to be able to post more regularly but need to be able to do so from my iPhone or iPad.

Well, here is a post that I prepared about two weeks ago when I was in Belgium.

In today’s VLOG I travel to Leuven in Belgium for a conference with my friend Prof Kobus Kok. It is a wonderful journey, and so much fun with my Brompton bicycle (cycle, train, bus, cycle!) It is awesome. But, I notice that the demographics of the Netherlands and Belgium differ somewhat. This got me thinking about the current concerns in Europe, the USA and elsewhere about refugees, ‘closing’ one’s borders, BREXIT and of course Turkey, France and Trump’s USA.

I discuss John Rawls’ Theory of Justice as one way of viewing how we might structure our societies economically and politically if we have a concern for our past history and our future shared wellbeing.

See John Rawls’ ‘A theory of justice’ here: http://amzn.to/2qg83OI

Thanks for watching! As always, I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, ideas, feedback and questions!

Please subscribe and like the video!

You can follow me on:
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Web: http://www.dionforster.com

Thanks

 

I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, ideas!

Monday
Jul272015

Heading home! The end of a research visit to Nijmegen, July 2015

In a few hours I will be boarding a bus from the Heygensgebouw just near my flat, it will take me to Nijmegen station from where I will catch a train to Schipol airport and then head back to Cape Town via Dubai.

I have had the privilege of spending another month in the beautiful city of Nijmegen working on my PhD research.  I am pleased to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel with this project! I have a meeting with my supervisor this morning, and if all goes as planned I will have some corrections on the work I have handed in already, and then just one more chapter to write before I work through my whole thesis again and hand it in for examination.

The process from there is that it goes to a 'reading team' who evaluate the research, if it is approved I have to have it published in a book, and then come back in 2016 for a public defence and the award of the degree.

It is a little different from how the process worked with my first PhD (which I completed in 2005, defended and graduated with in 2006).  That seems like a lifetime ago!

This project focuses on the reading of the Biblical text under certain conditions (called intergroup contact theory) to facilitate engagement and reconciliation between racially diverse Christian groups in South Africa.  I was privileged to work with two Methodist Churches in my home town, Somerset West on the intercultural Bible reading project.

The theoretical components of the research focussed on a normative reading of Matthew 18.15-35 (locating a reading of the text within accepted academic Biblical scholarship, so I did a very detailed exegetical study of the passage).  Then, using an integrative All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL) approach I 'mapped' possible readings of the text as an individual, collective, spiritual, political process (and a combination of these fields).  This exercise showed that Matthew 18 has a complex and textured view of forgiveness that involves faith (spirituality, belief, shared belief), polis / politics (recompense, social justice, human rights and dignity), and that it engages the individual person, as well as broader society.  Here is a diagram of Ken Wilber's AQAL theory that shows the different dimensions of identity, consciousness and meaning.

Next, I used a practice orientated research methodology to facilitate structured interviews with the reading group participants (this was to form a pre-intervention test of their understanding of forgiveness in relation to the chosen text).  I mapped their various understandings and saw that in large measure white South Africans have an individual and spiritual understanding of forgiveness, whereas black / brown South Africans have a more collective and social (political) understanding of forgiveness.  Each of the two Church groups then met separately to read the text and discuss it among themselves in a focus group setting - this also formed part of the pre-intervention testing and gave me more data to map the respective groups' understandings of forgiveness.  

Then, I facilitated a series of intercultural Bible reading engagements between the two groups, again in a focus group setting (in other words they met together to read and discuss the text).  We used the 'dwelling in the word' approach of Pat Keifert and Pat Taylor Ellison, see:  Ellison, P.T. & Keifert, P. 2011. Dwelling in the word: a pocket handbook. Minnesota: Church innovations).  

These intercultural Bible reading sessions were conducted according to strict protocols, employing mechanisms from intergroup contact theory to allow for a positive engagement between the participants that takes place within a safe space.  The intention was to minimize anxiety in the presence of 'the other' and to allow for an increased possibility for empathy for the person(s) and position(s) of 'the other'.  

Having completed those interventions, we then did a final post-intervention test to see if there has been any shifts in the understanding of forgiveness among the individual participants and the two groups.  This was done through a structured questionnaire on forgiveness, as well as a focus group discussion (both of these tools engaged understandings of forgiveness, as well as the intercultural Bible reading process).

The findings have been quite remarkable. I won't let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can say that some aspects of my hypothesis were proven, while other deviated from the expecation in some aspects, and other still did not turn out at all as I anticipated.  It makes for fascinating reading!

The hope is to provide two things out of this research, first an approach to using normative texts (in this case the Biblical text) as a reflective surface, and an engagement space, for intergroup contact among estranged or diverse groups.  Second, the mechanisms employed in the intergroup contact will be of use to Churches, businesses, and other communities that face challenges as a result of race, class, religious, gender or other distinctives - it allows for a positive engagement between 'in groups' and 'out groups' in a manner which can foster social cohesion, overcome prejudice and can facilitate positive engagement among the groups.

I have worked very hard on this project! It took quite effort to get back into the exceptionally technical work of dealing with a Biblical text in an academically appropriate manner - I had to dust off my old Greek exegetical skills, learn a whole lot of things about the culture and context of the Matthean community into which the text was written, and then develop a hermeneutic bridge (in the form of the AQAL theory) that could help us to see what contemporary understandings of the text may be appropriate.

The project also forced me to learn a great deal about empirical research methodologies, and particularly qualitative research methodologies (and the use of tools such as ATLAS.ti to do coding and interpretive work).  The new theoretical knowledge that I have gained on the Biblical text, forgiveness as a concept and process, the social and identity dynamics of South African communities, and of course I have learnt a great deal more about AQAL integrative theory and how it can be applied in these contexts (which is quite different form how I used it in my previous study in identity and cognitive neuroscience).  Among the most useful knowledge is what I have gained from reading and learning about intergroup contact theory and social identity theory.  This is a fascinating field.  I can see that I will use this, and my rekindled love for technical work in the Biblical text within my research in ethics and public theology.

For now, however, I have a few last meetings, some packing, and then the long trip home to my darlings! I can't wait to see them!

It has been great to have shared this time with friends, I have worked hard and learnt a great deal.  It is such a privilige!

On Wednesday I step back into class when I will be teaching a Masters module in Ethics of Pastoral Care, as well as my fourth and second year classes in ethics and Systematic Theology.

 

 

Wednesday
Jul152015

Back in Holland - Radboud University, Nijmegen 2015

On the 30th of June 2015 I boarded an Emirates flight for Dubai, heading to Schipol airport in Amsterdam.  From there I caught the train out to the beautiful Dutch city of Nijmegen (where I have been for the past two weeks to work on the completion of my 2nd PhD).

Of course I brought Doris my Brompton with me from Cape Town in the same way that I always travel with this amazing little bicycle - safely wrapped in the Brompton cover, clamps removed, draped with my clothes over the bike cover, and socks and shoes, and toiletries in packets packed around the spaces in the frame. I put a folded towel over the front fold, and a scarf or some socks or such over the left folding pedal. hen all of that goes into the Brompton B Bag.  At the airport I get them to wrap the B Bag in plastic to protect it.  My T Bag (that fits on the front luggage rack of the Brompton) becomes my hand luggage with my laptop and a few other bits and bobs in it.  Once the bike has been checked in for the flight I put the T bag on the luggage trolley and have a rolling hand luggage bag.  It is all quite convenient!  Here is a picture of Doris the Brompton, all wrapped up, with my T Bag on the train platform at Schipol airport waiting to catch a train to Nijmegen.

So, as mentioned already, the reason that I have been coming to Nijmegen for the past three years is to work on a second PhD.  I was very fortunate to receive a European Union 'Sandwich' scholarship for study at Radboud University, which is one of the world's top research Universities (in the top 100).  If you scroll through my previous Nijmegen / Radboud posts you will see that I am doing an interdisciplinary study on the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation between black and white South Africans.  I am using a particular approach to reading the Biblical text (particularly Matthew 18.15-35) in a process called intercultural Bible reading and then applying two theoretical lenses to understand what happens in that process.  The two theories are social identity theory (particularly intergroup contact theory) and Ken Wilber's Integral AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels) to 'map' the reader responses to the reading of the text.

I am pleased to say that I have the end of this project in sight! I handed in a very large portion of my study as a first draft.  I am busy working with the empirical (qualitative) data that I gained from the research participants in structured interviews and focus group meetings.  The findings are fascinating! I hope to be able to give Churches, communities, and even private and public organisations, some new insights into mechanisms that can help to bridge racial, cultural, and class distinctions.  The intention is to facilitate greater social cohesion and harmony between painfully separated groups (such as black and white persons in the post-Apartheid South African context).  Here is a picture of some of the commentaries that I have been reading to get to grips with the theological nuance, texture and depth of the Biblical text we used in our intercultural Bible reading process. It was quite hilarious to see the librarian's face when I walked out of the library with 17 books in my Brompton T Bag, unfolded my bike, hooked up the bag to the luggage mount and rode off into the distance!

I have been using a piece of software to work with my empirical data - I'm sure that anyone who works with empirical data in a qualitative manner will know ATLAS.ti?  It is all new to me! My goodness, but it is a very powerful software package that allows me to load my interviews, transcripts of the focus group meetings, documents, reports etc., into the software and then draw quotations, trends, networked relationships, hierarchies, nested meanings etc., from the data.  Based on those outputs I then test my theories in a deductive manner to see what worked and what didn't, why it worked or didn't, and can then hypothesise what may be useful for others, and what can be done to augment or correct the variance on my theory for my context.  As you know I am a committed Apple Mac user! For some years now I have only used Macs - I tried working on the little Lenovo Windows 8.1 tablet that I have from work, but my goodness, it just never seems to work! It hangs, quits the software, the touch screen stops working, the keyboard stops working... I am afraid that I can't work with it.  So, I have been learning how to use ATLAS.ti on my old 2011 Macbook Air!  Here is a picture of my Lenovo in the Radboud University Library next to the Erasmus Building.  

This is a beautiful space to work! For the first week that I was here it was SO hot, in fact the warmest they have had since they started recording temperature.  On the Saturday when I went to watch the first stage of the Tour de France (the individual time trial in Utrecht!) it was over 40 degrees! Unbelievable.  The weather has been much milder since, with three days of rain this week.  That makes for great productivity on my Thesis since I can't really do much riding in the rain (or at least I don't feel like doing much riding in the rain!)

The Tour de France in Utrecht was an experience of a lifetime.  I caught an early train from Nijmegen to Utrecth, the train was packed with cyclists and cycling fans.  Of course I had Doris my Brompton with me and we found a little space to sit, once at the station I unfolded and rode down to the time trial route which for some part ran along the beautiful canals and bridges of Utrech.  I stood around and watched some of the riders warming up and riding past, but the sun was SO HOT that it was almost unbearable!  So I decided to retreat to a shady spot on the other side of the canal and watch the action sitting on a grass bank, with an ice cold beer.  It was magnificent.  Certainly a memory that I will cherish for a long time!

Here are one or two more images from that special day.  I had a dinner appointment with some other post doctoral students and one of our Professors that evening, so I didn't stay for the whole afternoon.  I came back to Nijmegen and watched the 'big guns' ride the stage on TV and got ready to cycle to the dinner appointment.

And here's Doris on the canal bank.

This weekend I will be going to Munster to visit some colleagues who are there on sabbatical - Robert and Julie. I love that city as well.  It is just so beautiful, and of course it is a cycling city!

For now it is back to work. I am pleased to say that there are a number of other South African academics here in Nijmegen. This has made my stay so fun and not as lonely. We have eaten together a few times, done a great cycle out on the Ooij Polder, and even did a Zotero Master Class to share our 'jedi secrets' for citation management!  Here are a few guys in my flat learning how to sync their references and attachments from their computers to their iPads or iPhones using PaperShip.

Well, now it is back to work for me.  I am doing my best to get as close to a full first draft done before I head back to Stellenbosch at the end of this month.  Once I get home my teaching load is quite heavy, and I have a few post graduate students who want to hand in their theses this year as well, so I will be very busy with teaching, supervision and research.

Below are two last pictures of Nijmegen - on of the 1944 town square and beautiful old buildings, and another of the Nijmegen bridge which was the historical site of the Nazi defeat (depicted in the movie 'A bridge too far').


As always, I would appreciate your prayers for my family back home.  I miss them so much, and as Liam gets older he feels my absence so acutely!  Thankfully Courtney has been busy with Church and social activities.  Megie, my darling wife, has been holding the fort with work, kids, her studies and home! I am so thankful for her.  Please also pray that I make significant headway with my studies and do work that is not only academically valuable, but that can make a contribution towards the common good in South Africa.

Tuesday
Mar312015

The (im)possibility of forgiveness

As I come closer to completing my second PhD which focuses on concepts (and processes) of forgiveness and reconciliation I have been thinking a great deal about the complexity of true forgiveness.

I often hear people saying "I cannot forgive that him (or her), what they did to me was simply too bad".  Indeed, forgiveness is difficult.  Is it ultimately about gaining my own freedom?  Or is it about giving freedom as a gift to the 'other'?  Or, is it an interplay of both of those?

I found this quote from Jacques Derrida on forgiveness quite challenging in the possibility, and impossibly, of forgiveness - I like to phrase it as the (im)possibility of forgiveness.

Forgiveness only becomes possible from the moment it appears impossible.

...

If there is something to forgive, it would be what in religious language is called mortal sin, the worst, the unforgivable crime or harm. From which comes the aporia which can be described in its dry and implacable formality, without mercy: forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable. One cannot, or should not, forgive; there is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable. That is to say that forgiveness must announce itself as impossibility itself. It can only be possible in doing the impossible.

- Jacques Derrida

Have you ever forgiven someone for something that seems unforgivable?  How was it possible?  What helped you to do it?  Did you follow a process?

 

Tuesday
Jun242014

Have Brompton will travel! On my way to Malaysia, Holland and Germany

On the road again. Have Brompton bicycle will travel! Ha ha!

Dubai tonight, Kuala Lumpur for the #AWC2014 conference where I am delivering a plenary talk on business without corruption and a workshop on caring for Christians in the world of work. I can't wait to see my friends in Malaysia again - I am do close to them! It feels like a second home! I also have the joy of preaching at my friend Alvin Tan's Church in KL on Sunday.

Then it is off to Holland for further research on my second PhD at the end of the week. I hope to make a big dent in this project! Need to get it done!

Then on 22 July I head to Germany to speak at the ISTR conference on 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' as a 4th generation social movement (refer to Castells and David Korten). My colleague, Dr Nadine Bower-du Toit and I have worked on a paper together for that conference.

I head home on 29 July and start teaching a Master of Theology course on the ethics of care the next day.

I am missing my family already! This is the first big trip of 2014. Compared to last year my travel schedule has been light. But, it is never easy to leave home!

I am excited for the next few weeks! Blessed to have my Brompton with me! I am sure to get some good riding in while in Holland and Germany. Here is a picture of me with Doris the old Brompton in the Brompton B Bag (with all my clothes etc. in the bag as well). I use the Brompton T Bag as hand luggage, laptop bag etc. it all adds up to 30kg - the max allowable on Emirates.

I would appreciate your prayers for Megie, Courts and Liam. It is a long time to be away from home! Please also pray for the people I will serve, for my studies and for good health and safety! Thanks, Dion

Monday
Dec092013

Reflections on my first week in Nijmegen, Holland December 2013

I arrived in Holland last week on Sunday 1 December - I flew with Doris my Brompton all packed up from Heathrow Terminal 5 (British Airways) to Schipol in Amsterdam. I was a little worried since when Doris is packed in the B Bag with all of my clothes and toiletries she weighs in at around 27kg's and the BA baggage allowance is only 20kg's (a maximum of 23kg). Normally the extra weight is no problem because I am a Voyager (Star alliance) member with a 'few' airmiles - so I get to travel with 30kg.  But BA is not part of Star Alliance.

I said a little prayer, packed as well as I could, and headed to the airport at 5am (thanks Craig and Kath! You guys are AWESOME!) Thankfully my prayers were answered - the check in staff didn't even bat an eyelid.  I put Doris on the conveyer belt and off she went! Sadly because it was so early in the morning the bag wrapping service was not yet operating - so for the first time my Bromtpon B Bag went into the hold without any plastic wrapping.  However, it was a short flight (and very empty as well).  When I collected Doris at Schipol she was perfect! No damage, no problems.  So, I put the B Bag onto my luggage trolley (I take this with since it is easier to wheel than the wheels on the B Bag) and went to Schipol station for the 2 hour train ride through to beautiful Nijmegen.

The train ride was relaxing - with only one changeover at Utrecht where I literally walked from one side of the platform to the other.  On the first part of the trip I sat with an elderly Dutch couple who had just returned from a few weeks of holiday in Southern Africa - Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria falls (and they did it all by train!) amazing. They spoke very enthusiastically about the beauty of South Africa.

When I arrived in Nijmegen I fired up my 9292 app on my iPhone and saw which bus would take me to Platolaan near the Erasmusgebou of the University.  The guesthouse (gastehuis) is right across the road.  While it is called a guesthouse it is actually just a large block of flats.  I have stayed here before.  It is very comfortable and such beautiful views.  Last year I overlooked the Brakenstein woods, this year my view was of the Astro turf hockey fields and the main University building.

By the way, it snowed here on Friday! I couldn't believe it! It wasn't very heavy snow, but it left a beautiful white covering on the ground for a few hours.  It was absolutely FREEZING!

I was very pleased to be in my flat in Nijmegen - I unpacked my clothes and Doris, pumped up her wheels and then headed to the Coop shop in the town center which is open later on a Sunday for some supplies. It was wonderful to be on the beautiful cycle paths, quite a change from London where every ride is like taking your life in your hands! Here cyclists seem to have more rights than motorists - special cycle lanes, special traffic signals, and of course thousands of fellow cyclists! It makes a real difference!

When I got back home I set up my laptop and connected to the VERY fast broadband connection (wired via ethernet - thankful there was an ethernet cable in the room since I forgot mine at home!) And then set up internet sharing on my Mac so that I could use my iPhone and iPad for Facetime.  I immediately called Megie, Courts and Liam - by this time it was already dark. I miss them so much, I can't tell you.  There is an emptiness in my heart, a dull ache all day. I can't wait to get home next week! We had a great chat. It is such a blessing to be able to 'call home' for free and just chat to them for as long as we want with crisp, clear, video.

On Sunday evening I had a wonderful dinner with Professor Jan van der Watt and his wife Shireen and a fellow PhD student Alexander from St Petersburg in Russia (Alexander's wife and son were also with us - it was great to have a little guy around the place. It made me thing of Liam).

On Monday my work began big time! Sadly this year has been so busy with EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption and Unashamedly Ethical work and travel that I have done very little on my second PhD. I have done some reading, but had not had much time to convert my thoughts and ideas into text.  So, with my first deadline looming on Monday afternoon I worked from late Sunday evening, early Monday morning until I met with Prof Chris Hermans - my co-supervisor who is helping me with Practice Oriented Research methodology (since I am doing some qualitative empirical work in my current study). I managed to send him something worthwhile, and then I started working towards my deadline for Professor van der Watt - I am working on the text of forgiveness with him.

I had BibleWorks 9 fired up on my Mac (in Parallels of course) and was digging deeply into the Greek text to do a thorough Exegesis.

On Tuesday I had to spend the afternoon on a conference call with the other directors of TEE College, for which I am a director.  We did our final business for the year, of which a part was to receive the final results for the 2013 examinations. So the students should be getting their results very soon!

Then, I had two further deadlines, a Wednesday and Thursday meeting with Prof Chris, and a Friday meeting with Prof Jan.  So, every moment was spent behind my keyboard, reading and writing.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a friend Johan who lives in Holland - he connected with me via the internet.  He follows my blog and saw that I was in Holland.  It was great to spend some time with him talking about his work, ministry and research.  He used to be a community health worker here in Nijmegen (actually he taught health care at the University - he has a PhD in epidemiology).  Now he is studying theology and serving an international Church in his city. I was so inspired by his commitment and service!

On Saturday I took a few hours for exercise - other than walking to the main University building and cycling a few km a day for supplies, I have not been as active as I am back home.  So, I set out in WET and COLD weather for a 30km ride along the Waaldijk.  It ended up being 43km because I got a little lost on the way back (road works meant that I couldnt' get back along the road that I knew). It was awesome to be out! The scenery is beautiful, and it felt great to stretch my legs, open my lungs and just be quiet and reflective.

There were lots of other cyclists out - the group which seemed to be part of a cycling team were excited to see a guy on a Brompton! ha ha! I say if you can't fold it you shouldn't ride it!

By the time I took this photo I was rather soaked and a little hungry.  Ha ha. Still, lots of fun.

On Saturday and Sunday I spent the 'off time' working on some editing I am doing for the Sentinel Group on Transformation materials. It was a nice change of pace and I found it inspiring and also very encouraging to be able to 'tick off' a few projects.  Achievement is an important part of the human psyche - to be able to work hard during the week, cycle well on Saturday, and do good work over the weekend left me feeling content and blessed. I am very thankful for all of the opportunities that I have.

It was also wonderful to spend some time on Facetime during the week, and a few hours over the weekend, chatting with Megie, Courtney and Liam.  I cannot tell you how much I love them!! I look forward to being home in a week's time! Family, sunshine, and mountainbiking!

Tuesday
Nov192013

A last trip for the year! England and Holland

On Friday this week I have the great honour and joy of speaking at the Median 25 conference in Cape Town at 'Church on Main'. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear Mike Pilavachi, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Dr Nadine Bowers du Toit, Dr Frederick Marais and Nicky Gumbel (via telecast).

I have been asked to speak on the state of the Church in South Africa and Africa. I will draw on some recent statistical information and research about Church shifts in the country, as well as some of the most recent and groundbreaking research on global and continental Church shifts in the Christian faith. Diana Butler Bass' book 'Christianity after religion' is particularly insightful, as is the classic 'The next Christendom' by Philip Jenkins. I will also draw on some insights from the sociologist Peter Berger, and of course the missiologist Andrew Walls.

In short I am advocating for the Christian Church to be good news rather than just proclaimers of good news. I am advocating for a Church that is primarily relational in character, rather than propositional in nature. I am advocating for a Church that creates space for the asking of 'big questions', without feeling the need to give definitive and absolute answers on every subject. I am advocating for a Church that is humble, just, and merciful. In short, I am hoping to present a picture of a Church that is active with the 'things' that God is doing in the world - a Church shaped by the 'missio Dei' (the work of God). This Church, the missional Church, is alive since God is alive. This Church is powerful in doing good, since God is powerful in doing good. This Church is less concerned about programs and projects than it is about a servant identity that brings healing and transformation in society and the world.

I'll give a few examples, tell some stories, share a few statistics and give some ideas for consideration from the research and current discourse on the Church, and of course from my own experience.

Unfortunately I will have to leave the conference early since I am catching a flight to England on Saturday afternoon. I will be in London for a week for some meetings (Alpha International, EXPOSED, Unashamedly Ethical and then some academic meetings). On the 1st of December I move across to Holland where I will be going to spend 2 weeks working on my post doctoral research at Radboud University, Nijmegen where I am doing a second PhD.

I am looking forward to the time to read, reflect, pray and of course reconnect with friends and discover new things. I would ask for your prayers for Megie, Courtney and Liam. I will miss them so much in the 3 weeks I am away from home! However, the great news is that I will do very little travel in 2014! I return home on the 15th of December and will then have a lovely holiday with my beautiful family. Such a blessing!

Sunday
Sep092012

Let the journey(s) begin - packing my bags again. Johannesburg, Malaysia, Holland and England.

It is that time again.  I am starting to get my bags and get ready for some travel over the next month and a bit.

Tomorrow I shall be in Johannesburg for the Alpha South Africa board meetings.  Alpha does the most amazing work in Churches across the world.  I know so many people in many of the almost 100 countries that I have visited who have come to discover (or rediscover) faith in Christ through an Alpha course, a Marriage Course or a Parenting Course.

On Thursday and Friday I will be helping to lead the strategic reflection process for the Southern African community coordinators from across Southern Africa.  Unashamedly Ethical is doing such great work across the world.  It is so necessary in South Africa at this point in our history.  Corruption is a significant problem in South Africa, and it is particularly important for the Christians, and the Church, to take a stand against corruption, the abuse of power, and inept functionaries in government and business.

The following week I leave for Malaysia! I am so thankful to be able to speak at the Alpha Malaysia Workplace Conference.  I will speak on the relationship between ordained clergy (pastors, priests and ministers) and ministers in other areas of life (Christians in the world of work, education, arts and culture, politics, media etc.)  In our book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' I devoted a chapter to discussing a theology of work.  I am convinced of a few key points:

  • Work is not intended to be a curse.  God gives us he ability to apply our gifts, abilities, strength, relationships and creativity to both provide for our needs (and those of our loved ones), as well as making a contribution to society.
  • Every person is a minister!  Some ministers are paid by Churches or ministry organisations.  Others are paid through rendering a service or developing a product in the wider world.  However, every person who knows Christ is called to live under his direction and according to His will.  That is ministry.  So, every person is a minister.  See Col 3.23 for example.
  • God's plan for the transformation is to be realised through the Church.  Ministers in the Church, and Ministers in the world of work have missunderstood this statement.  Basically, our theology of Church needs re-formation.  Christians are as much the Church when we gather (for worship, fellowship, teaching and service), as we are the Church when we scatter (going to our homes, our communities, to work, to study, to play).  It is one Church!  The Church has a common mission in the world, that is the missio Dei (the work of God in the world).  The local congregation cannot achieve this without Christians in every sphere of society, and Christians scattered into every sphere of society cannot achieve it without gathering for growth, encouragement, healing, renewal, and encounter with God.

I will also have a workshop at the conference where I will speak about the work of Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption.  The Malaysian Church is such a wonderful example to the rest of the world.  Christians are so engaged in social issues!  There is a wonderful balance between sharing the good news (evangelism) and being the good news (mission). 

While in Malaysia I will also have a chance to preach at my friend Alvin Tan's Church, spend some time sharing with the 'Citizens Network for a better Malaysia', and having some meetings around corruption, ethics and advocacy in society.

I then return back to Cape Town for a just over a week.  At the start of October I will be heading to Holland for a few weeks.  Part of my time in Europe will be spend working on my second PhD.  I was privileged to get a scholarship to do some post doctoral research, in the form of a second PhD, in New Testament at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland.  I am working with Professor Jan van der Watt and Prof Chris Hermans.  They are both leaders in their fields.  I am trying to do something fairly novel in bringing together some of the research from my previous doctoral work in neuroscience and identity, and merging that with narratology in New Testament studies.  The project will apply an action oriented research model, and so I will be doing some qualitative research in a few different cultures, communities with differing economic levels, and differing theological approaches.

I will also be having some meetings with colleauges and interested parties on Unashamedly Ethical, EXPOSED and the Global Day of Prayer while I am there.

on the 11th of October I will be in London for a very significant press event for 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' around the Houses of Parliament.  This press event will mark the official public launch of EXPOSED, a number of significant Christian Church leaders, Political figures and Business persons will be present to Shine their light in the areas of dealing with corruption and poverty.

I return to Holland for just short of of two weeks after the press event before going back to Cape Town at the end of October.

As always I would like to ask for your prayers:

  • Please pray for my family - it is never nice to be away from them for extended periods of time.
  • Please pray for me and the work that I will be doing.  Please pray that God will guide me, give me great wisdom and clarity about my task, and that I will be humble, gracious and loving in every interaction.
  • Please pray for the various events and engagements that we will be a part of.  Please pray that God is glorified and that God's will is achieved through our work.
  • Please pray that we, our teams, our families, our equipment, and every aspect of our work receives God's protection and grace.

Thanks so much!

Saturday
Sep032011

We cannot divorce service of God from the service of humanity - some changes ahead

Last month I read Eric Metaxas' great biography of Dietric Bonhoeffer 'Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy'.

It has served as a wonderful reminder to me that my calling is to be a servant of God first and foremost.  And, that my service of God is to find expression in service to humanity.  Bonhoeffer was carefuly to understand what he could do, and then to do his best to apply himself to those tasks faithfully and with courage.  There is a lesson for all of us in his life - try to spend your life doing the things that God has created and called you to do.  Life is too short to waste on other things!

The quote below expresses Bonhoeffer's understanding of this notion so succintly:

The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To be human is to be 'incarnate' in the world where God has placed you.  There is work to be done in the community where you live, among the people that you see each day, and with the skills, ability and gifts that God has given you.

I will admit that I have been a little quiet on my blog for the last month or so.  

In part that is because I have been busy (every blogger's excuse!) However, that does not mean that I have not been posting! If you look to the left of this blog (at least the form it is in now, in September 2011, you will see my Tumblr feed listed in the first colum of your browser window).  I have simply found it much easier to post in the short and medium format that Tumblr allows and so I have shared brief thoughts, quotes, photographs and ideas there. So, look in on http://digitaldion.tumblr.com from time to time.

Yet, in part I have also been a little slower in posting to my blog since I have been taking time to pray and discern the way forward in my ministry and life.

I have had three fairly 'distinct' phases to my ministry.

  • I was a minister who pastored various Methodist Churches for almost 15 years.
  • I was an academic who held posts at both Seminaries and Universities for some years.
  • Most recently I have held a corporate chaplaincy and spent a great deal of my time working among business people in the world of work.  Of course while doing this I have remained a minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and continued to hold a post at two South African Universities.

I am about to move into another phase of my ministry.  Not everything is in place, but I have permission from my Bishop, the blessing of my friends that I am currently serving, and some opportunities taking shape.

The last (almost) 4 years have been absolutely amazing! I have discovered a side to ministry that has been such a blessing to me, while I hope it has brought some joy to those among whom I have ministered. I have had the opportunity to travel the world, meet many wonderful people and experience so many new things as I have sought to faithfully serve Christ 'in the marketplace'.

This will not end.  I will continue to serve as the Chaplain to the Power Group of Companies, the Global Day of Prayer and Unashamedly Ethical campaigns.  Although I shall give about 50% of my time to this wonderful work.

From January 2012 I shall be returning to a greater measure of Academic work.  

I have been invited to take up a post at the University of Stellenbosch in Ekklesia, a Unit of the Faculty of Theology at the University.  I cannot tell you how blessed I am to be able to transition into this new role of service and responsibility! To start with I will have responsibility for the Master of Theology courses that are run within the Unit, as well as some research output.

Together with this wonderful opportunity I was offered a scholarship to do a second PhD.  I have been working on a Doctorate in New Testament at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Holland, for part of this year.  Radboud is a distinguished research University - Edward Schillebeeckx was a Professor there, and Henri Nouwen did some of his studies there as well. From January I will devote a little more time and attention to this great opportunity.  It truly is a gift of a lifetime!  I am working under Professor Jan van der Watt, reading in the area of narratology in John's Gospel.  I shall apply some of the insights I developed in my first PhD in approaching the text - bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to reading the text of John (from integrative studies, neuroscience and African relational ontology).

Lastly, I shall do some consulting work - over the last few years I have found that I am approached more and more frequently to speak at conferences and gatherings on various subjects (most recently it has been on my book 'Transform your work life' (Amazon copy and Kindle Edition) which deals with developing spirituality, ministry and faith in the world of work).  

But I have also developed quite a strong base of friends and clients with whom I do spiritual guidance, counselling, life coaching and strategic development.  So I will continue to help individuals and teams (companies, churches, communities) to navigate complex challenges by drawing on my experience in ministry, spiritual direction and of course my studies in cognitive neuroscience and integrative theory.

So, I would appreciate your prayers as I move towards this change.  Please offer thanks with me that this space has been created by Graham Power and my friends in the Power Group.  They have been generous and gracious in allowing me to structure my time in this way. I am also grateful that my Bishop has so kindly supported this shift in ministry.  Also give thanks for these new opportunities that are arising at the Universities and with various friends and clients.  Please could I also ask that you pray for the practical matters that we shall need to manage, such as generating sufficient income and managing my time and resources wisely?

Indeed, these are exciting times ahead! My greatest desire is to serve God through service to humanity!

Do remember that if you are looking for someone to come and do something creative with a group at work or Church just drop me a line. Or if you are looking for someone to journey with you to solve a particular challenge you're facing, or simply for support, guidance and encouragement, please consider making use of my time.