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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 spirituality (48)

Friday
Nov262010

Overcoming dualism - Spirituality with your cell phone!

Wow, Mynhardt is posting some REALY thought provoking stuff at the moment!  His question about whether one should switch off one's technology for a day made me think.

Please read his post here.

However, I would like to post my response to him below - it expresses some of my current thinking on an 'integrated' spirituality that does not negate or escape my daily life, but rather embraces it, filling it with greater depth and meaning.

I have a slightly different view - in one of my books 'An uncommon spiritual path:  The question to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity' I make a case for the fact that we far too frequently develop unreal, life negating, spiritual disciplines.

Simply stated, we entrench a dualism between life and spirituality.  We think, like the Gnostics did, that in order to truly discover God and ourselves in God we need to escape the world and its demands, intrusions and expectations. I'm not sure that this is healthy.

I think that they way of Jesus was to come into the world, not to escape it - this is the essence of the incarnation.  It is costly, difficult and requires great discipline to remain focused, committed and connected to God in the midst of the everyday hustle and bustle.

So, here's what I'm thinking - indeed, we need to find ways to manage our technologies so that they don't end up managing us.  But, my iPhone, blackberry, and iPad are all tools that I use to cultivate relationships, facilitate engagement and reflection, and even to consume life giving 'content'.

I think that it would be much more important for me to find ways to encounter people, places and the God of people and places within this daily rhythm, rather than escaping it...

That being said, I still take a 4 day directed silent retreat each year to 'silence the noise' in my spirit...

Conspiring for Hope!

Dion

As always I would love to hear your views, inputs, and perspective!

Wednesday
Nov172010

On being mindful...

Once upon a time, the story goes, a preacher ran through the streets of the city shouting, 'We must put God into our lives. We must put God into our lives.' And hearing him, the old monastic rose up in the city plaza to say, 'No, sir, you are wrong. You see, God is already in our lives. Our task is simply to recognize that.'

Joan Chittister, OSB, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

Thursday
Sep162010

Will you consider joining us in fasting tomorrow?

For the past 4 years Megie and I have fasted every Friday.  You can read about that journey here.

We would like to invite you to join us in our fast tomorrow.

This simple spiritual discipline has had immeasurable benefits for our prayer lives.  It is not a big deal! Here's what we do:

 

  • We choose not to eat any food until dinner on Friday evening.  Basically we skip our meals, or any form of food, until dinner on Friday evening. We do take liquids (juice, water, coffee, tea etc. So you can see we're not too strict!)
  • Whenever we feel hungry we remember to pray.  It's amazing how often one thinks of food when you are fasting!  So, I get a lot of 'little' prayers in during the day.
  • Use the time and food you would have used for eating for something else.  I normally take the time I would have used to eat lunch and breakfast and set it aside for reading the scriptures and engaging in specific prayers for particular people and causes.  Our prayers have focussed on children who are sick and their families for the past four years. You might even consider taking the food you would have eaten at lunch time and sharing it with someone who is hungry?

 

Would you consider joining us in prayer and fasting tomorrow?  Only do this if you are not suffering from any medical condition!  I would also ask you to use some of your time in prayer tomorrow praying for our daughter Courtney who will go for cancer surgery next week Thursday (23 September).

If you do choose to fast and have anything to share from your experience please would you share your experiences and thoughts with us here?

Wednesday
Aug252010

In you alone do I have all!

Our family has been through a few challenges this last week. My wife went for surgery and at the same time our son Liam was extremely ill.

I am grateful for the comfort that comes through the support of friends, the knowledge of God's love and care, and for the recovery that we see in both Megan and Liam.

This quote meant a great deal to me this week. It may offer you some encouragement and inspiration as well.

God, of your goodness give me yourself for you are sufficient for me. I cannot properly ask anything less, to be worthy of you. If I were to ask less, I should always be in want. In you alone do I have all. - Julian of Norwich
Indeed, "in you alone do I have all". Have a blessed week!
Friday
Aug202010

A long journey in the same direction

For me the journey began late one Thursday evening, on the 16th of November 2006 to be exact.

Megan had been in and out of hospital for about two weeks, at about 25 weeks of pregnancy with our second child, Liam. That evening, just as Courtney and I arrived home after visiting her in Hospital, the phone rang to say that she was giving birth... Liam was on his way, a full 13 weeks early.

I hurriedly took Courtney to our friend Madika Sibeko who lived down the road from us and rushed to the Pretoria East Hospital. By the time I got there Megan was already in the delivery ward, and with less than an hour little Liam was born - 1.16kg's at birth.

From there Megan went into theatre for surgery and Liam and I went into the neonatal ICU. He was very frail.

My father-in-law, Brian, started the journey for me the next day. On Friday the 17th of November 2006 he phoned me to say that he would fast each Friday until Liam came out of hospital. I joined him. Liam came out of hospital 3 months later and I continued the simple spiritual discipline of fasting each Friday.

At first I fasted to be constantly reminded to pray for my son, but over a period of 3 months spending most nights at the hospital I got to know the pain and struggle of many other parents whose babies faced some health challenge. Some survived. Others did not. So, I started using the hunger pangs of that one day - not a huge sacrifice - to remind me to pray for others.

Last year I extended my fast - as I was working on a series of articles on suffering and HIV/AIDS for books and scholarly journals I came to realise that that the majority of South Africans subsist on only one meal a day. So, in order to identify with the struggle of those who cannot choose what to eat, and when to eat, I decided to live on only 1 meal a day from Pentecost for the next 9 months. I used the time and money that I would have spent on my own food to pray for, and practically bless, others. It was a remarkable spiritual journey that has given me a completely new insight into what it means to have to go through the tasks of the day with an empty stomach.

I deliberately chose only to eat in the evening - this meant that I would awake hungry and go into the day, going to work, going into meetings, sitting among people who were eating, and I would do it with an empty stomach. I cannot adequately explain how my prayer life and practical outreach was enriched through this simple discipline. The insights gained prompted me to generosity on numerous occasions - giving away money, food and possessions (in my case mostly 'gadgets' of which I have far too many!).

And so, today I am fasting once again as I have done for the past 4 years. I'm sorry to say that my son Liam is not well at the moment - so please do join me in praying for him. However, I am also aware that today there are many parents who sit next to incubators and hospital beds worried to death about their children. There are even more people who awoke this morning having gone to bed without food.

There is work to be done! It is our work to do! Let's transform the world and start by making a difference where we are.

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness [a] will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Is 58.6-10

Please consider joining me in this 'long journey in the same direction'. Let's walk together to loose the chains of injustice in the world. This is part of the core of the Gospel of Christ.

Thursday
Aug192010

The journey...

There are times in my life where I become impatient - far too frequently I am impatient with others (a weakness on my part!) and very frequently I am impatient with myself.

A Jesuit friend of mine, Bruce Botha, once gave me some very sound advice. It is simple, yet profound. As I was talking about the pressure that I place myself under in order to achieve 'things he simply said 'Dion, there is enough time.

The profound simplicity and truth of that statement has lived within me for some years now. There is enough time. There is enough time for prayer, there is enough time for love, there is enough time for work, there is enough time for play... there is enough time...

What has helped me along this journey has been the discipline of taking silence in the presence of God. I carve out silent space in my day and week, times where I can simple be in stillness with God. This little discipline has also helped me to hold on to the truth that the spiritual life is much less a destination than it is a journey.

Because life is a journey I can be patient with myself and others along the way. We are exactly where we are. We may not be where we wish to be, but we can be sure that we are where we are! That is the nature of a journey. If one can appreciate your current location without being stuck on where you have come from, or removed from the present because of a desire to get somewhere else, then the present moment becomes a place of blessing and peace.

This quote made a lot of sense to me.

The journey by which we discover God is also the journey by which we discover, or uncover, our true self hidden in God. It is a journey that we all have to make. - Esther de Waal from Living with Contradiction

Have a blessed day!

Sunday
Aug152010

Social holiness and personal holiness... and the color purple

Today I had the joy of meeting with about 20 students and faculty from Methodist Theological School in Ohio. I had the privelage of meeting their group leader, Professor Lisa Withrow in Chicago in 2005, and then again in Oxford at the Oxford Institute in 2007.

Lisa and another mutual friend (Professor Joer Rieger, who I also first met at Oxford, and then got to know quite well when he and his family visited with us in Pretoria in 2008) very kindly asked me to contribute a chapter to their new book Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (Lexington books, 2010).  I wrote a chapter in which I discussed how 'empire, economics and apathy' compound the suffering of persons with HIV AIDS in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Lisa and her group are doing an immersion visit in South Africa to consider some of the complexity of the relationship between the social situation in our context and our Christian faith.  As part of that visit they set up an opportunity for us to be together to discuss our perspectives on being Christian in an HIV+ world.  If you would like to read some of my thoughts on this subject please follow this link.

I was struck by two things.  First, through our conversation I was reminded that one can never separate devotion to Christ from a desire to be part of God's plan to transform the world. Personal holiness, no matter how sincere, if it is not expressed in tangible acts of transforming Christian love, is simply not authentic.  If you love God you have to express that love by loving the people that God loves and loving engaging the world that God loves.

Second, the venue for our meeting was a wonderful reminder of the richness of our South African history.  Here's what I posted on my tumbrl blog.  The Purple shall govern.

No, it is not a typographical error - ‘the purple shall govern’

This memorial is placed on the corner of Burg and Church streets in Cape Town. In 1989 a group of protesters were on their way to Parliament when they were stopped by police. So they staged a sit down in the street. The police unleashed a new weapon - a water canon that contained a permanent purple dye. It stained the skin of the protesters so that they could be marked - visible to the Apartheid police. One of the protesters managed to get onto the canon, spraying the police and buildings (even the National Party headquarters!)

That week a graffiti slogan was sprayed throughout the city saying ‘The purple shall govern!’

11 days later a crowd of 30 000 persons marched unretrained through the city. In 1994 Apartheid ended in South Africa.

Let us remember and give thanks for their courage that won our freedom!

Indeed, I was reminded of the relationship between work and worship, between spirituality and everday life, between personal holiness and social holiness!

 

Tuesday
Aug032010

The presence of God and functioning of the human brain

Some years ago when I was preparing to start my doctoral research I came across a wonderful book by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili called "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief".

I had come to the discipline of neuro-theology through my interest in quantum theory and the new science (which I covered in some earlier graduate work - my book 'Christ at the centre' has a chapter that seeks to rephrase the doctrine of Christ in more contemporary language, so instead of the traditional Greek philisophical concepts of ousia and hypostasis I sought to rephrase the unity of the divinity and humanity of Christ using quantum physics, theoretical microbiology and transpersonal psychology (later I discovered integrative philosophy to be more apt). It was a wonderful journey of discovery and rediscovery). 

At more or less that time there was a popular movement that focussed on the 'God spot' in the brain - the theory was that religion and belief can be disregarded because some neuroscientists had discovered the place(s) and functions of the brain that caused belief.  It was popularly dubbed as 'the God spot' in the brain. This line of argumentation is fundamentally flawed since it presuposes an dualism between spirit and matter (i.e., that the body and the spirit are somehow seperated).  It is what Ken Wilber calls a 'flatland' perspective that tries to collapse the complexity of reality into an objective system.  These scientists had fallen into the same trap as religious fundamentalists - they had closed the possibility of other points of view by suggesting that their perspective was the only valid option.  In this instance they suggested that because you could show the bioligical functioning of a part of the brain, the experiences that result from that function were not valid.

Can you see the logical inconsistency in that argument?  If we acccept that line of argumentation we would have to say that the human heart does not truly 'work' because we understand its biological functioning.  Just because we understand something does not mean that it is not true!  In fact it may be MORE true because we understand it.

It was this line of argumentation that I employed to present the exact opposite of their conclusion - simply because there is physical proof of the existence of a place in the brain that shapes religious experience does not mean that faith is not valid or true!

In fact the converse is more likely - we are created with a capacity to experience God and God's divine presence.  This is a gift, and in fact validates the truth that humans are created to be religious beings! Years later when I wrote up my Doctoral thesis I showed how these 'a-priori' (pre-existent) neurological pathways are the foundations of our identity as human persons.  We are integrated physical, psychological and spiritual beings.  Our identity depends on the development of all of these aspects of our being (see p.215 of the thesis forward).

In short, God has wired God's presence into our being!  We are hard-wired to experience and know God who is in all and above all.

My research went on to discuss the concept that the truest form of 'knowledge' (what is knowing in the Hebrew scriptures as yadah') is discovery through relationship.  Simply stated, a fact is useful (to know that my wife Megan exists is a fact which I can prove objectively - that is quite useful), however, to experience her love which is mediated through our relationship is transformative (this is known as subjective knowledge or experience, or more precisley, intersubjective knowledge that changes my life). 

Jesus is the essence of truth (the logos, the primordial person who is known through love). In my relationship with God in Christ I come to discover transformative truth, not just doctrinal certainty.  My friend Kevin Light wrote a wonderful chapter that discusses this relationship between experienced truth and rational truth in his chapter entitled 'What about an affirmative action for theological application' (see Forster, D and Bentley, W 'What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists' (Methodist Publishing House: Cape Town, 2009:107-116).

Thus, I have concluded that the most transformative knowledge of God is that knowledge that comes through a relationship with God in Christ.  We are transformed, renewed, recreated and reshaped as we grow in love (and knowledge) of Christ.

This little Latin saying has been living within me for the last while:  "Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit" [bidden or not bidden, God is present / invoked or not invoked, God is present].

It is variously attributed to Erasmus (a Enlightenment scholar and humanist) and Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist).

There is a great truth contained within these simple words.  Indeed, God pre-exists our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, and even our will.

This is not only a theological statement (the Bible is filled with reminders that before we are, God is!)  God is the source from which all life comes.  God is creator (and so we are creation).  However, it is also a neuro-scientific reality.

If you ever have the inclination to understand the neurobiology of belief there is a wonderful book, written by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili entitled "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief"

Here is an endorsement for the book:

 

"Why God Won’t Go Away is a thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and religious experience by one of the leading researchers in this field. Theologians and religionists, don’t worry; this is no exercise in God bashing. For, unlike most books exploring the connection between science and religion, Dr. Andrew Newberg is exceedingly mindful of the limits of science- what it can and cannot say, where it can and cannot go. He realizes that for every question science answers about religious experience, a dozen more arise to take its place. The respect this book displays toward the great mysteries, such as the nature of God and the origin and destiny of consciousness, is one of its most appealing qualities. Newberg’s reverential attitude toward the great unknowns is reminiscent of Einstein." Larry Dossey, MD Author: Reinventing Medicine, Healing Words

I have, however, progressed beyond the dualism that separates belief into physical and spiritual categories.  For me the dividing wall between spirit and mind, between my body and my faith, has been broken down.  In Christ the Spirit of God is present fully in a human person.  And, through His saving grace my life is being transformed into that state of 'being present' to God.

So, no matter what you face today I would like to encourage you with the knowledge that whether God is invited, or not invited, God is always lovingly present.  Amazingly God has even given us the biological capacity for this truth to be discovered within the depths and complexity of the brain!

Thursday
Jul152010

Too familiar to take seriously?

I read the Bible - it is a valuable and helpful discipline. I find courage, challenge, comfort and insight within its pages. I have a copy of the Bible on my iPhone (in fact I have three copies; the NRSV, NIV and Greek New Testament). I follow the discipline of taking time for daily devotions (prayer, reading scripture and quiet mediation upon scripture). But, I also try to read the Bible during the day when I can find the time.

The quote below challenged me! I need to spend much more time being challenged and changed as I wrestle with the grace filled teaching of the Bible. Here's what Thomas Merton said:

"There is, in a word, nothing comfortable about the Bible -- until we manage to get so used to it that we make it comfortable for ourselves. But then we are perhaps too used to it and too at home in it. Let us not be too sure we know the Bible ... just because we have learned not to have problems with it. Have we perhaps learned ... not to really pay attention to it? Have we ceased to question the book and be questioned by it?"

- Thomas Merton from his book 'Opening the Bible'

I'm afraid that sometimes I become too familiar with this sacred text. How do you use the Bible? What do you use it for? I'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts!

Tuesday
Mar162010

Dealing with critical people

I don't know about you, but I don't particularly like to be disliked!  How do you deal with people that are critical of you?  Moreover, if you know that you will never be able to 'win' the person over to your point of view do you spend time and energy on them anyway?  What is the Christ-like thing to do?

This QIK video (the first in a while!) explains some of my feelings about being understood by others (or not needing to be understood by others).

I have come to make peace with the fact that not everyone will like, or understand, me.  Heck, there are parts of my own personality that I don't like or understand, and parts of my theology and spirituality that are unique and inconsistent.  But, I am sincere in my love of Christ and my desire to honour Him and His ways.  Most often that is enough!

I'd love to hear your insights and thoughts.  How do you deal with critical people?

Friday
Mar122010

Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit

This little Latin saying has been living within me for the last while:  "Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit" [bidden or not bidden, God is present / invoked or not invoked, God is present].

It is variously attributed to Erasmus (a Enlightenment scholar and humanist) and Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist).

There is a great truth contained within these simple words.  Indeed, God pre-exists our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, and even our will.

This is not only a theological statement (the Bible is filled with reminders that before we are, God is!)  God is the source from which all life comes.  God is creator (and so we are creation).  However, it is also a neuro-scientific reality.

If you ever have the inclination to understand the neurobiology of belief there is a wonderful book, written by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili entitled "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief"

Here is an endorsement for the book:

 

"Why God Won’t Go Away is a thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and religious experience by one of the leading researchers in this field. Theologians and religionists, don’t worry; this is no exercise in God bashing. For, unlike most books exploring the connection between science and religion, Dr. Andrew Newberg is exceedingly mindful of the limits of science- what it can and cannot say, where it can and cannot go. He realizes that for every question science answers about religious experience, a dozen more arise to take its place. The respect this book displays toward the great mysteries, such as the nature of God and the origin and destiny of consciousness, is one of its most appealing qualities. Newberg’s reverential attitude toward the great unknowns is reminiscent of Einstein." Larry Dossey, MD Author: Reinventing Medicine, Healing Words

I have, however, progressed beyond the dualism that separates belief into physical and spiritual categories.  For me the dividing wall between spirit and mind, between my body and my faith, has been broken down.  In Christ the Spirit of God is present fully in a human person.  And, through His saving grace my life is being transformed into that state of 'being present' to God.

So, no matter what you face today I would like to encourage you with the knowledge that whether God is invited, or not invited, God is always lovingly present.  Amazingly God has even given us the biological capacity for this truth to be discovered within the depths and complexity of the brain!

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