Dion's random ramblings

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A long obedience in the same direction...

I recently read that the young South African professional will have changed his or her career 3 times by the age of 26. Yep, you read correctly - not change jobs, but change careers! That is a pretty alarming statistic if you come to think about it!

We live in a world with a high turnover rate. Things change by the moment! We have become accustomed to the cycle of change. We are a part of it.

As a GenX-er I quite like the constant change. Every change brings new opportunities and challenges along with it! I'm used to 45 second sound bytes, to the ebb and flow of colorful graphics... I am a part of the MTV generation! A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) used to be a curse... It would seem in this brave new world that hyperactivity and a short attention span is an incredible blessing! To be able to move from one thing to the next, even before this one thing has become the next, is considered a gift in our day and age! zefrank epitomizes this 'hyper' approach to life - you can check out some of his videos here: http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/ (thanks to dassiebounce for the headsup on this one!)

This vibrant rhythm may be the way of contemporary culture but it is not that consistent with the Christian lifestyle. Over the last few weeks I have had to make a huge decision about my vocation. The temptation has been to skim along the surface like a stone thrown over the water - to skip and change, leaving behind a ripple but not to get in too deep. To be on the water, but not in it. However, ministry requires going beneath the surface, and sometimes staying there - even if it is not always easy! I am a minister. This is what God has called me to. I have no greater desire than to faithfully respond to God's call.

Eugene Peterson spoke of this vocation as a "long obedience in the same direction".

Today I took another step on that journey. I renewed my commitment to the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit for another three years. It feels right! I have moved below the surface, I have chosen not to skip on.

And so tonight as I take another step along this journey of obedience and faith I realize that there can be no greater joy than to spend my life on the long obedience in the same direction. Sure, because I'm a bit hyper I will do it with energy!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The besetting sins of the Clergy: busyness, laziness and jealousy

I am often reminded of just how privileged my life is! I have the joy of being stretched and challenged, using my gifts and abilities; and all of this to the honour of God and to add value to lives of others. There are very few people who have the joy of spending their lives doing something they love, and something they know to be worthwhile. I am a very fortunate person indeed.

However, if I am to be totally honest there have been many times in my ministry where I have struggled intensely with my calling. In fact, as I sit here and write this I realise that there has actually never been a time when I have NOT struggled with my calling to be a minister! This struggle most often stems from questions about my gifting, and my suitability, for the incredibly important task of ministry. I have often found myself vacillating between being too busy to cope, or feeling so overcome with guilt for what I am not able to do, that I am unable to function at optimum level. Of course the expectations of others, the knowledge that there is never enough time, (or for that matter resources), to meet all the needs that I see in the world around me, have often left me wrestling with my suitability for ministry. Thank God for moments of insight and grace.

This month has been particularly busy for me. I have spent most weeks somewhere else in the country - this coming week is no different, I will be in Durban for some meetings. Then I have the joy of going to Australia (how incredible is that!?) where I will be attending a conference as a result of the unimaginable generosity of some members of the congregation that I minister at - the truth is that more often than not they minister to me far more than I could ever minister to them. I get back from Australia in the middle of July and then a week later go off to the World Methodist Council in Korea where I will be delivering a paper. Check back over the next few weeks, there are bound to be a few interesting posts from these two trips!

As many of you will know I am a person who likes to keep busy. I also have been blessed (sometimes I think it is a curse) with not sleeping much. So, I do my work for the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit, I preach at Bryanston Methodist Church every Sunday evening, teach Ethics at the University of South Africa, and serve as a research associate in the Department of New Testament at the University of Pretoria. I also have the joy of sitting on a number of boards and committees, and serve as an external examiner and moderator for all of the Systematic Theology, Spirituality, and Ethics courses that are taught at TEE.

The net result is that when all these things come to bear on one-another, and when I think that I will be away from home more days than I will be at home, I get a little bit stressed! However, God in God's gracious love sends wonderful angels to remind me that stress is not necessary - just faithful, love filled service!

By the way, if you live in South Africa, listen in to Radio Pulpit every Wednesday morning from 1 July at 9am. You can hear the Reverend Christopher Harrison and I doing a series of programs on mentorship, pastoral care, and faithfulness to vocation. We have a number of interesting guests in the studio with us. There will be 20 episodes in all (10 in English and 10 in Afrikaans).

Anyway, back to the point of this post!

Last week I had the joy of attending the Theological Society of Southern Africa meetings, of which I am a member, in Pietermaritzburg. My friend Wessel Bentley (one of the best theologians I know) presented a superb paper by the way. You can get a copy of his paper here.

One particular moment that stood out for me at the meetings was a morning devotion which was done by Dean of the Cathedral of Pietermartizburg, the Very Reverend Fred Pitout. In his devotion he challenged us, well me in particular, with the besetting sins of the clergy (which he listed as laziness and jealousy. However, he also spoke at some length about the sin of business).

He used the following quote from Monica Furlong, a lay person, who writes about her expectation of the clergy:

"I am clear about what I want from the clergy. I want them to be people who dare because they are secure enough in the value of what they are doing, to have time to read, to sit and think, and who face the emptiness and possible depression which often attack people when they do not keep the surface of their mind occupied ... I want them to be people who can sit still without feeling guilty, and from whom I can learn some kind of tranquillity in a society which has almost lost the art."

... from whom I can learn some kind of tranquillity...

I was challenged. Not all quiet time is wasted time. Sometimes the most productive thing that we could do is nothing. I must pay more attention to that!

One of the most encouraging elements of the devotion was a line in his closing prayer. He prayed, "Lord, I thank you that there is enough time in this day..."

Indeed there is. That is how God has created the day - to have just enough time in it! God's day, God's time, my response those loving, creative, acts.

May all those who feel pressed and stressed find this simple statement to be true "Lord, I thank you that there is enough time in this day...."

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Karl Barth passed away yesterday....

Yep, you heard it here (well actually I heard it elsewhere and then posted it here). But, the sad news is that Karl Barth passed away yesterday....

This was my message to the author:

Ja ist es so traurig, uber den Tod Ihrer Fische zu horen. Ich bin sicher, daB er mich verbindet, wo ich bin! Ihr Freund, Karl Bart ;-)

Indeed.... A voice from the 'other side'....

My best German, together with my deepest sympathies!


You can read the original post (and the source for this story) here:


PS. No cartoon fish were harmed in the production of this photo.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Only in Pretoria! A martyr in Bluebull country...

Anyone from South Africa will smile at this advert.

A friend of mine, Joch Seeliger, sent it to me. He used to play for 'Noord Transvaal' back in the day (in the days of 'skop die bal Naas'). He sends me things like this just to taunt me - I support the Western Province Rugby Team (the Stormers!).

So, I'll start taking orders for these 'Vellies' when hell freezes over, or when the Stormers win the Super 12 (whichever comes first).

The phrase that the New Testament uses for a 'suporter', a 'witness', is mou martures (my witness). Sometimes I feel a bit like a martyr being a Stormers supporter in Pretoria!



Thursday, June 15, 2006

I guess it depends on your perspective...

As many of you would know I am not exactly a supporter of George W Bush. Well, that may be a little understated if I have to be honest. I would be a much happier man, and the world would be a much safer place, if he were not the President of the United States of America!

However, you just have to feel sorry for the guy. It must be tough going through life constantly messing up! Even more so when you know the world is watching and waiting for your next bungle, and you just can't stop meeting that insatiable appetite to ridicule you!

Hey GW, I feel sorry for you! I'm not feeling well today. I hope to be better tomorrow! I hope that soon you too will be free from having to torture yourself, and entertain us, with your constant mistakes. Perhaps America will come to its senses and vote someone else into your office in the next round of elections? I think that will be better for all of us.

The video below is George W's latest embarrassing mistake. Here's what John Dvorak had to say about the incident:

"Bush makes fun of a reporter who wore sun glasses as he asked a question. The reporter was gracious enough to not point out that he was blind."

Did you get that? The reporter is blind! That's why he is wearing sun glasses! In South Africa we would say "How blind for George W Bush!"

But there may just be some deeper universal message coming through here.... Wait for it....

Perhaps the blindest one there was not the person wearing the sunglasses, but the one making fun of him! Check out the Video below (it is in Apple Quicktime format). Simply click on the picture and it will load.

John C Dvorak is a columnist with a biting wit! You can check out his great Blog here: http://www.dvorak.org/blog

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fermat's last theorem and Springfield Theory...

And you thought the Simpsons was nothing but a stupid cartoon! Well, maybe Homer got his job at the Springfield Nuclear Power plant because he has a PhD in Mathematics!? He sure seems to be doing a better job than our Eskom employees!

Do yourself a favour, get out that old Texas Instruments scientific calculator and work out the following equation 1782(to the power of 12) + 1841 (to the power of 12)... And, so what is your answer? Yup, 1922 to the power of 12. So what? Well, this equation - which featured in the 1995 Halloween Episode of the Simpsons seems to have disproved Fermat's last theorem! The answer is mathematically impossible, since the left hand side is an even number, while the right hand side is an odd number! It must be a paradox!

For the mathematically uninitiated, Fermat's last theorem says

for any exponent n bigger than 2, there are no nonzero whole numbers a, b, and c for which an + bn = cn.

Would it surprise you to discover that two of the writers on the Simpsons have PhD's? Ken Keeler has a PhD in applied Maths, and Jeff Westbrook has a PhD in Computer science.

So, perhaps I could get a job drawing cartoons for the 'New Dimension'!?

If you're interested to read the whole story you can find it here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Vespa papapapa

They just don't make them like they used to (this statement applies to both classic adverts and classic scooters)!

There is no other bike on the road that can compare to this style icon!

I am so gruntled by this!

When Angus prayed "God gruntle me!" He never imagined that his fame would grow so quickly!

In one month he appeared on the front page of the Dimension - the newspaper of the MCSA (and in the Lingerie section on page 6 with two other hot numbers).

And NOW, the esteemed scholar Rev Dr Richardson has made mention of him in his latest 'publication' (Neville I trust that you will be putting this on your publications list for at least a little bit of research funding!?)

This was published on page 28 of the Mail and Guardian newspaper (9-15 June 2006) in Helen Yardley's column "Questions and Answers".

Wow Gus, now you CAN retire!!!



Check out Angus' great blog here: http://www.gruntle.co.za

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It feels right...

The wisdom literature in the Bible is very aptly categorised as such... It contains wisdom!

The writer of Proverbs 16:9 (NIV) offers the following wise comment:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

I thank God for this truth! If you can read Binary, you should be able to decipher the message below. If not, check back in a while. All shall be revealed!

01010111 01100101 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110110 01100101 00100000 01100100 01100101 01100011 01101001 01100100 01100101 01100100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110011 01110100 01100001 01111001

In this day and age everyone should be able to speak Chinese and read Binary for goodness sake! Or at least use Google to find a Binary translator! It's fun!

Monday, June 05, 2006

It is in! I feel like the guy in this strange gown!

Today, the day after Pentecost 2006, I handed in the three bound copies of my Doctorate at the University!

I give glory to God for helping me to get it done! There were many times where I thought of packing it in.... But by the grace of God, here am I! Praise God that it is done! So, from now on Dr. D! Or, Dr. Forster went to Glouchester in a shower of rain (and all that....)! Ha ha! Just kidding!

So, here are the Abstract and more importantly the acknowledgements (and thanks)!


The notion of identity has always been central to the human person's understanding of self. The question 'who am I'? is fundamental to human being. Answers to this question have come from a wide range of academic disciplines. Philosophers, theologians, scientists, sociologists and anthropologists have all sought to offer some insight.

The question of individual identity has traditionally been answered from two broad perspectives. The objectivist approach has sought to answer the question through empirical observation - you are a mammal, you are a homo-sapien, you are male, you are African etc. The subjectivist approach has sought to answer the question through phenomenological exploration - I understand myself to be sentient, I remember my past, I feel love etc.

A recent development in the field of computer science has however shown a shortcoming in both of these approaches. Ray Kurzweil, a theorist in strong artificial intelligence, suggests the possibility of an interesting identity crisis. He suggests that if a machine could be programmed and built to accurately and effectively emulate a person's conscious experience of being 'self' it could lead to a crisis of identity. In an instance where the machine and the person it is emulating cannot be either objectively distinguished (i.e., both display the same characteristics of the person in question), or subjectively distinguish themselves (i.e., both believe themselves to be the 'person in question' since both have an experience of being that person. This experience could be based on memory, emotion, understanding and other subjective realities) how is the true identity of the individual validated? What approach can be employed in order to distinguish which of the two truly is the 'person in question' and which is the 'emulation of that person'?

This research investigates this problem and presents a suggested solution to it. The research begins with an investigation of the claims of strong artificial intelligence and discusses Ray Kurzweil's hypothetical identity crisis. It also discusses various approaches to consciousness and identity, showing both their value and shortfall within the scope of this identity conundrum. In laying the groundwork for the solution offered in this thesis, the integrative theory of Ken Wilber is presented as a model that draws on the strengths of the objectivist and subjectivist approaches to consciousness, yet also emphasises the need for an approach which is not only based on individual data (i.e., the objectivist - you are, or subjectivist - I am). Rather, it requires an intersubjective knowing of self in relation to others.

The outcome of this research project is an African Theological approach to self-validating consciousness in strong artificial intelligence. This takes the form of an African Theology of relational ontology. The contribution falls within the ambit of Christian anthropology and Trinitarian theology - stressing the Christian belief that true identity is both shaped by, and discovered in, relationship with others. The clearest expression of this reality is to be found in the African saying Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (A person is a person through other persons).

Key words:

Identity, artificial intelligence, strong artificial intelligence, Moore's law, Turing test, the law of accelerating returns, consciousness, objective, subjective, neuro-theology, integral theory, holon, Holarchy, quadrant, non-dual, perennial philosophy, ubuntu, African, intersubjective, relational ontology, Trinity, anthropology, Soteriology, perichoresis

Acknowledgements: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu - We are, therefore I am.

I am deeply indebted to Professor Cornel W du Toit who has patiently listened to me, carefully and critically read my work, and wisely directed my discoveries in this research project. He is a highly regarded scholar and a deeply valued mentor.

I also gratefully acknowledge the input of my colleagues in the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa - the Reverends Victor Tshangela, Charmaine Morgan, Sidwell Mokgothu, Madika Sibeko, Phidian Matsepe, Ruth Jonas, and Neville Richardson. I am thankful for the time and freedom I have been given over the last three years to complete this research project. I thank the Reverends Peter Grassow and Peter Woods for challenging me to think outside of the box, yet remain true to the Christian faith. My close friends George Marchinkowski and Christopher Judelsohn, are a constant source of inspiration - always reminding me that theology is the servant of the Church. In the process of the research I have learned a great deal from my students at John Wesley College and the University of South Africa, many of who have a far better understanding of the concept of community and ubuntu than I will ever have. I am thankful for the prayers and support of the members of the Bryanston Methodist Church. You minister to me so much more than I could ever minister to you. I want to thank the following friends and colleagues for their guidance, encouragement, and practical advice: Doctors Kevin Snyman, Derek Verrier, Neville Richardson, Jennifer Slater, Wessel Bentley and Professor Louise Kretzschmar. I also wish to acknowledge the input Professors Dirkie Smit (Stellenbosch), Ernst Conradie (UWC), Wentzel van Huyssteen (Princeton), and Fraser Watts (Cambridge) who helped to shape and form the initial thoughts that lead to this research. They invested time and energy in me. They gracefully listened to my fledgling attempts at articulating what I felt but could not yet express.

The expression of theological concepts is a complex task, and even more so when one struggles with a poor grasp of English grammar! I am eternally grateful to Mrs Joan Hartshorne, my aunt, for her masterful skill in framing my thoughts and sharpening my use of the English language.

I need to pay tribute to my family who have shaped my identity and constantly bless me with the gift of life. I deeply value my parents Ian and Margaret Forster, who encouraged me to follow my calling in ministry. Brian and Brenda Seviour for accepting me into their family, for their prayers and interest in my work. To my wife Megan, and daughter Courtney, whose loving care and sincere Christian faith are the closest things to ubuntu I have ever experienced. Without you I am not.

And then to my great ancestor, the firstborn of creation, Jesus Christ - to him I owe not just my gratitude; I owe him my whole life.

PS. I have no idea whose picture this is. I got it from the Birchs website (those who studied at Rhodes should remember Birchs').... God bless him! He looks happy, like me! I hope I get a gown just like his!