Dion's random ramblings

Friday, August 24, 2007

Do 'emergent' church, and post-modernist approaches to Christianity, mean that everything goes!?

My friend Jenny posted an incredibly poignant blog entry about the emergent church movement. When it gets down to it does the emergent movement fall apart because of its lack of boundaries?

Read Jenny's post here.

Here's my response to her in which I try to make a case for two contemporary theological movements that seem to inform the emergent church, i.e., post-liberalism and radical orthodoxy:

Hi J,

I agree, this is the tension between 'everything goes', and 'nothing is allowed'.

Every theology comes with an up side and a down side. The up side of the emergent church is that it allows enough freedom for people who have been constrained by, or hurt by, structures and hard nosed ideals to find a place within the faith. The downside is that it lacks enough structure to be safe for those of us who need it.

I have recently been reading in the areas of 'post liberalism' (who are the 'brains' behind the ideas that inspired the emergent movement) and radical orthodoxy (what I perceive to be a further move beyond post liberalism - with the Anglican theologian John Milbank). Both are very popular movements in contemporary theology.

Among the post liberals you have persons such as Hans Frei and George Lidbeck (from Yale), and my favorite - Stanley Hauerwas from Duke.

Check out the following links for some insights:



Whilst there are some shortcomings, this still seems to be the most sensible theology for our time. It is a mistake to think that there are no boundaries in this theology, and that everything goes (that is liberalism, and some would say heresy). Rather, this theology asks 'what is truly orthodox?', and also 'why have we believed certain things to be wrong and others to be right?' i.e., do we still believe that this is where the boundaries should be? Or should they be shifted (as opposed to completely doing away with all boundaries, which seems to be a simplistic liberal approach)?

Rather than being unquestioning, which is what most assume, it is asking MORE rigorous questions in the pursuit of real truth... However, many of us (myself included) often feel a little bit uncomfortable with some of the questions that are asked, and also by who is asking them. The questions are no longer framed by respectable old white men from Europe and America. Now they come from young women, people from the two thirds world, young Americans who dislike their society and don't have jobs... Of course their questions are just as valid as those of the 'old theologians' like myself.

I think that this too will change... These radicals will one day become the establishment and a different process will challenge the same old content when that happens. Then, those people will wish for the days when things were their way once again... I guess that's part of being human. Revolutionise the world until it is your world, then build structures to support it (like the oxymoron of an 'emergent' 'church' - church is establishment (i.e., it has already emerged). You know what I mean!? I hope I've been sensible enough with this.

Of course, all this is great for theology! It pushes the boundaries, and stretches our thoughts... But, it is not so great for a person who has been beaten up.

Rich blessings,


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Have you ever wondered!? What's the difference between Catholic and Protestant heaven?

I met a friend the other day who used that cliched old phrase that Catholics and Protestants have used about one another since just after the Reformation "I guess they're Christians too..." It always makes me want to ask "what makes you so sure that you're a Christian!?"

Something of 'the otherness' of Catholicism, the structure, the depth of the liturgy, the rich symbolism of vestments and icons, has always attracted me as a Protestant... Although, can I tell you a little secret? Can I? I was baptised Catholic! My mom is Irish. So, according to the Pope, even though I am an ordained Methodist minister, I am nothing more than a lapsed Catholic!

So, I guess I'm a Metholic! Ha ha! So, have you ever wondered what the difference between 'Catholic heaven' and 'Protestant heaven' would be? Well, here's a thoroughly sensible, and theologically rich video of the difference between the two!

I know which one I prefer!

Seriously, if you would like a real, and thought provoking, take on joy in the Christian faith, please check out my friend David's wonderful post here: Alternative party plans.

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A few lingering quotes and thoughts...

As I have been processing some of the papers and presentations of the Oxford Institute there are a few lingering thoughts and quotes that have remained with me.

A Latin-American theologian, Nestor Miquez, said: "When I feed the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor they call me a communist".

Joerg Reiger (the author of "God and the excluded" 2001, Fortress Press, Minneapolis) asked the question "What is the difference between the poor and the impoverished?" His answer was, something along the lines of "poverty does not truly exist (i.e., there are enough resources in the world for no person to have to be in abject poverty), yet impoverishment is real (i.e., greed and sin have caused us to MAKE people poor - victimization is at the heart of poverty, and so it has not only to do with wealth, but also power and choice)." Joerg then asked the question why we are so slow to consider 'enrichment' as the oppressive process of 'making people and institutions rich'? Very challenging indeed! I think that sometimes we objectify "the poor" and "the rich" and forget that God's economy is sufficient for all creation, yet it is our choices that make some (like me) rich, and others poor. These are not objects, they are chosen processes - hence they have great theological significance. They tell us about the kind of God we believe in, and the way in which we view all of what God loves...

Theodore Jennings said "One cannot follow Jesus in the Church", he then went on to say that "the function of the Church is to prepare one for discipleship (i.e., the faithful response of a disciple to participate in God's mission in the world)". I am still wrestling with this one. I have often wondered whether the Church is merely a functional, human, construct. Something that we have created out of our necessity to facilitate our response to God, or whether the Church is an ontological community (a primary place of identity, belonging, fellowship, and discipleship - much like a representation of the perichoretic life of the Trinity)? Was the Church of our design, or God's will? Of course my good friend Dr Bentley is much more able to answer such questions. I guess that the answer is both and neither. Both, in that the Church has the potential to be God's will, and neither in that churches so often fall from that plan.

Joerg Reiger also challenged us theologians (particularly the systematic theologians whose responsibility it is to deal with all 8 areas of doctrine, yet in reality we tend towards one of the areas that interest us). His challenge was something along the lines of "the question is not who we are (anthropology), or what we do (ecclesiology), but rather who God is, and what God wants done (the doctrine of God)."

Another interesting thought that arose from Henk Pieterse's paper was about where the 'center' of the Church is. By this I mean, that we often think that our Church is 'normal' and that other Churches are a bit different, strange, perhaps "special interest". Most often we think that middle class, sub-urban churches are the norm and inner city, poor, or marginal communities are "special interest" churches. However, Henk reminded us that middle class Churches are ALSO "special interest" churches that require a particular kind of prophetic engagement in order to bring those on the margins into the center. This thought was informed by a reading of Rieger (who, by the way, will be spending some time here in South Africa from January! So, keep your eyes and ears open for that - we hope to be able to get him to do some work with EMMU for both our students and interested laity and clergy).

Douglas Meeks reminded us in Wesley's theology works of mercy were regarded as a 'means of grace' (i.e., something that facilitated the growth, exposure, and experience of God's grace). He went on to remind us that works of mercy (as a means of grace) are a two way street - we don't just minister TO others, that ministry encounters, engages, and changes who we are as well (so, in that process we also receive the grace of being ministered to). Joerg then challenged us to consider that the other means of grace also need to be a two way street, i.e., when last did we allow the Bible to read us, instead of just reading the Bible? When last did we listen to God, rather than just praying? He reminded us that "Wesley believed that people who gave up on works of mercy were falling from grace".

Two statements from my own context that made a significant impact, and generated some discussion, were the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's radical stance in 2005 to adopt the slogan "The Church has AIDS" - this was radical because it spoke of where the Church sees itself located, i.e. among the sick, the suffering, and the needy. It forces us to break down the dividing walls of class, race, gender, and even health! We don't just minister to people who are infected, and affected, by HIV, we are HIV+... Radical! (Thanks to Emily Oliver for the picture).

Another statement, which I made in relation to our Church's education and training policy, was that when we come to design and formulate our training programs one of our primary questions is "What does the Gospel look like in this situation?" Hence, we do not just ask the traditional knowledge based (content) questions about our theology (i.e., what should the Gospel say?) rather, we ask the contextually motivated mission question, "what would a 'Gospel encountered society' look like? If that is so, then what do we need to do in order to get there?"

This is one of the great blessings of the pragmatic (practical divinity) Wesleyan approach to the world that is expressed in a devotion to Jesus that requires both personal piety and social holiness.

I end with this quote from my paper:

...the gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness. 'Faith working by love' is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.

(from Wesley, J. Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Pref. 5. Quoted in Baker, F. Practical divinity.)

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Home where I belong, and feeling postliminal (if there is such a thing)...

It is incredible to be back home!

If I was not so jet lagged I would have mustered all of my creative juices to write something as poetic and profound as my friend Pete did about his return home. All I can say (like many of my first year students do), is that I agree with him, and with what he said, and I wish I could say it the same way. Megie, Courts and Liam - I love you, and coming home to you is the best possible feeling in the world!

I arrived home just before 8pm last night after being on the road for 28 hours... The coach, the tube, an express train, two aeroplanes, a few airport buses, and the car home. Whilst I didn't ride a single Vespa to get back, I did wear my favourite Vespa T-Shirt! The trip was great, and even with missing my family, and having to travel so far, I would do it all over again. I have been challenged and stretched to grow.

I slept well last night. I didn't mind getting out of bed just before 6am to make breakfast and coffee for the family. I had daydreamed about that simple act of service, one of my daily routines, quite a few times while I was away. After taking Courtney to school - and having a good chat about her party, her friends, and her recent conquests in Shrek (on her gameboy) I rejoiced to worship in the College chapel. The idiom of worship was truly African, we sang, danced, played the bell and the beat, and used many of our 11 official languages to do so.... and I knew that I was home!

I have often felt that liminal feeling, common to many white Africans, of being too white to be truly African, but too African to be European. However, this morning I knew that I belonged. These are my people - I am, because they are. Here it is not because of my race that I belong. Rather, it is because we are a community that I feel truly human, located, understood, appreciated, and loved.

Here's one of the last photos that I took before leaving Christ Church in Oxford. From left to right are myself, Dr Mercy Amba Odoyuye, Dr Richardson, and Dr Colin Smith. Auntie Mercy is one of our mother's in the faith. She has done so much to highlight the concerns and struggles of African Christians, and in particular the concerns of African Christian women. She is one of the most prophetic and Christ-like people I have ever met - gentle, yet just. Colin is a circuit Superintendent from the UK and was one of the co-chairs of the Oxford institute. I learned so much about the kind of calm leadership that is required to manage important processes, and people who sometimes imagine themselves to be more important than they are. He handled the institute with such dignity, respect, and care. It is with much thanks to him that we got such good work done over the 10 days in Oxford.

Now, of course, I need to get my head around what I shall be sharing in Malaysia at STM. The presentation and preparation for the Church conference is all but done. Most of the preparatory work for the seminary is also done, and so now it is just a matter of putting the final touches to it.

This is more or less what I am going to cover at STM:

Methodist Church in Southern Africa's response to oppression, violence and abuse before, during, and after apartheid. I will speak about:

- The effects of the missionaries, and English colonization, on Southern African church and society.
- The heresy of 'apartheid' and the effects of that ideology on Southern African society. I will chart the Church's response to this evil using the work from my paper for the Oxford institute together with papers written by Henk Pieterse, Ted Jennings, Joerg Rieger, and Ivan Abrahams, as well as some information supplied by Demetris Palos (this will probably be the Lion's share of the discussion).
- The challenges of reconstruction and development in post-apartheid Southern Africa (here I shall focus HIV / AIDS, economic development, crime and violence, racial reconciliation. In particular, I will address how the Church has sought to deal with these issues through its mission strategy, and through the training of laity and clergy).

Here's another memorable moment for me -

In this photograph are Aileen and Randy Maddox. Aileen was also one of the Institute organizers. Randy calls her his better two thirds! If that is the case she must be truly remarkable! I look forward to getting to know them much better in the future. Randy should be well known to most Methodists - he is a prominent Wesleyan scholar who now teaches at Duke Divinity school. My students will know him since his book "Rethinking Wesley's theology" is one of their prescribed books. By the way, for those who haven't yet read it, Peter Grassow (referred to above) has an oustanding chapter entitled "Wesley and revolution: A South African perspective" (Chapter 12). It is well worth reading.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

From poetry to prose - Oxford University and an African boy.

This evening I went for a nice long run... It took me about an hour. I ran in the rain. I left the gate of Christ Church, turned left and ran down St Aldates street until I hit the end of town, then I ran towards the A40 until I found the Thames Park walkway. I ran along the Thames, and then wound my way back into town. It was dark and raining the whole way. It was great!

This was the closing run for my time here in Oxford. It has been a remarkable week! I have grown and been challenged - yet I have also learned that the African voice can be heard, and that in fact many are eager to hear it. My paper was extremely well received. As a result I was asked to serve on the international Editorial board for the Epworth Review.

As I ran I thought about all the wonderful people that I met, but also about what I am going back to in South Africa. Some would know that I have faced the temptation of taking up a post overseas - there have been some offers. It is tempting I'll admit. But Africa, and in particular Southern Africa, is where I am called. I look forward to being back at John Wesley College. I look forward to seeing our wonderful students, being with our incredible staff, and seeing all my friends and family at Bryanston Methodist Church. My bones are filled with the nutrients of African soil. (I added the graph of my run on 2 Jan 2009 - here's the software and equipment that I use: Polar S625X)

Wikipedia states that prose is distinguished from poetry "by its greater variety of rhythm and its closer resemblance to the patterns of everyday speech". I am turning from poetry to prose - from the poetry of Oxford to the prose of my wonderful life. Both are rich, both are filled with meaning and depth - but my life in South Africa has more rhythm (like most African things do), and it is closer to what is normal for me (it feels like a comfortable conversation, rather than a carefully constructed speech).

Tomorrow I attend the last of the Sytstematic Theology working group sessions, the closing banquet in the evening, and then on Tuesday I make my way into London to visit Wesley's Chapel in City Road (and in particular Jenny who is the minister there - herself coming from Botswana). I fly out late on Tuesday afternoon.

Of course, I am only home for 6 days and then I leave for Malaysia... But that's another story....


Technology for travel

As some would know I am a bit of a gadget man.... I have been asked what I take with me when I travel. Well, normally I would bring along my Macbook (since it can boot both Mac OS - my primary OS - and Windows). However, on this trip I decided not to bring that since I had to bring quite a few books and papers and so weight was an issue.

So, here's a picture of my primary computing rig on this trip.

In the centre is my computer, a Sony Vaio UX 180 micro PC which dual boots Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux. Attached to that is my 40 Gig ipod (for music and backup of data), in front of the PC is my 'old' Nokia 9500 smart phone... My primary phone back home is a Palm Treo 750 (blackberry style), but that would not autoconfigure here... I always travel with a Nokia - they seem to just work everywhere. My Nokia has a prepaid sim card in it. Amazingly, I bought the sim card when I was in the UK in 2005, it had a pound of credit on it, and it still worked two years later! On the right of the computer (the square silver thing) is my batterygeek external battery. That gives me about 20 hours (!) worth of juice on the Vaio.

Not pictured in the photo are my old Canon Ixus 500 digicam (an old, but small and reliable camera), my mini USB keyboard and mouse, and the USB infrared receiver I use to download my heart rate monitor data from my Polar SX625 watch. Oh, and of course the Sanyo MP3 voice recorder used to record podcasts.

The Vaio is a great little machine. It is small, functional, and inobtrusive. It can do everything a larger PC can do, yet it can fit into a coat pocket if needs be (I tend to carry the Vaio, the keyboard, external battery, and docking station in my backpack). Since the Vaio has a tiny little camera on the front of the machine I have been using it to do Skype Video calls with Megie, Courts and Liam back home.

Here's a screen shot of one such call.

All in all, it is a great rig. However, when I travel to Malaysia next week I shall take my Macbook with me simply to have the extra functionality for the larger venue's I'll be addressing, and the ability to play DVD's during my workshop.

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Christ Church, Oxford, Meadows 6-2

The history of Methodist clergy who studied at Oxford goes all the way back to our founders, John and Charles Wesley who were students here in the 1700's. This photo - which is at a very weird angle - shows the commemorative stone laid in honour of those two fathers in the Christ Church Cathedral.

However, there have been other great Methodists (I shall simply concentrate on the South African Methodists) who studied at Oxford. In this picture you see Prof Neville Richardson (who is the current principal of John Wesley College, Pretoria, and the Director of Education in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa) with me. Neville was the very first student to do an MPhil in Theology here at Oxford. The reason why we're standing at this strange place is because this is the doorway to the residence where another well known South African Methodist minister lived during his time at Oxford. Christ Church, Oxford, Meadows, staircase 6, room 2 was the residence of the Rev Dr Donald Cragg (who later became a lecturer at Rhodes University and principal tutor for the Methodists who studied there).

I know that there are some others (who I never got to know) like Vic Bredenkamp, forgive me for not mentioning you with any detail.

So, blessings from a WET, summer's day (which is bloody freezing) in Oxford!


Never too small to remember

This week has been amazing in so many ways. I have met and interacted with great scholars. I have spent time in ancient churches and centres of learning. I have discovered new friends, and been reaquanted with old ones. I have learnt so much, and had a few chances to teach.

However, as I think back on this week the experience is run through with one overarching idea - the fact that everyone, and every story, matters.

Before leaving for South Africa I was asked to write a chapter for a book on HIV / AIDS. I have been doing some research and reading, talking with Christian AIDS workers, and spending time with persons who are HIV positive, and those who have felt the great loss of loosing a loved one to this dissease. The reality is that very few of those persons' stories will ever be told. That matters. However, at another level their stories make up the very fabric of who each one of us is. They are our world.

This week I have been moved to tears (in private - this is England after all!) whilst reading Pehlippe Denis little book 'Never too small to remember: Memory work and resilience in times of AIDS' (2005, Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg). The book tells of the marvelous work that is being done among AIDS orphans in Kwazulu Natal through the use of 'memory boxes'. The aim of the project is to build a greater resilience in children and child headed households where both parents have been lost to AIDS. Of course there is very little that could ever be done to remove the agony of such a loss, but there is a great deal that can be done to help such young people. Naturally pragmatic and practical solutions seek to educate, clothe, and feed the children. This is necessary. It challenges me to think if I could not give and do more to help make their lives a little easier. But such generosity does not deal with the deep hurt and stigma associated with their loss. Morover, if the children themselves are HIV positive they will need more than just food, clothing, and education, to make meaning of their lives, to do more than just survive, but to truly live.

I have spent quite a lot of time with my friend Clive Marsh this week. He and I have been talking about the importance of experience and memory as a source of healing, yet also an essential source of good theology.

The memory box, which is the 'memory tool' Philippe Denis uses, allows the children and their care givers to make use of narrative, story-telling, to recount the memories that they have of their parents (both the good and the bad). It allows them to articulate, analyse, understand, and move through these memories (note that I don't say move beyond - to move through means that one takes something of the memory with you into your future). In doing so the children are given a far greater resilience to cope with their past, make choices in their present life, and form a new future. They can learn to live with the virtues and grace of belonging to the wider community (which as you know is essential as an expression of ubuntu in African communities), but they can also learn how to solve the problems that their parents and caregivers faced.

Memory is a wonderful thing. Today I remember where I come from. The picture above was taken in 1989. I was in my final year in high school [yes, I had a porno 80's hairstyle - although the mullet I had on my wedding day was even worse!].

So much has happened in the 18 years since then, and so much had gone before. My parents were divorced when I was 2, we left Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, came to South Africa to start again and encountered many more severe challenges and hardship than most. I was raised in my early years by my mother who struggled - the struggle was within herself and often caused great hardship around her. She was married, and in relationships, many times. My early childhood is filled with memories of terror, physical and emotional violence, yet also with tenacity and a will to live - it was however, also the dawning of my faith. I remember praying ernestly for the first time when I was 9. My mother's husband at the time had come home in a drunken rage and had beaten her to the point of breaking her back. My brother of 11 had tried to defend her yet was unable and also faced the madman's wrath. I was afraid for my life, and for the life of my mother and brother, and so in desperation I grabbed a hammer and hit the man on his head. He fell to the ground bleeding.

I remember praying, a frightened 9 year old, fearful that everyone was dead - my mother, my brother, and my mother's husband. Somehow the knowledge that there was a person - not a power but a person - named Jesus who could see, hear, and answer my prayers gave me the hope that I needed to get beyond that night.

Of course, such scars remain with one. By the time the picture above was taken I had been off the rails a few times. I had used (and abused) most of the drugs that were popular in the 80's, sought refuge in popularity and rebelion, and given my poor father and step mother many sleepless nights and gray hairs! I had been arrested, asked to leave church groups, and caused a lot of unhapiness to many people. I also had two tatoos and many earings as a reminder of those times.... In some ways it was because I had not built up a spiritual resilience that I sought comfort and meaning in physical and psychosocial remedies.

Perhaps it was when I discovered Christ, not just as a saviour, but as a friend, that my life changed most. That was in 1987. It was the first time that I knew that I was loved unconditionaly, that there was no threat, no need to impress, no expectation, just love.

Of course a great deal has taken place since that photo was taken. I have been married to Megan for almost 14 years now. She completes me in ways I could never have imagined. I have my two miracle children, Courtney and Liam, both of whom have stretched my heart and filled me with a new kind of wild passion. This passion moves me inwardly, to find ways of loving them and caring for them by showing them the kind of grace I have experienced in Christ. Yet, it also moves me outwards - to seek to change our world so that what they grow into will not be a place of fear, hate, and danger - this too is the work of Christ in me.

My life is very different now - as I write this I am sitting in one of the oldest, and most prestigious, academic institutions in the world, Christ Church, Oxford University. Who would ever have thought? But I am different in otherways: I am taller, fatter, balder, and richer than I was when I was 9... I also have more debt... But, I am also happier, more grateful, and much more privelaged. Remembering who I am helps me to savor these moments and experiences. They cannot be taken for granted!

Even though my life is different, I guess I am still the same. I am still Dion, I remember my past and long for a better future. I still enjoy adventures and love to pray. My memory box makes me more resilient. God has never forsaken me - God heard my prayer when I was 9, God heard my prayer last year when Liam was born, God still hears my prayer today.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bishop Ivan Abrahams' plenary paper at the Oxford Institute

Bp Ivan Abrahams, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, delivered the following challenging paper entitled "A different world is possible: Positioning the Church in the 21st century".

The paper argues that globalisation, macro economics, and neo-liberal economics are a new form of slavery for the two third's world. He presents a Wesleyan theology as a critique of these policies of enslavement and domination.

The paper is very well researched, it offers a creative and engaging perspective on the strategies of enslavement, and some clear and helpful theological suggestions on how to overcome this tyranny. I will confess that I am very proud to be a South African Methodist! Our Presiding Bishop has represented us with courage and honour.

I have a second audio file that contains comments and feedback from participants of the conference. If you would like a copy of that please drop me a line.

The Podcast is in the MP3 format and is over an hour long (30mb). Please click the title below download the MP3 file.

Bp Abrahams paper at the Oxford Institute 2007

I would love to hear your feedback and any comments.

Regards from glorious Christ Church in Oxford! Dion

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My chapter has been published!

Here's a picture of a BRAND NEW book entitled "44 Sermons to serve the present age" edited by my friend Angela Shier-Jones, and Kimberly Reisman.

I have written chapter 23 in it.

The aim of this body of work is to present John Wesley's 44 sermons in an accessible format for contemporary readers that are facing contemporary issues in their own context.

My own chapter interprets the use of money and resources from a Southern Africa Liberation theology perspective. I am so proud to be in the book with other authors such as Angie Shier-Jones, George Freeman, JC Park, Trevor Hudson, Mvume Dandala, Paul Chilcote, Theodore Jennings, Brian Beck, Richard Heitzenrater, Leslie Griffiths and a host of others! This is my first international publication! How cool is that!?

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An odd Church!

This morning Matthew Charlton, an American Methodist minister from Nashville, delivered his remarkable paper in our working group. His paper is entitled " ?That?s Not So Odd: The Spiritless Church in a Post Christian Age.? (simply click on the link to download it).

In this paper Matthew argues that one of the real problems with the Church in a 'post-Christian' era is that it has become tame, ordinary, and so much a part of society. Of course I asked the question whether we do truly live in a post-Christian era (you only need to look at the Church in the two-thirds world that is growing at a rate of knots to realise that perhaps we are not living in a post-Christian era, but merely in a post Western-Christian era!)

However, Matthew's paper (which is incredibly well written and is WELL WORTH READING - hint, hint to all my students!!!) resonated with a feeling that I had whilst in London. On Saturday I visited St Paul's Cathedral (my New Testament students should be familiar with this image, remember this is the Cathedral that the Queen described as "Awful, amusing, and artificial" after Christopher Wren spent most of his life working on it. I use this as an illustration to show how important it is to understand the context locked language of statements - in Wren's time awful meant to be filled with awe, amusing meant amazing, and artificial meant something that is intricately crafted and well engineered - all in all she was giving him a compliment, of course. The point that I try to make is that the language of the Bible (which is much older, and more context locked than the English of 300 years ago) can be similarly misunderstood and abused).

However, I have digressed!

Matthew's paper reminded me how I felt when I visited St Paul's Cathedral. This is a magnificent testimony to the triumphalism of Christianity some 300 years ago! It was erected at the height of the relationship between Christendom and the empire to offer worship and honour to God! I am certain that over its life it has served as a place of refuge, comfort, inspiration, and even discovery of new life and forgiveness, for many people. However, in 2007 it was nothing more than an oddity! It was something to visit and marvel at. However, for most of the persons who visited it it had nothing to do with faith, with Christ, with death, with sacrifice, with real life. Rather, the building was amusing (in the modern sense of the word!) There are 443 steps to climb to the top (I climbed them all! Here's the picture to prove it! This picture shows the view from the top of St Paul's across the Millennium bridge to the Tate Modern art Gallery along the Thames in London). Sadly, St Paul's does not seem to have space to encounter God. Well, very little of it anyway. Mostly it is just a hustle and bustle with tourists coming to be amazed and amused.

I wondered if the 'institutional' Church of our day is not facing a similar challenge? People look at it and can recognise that at some stage it was grand and glorious, but it is so far from what they need, want, and experience in their everyday lives that they simply regard it as "awful, amusing, and artificial" - in the modern understanding of these words. I think that Matthew's paper, which suggests that the Church needs to be odd (in a very different way to that of St Paul's) gives us some real answers! The Church needs to be odd in discipline, in holiness, in vocation, in mission, in true live. The Church needs to be Spirit filled and Christ lead. It needs, not to be in contrast to the world (like a prophet), but lovingly and evangelically presenting the world with a real alternative that may seem odd, but that brings life - a message of Christ that saves, of a world in which no one person has too much, and no one has too little.

Anyway, I was challenged by this!

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A few thoughts from the 12th Oxford Institute of World Methodist Scholarship

I arrived in a very hot Oxford on Sunday. I didn't realise that England could get quite as hot as it does! It has been lovely. Today, however, the "Queen's rain" (as I have jokingly been calling it) has started to fall. It is lovely, a bit cooler, and quite wet here in Oxford.

I am staying in Tom's Gate (off Tom's Quad) in Christ Church, Oxford. Here's a picture taken from just outside of staircase 5 where I go up to my rather extravagant parlour... It would seem that the title 'Dean' carries some weight here in merry old England. I am on the same floor as our Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, and a number of other dignitaries. If only they knew what a small fry I truly am!

Christ Church is a remarkable College, one of the early one's (starting in 1524!) Two of my colleagues studied here in previous years (Dr Neville Richardson did an MPhil, and Dr Donald Cragg did a DPhil). Those must have been glorious times! Of course there are many other notable figures that studied and lived in these hallowed walls. Among them are John and Charles Wesley (the founders of Methodism - and also the reason why we hold the Oxford Institute here at Oxford, since it is the home of the very first Methodist scholars), John Locke (the philosopher), Charles Dodgson (better know to most by his pseudonym, Lewis Caroll, who is the author of 'Alice's adventures in wonderland'). Albert Einstein even studied here in the 1930's! For more detailed (and accurate) information on Christ Church please check out their website here.

This picture was taken in the Christ Church dining hall. If it looks familiar don't be surprised! Take a closer look, indeed, this is the location where dining hall scenes from Harry Potter were filmed! I can assure you there are no candles floating in the air, or owls delivering messages!

The traditions are still very strongly adhered to. Guests go into the dining hall and are only seated once the dignitaries take their seats (although they are not sitting at the 'top table'), then we are served by 'Scouts' under the watchful eye of the 'Steward'. The gate and main door are guarded by 'Porters' to keep eager Harry Potter enthusiasts from barging in on the meals. You can see that the walls themselves are lined with the portraits of past students and lecturers of the College.

I am truly enjoying the hospitality and the tradition of being here. Of course, for an African, what makes this place most valuable is being part of the community. It has been wonderful to meet new friends (many of whom I have either only read about, or read their work), such as Randy Maddox, Douglas Meeks, Paul Chilcote, Neil Richardson, Brian Beck etc., and catch up with others who I have not seen in some years, such as my good friend Laceye Warner, the well known Geoffrey Wainwright, Ted Campbell, JC Park, and Dick Heitzenrater.

Each day starts with worship at 7am, then we have breakfast (in the Harry Potter dining hall!), after which we move to Wesley Memorial Methodist Church for the Plenary sessions, followed by our individual group meetings (I am in the Systematic Theology Group). In the group meetings the scholars present have a chance to speak to their paper, there is a respondent, and then general discussion. If you're interested to read some of the magnificent papers that are being, and have been, presented, then please download them from the Oxfrod institute website here.

I have only had limited Internet access in Oxford (I cannot believe how difficult it is to get online in the UK! I think as more and more people realise what a commodity communication is the wifi is shared less openly and is more often than not a service for which one is expected to pay). However, I shall be posting some reflections from the papers and groups, plus a number of audio recordings from the Plenary sessions, as I have a chance to do so.

I can't tell you how much I am missing my family!!!!! I miss Megie so much!!! Times away from her remind me just how desperately I am in love with her. I have also longed for Courtney and Liam. It has been very difficult to be away from them! Please do pray for them, and drop them a line or give them a call to let them know that we belong to a community of faith that cares for one another!

Here's a closing thought that came from Douglas Meeks in a discussion; we were talking about wealth and ownership of property (well, ownership in general) when Douglas reminded me that John Wesley's understanding of stewardship (how one uses one's money) was based upon that of the Patristics (the early Church parents). Wesley believed that whatever I do not need to survive today, or need in order to fulfill the mission to which God has called me, already belongs to the poor. And, as such, I should give it away! I was challenged by that!

Rich blessing to all! I miss you! Please check back for more news, thoughts and updates from Oxford.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Women's day from the Mecca of Mac in London!

If you were hoping to see some deep theological reflection as my first post from England you may be dissapointed! Here's a photo of me (taken in Photobooth on one of the Macs here in the Regent street Apple Store in London). Happy Women's day to all the significant women I have the joy of sharing my life with (Megie and Courts in particular).

I arrived yesterday after a 26 hour marathon trip via Dubai! Today I head out to Cambridge, spend the evening with some friends and colleagues, and then back to London on Friday to be with Richard and Michelle!

I am off to Oxford on Sunday.

Check back for more 'real' posts and updates on the Conference, papers, and other more scholarly things (I don't have wifi coverage currently... That accounts for this quick and nasty post from the Apple store).

I am MISSING Megie, Courts, and Liam... I'll post again as soon as I have wifi...

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

I'm a black, African-Christian, social-activist, and proud of it!

Yep, that's right, I'm proud to be a black, African-Christian, social activist! If that doesn't make sense then please read my paper below. I prepared it for the Oxford Institute where I will deliver it in the Systematic Theology working group.

You can download the paper here:

Dr Dion Forster - Oxford Institute 2007.doc

Here's the real title and abstract.

Title: The appropriation of Wesleyan pragmatism and social holiness in Southern African Methodism. By Dr Dion Forster

Abstract: While Wesleyan theology shares many core elements throughout the world, there can be little doubt that it finds rich and diverse application and expression in the many varied contexts in which Methodism has taken root.

This paper will present an overview of the application, and unique expression, of Christian Perfection as it has taken shape within Methodism in Southern Africa. Christianity, and in particular Methodism, is a dominant faith perspective in Southern Africa. This phenomenon, it will be argued, is largely due to the pragmatic nature of Wesleyan theology, and its emphasis on social holiness. This research aims to add value to the corpus of global Methodist Theology that tends to be dominated by western theological perspectives. Thus a new perspective on Methodist theology will be given by means of articulating the unique tenets of Southern African Methodist Theology. Insights gained from this study may be of value in similar contexts where Methodist theology is seeking to find a unique, and contextually relevant, expression. Moreover, understanding how Methodist theology is being shaped in the two-thirds world, an area in which Methodism is growing, may give some valuable indicators for the formulation and expression of Methodist theology elsewhere in the world.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

General relativity and time travel, or should that read 'relatively little time, generally, before one travels'?

On Monday I will be making my way to Christ Church, Oxford University, with Prof Neville Richardson. and our Presiding Bishop, Ivan Abrahams, to attend a conference, do some teaching, and deliver a paper at the Oxford institute.

I shall also be visiting our friends at Wesley house in Cambridge (although don't mention either visit to the other party... I believe there has been a rather fierce rivalry since the 13th century!).

To read more about the Oxford Institute you can click here:


I return to South Africa for my daughter"s birthday and some important meetings, and then have a chance to speak at a Methodist conference in Malaysia, and to visit and teach at STM, the Malaysian seminary. You can read about that conference here.

These are all very exciting events! I certainly feel unworthy, yet truly honoured, to be a part of such august and distinguished events! I will, of course, miss my family (however, Skype video does help!)

As usual I'll post pictures, podcasts, and thoughts here. So please do check back if you're interested.

In all of my research and preparation for these trips I have rediscovered the truth of Albert Eienstein's theory of relativity - time is truly relative, mostly time is inversely proportionate to the number of tasks one has to do before international travel. Oh well, I'll sleep on the flight!

Be patient with me - I promise to post more content soon! As for the value of that content... Well that's relative i.e., my relatives think it's great everyone else is bored to tears ;-)

Loved and blessing,

Dion (Tshwane South Africa)

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