Dion's random ramblings

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A gentle reminder... We need one another.

In my recent role I have a great deal of interaction with persons who operate in the charismata - the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I personally believe that God does still interact with humans, and that frequently that interaction does take on, what seems to us at least, as extraordinary means (of course for God all means of interaction with humanity is 'normal').  However, I regard with equal care and respect the person who through careful discernment and meticulous care (both in searching the scriptures, and in relying upon the wisdom, counsel and advice of the the Christian community) comes to the point of believing that they may have received some for of revelation from God.  Some would call these 'words of knowledge' or 'prophecies'.  I say that I regard this persons with equal respect, since for years I have considered very carefully those leaders in the Christian faith who have helped me to chart my path along life's journey by making equally prophetic choices as God has enabled them to see beyond what is common to most persons (I think of leaders such as Peter Storey, Paul Verryn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Bishop Stanely Magoba). All of these persons were endowed, by virtue of their faith (even they would claim), with an ability to see beyond the political reality to a possible future.  And so, they spoke with conviction and certainty of how they related their understanding of the Christian scriptures, and their understanding of the convictions that had come to them through prayer and meditation, and they encouraged us to make bold choices about how we live our lives!

At times these choices would win the scorn of society (since they were so different from the norm).  However, I am convinced that it is because of the sacrifices of many of those that we have greater freedom and liberty in South Africa today!

Perhaps both of these Christian 'groups', coming from vastly different positions on the theological continuum are operating 'prophetically'  

You see, at the end of the day, when we read the Christian Scriptures, the most common form of operation within the prophetic office (which we shall find in the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament) was some kind of a mix between faith, mystical revelation and an ability to understand and study 'the times' (the economy, politics, morality, and even the climate of the time).  Having weighed up all these factors and sought direction from God through the Holy Spirit, as well as the counsel and support of others, they spoke and acted.

I have no problem with that kind of rigorous spiritual activity!  To me it speaks of a great commitment to God, and a since and significant commitment to this world!  Such spirituality can transform both individuals and society!

However, I have more recently been exposed to a flippancy and abuse of the 'prophetic' office (I do not call it a gift).  The prayer movement that I serve works with people from all theological persuasions, all kinds of Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Liberal, Conservative... the whole host!).  However, there are always one or two persons at most gatherings who begin just about every sentence with the words "God says..."  when I hear that, the hair on the back of my neck stands up!  Frequently what follows after those words "God says..." is filled with self interest, a bias for one group over another (I have heard persons saying that God favours one nation over others, that God favours one denomination over others, even that God favours one minister and his ministry over the ministry of another)!

I try my best not to judge such things unfairly, but I think that we take this prophetic responsibility too lightly!

I am not a prophet - if anything, my current role is that of a servant.  So, if you are a prophet and can offer me some insight, or can show me where I have it wrong, or if you are a student of the scriptures or a formally trained theologian who can give me some help or insight, I would greatly appreciate it.

Where did this post start?  It started with this quote:

As one country does not bear all things, that there may be a commerce, so neither has God opened, nor will open, all to one, that there may be a traffic in knowledge between the servants of God, for the planting both of love and humility. George Herbert, English priest and poet (1593-1633)

How true!  If ever we are looking for the truth let us first turn to God, and then once we think we have heard, let us turn to God's servants.  I think that knowledge is something that is discovered in faithful community!  I tend to hear far too many 'prophets' who think they are the ONLY ones who have the WHOLE truth!

Qik - Finding peace and blessing in your life

Over the last few days I have been speaking with many friends and colleagues who have expressed a similar concern - the concern is whether they are spending their lives for something truly worthwhile! The notion of 'gain' seems to be central to so much of contemporary life, whether it is material gain (wealth), or social gain (power and acclaim), or whether it is things such a love and peace... We all seem to apply our talents, energy, and abilities in order to gain something for ourselves and others...

1 Tim 6.6 says that "Godliness with contentment is of great gain". This verse has resonated within my mind for some time - I have it set as a calendar reminder for a Thursday morning! It reminds me when the week is almost done and I am feeling a little tired and worn out, yet the tasks of the week seem no closer to completion, that there is something worthwhile that I can ask myself - has this week been an attempt at growing in Godliness, and and can I find contentment in the context and situation withing which God has placed me? If the answer to those two questions is 'yes', then I can say that I have made a gain that cannot be compared to mere wealth, acclaim, or hedonistic pleasure...

The little video above discusses my thoughts on this concept, and the concept of 'work as worship' (in relation to Col 3.23-24).

I'd love to hear your thoughts, insights and feedback!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A little affirmation! We all need it from time to time.

This morning I had a meeting at the University of Stellenbosch - it is truly one of my favourite places on earth!  After the meeting I popped into the Theology Library (where I am fortunate to have 'privileges' since I am a local minister and was a past student).  I handed back two books (both by Joerg Rieger on Christianity and Empire, which I had been using for a chapter Joerg asked me to write for one of his new books).

The library has a display section for new books, recommended books, new journals and new PhD and Masters thesis.  I always take a quick look at this selection to see what is new and what is recommended (mainly in the books and journals!) It is such an incredible privilege it is to have access to a good theological library on my doorstep!

Well, today when I had a quick look I was suprised to find that two mine and Wessel's books (see http://www.wesselsplace.blogspot.com ) were on display!  The two books in question (see the lower right of the photograph) are 'What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and society from Southern African Methodists' and 'Methodism in Southern Africa:  A celebration of Wesleyan Mission'.

I'm certain it is vanity - but it just felt so good, like such an affirmation, to see our two books on Methodism in Southern Africa singled out for attention among all of the many, many books in the library!  We all need a little affirmation from time to time!

I needed it today, and God gave me this little 'surprise gift'.

I have been feeling a little sad of late - it started with the death of my friend Barry, then my little son Liam got ill, and we have struggled to nurse him back to health for almost 3 weeks now.  I can't tell you what a toll that takes on Megie and I!  Because of the struggle with his lungs we don't get much sleep and Megie had to take two weeks out of the office to take care of him (of course that puts all sorts of other pressures on us!) Then, this last week was my late father's birthday - he would have been 66 years old.  Remembering my dad brings back some wonderful memories - but, I do feel that I miss him.  For those who have lost parents, you may know what I am talking about - it feels strange to be 'alone in the world', without that pivotal point of reference, that person to whom you can turn for advice, counsel and wisdom.

I try quite hard to take a spoon of my own medicine by focussing on the things for which I can be thankful, and believe me, I have more than my share of those!  I am truly blessed!  Moreover, I attempt to spend my time helping others, engaging in acts of mercy and service wherever I am able so that I can gain a correct orientation on my life.  Of course I pray, I read the scriptures, and I exercise.  The intention with all of these is to maintain a healthy equilibrium between my spiritual life, my physical life and my psychological state (emotions).  Sometimes this is easier said than done!

Well, this little blessing has brought a smile to my face! It is good to be affirmed - I think we all need it from time to time...


Monday, September 28, 2009

Taking the gap... Making the most of who you are and where you are...

Do you sometimes feel dissatisfied with who you are?  Perhaps you're frustrated with where you are in life?  Maybe you just wish that your life was different!

These are not uncommon feelings - a great number of people struggle with these feelings.  Of course there are many complex factors that can contribute to this state of mind.  I would venture, however, that one fairly common cause for this malaise is a lack of meaning and purpose.  When we feel like we are valuable, able to make a significant difference, we tend to be more at peace, more fulfilled.  On the other hand, when we feel like we're not making much of a difference to the world around us, and that we are not value for who we are and what we can do, then we tend to be less happy, less at peace, and less settled.

Does this sound right to you?

For the past 8 weeks or so I have been doing a series of messages about the 7 Churches of Revelation 2 and 3 for my radio program 'The ministry and me' on Radio Pulpit. I have received some wonderful feedback from listeners!  The purpose of the program is simple - my aim is to help every Christian to grow in their understanding that they are all ministers (of some for or another), and that with just a little bit of courage and a litle bit of focuss and intention each and every person can do great things for God!

Today I recorded the message that will be broadcast on Wednesday in two weeks time (I am pleased to say that I am a full cycle ahead!) - the message is entitled 'Taking the gap:  making the most of who you are, where you are and what you do for God'  We looked at the Church at Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13).  This was not a powerful Church, it did not have great resources, or even massive acclaim.  Yet, we are told in the text that because of their courage and faithfulness in the things that they could do (not the things they wished to do, or the things that others did...) they were remembered by Christ and that if they remained faithful in that humble and persistent ministry God would write His name on them.  People would look at them and recognise that they are loved by God.

When I read that I wondered what it must be like to be recognizeably loved by God!  That must be something special.

Well, maybe this sermon will have some encouragement for you.  Please do drop me a line if you have any thoughts or feedback.  And please also vote for the episode on the Radio Pulpit website (simply follow this link and send a mail message asking to cast your vote for 'The ministry and me').

You can download the program here (6MB MP3 file)

Thank you!  God bless,


Saturday, September 26, 2009

No wonder Windows works, and looks, like it does!

And this, my friends, is why we struggle with our Windows boxes!!! Note that I say OUR windows boxes - even though I am a Mac user I do have two Windows machines (one is my wife's computer that constantly needs TLC, the other is a work laptop - a little Acer 6292, since the day I've had it ONE thing has never worked... Sadly, it is never the same thing... Some days the wifi won't work, other days the mouse stops responding, sometimes it won't boot into vista... The list goes on and on!) Except for Windows it is an incredible little machine. If only I could put Ubuntu on it. But, it's a work machine. So, it goes off to the IT department fairly frequently. Thankfully I have my Macbook - it just works! I saw at the new Dion Wired store in Somerset West that they're selling Macbooks (brand new!) for R7999! That is comparable to a Windows notebook of the same spec!

Well, here's a video of Windows CEO, Steve Balmer at a Microsoft conference.

To see more of Microsoft CEO, Steve Balmer's antics, go here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A man posts an interactive browser of his brain (scan).

I spent quite a lot of time working with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans during my doctoral research.  In my case I looked at two specific things.  The MRI is very helpful when one wishes to establish the location of some form of damage to the brain (a tumor, cyst, or lesion).  I used this to help me understand how persons processed meaning (and of course how pathology impacted the processing of meaning in the human brain - it is a common occurrence that persons manifest heightened religious or spiritual consciousness when they have some form of abnormality in their brain).  Just as an aside, note that I say abnormality in this instance and not pathology! Of course this is because being different from the norm is not only a neurological phenomenon.  There are many persons who are different from the norm (whatever the 'norm' is!) because, for example, they may be an immigrant in a new country (sociology), taller than the average population (physical attributes), have extra abilities (such as exceptional sports skills) etc.  Abnormality must not be confused with pathology - just because someone, or something, is not 'normal' it does not make it wrong.

Nelson Mandela is an 'abnormal' being - after 27 years in prison the average person (normal) would seek some form of retribution or revenge for their suffering.  He, however, sought reconciliation!  Abnormality can give us a great deal of insight into how things should be!

Other than MRI scans I also made use of magnetoencephalography - this is different from MRI scanning (well slightly different) in that it gives one the ability to view the whole brain (rather than just 'slices' of the brain) to be able to see where the electrical pulses and 'hotspots' of certain cognitive processes are located.  So, for example, one could ask a person to imagine a certain event, or stimulate an emotion through showing them a picture, inducing the sense of smell, or playing a piece of music, and then see where in the brain there is electrical activity (neural activity).  I am STILL working on a rewrite of my doctoral thesis - when that project is done it will present some of my research on how the brain processes religious consciousness (particularly as it relates to identity).  The working title of the book is "Why you're not who you think you are:  Adventures in neuroscience and theology".

Of course the human brain is only one part of the complex array of interconnected elements that makes up who we truly are - however, it is a rather important part of that complex reality!  I found the following post quite interesting (if not amusing!).  If you're interested to see what an MRI looks like in relation to the person who's brain was scanned then follow this link.  Here's the original story from Boing Boing.

In September 2009 my doctor recommended an MRI to rule-out a couple of potential conditions. The scan came back completely normal, which was a great relief! As a kind of cathartic exercise, and inspired by Dustin Curtis's brain tour I decided to do something with the images. I spent most of a fun weekend writing this MRI explorer. I hope you enjoy playing with it! Inside Bill Moorier's Brain

For more of my posts on the brain and neuroscience please follow this link, or simply search for 'brain' or 'neuroscience' in the search box on this blog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where will synthetic biology lead us!? 4 legged chickens and Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology

I suppose it could be said that I hold quite a positive view of technology (in general).  Of course there are instances, and certain technologies, which violate this general attitude.  However, on the whole I have experienced the innumerable benefits of being able to communicate, travel, interact, do business, and even deepen my relationships and faith life, through the application of technology.

I have written elsewhere  on this blog about the false, even naive, perspective that many persons have concerning technology (please see this post, and this one, and of course the notion of 'singularity', oh and this one as well)!  In reality we are already 'enslaved' by our technologies!  Simply try to go through one day without employing some form of environmental aid (a car, a telephone, a computer, even spectacles, medicine and most foods are all 'technologically' engineered for human benefit).  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenological philosopher, understood that human interaction upon the world is not a one way street... We don't simply act upon the world!  There is a reverse action from the world upon us...  For example, if you were to walk into an empty room that had nothing but an chair in it what would you do?  At some point the emptyness of the room and the presence of the chair would act upon you consciously, or subconsciously, and they will cause you to sit.  This illustrates how the space and the objects in the space have informed and transformed your thought processes.  However, the very act of sitting (as an act of physics, where the human body and the structure of the chair encounter one another) is a mutual interaction of material realities in which each has an effect upon the other.  When you sit on the chair the structure of the chair flexes and takes up strain in certain areas.  Conversely the structure of the chair exercises pressure upon your body (changing the shape of your body, supporting your back, lowering the pressure on your feet etc.)

Technology thus has both 'subtle' and 'gross' interactions with its human creators - by this I mean that technology interacts both with what is unseen (thoughts, choices, dreams, hopes, aspirations, desires, fears etc.) and what is seen (our physical being, our environment, our proximity to self and others...)

When one comes to consider this complex relationship between consumers of technology, creators of technologies, and the technologies themselves one can begin to understand that the ethical considerations of what we do (and do not do) with our technologies is even MORE complex!  For example, how far do we go in manipulating the human genetic code to do away with certain pathological conditions (mental illness, disease etc.)?  When have we taken our use of technology too far, and when have we not taken it far enough!?

It reminds me a a joke I heard recently - a man was driving in a rural chicken farming area when he passed on the motorway by a 4 legged chicken doing 130 km/h!  The man was amazed and so he followed the speading bird to a farmers homestead.  He knocked on the farmers door and asked him "have you see that there is a 4 legged chicken running around on your farm?" The farmer replied, "indeed, there are plenty of them here.  We breed them that way.  You see I like a drumstick, my wife likes one, and so do my 2 children.  So, it was for that reason that we engineered chickens that have 4 legs".  Astonished the enquirer asked "So, how do they taste?" "I'm not sure" replied the farmer, "I've never been able to catch one!"

I suppose that is the 'sweet spot' for technology - it must serve a useful and appropriate purpose in order for it to be considered good!  Well, in my trawl of the internet I came across this interesting post on biological engineering.  I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts (particularly from the perspective of Christian ethics) on the use and abuse of technologies!

 Images 2009 09 28 P233 090928 R18840 P233 In ?A Life of Its Own," Michael Specter explores the opportunities and challenges posed by the emerging field of synthetic biology. ?No scienti?c achievement has promised so much, and none has come with greater risks or clearer possibilities for deliberate abuse,? Specter writes. Synthetic biologists ?see cells as hardware, and genetic code as the software required to make them run,? he notes. ?By using gene-sequence information and synthetic DNA, they are attempting to recon?gure the metabolic pathways of cells to perform entirely new functions, such as manufacturing chemicals and drugs.? One team of biologists, led by Jay Keasling at Berkeley, has had great success with amorphadine, the precursor to the malaria medicine artemisinin: they constructed a microbe to manufacture the compound, and by 2012 they will have produced enough artemisinin that the cost for a course of treatment will drop from as much as ten dollars to less than a dollar. ?We have got to the point in human history where we simply do not have to accept what nature has given us,? Keasling tells Specter. He envisions a much larger expansion of the discipline, engineering cells to manufacture substances like biofuels.
Another scientist, Drew Endy of Stanford, has collaborated with colleagues to start the BioBricks Foundation, a nonpro?t organization formed to register and develop standard parts for assembling DNA. Endy predicts that if synthetic biology succeeds, ?our ultimate solution to the crisis of health-care costs will be to redesign ourselves so that we don?t have so many problems to deal with,? but he also acknowledges the risks inherent in the field. Synthetic biology, Endy tells Specter, is ?the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer.? Yet he also argues that ?the potential is great enough, I believe, to convince people it?s worth the risk.? Specter writes, ?The planet is in danger, and nature needs help.? While biological engineering will never ?solve every problem we expect it to solve,? he writes, ?what worked for artemisinin can work for many of the products our species will need to survive.?
(Illustration by Joost Swarte) Where will synthetic biology lead us?

Please leave me some feedback and thoughts in the comments!  Come on ethicists, philosophers, theologians, and the rest of us who use technology! What do you think?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On a common journey! Methodist Ordination service.

In this picture are two of my best friends in the ministry - Rev Kevin
Needham (left) and Angus Kelly (middle). Today is Angus' Ordination
to the ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. It is a
recognition by the denomination that he has the gifts for ministry and
has responded to the call to serve in the ministry of the church. The
training process is quite rigorous, taking between 5-7 years.

Angus is a good minister! He serves two Churches. One in Paarl and
one in Franschhoek (both in the Western Cape). He is a superb
preacher, an excellent worship leader and a caring pastor. I have had
te joy of serving with Angus when he was our worship Pastor at
Coronation Ave Methodist Church when I was a Pastor there (some 10
years ago if I remember correctly).

I rejoice with Gus and the 30 other friends, many of whom were my
students (as Gus was!), at John Wesley College.

I thank God for gifted people who could do almost anything in the
world, yet choose a life of sacrifice and service for the sake of
seeing God's Kingdom come to earth!

It was so wonderful to be with many friends here in Pietermaritzburg!
I feel renewed, encouraged and uplifted!

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Unashamedly Ethical Summit 2009

This morning (18-19 September 2009) just over 100 people gathered at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West for the first annual Unashamedly Ethical summit.

Among the speakers over the next two days are Graham Power (from the Power group of companies), Steve Johnstone (international co-ordinator of Unashamedly Ethical), Dr Willem Landman (Ethics SA), Prof Danny Titus (Transparency International), Theo Nkone (former MEC in Provincial Government and senior leader for Old Mutual South Africa).

These two days are set to be a remarkable encouragement and reminder for us to commit to being unashamedly ethical in all that we say, do, and choose. These choices are intended to address systemic corruption in order to impact systemic poverty in a significant manner.

Please visit http://www.unashamedlyethical.com for more details about the campaign and the conference.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A new book! "What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa"

Update 13 February 2010

If you are a University of South Africa - UNISA student who needs to order this book for Ethics you can order the book from here:

Books 4 Change

Or from here:


Shout if you have any difficulty!

God bless,


My congratulations to my friends Dr. Wessel Bentley, Dr Andre van Niekerk and Prof Liouse Kretzschmar who have just released their new book "What is a good life? An introduction to Christian Ethics in 21st century Africa".

Here's some information about the book:
What is a good life? is a question asked by many people. Why can?t the pursuit of money, power or status provide us with a good life? Why is it that who we are as persons and how we relate to others and our environment is important? Why are a spiritual life and a close relationship with God essential? Why are the lives of some of those who claim to be Christians immoral and unappealing?
A person of integrity has to learn the difference between good and right conduct on the one hand, and damaging or wrong actions on the other. This book does not provide all the answers, but it introduces various ethical problems and suggests ways to deal with them.

It offers a model of moral decision-making based on various ethical theories. The model is applied to contemporary ethical problems facing the world, particularly Africa. The issues of leadership, land, the marginalisation of women and children, HIV/AIDS, the environment, the economic problem of debt and the ethical role of the Church in Africa today are discussed.

Authors from various backgrounds who investigated current ethical issues suggest a way forward. They describe how one can learn to make thoughtful and practical ethical decisions, and how individuals and communities can be morally formed. They challenge, inspire, motivate and equip the reader to become a moral agent in their own community and help to build a better life for all.

I am pleased to say that I wrote a chapter on Ethics and the Bible in relation to the matter of persons of a same sex orientation (Chapter 5, entitled "Reading the same Bible and arriving at different ethical conclusions: The Bible and Christian ethics"). Among the other authors are:

Neville Richardson
Desiree Snyman
Glenn Stavridis
Sean McGuigan
Moss Ntlha
Nadine Bowers du Toit...

This book has been prescribed for all Theological Ethics students at UNISA.  It is a superb resource that will help you to understand the complexity of ethical decision-making in relation to issues of economics, gender, sexuality, the environment, and a host of other topics concerns!  I would encourage you to consider ordering a copy from here.

True life in Christ... Or, the Church of the 'living dead'

So, be honest, many of us struggle to find true blessing and life through the Church!  The first thing I want to say about this is that we need to avoid the simplistic perspective of blaming our pastor, elders, or leaders!  True life in Christ (and so true life in the Church) has as much to do with you, and your relationship with Christ, as it has to do with any leader, institution, or even style of worship!

This is the third program in a series on ministry and the Churches of Revelation ? today?s title is ?Do you want to be more than just the ?living dead?? True life in Christ?.  We look at some of the mistakes that the Church at Sardis made that robed them of their joy and true life in Christ.  Like so many people today, they looked good on the outside to judge the 'life' of their faith and Church, but their inner lives left a lot to be desired! You can download the program  here (6MB mp3).

As always, I would love to hear your feedback. Please also consider voting for 'The Ministry and Me' at the Radio Pulpit website.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Compassion rather than pity... And, the gift of frailty

I'll confess that I've been feeling a little low for the last week or so (sure, my 'low' is pretty much the same as most other people's 'normal'... But, I have still been feeling a little low).  In Afrikaans there is a wonderfully expressive word to describe my emotional state '...ek voel 'n bietjie broos' [I'm feeling a little 'brittle, delicate, bruised'].

My friend Barry's death has left me somewhat pensive... A day or two after Barry's passing I was searching the scriptures for some encouragement and came across these wonderful words from Lamentations 3:22-24:

 22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
       for his compassions never fail.
 23 They are new every morning;
       great is your faithfulness.
 24 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
       therefore I will wait for him."

[This image comes from here]

The words of these verses have been a source of great encouragement and blessing as I've considered the frailty of life.  There is one particular word that stood out for me, it is to be found towards the end of verse 22 - it is the word 'compassion'.

Compassion is a remarkable emotion - in some older translations Biblical scholars used the word 'pity' instead of compassion (you can also find this in Psalm 103).  Compassion is, however, an entirely different emotion from pity (see the little video above for more).

Let me illustrate it in the following manner:  When I was primary school my mom once gave me a few Rand (the South Africa currency) to get a haircut at the end of a summer school holiday.  My brother, however, encouraged me to give the money to him so that we could spend it on sweets - he offered to cut my hair for free!  I thought this was a GREAT idea!  I would get sweets as well as a haircut.  Well, the haircut turned out to be ... shall we say somewhat adventurous!  As a punishment my mom sent me to school with my 'hacked head of hair' - all of my friends took pity on me!  They were all thinking what one of them had the courage to say - 'Hey Dion, I'm sorry you've got such a bad haircut, but boy am I pleased that I'm not you!'

Pity is an emotion that seperates one from suffering, it causes one to draw away from hardship and retreat to safety.

Compassion is quite different - compassion is an emotion that stems from empathy.  Compassion has quite the opposite outcome from pity.  Whereas pity seperates persons, compassion unites them!  A person who has suffered a great loss cannot help feeling a desire to carry the burden of someone else who has suffered a loss.  Because one has experienced pain, you don't want others to experience pain, and so you draw near to them in order to offer them comfort.

I am truly thankful that God is a God of comfort!  God draws near in grace.  This is the God who chooses to come into the world, rather than rule it from a spiritual Kingdom.  This is the God who gets actively involved in the mess of daily life, rather than remaining in a palace on a hill.  This is the God who transforms death into life, by coming to die.

This is a compassionate God who cares - and I am thankful!

I am also feeling a little bruised ('broos') because every now and then I reminded that my life is not perfect.  My little boy Liam has been very ill for the last three days.  His lungs have struggled to bring in enough air.  It is a truly desperate sight for a parent to watch their child struggling to breathe!  Together with this he has developed an infection both of his little ears.  Since he has learnt to speak a few words he cries out in pain, and there is not much that we can do.  So we hold him, and we sing, and we pray...  We don't sleep much at times such as these.  We listen for his breathing.

But, God's mercy is new every morning, and God's compassion is new!  It never fails!

And so, tonight Liam is looking better.  He is resting now, and so are we.

My life may not be perfect, but at moments like these it is pretty good!

I am thankful for the love of a God of compassion, rather than a God of pity - I am sustained, uplifted, and blessed.

Liam's frailty reminds me to love him all the more.  It reminds me that health is gift to be treasured, and that life is meant to be lived to the full.  Megan's care for him reminds me of her gentle and loving nature.

I am thankful...

Monday, September 07, 2009

A prayer of encouragement for this day.

This morning during my devotional time I came across the following wonderful prayers and text from scripture.  I use a little book called 'A prayer guide for ministers and other servants' (produced by the Upper Room).  It is a great encouragement - particularly when the days are busy and the expectations and demands of daily life loom large!  Perhaps these prayers and thoughts will offer you some encouragement, as they did for me?


My Lord and friend, in the quietness of this hour, reconcile my contrary motives and conflicting desires.  Give me a singleness of purpose that I may come into your presence unashamed and sit under your gaze without embarrassment or fear. Amen.

Scripture:  Lamentations 3:22-24 (New International Version)

 22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
       for his compassions never fail.

 23 They are new every morning;
       great is your faithfulness.

 24 I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
       therefore I will wait for him."


And now, my Lord, I thank you for reconciling my inner conflicts and healing my brokenness.  Sen me, I pray from this place as Christ's ambassador of reconciliation to those whom I meet this day.  Amen.

May you be blessed as you serve Christ and serve others.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Using media in ministry (redux), facebook, twitter, blogs, youtube and more


Please click here to download an MP3 recording of the Radio interview I refer to below.

I am always amazed at how I stumble and stutter once I am on air!  It is quite a challenge to remain coherent and sensible when thousands of people are listening (and there's no backspace key!)  Ha ha!  The interview went off well (I think), and as I mention, I would love to hear your thoughts.  So, here's the podcast file (13MB in MP3 format)

This evening (6 September 2009) I shall be doing an interview on Kate Turkington's Sunday evening talk show on 702 / Cape Talk.

I am extremely excited about this opportunity!  Kate is a remarkable woman, I was so thankful to be contacted by her producer Wendy Landau, who asked if I could come on the show to talk about the use of new media (facebook, twitter, blogs, video blogs, podcasts and e-publishing) in ministry.

Let me give a little bit of background to my interests in media and ministry.  Let's start with the media bit - I have been using the internet almost since its inception (I suppose that in Malcolm Gladwell's terms, see Outliers, I was born at just the right time and had a few fortunate opportunities along the way!)

I have had a website since early in 1994 (when I was a student at Rhodes University - in those days they had Unix boxes with Mosaic browsers and some of the 286 and 386 PC's had Netscape 1 installed on them!)  I realized at an early stage that this medium would have both forming and formative effects.

On the forming side, the ease with which information could be shared, disseminated and published would revolutionize the way we see and think about things!  There is little doubt that our capacity for understanding the complexity of the world (in terms of vast geography, economies, cultures and global interdependence) has changed in the last 15 years!  Access to such a huge quantity and variety of information has formed the way we interact, the way we make choices, and of course even some practical and functional aspects of our lives (such as communication, forming relationships, and crafting our 'picture' of ourselves, others and the world).

From a formative perspective I also realised that there was an incredible opportunity to get ahead of this social and information technology in order to add value to the lives of people all over the world!  Of course in the early days web sites were quite static (except for those ghastly 'animated gifs!') - by static, I mean that it was so difficult to add content that websites tended to be static repositories of information.  My first website on the Rhodes University Computer Users Society server (rucus) had a bit of boigraphical information, a few essays and papers that I had written in Theology (oh, and a hidden list of links to hacking sites and methods... I was quite proficient at getting through the Novell servers at the University and had become somewhat skilled at hacking the lab machines to access the internet...  Remember, those were the early days of computers!)  The point is that my first website was simply, and it had to be coded in html script in a plain text editor!  So adding content was very difficult!

One of the first theologians / priests that I connected with on the internet was Steve Hayes who was teaching in the Missiology Department at UNISA.  I think that was around 1995-1997 - is that right Steve?  Steve has always been way ahead of the curve in using new technologies to create networks and establish relationships (from the early days of dialup BBS' to the more current 'syncroblogs')

I suppose I had always seen a clear link between ministry and media (i.e., the necessity to manage how I, and others, are formed by the information we receive.  As well as using the technologies at our disposal to influence, inform, and help others to form fresh, life-giving perspectives on themselves, others, God and God's world.)

Basically, I see that there are two ways in communication technologies can be used for ministry.  I'm sure that there are many more, but these are the two broad uses I understand.

1.  They can be used to share information, thoughts, ideas and inspiration.  So, you'll see on my blog I give away three of my books for free.  This is an effective and easy way to publish my books to a very wide audience and have them interact with the content.  I also do videos and audio podcasts, and of course there are the shorter blog posts.  These tools can be quite effective for ministries and organisations that are producing content (whether it be sermons, books, reports, videos, materials etc.)  It is quite interesting to note that the Global Day of Prayer (whom I serve as part of my current ministry) has one of the most visited ministry sites on the internet, and their mobilization videos and resources are among the most downloaded and used ministry resources on the internet!

2.  Then there are technologies that are particularly good at facilitating relationships and engagement (facebook is one, but even a regular blog like this with comments is another, and then there is myspace, QIK, Youtube and of course to a much lesser extent there is twitter).  Interaction around thoughts, ideas, and causes has the effect of generating creative and interactive thoughts - often leading to new initiatives or fresh solutions to problems, but sometimes simply connecting people with similar ideas, values and points of view with one another.  Steve's blog is a good example of people congregating around issues, ideas, and causes to both give their unique inputs, but also to critique and discuss the views of others.  Facebook and Twitter are good tools to 'point' people towards issues, causes and materials that can help to enrich their lives and transform the lives of others.  So, for example, some Churches use their facebook fan page, or their twitter feed, to send out information about courses, events and resources in a fast and affordable manner.

Steve is particularly good at the relationship side of new media, whereas I tend to find the information sharing aspect easier (my lifestyle, and even my personality, make it difficult to return to issues that I've 'put out there').

Next, I have a fairly simple strategic purpose for new media.

I see the microblogging and 'short form' media (twitter and friendfeed) as a first means of gaining interest, creating a 'following' and pointing persons towards content and interaction.  Twitter is almost like an invitation to a party or event!  If you make it worthwhile people will want to 'click through' to what you are highlighting.  The key to getting followers in twitter is

  • 1) Worthwhile content (see my post on twitter tips here)  people follow people who add value to their lives and experience of the internet! Of course there are various ways of doing this.  If you're a 'personality' people often find value in gaining an insight into your ordinary life (when you shop, who you hang out with, what you're thinking etc.)  But, for most of us that is not the case.  Our content needs to be valuable (i.e., getting people quickly and effectively to entertainment, news, or helpful resources). 

  • 2)  Build relationships - this is key to following people on twitter, and getting them to take an interest in what you're contributing on the internet (and in 'real life').  I find that the people who retweet my content, or point others to what I am doing are people who I know, or have built a genuine relationship with because I am connected to them and their lives and take a real interest in who they are and what they do!  In short, I need to be prepared to connect wortwhile people to my network of friends and 'followers' in order to expect the same in return from them.  But, more importantly I should simply follow and build relationships with people that I want to relate to. When this is the motivation then a relationship is not forced, it is simply a relationship!

Next you need to have a 'landing space' where people can find the content you're pointing to and begin to create a relationship with you, your ideas, and with others persons who share similar ideas and thoughts.  This is almost like hosting a part!  In my case my blog is the landing space - I will do my best to share something of myself, some of my thoughts, and of course some useful and valuable content here.  A blog takes time, commitment and some consistency.  These are not all my ideas, most of them come, in large part, from Seth Godin's book "Tribes"

  • You need to take time to find and post content - remember - it must be worthwhile for people to visit your page (and to visit again!)  I've spoken about the neuroscience of survival and efficiency elsewhere.  It's a simple fact, people go to sites that are most helpful to their lives (information, entertainment, relationships, etc.)
  • Post as regularly as you can.  People stop returning to blogs that are not updated!  There are simply too many good blogs out there that add good content frequently.  So, if you have a 'niche' and can post once or twice a week (better even if you can post daily) you're on your way to building a loyal community!

You can view a short video I did on New Media, Ministry and Tribes here:

So, the landing page is the place where you start to share your ideas, help to influence, support and challenge people to change their own lives and the lives of others around them.

But, that is not the end...

The final step is to 'build a conversation' - I am certainly aware of the fact that I don't have any definitive answers to some of the issues that I think about, work towards, and want to see changed.  I need your thoughts, ideas, and effort.  So, comments on your blog, requests for contact, and the opportunity to meet people in the 'real world' is essential!

I have had wonderful opportunities to connect with people and discuss their thoughts in relation to mine, to do presentations and talks, or contribute practically to the good work that others are doing!  That, after all, should be the aim of ministry - to bring about real and tangible change.

So, here are two resources that may be of some help to you.  They are both previous posts I did on Media and Ministry for Media Village in Kalk Bay, Cape Town.

Post 1 - July 2009 from here.

Last week I had the privilege of teaching some classes on new media and ministry at Media Village's School of Video Production.

Since most of the persons on the course were not theologically trained we spent the first day discussing issues related to the 'message' of ministry. In particular we talked about the message of the Kingdom of God and our responsibility to be agents of transformation in society (thus pitching the content of the message towards individuals in order to engage the individuals with the Gospel of Christ, and also empower individuals to transform systems and communities to embrace the ways of Christ).

I have recently become increasingly aware of the fact that the Church sees its mission mandate as a geographical mandate (i.e., go into all the 'world' making disciples of all nations...) However, there are 'worlds' that are not part of our regular geography - these include social networks and new social media. I'm not sure about you, but I so much more connected with many more people because of the technology of social media. I communicate with more than 1000 people each time I send out an update on my twitter feed - http://www.twitter.com/digitadion. I have over 700 followers on twitter, and since my twitter feed automatically updates my facebook profile the 460 friends I have on facebook (some of whom are also friends on twitter) receive my updates. This phenomenon shows when I look at the logs for my website! I see a huge spike in hits to my website after an interesting tweet!

The lectures themselves offered quite a lot of insight into the tools of social media (twitter, facebook, linkedin) and new media tools (which primarily are communication tools to get rich content (such as audio, video, electronic text, or still images) to large groups of persons).

My media strategy, as you shall see from the video below, is quite simple:

1. Build a wide range of relationships. This is where twitter and facebook come in. The intention of these relationships is the create opportunities to interact around common interests and concerns, and particularly to drive traffic to my content! I cannot emphasize this last point strongly enough!

2. Having built a wide range of relationships I use various means to present rich content to my network. These include videos through youtube and qik, electronic text via my blog, and of course audio via my podcast and images via flickr.

3. When persons visit any of these sites I try to provide content for free (books, podcasts, videos etc.) that will bring about returning visits.

The long and the short of this relationship is that it creates a model for engagement around issues of the Gospel (the love of God in Christ, justice, social transformation etc.) Furthermore, the model also serves as a platform from which to launch my thoughts and ideas - I cannot tell you how many wonderful opportunities have come because my blog is rated in the top 5 in the Mail and Guardian's religion blogs section. I frequently get emails, telephone calls, do radio and television interviews and have generated many sales for my books etc. through these contacts.

The 'secret' if I can put it as such, is to give away ones content for free whenever possible. My idea is that the most valuable thing I have is not the paper on which my books is printed, rather it is the ideas, concepts and engagement that form the books - and of course my time. So, persosn can have my work for free since it eventually leads them to contact me to engage around the content. This in turn allows opportunities for me to share the Gospel of Christ and to encourage others to work with me for the transformation of society and creation!

Well, here's the video on new media / social media:

And, here's a copy of the Powerpoint Slides I used over the three 2 days. Simply click the link to download them. There is a 'reading list' in the middle of the slides that may be of some help. Please feel free to use them as you wish, if I could simply ask that you give a linkback to my blog (or site http://www.dionforster.com ) if you use them.

I'd love to hear your perspectives on how the Church, and Christians, can use social media to bring God's will to bear on society.

Post 2 24 July 2009 from here.

Here's a short interview that my friend Shane Vermooten from Media Village did with me for their series 'On the Orange Couch' at the School of Video Production in Kalk Bay in Cape Town.

In this video I discuss some of the issues related to how we can harness new media in Christian ministry. I also discuss some theological perspectives in the mission of the Church and of individual Christians in society as they relate to the Kingdom of God.

Find more videos like this on SVP 2009

Please share any thoughts and feedback!

You can find my original video, powerpoint slides, and post on new media in ministry on this link.

Post 3 30 July 2009 from here.

This is a video interview / discussion with Bill Wasik on Viral Culture & New Media @NextSpace Santa Cruz

Before you jump to the video (and you'd best have some bandwidth to spare - but it is well worth watching), I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book 'The outliers'. It presents some fascinating research to challenge our views of success! For example, did you know that the overwhelming number of professional hockey players were born in January (in fact most of them in the first three weeks of January!) Did you know that most of the Tycoons of Industry were born in the 1830's, and that the tycoons of the internet (Gates, Joy, Jobs etc.) were all born within a few months of each other in the 1980's?

The point that Gladwell makes from his research is that 'talent' is only a small part of success. What made all of these aforementioned people a success in their fields was that they were ahead of the curve. Think about this for example, if Gates and Jobs had been just a little bit too young they would never have got ahead of the computer revolution and lead their way into the industry. If they were a little older they would perhaps have been married with kids and so not been willing to take the risks of starting up a new enterprise, and so some other younger, hungrier, more daring persons would have done it instead... Do you see the point? Being aware of where you are in history is an important thing!

There is little doubt that communication technology is absolutely revolutionising the world! The world is not the same as it was even 10 years ago. We can connect at no cost, and in an instant, with hundreds of thousands of people all over the world using a computing device that we can put in our pocket! Text messaging, facebook and twitter are changing the ways in which conversations are structured and engaged...

What is the Church doing about it? We still employ a 20-30 minute sermon as our primary means of communicating the unchanging Gospel to an ever changing world! My goodness that is unwise!

Bill Wasik on Viral Culture & New Media @NextSpace Santa Cruz from Allan Lundell on Vimeo.

Here are some other posts (videos and lecture notes) that I prepared on New Media and Ministry... And here is an exceptional reflection and critique by Steve Hayes that consciders a different aspect of technology and its use in ministry.

I would love to hear your feedback, thoughts and insights! How can we use these tools in our ministry? Do you know of anyone who is doing it well? Do you agree with me that our generation must get 'ahead' of this curve or we may just miss the boat?

Free Christian theology and spirituality books to download!

Every now and then I repost this message - Here are the links to download copies of three of my books for free!

As I've said elsewhere a few times, I would much rather have you read my books than pay me to own them! So, please, go ahead, download a copy of each and use them as you would.




Please may I request two favours in return?

1. Please could you drop me a line to let me know that you've downloaded one or all of the books and whether you have any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback to share? You can email me at digitaldion@gmail.com

2. Please could I ask that you spread the links to my books as widely as you possibly can! Please try to drive as much traffic to these books as possible. Thank you so much for your interest!
If you would like to own copies of the books simply go to my blog http://www.spirituality.org.za/blogger.html and you can order paper copies of each of the books, plus three more, using the links on the right hand side of the page.

May you be richly blessed in Christ,


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Rest in peace 'Zoob'! The passing of Rev Barry Marshall

Dr Wessel Bentley, Rev Barry Marshall, Dr Dion Forster
Originally uploaded by digitaldion.

I heard today of the death of my friend the Reverend Barry Marshall. Barry, is pictured in the middle of Wessel Bentley (left) and myself (right) in this photograph taken in Cape Town in 2007. I have such a fond memory of that evening! We had come from an exceptionally heated debate at the Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Barry and I are both known to be a little hot headed - so at the advice of Alan Storey (see the picture below) who was a seasoned veteran of the anti Apartheid struggle, we agreed that if either of us got antagonized into an emotional response we would simply glance across and the emotional person would have to quieten down! Ha ha! A few stares were passed during the debate that afternoon. You can read some of it on the link about Barry below.

I first came to know Barry when he followed me as a 'Probationer' (Student) minister at Trinity Methodist Church in Sunward Park in the early 1990's. We struck up quite a close friendship since we had similar interests in ministry, theology and life.

Later we got to know one another even better when we did the same Master of Theology course at Rhodes University.

In subsequent years Barry and myself shared lodgings at least twice a year at the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's Education for Ministry and Mission Unit meetings in January and June / July. We always found something about which to joke, and would nip out to meet Johnathan Anderson, Fr Stephen Barry and Bishop Paul Verryn for a little 'libation' in the evenings!

Barry and I had another close connection - my mother works for Barry's Dad, Guy Marshall. So we were frequently sharing stories about our parents, and of course our parents were frequently passing on stories and news about us!

Barry was passionate about the Christian faith, and particularly passionate about issues of justice and inclusiveness in Church and society - he was a leading crusader for the rights of gay and lesbian Christians and he and I (together with many others) worked hard within our own denomination to open the way for a more hospitable and accepting Church. When I was the Dean at John Wesley College and Barry was a minister in Edenvale we used to get him to preach in Chapel and come to teach our classes on contemporary worship. He was deeply respected, and well loved, by our students and staff.

You can find a few of my posts about Barry here.

The photograph above was taken at the Cape Town Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa - it was a glorious sunset evening where a group of friends went out for a meal.

I affectionately knew Barry as 'zoob' a nickname he picked up somewhere along the line... I'm not sure when or where!
In this photograph Barry is at the end of the table with myself to his right, then Wessel Bentley, Alan Storey, and Kevin Needham. On the other side of the table is Diane Moodie and Kenneth Car. What a great evening that was!
I spoke to Barry just over a week ago when he phoned to tell me about one of our Transformation Africa / GDOP meetings that took place in PE. We spoke for 20 minutes... I now wish I had made more of that conversation!

Barry, is survived by his wife and two small children. My heart is very tender for them. Please do spare a prayer for his family. You can find a link to Barry's website here.

You're already deeply missed my friend! Thank you for your service to Christ and your faithfulness to the call to ministry!