Dion's random ramblings

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A little video from Oak Valley mountainbike ride


Here's a little video of some of the most magnificent moutainbiking scenery and trails in the world! We did about 25km's in perfect weather with great single track and long winding farm roads! I love living in the Western Cape!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Do Chimpanzees grieve? And can we exist outside of God?

Some years ago I got quite caught up on reading some of the esoteric 'new scientists', such as Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, and of course the quantum physicist David Bohm.  Their understanding of the structure of reality is that everything is ultimately interconnected - some of them even when as far as saying, as Colossians 1:(16)17 says "He [Jesus / God] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together", that all of reality comes out of God's divine nature.

I certainly agree that there must be a binding reality, some may call it a binding creative force, in all of the cosmos.  This is entirely in keeping with the teaching on creation that comes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament is much less 'dualistic' than the New Testament.  The Hebrew world view differentiates between God and God's creation (i.e., God is supreme and wholy 'other' or different from creation), yet it does not separate God from God's creation.  There is a continuum of being between the God who creates and existing things that exist because of and through God's ongoing creative action (cretio ex nihilo  and of course creatio continiuum).  The New Testament suffers a little more from the influence of Platonic dualism (well more precisely neo-Platonic dualism.  Plato believed that physical reality was an imperfect representation of a perfection spiritual reality that existed elsewhere.  Of course one reads this very clearly in Hebrews (see particularly Hebrews 10), where there is a clear distinction between earthly priests and the True Priest, the earthly tabernacle and earthly sacrifice, and the True Tabernacle and True Sacrifice.  This dualism, however, must not be mistaken for a break in the continuum between God and creation.

What is certain in both the monism of the Old Testament, and the dualism of the New Testament is that nothing can exist outside of God!  Think about that for a moment!  God is God, everything that is created by God exists within the God who gives it the ability to exist - it can be no other way!  I used to confound my first year systematic theology students with this question.  Many would say that you have God and then you have creation.  But, if that were the case it would mean that there is something that has a seperate existance from the One God who is the source of everything that exists.  I would draw a large circle (and name it 'God') and then ask where creation is in relation to that large circle... Of course everything that exists has to exist within and because of the God who creates it and is its source of ongoing existence.

So, if you take the next logical step from that point you will have to agree that the Bible teaches us that there is a fundamental common ground for all existence - that fundamental common ground is God (the one who makes existence possible)!

I have often pondered this mystery... Of course it means (as I said some 20 years ago in an oral exam) that when I abuse another person, I am ultimately abusing God, and of course even abusing myself...  The same goes for creation... When I abuse creation, I am abusing God, and abusing myself (read Psalm 24:1-2)...

It is for this reason that I am always amused, and blessed, when I read stories like the one below.  I am amused because it astounds me how arrogant humans have become to think that we are the only part of God's creation that feels emotion, experiences pain, and suffers loss.  But, it also blesses me when I see a few people who come to discover that we have a responsibility (I would say a Christian responsibility in accordance with 'The Great Commandment' expressed so clearly in Luke 10:27) to care for animals, the planet, and all of God's creation as we would care for ourselves.
This was such a powerful image, and a lovely article (taken from here)

Look at this photograph and just try to tell me the answer is no.
This incredible image was shot for National Geographic by Monica Szczupider, and shows chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. They're observing as the body of an elder troop member named Dorothy is taken to burial. She died at 40 years of age, which is pretty old for a chimpanzee.
The photo appears in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, in the "Visions of Earth" section. [ Thanks, Marilyn Terrell ]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A superb video - how the world is changing! New Media and Ministry!

I've mentioned a few times before on this blog that I believe the Christian faith will need to adapt its mechanism of engagement and communication in order to stay 'ahead of the curve' - I have amended my thoughts on both preaching and worship somewhat after reading John van de Laar's great post on the necessity of the Church and the centrality of a community in worship that reaches from the Church into everyday life. You can read his superb post here.

However, I am still of the mind that we need to make use of different tools and mechanisms for communicating the Gospel of Christ as widely and effectively as we possibly can!

This video gives some perspective on how the world is changing. The video is filled with incredible statistics about global shifts in population, language, technology and preference. I was particularly struck by how one can use media and communication technology to both reach larger numbers of people (for example, more people will read this blog post than I used to have in a service at my Church in Johannesburg), and to communicate in ways that are lasting and effective for the contemporary mindset.

The video is below, and I have copied some previous posts I made on this subject below the video. Once again, I would love to hear your feedback!

Here's the old post: taken from here

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?

Liam the Great and Mertyl my Vespa!

videoAh yes, I love Liam! Today we got the 'all clear' from the specialist.
There was a concern that he may have cancer or possibly TB because of
a problem with his lymph node. But, we thank God that he is well! The
swelling is as a result of a prolonged chest infection, and that we
can continue to treat!

Here is part of a video with Liam the Great and Mertyl my Vespa!

Liam loves Mertyl, and I love Liam!!!

Please join us in giving thanks for his life!

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

A river crossing, mountainbike ride on Lourensford

videoTake a look at this cool river crossing on this morning's ride on
Lourensford! Great fun, great friends!

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Joy, patience and prayer... Encouragement for daily life! (Video reflection)

One of the common pastoral conversations I have had with people over the years relates to 'joy', 'patience' and 'prayer'.  Sometimes we all struggle to 'fit into our lives' - we may feel that we would rather be doing something else, or be somewhere else.  That feeling can lead to unrest and struggle.

Here's a little video that talks about joy, patience and prayer.

I'd love to hear your feedback, opinion and perspective!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not fit for consumption...

Have you ever had high hopes for someone, or some event, and been disappointed that your expectation was not met?  I have certainly experienced this a few times in my life.  Sometimes I have placed too much hope in a person, and sometimes it has been an institution - every indicator points to the fact that things will go well, and for some reason they simply don't turn out as expected... Do you know the feeling?

Today I recorded the final episode in a series of broadcast I did for my radio program 'The Ministry and Me' on radio pulpit - for the past number of weeks we have been looking at the various Churches in the book of Revelation (especially Revelation 2 and 3) and seeing what we can learn for our own lives.  The intention of the program is to help each one of us to realise that we are surrounded by endless opportunities and possibilities!  Sadly, we are easily distracted by memories of the past or hopes for the future - and in this distraction we miss the opportunity of 'living in the present moment'.

Today's program looks at the last of the 7 Churches, the Church of Laodicea.  This was the only one of the seven Churches that Jesus said nothing good about!  Amazingly, this was the wealthiest, most industrious, and most resourced city of those mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3.  Somehow the Church missed their mark (first by not realising their purpose, second by placing their worth in things that weren't eternally important, and finally by not cultivating an intimate and deep relationship with Christ).

You can download the MP3 audio file here: http://www.spirituality.org.za/files/RadioPulpit/Forster14Oct09.mp3  It is 6MB and is in MP3 format.

Please consider leaving me some feedback below, or please look at the Radio Pulpit website at http://www.radiopulpit.co.za

Monday, October 12, 2009

With no desire whatsoever... The saddest state in existence...

This week I shall be teaching ethics for the students at the Theological faculty of Stellenbosch University - tomorrows class deals with the concept of adiaphoria - a concept that was popularized on Stoic philosophy.  Basically adiaphora refers to actions and things that are neither good nor evil.  Let me give you an example...

Whether I should wear black socks or white socks is neither good nor evil (unless of course I am wearing black pants... Then I should only wear white socks if I am going to a 1980's revival party! ha ha).  Or, whether I have short hair or long hair is neither good nor evil.  This category in ethics came to be known as adiaphora from the Greek meaning 'indifferent things'.  The Stoics of course realized that there are few things that are indifferent in society.  For example, whether I eat rice or bread should make no difference, except of course if the owner of the rice paddy abuses his workers, then I should rather eat bread than rice!  Rice (and bread) are of course not just internal choices, they are choices that relate to very real contexts and situations outside of the individual who chooses.

So, the Stoics suggested that an ethical person would always consider supposed adiaphora (e.g., money) from the perspective of proegmena - seeking what is preferable rather than apoproegmena - seeking that is not preferable. In the case of money, it would be preferable to have enough money to meet one's needs (and of course the needs of those for whom one cares and has responsibility).  However, there is a possibility, as we so often see in a contested estate of a family member, the possibility that money (an adiaphora) whilst desirable for general good (proegmena) could be undesirable since it could cause strife, division and even violence among family members who want a larger share of the estate (this would surely be an apoproegmena).

The conclusion, of the philosophers, was that one should their seek to find a state of freedom in oudetera (a Greek word that means 'neither of the two', i.e., neither that which is desirable or that which is undesirable).

Of course that is a very bland and sad state in which to exist!  From a neuroscientific point of view humans are designed to respond to anticipation (we receive dopamine 'injections' into the brain when we anticipate something, or long for it).  The Bible also speaks of the notion of hope - we cannot live without the great hope that is ours in Christ.

It is for this reason that Christian ethics has sought to strive for a different standard, the standard of diapheronta (that which is 'excellent' see Phil 1:19).  There are a few reasons for this:

1.  As Christians we have to acknowledge that there is not a single decision that could possibly fit outside of God's perfect will.  God has a perfect will for the most important, and least important, decisions in our lives (well, what is important and not important is a measure of our perspective, not God's perspective after all).

2.  As Christians we acknowledge not only that our decisions are subject to God's will, they are also subject to the community of humanity within which God has placed us - in truth we cannot be fully human without relating fully to other humans... This is the model of the Trinity (in the sense of the economic Trinity).  The persons in the Godhead find their being, identity, and mission within their interrelated nature (the Father is Father in that the Father is a Father to the Son, and the Son is Son in that the Son is a Son to the Father... You can see where I am going with this).

3.  We acknowledge that our try worth and blessing does not come from  doing, but from our being.  The fact that we are created in the image of God means that all humans bear the image of God and so find their true value in God, and not in what they own, do, or know.  Thus there are no adiaphora when it comes to people - every person is valuable.

4.  God's creation forms part of God's perfect economy.  The Bible teaches us that God cares as much about the earth, and all living creatures as God cares for people (It was the Psalmist who reminds us that the ALL of the Earth is the Lords, and everything in it!)

So, I have been reminded, once again, that I am a servant...  I am called to serve God, and those who God loves.  It is not my task to live FOR desire (as a primary orientation for my life, like the hedonists) proegmena  or avoid what is not desirable (as a primary way of living, like the pietists) apoproegmena.  Rather, as a Christian I should strive for what is truly excellent, and good and loving.  For in that we shall all find the blessing and peace of Christ (Eph 2:8-10).

The following quote was a good reminder that we need to hold onto community as primary orientation for our lives:

Christian discipleship requires being held in love and being held accountable. We simply cannot follow Christ apart from a community that holds us in compassion and calls us to accountability. Solitary discipleship is a misnomer. We cannot be Christian alone. Kenneth Carder, Duke Divinity School professor and retired United Methodist bishop

I had the joy of meeting Bishop Carder on a few occassions, once at Duke Divinity school when I visited there in 2005, and then two years later at Oxford University when I met him at the Oxford Institute.  He is a remarkable person with a clear understanding of what is right and wrong, and also what helps to make us right and wrong!  I enjoyed listening to him speak!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

If you only love those who love you...

It has been another busy week, and I am only about half way through it.  I travelled to George on Tuesday for the city's day of prayer - it was a special event.  As a theologian so much of my time and energy is spent in checking orthodoxy (what is 'true', 'correct', and Biblical).  Naturally such an approach to faith must be somewhat critical (in the questioning sense). I frequently encounter wonderful people who do great things and have to work out what motivates their action, informs their belief and makes them do what they do.  Of course there are also some persons that I encounter who have impure motives, misguided beliefs and who do things that divide and break down the body of Christ.

I try to approach all people and events with the same openness of heart, and to question those with whose theology I agree as rigorously as those with whom I may hold points of difference.

I have faced a great deal of innner conflict, and reprimand, from friends on both sides of the 'theological divide' - it would seem that none of us is very tolerant of persons who hold a view different from our own.  Often my more liberal friends have chastised me for keeping company with conservatives, and my conservative friends have chastised me for my inclusive theological views.  I am not without fault!  Sometimes I lack the courage to challenge what I can see is not correct, and sometimes I am simply not clear enough of what is right in a particular instance.  The following scripture passage has been a source of great inspiration and encouragement.  I do try to be fully inclusive in my faith!

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return Luke 6:32-35

Well, the George event was wonderful - every now and then I can simply 'be' a Christian person among other Christians.

It was wonderful to see close to 15 000 persons gathering in their city's stadium for prayer.  In the liberal spiritual tradition we place a great deal of emphasis on actions of justice and mercy as an expression of God's will and love, yet we attempt to hold that in tension with the reality that all true Christian action must flow a deep lived encounter with God in Christ (frequently this stems from spiritual disciplines such as daily prayer, the rhythm of an age old liturgy, living together in community, intensive spiritual retreats).

I sensed that the majority of the persons at this prayer event were simply together because they have a great concern for their city and region, and they long to bring this concern before God in corporate worship and prayer.  I left there encouraged.  In the crowd were women, men, young people, older people, black South Africans and white South Africans, conservatives and liberals.  It was a glimpse of the body of Christ.

From there I came Johannesburg where we did the Gauteng launch for Graham Power's book "Not by might nor by Power" - you can read about it here http://www.spirituality.org.za/2009/07/acts-29-story-not-by-might-nor-by-power.html

I had some meetings in Johannesburg during the day and then the book launch in the evening.  It was a great event, and there too I was reminded of the diversity, yet unity, of the body of Christ.

Now I am flying back to Cape Town for a meeting at one of the Universities, and then the remainder of this week and next week will be spent with the central committee of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization that are in Cape Town as part of the preparations for the October 2010 congress in our City.

I found this little quote very inspiring when it came to me this morning:

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. Thomas Merton, (from A Book of Hours)
Have a blessed day!  Please spare a prayer for my family and I.  We have been struggling with our son Liam's health for the past four weeks. He is such a precious little guy and he has been through a great deal of physical hardship in his short little life.  His ill health places a great deal of emotional strain on us!  Not to mention that it has implications on our ability to sleep, and of course financial ramifications...  We appreciate the care!

Here are some images taken at the George prayer event:

Graham Power addressing the gathering.

Rev Alfred Gcalitsha, a friend from Eagle's Rising a social upliftment and transformation ministry we work with in Somerset West addressing the young people.

Rev Brian Evans from the Global Day of Prayer praying for some young people.

Two Angus' having a laugh (yup, my second name is Angus).  Here uncle Angus was giving me some advice about caring for Graham.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Methodist Present Potential - new book by Angela Shier Jones

My friend, Rev Dr Angela Shier Jones' new book 'Methodist Present Potential' has been published! Well done Angie (and Luke Curran, who is the co-editor)!!!

The book looks amazing - it discusses the past, present, and future potential of Methodism! Among the contributors are:

  • Angela Shier Jones
  • Luke Curran
  • Richard Heitzenrater
  • Clive Marsh
  • Jane Craske
  • Jonathan Dean
  • Martin Ramsden
  • Karen Jobson
  • Shirlyn Toppin
  • Rachel Deigh... 
  • And a guy named Dion Forster ;-) I wrote chapter 7 in the book, entitled 'A World Faith'.

Here's a bit more about the book from the publishers website:

Methodist Present Potential is for everyone concerned with the future of Methodism given the threatened demise of the Church in the 21st century.
This book is a dialogue between the present and the past ? for the sake of the future. Ten years after the publication of Methodism and the Future a new generation of scholars and church leaders reflect on the tradition that they have inherited.
The book explores the potential of Methodism's approach to: mission and evangelism, Scripture, the sacraments, race and gender, church structures and discipline, ecumenism and the world Church.

This is a huge project for me! It keeps me connected to my Methodist family across the world, and it is an incredible honour to have been asked by Angie to participate in the project. I am by far the most junior scholar in the book.

You can order it from the publisher here or if you live in the USA you can order from Amazon by clicking here.

Well done Angie, and thank you SOOO much for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this great project!

Central Methodist Mission, Bishop Paul Verryn and compassion

For some years I have been connected with the Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg. I first spent time there in 1992 when I was doing a pre-pastoral course in Soweto (with Paul Verryn) and we went into the city for a number of days to work with people who were living on the streets.

At that stage the Central Methodist Mission was a grand old Church building - imposing and impressive! A friend of mine, Derek Wilson, was Ordained in that Church, and it also happens to be the location of most of my early education in Biblical Greek! Paul was my Greek tutor and I spent many, many hours between the masses of people who would come to Paul's office. Declensions, parsing and people... Those are my memories of my first year of Greek!

Paul is a close friend and I declare that not as a bias, but as truth. I have benefited from his counsel and care on numerous occasions. I have always been impressed by his courage and commitment to the poor. I don't know of any other person, even the "great names", in our nation who has sacrificed as much for the sake of caring for those to whom no-one goes.

As Paul began to take in the refugees at Central mission we often met in the building (at that stage I was the Dean of the Methodist Seminary and some of our students had placements there, but Paul was also the chairperson of the Theological Education working group, so we met there once a month or so). I watched the numbers growing each time we entered the building.

Even then I could see that this was not an ideal location to house desperate people, but what was he to do!? The South African government, in an attempt to keep Mr Mugabe happy, would not acknowledge that Zimbabwe was in crisis! Back in 2006 I heard that there were over 2 million refugees from Zimbabwe in South Africa, yet because of our nation's "quiet diplomacy" with Zimbabwe less than
58 had refugee status! No, that's not a typographical error, LESS 58 persons out of 2 million. (If anyone reading the blog can confirm these numbers or help me with a reference I would be grateful).

And so, the Church did what all good Churches should do - they opened their doors to the destitute. We often hear Churches quoting the words of Jesus in Luke 4, saying that they will bring "Good news to the poor"... very few do it! I can tell you the truth, good news to a poor person is NOT a sermon! It is shelter, and food, and medical care, and hope for life! This is the WAY of Jesus...

On the day when the refugees were arrested at Central Methodist Mission our campus stopped, we held a special service that morning and our students went to the Church in solidarity with those who had been arrested. You can listen to a reflection that I did with one of our students at the time, Paul Oosthuizen, here:


A few months later I was approached by the SABC to participate in a television documentary on Paul's life. I was pleased to do so. I am not naive to the fact that he has flaws, like all of us do, but I am as certain now, as I was then, that his intentions are just, in fact he is orientated towards the kind
of Justice that is a characteristic of a true follower of Christ!

As I read the Noseweek article "Abuse or Mercy? Two sides of the horrificrefugee crisis dispute at Jozi's Central Methodist Church"; this morning I wept.

I couldn't control the tears. I wept for Paul - it is clear that he, and his Church, are doing their best with very little support from the local government. They are overwhelmed with suffering! What are they to do? I also wept for the 3500 people who have to live in the conditions described in the article - their desperation must be extreme for them to be willing to put up with the conditions that they face in that shelter.

The conclusion of the article reads:

It is all too easy to accuse Verryn, or make out that the church is somehow at fault - as many are wont to do. But while fingers are being pointed, no one has come up with alternative places of shelter - or stepped in to help alleviate the situation. Verryn appears to be doing the best he can, rarely leaving the church before 3am as he staves off a tsunami of challenges, as he attempts the impossible - to bring order to violence and chaos. Meanwhile the authorities, both government and the City of Johannesburg, are failing their mandate to protect our own children - never mind resolve the desperate plight of those forced to flee to what they imagined was a better life, only to find themselves fighting for their lives and dignity in South Africa's own 'war of the streets'. (Noseweek, October 2009, p.21).

So, tomorrow as I take up my weekly fast (Isa 58:6-9), I shall do so with the Pastor and the residents of Central Methodist Church in mind. I am encouraged by Paul, he exemplifies the injunction of the Prophet Micah "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Mic 6:8)

Please can I invite you to pray and fast with me? There must be a solution to this nightmare!