The time has come …

seasonal treeAfter just less than two years of Blissphil Blogging the time has come to move on and start something new.

Over the last semester I have struggled to write, not because news has dried up, but because my news has changed, or at least my reaction to my news has changed. When I started this blog, I was full of the mystery and the wonder of God and the journey ahead.  I find myself now in a place where realism has crept in and life is a little more gritty and less idealistic, albeit just as mysterious and beautiful.

This blog belongs to a time in my life which I will characterise as ‘hopelessly romantic’ and dare I say it, a tad naïve. I am still a hopeless romantic, I still yearn for a more just and loving world and I am possibly still very naïve. But, I am learning to see the world differently, I am less ridiculously optimistic and more realistically hopeful.

I am going to continue to write, but in a new space, perhaps I’ll pop back into Blissphil mode, perhaps I won’t …

I hope you’ll continue to journey with me, here: @ philippacole.wordpress.com 

With love,

Philippa

Learning to live with paradox…

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Today I am going to ramble a bit … be prepared.

paradox 2This week I am journeying with paradox. A great word ‘paradox’. The online dictionary defines it in part like this: ‘An assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises’. What is most interesting about paradox is that it makes no sense unless you see it, perceive it or live it. It is nonsensical until you live into the nonsensicalness. It’s hard to describe without concrete examples. Paradoxically, paradox cannot be definitively defined. Or can it?

We had an interesting (though controversial) talk yesterday by Professor Herbert Vilakazi on Culture and Religion, the need for cross-pollination of religion and culture, a synthesising of the two. He spoke of the Church needing to get back into rural communities to do the work of mission where mission is most needed, but without the restricting ‘religious talk’ which accompanies us on those missions – mission without ‘mission speak’. Made sense to me. He spoke about how so many of our activists come from educated, urban environments, but that the real work of innovation happens when urban meets rural and results in new ways of being which benefit both with the input of both. We are living in revolutionary times, the world is changing rapidly and that’s where I am struggling. I have access to the internet, to bright thinkers and world changers who are describing the new world into which we are moving, and yet when I look around at life here, I hardly recognise this as the same rapidly advancing world. But of course, it is and I know it is, it just feels so far removed and blurry and dare I say it, stagnant?  As I chatted with my flatmate this morning, I expressed my confusion, what to do, remain frustrated and confused between the reality of my surroundings, with the reality of what I am reading? Real these two worlds may equally be, but the same, they are most definitely not.

Do I stop reading I asked her? I find it so frustrating that these two worlds are so far apart from one another. But, she reminded me, this is the tension I need to live with, the paradox of being a minister in a certain context at a certain time with a differing world view to the one I am being exposed to/have been exposed to. We talk so much about unity and oneness, but how do we live unity and oneness in an increasingly diverse world? Do we mesh and merge all our boundaries and defining characteristics or do we protect our uniqueness and learn to accept one another as is. The latter makes more sense of course, and it’s great IN theory, GRRreat! Extremely difficult to live out authentically.

Part of me wants to say: stop the world I want to get off, I want to crawl back into comforting sameness and just live simply, the way the monastics did, but is that the answer?

paradoxDeep down I know the answer, live with the paradox, live simply with the diversity of where you are, because it will hold you in good stead when you step into yet another kind of reality beyond these institutional walls. (‘Urban’ meets ‘rural’ as metaphor and back again for social change) But YOH! It’s not easy. I know I am living and growing and learning, but holding all the thoughts of what is, with what will be, what can be, what God is ‘maybe’ calling us to is exhausting. And all this is being done from the stationary position of my small little seminary life.

Paradox much?

Lincoln on Leadership …

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LincolnWe are writing a paper this week on leadership. One of the prescribed books is Lincoln on Leadership – Effective Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T Phillips. In it, I found this little gem … (paraphrased)

Lincoln did not read any bad press about himself if he could help it, but if he did, if he became aware of criticism, he wrote a letter defending himself and/or his action and then he filed it away, never mailing it.

Hear the criticism, reflect on it and then move on …

Good advice.

‘Stuff’, compost for God’s garden …

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So, stuff has been happening … you know how in life ‘stuff happens’. Stuff I don’t know how to deal with, stuff I don’t want to deal with, stuff I am just downright resistant to. (keeping in mind my number 7 status and all that). And as this ‘stuff’ accumulates, so my propensity to deal with it decreases. I tend to withdraw at moments like this, to hide away and to blur my mind with as much distraction as possible. In my case its podcasts, if there is a podcast on the internet chances are I have listened to it in the last few weeks. My desk is a mess, a pile of unread books and unfiled papers. Talk about a visible sign of an inward resistance.

But today is Ascension Day. The day Jesus ascended into heaven, into ‘reality’. I’ll leave it to your pastors and teachers to explain what Ascension Day means theologically, but for me, today, it means it’s time to get my sh*t together and to rise ‘above’, to face reality. It’s not going to be hard, it’s just going to take some conscious decision-making and some good old-fashioned, ACTION.

But herein lies the paradox, the mystery and the beauty of this reality. All I need to do is show up. God will do the rest. I know this because I dreamt it. Yes, yes I did.

The Ship Dream, in two parts …

Part One: I am on a ship, with a whole lot of James Bond lookalikes, in their suits and ties and dinner jackets, all looking identical, all milling around a gaming room. I am the ‘investigative reporter’. Only problem is I have no friggen idea what is going on, all these people identically dressed, all handsome, all smart, but all so alike I cannot work out who is who. Skip to the next scene, the ship has disappeared, presumably sunk, or destroyed, I am not sure which, but I know it’s no more. Now of course, I am a little anxious. I didn’t figure out the story, identify the ‘goodies and the baddies’. I pick up my phone to go through the pictures I took on the ship to see if I can piece it together, but the pictures are not the pictures I took, nor the scenes I witnessed. Instead of people, what I see reflected is a garden – a beautiful, lush little garden full of multi-coloured flowers. In the wreckage that was previously a gaming ship, only the garden remains.

Part Two: I am now bobbing on the sea on a piece of wood – I can only guess it’s part of the wreckage of the ship – on the piece of wood I am trying desperately hard to hold together a make-shift shelter. Whilst I am balancing on the piece of wood, trying to hold together some sense of security, I call out to a little girl who is treading water a little way away from me. I am trying to coax her onto the wood, to encourage her to safety. Eventually, after much persuasion, she agrees to hold on to the side of our makeshift raft and as she does that, just as she puts her little arms onto the edge of the raft, a large, white, platform type ‘thing’, comes up from beneath the surface of the water, gently scoops us both up and deposits us on dry land.

Boat_Rock_Garden_by_petekaneNow, I am sorry, but that was a pretty magnificent dream wouldn’t you say? It reminded me to surrender the complexities, to hold on to my life ‘rafts’, to allow myself to be carried and to let God make beautiful the confusion that is seminary life.

Ascension Day, the day on which Jesus left us, left us with the knowledge that we have all we need to deal with the ‘stuff’ that comes our way.

It’s time to sort out my desk and get back in the game … God wants to garden.

Happy Ascension Day friends!

It’s always darkest before the dawn …

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Well now, that was a tough week. Really tough. And to think I started it with a hopeful little post on winning.  Yes …

The day after I spoke about a potential shift in violence and hatred we woke up to the news of the Boston bombing and the news since then has been less than hopeful. Closer to home it has felt just as tough…

But here’s the thing.

That post was part of a sermon I gave on Sunday morning as a visitor at a new church community. It was an awesome service, hopeful and challenging at the same time – a kind of mountain top experience, but as I drove away I found myself feeling down and anxious. I asked myself why, why should I feel so heavy after what was by all accounts a positive experience – the still small voice within whispered ‘because now you have to do the hard work which flows out of your hopeful belief that change and transformation are possible’.

hope lineOur seminary is set in a post-apartheid context, a context which is still in need of miraculous healing. Division and disunity abound. As part of the student council I sit in meetings which are aimed at improving and facilitating effective community life, but rather than see us work together for the good of the whole I see us continue to hurt each other, disrespect each other, try to pull one another down. Thursday was a particularly low point, not just for the week, but for my entire time here at seminary. I came back to my room after a day of community meetings feeling like we are not winning here at all, but in fact regressing.  My heart felt bloody and bruised. I had witnessed people I care about get torn apart based purely on their role as leaders. (I had a dream that night that the length of one side of my room had collapsed and was now standing open to the elements, my level of vulnerability as part of that leadership team exposed for all to see.)

By grace this week, one of the Lectionary texts is Psalm 23. The still small voice inside has continued to whisper on a loop, ‘don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up’. And so I won’t. How can I when every fibre of my being tells me we are moving in the right direction even when all signs point to the contrary. I will not walk away and I will not lose hope that change is possible and that change is coming. I feel so very strongly that my ironic little post was God’s way of preparing me for this week and all its attendant challenges. Hope is not hope if it is not tested, if it is not put into practice and so I will continue to work for the good, I will continue to try to love those who have hurt and who will hurt again and I will trust God to walk with me through the valley.

In the words of Florence ‘it’s always darkest before the dawn’ …

winning …

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Kishore MahbubaniI listened to a programme this week on the BBC World Service, called HardTalk. The guest was Kishore Mahbubani, an ‘expert on Asian and world affairs’, a scholar, thinker and author. Prof Mahbubani has just written a book in which he claims that the world is a more prosperous, peaceful and united place than ever before in our history. The interviewer was naturally suspicious and as the name of the programme implies gave him a pretty ‘hard time’, grilling him mercilessly on some of his ideas.

Now, I am no expert on these things, on politics, economics, world affairs, but what he said rang true for me. One, among many reasons he gave for this more peaceful, prosperous, unified world is the fact that so many of our leaders study at the same institutions, recognised centres of academic excellence, and then go back to their corners of the globe having forged friendships, partnerships and alliances with the people they meet and study with. That makes sense, the more we work together and get to know one another the less likely we are to want to bomb each other or destroy one another financially.

But that’s not what struck me, what struck me was just how resistant/reluctant we are to believe that the world might be improving, that goodness may be overcoming evil. I belong to a community of faith whose central belief is that resurrection is possible, that change is inevitable and that one day we will all be united in joy and harmony. We are in the resurrection season … resurrection is about hope. Why is it that we are so reluctant to believe not only that transformation is coming but that transformation has already begun? Why is that we profess hope but struggle to live hope?

Hope breeds courage, courage breeds action and action breeds transformation.

If we in South Africa continue to stare into the dark abyss of negativity, continue to separate ourselves behind walls and gated communities, continue to be frightened of a people who are fighting for food and opportunity and a means to survive then we will not see change. As long as we fight each other rather than the systems which are oppressing and marginalising the majority, keeping people poor and hopeless then we will not resurrect the country we love so desperately. As long as we remain fearful, we will remain hopeless and as long as we are hopeless we will lack the courage to act – to believe and to work for change.

As I listened to Prof Mahbubani I couldn’t help but feel hopeful, Optimistic! The change is coming, and the change will continue to come if we remember what kind of world we are hoping and working for. A united, peaceful, prosperous world can only be created by united, peaceful, prosperous people. People who pray, who have faith and who ACT for the upliftment of all –  working consciously to break down barriers and to end hunger, poverty and oppression.

On this third Sunday of the resurrection, I am grateful for men like Kishore Mahbubani who point out not only that change is possible, but that change is coming.

*walks away whistling the hallelujah chorus*

Coffee and an egg …

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coffee and eggs_thumbA little while ago I had one of those ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ kind of dreams. I dreamt I was trapped in a grey box with no lid. A friend and I managed to escape and made a furtive dash across the road to celebrate with some breakfast. We had two places to choose from, a greasy spoon café (my Brit friends will know what I mean) and a nondescript looking place leading to a ‘wild card’ choice. I convinced my friend to go with the wild card choice – as you do. We opened the door to the nondescript place to find a colourful, fresh little café which was small and simple but which felt like ‘home’ straightaway. The menu had only two items coffee and an egg, you could choose a variation of coffee and egg because according to the owner that’s all people need for breakfast.

There were other layers to the dream and plots and twists, but the coffee and the egg choice really stood out for me, especially in the context of the bright and vibrant café in contrast to the tight grey box I had escaped from. (that and the fact that I am not a huge fan of egg, especially not for breakfast. Bleugh!)

Coffee … wake up?

Egg … new life?

So the question I asked myself was where do I need to wake up to new life? Where in my life am I feeling tight and constrained, searching for new options?

I let the question sit for a few days … and then one Sunday morning I headed out to join some friends for their Sunday worship service. It’s a very small community in PMB who meet twice a month for worship, one week involves silent contemplative prayer only and the other includes worship and a message. I happened to visit on a Sunday when we were ‘worshipping’, read: ‘singing’.

There were three guitars present and thirty open hearts, we were invited to sing or to listen, eyes open, eyes closed, to pray aloud or in our hearts. Sharon led us in a simple yet profound message and then we sat in quiet prayer again. I walked out of there feeling untwisted and calm, quiet and peaceful – alive, Awake. It has struck me in the weeks since I was there that the beauty of that morning was not in what was said or done but rather what was NOT said or done. The beauty and life I experienced was in the simplicity and the quiet, in the bringing of ourselves before God as we were, leaving words and ceremony behind and entering into a place of quiet acceptance and vulnerability.

I was reminded yet again of the need for quiet, for silence with God, silence IN God and for simplicity. Sometimes that’s all we need…

It’s certainly what I needed.

Introducing Joy …

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Today is Joy’s birthday – Joy is the woman who gave me life – and I couldn’t think of a better way of wishing her a happy birthday than by telling you how much she means to me. Especially today, on Resurrection Sunday.

You see, my mother not only gave me life, she gave me my faith too, so it’s a significant day in which to give thanks for life and not just any life, but THIS life.

Joy’s life…

My mother is extraordinary (she’ll probably have a ‘thrombosis’ when she sees I have written this because she hates the limelight) but although my mother is extraordinary, she does not know it, nor does she even realise – I don’t think – the remarkable contribution she has made in mine and my sisters lives and the lives of many, many others. She tries to hide her light under the proverbial … Sorry Mum, today I am shining your light for all to see. *smiles*

My mother was (and still is although in different form) a teacher. Over the years she has shaped and moulded many young lives. “Mrs Cole” was legendary in Westville where we grew up and where she taught for over 18 years. I don’t know how many people have told me how special she is, what an incredible teacher she was. Everybody loved Mrs Cole and wanted to be in Mrs Cole’s class. Growing up my sister and I, although proud, were a bit perplexed, the Mrs Cole we knew at home was strict, with a capital S! Loving and encouraging, yes, but Strict! And it seems the Mrs Cole of the classroom was just the same as the one at home, loving, encouraging and Strict. But, every child knew their boundary and every child knew they were loved as if they were her own.

Growing up I pushed boundaries, I pushed my mothers buttons in so many ways I am surprised she continued to let me live. Given half a chance I would have left school at the earliest opportunity and been a happy-go-lucky-hippy-child, but my mother pushed me and held me to account. She instilled in me a sense of discipline whilst allowing me try everything my young restless heart was desperate to try: Horse riding, ballet, piano, drama, modern dancing … um, recorder… I tried everything and stuck with almost nothing and she let me. She allowed me to explore and to try new things and she encouraged me even though she knew most of these activities would probably be short lived.

One of the greatest gifts my mum gave me aside from my faith, is a love of reading, of books. Both my parents were teachers and so reading featured prominently in our home, reading and learning and I guess my love of learning is the one trait which has stuck over the years. I give my Mum credit for that.

When my father got ill, she nursed him, loved him, supported him. Her own life became about making sure Dad was comfortable and for the 10 years that he struggled with illness my mother became an expert in hospitals, doctors, surgeons, medication, sleep deprivation, all the while maintaining her job as teacher in what were, at the time, extremely difficult conditions. My Dad was her whole life, her best friend and partner and watching him struggle I know was the hardest thing she has ever had to endure. I don’t know how she got through, except to say, she is one tough lady – a tough lady with a heart as soft as butter.

My mother is fun, vivacious and incredibly talented, she laughs out loud often and spontaneously, but she also feels deeply and easily, something not many people are aware of. Her sensitivity, coupled with a love for people, has seen her life turn in these later years to people who are hurting. She has a powerful ministry of her own, she journeys with people in their deepest moments of need, in illness and grief, she holds the hands of those who are dying, lost, lonely and ill and she does it with such love and wisdom that I am often amazed at her strength. She attributes that strength and wisdom to God and I know her faith is what makes her strong enough to cope and sensitive enough to listen, to hold other peoples pain as if it were her own. She has seen her fair share of pain and heartache, yet she uses that experience to help and guide others.

I am proud of my mother – so, so proud. I am proud of her beauty, her strength, her sense of humour, her sensitivity and her profound spiritual wisdom. I am grateful for her presence in my life, her on-going support of me and my ministry. There is no way I could be doing what I am now without her. She has taken in my two little dogs whilst I am at seminary, she supports me materially and spiritually in ways no mother of a child my age (gulp) should have to.

My Mum – I love you. I love your graciousness, your sensitivity and your vulnerability. I thank you for showing me how to laugh, how to ask deep questions, for being patient with my impatient self and for being a bright and beautiful presence in my life.

You bring me ‘Joy’!

Happy, happy birthday!!!!!

With all my love…

Me n Mum

Being seen …

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As we journey through Lent I have been reflecting on my frailties and my weaknesses (because of course this is the season in which to do that, not because I have a penchant for self-pity and self-damnation). I have reflected on some of my choices, relationships which I could have handled better, actions which have caused hurt. It’s not pretty, in fact it’s downright shameful … I sometimes wonder whether my choice of vocation makes it that much harder for me to fail or to make wrong choices because it’s expected that I will not. But as this past season has shown me, I am just as likely to make mistakes as the next person and I feel just as keenly the burden of those mistakes as anyone else.

But as always the God of Grace steps in and offers redemption – words of wisdom and comfort and they came to me through Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church - her words have encouraged me.

On receiving her collar:

Image” …being ordained is not about serving God perfectly but about serving God visibly, allowing other people to learn whatever they can from watching you rise and fall. “You probably won’t be much worse than other people” [my seminary rector] said, and “you probably won’t be any better, but you will have to let people look at you. You will have to let them see you as you are.” – Clearly the uniform was designed to facilitate that. My new clothes said “keep an eye on this person” without granting me any control over what others made of what they saw.”

On understanding her role:

“After a very long engagement, it had finally happened. I was a priest in Christ’s Church. Even now, I would prefer a more user friendly word like pastor, but the truth is that an ancient word like priest captures the risk of this vocation as well as any word I know. In my lexicon, at least, a priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another’s love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are. To be a priest is to suspect that there is always something more urgent that you should be doing, no matter what you are doing, and to make peace with the fact that the work will never get done. To be a priest is to wonder sometimes if you are missing the boat altogether, by deferring pleasure in what God has made until you have fixed it up so that it will please God more. “When I wake up in the morning”, E.B. White once wrote, “I can’t decide whether to enjoy the world or improve the world; that makes it difficult to plan the day.” “

During this period of Lent I pray that you would know rest and redemption, that you would release to God those things which only God can control and that you would know that loving people is messy and risky, but that we should continue to love anyway, even in our imperfect and limited human understanding of what that might entail.

Love, as always…

Permission to withdraw…

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It’s been a long week.

This morning I had a fractious moment with a fellow seminarian – someone who stood in my space and who refused to back away, I just did not have the energy to deal with him. It was a carry over from yesterday when exactly the same thing happened – said individual demanded my attention and when I was unable to respond in the way he wished he gave me a piece of his mind. Granted, I was equally grumpy when he took me on, but it happened again today when he attempted to tell me how I should conduct myself in future.

I just walked away…

I gave myself a hard time for not being able to deal with the situation better. But then …

Ray of light!

Hope of hope!

I saw this…

introverts

I have let myself off the hook …

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