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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Vicar, how should I vote?

As you've guessed, I can't possibly tell you that. My job isn't to influence your choice of political party - and you probably wouldn't listen to me anyway!

That's not to say that the Church shouldn't be involved in politics. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, "When people say the Church should have nothing to do with politics, I wonder which Bible they've been reading". Our job, as Christians, is to stand for the values of the Kingdom of God. The fact that we don't all have an identical understanding of these values, and of their political implications, explains why there is no one political party that can lay claim to the allegiance of all Christians (though there are certainly some which promote views that Christians should challenge).

So what can I say? Well, I thought the most telling, and surprising, feature of the recent ITV debate between the leaders of the main parties was the derisive laughter which greeted some of their pronouncements. We're in danger not only of not believing our politicians, but also of finding them ridiculous. So I suppose one good outcome of this election, and of the whole sorry political process of the last few months, would be a recovery of respect for those elected to represent us - and in them, a recovery of the kind of integrity which would enable them to really work at the big, serious issues that threaten our country and our planet.

Specifically, as Christians (though none of this is our exclusive territory), we need to look for a real commitment to tackle inequality, and a real priority for action on the climate emergency. These are Gospel imperatives: Jesus came to show that God sees all people as of infinite, and equal, worth; and our human (and holy) calling is to care with reverence for the whole of creation.

But, sorry, the decision is yours, not mine. And, whatever the result, locally or nationally, I hope we can go on trying to embody and live out, in all kinds of different ways, the generous, open-hearted love of God.

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Truth or lies?

We'll be meeting at the Grampus in Lee for "Agnostics Anonymous" this Monday coming (8.00 pm, all welcome) to discuss, over a glass or two, the vexed question of truth and lies. When Jesus, on trial, said he had come to "bear witness to the truth", Pilate famously replied "What is truth?" (thus becoming the first post-modernist, by questioning the very possibility of arriving at "the truth").

It's easy, of course, to call someone a liar. But I heard Chris Mason, the BBC's political correspondent, make a helpful distinction between, on the one hand, lying, and on the other, innocently giving false information. If I tell you the shop round the corner is open till 8.00, while knowing full well it closes at 6.00, that's a lie. But if I tell you it's open till 8.00, because I'm convinced it is, or because someone once told me it is, or because it used to be ... I'm not lying, just giving you information that turns out to be false. You might be annoyed with me, either way, but only if you somehow discover I was deliberately misinforming you (perhaps by my malicious laughter when you come back empty-handed) can you consider me a liar (and never again accept any information from me again, ever!).

There's a lot of misinformation about, but not all of it is lies... 

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Danger - words being used

On Wednesday morning - which, for anyone watching Parliament on Tuesday evening, felt very much like the morning after the night before - we had these words from Psalm 15 at Morning Prayer:

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,

and speak the truth from their heart;

who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends,

nor take up a reproach against their neighbours...

And then I thought of these words from the Letter of James (1:19):

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger...

Whatever else is going on, whatever rights and wrongs we think we can identify in our present near-calamitous political situation, one thing stands out from what we've seen and heard recently: words matter. And, going further, words can be hurtful, even dangerous. 

I think of something I used to say to my children (and no doubt, failed to live up to): "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". Perhaps everyone who speaks in public - whose words are likely to be endlessly shared, and will have who knows what influence on those who hear them - should be given a little copy of this advice, along with James' wise words.

We need words spoken calmly, gently, with the humility that comes from knowing we don't have the whole truth and our adversaries aren't always wrong.

 

 

 

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S.O.S.

We called it "Save our Seas", last Sunday's Harvest service at St. Matthew's. As well as the traditional array of Harvest produce, we'd asked people to do a bit of beach-combing, and then bring whatever they'd found up to the front at the start of the service, to be stuck on to a seascape collage which our Churchwarden Margaret had prepared. So we ended up with a few bits of seaweed, some rather nice shells, and a couple of pieces of coal (courtesy of Natalie Sharpe) from the days when ships plying the Bristol Channel were coal-powered. And the rest was plastic. We knew it would be - but it is still, rightly, shocking to be faced with a small selection of the millions of pieces of evidence that we are in danger of destroying the life of our oceans. This was the wrong kind of harvest.

Two thoughts came into my mind. First, that we are reaping the devastating consequences of the view that the natural world is there for our convenience, to be exploited in whatever ways we see fit. I found myself apologising, because the Church bears some responsibility for this dysfunctional relationship between humanity and creation, which goes right back to Genesis, and the command to "have dominion over" the world and its creatures. Only quite recently have we realised how destructive our domination is, and how vital it is to recover, in all humility, a sense of inter-dependence with the creation of which we are part. Replace "have dominion over" with "have responsibility for", and we might be starting to face up to what we need to do to save our seas - and our world.

And, being reminded by the title "Save our Seas" of the original S.O.S. - Save our Souls - I found myself thinking that, in a way, saving our seas and saving our souls are one and the same thing. The Church is good at talking about individual salvation, but what if our eternal welfare can't be divorced from the way we care for our planet and all its creatures? 

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Mosquitoes and wolves

Safely back from Italy - and with apologies for such a long gap between blogs - let me explain the title of this entry:

We were staying in an old farmhouse in northern Tuscany, with a lovely view of steeply wooded hills and bare mountains behind. The pool was warm, the food was delicious, the company (my family) tolerable (don't worry, they won't read this) - the only problem was the constant attack of tiny but highly voracious mosquitoes. The locals were bemused, as they don't normally have this problem. And, while scratching away, we wondered, "What exactly is the point of mosquitoes?" Or, to put it a bit more theologically, "What place can we possibly find for mosquitoes within God's good Creation?"

Well ... if you google "benefits of mosquitoes", you'll discover that they - and particularly their larvae - perform a number of extremely useful functions within the ecosystem. In other words, they do have a purpose and a point. It's just that their impact on us is decidedly unpleasant - and, where malaria is still rife, dangerous.

To look at it another way: the ecosystem and all that is in it do not exist purely for our benefit. Or rather, they exist for our ultimate benefit, but not necessarily for our immediate pleasure or safety.

Also - while we were there we heard wolves, re-introduced into Tuscany fairly recently; and we spoke to a local woman who keeps sheep, and has mysteriously lost some of her flock. Shepherds are alarmed at the spread of these predators, and arguments rage about the pros and cons of re-wilding. The unseen presence of these remarkable creatures is, for me, another reminder that we are not "in charge" of creation, not in control of it, but part of an extraordinarily complex web of life.

When we will stop deluding ourselves that we have dominion over nature, and learn the wisdom of living in harmony with all creatures? 

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Paying Attention

As you may know, I often walk my dog Elsie (border collie, slightly bonkers) down the Tarka trail from Lee Bridge. It's the old railway line along which, as some of you will remember, trains used to run between Mortehoe Station and Ilfracombe.

The verges of the track, and the banks as you go through the cutting, are covered in wild flowers - a bit less now they've been mown. And this year, for the first time, I've been paying attention to these little beauties. I'm not an expert by any means, but I am pleased to say that I now know the difference between red campion and herb robert, and between purple loosestrife and rosebay willowherb. (Impressed?)

Although I quite like knowing what they are, the real pleasure for me is simply in noticing that they're there. Sometimes, like all of us, I'm in my head as I walk along, replaying the past or fantasising about the future. But now there are times when I'm in the moment, and doing nothing more than look and notice. And that takes me into a place of delight, where nothing is needed from me except to pay attention to the beauty that surrounds me.

 

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An uncertain future

Who knows what the future holds? 

In terms of our politics and our society, we seem to be living through a time of uncertainty. Our new government proclaims loudly that we will leave the EU on October 31st, "do or die" - but nobody really knows what that might mean. Nor do those who want to resist "no deal", many of whom would prefer a further referendum, have any clear vision of what would happen if they had their way. I seem to have spent several lifetimes listening to well-qualified political commentators outlining what might or might not happen - but in the end it always seems to come down to "We don't know".

We want to know, of course, and not knowing makes us anxious. And if we believe in God, we may expect some kind of divine clarification, so that we know what's coming.

But - perhaps - faith is actually about not knowing the future, while trusting that God will be with us, however it pans out. This is true as much for the big events which haunt the headlines, as for the unknown futures of our personal and family lives. 

"It will be all right, won't it?" is the anxious question that lies behind our wish to know what lies ahead. Part of our job as Christians is to meet this anxiety - in ourselves and others - not with bland assurances that nothing will ever go wrong, but with a deep-rooted faith that the only sure thing about the future is God's loving presence with us.

 

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Being gracious

I missed the absurdly exciting end of the cricket World Cup Final - because I had to lead an evening Communion service at St. Mary's! This may well constitute the finest example of dedication to duty in the recent history of the Church of England. But I'm being very gracious about it all, I think - partly because England won, and partly because (as I keep telling everyone) in a couple of weeks I'm off to watch the first day of the Ashes series at Edgbaston.

So, in a way, I can afford to be gracious. It's not too hard to be gracious from a position of strength; but real graciousness is the ability to respond positively, without rancour, to defeat or failure. Real graciousness is what New Zealand's captain, Kane Williamson, showed in his response to his team's undeserved defeat - the second time, in recent months, that a Kiwi has shown the world something important about leadership. 

"Ungracious" is a word none of us would like to be tagged with. The sense that our political leaders are graceless, as they insist they are right and refuse to acknowledge the good in their opponents, has contributed to the erosion of trust in them. Can we, as a church, contribute to a revival of graciousness - especially when things aren't going our way? 

 

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Everyone is a theologian...

...and everyone is an evangelist.

Really?

Well, yesterday, preaching on the bit in Luke's Gospel (chapter 10) where Jesus sends a load of people out to spread the Good News of his Kingdom, I had a little epiphany - i.e. a new light bulb came on in my head.

I realised that anyone can do what Jesus was telling his disciples to do all those years ago. Not the casting out demons and treading on snakes and scorpions bit, but the simple instruction to bring, and declare, God's peace in every place they go and to every person they meet.

We can all be peace-bringers, we can all embody - not always perfectly, but often whole-heartedly - the loving presence of God in each situation of our lives. And so we can all say, either aloud or with our actions, what Jesus told his first evangelists to say: "The Kingdom of God has come near".

And so, we are all evangelists. Without having to rattle off any of the tiresome slogans we associate with evangelism, without needing to shout in people's ear that God loves them, we are all able to be ambassadors of God's peace. We are all able to pray for peace, to wish for peace, to stand for peace. We are all able, in this way, to be a blessing to others. 

And, in the same way, we are all able to be theologians. A theologian isn't a clever person who has learned lots of words no-one else understands. A theologian is anyone who says anything true about God. And I think we can all say, when the occasion requires: "God is real - God is love - and God loves you and me and all people".

This is both a blessing and a burden. The burden is: once we have understood that our lack of learning and/or low self-esteem form no barrier to being an evangelist (and a theologian!), we have no excuse for not doing it.

And the blessing? I've only glimpsed this, but I would say - some kind of wonderful freedom in knowing that the simplest act of loving-kindness, the most basic offering of peace, really can bring God's Kingdom near. 

 

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Leaders - the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

For the last 7 years, part of my job - occupying the equivalent of one day a week - has been working as an Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands. I know, that's quite a mouthful - but what it means is quite simple: I'm one of several clergy-people around the Diocese who give a bit of their time to accompany those who are exploring a possible call to ordination. Usually, I will meet with any given "candidate" (I know, the jargon is a bit daunting) every 6 weeks or so, over a period of 12 to 18 months, right up to the point where they go off to a Selection Conference, and a decision is made (not by me!) as to whether or not they can start training for ordained ministry. And usually, at any one time I'll be meeting regularly with about half a dozen different people. (A few years back, one of them was our own Ann Lewis - so somebody got something right!)

So that's a lot of meetings, with pieces of written work for them to do, and meetings with others who can assess their potential. And it's been quite a privilege to accompany all these people, get to know them, and hear their stories of faith and life - and then, in most cases, to rejoice with them when their calling is recognised and affirmed. But what I'm leading up to (pun intended) is that one of the key criteria for determining whether or not a person has the potential for ordained ministry is their ability to function well as a leader.

You don't need me to tell you (but I will anyway) that there is a general crisis of faith in our leaders. Essentially, we don't really trust them; we are weary of lies and evasions and u-turns, and we suspect that many leaders, in politics, business, education, and other spheres of life, have managed to get themselves promoted beyond their ability - and certainly beyond their moral stature. 

So what can the Church offer as a template for good leadership? First of all, I'd suggest, we need the humility to recognise our failings and limitations, and the courage and honesty to apologise - and mean it - when we get things wrong. One of the most unattractive things about people in leadership is the pathetically unconvincing way they often try to cover up their mistakes, and in doing so forfeit the public's trust. Sadly, enquiries into historic and current cases of sexual abuse within the Church suggest that we too have sought to minimise damage to the Church's reputation, rather than attending to the welfare of the abused. So leaders need to be people of honesty and humility.

And second, there needs to be in them a genuine desire to serve rather than to be served. This, after all, is what Jesus came to do: in John's Gospel, he washes his disciples' feet (to Peter's outrage) and tells them to do the same for others. I'm sure that, at both local and national levels, there are many people in government who entered public life with a sincere desire to serve the needs of those they represent. But often, sadly, that spirit of service withers over the years, and what is left is an ugly shell of self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. After all, putting others first, and doing so consistently, is incredibly difficult; in the Church, we are reminded, week by week, that none of us is free from selfish and presumptuous faults. So the question for potential leaders, in the Church as elsewhere, is: how deeply rooted in you is the call to loving service?

And finally, inevitably, leaders need to be asked - or ask themselves: are you able to work with others, and to help them fulfil their potential? Or are you intending to operate as a lone figurehead? Historically, the ranks of the clergy have, to a degree, been filled by oddballs, misfits and loners, who have relished the sole responsibility of the parish priest, often to the detriment of their congregations. But now, candidates have to come up with solid evidence of their ability to work well in a team, whether as leader or team member; and now, church members are less inclined to defer unquestioningly to the authority of their priest. "Father knows best" has become "If we're going to work with Father, he needs to learn to listen" (please add your own female equivalent - "Mother?")... And while the loneliness of priesthood is still a real issue, especially in remote rural parishes, in most contexts now there is a sense of relief in realising that you don't have to lead on your own.

Well - who are we in the Church to lecture others on how they should lead? But, even though we fail to live up to them, we do have principles of good leadership which we can try to model: humility and honesty, a deep-rooted desire to serve, and a willingness to work with others for the common good. And we can pray, and go on praying, for all leaders everywhere to have these qualities and put them into practice...

 

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The great I AM

So - yesterday was Trinity Sunday. It's the only major festival in the Church's year that doesn't relate to an event. Instead it's pure theology - a chance to re-examine our understanding of God.

The early Church soon realised that the Jesus-event required a radically revised picture of God. It then took them a few hundred years to finalise the doctrine of the Trinity. One God in three persons - how does that work?

Well, what the Trinity doesn't do is give us an exact, definitive, final understanding of God. Actually, nothing can do that. The moment someone claims to have understood God fully, please feel free to call them a delusional fool. You have my permission (for what it's worth). Remember Moses, asking God politely what his name is (knowing it will be easier to sell the whole Exodus thing to his fellow-Israelites if they can pin a name on their God, and thereby define him). The answer is (depending on how you take the obscure Hebrew phrase) "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be". In other words, mind your mortal business, Moses. I AM is not a God to be put in a box, measured or controlled. Arguably, this God is better understood as a verb than as a noun. After all, nouns - people, objects, places - can be safely located and objectified. This God isn't an object - more like a process.

Anyway, after that little excursion ... the point is, the Trinity is the Church's best shot at a picture of God that doesn't mislead us, and equally important, doesn't miss out anything vital. Leave out the Father, the Creator, and there is nothing, literally nothing, to talk about. Leave out the Son, and you miss that critical self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ which gave birth to the whole meaning and purpose of the Church. Leave out the Holy Spirit - God present and active in us and around us - and you're doing no more than worship the past. We need all three. And yet, the wonder is that they are one, they are united in love; and that love is not simply shared among the Trinity, but endlessly poured out on all God's people. On all of us, if we can only notice it, feel it, open ourselves to it.

I did say there'd be some theology. Of course, words can't capture God. But words can still be accurate (as far as we can tell) and helpful - or not. So we carry on praising our wonderfully mysterious God, the Trinity. These words from the book of Ecclesiasticus say it well: "We could say more, but could never say enough; let the final word be: "He is the all"." 

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Eternal life - now

As you may know, every month - usually on the 3rd Monday - there's a gathering called "Agnostics Anonymous" at the Grampus pub in Lee. Generally, there are about a dozen of us there, but this month I think I counted 22, all in a big circle (well, ellipse, technically) in the back room.

Why so many? Was there nothing else on? Or was it the lure of an overtly theological theme - What is "eternal life"? Whatever, it was a good discussion, without too much raw theology - after all, as the title of the group suggests, there is no assumption here about faith or lack of it. The beauty of these meetings, for me, is knowing that if I start spouting vicar-speak, I'll get short shrift, or at least have to explain myself. And that helps me re-examine what I think and believe.

What I was left with, this time, was a sense that most people find eternity in the here and now - often in things that are small and seemingly insignificant. Things which are easy to miss, like tiny flowers beside the path. Things that make us stop and stare - and wonder.

And (not that I tried to say it like this on the night) this fits well with the Christian understanding that eternal life is not so much an endless stretch of chronological time, but a quality of life that can grip us right now, stopping us in our tracks as we realise that God - his life, his love - is as real now as it will ever be.

Alleluia! 

 

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Easter People

(a sermon preached on Easter Day, April 21st 2019)

Easter people? Are we?

Well, we may not be the finished article, but we are Easter people - or we wouldn't be here!

And we have some of the characteristics, some of the time, of Easter people...

3 things stand out for me:

1) Easter people are real.

By which I mean: they are human, they mess things up, they know something about failure, they have been humbled by life - usually through a combination of misdemeanour and misfortune. They are not pristine, perfect and pleased with themselves. They have lived, and they have the scars to prove it.

Tiger Woods' extraordinary victory in the Masters wasn't just about golf, but about resurgent life in a man who strayed from the fairway a few times too often. 3 years ago, his back trouble was so severe that, when he fell to the ground, he had to call his 7-year-old daughter and ask her to fetch help, because he couldn't get up. And last Sunday he won the Masters, and it seems that a young man who struggled to relate to others on a human level has matured into a wiser, humbler character whose gratitude and delight are all the more real for being hard-won.

Easter people are real. The sharp corners have been knocked off, there is no more pretending, no more posing or game-playing. These are people who have sat with Peter in the courtyard of denial, failure and regret, and come through to a hard-won self-acceptance. These are people who have been loved by Jesus just as they are.

2) Easter people have hope.

Notre Dame burns, and I go to bed with a horrible feeling that when I wake on Tuesday morning there will be nothing left. But the brilliant and heroic firefighters are able to save the main structure of the cathedral, and after the grief and despair of the night before, people begin to have hope. Money pours in for the restoration fund, architects start to discuss the way forward, and from President to passer-by there is a sense that this will happen - Our Lady of Paris will rise again.

And while we recognise ruefully that even the mightiest cathedral is in reality fragile and vulnerable, and as we process what that tells us about the illusion of permanence in our own lives, we are warmed by hope, and we see that there is no such thing as final destruction. As defined by the risen Christ, our God is always able to bring good out of evil, life out of death. The pain and grief we suffer are real - and they make us real - but they do not have the last word, they are shouldered aside by hope. We shudder at the looming catastrophe of climate change, but a 16-year-old schoolgirl challenges us to hope, and to act out our hope. And, if we are Easter people, we will find a way to respond...

3) And Easter people are joyful.

Which, of course, is not quite the same as being happy. Happiness comes and goes; joy - once it's lodged itself in your soul - is always somewhere within, like a slow-burning fire that you can turn to when life gets cold and bleak. And sometimes it bursts out, and you feel impelled to shout for joy on a glorious morning, or break into a crazy dance when you know you are loved.

I had an experience of joy, rather unexpectedly, at the Woolacombe School Easter Service a couple of weeks ago. Part of me felt it was all wrong to have a service of Easter celebration while we were still in Lent (nothing to be done - the school holidays were before Easter this year). But a bigger part of me started to hop about in the side aisle while the children were singing "Easter Jubilation" - and then we watched a bunch of 9/10-year-old girls performing "Raise Your Voice" from "Sister Act". Although the words are really about having confidence in yourself, rather than anything obviously Easter-ish, the whole thing had an almost wild sense of joy, as these youngsters gave it everything, clearly loving every minute of it. It was unmistakeably an Easter thing, and while my liturgical self thought, "For goodness' sake, we're not even in Passiontide yet!", I could recognise that this was Easter joy. And I was up next, with what some kind (or sarcastic) person had described in the programme as "wise words from the Vicar". I thought I was going to explode with joy (giving a new slant on "Messy Church"), but I managed to hold it together and say a few words about Easter being a time for exactly the sort of joy we'd just seen and heard from the children. As so often, they'd shown us the way. They had reminded us that we have been given a deep sense of joy at simply being alive, and that - whatever we face - nothing can take this joy from us.

And if, for a while, sadness or pain or fear seem to have buried this joy, Jesus comes from the tomb to greet us, and we remember that we are Easter people, his people, the very people for whom he has won this great and endless victory over death.

Real - hopeful - joyful.

And - will we all be Easter people? Or are some outside the scope of God's merciful love? I hope not, and I believe that this extraordinary event - the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - is the expression of God's purpose to bring new life to the whole creation.

And if God intends his love to be known and felt and accepted by the whole creation, who are we to say that it cannot be so? 

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Sleepless nights

First of all, I must apologise for failing to keep to my blog promise (of posting every Tuesday or thereabouts) - I will do better!

And second of all, you'd have to be stony-hearted (or a ferocious republican) not to be touched by the delight of Harry and Meghan at the arrival of their son Archie. In this, if not in other ways, they are like any parents of new-born children - reflecting the wonder that many of us remember: here is an explosion of new life, more vibrant, more real than we could ever have expected.

But here's the rub (as brother William helpfully pointed out): these new parents are entering a world of sleep deprivation which is likely, at times, to stretch them to the limit. Even Royals have to get up in the night when their child is crying. Even Mary had to get up to attend to little Jesus (unless we want to believe he was the perfect baby, sleeping right through the night, every night, from the start...).

Parenting involves tiredness; it involves sacrifice. And part of the message of Easter is that real love always means sacrifice - giving up what you want because the welfare of someone else matters more. Thank God, that's not the whole picture, of parenting or of life, but we know our lives would be poorer without the challenge to put the needs of others first - sometimes, in the middle of the night...

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Grief and joy at Easter

It's the end of Easter Week. I've had a short break in Norfolk - doing a bit of bird-watching, with the big bonus of seeing avocet for the first time! - and now, preparing for "Low Sunday" (is it called that because attendances are generally low after Easter?), I'm remembering the various strong and disturbing images and stories that have haunted the past week or so. Notre Dame, to start with; the murder of Lyra McKee in Derry; the protests and speeches about climate change - and of course, the terrible news filtering through on Easter Sunday, of the deadly attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka.

I suppose if there's one theme coming through to me from all of this disparate stuff, it's that we have to find ways to be together and to act together. Or, to put it the other way round, we have to resist all attempts to create division. In terms of Easter, it's the difference between Jesus' friends scattered in fear on Good Friday, and the same bunch brought together in joy and hope after the Resurrection. Which will we be? Which way will we choose?

And, if our fear is that it doesn't really matter what we choose, that our words and actions won't make a difference, then remember that so much change for the better - think of South Africa and of Northern Ireland - has had its roots in the faithful praying that refuses to stop until something shifts for good.

Don't give up. Keep praying for the new life which God has promised.

 

 

 

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Raheem Sterling - Hallelujah!

A handful of black footballers, including England internationals Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose, are spearheading a movement of resistance to the creeping resurgence of racist hate speech. They are brave, and they are right - hence my "Hallelujah!"

In an interview on April 8th, Sterling said this:

"Growing up, my mum has always told me that I'm a wonderful black child. I know this."

Although these words are absolutely relevant to the fight against the evil of racism, they also go beyond matters of race. This is a declaration of just how important it is - for everyone - to be affirmed, to be told "You are good - just as you are, whoever you are". There is no better starting point in life, no better antidote to the voices saying "you're rubbish", no better armour against the haters. "I know this" - how powerful those 3 little words are!

In a world where division and prejudice often loom large, if we claim to be Christian - if we claim to be human in the right way - if we recognise the healing power of compassion and acceptance - then our job is to insist: every child of God is wonderful, and nobody has the right to say otherwise!

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Wilderness taunts

This is the title of the book that I've found most helpful this Lent. It's by Ian Adams, who is an artist, poet and priest based in South Devon - go to the "Beloved Life" website to find out more...

"Wilderness Taunts" is a series of 40 imaginative meditations, accompanied by black-and-white photos. Ian's photos are haunting and bleak, but what I really like is the way he gets under the skin of our vulnerable selves, in the taunts that are designed to undermine us and lead us into self-hatred and despair - and then turns the tables, in the second half of each meditation, by responding with a kind of God-perspective that affirms us as we are. 

I suppose it rings a bell with my own experience of times when I feel bad about myself, but more than that: whenever I meet someone struggling with issues of mental or spiritual health (and that's most of us at one time or another), everything seems to go back to an undermining, perhaps from earliest times, of their sense of self. A voice has said: "you are rubbish", and that voice keeps re-surfacing. Worst of all, that voice is often taken to be the voice of God.

Ian's words remind me just how real, how persuasive, that voice can be; but also, more importantly, how the true voice of the God who loves us expresses something quite different - a gentle, deep-rooted acceptance of us in all our frailty. Thanks be to God!

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

The Sound of Silence

Seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it, but when you experience silence (in other words, absence of outside noise) you realise that silence has a kind of hum or whine to it. I'm happy to be corrected on this, but there seems to be no such thing as absolute silence.

Which is no reason to give up the pursuit of silence - or, at least, of less noise. It's a truism that our culture and our daily lives are more or less continously noisy, for a whole variety of reasons - including, I'd suggest, some kind of deep-seated fear of what might happen if we stopped making a racket. For example, what sort of cataclysm would ensue if all restaurants stopped their piped music? Would customers be unable to eat their food? Would they sob into their soup?...demand a refund?...attack the staff? Silence is an unknown quantity, a void, and we're not sure what we might find there...

I'm no better than anyone else at being silent. But I know the value of it. It's the "place" where I have a chance of sensing God, in a way that has nothing to do with words or activities or tasks or all the other stuff I rush around doing.

How to go there? Just stop everything, for 10 minutes or so, sit still, and listen for the God who is so often shoved aside by all our noise.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Reculer pour mieux sauter

Sorry, showing off again. In case your French is a bit rusty, the title of this post means something like - to retreat in order to jump back better. In other words, it doesn't translate well at all ... but here I am in Brecon, on retreat, and hoping to jump back better. We'll see!

For now, I just want to share with you, in the aftermath of the horror in Christchurch, how moving I found the picture of a man standing outside a mosque in Manchester, with a flat cap, a big smile, and a home-made placard, on which he had written:

"You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray."

This man is a Christian, but that in itself is no reason for Christians to congratulate themselves. I would have found it equally moving, had I not known that. For me, there is something very beautiful, very much of the God I believe in, in his message, his smile, and his willingness to keep watch so that those who may be feeling threatened can pray in peace. Even the absurdity of this lone watchman guarding against violence is quite lovely - his cheerful smile says that he's not afraid.

I don't know whether Andrew Graystone intended this when deciding what to write, but his words remind me of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, pleading with his friends to stay awake, to keep watch while he prays.

And then there's the boldness of declaring to a bunch of strangers, "You are my friends". I think this boldness can only come from a deep belief that those we don't know, those who are different from us, are to be approached, greeted, welcomed as friends. This is a stance, a choice, which offers hope to all of us.

So thank you, Andrew, for your message, your smile - and your flat cap. And for reminding us that we are called to treat everyone as children of God, as brothers and sisters, as friends.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Coming up...

 

Services for Sunday 8th December

 8.45 am     All-Age Communion      St. Matthew's, Lee

10.00 am    All-Age Communion      St. Sabinus', Woolacombe

5.00 pm     Christingle Service        St. Mary's, Mortehoe

 

 Friends of God

Our monthly meetings at St. Sabinus' Church, to explore prayer together, are continuing on the following dates:

Tuesday November 26th at 7.00 pm - then in 2020: Tuesday January 21st, Tuesday February 25th, Tuesday March 25th 

Sessions start at 7.00 pm and last about an hour - everybody welcome, no expectations...

 

Agnostics Anonymous

The next meeting of our open discussion group, at the Grampus pub in Lee, will be on Monday December 16th, starting at (approximately) 8.00 pm. The theme:     "Good Tidings".  Everybody welcome!

 

A Light in Advent

Every Monday in Advent, beginning on December 2nd, we will be having a time of quiet prayer by candlelight in St. Sabinus' Church, starting at 7.00 pm. Come & see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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