Clergy Blogs

Periodic contributions from Revd. Giles King-Smith, Vicar of the three coastal parishes. We also continue to show contributions from the late Associate Minister Revd. Linda Walters

These are the blogs written by Revd. Giles King-Smith

Revd. Giles King-Smith

Humble like God

Printed below is one of the readings we would have heard in church yesterday (had we been there). It's the start of the 2nd chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippians; in it he makes what we might call the definitive link between the humility of God-in-Christ and the way Christians should treat one another. The second half of the reading is laid out in verse form because most scholars think it is part of a hymn of the early church.

 

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death -

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord

to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

These few lines express pretty much everything we need to know about what God has done in Christ - his birth, death, resurrection, ascension and ultimate lordship. But the grit of it is humility, and the gritty bit of our lives is where the humility we're called to meets our selfishness and pride. A colleague once complimented me in public on my humility - and immediately I swelled up with pride! As soon as you think you're humble, you're not. Humility isn't something we achieve; it's what happens when we are caught up in something so huge that, for a moment, we stop worrying about how good we are or how well we've done, and see our true scale and status - small, feeble, yet loved and cherished exactly as we are.   

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Empty and silent

Our churches are closed, and I find myself wondering what they must feel like - almost as if they were sentient beings. Empty and silent, of course: no singing, no sermons, no chatter before and after the service. No people. It seems sad, and yet God will still be there, in those spaces where so many prayers have been said, and the power of those prayers will still hang in the air.

Hard though it is to be unable to enter and populate our churches, there's a strange sort of rightness in our being deprived at this time. Something of great value has been taken from us - as it has, in different ways, from everyone. And this week we remember One from whom everything was taken, leaving the empty shell of his body and a bleak, desolate silence.

Perhaps the hard fact that nothing is left of our gatherings for worship can help us feel more deeply the deprivation Jesus endured. But remember: Easter will come, Jesus will rise, and - though we may have to wait a while yet - we will meet again, in our churches, and they will be full of the sound of our praise.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

A Litany for Holy Week

This Litany is taken from "Common Worship". Were we together in church, the minister would say the words in ordinary type, and we would all respond with those in bold. Perhaps, as we say these words at home, we can imagine being in church, with the beautiful solemnity of Holy Week descending on us, and with the sense it brings that nothing else matters - only this bleak reality of sin and pain and division, and the God who enters our unholiest places to make us holy like him... May we all know the riches of his mercy. 

 

For forgiveness for the many times we have denied Jesus,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For grace to seek out those habits of sin which mean spiritual death,

and by prayer and self-discipline to overcome them,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For Christian people, that through the suffering of disunity

there may grow a rich union in Christ,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who make laws, interpret them, and administer them,

that our common life may be ordered in justice and mercy,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who make our world a battleground,

and for those who have the courage to work openly for justice and peace,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those in the darkness and agony of isolation,

that they may find support and encouragement,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who, weighed down with hardship, failure or sorrow,

feel that God is far from them,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

For those who are tempted to give up the way of the cross,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

That we, with those who have died in faith,

may find mercy in the day of Christ,

let us pray to the Lord.

Lord, have mercy.

 

Holy God,

holy and strong,

holy and immortal,

have mercy on us.

 

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Thoughts on helplessness

None of us likes to be helpless. All of us like to have at least some degree of control over our lives. For some, it goes further than that: they like to keep tabs on everything that's going on, and - wherever possible - to manipulate their reality so that nothing escapes their grasp. We call these people control freaks, and while most of us don't go to quite these lengths, it's rare to find someone who is completely free of control-freakery. As I said, we don't like to be helpless.

But sometimes we are: when we're infants, dependent on parental nurture and protection; and when we're old, and the things we can do for ourselves are increasingly restricted. When we're born and when we die. And in between, there will be times of helplessness - especially through illness or disability - when we face a choice. Be consumed with rage or self-pity because we're no longer in control - or come to accept that being helpless offers us the opportunity to learn something important about being human.

And what might that learning be? Maybe something like this: we need others, and we need God. We are not, ultimately, self-sufficient; and sometimes we don't get to pick and choose how the help we need comes to us. Sometimes all we can do is accept our insufficiency, and be grateful when, once again, we get the message that we are not forgotten, our voice is heard, help is coming.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Pause for Prayer

Perhaps you're wondering - how can I pray at this time? How can I keep the connection with God, despite being isolated and unable to join others for worship?

I'm going to post prayers on this page, which you may find helpful (see below). But essentially, prayer is our connection with God, and it doesn't need words, or churches, or music, to happen - though these can be helpful. Maybe, just maybe, this is a time of stripping-back, when you and I can discover a simpler way of being with God. Just a look at the world outside, just a murmured "thank you" at a kindness given, just a still moment of thankfulness for being alive - all these you and I can do without any kind of intermediary or ceremony. (Vicar doing himself out of a job, or what?)

But sometimes words help:

Keep us, good Lord,

under the shadow of your mercy

in this time of uncertainty and distress.

Sustain and support the anxious and fearful,

and lift up all who are brought low;

that we may rejoice in your comfort,

knowing that nothing can separate us from your love

in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

and:

God of compassion, 

be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.

In their loneliness, be their consolation;

in their anxiety, be their hope;

in their darkness, be their light;

through him who suffered alone on the cross,

but reigns with you in glory,

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Beautiful irony

Funny how, just as we face up to one of the darkest times in our history, the sun is shining, the daffodils are blazing yellow, and the birds are singing with what sounds suspiciously like joyful enthusiasm.

Is all this beauty just a bitter irony - nature (or God) laughing at our predicament? Or are we being offered balm for our souls?

Well, I'd say - better for us if we can take it as a morsel of compensation for our present troubles. Actually, more than a morsel: if our eyes are open, we are being offered a banquet, a right royal take-away of colour and light and glory. We are being given something restorative, and perhaps there is a message in the way everything is waking up, coming back to life. Something like - "You, too, will recover, you will have life again, you will laugh and dance. Your sorrow, like the winter, will run its course and then give way to spring."

Creation is God's love for us. And nothing can separate us from that love.

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

And the people stayed home

Thanks to Dawn Murphy for passing on this little gem, a quote from Kitty O'Meara:

"And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and grew gardens full of fresh food, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed."

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Love in a time of Coronavirus

It seems a long time since I last posted here, but it's just a week - a week in which so much has changed that it's hard to quite believe or understand what is happening.

We are the same people, and yet we're not. Things we took for granted, like gathering for social occasions or work meetings - or worship - have gone, probably for a good while. And so we're discovering how to do things differently. And, perhaps, discovering that nothing is to be taken for granted. 

I'm not sure how much wisdom I can offer. Like you, I'm trying to make sense of it all - and, like a judo player trying to overcome a stronger opponent, I'm looking for the hold that will enable me to flip this scenario over and turn its dystopian overtones - isolation, suffering, deprivation, uncertainty - into something good. Here are a couple of thoughts for starters:

- Some people, of course, will be busier than ever as this crisis deepens. Prayerful support for all healthcare workers is a given. But, for those of us who are having to slow down, might this be a God-given opportunity to do less rushing around and instead be still? A chance to no longer define ourselves exclusively by what we do, what we achieve? As well as flagging up the power of poetry to soothe and heal us in these times, the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, has suggested there's a message to be drawn "about taking things easy and being patient and trusting to the earth, and maybe having to come through this slightly slower, and wiser, at the other end, given that one thing that's accelerated the problem is our hectic lives and our proximities and the frantic way we go about things." The question is - when this is all over, will we go straight back into headless-chicken mode, or will things have really changed for good?

- And, in similar vein - what lessons will we draw, from a time when economic activity has slowed (with beneficial short-term effects on the environment), about how we should in the future adapt all our activities to the deeper needs of our planet?

 - And: we can see already that one possible benefit of this crisis is a greater attentiveness (albeit at a distance!) to the needs of our neighbours, especially the elderly and the housebound. Examples of a caring community spirit already abound; will we be encouraged to keep this spirit alive, once we are free to come and go again?

- And finally, one for the Church. On one level, we are atomised now, split apart by the impossibility of meeting. What can the Body of Christ mean, when we are all sealed off from one another in our private spaces? One sketchy answer: we may be able to discover something deeper about our communion with God and one another, now that we are apart. We have always been part of a wider communion, with God and with those we can't see as well as those alongside us - or rather, those we can't see (like God) have always been alongside us. We've just been too busy with what's in front of our eyes to notice them, to see the invisible web of love by which we are all bound together. But now we can.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Into the unknown

It looks like we're all going to have plenty of time to sit at home and think about Coronavirus over the coming weeks. For those with underlying health problems, and those of a certain age, there is real cause for concern, and a need to do what we can to keep one another safe.

But for all of us, whatever our age or state of health, there is that particular type of anxiety that we feel when we're facing the unknown. Usually, habits and routines mask the reality that none of us knows what each day will hold. Now, though, despite the best efforts of expert advisors, we really don't know how our lives will be affected by this potentially huge threat to our lives and our society. We are confronted with the unknown, and it's scary.

Three fairly obvious thoughts:

- Keep calm and wash your hands. This much-repeated advice is simply saying: don't panic, just be sensible. We can all do this, and it may be enough...

- Whoever we are, this crisis, which is likely to mean many people are more isolated than usual, gives us an opportunity to be more than usually thorough and attentive in maintaining contact with one another - using the technology we have at our fingertips.

- And if we are people of faith, this may be our chance to re-discover the God we say we believe in: One who is present with us at all times, and especially in times of trouble. The future course of our lives is unknown to us - apart from the fact that the God of love will always be with us, and that this will be enough.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Reading Room

As you can imagine, I've had a bit more time for reading recently. (Thanks for asking - yes, the leg is coming along nicely, but it's all slow, and meant to be so.) I've actually finished some books, and now that it's Lent I've found 2 or 3 books that have helped and inspired me. You could read them in Lent, or any time really.

"One for Sorrow" by Alan Hargrave is a memoir of the time before and after the death of his son Tom at the age of 21. It's an unflinching, honest, straight-talking account - no punches pulled, no soppy piety, just the struggle to hold on to faith and love. I found it very moving, and sometimes funny as well.

"The Wind, the Fountain and the Fire" is an exploration by Mark Barrett, who is a monk of Worth Abbey, of strands of imagery in the Bible - beautifully written, deceptively deep, and a reminder that to understand the Bible as a work of the imagination can help us move beyond dead-end arguments about what is or isn't true.

And "Sabbath" by Nicola Slee is a poetic investigation of the value of rest and stillness, using Wendell Berry's "Sabbath Poems" and her own journal entries and poetry. It reminded me that Sabbath - however we choose to do it - is not an add-on, but absolutely fundamental to our relationships with God and each other. Is stillness just a brief rest from all our frantic activity, or is our activity meant to arise from stillness? Is stopping (not-doing) something we can't bear to allow ourselves, or is it the way we make the deep connections that give meaning and value to our doing?

I hope we can all find time to read this Lent. "Be still and know that I am God"... 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Old guys rule?

Is it true that the over-60s tend to go on a bit about getting old? (Just saying)

Maybe, to avoid the inevitable self-pity, we need to plough on regardless, as if age were nothing but a number, and there are worlds still to be conquered (or better, discovered)...

But then - horror of horrors - I look at the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination in the United States (not to mention their President) and see white-haired old blokes, still desperate to achieve, still driven, still convinced that their best years are ahead of them. And maybe they're right.

What keeps them from sitting around quietly in their slippers watching daytime TV? It must be some kind of fire within, some burning conviction that they haven't yet got there, haven't yet achieved (that word again) their potential. And that fire is, for sure, a noble thing, if it's about making other people's lives better. But if it's really about an insatiable ego, an all-consuming drive to get to the top, then we're all better off if the old guys just give it a rest. For good.

In the suggestions for prayer during Lent (see "Common Worship" Morning Prayer), there's a good phrase: "for those serving through leadership". Leadership that isn't anchored in and defined by service is deadly.

That starts with me, of course... 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Ashes to ashes

Ash Wednesday. Time to remember our weakness, our mortality, and the thousand ways in which we fail to embody the love of God. Time for humility, in other words. Not grovelling, not a big show of penitence, but a quiet, sober awareness that we are far from perfect, far from the finished article.

Sound a bit grim? Far from it - I think there is joy to be found, especially through Lent, in clearing out our cluttered hearts and making room for God.

From the Prayer of Manasseh, this beautiful verse:

"And now, I bend the knee of my heart before you, and implore your kindness upon me."

 

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

God's weaklings

When I fell and damaged my knee just before Christmas, I was completely helpless. Ann, our Curate, says she was shocked by how vulnerable I looked, laid there on the grass, with my leg under me, pale and shocked. (Well, there's no harm in trying for a bit more sympathy, is there?)

Sometimes we just are helpless, we have no choice. But, most of the time, most of us like to project an image of strength. Perhaps this is true particularly of men - or has been, until now: over the past few years, it's been heartening to see how many men have been able to be open about their struggles with mental health.

I was interested in Steve Coogan's comments, in this week's "Radio Times". He talks about how easy it is for men "to develop psychological problems, especially if you're in a male-dominated corporate world where you can't show weakness. The whole human experience is about weakness. You look at Shakespeare, it's all about weakness. But people still feel like they have to cover up or explain away anything that makes them look flawed."

In other words, what is really interesting about us is our vulnerability. But, of course, to allow yourself to be vulnerable you have to be able to trust.

So maybe we can (especially if we're male) look afresh at our ultimate role model, Jesus of Nazareth - God becoming intentionally vulnerable, all the way to death on a cross. What is he showing us about embracing our weakness, and finding glory in it?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Equal before God

Inequality, we know, is a huge problem in our country and across the world. Inequality of opportunity, inequality of income, inequality of human rights... For those of us who call ourselves Christians, there should be something shocking in the many facets of inequality that confront us every day. We believe, after all, that human beings are created in the image of God, and that every human life is of equal value and deeply precious in the sight of God. And we're aware that the climate crisis we all face has its roots in the short-sighted greed of a minority of the human race, and is likely to have its greatest impact on those who are already disadvantaged. Something, surely, has to change...

Although there is no easy solution offered here, I found these words of Olivia Graham, the new Bishop of Reading, who has spent much of her ministry in Africa, helpful:

"I am very passionate about the issue of global inequality. I am very clear that it has its roots in the historic, and sometimes current, systematic economic exploitation by rich nations of the poor nations. I am constantly shocked by the scale of global inequality. If this issue is going to be tackled, then the whole world economic system needs to be reformed. We have to encourage our political leaders to be more long-term in their thinking and in their approach to the challenge of global capitalism."

I believe that awareness of the need for change is increasing, and that power-holders will not be able for ever to ignore the call to put people ahead of profit, and to pursue policies that enrich our earth rather than despoiling it. The battle lines are drawn, and the next 10 years are likely to be critical in the struggle to safeguard our planet and reduce inequality. Which side will you and I be on?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

The importance of being kind

After the horrible news that the TV presenter Caroline Flack had taken her own life, her friend Laura Whitmore said something very important: she asked people to be kinder to each other, especially when using social media. She knew the pressure her friend had been under, from trolling and from intrusive media coverage.

Laura is right. The only antidote to the sneering, bullying, heartless treatment that drives people to despair is kindness. Kindness to others - and sometimes, kindness to ourselves.

"Love your neighbour as yourself". Straightforward kindness is a big part of that.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Deaf/not deaf

This morning I found myself humming the "Ode to Joy", the great theme from the last movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. And I remembered something I read recently: a leading musicologist has discovered that - contrary to received wisdom - Beethoven was not completely deaf when the Choral Symphony had its premiere in 1824. So the classic mental picture we all have of the profoundly deaf Beethoven, quite unable to hear his own glorious music, turns out to be (perhaps) not quite true...

For me, as I continue to think about joy, the question is: would we rather hold on to the tragic and romantic image of the deaf genius, receiving rapturous applause he cannot hear - or can we rejoice in the idea that he was still able to hear and delight in the unique sound-world he had created?

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Doublethink

Just a thought -

if a Church keeps going on about being inclusive, while at the same time making it clear that certain people are less acceptable than others in God's sight, should we call that delusion or hypocrisy?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Joy 2020...

...is the strapline for "Bishops in Mission", a 3-day event from March 6th to 8th, in which all 3 bishops - Robert, Jackie and Nick - will be roaming across North Devon, attending various events, and hopefully inspiring and encouraging many people in the process. (Leaflets with full details will be in our churches this coming Sunday). The "Joy" theme comes from the third official priority of our Diocese: "To serve the people of Devon with joy ". (And the other two are...?)

I've found myself thinking quite a lot about joy over the past few months. I suppose the bottom line is that nothing is really worth bothering with unless there's joy in it. Obviously, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get on with the hard stuff in life - sometimes there are crosses that have to be carried - but when it comes to things like being obedient to our calling and following Christ, there is no substitute for joy. And no way of manufacturing it, either.

On a couple of the Sundays after Epiphany, the Gospel readings were about Jesus calling his first disciples. How readily and willingly they followed him, leaving behind everything they knew and launching out into the unknown! It may have been just like that for you, but as I heard these readings, I found myself acutely aware of my hesitant, often unwilling discipleship. And then I realised that real obedience has nothing to do with slavishly following orders; it's the discovery, deep within, that what God wants is also what I want. And then there is joy, and a real, unforced willingness to listen to God and to follow his way.

Please don't imagine I've cracked it and am now at all times the perfect, joy-filled disciple. (Do I hear: "we knew that anyway"?) And please don't be hard on yourself when you struggle to be wholehearted in your discipleship. We are all learning, and perhaps the most valuable thing we can learn is to look for joy, insist on joy, enjoy joy...

And a final thought: I've always wondered why coming into Lent gives me a sense of joy rather than foreboding, of something light rather than heavy. Maybe it's just this: if we're honest about our struggles with faith, God will take us to a deeper place where we are given joy.

It's just taken me 401 words to say what St. Augustine says in 9: "Who can embrace wholeheartedly what gives him no delight?"

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Afflictions

Sometimes a verse or two from the Bible jumps out at you. The other day it was this, from Psalm 34:

"The Lord is near to the broken-hearted

and saves the crushed in spirit.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,

but the Lord rescues them from them all."

In response, I found myself thinking of the Gospel reading for Candlemas (this Sunday coming), which finds Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem - and how, after taking the baby in his arms, praising God and blessing the three of them, old Simeon warns Mary of the suffering that will come her way because of the hostility her son will provoke: "...and a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

Even in a moment of high exultation such as this, Mary needs to hear that she will not be exempt from suffering. And so we learn that there is no helpful connection to be made between what we deserve and what we get, no handy explanation for the suffering that will come our way - however righteous we may be.

What matters is not ferreting around for a reason why we suffer, but asking for grace to endure affliction without losing hope. 

And, while those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ have - in his resurrection from the dead - a very clear encouragement to keep the faith, what astounds me is how many people who say they have no faith nonetheless refuse to lose hope. Perhaps there is something in us all - given by God - which knows He will, in the end, rescue us and give us life. 

 

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

High fidelity

Carrying on from last time ... a sad and tawdry end to the Christine Keeler saga, and a sense of butterflies crushed by the establishment juggernaut.

And a question - how healthy is our British attitude to sex? On the one hand, a prurient interest in the details of people's sex lives; on the other, a willingness to condemn, and if necessary punish, those whose behaviour deviates from "the norm".

So can I just say - when it comes to sex, we're all sinners, we all get it wrong, in thought if not in deed. There is no such thing as perfect, unswerving fidelity. And so there is no basis for judging others. (This, of course, applies to other areas as well as sex!)

And yet fidelity, faithfulness, is absolutely worth striving for, in sex as in all aspects of our lives. That's why marriage matters - not as the last bastion of respectability, against which all other relationships can be measured and judged - but as the expression of a desire to be faithful in loving another person. And in doing so, to reflect and embody, however imperfectly (and yet often gloriously), the faithful love of God for all of us.

Forgive me if you disagree - but in my view, heterosexual marriage is not the only relationship in which we can learn to be faithful in love. In all our relationships, the real value is not the label, not the gender, not the orientation, but the quality of love which we are called to show one another.

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