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

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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Revd. Giles King-Smith

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

Resistance is not futile

a sermon preached on Christmas Eve 2017

This morning, being a Sunday morning, I ... went to the cinema.

As you do - or at least, as we do in our family on Christmas Eve. I had cancelled the usual morning services, not to go to the cinema, but - keeping in mind 2 services on Christmas Eve and 2 more on Christmas morning - to avoid ending up as a frazzled heap of brain-dead vicar.

Anyway ... as we trooped off to see "Star Wars - the Last Jedi", I was reminded of my dear colleague and friend Linda Walters, our Associate Minister who died in February - and specifically, of how much she loved going to the cinema. Every time a half-decent film arrived in Ilfracombe or Barnstaple, or sometimes even in Taunton, you could mention it to Linda and she'd say - oh yes, saw it last Thursday - really, really good. Very rare that you could beat her to it.

So, as we watched, I thought of Linda. And (rather sadly) I started thinking about my Christmas sermon. Having seen some of the previous Star Wars films, and read the reviews of this one, I knew that it would be about a bunch of heroes of "The Resistance" defying the interstellar military might of "The First Order" - which is basically an evil empire with ambitions to rule the galaxy. And as I watched, I asked myself the question I'm now going to ask you:

Am I / are we part of the Resistance or part of the Empire?

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Freedom from fear

Sermon preached at Exeter Cathedral Evensong on June 25th 2017

Based on I Samuel 24:1-17 (The outlaw David spares King Saul's life) and Luke 14:12-24 (The parable of the wedding feast)

"Saul lifted up his voice and wept. He said to David: "You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil.""

There are certain situations - or perhaps I should say, certain positions - in which we are particularly vulnerable. While eating, for example, especially when accepting hospitality from others (think Glencoe). Or while sleeping - undefended, unsuspecting, abandoned to a parallel universe.

And, of course, while ... how shall I put this? ... answering a call of nature, doing our business, relieving ourselves ... you know what I mean, even though I shudder to approach this subject - at Choral Evensong - in the Cathedral!

Actually, the most graceful euphemism for this activity, though admittedly rather confusing, is the one used in our Old Testament reading. In a literal translation of the Hebrew, we read that Saul entered the cave "to cover his feet". The use of the feet in the Hebrew Bible to represent parts of the body which cannot be mentioned deserves a whole book, or at least a whole sermon - but not now. (If you're interested, go to Ruth chapter 3, verse 4...)

Bodily functions make us vulnerable, that's the point. In this little scene, with its potent mixture of comedy and poignancy, Saul is vulnerable, and David refuses to capitalize on his vulnerability. A couple of chapters further on, we have another version of this scenario. This time, Saul and his men are sleeping as David and Abishai enter their camp; contemplate the KIng asleep, with his spear stuck in the ground beside him; debate whether or not to kill him, with David dissuading his companion; and then make off with the spear and a water-jar as proof of their incursion, before David calls to Saul and - as in the reading we've heard - uses his refusal to take advantage of Saul's vulnerability to drive home the message that he is not Saul's enemy.

The outlaw David, whom Samuel has already anointed as Saul's successor, will not murder the King who seeks his life. David's instinct as a soldier is to finish Saul off. His interest as a political animal is to claim the kingdom at a stroke. But these are trumped by his conviction that to strike at God's anointed one is to strike at God Himself. Whatever Saul's failings - which have led to the Lord withdrawing His favour from him, and will lead to his downfall - while he lives his life is, for David, sacred, inviolable.

And so we have the strange and deeply sad exchange between these two, father-in-law and son-in-law, present King and King-in-waiting, ending with Saul's outburst: "Is that your voice, my son David? ... You are more righteous than I; for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil."

What does this mean - "You are more righteous than I"? At the simplest level, Saul is trying to kill David - David refuses to kill Saul. That's the righteousness equation.

But at another level, it's about freedom. Saul is not free - he is gripped by, driven by, jealousy, fear and rage. David is so free that he doesn't need to take Saul's life. He is free to spare Saul, to offer Saul mercy; and we recognise it as the same mercy that Jesus Christ in his risen life offers us in our hopeless vulnerability. David is free to offer Saul God's generous, merciful love - and Saul is free to accept it or reject it. But as we read on, we realise that, for all his sincere contrition, Saul cannot accept the freedom David offers. He is still bound by fear and rage, he is still unable to deal with his own vulnerability in any other way than by the use of force. He doesn't know how to choose freedom.

And so, David is more righteous than Saul.

And so, we come to Jesus, who shows us what a life lived freely looks like. The banquet in his story is freely offered to all. It's a symbol of heaven. It's a picture of what Jesus himself offers people, over and over again. It stands for God's free gift of His generous, merciful love. Freely given to those who are given the freedom to reject it. They have entirely reasonable excuses - pressing tasks which demand their prior attention, and which belong to a quite different order of reality from the mad, intemperate generosity of the host. Who can argue with excuses like these? Especially with the last one, the showstopper - delivered, we can imagine, with a sanctimonious smirk: "Just got married - can't possibly tear myself away - actually, we're off to Barbados tomorrow - sorry, do hope it all goes well. See you soon!"

Actually, no you won't. The invitation is freely given, and the freedom to refuse it is real, but there are consequences to that refusal. When God calls us, we are free to say no, but there are consequences. In truth, my experience - and maybe yours too - is that our God is far more patient than the host in Jesus' story. He keeps on graciously inviting us, and we get more than one chance (far more!) to respond - but the stakes are just as high as in the story. Do we want the new life, the joy, the freedom God offers us; or are we still wedded to our old, comfortable (deadly comfortable) habits? Are we, like Saul, still fearful of what might happen if we stopped trying to control our lives, stopped trying to defend ourselves, and instead believed - actually believed - that this freedom is real. And more: that this freedom is the only way to life.

To be clear: this is not the freedom to do exactly and simply what we want - as David will discover when, as King, he sleeps with Bathsheba and engineers her husband's death so that he can have her, and then is brought to book by the prophet Nathan in one of the Bible's great stories of telling truth to power (II Samuel chapters 11 & 12). David will learn from this the same truth hammered home, centuries later, by Paul (formerly known as Saul) to the wild Christians of Corinth: the freedom Christ brings is an inner freedom, not an outward licence to do whatever you want. It is a freedom from fear and hatred, and a freedom to love. If love rules your heart, you will be free; and out of love, then yes, you may do what you will.

If love rules your heart ... It's a big "if"!

 

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Innocence and Experience

A sermon preached at Christmas 2016
 
William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" show us the great visionary poet of England exploring the tension, which we all know and feel, perhaps especially at Christmas-time, between on the one hand that primal state of innocence, wonder and delight which we read back into our childhood, and on the other the world-weariness which comes to us as we grow up and journey on through hardships, disappointments and sorrows. I say "especially at Christmas-time" because it seems to me that there is a deep sense of longing, of yearning, which underlies our bright rituals of Christmas, our carols, our light-bearing trees, our gatherings to celebrate and feast. It is the yearning of people who have seen and known too much, for an innocence we fear we may have lost. We long to have hope, to believe in one another as much as in God, and we long for the simple values of goodness and beauty and truth to become real. And we long for the cynical part of us, hardened by bitter experience - and able, in our information-overloaded world, to marshal battalions of dispiriting facts - not to have the last word.
 
We long for things to be put right
as they once were
at least in our imagining
many Christmases ago.
 
Here is Blake in his poem "The Lamb", with a voice of innocence:
 
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little Lamb, who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?
 
    Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
    Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb, 
we are called by his name.
    Little Lamb, God bless thee!
    Little Lamb, God bless thee!
 
Blake knew, of course, that there is quite another way of seeing the world, and he expressed this dark, at times hopeless, realism in the "Songs of Experience". Read his poem "London" for a vision of urban misery which finds echoes in the cities of our world today. I've chosen, though, "The Garden of Love", which shines a brutally revealing light on the way organised religion can kill the human spirit:
 
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
 
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore;
 
And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be;
And Priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.
 
What Blake was after, what he believed in, was something much closer to the radical vision of Christmas and Easter: God - a human child, dependent, defenceless, in no way exempt from the harsh realities of life; and God - a man executed as a criminal, suffering injustice, humiliation and pain. Innocence is apparently crushed by experience - and yet, as countless little stories remind us, day after day, if we can but notice them, there is a goodness which cannot be killed off, which keeps on rising up, like flowers in the desert. If we can believe it, the story of Jesus tells us that innocence wins. Goodness, truth, beauty and love can never be eradicated.
 
Two people in particular moved me this year, made me think again, convinced me that there is a way of innocence which is the only true response to the evil in our world.
 
First, Jo Cox MP was murdered (never mind by whom or why), and her husband Brendon, when asked how we should honour her memory, replied: "Fight against hatred".
 
And second, Father Jacques Mourad, a Syrian Catholic priest abducted by ISIS in 2015, his life unexpectedly spared, spoke about the need to ensure that we "never make decisions out of fear" - and further, spoke of his conviction that we need a "revolution against violence".
 
"Fight against hatred", "a revolution against violence" - and of course, the fight against hatred cannot be waged with hate, and there can be no violence in the revolution against violence. This is a call to arms of a very different kind: it is a call to insist on love and peace as the motivating forces in our struggle for what is right. It is a call to a sustained innocence - if you like, a willed innocence - which is born out of hard and painful experience. It is exactly the call which the adult Jesus (perhaps remembering - who knows? - the innocence of his birth and childhood) made on his first followers and makes on us now - Unless you become like little children, there's no way in to heaven.
 
This is the challenge: for us to understand the baby of Bethlehem, like the man of Calvary, as pointing the way for us to reclaim our lost innocence, and to lay hold of a simple, single purpose - love one another. Don't think twice, don't count the cost - just love one another.
 
May your inner child be re-born this Christmas, so that, as children, you may know the joy that comes from God, and share it.
 
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Revd. Giles King-Smith

All God's Children

I want to say something about the killings at the gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12th - since overtaken in our attention by yet more horrors, but fresh in all our minds as I was writing this for the church magazine in the middle of June.

And I want to use the word "gay", which will stir a variety of reactions in Christians, because I think it's important for the Church, and for all people of faith, to hear that word, to acknowledge the reality of a gay community - some of whom are Christians - and to acknowledge also the reality of a history of prejudice, fear and hatred towards gay people, in which the Church has often played a less than honourable part.

Let me be honest: for a moment, I found it fractionally harder to feel for those killed and injured in Orlando than I would have done if the attack had been on a primary school or a concert hall. And then I realised - this is no different, these people no more deserve such a fate than I do.

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Revd. Giles King-Smith

Divine Love at Easter

"He showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind's eye and I thought, "What can this be?" And answer came, "It is all that is made". I marvelled that it could last, for I thought it might have crumbled to nothing, it was so small. And the answer came into my mind, "It lasts and ever shall because God loves it". And all things have being through the love of God."

Some words of Julian of Norwich. We don't know her real name, but we know that she was an anchoress (a hermit living in a cell attached to a church) at St. Julian's in Norwich - hence the name she is known by. She was born in 1342, and on May 8th 1373, during a severe and life-threatening illness, she received a series of 16 "shewings". For 20 years she meditated on what she had been shown, and eventually recorded these visions and her understanding of them as "The Revelations of Divine Love" - the first book known to have been written by a woman in English.

As Julian pondered the meaning of her visions, she was told: "What, do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning."

The true meaning of "this thing", this hazelnut-sized thing, the true meaning of everything, is love.

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