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'My neighbor George' a reminder to always listen

"My neighbor George" came into my life about three years ago. I had received a call from Patti Ritter, then of the Carroll County Times, asking if I would like to write for the Religion page of the paper. My early-morning walk is important to me, as this is my personal time to talk to myself, my deceased relatives and even to God. On this particular morning I heard a voice — not with my ears, but in my soul. The voice said, "If you are going to accept the invitation to write, it should be meaningful, relevant and on the cutting edge. You know a lot of things," the voice went on, "but you don't know everything, so encourage your readers to think, reason, and dialogue even if they agree or disagree with you."

"And remember," this voice went on, "from time to time you need to shut up and listen. Listen to the sounds of silence. We are living in a world where people are in each others' faces. Talking. Shouting! Listen to the voices of the children who go to bed hungry. Listen to those who live in fear. Listen to the sound of the birds. Listen to the smiles of those who are in love. You will write better if you listen to the small voices around you."

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Did the voice that I heard come from within myself? Was it something I ate? Was it the voice of a deceased relative? Could it be related to "I am who I am" (Exodus 3.12)? The voice that I experienced should have a name, so I decided to call it simply "my neighbor George."

There is a warning in listing to voices. The Christian Scripture says it well: "Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4.1 NRSV).

By the way, how do you "test the spirits" to make sure they are authentic?

My current Times editor Brian Compere raised a good point when he wrote to me, "If I remember correctly from a past conversation, the thoughts you attribute to George are actually your own? Considering that it's your column and your voice should be the dominant one, I think we need to tone down the George references here."

I take full responsibility for the words that I put on paper. At the same time, I cannot dismiss the mystical voice that constantly challenges me, strengthens me, bothers me, helps me. As crazy as it might sound, I believe "my neighbor George" comes to me as a form of experiential reality, at least in a spiritual way. It is a reality that gives meaning. It is a reality that actually goes beyond the modern science reality of what we can see or test or analyze.

If "I am who I am" can be translated as "I will go with you," it not only gives meaning to science but also to theological inquiry and, maybe most importantly, how we live our lives. God is not beyond us looking on. Rather, "God is with us" (Emmanuel). The good and bad struggles may continue, but we are not alone.

My reason for sharing this "my neighbor George" experience with you is my sincere hope that you take time on a regular basis to listen. Listen to the voice that wants to speak to you. Maybe by listening you will hear the voice of God. (Check out I Samuel 3.1-14 in the Hebrew Bible). Listening is not easy in our culture today. There are so many voices vying for your attention and even your soul. In fact, for many of us we might have to learn how to listen all over again. Sometimes I find that I am ready to speak before the other person is finished with their part of the conversation. Sometimes I feel the conversation is over before the other person knows it and I am already moving on to another topic. Why do I do that? Maybe the thought is if I know the other person is wrong, or at least misguided, why waste any more time in conversation? Is conversation simply speaking, or does it have also to include listening?

I believe God is still speaking. Not just in Bible times, but also today. Ken Bible says it well in a hymn he wrote: "God is speaking, God is speaking" before adding the important question, "Do you hear?"

Let the dialogue continue. I simply ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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