My Neck of the Woods

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At my monthly men’s meeting which starts with a cooked breakfast at eight o’clock in the morning, the visiting speaker, John Samways, speaking with me beforehand, asked me how long I had been in ‘this neck of the woods’. This meant Midsomer Norton. I realised I’d used this term for my whole life without questioning what it meant.

Searching around, it could be that this was an attempt by the colonialists in early America to describe the geographical features of their new home  to help visitors in the forested lands to identify the geographical location of the neighbour. In English, the word is used to describe a narrow strip of land usually surrounded by water based on its resemblance to the neck of an animal but it has a number of other meanings and uses.

Such as the wonder of the English language that I can be “up to my neck in it”, I can have “an albatross around my neck”, I could be “dead from the neck up”, I can even “get it in the neck” which means to be reprimanded or punished. People may even have a “stiff neck” and that is not an anatomical description. I can be “a pain in the neck”. Two people in a race can be “neck to neck”. Someone can have a “thick neck”. I can “neck” someone if I like them very much i.e. kissing and caressing amorously.

The 40 min talk offered a huge variety of ideas from the ex-teacher, who is leader of the Men’s group in Frome. One of the first things I noticed was that his speaking was very clear and measured. He looked at the audience directly, gave his words the weight that was due to them and left us hanging to see what the next word would be. It was so easy to listen to him that challenging at the same time. That is how public speaking should be.

He commented on a certain pomposity among the clergy especially noticeable at informal gatherings. Here I go again, another word: pompous. It reminds me of Edwardian characters with huge waistlines who enjoy tucking away at their beef for breakfast. Anyway, down to business. “Pompous” means that someone is behaving or speaking in a very serious way because they think they are more important than they really are.

One of the most important things my preacher said to me in the years of yore was ” the most important thing you can do for the greater good is to be yourself”. There is implicit in that statement the requirement to be honest and to tune in with what the voice of conscience is telling you. I would not necessarily make that statement to a bank robber but then Dr Martin Israel was speaking to me personally and not to the whole world, may his soul rest in peace. He ministered in a church in Kensington, London, and maintained a curious stance. At one and the same time he was contemptible of most of the aspects of the church hierarchy and yet he chose to remain within the church to preach his sermons. I have notes of them to this day 20 years later and I thought so much of them I bound them in a book which resides a few feet away from me as I type.

The question arises, why are we pompous. Do we think that we are not good enough yet another ourselves. Do we think that we have to be an actor or some sort of artificial person to qualify in the eyes of others. Having said that, the term Pomp and Circumstance is an occasion where we let our hair down and partake in a splendid probably pretentious celebration with ceremony and with fuss. But then, everybody knows the game they are in and I don’t think they all take it too seriously.

I have written before about our uniqueness and if we had an understanding of the non-physical world to which we could add the divine world and had a full understanding of ourselves, we would not have to inflate our good sides or good as we see them and minimise our faults. Due to ignorance and insecurity, not lack of intelligence, I think we are sleepwalking around for most of the time. I note that when I speak to people in the street I have to ask a question twice. The first time, it is to register that there is a human being out there wanting to know something and the brain is switched to the on position, and the second time to activate owner of the brain who now realises that something is being demanded of them.

John asked us how we interact with important books such as reference books, the Bible etc. and made mention that it was not just a source of information but something that was designed for us to relate to. The Christian Bible makes frequent reference to the importance of a mindset. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you“. This is rather archaic in its delivery but has a profound truth associated with it. If we focus too much on our goals which are normally in the material world, it is so easy to forget our priorities of what is important and thus lose our way.

I was discussing counselling yesterday and suggested that we do not approach anyone directly without an invitation, and it seems that the speaker would certainly agree with this. There is a quote, attributed to St Francis of Assisi, which is “preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words”. Interestingly, this is at odds with the man himself who would often go to the extravagant parties of the rich and preach the gospel to them. When walking the path of Assisi, St Francis would often preach the gospel to those he met. Maybe he preached to the birds to practice preaching to the men and women he met.

Personally I think we can speak around the gospel as well as directly address it. We can discuss the state of the world and ask people what they think the remedies might be. I don’t think there’s any harm in challenging other people.  I don’t think the average person is to turn round and say “my goodness, that’s the first time anyone said anything like that to me, I’m now going to turn my life around”. It’s more likely to go into the subconscious to emerge at some future time when the context permits perhaps in a discussion.   at the very least, I think we have the duty to sow seeds.

I think Saint Francis probably adapted his technique according to the openness or lack of prejudice that he perceived in the people he met and I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all.

Talking about Social Media from the Christian point of view or the spiritual point of view if you like, I find too many carping comments or frankly trivial remarks that do not take anything forward. Why don’t we use the Internet a tool to encourage and inform people. I see very few encouraging, “well done” type comments. Anyone who is remotely interested in the Internet could help to encourage others. We all need encouragement whether we admit it or not. Yes?

There is a good section in Psalm 37 which reads “trust in the Lord and do good. Non-– Christians substitute ” the universe” for ” the Lord” and that makes you feel more comfortable. Further along in the sample it says “he will make your godly ways shine like the dawn. Be still. The patient. Wait for the Lord to act. Keep from being angry. Turn away from anger.   This is again an archaic way of saying that synchronicity is all. Don’t try to push the river. Keep your focus where it should be (your choice of course) and see what comes to you. I have found the running after things never works.

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