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THE FINE ART OF TALE-BEARING (published in The Tribune 2/16/13)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:18 PM by Fccea Webmaster
Two women were lunching together when one saw a friend come in. She said, "Oh, there's Ruth. Do you believe that awful story about her?" The other woman replied, "Of course. What is it?"

What it is, of course, is gossip. I tried that story using men and it didn't carry the same punch which indicates, I suppose, that we tend to associate gossip more with the feminine gender. But I suspect that is only true because men are less verbal on average. It is no doubt also a carryover from days when fewer women worked outside the home and had more time to indulge.

The truth is we are all open to scuttlebutt that is disparaging of someone else. It appeals to all manner of human foibles -- infusing us with a feeling of moral superiority and appealing to our desire to be "in". We all want to be first with late-breaking news.

Unfortunately, when we indulge without moral restraint, the probability of excess is through the roof. True information becomes garbled with multiple tellings until it is unrecognizable. Speculation becomes fact. Fact-checking is non-existent and even avoided to insure against killing a compelling tidbit.

In such an environment, character assassination inevitably results -- intended or not.

I am reminded of the wife of President Andrew Jackson who had been married to an abusive husband prior to meeting Jackson. She thought her husband had divorced her and she married Jackson, only to discover that due to a technicality in colonial law, she was not a free woman. The situation was quickly resolved and the couple went through with a second ceremony.

The Jackson's were devoted to each other, but thirty years later when Andrew was running for president, the opposition dug up the old story and defamed Mrs. Jackson with accusations of "bigamy" and worse. Rachel was devastated. Though Jackson won election, she hated the thought of Washington DC and died prior to his inauguration.

It's an extreme example, but the fact is, whenever we engage in gossip, someone is getting hurt. That is no doubt one reason that gossip is included in lists of censurable activities such as those found in II Corinthians 12:20 and I Timothy 5:13. Gossip eventually destroys our own credibility. We all know people with whom we cannot share an intimacy for fear of where it will go next.

Gossip is seldom uplifting and for that reason alone is to be avoided. David said, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psa. 19:14). That's a good principle for anyone's conversation.

A simple checklist can help determine whether or not a "juicy morsel" is appropriate to share. Am I sure that it is true? Does the one I want to share with have a need to know? Am I rationalizing to boost my ego by being first to tell? Will sharing this information be helpful or hurtful? Would I want this shared if I were the subject? Am I aware that I am making a target of myself?

That last may seem vague, but the Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:15, "But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." In time, we reap what we sow.

Like the well-known busybody who accused a new church member of being an alcoholic because she had seen his truck in the parking lot in front of a bar. She insisted she was right despite his protest that it was simply convenient to his destination. He gave up a losing argument, but he won the war when he quietly parked his truck in front of his accuser's house, walked home -- and left it there all night.

What goes around, comes around.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton/Ault