Friday, December 6, 2013

You Didn't Hear It From Me, But . . .

A book I'm reading describes the various approaches Christians have used to deal with “being in the world but not of it”. One of these approaches is to cocoon themselves in their own little community separated from the sinful world. Problem with this, the author states, is that they take their own sin into the cocoon with them. 

My eldest might be getting a taste of that at her new school. It's a rather prominent Christian school here in town, but she says there seems to be a gossip epidemic on campus. Everyone knows it; the teachers bring it up in admonition on a frequent basis . . . although many of those teachers are themselves some of the biggest culprits.

My daughter doesn't think she personally has much of a problem with gossip (“although that may mostly be because I don't talk much at all”), but her observation did lead to a discussion of what constitutes gossip and what doesn't.

Because, really, why wouldn't kids at school talk about each other? And why shouldn't they? If merely passing on second-hand information about another person is a crime, how would we ever know anything about anybody? What distinguishes gossip from casual, harmless conversation? Is it the content of what is said? Is it the way the information could be used or perceived? Is it the motive of the informer?

When I google a definition of “gossip”, it tells me that gossip typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true. But this is easily turned around to create an excuse: “It's true, so it can't be gossip.” In fact, we can come up with all sorts of excuses to justify this behavior. “She didn't say it was a secret, so I'm sure it's okay to share.” Or the grandmama of them all: “I'm just sharing this with all of you so you can pray for her.” Mm-hmm.

Another Google source gives a more specific description of what the Bible says constitutes gossip. We are gossiping when we:

- tell a secret (Prov 11:13)
- talk too much about others (Prov 16:28)
- use our words to add fuel to a fight (Prov 28:20)
- discuss topics we shouldn't (1 Tim 5:13)
- cause division with our words (Prov 16:28)

That helps. (Although "too much" is still pretty subjective . . . )

Curious about the school's approach to the problem, I asked my daughter if the teachers' reprimands were simple scolding or if they included suggestions for how to identify what's gossip, how to direct conversations away from inappropriate topics, what else to talk about instead. No, just scolding. In my BSF this week, we read this teaching of Christ's in Matthew 12:

When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, “I will return to the person I came from.” So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.

When dealing with our pet sins, getting rid of the bad is not enough – you must replace it with the good so there is no room for the bad to return.

Hmm . . . excuse me while I apply that teaching to my own little pet sin . . .

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