Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: gossip

But refuse profane and old wives’ fables

Old wives’ fables really are the words that the Apostle wrote. I thought perhaps this was some colourful turn of phrase courtesy of the translators. But no, this is an accurate translation of the Greek.

Why do we associate old women and questionable stories? I have a theory. Older women tend to think of themselves as custodians of the established standards of what is right and proper in their communities. When they hear of some happening that appears to be in contravention of those standards, they want to make sure that others know what is happening so they can do something to set things to right. It seems like a quasi-noble intention.

Too often, though, they don’t get the facts quite right, and then they begin to embroider a bit on the story they thought they heard. And the embroidery becomes more elaborate with each retelling. In the end, their noble intentions often do more harm than good.

We do well to heed the Apostle’s admonition. For sure, we should never repeat such a story without doing a little independent research to find the source of the story and verify the information.

That goes for stuff that comes floating into our inbox via the internet. I recently received prayer requests for persecuted Christians in India where a Buddhist mob had torched ten churches and had intentions of torching many more. Another prayer request came on behalf of 22 missionaries awaiting execution in Afghanistan.

It turns out that the first story has been circulating since 2010 and was not true at that time, or any time since. India is a predominantly Hindu nation, it is dubious whether there are enough Buddhists in India to form a mob big enough to burn ten churches. In addition, the location named in the message does not exist.

The second story is even older, having been around since 2007. It is also fictitious. One would begin to think that there is a conspiracy afoot to get well-meaning Christians excited about things that aren’t happening, in order to make them look like fools. If that is the intention, it appears to be working.

Someone once said: “Don’t believe anything you hear, and only half of what you see.” That is a little extreme, but a little skepticism can be a healthy thing. If you ever have a question about some startling news that has been forwarded to you via email, Snopes.com can probably tell you the history of the story and whether it is true or false.

Gossip

Gossip. talk or news about the personal lives of other people that is often not kind or true.

The above definition comes from the Harcourt Brace Canadian Dictionary for Students, © 1997. I think this was the best school dictionary ever, but it is unfortunately out of print due to Thompson Corp buying up a whole bunch of Canadian textbook and dictionary publishers and merging them into one. I also think this definition is better than any definition in a dictionary for grownups.

Christians may be particularly prone to gossip. We care about each other and when we hear about some bad thing happening to a brother or sister we want to know if it is true. Whether or not that is gossip depends on who we ask. If we ask someone who probably knows no more than we do, or less, “Did you hear what happened to sister so-and-so?”, that is gossip. And it will surely spread and grow into an even bigger scandal.

If we ask the person supposedly involved, or someone close to her, that is not gossip. If we find that the story is true, we don’t need to talk to others about it, but we can, and ought to, pray. If we find the story is not true, then we have a responsibility to pass that news on to those who think it is.

I learned that lesson from a minister many years ago. A group of brethren were visiting after church and the main topic was the disrespect shown to a visitor in a far away congregation. The minister listened awhile, then spoke up “I heard those stories too, so I phoned the person who was supposed to be involved. It never happened.” The others took that in and decided that was not an interesting topic of conversation anymore.

Wouldn’t it do a lot to build love and unity among brothers and sisters if we would all pick up the phone when we hear such stories and ask what really happened. We will often be left wondering how such a baseless story got into circulation. Even if the story is more or less true, it is likely that some details got changed or added before the story got to us.

Picking up the feathers

feather

Many years ago, in a little European village,  there lived a decent, well-intentioned man. This man had just one fault, he was a gossip. He knew he shouldn’t do it, he felt bad about it; but every time he heard a scandalous story about one of his neighbours he had to tell it to the other neighbours.

One day, after once again telling a story that turned out not to be true, and being sternly rebuked by his neighbours, he asked his wife what he should do.

“Well,” she said, “I have heard that the rabbi in the next village is very wise. Perhaps he could help you if you asked him.”

There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in his wife’s suggestion, so he set out for the village, which was about one hour away. After being warmly welcomed by the rabbi he explained his problem. “I feel bad about it all the time, but I just can’t seem to stop myself. O wise rabbi, can you help me?”

The rabbi pondered the question a while, then said, “This is what I want you to do. Go back home, have a good night’s sleep and come to see me again tomorrow morning. Bring a pillow with you, open the seam and shake out the feathers as you walk, a few at a time, but make sure they are all gone by the time you get to my home.”

The man wondered at this strange advice, but it seemed simple enough. He would try it, even though he couldn’t understand how it might help. The next morning he walked back to the rabbi’s home in the next village. There was a little breeze and he watched as the feathers fluttered and floated away into the meadow and into the forest.

When he reached the home of the rabbi the bag was empty. “I have done as you asked,” he told the rabbi.

“Very good. There is one more thing you need to do to cure your gossip habit. As you go back home, I want you to collect every one of those feathers and stuff them back into the bag.”

Love means saying I’m sorry

Have you ever observed someone who, in the heat of the moment made a harsh, cutting remark, or even exploded in anger, then felt bad about it but could not bring himself or herself to apologize? I’m sure you have, unless your whole life has been spent alone on an island.

I once knew a man whose childhood had been absolutely miserable, with multiple experiences of rejection and abuse. He became a Christian, but deep inside there was a determination to never let himself be hurt again. If there was ever a hint that someone was not treating him with respect he would explode with angry words. It would soon be obvious that he regretted those words, but he could not bring himself to say “I’m sorry.”

Such people have a fear that they will somehow diminish themselves if they admit to having done something wrong. Doesn’t our respect for that person become less and less the more we observe his or her explosions? It takes a big person to admit he or she has done wrong and say “I’m sorry.”

The brother I mentioned was causing himself as much hurt as anyone else had ever done. He really was a soft-hearted man who cared deeply about other people. However, his explosive temper made it difficult to maintain lasting relationships. He lived on a roller coaster of emotions. After an outburst he would not want to face the other person for a time. Eventually the feeling of shame would fade and he would again be able to visit as if nothing had happened.

My father would explode in anger whenever something went wrong. I don’t think anyone outside the immediate family knew about this side of him. I followed my father’s example and like him it was those I loved most who were exposed to my outbursts.

I repented often of my anger, but found that prayer alone did not really change anything. There was something I had to do, and that was to go to the one I had hurt and say “I’m sorry.” There was a power in saying those words, and meaning them, which began to act as a brake on my impulses to lash out.

A sincere apology does not diminish our respect for the one who apologizes. We all know he has blown his cool and appreciate it when he admits his fault and tries to make amends. The person who can humbly and forthrightly deal with his mistakes becomes a much bigger person in our eyes than the one who has never admitted making a mistake.

Someone once asked me about a visitor with whom I was acquainted. I told everything I knew. Later that day I felt I needed to go back and say that I believed I had spoken the truth, but most of what I said should have been left unsaid. Gossip can be just as hurtful as anger.

James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults one to another. This does not mean that we should make a point of confessing every little slip of the tongue if no malice was intended and no harm done. Nor do we need to invent something to confess; most of us don’t need to do that, anyway. A heartfelt apology is a soothing balm, healing wounds and deepening our relationships.

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