Thursday, October 06, 2011

What I've Learned This Summer (not just the name of a 7th grade back to school report)

It’s usually pretty safe to say that the things people fall victim to are the things they tend to stand most resolutely against. A mother who has a child who is struck by a drunk driver is more likely to join MADD, than someone who’s never been the victim of that kind of a crime. I think it’s safe to say that the same goes for all of us, we tend to be adamantly opposed to the things that have hurt us the most, whether that’s drunk driving, or adultery, or gossip or whatever.

Lately I’ve been dealing with the fact that, despite having a pretty boring, uneventful life, I’ve been the butt of some pretty hurtful and uninformed gossip. Needless to say, I've been ruminating a lot on the nature of this subtle, yet destructive tool of dissension and injury. It’s pretty amazing how all the clichés about gossip are true too – it spreads like wildfire, it needn’t be false to be hurtful, no one gossips about your secret virtues, and the very people who gossip to you are the ones who are going to gossip about you.

Gossip isn't one of those big, loud, showy sins that Christians tend to recognize as obviously ungodly. It isn't murder, or adultery, or any one of the Ten Commandments, for that fact. It's kind of like overeating or pride or little white lies, it’s such a white little sin. And sad to say, a lot of modern Christian culture still reeks with the remnants of decades of Puritanical conservatism and its holier-than-thou mindsets. We may not be living in the 1950’s, where housewives shared the local gossip over a clothesline, but in an age of social media, where everyone knows everything about everyone else’s life, it’s still an easy trap to fall into, and a hard one to own up to. What’s more, with the easy disguise of genuine concern, how many times do we as Christians use the excuse of “being worried about” someone, or “just sharing a prayer request”? What is often disguised with seemingly good intentions is nothing more than a sin hiding its own face, presumptuously thinking no one will notice. Or as George Harrison once said “Gossip is the Devil’s radio.”

I have all these thoughts and ruminations about gossip lately, because I find I am the unwilling subject of it amongst a growing number of people, some of them even close friends. Months ago, I would have taken the stance that yes, gossip happens – sadly, it’s inevitable, especially in a smaller church body such as my own. But now that I’m at the wrong end of it, I’m growing increasingly more adamant about how wrong and harmful it is and am starting to question the excuses we make of it being unintentional as just a farce. Even though I’m sure it can’t be true of each individual, it seems to me that there is nothing that keeps a small church body more occupied than speculation and gossip about one of their own. Yet so often I have been guilty of just sitting back and doing nothing about it, while other people gossiped in front of me. Now I deeply regret not standing up for the people in question and putting an end to it when I heard it. What’s more I wish I could take back all the things I heard, and now know (or believe to be true) about the people they were said about. Like toothpaste from a tube, gossip and our words are something that once they’re out, they’re impossible to get back in.

So how do we prevent gossip, in the first place? Well, the first step is to recognize it. I think everyone would agree that a gossiper is someone who has the 411 on someone or something and shares that information with other people who have no business knowing it. Whether harm is intended or not, gossip goes from being “caring” to hurtful when it’s content is negative, potentially embarrassing, shameful, and/or brings doubt or speculation on the character or actions of the person in question. Also, if it is shared without permission or knowledge of the person in question, that too it is gossip. I guess the old adage goes that if you have to stop and ask yourself if what you’re saying is gossip, than it is probably better to err on the side of silence, and not say it at all.

Another sin that has been at the forefront of my mind this summer is speculation, which I’m loosely defining as the willingness of one person to question the morality or virtue of another person in the absence of concrete information. Speculation can lead to gossip, and for sure gossip leads to speculation, so more often than not the two go hand in hand. Speculation, conjectures and assumptions about a person, without knowing the hard facts, is often what fuels a person’s motivations to seek out or listen to gossip. And since all speculation is, is opinion, it’s subject to the changing whims, fancies and translations of whoever happens to being hearing or repeating it.

Speculation drives me so insane, because it goes directly against the biblical mandate of taking your grievances to your brother. We are told in Matthew 18 that if your brother does something that irks you, go take it to him, and try to win him over. I’m sure that the same principle applies if you have questions about what your brother is doing exactly over there in the corner, or just how he’s living his life. Nowhere in the bible do we see it endorsed that in the absence of concrete information, talk to Neighbor #1 about Neighbor #2 and find out what they’ve been observing from behind their kitchen curtains this week. Yep, I’m pretty sure that’s not how Jesus rolled. So much gossip could be nipped in the bud if people just followed this simple idea. You hear something, or think something or wonder something about someone, and instead of asking that person, you go talk to your neighbor, and the two of you proceed into a discussion about exactly what the person in question could be up to. Is it truly being caring? Yes to a point. Is it opening up the door to questioning the virtue and intentions of that person, potentially judging them and giving hurtful gossip a big old Welcome sign with which to enter the conversation? Absolutely.

I have been thinking about all this, and wishing I could just tell people directly to their faces to stop their speculating and gossiping already, but sadly, one of the ways we as Christians bury each other’s sins, and our own as well, is through the whole “Someone said” game. As in “Someone said to me the other day that you were really struggling in your faith.” Really? Because I have not told anyone that at all lately, because frankly, it isn’t true, but thanks for checking. Or, better yet “I heard from someone recently that you moved in with your boyfriend, is that true?” Nope, it’s not, but that’s interesting because “Someone” is grossly misinformed on the little details of my life, but must have one helluva wild imagination. In the absence of cold hard facts, and because they want to dig out the truth but are too cowardly to ask outright, it’s easy for people to play the “Someone said” game. This makes it so easy to deflect any guilt, and still seem concerned and sincere. I would venture to say that the verse I mentioned earlier, in Matthew 18:15 covers this base in principle, and just as if you have a problem, go take it to your brother, there is also no better place to go if you want to know something about that person. Get straight to the source, if you want the truth.

Well speaking of the truth – the fact of the matter is, there are a few things I’d like to set straight, that have been bothering me lately. I have addressed them to the people in my life who are perpetuating untruths, rumors, speculation and gossip, but for those of you out there wondering, and happening to fall into the speculation or “Someone said” category, here is the truth of what’s going on in my life. Now you can stop speculating, stop gossiping, and hear it straight from the source:

No, I have not stopped loving Jesus, despite the fact that I have taken some time off going to church this summer, to just play catch up with my life. I don’t equate taking some much needed downtime as not loving God, but if you do, then I’m really sorry because I’m pretty sure you missed the whole “day of rest” thing. Too bad for you.

I have taken time off church because I’ve been busy, sick, traveling (both for work and for personal reasons) and because I can. I am a grown woman, and have the ability to set my own schedule, and if I want to take some time off, it is my inherent right to do so. Short of the overwhelming gossip that my time off has caused, it has actually been a really nice thing for me.

I have not taken this time off because I am running from my friends, from any “truth” they are “speaking into my life” or because I have fallen away from my faith. But thanks for jumping to that conclusion, it makes me so glad and reassured to know you all believe the absolute best in me and have such strong faith in my character.

No, I’m not pregnant. And I can’t believe I have to resort to saying it in a public forum either. But I’ve been approached by “concerned” friends, playing the “Someone Said” game, who’ve flat out asked if that’s why I haven’t been attending church lately. So let me set the record straight.

No, I haven’t moved in with my boyfriend and no, he hasn’t moved in with me. What’s more, he is not drawing me away from my relationship with Jesus, failing to be a good leader, a spiritual man or a moral and decent person. He has not whispered in my ear that I should be setting things on fire, drowning small animals, running over little old ladies in the crosswalk or wearing white after Labor Day. Fact of the matter is, he is a great guy, the best thing that has ever happened to me, the answer to my prayers and then some, and I have the utmost faith in his ability to challenge me as a person holistically and in all areas of my life, including spiritually.

Despite the fact that I’m largely MIA lately, I have not stumbled down a slippery slope of sin, like a good girl gone bad. No matter what you may think, I am still the same person, just a little more ticked off than usual, and with good cause. I am still the same Trinette that likes to play with kids more than talk to adults, who is goofy, would give you the shirt off her back and has absolutely no poker face. I am frustrated that a simple change in my habits has caused this much angst, and drama, and I am deeply hurt by the fact that I feel entirely unsupported by the people I would have months ago called my friends, but I know I’m going to be okay.

Because at the end of the day I’ve learned some pretty valuable lessons – like no matter what group you’re in, most people tend to shun the outsiders, and treat well only those they consider their own, even the most “Christian” groups. I’ve learned that if you want to continue in a friendship or relationship with someone, it is indeed a two way street, and that puts equal responsibility on yourself to work at it, and trust me, friendships take work. But most importantly I think I’ve learned what not to do. How not to judge. How not to live. I’ve learned that one of the most valuable things you can offer to a person, no matter what you think of their choices, is not to jump to conclusions, not to judge them without all the facts, and not to spread your suspicions, speculations and gossip around before you think about the life you are affecting, and the individual person about whom you’re blabbering about. I’ve learned that treating other’s as you would wish to be treated is truly the golden rule – it is precious, and beautiful, but it is rare, just like gold. I’m grateful for the character going through this summer has brought me, character that makes me both stronger and more conscientious, through the cost of a little pain and frustration.

I hope that this post, instead of seeming like the rants of someone who just needs to get something off her chest, will inspire you to take a look at how you’re living and how better to emulate Christ. Let me leave with a quote, from someone who said it a lot better, and less grandiosely than I’ve managed to. It’s off of a Facebook status from Mars Hill Church: “'If you go & sin no more, then neither will I condemn you' is the opposite of 'Neither do I condemn you. Go & sin no more.' Order matters." –Pastor Justin Holcomb.

And that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.


Anonymous said...

Love you, love your writing. :)

Anonymous said...

Matthew 18-

If you have an issue with another person(s):
1) take it to the person(s) by yourself
2) If they don't listen, then take 1 or 2 others along
3) If they still refuse to consider the correction, then take it to the church.

Oh yeah, don't do any of this until you passive-aggressively post it on your blog.


Anonymous said...

I think its sad that you have to put the facts about your life on your blog. Maybe if people cared about whats happening in your life they woudl call you but maybe they just do'nt care. After reading your blog I know I do'nt care anymore.