Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gossip and Slander

“Spencervale gossip always said that "Old Lady Lloyd" was rich and mean and proud. Gossip, as usual, was one-third right and two-thirds wrong. Old Lady Lloyd was neither rich nor mean; in reality she was pitifully poor--... But she was very proud--so proud that she would have died rather than let the Spencervale people.....suspect how poor she was and to what straits [she] was sometimes reduced.”

      For the past year or so, I have been thinking a lot about gossip. Growing up in my family, gossiping has been one of those special things listed on the proverbial “absolutely not ok” list. From an early age, it has always seemed clear to me that speaking of others negatively isn't Christ-like or God-honoring, much less kind. But after a few years as I hit middle school, and then high school, it has struck me again and again how frequently any discussion I find myself in will turn into chatter about someone else's faults. I want to discuss with you what the Bible says about gossip and slander, the ways we participate in it, and why it is simply not ok. For the sake of discussion, let's change the definition of the words “right” and “wrong” from the way L.M. Montgomery used them in his story. Gossip, is not one-third right, and two-thirds wrong, it is three-thirds wrong. Let me explain what I mean.

      It is my belief that Christians frequently underestimate the importance of not gossiping. Although gossip is certainly often incorrect information, as Montgomery pointed out, it is not simply innocent chatter about one's acquaintances; gossip goes hand in hand with slander. Despite clear indications in scripture cautioning us to guard against these things, I frequently find myself in conversations that are tearing other people down. Proverbs 6:16-19 says:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

      According to Merriam-Webster, the word “slander” means to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone. The Lord hates a lying tongue and one who sows discord among brothers. Ephesians 4:29 says: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Is our gossip building up our neighbors and friends and brothers and sisters?

      There are multiple other references in scripture that I dug up in my research, but these two seem to best state what God thinks about the way we speak of others.

      Now, there are many ways that people find themselves engaging in the slander and gossip of others. More ways than we might even consider at first. There is the gossip about those within our personal sphere, including our own acquaintances, friends, coworkers, bosses, church leadership, etc. Then there is the gossip of celebrities, the political figures, and all the global terrorists. And, y'know, then there are the soap operas, which Lord knows I will never understand. It doesn't matter how young or old or in-between a person is, I can guarantee that this is something they have or will struggle with. Personally, I have a hard time not talking negatively about some of the people I work with, and certain friends. I'm still learning too. On the note of personal gossip, let me also just clear this up right now. Saying “Don't get me wrong, I love so-and-so, he or she is great!” does not justify the next thing you are about to say, if you catch my drift.

Proverbs 16:28 says: A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 10:18 says: Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.

      So, President Nixon, George W. Bush, Seattle Sea Hawks, San Diego Chargers, Lance Armstrong, Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus, Madonna, Tiger Woods, President Barack Obama.

      Chances are, I just named somebody or a group of somebodies whom you don't like. It has come to my attention that many people find gossiping about others in high places to be more acceptable than just people we know. However I would disagree. Every single one of those people or groups I just listed were people created by God, who are loved by God, and in some cases are grieved over by God. We have no right to slam God's creation. We do not have to agree with, or approve, or even like these people, however they all have their own story, and if they were to accept it, Jesus' death is every bit as much for them as it is for us.  Let's discuss their ideas, not slander the people.

Titus 3:1-2 - Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

     If you would like to look into what the bible says more, I'd encourage you to read Matthew 12:26, and along the lines of politics, Romans 13:1-7. Also, do some more looking on your own. Pray about it, and let the holy spirit guide you in your thoughts and conversations. Some days, we will not be able to avoid running into gossip. In this case, it is our responsibility to stand up and set the example. We are God's tool, and His voice. What we say matters, and it can influence the world for either bad or good. Protect your own “ Old Lady Lloyd”, regardless of her flaws, and share with her the love of Jesus.

“How would your life be different if…You walked away from gossip and verbal defamation? Let today be the day…you speak only the good you know of other people and encourage others to do the same.” -Steve Maraboli

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Story

I opened my eyes for the very first time.

     Everything around me was blurred and hushed, but even still I could tell that it was beautiful. I took a deep breath and listened. Slowly, sound began to penetrate the stillness around me, and looking around I could see my surroundings becoming clear and bright. Tall green grass swished around me, catching the glow of the sun in little patches here and there. A bird called out to me from a nearby tree, and as he flitted through the branches, a feather came and brushed my face. The breeze swirled around me, carrying with it what seemed like a thousand blossoms, filling the air and sharing their joy with the whole earth. That joy caught in my spirit, and welled up within me. I threw back my head and laughed.

     As I sat there, gazing upon the world with sparkling eyes and an awe-filled heart, I looked and saw a light above me. It was not the sun. It was much brighter, and even more beautiful. I could not seem to turn away from it, and the happiness in my heart began to mix with a pure, burning desire. It filled me. And the light within was almost as bright as the one above.

     I again turned my attention to my surroundings. For the first time I noticed that I was seated in a sort of small car. It was firmly held to a track which stretched up and above me in the front and the back, creating a "U" shape. How I had not noticed this earlier, I do not know. On either side of me there were handles which would move the car forward when I pushed them down. With surprise and delight I saw that the track led strait up towards the light that I longed to reach. I pushed down hesitantly, moved forward, and then let go. The car paused, and then rolled backward. More boldly this time, I pushed a little harder, and soon I had the handles down as far as they could go, and the car shot upwards into the sky. Higher and higher, I went, and excitement began to grow in my heart, flooding through my veins as I soared to the light that had given me life.

     Yet delight turned to dismay as I began to slow down, and the handles began to resist my touch. For one moment I was stopped in mid air, fighting to push forward. And then, suddenly, the handles flew back, and I was falling. Fear gripped me, squeezing the air out of my lungs, and filling my eyes with tears of panic. My arms flew over my head, one hand grasping the front of the car.

Falling. Falling. Falling.

     I was going backwards. As the car came to the bottom, I could feel it starting to rise again, but in the opposite direction than I had wanted to go. I could not see where I was going, and sorrow seemed to wipe out all joy that had ever filled me before. At the back of my mind I was conscious of a sound; a voice maybe. But it was so distant that it did not penetrate my thoughts.

     At long last, the car came to a stop. I covered my face and wept. There was the light ahead of me, brighter than ever, and by comparison, the beauty that surrounded me was like a faded photograph. Through tears I looked with longing at the way ahead of me. Wearily, my hands came from my face to the handles. I would try again.

     Many times I tried. But no matter how high or how quickly the car ascended, it would always slow down, always stop, always fall back to where I had come from. There was never enough strength in me to keep going. At one time I gave up, wishing only to leave the car and sleep in the grass, or touch the flowers, or sing with the birds; to forget about the light. But after seeing it, how could I forget? And I could not leave.

But I could not stay. I could not reach the place where I knew I belonged.

      Finally, one day, after much hard work and anguish, I had made more progress than usual, when I saw that the track just ended. Right there ahead of me, high in the air, my one hope vanished. Grief flooded me.

     I fell, as I had so often done before, crying as I never had before. Now I believed that there was no way. No matter how far I traveled, I would always come back to the place I had started. And even at my best, I could never go all the way up.

     I covered my head and sobbed.

     And then there was a sound. The same sound that had been in the back of my mind for so long. And then it was not a sound; it was a voice. Calling me. Calling my name. For the first time, I listened, and through the tears I saw a man standing in front of me, clothed in white and looking like a Son of God. He came to me, took my face in his hands, and kissed my forehead. He had always been there. When I stopped, I could remember him standing there by the tree, smiling as I watched the bird, singing with the grass around me, laughing as I laughed. I remembered him. I did not know how I could have forgotten him as I tried to reach the light above me. My eyes met his, and I felt a comfort I had not known before touch my soul.

     He took my hands in his, placed them on the handles, and pushed. Slowly we moved upward together. We did not rush up as I had wanted to do, but as we traveled, I realized that I did not want to go any faster. Every moment I was coming to know this man more, and feeling his strength flow into me. When at last we reached the end of the track, my hopes wavered.

     And then there was no track. There was no car. It happened so suddenly, and yet so quietly, that I almost didn't notice at first. I looked down and saw the earth stretched out below my feet. And then I looked, and all I saw was his arm around me, carrying me upward. His eyes where deeper than any ocean, and filled with warmth, love, and joy in me. His joy flowed into my heart, and I rested my head on his chest.

     I woke up in a small clearing. At first I did not remember what had happened, but in a moment it all came back to me. The light was still above me, but not so far now. I looked and saw a path leading to it, and by the entrance stood the man who had carried me here. The trail was not easy, but he smiled at me and held out his hand. And I knew that I could trust him.

    I put my hand in his, and we began our walk together.