I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:36-37
Lent has begun.
Since Lent holds a confessional element, I’ll begin in that vein: It’s been at least a few years since I’ve followed a Lenten discipline. When I was younger, I did things like giving up chocolate, which was really hard. As I got older, I got onboard with the not so much deprivation angle of Lent, but with the “doing of good deeds” opportunity of Lent. One year, not all that long ago, I kept a gratitude journal for every day of Lent. Well, in all honesty, I kept it for about two-thirds of Lent.
Around me people talk about giving things up (mostly things that, along with deprivation, offer a health benefit). I’ve also heard a few people talk about the doing of good deeds for Lent.
In recent years, I’ve discovered that though these two approaches are laudable, they are just not quite so meaningful to me—in the way of feeling closer to the holiness of Lent. While giving up chocolate might benefit my waistline, as well as my connection to the sufferings of Jesus, it has too much of a “been there, done that” quality. The doing of good deeds, well, yes I should be about that business to be sure, but, I’d like to think that I try to do that year-round. Paying closer attention to it through Lent, then, is less than satisfying.
This year, instead of doing my best to ignore the whole business, I decided to go in search of something new that I might actually do, or not do, in terms of a Lenten discipline. And, somewhere along the way, I discovered just the thing, something to give up that may not benefit my waistline, and will likely not help me connect more deeply with the sufferings of Christ, but will still provide a way of meaning, grounded in biblical lesson and story, that will pose a challenge as well.
For Lent 2020, I’m giving up: gossip. Or, at least I’m going to try.
I discovered the idea on a website a week or two ago and it stuck with me as a good one. And, then, a few days ago, I received an email from an old colleague who now lives in another state, asking for “the story” behind the recent resignation of a Maine Conference UCC staff member. I thought to myself: yup, giving up gossip is just the thing.
Maine may be a large state geographically. But, it’s a small state in many ways, especially when it comes to people and how they interact. There’s about one and a half degrees of separation, if you’re lucky, between complete strangers. People know each other, and we know each other’s stories. And, we like to tell and be told.
It’s not hard at all to fall over the edge from sharing news to engaging in gossip. In fact, it can be very difficult to recognize the difference, and even more so to act and speak accordingly. It’s one thing for someone to ask about another person’s health and well-being, for instance. It’s quite another to ask for the “story,” the material where facts, opinion, supposition and outright guesses and assumptions are melded and molded—and given life.
Among clergy in Maine, at least in my experience in the Maine Conference United Church of Christ, there is considerable gossip. It often begins with a simple sharing of information, but it doesn’t take long before what we are dealing with is actually gossip, careless words shared person to person—without hardly anyone even seeming to notice that there’s no longer any connection to fact. It’s just how we talk ‘round here.
It really shouldn’t be so. And, the evidence is clear enough, as we discover half-truths, partial truths and no truths to be the common currency of chatter. How hurtful it can all be, as well as dangerous. It seems a good Lenten discipline, then, to endeavor to refrain from gossip and to be mindful, in this holy season, of the significance and consequence of words.