Imagine you’re on the top of a 10-story buildilng on a bright, windy spring afternoon.  In your hands you hold a large bag full of feathers.  You lean over the railing and empty out the feathers into the gusting winds.  As you watch, they take flight on the breeze and are carried far and wide into the city below.  The larger feathers travel a few hundred feet onto streets and cars, buses and rooftops.  Smaller ones drift for blocks before resting on balconies, in gardens, on sidewalks and in treetops.  The smallest feathers float out of sight like snowflakes, borne aloft on the breeze, flying so far that you never see them come to earth.  Now imagine trying to gather all those feathers back again into your bag.  It would be impossible, wouldn’t it?  You’d never be able to find them all—once set free on the breeze, most of them would be gone forever.
These feathers are like gossip.  Once the words have been spoken, they are out of our control, they travel on the breezes of our community discourse and we can never get them back even if we want to.  We can never undo the damage that our untrue words can cause to reputations, spirits, community, families, relationships, and churches.  Like the feathers, our words take flight in conversations and comments, slipping subtly into the casual chatter at a parish potluck, or shared over coffee at a ministry meeting.  The damage gossip can do in a church can’t be over-emphasized.  It tears at the very fabric of our connections to one another as the family of Christ.  Like a knife, it can shred our faith in the pastor by twisting his motives, discrediting his character, and undermining confidence in him.  Malicious talk can damage anyone in the church, but the pastor is slander’s most devastating target.  Moses’ enemies murmured behind his back.  No longer could St. Paul’s converts hear him speak or read his letters without wondering if perhaps his detractors might be right after all.  Doubt takes root in the garden of faith.  In a church family, members wonder if the rumors they’ve heard might be true.  Hidden factions and alliances form. New people somehow sense the undercurrent of dissension.  Disunity begets spiritual malaise and the church suffers from a persistent low-grade infection.  Slander despoils the Body of Christ.  Sadly, some of the sheep never find their way back to the fold after the ugliness of gossip and rumors.  Instead they wander without food eventually to weaken and die or be eaten by wolves.
Gossip and slander are serious sins.  They deaden the heart to charity and truth.  They are most often born from a need to help protect or enrich ourselves at the expense of someone else.  Sometimes the motive for initiating or sharing gossip or slander can be quite subtle.  We talk about fellow parishioners or the pastor under the pretense of “being concerned” or “sharing the burden” when deep inside we feel smug or even gleeful at the detraction caused by our words.  Maybe we felt slighted by them, demoted by them, or overlooked by them…and our hateful words are the product of our angry attempts to get them back.  Once spoken, our gossip and rumors are like those feathers on the breeze—out of our control, never to be undone.  Before that happens, you need to ask yourself these questions:  Is the story true and helpful and necessary?  How would you feel if the subject of the story discovered you’d told it?  Is it going to damage a reputation or relationship?  Would you say these words to the person’s face?  And perhaps most importantly–why do you want to tell this story?  As members of His Body, we’re called to build one another up, to encourage one another on the journey.  If we were more like Christ, more filled with His love and compassion, hearing gossip would always bring sadness and tears, not a feeling of joy or self-justification.  Imagine the miracles we could work with uplifting words that reflect our true inheritance as children of God—words as beautiful as the feathers from the wings of His heavenly angels.
“I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words will you be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”   (Matthew 12:36-37)

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