Truth: Gossip.

I usually start my favorite conversations with: “Did you hear what happened?!”  Immediately following this question I give the scoop – who it was, what they did, when it happened, where it happened, and why they did it.  My high school journalism teacher would be proud that I am able to report so succinctly after all these years, though he would probably be questioning the accuracy of my source material.

The truth is, I love to gossip.  I love to hear all the details, then speculate on the subject matter, and pass judgement.  But my gossiping isn’t always this nefarious thing where I’m attempting to damage someone’s reputation – sometimes it’s just sharing information about what I heard from someone who heard something from someone else.  I’m a sharer of information!

I’d like to blame my gossiping on my grandma, who would go to McDonald’s with her best friend and the two would gossip for hours.  Multiple times a week they would finagle their way into getting free coffee while discussing all the news that wasn’t fit to print.  But as much as I would like to, I can’t blame my genetics on my propensity for gossiping.

The thing is, I’m not a fan of gossip and the damage it creates.  I’ve seen pastors battle with congregants over rumors of retirement.  I’ve seen men sort through the gossip to save their marriage.  I’ve seen friendships destroyed, jobs abandoned, relationships ended, and innocent lives taken because of gossip.  I’ve been the victim of it and know how hurtful and judged a person can feel being the subject of gossip.  And yet, I still do it.


I know the Bible has copious verses on idle talk, mischievous tongues, slanderous lips, busybodies, and gossips.  I know the damage that my own words have done when I have spread gossip, when I have taken tidbits of information and exaggerated them to expansive proportions, when I have learned something about someone and speculated on it with someone else.

There’s this line from an old country song that sums up what I’m feeling when I gossip: “I always feel the best when my conscience hurts the most.”  I really, truly know that gossip is hurtful and damaging, and still, I do it because it makes me feel good.  If I can tear down someone who I think is better than me, I’ll feel better about myself.  If I can condemn someone else’s actions, I can feel better about my own.  If I can damage someone else’s reputation I’ll look better than them.

When I gossip, it’s usually because I’m not feeling good about myself and I want to bring others down to my level.  When I can lower others I think I’m not such a terrible person.  But I’m not doing anyone any good – I’m just damaging them and myself.

Living in a small community where my neighbors are my friends and my friends are in class with me, gossip is HUGE (yes, it’s a Christian community, and yes, we manage to gossip a lot).  We talk behind people’s backs, we tear one another down, we bend the truth and spread it quickly.  We gossip about people not living up to certain standards when we ourselves aren’t living up to them, either.  We’re petty and manipulate the truth.  Gossip takes control and runs us over.

There’s a fine line between sharing information and sharing the juicy details.  It’s a short walk between telling an anecdote and telling gossip.  I wish the lines were clearer, the boundaries bigger, the differences larger.  I seek definition and turn to the dictionary to define ‘gossip’, but it’s pretty unclear: “rumor or report of an intimate nature.”  What are the qualifications for information becoming gossip?  What qualifies information to be just information?  At what point does a conversation turn into a gossip session?

I think part of what defines a conversation as gossip is the intent – is this a conversation about a person or is it about revealing something hurtful about that person?  Is it the full and honest truth, or is it just picked-out details to paint someone in a negative light?

Another part that defines a conversation as gossip is interest – is it because I’m truly interested in the person and situation, or because I’m wanting to get into their affairs and speculate?  Am I putting my nose where it doesn’t belong?

Lastly, what defines a conversation as gossip is outcome – am I sharing this information as it pertains to something or someone else, or am I sharing it because I want to cause damage?  Is it an attempt to bring someone else down a peg or two because I’m not at their same level?

This gossip thing is hard, and I think there’s something to be said for it’s frequent condemnation in the Bible.  God desires for us to love and care for one another; God desires for us to lift one another up in all conversations.  God wishes that we would be better, do better, and gossip a whole lot less – because our gossip not only hurts other people, it hurts our Creator.

Let’s think before we speak.  Let’s question the information we’re about to share.  Let’s find other things to talk about.  May our words be tempered by wisdom, may our mouths build bridges, and may our conversations be beneficial.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Communication Breakdown.

My Brain-and-Mouth connection doesn’t always work right.  Usually Mouth gets scared:

Brain: Okay Mouth…let’s say this: “I don’t feel like that’s a good idea for you, Bill!”
Mouth: Something is coming from Brain, but I can’t quite make it out.  Something about what Bill is about to do…I think I’m supposed to warn him not to do this, but I’m not sure.  I’m not going to say anything and see what happens…
Me: …

Sometimes, though, Mouth decides it’s best to go off script:

Brain: Okay Mouth…let’s say this: “I don’t feel like that’s a good idea for you, Bill!”
Mouth: That won’t get the point across, Brain.  We’re going to say this…
Me: “Bill, that’s stupid.  This is stupid.  You’re stupid.”

While I can try to blame my communication breakdowns on this faulty connection, the truth is that sometimes I just say the wrong things.  I don’t try to say the wrong things, but somehow they just come out.  What I’m thinking isn’t always expressed very well.  Sometimes I’m guilty of poor communication.

Recently I got into a heated discussion with my girlfriend over a benign topic.  She asked my opinion on her creation of a Facebook group and who should be invited to join.  She said one thing.  I heard something else.  I replied with a different thing.  She heard something else.  And that was it – we were arguing.  And then both of us stopped the discussion by refusing to talk about it, “Ugh…whatever.”


This small communication breakdown became a huge source of tension for us and our relationship.  And here’s what was stupid about our argument: we were actually talking about the same thing.  We both completely agreed with one another, but we weren’t able to communicate it well enough for the other to understand, so we sat in bitterly-angry silence.

On this day, the “Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November,” millions across the nation are going to vote on a myriad of issues and candidates.  While the past few months (and years) have been filled with screaming matches, accusations, angry silences, and many an “Ugh…whatever”, I can’t help but wonder how much of this has been caused by a lack of good communication.  I wonder how many people have heard one thing but perceived it as something else.  I wonder how many have said something but didn’t mean it that way.  I wonder whether we really disagree this much, or we just don’t communicate well enough.  Are we really this divided, or are we just not communicating well?  [I fully acknowledge that some politicians – on both sides – have said some pretty crazy things that make me ashamed and discouraged.  This is not poor communication; it is poor judgement, poor morals, and poor ethics]

In all the books and seminars on relationships I’ve read and attended, the one thing that is always mentioned as being key to successful relationships (romantic or platonic) is good communication.  This small thing that we rarely think about is huge!  How much different would my life be if I were a better communicator?  How much better would the world be if we were able to communicate well AND listen well?  How much closer would we be to the Kingdom of God if we were able to speak more effectively?

My friends, may we have a fully functioning Brain-and-Mouth connection.  May we all work towards better communication, and God, may we be more compassionate and forgiving when we all fail at this.

much love. sheth.


P.S. – here’s a great article on these breakdowns and how we can prevent them

Truth: We’re Both Right.

My Facebook friend list is a crazy mix of people that I love.  There are the politically conservative and religiously liberal, there are libertarians, a few anarchists, a hippie or two, a few yoga instructors and plenty of cowboys.  There’s some who love their kids, some who treat their pets as kids, and some who don’t like kids at all.  There’s retirees, teens who have yet to start working, a few unemployed, some who stay at home while their partners work, and a lot who have a regular job…or two…or three.  There are Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists, Non-Denoms, Atheists, Pentecostals, and Agnostics.  When I get on Facebook I have the opportunity to see a veritable cross-section of America.

When something ‘big’ happens in the world (terrorists, politics, sports, church) I am blessed to see all sides of the story – those who are for it and against it; those rooting for their home team while cursing the away team; those standing with and those opposing against.  I see arguments that are fact-based, faith-based, emotionally-based, and the occasional pot-stirrer who just wants to make everyone upset.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if my Facebook friends ended up in the same room together because it’s such a varied list of people, but my wondering often turns into anxiety because I don’t know if it would be such a great idea.  This side opposes that side; that group hates this group; this person is holding a 20 year-old grudge against that person; I’m right and you’re all wrong.

And they all talk a big game on Facebook – ‘I’d show those damn snowflakes what real oppression is’; ‘If I see him again, I’m going to punch him in the face’; ‘Those people have no idea what they’re doing to me and my family.’  If they all got together in a ballroom at the Hilton, I’m afraid the niceties would end and all hell would break loose in about 38 seconds.

I think we’re all pretty angry with each other.  We’re angry for both valid and invalid reasons.  We’re angry because the other isn’t of the same mindset as we are.  We’re angry because we’re losing things that are important to us.  We’re angry because we’ve missed out on things for so long.  We’re angry because others are suffering, others are winning, others are inflicting harm.  We’re angry because we’re seeing a few lines of text on the screen and assuming the rest of the story.

Five years ago I don’t think I’d have been this reluctant to bring all these people together – not because my list of friends has changed, but because my friends have changed (as have I).  There was a time when we could disagree online and in person, but still treat one another with respect and graciousness.

I think we’ve blurred the lines between online interactions and real-world interactions, sacrificing civility in the process.  We no longer listen before we speak.  We no longer discuss things.  We are no longer flexible in our politics, theologies, or standards.  We can’t not say something.  We assume, we fill in the story, we take sides before knowing the facts.  We have allowed the meaning of ‘fact’ to be redefined.  We have drawn our battle lines, made our teams, and have set our feet firmly on the ground that we believe to be right (and to hell with those who don’t agree with us).


I know how to fix this problem and make us all more loving, civil, and nicer to one another.  It’s fixed by doing it.  We need to recognize that each one of us is important, each one of us is valid, and we are together on this planet.  Truthfully, we know this and we know how to do this.  We all have it in us to be better to one another, to be more loving to one another, to be nicer to one another.  There’s no magic formula, no three-step process, no seminar that needs to be attended before we can do it.  We know how to be better than we are – we need to act on our knowledge.

The fighting, arguing, and yelling will only make the rifts between us grow wider and deeper.  Being uncivil because they’re being uncivil will only make it worse.  By all means, disagree with one another!  Just don’t be an ass in the process.  Hold on to your beliefs, but don’t be afraid to let go of them if you need to.  Keep an open mind, but make sure you filter what’s going into it.  Understand others.  Empathize with them.  Think before you speak or type.  Get off social media and have actual discussions with people.  Have conversations with people you disagree with face-to-face.  Be kind.  Be civil.  Be nice.  Be loving.  Be vulnerable.  Be the other.

May we understand who they are, who we are, and that we are all in this thing together.  May we converse more, love more, and understand more.

much love. sheth.

Truth: Speaking.

This past week I’ve written a sermon, an article for the school newsletter, a reflection paper on an interview I did, replied to countless emails, edited two papers for other students, started reviewing a friend’s sermon, am about to write a paper on a passage from the book of Mark, and have one other paper to write by Friday.  Last year I was begging for more opportunities to write.  This year I’m drowning in opportunities.

And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I find great freedom in writing because I don’t always use my voice.  One of the reasons is because I’m one of those people who mulls things over and contemplates…I chew on them for a while…then I decide whether or not to say anything.  One of the other reasons is because I don’t always feel my voice is of any importance.  When I’m in a discussion I don’t always say what needs to be said; sometimes this is good, but other times I have known I needed to speak but never did, and reaped the consequences of it.

Speaking up when it’s needed is necessary – I can recall many times on the playground as a child when I should have stood up for myself or my friends.  I can recall being in conversations with someone who was clearly in the wrong but allowed them to think they were right because I didn’t want to argue.  I’ve been in relationships where I haven’t expressed my feelings, choosing to bottle them up instead, and allowed the relationship to abuse me and who I was.

There are times when people don’t have a voice, or can’t speak up when they need to do so.  There are abused spouses who are afraid to speak for fear of the retributions.  There are the immigrants who don’t know the local language and instead suffer in silence.  There are the children who don’t know how to express what they’re feeling or experiencing.  There are the assaulted who are unsure of where to report their attack.  Countless people with things to say and no where (or not knowing where) to say them.

We are living in a time where it’s more important to get out our words, talk over one another, and speak before being spoken to, instead of closing our mouths and opening our ears.  We may allow the other to speak, but how often do we actually hear the words they are saying?  We might give someone across the table (or the internet) a chance to say something, but do we put the brakes on our mind to attentively and intentionally listen to the words the other is saying?

Perhaps we should do less talking, less writing, less proclaiming, and allow those who have not been given the opportunity to do so, to speak.  But we must do more than this – we must encourage those who have been holding back to say something; we must give them safe places and warm occasions to say what they have been wanting to say.  Most importantly, though, we must close our mouths and open our hearts to the words the other will speak.

They need to speak, and we need to hear.  God, give us all strength – to speak if we need to speak, and to hear if we need to hear.

much love. sheth.