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I have this powerful aversion to gossip, to mean-spiritness, to invading privacy, to failing to recognize human dignity, all boundary violations. This stuff seriously ticks me off.

In a small town, you can really sit back and observe what a powerful and  devastating force gossip can be. It tears apart families, it ruins marriages, it destroys businesses, it can even drive people away from faith and cause suicides. The juxtaposition between uttering a few “harmless” words almost “innocently,” versus how they can snowball down a hill, like an avalanche wiping out everything in it’s path, just astounds me.

There’s that old game where you whisper something in someone’s ear, and they whisper it in their neighbor’s ear, and it gets passed down the line, until at the end it isn’t even recognizable. What begins as a simple phrase, picks up everyone’s subjective interpretation of it, and often grows and transforms, until it no longer resembles the original.

So having this powerful aversion to gossip, it’s somewhat amusing to be pondering the importance of “sticking one’s nose in other people’s business.” It’s the intent behind it that is important, the spirit in which it is done, the basic respect for human dignity.

This area I live in used to have more of a community spirit, we were concerned about our neighbor’s well being. Yes, we were a bit nosey, but if your car broke down, half a dozen people would stop to offer assistance. People would come calling if  they heard you were sick or down on your luck. It was never Mayberry, but often Aunt Bea would  show up with a jar of jam. In the past few decades, the demographics have really shifted, many people moved here from other areas, and everyone is a stranger now, a potential enemy even. Times change, culture changes, power ebbs and flows.

At some point we went from, “howdy neighbor” to “I don’t like those kind of people. You know how they are.”  Sometimes it feels a bit like invasion, like being a conquered people. Yesterday a woman was on the street corner begging for donations with a sign that said, “help a LOCAL woman out.” That spirit of having been invaded, conquered, rejected, and cast aside, really permeates this area.

Rejected, cast aside, that’s the spirit, the root of the despair I see about these parts. People have become very walled off, isolated, defensive. Gossip runs rampant under these conditions because nobody is communicating with one another on an individual level. Instead, people make huge assumptions, often false. I suppose that is what lurks behind things like racism, like oppression, like cultural clashes, this inability or unwillingness to get to know people on an individual level, to “stick your nose in their business,” with a bit of humility and a genuine desire to get to know your neighbors.

So I pray for those walls to come tumbling down, I pray for a sense of community to be re-established, I pray for unity within the Body of Christ about these parts, and for  Christians to stand up and lead the way.