“A wise old owl sat on an oak
And the more he saw, the less he spoke,
The less he spoke, the more he heard,
Why don’t you be like that wise old bird?”
The rhyme taught at home in childhood days would be recited when we spoke out of turn, particularly when we talked about things that were of no concern to us. Gossip of any sort was frowned upon; our school teacher would tell us that when we pointed a finger at another person, four fingers pointed back at ourselves.
The Bible takes gossip seriously, writing to Timothy, Saint Paul complains about “gossips and busybodies.” Concerned about the behaviour of the Christians at Corinth, Saint Paul writes, “I fear that there may perhaps be quarrelling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” In the letter of Saint James, idle talk and gossip is described as poisonous, Saint James writes, “but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”
The Bible regards all gossip as wrong. When we start to talk about someone else, whatever the situation, we would do well to ask how we would feel about other people talking about us. When we meet someone who starts to tell us something about another person, we should be sure that they are talking about us when our back is turned.
In the Church of Ireland, gossip is too often assumed to be part of everyday life; there is a joke that confidentiality in the Church of Ireland means telling one person at a time. At boards of nomination, the meetings, that appoint new rectors, and at electoral colleges, which elect new bishops, those who attend take an oath not to disclose what has taken place. Often, however, word will quickly spread about whose names were considered and what took place.
Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that we should be people of our word, that our “yes” should be “yes” and our “no” should be “no,” for anything else comes from the “Evil One.” Jesus would reprimand severely anyone who spread gossip.
Lest anyone think anyone is being “got at”, they are not. It is simply to say that anyone who suggests that I am moving should remember the wise old owl.