Listening to Buechner
Father of Night

Holy Gossip


"Gossip is theology translated into experience."  (Katleen Norris)

When my father died of a heart attack, I was 14 and he was 48, a younger man than I am now.  For all the years I knew him, he never once mentioned the war he served in, WWII, and so what I know of his service is sketchy, a few sentences at best.  I know he served under Patton in North Africa, crossed the Mediterranean into Sicily and Italy, and made his way to France and the Battle of the Bulge, where he was injured and sent home.  He received a purple heart.  I have his ID bracelet.  But that's it. That's all I know.

As I recently watched Ken Burns' epic documentary, The War, I was moved by the images --- real life images --- that came across the screen.  Some of it was difficult to watch.  It was a horrible if necessary war that my father served in.  As the soldiers moved through Africa and on toward Europe, I watched their faces.  I was watching for my father's face.  I half expected it to stare back across the screen at me.  It brought home what he endured and experienced, a silent backdrop of his life, with a vividness I had never had.

The cryptic story of his service in that war is a lesson in theology lived out in experience.  The moral is that of loyalty.  A man had never left home, and yet he did leave home, like many others, tramp across Africa, and through Europe, not deserting, not yielding, but doing what was required.  Had he not come home, I would not be here.  His story is a silent underwriting of my own story, a testimony and a challenge to me that though I may fear (and undoubtedly he did fear) I must not live in fear or let fear keep me from doing what I must.

That's one kind of story.  There are others.  There are family members who have made poor choices, who cannot seem to make a right choice, and give a sad but living testimony that actions have consequences, that we reap what we sow.  Others experience, despite their waywardness, a beautiful grace --- a child that against all odds, blesses them, or a spouse that is loyal and loving, despite it all.  Some stories in retrospect are funny, which is grace in itself that memories have been redeemed, failures returned with a smile.  The stupid things I did as a teenager do not haunt my life but hallow it now.  Most certainly those stories inhabit the prayers I make for my own teenage children.

"When we gossip, we are praying," says Kathleen Norris, "not only for them but for ourselves."  I can pray that I have the courage, loyalty, dedication, and commitment of my father.  I can pray that my son and daughter can do hard things when they need to be done (and they will need to be done).  I can pray that the stories that I tell my children and grandchildren of my own life ---fables of judgment and yet grace --- will bear fruit in their lives.

The Apostle Paul commended the faith of Eunice and Lois to their grandson and son, Timothy, who no doubt recalled the many particular stories of their faithfulness (2 Tim. 1:5).  He might just as well have cautioned him against his Uncle Eustace and the foolishness of his life and the consequences he reaped. That we know of Eunice and Lois and not Eustace is of no importance.  It's faith we need to be reminded of, a bit of gossip down the years, a story told of the faith of two woman who held fast to God.  There is a gossip that instructs and doesn't tear down, stories of faith and failure that need to be told.

So spread a bit of holy gossip.  Whisper a tale of sin and salvation and certitude --- the certainty that God is at work in the tangled plots that unfold, the stories of our lives.