The Iconic Power of Alice Cooper... and Gossip

Dear Easter People:

The story of the cross can be told many ways. Last night Dani and I watched (most of) the live production of Jesus Christ Superstar! I thought it was a great production, and this viewer who came of age in the 1970’s was glad to see Alice Cooper upright and performing, complete with showgirls appropriately costumed as dancing chickens.

Over the years, productions dramatizing the Passion have received either endorsement or derision from religious professionals. Superstar was fairly well received in its day, but Godspell, with its playful hippies, created a bit more controversy. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was critically acclaimed for its gritty authenticity, although some denounced Gibson’s work as a two-hour subtitled snuff film.

Perhaps the most controversial cinematic portrayal was Martin Scorsese’s 1988 adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1955 novel, The Last Temptation of Christ, which took a few extra-scriptural liberties to explain Jesus’ personal struggle and motives. I remember liking the film but not really caring for Willem Dafoe. But I digress…

The story of the cross has multiple dimensions, but I recall a particular sermon in which the preacher reminded his congregation, “Remember, it was gossip that sent Jesus to the cross.” 

As a pastor I spend a great deal of time thinking about gossip—not the salacious details dished behind your back, but gossip’s insidious power to erode community. I’ve begun to consider gossip as the counterfeit currency of social capital—little details shared to curry the favor of the listener at no expense to the speaker. Gossip, true or false, is always about someone else and is given to improve the speaker’s status. What makes it so very attractive is its power; gossip becomes a secret weapon to undermine the unsuspecting. At the trial of Jesus, nothing in his accusers’ testimony was technically incorrect, but told as secretive revelations of an insider plot, Jesus’ own words, taken out of context, became the very evidence used for his conviction.

The value of gossip, like the value of counterfeit currency, rests in the perception of the receiver. What you tell me only has value if I’m buying it. If your information is of no interest to me, even your best-dished story remains worthless; the value of gossip is determined by the listener’s reaction. Sharing gossip is a sin that erodes the heart of the teller, but enthusiastically receiving gossip rewards the teller and unleashes the malignancy’s damage to the body.

Please do not read between the lines. Today’s musing is not driven by any diagnosed epidemic of gossip in our congregation or community. I’m amused by hushed conversations about “who told whom what”; there’s a certain irony in gossiping about all those evil secret tellers.

My mind was merely taken back to the sermon I heard many years ago reminding me of the power of gossip leading history to the foot of the cross. Whether the gossip is true or untrue, as Jesus told Judas, “The outcome will occur as written, but woe to the one through whom the betrayal comes.” (Mark 14.21 paraphrased)

Reminding you that your pastor is extremely bad at keeping secrets, I remain

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor