Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The ease of taking offense

The photo on the right depicts the display which was placed at the Washington state capitol building beside the manger scene and other symbols of the holiday season. It made news because it was so offensive to Christian groups, and at one point the original display was stolen from the capitol building. The words on the display were found to be offensive by so many because that was the intent of the group that placed them there. And their offensive language is evidence of the offense they took at the other displays in the rotunda area. The other displays were more or less innocuous and innocent because that was the purpose of the groups that posted the displays. Not so with this group. They had been offended, and they intended to offend purposefully in return. That brings to mind the purpose of this blog today which is to examine the ease which which we take offense these days. We have become a society of easily offended people. It seems that everything bugs us these days.

Consider the other news item we hear about these days. Some stores have instructed their employees not to utter the phrase "Merry Christmas" to customers in order to avoid offense. In fact, some stores are playing down the whole Christmas theme supposedly to avoid offending customers. Naturally, this has produced a backlash among offended Christians who are resorting to saying "Merry Christmas!" with almost an edge to their voices everywhere they go. If someone dares to say something that sounds the least bit negative in response to their holiday outburst, they will go apoplectic in return. And heaven help the poor store employee, who under orders from the boss, says "Happy Holidays" or some other neutral phrase in an attempt to be somewhat "holiday-esque" in their verbiage.

Could we not all just chill out a bit when it comes to being offended by any little thing we see or hear? The Apostle Paul recommended that we forbear with one another. (Eph. 4:1-3) This may have been intended for folks within the church fellowship, but could it not also have a wider application that might go beyond church walls? In our holiday exuberance could we not forbear with those who might celebrate other holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Muharram, "Festivus for the Restivus"? If I were to wish someone a "Merry Christmas" would it be a huge crime for them to reply "Happy Hanukkah" to me?

The other day at Star Bucks, I was walking across the parking lot to get from my car to the store. I walked in front of a car in a long line wrapped around the store to order something from the to-go window. There was half a car length between their front bumper and the car in front of them, but when I stepped between them and the next car they honked at me. Never mind that they were at least 15 or 20 minutes away from even placing their order. My two seconds in front of their bumper was an affront to them resulting in an irritated toot of their horn at me. I offended them by walking in front of their car. And what was my response? I was offended that they were offended. My mind began conjuring up possible overt responses: everything from verbal epithets to sign language to possibly sitting down on their hood materialized in my imagination. Fortunately, I wound up doing nothing from the list of my imaginations. I walked on in the store saying and doing nothing. I didn't even scowl at them. My perverse side did wish, however, that I had at least said "Merry Christmas!" to them. Just a merry little thought.

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