A girl writing a paper for school came to her father and asked, “Dad, what is the difference between anger and exasperation?” The father replied, “It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean.” With that, the father went to the telephone and dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, “Hello, is Melvin there?” The man answered, “There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don’t you learn to look up numbers before you dial them?” “See,” said the father to his daughter. “That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something, and we annoyed him. Now watch . . .” The father dialed the same number again. “Hello, is Melvin there?” asked the father. “Now look here!” came the heated reply. “You just called this number, and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You’ve got a lot of nerve calling again!” The receiver was slammed down hard. The father turned to his daughter and said, “You see, that was anger. Now I’ll show you what exasperation means.” He dialed the same number, and a violent voice roared, “HELLO!” The father calmly said, “Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?”
Go ahead, say it. It’s only three words: I get offended. Don’t worry. You’re not alone. We all do.
In fact, there’s almost nothing we don’t get offended by. We get offended by a roll of the eye or a shake of the head, as easily as we get offended when we’re ignored, picked on, talked about, not talked about, overworked, unappreciated, or taken for granted.
And, that’s not counting all those times in a day when someone cuts us off on the road, jumps in front of us at the market, doesn’t say thank you when we think they should. We get offended by parents who can’t control their kids in restaurants, friends who don’t invite us to parties, neighbors who refuse to pick up after their dog’s mess.
Take your pick. There’s something for everybody.
Now, you might say being offended is nothing more than a collection of pet peeves—all those little annoyances that get under our skin. And it’s true. Of course, seeing as how the skin is the largest organ in the body, that’s a lot of room for these “pet peeves” to get into our system and thrive.
And yet on the other side of all this offended-ness is the knowledge that one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges in life is to live a life of
contentment, regardless of what other people do, say, think or believe. How we make these two go together is, well, not an easy deal.
I want to show you a clip from Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit is a horse, a small horse that had huge heart, and surprising speed, especially for its size. It raced back during the Great Depression. His jockey, Red, played by Tobey Maquire, is a powder keg of dynamite surrounded by a world full of matches.
“Son, what are you so mad at?” “Daughter, what are you so mad at?” It’s true, isn’t it that we often feel we’ve been “fouled.” We react to others too often with irritation, anger, judgment. It’s a part of us that we would really like to be rid of, to grow out of, to be free of.
There is an African proverb that says “if there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm”.
Unfortunately, some have turned being offended into a way of life. We are an angry nation, easily offended. In fact, in his book Unoffendable, Brant Hansen argues that Christians, and particularly conservative Christians, are offended and angry too often. Hansen is a radio host for a Christian radio station, so he makes this observation from inside the community.
His book is in essence a listing of scripture in the New Testament and Jesus’ own words that underscores that anger and taking offense is not a Christian right, not a good and healthy Christian response to life.
He cites The Message, a very popular rendering of the New Testament used especially by the Christian Right when it turns, “Be angry but do not sin;” into “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge.”
Really? “You do well to be angry”? That’s not in the original Greek or the Bible, at least one that’s not rendered into a contemporary view.
The real Paul is saying that yes, we do get mad at times. We’re human. But we can’t keep our anger. It has to be dealt with and gotten rid of. If this isn’t what Paul means, and if he really mean that we do well to be angry, then, he makes no sense when he writes just a couple of verses later: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.”
Yeah, he wasn’t satisfied with mentioning just anger. Paul poured as many possible manifestations of anger into his list of what we have no right to and must “put away.” I would have to say that taking offense, and
especially taking offense easily, was on Paul’s mind when he put together his list.
It’s true: We find what we look for. And when it comes to being offended, nothing could be truer. Some days it seems like we’re on the lookout for things to be offended by. We’re waiting for it. We’re all pumped up inside, or hurt, or anxious, or unsettled and while we may not know it perfectly well, we’re on the lookout, ready to be offended and react.
If you offend easily and someone says your haircut might not be the best style for you, your mind might be screaming “Oh no she didn’t! Give her a piece of your mind!” But your friend may be really looking out for you, and be a good enough friend to tell you the truth.
Maybe you’re offended because someone comes to your house-warming party without bringing a gift. The thoughts, perhaps even unconsciously thought of, that might support taking offense could be: “Bringing a gift is the only way to show warmth.” Or worse, “A gift for me should be this person’s priority regardless of other financial obligations.”
Or, maybe they simply aren’t as knowledgeable of the way things are done socially because nobody ever taught them about such customs as bringing a house-warming gift. They will probably be very embarrassed someday when they find out they didn’t follow such protocol.
As Wayne Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change.” Remember, it’s easier to change your perceptions, attitude, and behavior than to ask someone to be a different kind of person.
I got to tell you I took offense at two people lately. There was a community meeting where we live and the issue was a plan to route all of the car traffic going to our elementary school through our neighborhood. Some 80 people showed up to voice strong objections to 400 to 500 cars coming through our community four times a day.
At the meeting’s conclusion, I approached about eight people who had spoken very well and asked if they would join a committee. They all agreed and handed me business cards or email addresses, which I collected. I set up a meeting time and location. But when I showed up two other guys had gotten their earlier, set up their chairs at the head, put together an agenda, and proceeded to run the meeting—not very well, if I may say so myself.
I had gathered the committee, organized our first meeting, and even called several members beforehand to see where they were on what should
happen that night. I had done the work but those two had taken over. I was offended. Rightly so, correct?
Here’s the thing: Several days later I was praying and meditating. I decided to look more deeply at my reaction to Frick and Frack. (JK) This is the insight I discovered around my sense of my right to be respected for what I had already done, and not be kicked to the curb:
We set up in our minds what rights we are entitled to and what behavior should be accorded us because of what we deserve. We do this because this puts our world in order. By putting our world in order according to the respect we should be given, we know when someone has crossed the line.
Sometimes it’s very important to know when someone has crossed the line. Many times however this is merely self-constructed and leads us to being offended easily.
And here’s the deeper, much deeper deal on why we do this: We do this so that our frail lives are not entirely exposed to life’s inherent volatility and unpredictable pains. Our being offended is rooted in our need to put a comforting and reasonable order on a world that in all honesty is often emotionally and physically capricious and dangerous.
The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing. Those two guys were also trying to put order onto a world that they experience the same way as I do.
To let go of feeling offended means to let go of demanding that everyone else (and the world) be shaped so as to make us safe and comfortable, to respect us and our self-proclaimed rights. In other words, it takes a lot of courage to see the world as it really is and not make demands on others to watch out for me (and mine).
I’m going to take this a step further. If you really want freedom from being offended, and all the negativity it brings into your heart and mind, then you have to do the opposite of what we normally do. You have to go from being hurt to seeing how the other person is hurting.
To do this, two things need to happen: We need to take care of ourselves emotionally and spiritually well enough to know we are safe; and then we need to be willing to see the suffering in the person who said or did something possibly offensive.
All anger, all harshness, all criticism is in truth an expression of suffering. This includes our own anger at someone else’s action, our own
harshness because someone else was harsh first, our criticism of someone else’s faults. These all occur because we have yet to take care of our own suffering and pain. Such pain is free-floating, waiting to be touched and brought to life again. We’ve never put our suffering to rest by having enough compassion on ourselves or truly forgiven the ones who hurt us to let them heal.
Being so hurt we get hurt and suffer now and again easily. We take offense, get angry, and suffer again, and so others to suffer.
Know that God loves you, and wants you not to suffer any longer. Practice compassion on your own suffering. Care for yourself deeply, emotionally, spiritually. And then you can extend compassion to others, seeing their suffering, and their need for care. This is how we are freed from anger, bitterness, malice. This is how Christ comes alive in our lives. This is how we grow in God’s Spirit and power.
Can the church say Amen?