The Mail Bag: How to be Offensive Without Even Trying
Vol: 59 Issue: 30 Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I’ve been overwhelmed at the responses I’ve received from two columns published in this past week, dealing with two entirely different and diametrically opposite subjects. I’ve tried responding individually, but there have just been too many and any adequate response would take up half a column’s worth to do them justice.
So I will attempt to answer the overall points raised here. My apologies to those to whom I wasn’t able to answer personally. Understand that I read them all, but the way email comes in, by the time I finish reading one batch, a whole new batch comes in and by the time I wade through those, the ones I intended to get back to have scrolled down, until soon, it becomes a job in itself just to find the ones I was looking for.
I’ve tried all kinds of workarounds, but even somehow finding more hours in a day would not be enough. Everybody hits a saturation point — I am no exception. Once that point is reached, whatever I say after that is either gibberish or begins to reflect the overall tone of all the mail, rather than just the individual email at hand.
If the general gist is kind of annoying, as was the case in one of the columns in question, ALL the replies tend to reflect it. If the questions are all sort of the same, I find myself beginning to miss the individual nuances necessary for each reply. The only other option is for there to either be more of me or to have somebody else answer the mail. Neither is viable.
Consequently, almost everybody gets offended.
I titled this column, ‘How To Be Offensive Without Even Trying’ because offering offense to individuals is the LAST thing I intend to do.
Offense is a funny thing. For a person to be offended takes a conscious act on their part. First, they must assume that there is an offense being offered. Secondly, they must assume that offense is intentional.
And finally, having made the first two assumptions, they must then take up the offense and hold it to themselves while demanding satisfaction. People must FIND offense, as in, “I found your last column to be offensive.” Then, having found it, they must embrace that offense, it cannot be forced on them from the outside.
That is why the word ‘offense’ is preceded by the verb ‘take’ by the offendee. I was deluged by emails from folks who took offense at my column about the United Nations, titled, “Prozac and Extra-Thick Tin Foil Hats.”
And from some rather surprising quarters. I got emails from pastors that TOOK offense on behalf of people who take Prozac.
Wrote one reader from Michigan; “Would Jesus do this? He delivered the man in the garden of Gederene, he didn’t criticise or run away from him. . . . I found your reference to those that are mentally ill extremely offensive.”
(Allow me to point out that, even if I COULD ‘deliver’ someone, this still doesn’t make much sense in context offered here. I wasn’t referring to any individual, from Gederene, or anywhere else.)
A nurse wrote, “I take offense at the way you are throwing around words like ‘someone coming off their meds’ etc…. “just how nuts the person is’ …. etc. I find this is ignorant and unChrist-like. please consider pulling this article immediately.”
Still a third, sent by the director of a mental health clinic, complained, ” I can assure you that there is absolutely nothing humorous about their situations and their need for this medication of which you refer to as a “happy pill”. I was highly offended and hurt by this article. I can’t imagine how someone taking this medication must feel. . . . As you know, Jesus loves these people just as much as He does you and I.”
Heavens to Betsy!
I had absolutely no intention of offering offense to those people taking Prozac. And I am not certain how I could make the point that I was trying to make, that is, that the UN is operating as if it existed in an altered state of reality without using SOME example of an altered state of reality.
I suppose I could have said UN diplomats act as if they were all on crack, but then I guess I might be offering offense to crack smokers.
(What do you bet that using THAT example will engender more emails complaining that I am comparing the mentally ill to crack smokers? I am not. Altered states of reality are states of reality that have been altered. WHY they are altered is irrelevant. And reality is outside of my control)
If somebody WANTS to take offense, they will be able to. But that is the key. “Taking” offense. Take another look at the exact quotes above.
They ‘found’ it offensive, they ‘take’ offense at . . . therefore, I was ‘unChristlike’, ‘ignorant’ ‘hurtful’ etc., etc. (I guess I could have ‘taken’ offense at those personal characterizations, but I chose not to.)
How it can be possible that a column about the crazy way (According to the web dictionary, “crazy” as used in the context of my column means: foolish; totally unsound; “a crazy scheme”; “half-baked ideas”; “a screwball proposal without a prayer of working”) that the United Nations operates can be interpreted as offering offense against the mentally ill escapes me.
Even offering assurances that I had no intention of offending people on Prozac sounds a bit, well, nuts to me. (There I go again.) OF COURSE I had no intention of offending people on Prozac. I was trying to make a point about the UN.
It is safe to assume, if it turned out that Donald Rumsfeld were taking Prozac while directing the conduct of the Iraq War, that there would be immediate calls for his resignation as unfit to make judgments affecting the conduct of nations at war.
Would that be an intentional offense against the mentally ill? Only if someone WANTED it to be. The ones shouting for Rummy’s resignation would not be interesting in offending the mentally ill — they would be interested in removing Rumsfeld in favor of someone better equipped to do the job. (And I would be among them.)
Having to explain WHY would seem kind of, ummm, well, you know, crazy. No offense intended. One prefers someone of sound mind to make life and death decisions for obvious reasons. That is not a slam aimed at the mentally ill.
The purpose was to make a point about the United Nations acting in an unsound and unbalanced manner.
(I once used the phrase, “as serious as cancer” to illustrate the seriousness of a UN decision, but I was not deluged by emails complaining I was making fun of cancer patients. I don’t really know why not. Just as I don’t really know why I ignited such a protest in the Prozac article)
One could argue (and probably accurately) that I am insensitive. But in the interest of full disclosure, I am narcoleptic and dependent on medication to help keep my narcolepsy in balance. Without it, sleep deprivation alters my sense of reality to the degree that I am incapable of making sound decisions.
And before the doctors figured out the cause, I was diagnosed with everything from bi-polar disorder to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and was prescribed with all kinds of psychiatric drugs.
I never took offense to the fact the world was much better off without my wearing a badge and carrying a gun, given the circumstances. (Nobody even had to tell me that was a bad idea. I figured it out for myself.)
In any case, allow me to offer my apologies to those who took up an offense where none was intended. I recognize that apology sounds insincere, but I can’t figure out how to offer an sincere apology on behalf of those who CHOSE to find an offense.
I can only repeat that it was not my intention to offer it.
“Wax On. . . Wax Off. . .”
Now, to change gears abruptly, to those many readers who wrote regarding the column, “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Without Repentance.”
Many of you wrote me, as I asked, to let me know that you heard that call. Many, many of you. I tried to answer you individually, but once again, was overwhelmed by the volume and soon fell hopelessly behind.
The main gist of the questions revolved around HOW one goes about answering the call, or how one knows that they were called in the first place? I confess I don’t know the right answer, but I think you can find your own answer in your question.
The majority of those in the first category are, as I read it, screening their calls until they get the one they like best. Several said they felt they were called to start a church. Some of you are. Some of you are called to something a bit less glamorous, but no less important to God’s Overall Plan.
(When I answered the call, it was to be a janitor. The rest was up to God.)
Some of you might remember the movie, “The Karate Kid.” The main character wanted to learn martial arts from Mr. Miyagi. The first thing Mr. Miyagi did was have the Kid wax his cars. Remember the line? “Wax on, wax off.” The Kid didn’t know that by waxing the car, he was learning basic skills necessary before he could advance to the next level. The master had accepted him, but the student wanted to start at the top.
The process actually began when the Kid was willing to start. That is the first step. The same applies accepting the call of God to service. There are many ways to serve the Kingdom, but it depends on whether one is prepared to humble oneself. A servant is not a master (unless one aspires to be in government ‘civil service. Kofi Annan is a civil ‘servant’).
The genuine servant doesn’t decide HOW to serve the Master. The Master decides what service He requires and the servant complies.
“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1st Corinthians 12:11-13)
Do you see what Paul is teaching here? God has gifted us all with certain gifts useful to the overall Body of Christ. And He calls us to serve in the capacity we are gifted for.
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.” (1st Corinthians 12:14-18)
One doesn’t seek God’s calling — one answers the call. “Here I am, Lord, use me.” God calls each of us to serve. The most important mission given a Christian is to seek and to save that which is lost by presenting the Gospel.
By being ready, in season and out of season, fully prepared to give reason for the hope that is in you. That is the starting point. (“Wax on. Wax off.”) Most of us are gifted with the ability to help. (12 Corinthians 12:28) Many of you exercise that gift by helping to support ministries you believe are effective tools in the Lord’s Hands. If nobody exercised that gift, there would be no ministries.
If God has called you in that respect, then you can tell, because God also provided you with the resources to do so. If not, then maybe that isn’t what you were called to do. The gift of ‘helps’ isn’t exclusively financial.
What resources has the Lord provided you for His service? Think it through.
Somebody has to sweep the floor of the church. Somebody has to cut the grass. Somebody has to run the bus ministry that brings people to the church. Somebody has to play the organ. Somebody else has to lead the singing. Somebody has to serve as an usher.
What you want to do is not always what God has gifted you for. Take inventory of your God-given resources.
If ALL were pastors, who would be in the pews? “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables.” (Acts 6:2)
In our ministry, for example, we benefit from the help of computer programmers that help maintain the ‘grounds’ of our ‘church’.
From those who help out by maintaining the website, submitting news stories and commentaries that draw readers, with the end result being that someone thus drawn, might come to Christ or be inspired by what they find here to lead others to Christ.
Our forums are filled with members who answer God’s call just by being there, where God wants them, at just the right time to help another member who is hurting, confused, or simply looking for answers.
All are servants answering God’s call. Many aren’t even aware of it. Some will never know just how critical their contribution was on this side of heaven. But God does.
“But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. . . . And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. ” Matthew 19:30, Luke 13:30)
Then there is Matthew 20:16: “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” What does Jesus mean when He says, ‘Many be called, but few chosen?”
One doesn’t choose a pastor to serve the kingdom by cutting the grass. One chooses a guy with a lawn mower. After that, it is up to the guy with the lawn mower to either answer the call, or screen his calls until he gets the one he wants.
That’s what it means to ‘miss one’s calling.’ Many are called. But few are chosen for the call they are expecting to get.
The call I answered was to sweep up and make coffee. “Wax on. . . Wax off. . . “
I hope I haven’t offended anybody.