Sunday, December 02, 2012

Do Not Be Offended (Part 3)

In Part 1 I talked about what started me thinking about people finding offense where none was intended.
In Part 2 I wrote about a situation where Christians do this very thing during the Christmas season.

“And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” – James 3:18

So what do we do when we hear or see “Happy Holidays”? Well, first, let’s figure out if there really is any offense to be taken (and please don’t intentionally be nit picky about a situation to find offense). It’s usually pretty easy to tell and in about 99% percent of the cases (at least in my experience) there are only good intentions at the root of the greeting or farewell.

When we see it in advertising or some other generic type place (such as an end of year thank you some companies mail to their customers or employees) let’s keep things in context. A business which really appreciates its customers and/or employees and wants those customers to continue spending money (or wants their employees to continue to work hard) is not going to intentionally try to offend them. So a “Happy Holidays” in that context is an attempt to be as inclusive as possible without having to deal with the many societal and legal issues which can arise when you ask someone (especially an employee) what religion, if any, they practice.

When it’s on a more personal level, one individual to another, again, please keep things in context. For starters, how well does the person saying “Happy Holidays” really know you? I may talk to the drive thru guy at Taco Bell about once a week, but the only thing he really knows about me is the kind of car I drive, that I like a side of sour cream with my Fiesta Potatoes, and I always say thank you. Also, how many other people does the speaker come in contact with each day? They may just say “Happy Holidays” out of habit (I refer to the Taco Bell drive thru guy again) because they say it so many times each day.

If there is no offense intended, then your reaction can simply be to say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas (nobody says you can’t say it in response to a “Happy Holiday”) in return.

A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense.” – Proverbs 19:11

And what do we do on those extremely infrequent occasions where an offense is clearly meant by “Happy Holidays”? I say don’t take the bait. Overlook the “offense” and accept it with grace and love. Respond with grace and love. Now you don’t have to listen to me if you don’t want to, but there are plenty of biblical references to back me up on this:

  • “Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” – Leviticus 19:18 (HCSB)
  • “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” – Ephesians 4:3-3 (HCSB) 
  • “Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you, for you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.” – Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 (HCSB) (other translations have “Do not take to heart all the things that people say. . . “) 
  • Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (HCSB) (I have also seen the “is not provoked” section written as “takes no offense” but I can’t find a specific translation with that version)
  • “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.” - Romans 14:19
  • “But I tell you, don’t resist an evil doer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” – Matthew 5:39 (HCSB)

And those I’ve used previously in this series: Proverbs 10:12, James 3:18, Proverbs 19:11

Clearly, the message here is to love each other. Even those who mean to “offend” us. We are not supposed to keep track of offenses or hold a grudge, or try to get even. We are meant to LOVE and live in peace and patience with each other. Please, during this Christmas season, share the love God gave to us when he sent his Son to earth. Do not take offense at “Happy Holidays”, do not harden any hearts or minds to the love of Jesus by negatively responding to those simple words which are often meant as heartfelt good wishes.

And, Merry Christmas to all. (Even if you don’t believe in Christ, I wish you nothing but peace and joy.)

Do Not Be Offended (Part 2)

(In Part 1 I talked about what started me thinking about people finding offense where none was intended.
In Part 3 I talk about how we can respond to "offenses".)

“In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.”  - 2 Timothy 3:12

So the sentiment I started seeing that made me realize Christians were taking offense where none was intended was this:

“It’s not Happy Holidays, it’s Merry Christmas”

When I started seeing this message this Christmas season, the thoughts I was having about taking offense where none was intended suddenly had a whole new meaning. We Christians have been doing this exact thing. For years!

 I know there are people who vehemently believe that the retailers and individuals who use the phrase “Happy Holidays” are intentionally trying to put down or squash Christianity. While there may very well be some instances where that is the case, I don’t believe there is a widespread conspiracy. In fact I believe it’s really more of a recognition that the United States has fulfilled the dream of religious freedom for all people that our founding fathers (and by this I mean the men and women who fled from religious persecution by sailing across an ocean in WIND powered boats) imagined. There are quite a number of holidays and winter festivals (Hanukkah, Ramadan – on occasion, Christmas, a variety of Solstice celebrations/festivals, Kwanzaa, etc.) that take place during the months of December and January.

In order not to offend anybody (and to not break the bank with the cost of printing ads for all those different holidays) retailers use “Happy Holidays”. Also, it’s not always easy to determine if a person celebrates a particular holiday, especially if you’re in Minnesota bundled up in your winter attire (hat, gloves, heavy coat, scarves, etc), or in your car at the drive thru window. So what’s a person to do? Ask every individual they meet which holiday, if any, they celebrate? That’s ridiculously impractical, so they say Happy Holidays.

Despite the logic of people using the phrase “Happy Holidays”, Christians are still finding offense in it and I don’t understand why. Maybe someone else can explain it to me. During this time that is supposed to be a celebration of the love God showed to us by sending his son to us, shouldn't we be accepting these well wishes with grace and in the spirit in which they are intended?

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe Christians are, and Christianity is, being attacked in very real ways. I just don’t believe the use of “Happy Holidays” is one of those ways. The energy we waste on this topic could be used in much better ways. Also, the negative emotions (hostility, anger, hurt, etc) that emanate from the people who take offense to these words do nothing to share God’s love. In fact, it does the opposite and closes hearts and minds (because in a lot of cases the person who originally said "Happy Holidays" with no ill intent is now hurt/offended that you took it as having ill intent)..

An offended brother is harder to reach than a fortified city, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortress. – Proverbs 18:19 (HCSB)

Is that really what we want to do? Make spreading the word of God’s love and salvation even harder? I can’t speak for anyone else, but as for me and my house, we say heck no!

So what do we do when we hear or see “Happy Holidays”? Well, apparently, I will share my opinions on that in part three. (Seriously, when I started writing this I had no idea I would have so much to say. I just pray that my words and thoughts on this subject are pleasing to God and that He is the one who is inspiring them).

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Do Not Be Offended (Part 1)

Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses.  - Proverbs 10:12 HCSB

A couple of weeks ago I watched a story online about a man who had donated a bag of clothes and shoes to a Goodwill store in Texas. Unbeknownst to the man, his wife had hidden their life savings of $3300 in one of the shoes he had donated. A worker at the Goodwill found the money in the shoe when he started to arrange the items on shelves. The worker reported his find to his manager and they set the money aside, just in case someone came looking for it. A few days later the wife of the man who donated the shoes came into the Goodwill store and was able to claim the money after she answered a few questions.

That’s the way things are supposed to work, right? Somebody finds something that may have been lost and they set it aside so the proper owner can claim it. Yes, that’s the way it’s supposed to work, but we all know this world isn’t perfect and is filled will things/acts/sins that shouldn’t happen. No one was with the Goodwill worker when he found the money and he could have easily just put it in his pocket and no one would have known about it.

But, he didn’t. He did the right thing and in the online comments of this story many people were praising him for his honesty and integrity. One commenter left a message saying “May God bless you for your honesty.”, and another commenter’s response to that message puzzled me and started the gears going in my head. They responded by saying something along the lines of, “Keep God out of this. God has nothing to do with it. How do you know that the person wouldn’t be offended by you asking your God to bless him?”

The response confused me. How could anyone be offended by a heartfelt sentiment of good wishes for their well being? Even if you don’t believe in the God, deity, spirit, concept, etc. that the person is using to express their desire for your well being; you can still accept their sentiment in the spirit in which it was given.  Why would you look for offense where none was intended?

Those were the thoughts and questions going through my head when I started seeing a certain sentiment being shared on the internet. It was a sentiment that I have seen each Christmas season for many years. In fact, I must admit, it is a sentiment that I once believed myself until I did a little research on the history of Christmas (which is a great subject for another post). What is that sentiment?

You’ll have to wait for my next post, because this post is already getting long. . .

(If you haven't figured it out already, don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging for long. The next post is already written, mostly.)

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