Anyone who has worked in the church for any length of time will likely all be able to agree on one thing: you are going to offend someone. For that matter, anyone who has managed people, worked with people, walked down the same sidewalk with another person has likely had the experience of offending someone, being offended or both.
But what does the anatomy of an offense look like? I wanted to break it down and try and understand what was really going on in someone’s mind when the have the feeling of being offended. Following is my observation, and to help explain it, I turn to the turf of Texas, the good ‘ole gridiron, the pigskin playground: American Football.
Just to make sure we are all on the same page, I’ll start with some football basics (for those who may need a little “101” course): The objective of the game is for the team who has possession of the ball, referred to as the “offense”, to advance the ball down the field and into the “end zone” thus scoring a “touchdown” (queue the awkward celebration dance). This would be very easy except for the fact that the team who does not have possession of the ball, referred to as the “defense” is doing everything they can to stop this advance. It is on this conflict that the entire interest in the game is based.
Each time the advance of the offense is stopped by the defense the ball is placed at that spot which then becomes known as “the line of scrimmage.” The teams line up, the ball is put into motion and the offensive assault resumes.
Suppose for a moment that when the ball goes into motion, instead of trying to advance the ball, the offense just passively stands there holding it. They make no attempt to cross the line into the opposition’s territory. The defense however, crosses the line and aggressively pursues the ball on the side of the line where the offense lined up. They are now the aggressor – the defense has gone on the offensive. The offense, on the other hand, now finds themselves in the position of defending the territory of the field that was already theirs. The offense now has to be defensive.
As I thought through my encounter in McDonalds, specifically my gut reaction that my critic was acting defensively, it made me realize that when we are “offended” by something, we are often playing the side of the defense against an offense that is standing still – making no real attempt to advance against us. The advance that we feel is a perceived advance, which prompts us become defensive. Rather than defending our own position, we are much more comfortable going on the offense and attacking the person or idea we find “offensive” and forcing them into the position of having to defend their position instead.
The next question then is “What is it that we believe requires defending?” In the case of my would-be friend at McD’s, I can only hypothesize as to what she might have said if we could have had that conversation. Perhaps she was defending her interpretation of a religious standard, maybe she saw me as an assault on cultural norms, she could have thought I was invading her space as a feminist, it could have even been that I smelled like I live on a boat and this had nothing to do with gender at all! The point is that as a defensive player, she did not do a very good job of protecting her territory; I don’t have a clue what territory she was trying to defend.
Here is the takeaway (the interception, the recovered fumble – just to drive the analogy into the ground): When you find yourself offended, know what it is that you are defending and be ready to mount a proper defense before you step on the field.
Next Installment: Fielding a Defense (How I would prefer you find me offensive.)
P.S. – I do have a very nice shower on the boat. I smell fine, I promise.