Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better by Brant Hansen (W Publishing Group, 2015)

This book was recommended by a dear friend who hadn't, at least at the time, read it herself. I reacted badly based on what I understood the idea of the book to be, and for my penance I had to read it.

It turned out to be both better and worse than I expected. The author's style is informal to the fingernails-on-the-blackboard level; it hardly sounds like book-writing at all. Perhaps it would work for a sermon, though even in sermons familiarity can get annoying. He also makes the mistake of thinking he knows what the reader is thinking and feeling, and at least in my case, he's very often wrong. 

That said, I'm glad I read the book and I did find something of potentially great value.

The gut reaction that I needed to repent of was set up by a local billboard I'd seen repeatedly, which simply stated, "God is not angry." I couldn't drive by that without thinking, "If God is not angry about the inhumane (if not inhuman) things we do to each other, he's not much of a god." Granted, Brant Hansen is okay with God being angry about such things, but thinks such a reaction is above our human pay grade. Maybe he's right, but I do believe we share the responsibility of fighting against evil. I agree with this line from one of my favorite books, The Green Ember: "If you aren’t angry about the wicked things happening in the world all around, then you don’t have a soul."

It's on the personal level that Hansen's idea shines. In the first paragraph of the first chapter is this line:

You can choose to be "unoffendable."

I'm not sure which of my thoughts about this are from the book, and which are my own musings while reading it. But this is what I came up with.

There may be some debate about how we should respond when someone else is being wronged, but on a personal level, when I'm the victim, I can, indeed, choose not to be offended. I can take my hurt and anger and use them as an opportunity to practice one of the hardest and most important virtues in the Christian life: forgiveness. I can work to assume the person meant better than I think he did, that what I heard was not what she said, or meant to say. I can remember the times I've needed that grace myself.

Yes, we get angry. Can’t avoid it. But I now know that anger can’t live here. I can’t keep it. ... I have to take it to the Cracks of Doom, like, now, and drop that thing. (p. 21) 

Yes, the world is broken. But don’t be offended by it. Instead, thank God that He’s intervened in it, and He’s going to restore it to everything it was meant to be. His kingdom is breaking through, bit by bit. Recognize it, and wonder at it.

War is not exceptional; peace is. Worry is not exceptional; trust is. Decay is not exceptional; restoration is. Anger is not exceptional; gratitude is. Selfishness is not exceptional; sacrifice is. Defensiveness is not exceptional; love is.

And judgmentalism is not exceptional...

But grace is.

Recognize our current state, and then replace the shock and anger with gratitude. Someone cuts you off on your commute? Just expect it. No big deal. Let it drop, and then be thankful for the person, that exceptional person, who lets you merge. See the human heart for what it is, adjust expectations, and be grateful, not angry. (pp. 40-41)

One thing that helped me get more from Unoffendable was changing some of his language.  He focusses too much on anger, I think.  Granted, I do have to deal at times with my own angry reactions, but by far the predominant emotion I associate with being offended is hurt.

No matter, really. If I can choose to set aside anger, I can do the same with hurt. I can't help being hurt, but I can control my reactions.

Easier said than done. But very liberating, whenever I can manage it, even on a very small scale.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 21, 2022 at 7:57 am | Edit
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Thanks for making it clear why I should never read this book. My blood pressure couldn't take it.
War is an offense.
Hatred is an offense.
Bigotry is an offense.
Just being downright mean is an offense.
And so on and so on.
A person may be able to turn the other cheek for personal offenses, but what about offenses against others? It almost sounds as if this author is saying: If God allows it (whatever it is), it cannot be offensive. Doesn't work for me, no way, no how.

Posted by Grace Kone on Sunday, August 21, 2022 at 11:11 pm

You are absolutely right, Grace. Sin is offensive, from the most egregious to what we (but not God) might consider unimportant. That's why I reacted so badly to the idea I'd had about the book before I read it. I still think the author gets a number of things wrong, and I still detest his writing style. But even though I have found his recommendations on the personal level to be more immediately applicable, he's right that meanness, bigotry, hatred, and maybe even war are not often turned around by more of the same. Absolutely there is a place for responding to evil actions with all the legitimate force we can muster, and I don't think he'd disagree with that. The evil nestled in human hearts, however, is more likely to respond to a different approach.

Hanson tells the story of a Christian coffee house in the middle of the arts district of a big city, which offended some people by being extravagantly friendly and loving towards their neighbors whose sins were obvious—reminiscent indeed of the Pharisees who were indignant when Jesus ate with the most feared and hated people of their day.

I'm convinced that the only way to mend the Great Divide that separates our country on so many issues is to get to know each other on a local and personal level, even those whose views we find appalling.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, August 22, 2022 at 7:06 am

I agree that he's largely focused on the micro issues, i. e. the personal grievances that we can (and tend to) respond to with force and fury, unfriending, doxxing, shaming, calling out, or otherwise "owning" (pwning? is that still a thing?) the offender. The foundational emotion may be hurt, but the reaction is anger. (I also suspect he uses "offense" a bit differently from how you might use it.)

I found his approach helpful, urging slowness, de-escalation, non-defensiveness. It's hard to put into practice, though. Just think how tough it is not to yell at bad drivers or red lights... and then how hard it can be not to react with similar harshness to those who've really wronged me. To me it resonates well with Jesus' teachings about turning the other cheek or giving to him who asks.

(We refrained from recommending the book because we knew you'd hate the writing style. :-) )

Posted by Stephan on Monday, September 12, 2022 at 6:11 pm
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