Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It Was Never Our Intention

Urban Outfitters had a great idea: sell college sweatshirts from the '70s in a sun-faded vintage collection. But it didn't work out so well when it came to the Kent State University sweatshirt.

Had Kent State chosen blue or green as its school color it wouldn't have been a big deal. But Kent State chose red. When you take a dark red sweatshirt and fade it down, there are spots of dark red that remain -- and oddly -- they look a lot like blood stains. The vintage collection also wants to build in the wear and tear of 45 years, so they added holes that look -- again, strangely -- like bullet holes.

It was eerily reminiscent of the Kent State massacre in 1970 when four unarmed students were shot and killed by the Ohio National Guard in a Vietnam War protest. You can only imagine the PR disaster that resulted. Urban Outfitters immediately removed the sweatshirt from its website.

Was it an honest mistake, or was the company intentionally pushing the envelope to increase sales? Urban Outfitters wrote, "It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such." Click here to see the sweatshirt!

This brings to mind the whole matter of giving and taking offense. Growing up in the 1960s I was taught to hold a door open for a lady, but by the 1980s I was told that was offensive and chauvinistic. I got my degree in elementary education in the late 1980s and was warned about putting my hand on a child's shoulder or giving a hug. To do so was fine for a female teacher, but not a male teacher. People's perceptions were changing, and they became increasingly suspicious of a man that would want to be a teacher of young children.

Over the years the lines have only become more blurry. If we want to avoid being bombarded by criticism -- especially online -- we have to walk a narrow tightrope of people's perceptions.

The reason for this is we can't read each other's minds. Therefore, we have to guess at the hidden motives of the heart as they are demonstrated in the words, deeds and attitudes of those with whom we interact. And they have to do the same with us.

That's why we can do and say things with the best of intentions, yet be attacked by someone who took offense at our words or actions. Jesus was quite familiar with that.

But there is only One who perfectly knows what was in the heart of the folks at Urban Outfitters ... and what is in your heart and mine. Our God alone completely perceives our intentions, our thoughts, and desires. Of course, that's a scary thought when we realize our sin lies bare before His eyes. But that is why He sent His Son Jesus to pay for our sins of thought, desire, word and deed.

As we move forward in His forgiveness, we have to remember the message of the cross is offensive in and of itself. We don't need to add to it by our careless words or behavior. Just like Jesus in His earthly life, we strive to be as loving, pure and winsome as possible (see Matthew 5:48; 18:6-9; 1 Corinthians 8). But knowing the power of sin and temptation, we know we will be misperceived just as Jesus was. Just keep one thing in mind: in the end, the only perception that really matters is His.

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