It’s not news to anyone that we are living in a time of conflict, division, and disagreement. In politics, in religion, in education, in relationships and communities and churches, we are becoming people who can’t seem to find our way out of the “us vs. them” pit of divisiveness. It doesn’t matter who you think is “us” and who is “them.” We are all stuck.
It seems like we used to be more tolerant. We hear how asylum seekers are being turned away at the border, and some say, "Too bad. They chose to break the law."
Or maybe we think it's terrible that children in other countries don't have clean water or access to medical treatment. We make a quick donation and push the thought out of our mind. After all, we have problems of our own.
When did many in society decide that the best way to deal with something we don't understand is to slap a label on it, pay lip service to it, and walk away?
What's at the source of our reluctance to embrace other cultures?
It's hard to deny that Christianity is the product of centuries of cultural appropriation and cross cultural blending. Stephen Lloyd, writing for Boston University's School of Theology, concurs, pointing out that "Christianity is, and from its very inception has been, a cross cultural and diverse religion with no single dominant expression."
Over the years, Christians have taken pieces from other cultures as it suited them, adopting the Christmas tree from German pagans and, in the Middle Ages, developing a Cult of the Virgin Mary that some believe has its origins in primitive goddess worship.
Lloyd notes that, at the center of Christianity, rather than any single cultural identity, there is "the story of the relationship between God and the world, as told through the lens of Jesus Christ." Whether we belong to one of the mainline congregations or worship in a remote West African country, Christians across cultural lines ponder the meaning of Christ's experience and practice the same rituals, like baptism and reading scripture.
How to shift the paradigm
That Christians can come from diverse cultures, and yet believe the same narrative, holds the key for embracing other cultures, whether or not their citizens are Christian.
Throughout the world, individuals are striving to raise families, put healthful food on the table, earn a living, and take care of their responsibilities to society. At the center of humanity, there is a desire to live a purposeful life and be contented. In this way, all people are fundamentally alike.
Of course, there are differences. But what makes us the same is far more powerful than the cultural practices that separate us, and we should not allow ourselves to be distracted by – or frightened of – a different style of clothing or the color of a person's skin.
The next time time you encounter someone from another culture, think of them not as Mexican or Iraqi or Chinese. Think of them as a father, or an only child, or a person with artistic talent. Reach out to them through the lens of your common experience.
The more we can see the shared struggle, the less disconcerting cultural differences will seem. And once concern subsides, curiosity about the things that are different may emerge.