When I teach Cultural Diversity, my students often laugh at some of the stories I tell about growing up in the East. Things are simply viewed differently on that side of the globe. In this post, I talk about how Time, for example, is looked upon as a completely different entity. Also, the idea of personal space is enormously different in Oklahoma than it is even in New York, much less the eastern hemisphere. Language varies as well. One often wonders with all these differences, how do we even get along with one another without stepping all over each other’s toes?
I personally believe that people in the United States are kind and more open to discussions of your background, where you lived, where you grew up and also ethnicity. This is a part of the foundation for the country – Ellis Island was a beacon of hope for many immigrants at the turn of the century. This country is made up of people from all over the world.
As I contemplate the differences, you have to be struck with some of the similarities we all have as human beings: desire to be loved, valued, and treated with respect. If you don’t believe me, just go driving with someone and see their reaction when another driver cuts them off on the road. There is indignation built right into that for just about everyone.
Whether I am teaching management or sharing my testimony about Christ, I am almost always asked about my background and point of view on various matters. For some, the idea of a burqa or hijab is of concern. For others, it is the exotic locale of the Middle East or Asia and how life is for people there. Yet, there are others who ask me about what my views were like about Jesus when I was growing up in a Muslim country.
If you ask a Muslim person about Jesus (by the way, they would LOVE to talk about Jesus – seriously. It’s not offensive. Christians just think that Muslims would be offended), you will find that some Muslims will smile and tell you “We Muslims have more respect for Jesus than you do as Christians.” At first, you might not believe this. However, the Quran has an entire chapter on Christ, titled after his mother, Mary. The chapter is called “Miryam.” Mary is the only woman in the Quran to be called by name. She is given a place of high honor and esteem, as is Jesus (“Isa” in the Quran). Muslims have to hold all prophets as holy. They believe that their books are holy. For this reason, Muslims will not say bad things about Jesus because he is a holy person of God. This is not always the case with what you might find in the West. We have the gift of freedom and free speech. It seems like the name of Jesus is a free for all and many people choose to even use his name as a blasphemy (anything that is not held in honor and also using it casually or when you are mad – almost as a curse word).
The Eastern mind operates differently than the Western mind. Many times, I am asked “Why” by people. Why does this happen, why would God do this? Why is this the case and why is this written? For those who grew up in eastern countries, the “Why” is not that important, especially when it comes to things of God. If God is sovereign and He wills it, then so be it. Who are you to ask why? This can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it places God above mankind and our brains – He is infinite! We cannot think through everything and know the answer to everything. We are finite beings. We have a definite beginning and end. It is a bad thing because the “Why’s” are not encouraged. So when I had questions about the Quran or even teaching in school, it’s frowned upon by your elders to keep asking “why? why? why?” This type of thought is greatly discouraged because it is considered rude or even challenging authority.
So the question is- how does the East come together with the West when we are on absolute opposites of the compass?
When you look at the Bible, you find some interesting things about people from all over coming to the table of Christ. Luke 13:29 says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” What does this mean? It means that Christ is preparing a table for us. He is getting ready many things in preparation for us to eat with him. How does one do this? He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20. Christ doesn’t mind if you stand at the door and knock or even stand there and ask questions. He took care to address his disciple Thomas’s statements about how he would never believe unless he put his finger into Christ’s wounds. Jesus didn’t get furious say “Thomas, how dare you question if I am the same Christ who was crucified!” Instead, when he later appeared to the whole group, Jesus said “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”John 20:27
Jesus is the only one who can connect the wide gap between the east and the west. The Psalmist wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 Those same hands that Thomas wanted to see are the ones that bring the east and the west together through the shedding of blood and redemption in one cross.This is the grace and mercy God shows each one of us. Jesus is the one who provides us the love (enough to die for us), gave us value (allows us to be called children of God), and gives us respect for others (new commandment: love one another as I have loved you).
The song by Casting Crowns sums all this in a beautiful way:
Jesus, can You show me just how far the east is from the west?
‘Cause I can’t bear to see the man I’ve been
Come rising up in me again
In the arms of Your mercy I find rest
‘Cause You know just how far the east is from the west
From one scarred hand to the other