Have you ever lost the mayonnaise jar in your refrigerator because you just couldn’t see it? It was there all the time, but you bought another jar because when you opened the door, the jar seemed to be “invisible.”
Psychology classes use that to illustrate a fact about human perception – we “see” what is different more readily than we see what is “the same.” The mayo jar is a white jar that looks like so many other white jars. That jar is so common that soon we stop “seeing” it. The basic idea of this post is that as human beings we can easily be so attracted to the different, the distinct, the diverse that we stop being aware of what is common.
This is a major factor in intercultural outreach! Not that we are worried about mayonnaise, but people in intercultural ministry can stop seeing what is common for all people everywhere because we are hard-wired to “see” the diversity.
Just think about the differences that we are very aware of between cultures:
Differences in normal diet
Differences in clothing
Differences in work schedules
Differences in thought patterns
Differences in values and explanations of what is considered true
Differences in the roles of men and women
Differences in leadership styles
And on and on and on. . . . .
Currently the whole world is dealing with a common problem: COVID and its variations. But look at the wide diversity of responses! Nations with strong leadership patterns tell citizens that they must stay in the house for weeks at a time. Other nations that value independence make suggestions about “shelter in place” but do not enforce the suggestions as law. Where some nations trust in masks and social distance, others put their focus on the technology of vaccines. For some the motivation is “love your neighbor” so that if you are infected, you won’t spread the disease. Other nations have appealed to taking steps to protect family inside your own home or even setting the goal to be “protect yourself”.
One common problem, but such a wide variety of responses!
Let’s look at another common human problem:
—All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Let’s look at a common solution that is available for the entire human race:
—If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32)
—There is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
—I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6)
There is a common problem and a common, world-wide solution. There is also a world-wide endpoint that will cross all lines of human diversity:
—At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is God to the glory of the Father. (Philippians 2:10 – 12)
—There is an innumerable crowd around the throne of Jesus from every tribe and tongue and nation and people. (Revelation 5:9. 7:9).
(The sad truth is that those who reject this one beautiful solution will be separated from God for eternity – a diversity so terrible that Jesus went to the cross to bring all people into His One Flock! John 10:16)
A common problem. A common solution. A common end point.
Doing ministry in light of what we have in common and how it shows up with diverse expressions is a major skill for intercultural workers. Many culture and language training approaches are based on an overview of all of the diverse customs and traditions and ways of life that are found across the wide variety of human experience. These approaches start with the diverse.
The other way is to start with what we have in common. We all need to eat. Some use chopsticks, some use fingers, some use spoons and forks, but the diversity makes more sense when we see the unity issue: we all need to eat.
All of us on this planet are separated from God by our sin. We all need His grace. His love is available. . . “for God so loved the world!” is one common answer to a whole world of diverse problems!
What we have in common is so much greater than what separates us. If you live outside your home culture, your daily life will make you very aware of the diversity. If you have lived long enough abroad, a visit back to your passport country will make you aware of differences. You can also see differences in the lifestyles of expats who have moved INTO your homeland. We are hardwired to see the differences.
But please don’t focus on the differences. Focus on the unity that ties all of us humans together. That unity is God’s gracious, common solution to mankind’s one common problem. The wide diversity of expressions of human problems can blind us to the reality of the common problem and common solution. Don’t lose the “mayo jar” of what we all have in common because you are distracted by the diversity.