Whilst sipping on oversized straws filled with boba* at my favorite Taiwan tea shop, Mr. Tea, my Japanese friends and I found ourselves engaged in a thoughtful discussion about what it means to have a prophetic voice in our cultures. There’s something wonderful about our conversations at Mr. Tea… in fact, one of our friends gave his life to Jesus last fall over a good cup of boba! On this particular day, my friend Manami shared about her parents who show affection in public even though this is strange to Japanese. She explained that most Japanese marry and then the wife becomes the housewife, the husband works late and then goes out drinking with friends and often seeing an escort. This is so common that it has become an expectation. So when her Christian parents demonstrate a marriage standing on a foundation of commitment and self-sacrificing love, those around them take notice.
My friend Manami is a TCK (Third Culture Kid). Her dad is a fourth generation Japanese-local from Hawaii and her mom is Japanese from Japan. She grew up crossing the ocean and living parts of her childhood in both places. Because of this, Manami can view her own Japanese culture as an outsider while also being an insider. She can see as an outsider because she knows another cultural perspective and as an insider because she is accustomed to life in Japan as well. Because Manami is a TCK, she can more easily find her prophetic voice in her culture.
I love this example of her parents because they are making a decisive choice to life counter-culturally. It’s awkward. It naturally creates a conflict. Because Manami’s dad goes home after work to enjoy dinner with his wife and two daughters, his colleagues who go out for drinks may consider him a “slacker” since these social evenings are seen as a continuation of the work day and evidence of devotion to one’s job. On the other hand, over time, his colleagues might see that his lifestyle leads to really wonderful close relationships with his wife and daughters. They might eventually see this as an alternative to their own lifestyles and they may even be inspired to make new choices themselves!
Manami’s dad is being a prophetic voice in his culture. He’s seeing the culture through God’s eyes, recognizing both the good and the bad, and seeking to live in a God-honoring way, even if that conflicts with culture. I believe every culture has virtues and sins. As followers of Jesus, then, our life is to reflect the way God sees our cultures–emphasizing the good things, and being a prophetic voice in the sinful things.
The extreme end of the Japanese sin of placing work over family is karoshi or working oneself to death (as described in my blog post Japanese Rest). Since God desires life and flourishing for us, it is the enemy’s idea to kill oneself with overwork. Sin is missing the mark of God’s perfect will, so karoshi is clearly missing the mark because God doesn’t want us to kill ourselves–that seems clear enough! But there is also a good side to the Japanese work ethic–Japanese are devoted and work hard. So where does one draw the line between a righteous work ethic and a sinful one?
I believe that in the context of the Japanese culture, only a Japanese person can rightly discern this threshold. Maybe for Manami’s dad, he has found that a righteous work ethic involves spending evenings with the family rather than with coworkers drinking too much alcohol. Maybe his choices have caused a conflict for some of his colleagues whose devotion to work is on the pedestal of idolatry. Maybe they have questioned their own priorities and the pressures of their culture.
This healthy conflict is only possible because Manami’s dad is a prophetic voice in his culture. May we all find our prophetic voice within the cultures he’s placed us.
*Just to clear up a common misconception, Zhen Zhu Nai Cha, aka “Boba” or “Bubble Tea” was invented in my childhood home of Taiwan! For varification, check out the Wikipedia article about it (since Wikipedia is always accurate 😉 ). The craze started in the 1980’s in Taichung, Taiwan (where I grew up), but in the 1990’s, the folks in South East Asia agreed it was so wonderful that they started their own chains! Thus, many Thai restaurants carry Thai tea with boba. For my sake, as well as the founders, next time you drink boba from any cuisine and chew those gooey balls, please think of Taiwan!