EFP Week 2: Post

My name’s Adam Pietrantonio. I currently live in Guelph ON, having recently been appointed as a career missionary to Japan back in October. I’m working part-time, and working through the Immerse program, where I volunteer with Power to Change Students at the University of Guelph engaging with international students (Japanese students too!).

  1. What are the cultural tensions and structures that work against an empowering orientation in your setting? What are the cultural values and priorities that can be leveraged towards empowering relationships?

Because I am not yet on the field in Japan, I will respond with thoughts of what I think would take place, both from my studies as well as ministering to Japanese students on campus. In Japanese culture, leadership seems to be both patriarchal and age-dependent (the older person is the de-factor leader). So, while empowerment can be perceived to be taking place as an older man leads a younger woman, that may not be the case. Giving orders as the elder and accepting them as the younger; or having a group discussion and the older male’s view becomes the consensus view—this is in line with Japanese thinking.  Cultural tensions will occur if and when a younger woman is empowering an older man in his faith. Both the patriarchy and age-dependency are being confronted. A cultural value that may be leveraged towards empowering relationships is the respect given to the elderly. While it may be expressed as a teacher-student relationship, where the student has no autonomy, the elderly person does have the opportunity to empower to leverage her authority to love, serve, and encourage a younger believer. This act both confronts the teacher-student dynamic and expresses biblical empowerment accurately.

  1. Consider Lingenfelter’s chart on p. 48 (Table 3.2 Cultural and Kingdom Values in Partner Relations). What are your strengths and weaknesses that relate to empowering others?

My weaknesses would be controlling the process and achieving ends. Even though I’m very self-aware that these are weaknesses, imagining myself on the field, in the thick of ministry, my default reactions would be to use my authority to take control so my expectations would be met. While awaiting change to take root and have its effect, I would become increasingly impatient and want to change that previous change.

My strength is to serve others. Although controlling the process and achieving my own ends are self-regarding rather than other-regarding, my intention would be to meet others where they’re at, listen to them, encourage their ideas, and lovingly ask questions that foster mutual insight. I listen well and actively, so fostering a safe space where they can be heard and responded to in excitement is particularly easy for me. It becomes increasingly frustrating when no “progress” is being made.

Lingenfelter expresses on pg.49 the ideal outcome of expressing kingdom values, while also expressing the difficulty in accepting and implementing such a reality: “Kingdom values, in contrast, employ the illogic of grace. When we follow God’s way, we focus on loving one another and extending grace to our brothers and sisters in contexts where we have disagreements and conflicts with them.” This is true, but the fact that grace is essentially illogic frustrates me. It is counter-cultural, in opposition to all of my desires. It makes no sense because the flesh wants to act differently. And that’s exactly why it’s the correct approach.

AdamP

About AdamP

26 yrs old. Graduated from York University in Toronto with a major in Philosophy and minor in History. Completed the first year of my MDiv in Intercultural Studies at Heritage Seminary before transferring to the Immerse Program with Northwest Seminary and Fellowship International.

19 Responses to EFP Week 2: Post

  1. Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

    Thanks Adam,
    The power distance dynamic of Japanese culture coupled with a strong communal orientation with unspoken rules makes it difficult to envision what empowering would look like when it goes against the cultural norm. You suggest two ways that empowering could be done in this cultural scenario. The first is “respect” from the younger to the older and the second is the elder acting to “leverage her authority” towards the younger. The latter is easy to picture, although still a cultural adjustment for westerners. Our individualist orientation makes it difficult for us to speak directly into anyone else’s life. It is not “Canadian.”

    The former idea of “respect” is, I think, especially key for you. Could you unpack this more for us? In a situation when there is no opportunity for control and where direct suggestions or alternative plans would be frowned upon, how is “respect” leveraged so that the younger empowers the elder? What does this look like? Maybe see it in terms of a younger missionary working with a Japanese pastor who seems to be satisfied with a small congregation of people making little spiritual impact in their network of family and friends. What would you do to empower someone in that scenario using Lingenfelter’s principles?

    This exercise of working through the scenario touches on your strength of serving others, your tendency to control, the frustration of little “progress” and the counter-cultural illogic of grace.

    I am interested is seeing how you would view this and work it through in dialogue with Lingenfelter.

  2. AdamP AdamP says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for the thought experiment. In my statement on respect, I was thinking primarily of the older believer leveraging the respect given to him from a young believer (a respect that may or may not be genuine, since it’s such a cultural expectation to respect and even revere the elderly). Because the older believer should be receiving respect anyway, there is great opportunity for him to respond in counter-cultural ways that express kingdom values. As the elderly person, rather than controlling the evangelism and discipleship process in his small church, he can prayerfully release control and invite the younger believer to both pray and contribute his thoughts on the processes (the elderly person can utilize that situation to actively listen and learn about the younger person’s thoughts, ideas, passions, etc., and express openness to change). Rather than critiquing others, he can begin to serve the younger believer, and others in his church body, demonstrating vulnerability. Also, he can cease in relying on the evangelism / discipleship processes as a means to an end, and focus on trusting God for the ends, all in prayer, vulnerability, partnership, etc.

    Of course, the elderly believer would be conducting several counter-cultural acts. The high power distance dynamic would be reversed with the “authority” figure openly serving, loving, and equating himself to the “lesser equal” younger believer. The strong communal orientation could also be seen as being confronted (though I’m not as sure about this), as the elderly believer’s expression of kingdom values toward the younger believer would not be agreed-upon from other older believers. It would be a single-act of love, service, vulnerability, invitation, etc. toward a single person, which is then followed up by another single-act of love, and repeated. This is difficult for me to imagine, to be honest. The elderly believer would have to be so convinced that this is the better way, and willing to face confrontation and pressure (most likely indirect, but maybe eventually direct) from other older believers in the church body. While everyone knows their role in any social situation, the expression of kingdom values mixes everything up. The master becomes the servant and serves. And especially in Japanese society, while the external application of this may be easier to implement, the internal motivations changing from depending on cultural expectations to being dependent on gospel-centrality likely will take much, much longer.

    As I read through my response, I wonder about the strong communal orientation. Because unity in community are central in the body of Jesus, I wonder if there is a way to confront the hierarchical social roles / expectations of Japan and keep the communal nature. What if an 85-yr old female believer, 55-yr old male pastor, 27-yr old Canadian missionary, and 35-yr old female pastor would work together in unity (keeping the communal nature of Japanese society), while serving and loving each other equally? (ceasing the higher social roles)?

    • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

      Thanks Adam,
      I appreciate your willingness to engage in the thought experiment. I wonder if it would be better to consider how empowering occurs in the Japanese setting without requiring counter-cultural actions or orientations. That is, how does empowering occur in ways that are facilitated by, or leveraged by, the hierarchical and communal orientations? You seem to be assuming that in order to pursue kingdom values a person needs to be counter cultural. But is there a way to be a well respected Japanese near the top of a hierarchical structure and “serve the younger believer, and others in his church body”? (Let’s leave the vulnerability aspect out for the moment, even though that is another cultural dynamic that has important implications for empowering). The reason I ask this is so that we can begin by working within the cultural orientations, rather than seeking to work against the orientations.

      What I am suggesting is that there may be some “positive deviations” already at play in the Japanese setting that results in people being empowered. These may not look like the individual fulfillment expectation of the western mindset, but they are nonetheless worked out with respect and commitment to a common vision in which people’s roles are validated and there is a communally healthy result.

      Such a scenario also likely does not mean that the one in authority equates themselves to the lesser. The power and respect differential remains the same, but there is a communal affirmation of appropriateness that allows both to play out their roles according to the common expectation of what creates a healthy environment for communal thriving. What I am suggesting is that perhaps there is a way to view the context so that within the cultural paradigm kingdom values can be expressed (rather than “mixing up” the paradigm). In fact, when people fulfill their roles and purposes with integrity, then they tend to live by kingdom values (i.e., acts of love and service to others are respected and valued. An example in Canada is that people admire acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of another. For the strong to sacrifice themselves for the weak is seen as worthy of praise. This flies in the face of the selfish act of abortion in which the strong destroys the weak and vulnerable. The point being that people do admire kingdom values even when justifying the opposite action).

      As an example of how this can work within a hierarchical society, think of Ruth approaching Boaz at night and lying down beside him. This was done totally within a patriarchal / patron-client context. She submits herself totally within his power, he can do as he likes. Because he is an honorable man, he reads the right desire and request in the action and responds to her in the way that leads to a healthy and thriving community (If he had used and shamed her and sent her home, that would have been in his power without facing negative consequences from society). If you like, this was an empowering act by Naomi and Ruth (albeit with great risk) that led Boaz, the one in power, to make a critical decision.

      So my key point is that perhaps the goal is not to “confront the hierarchical social roles / expectations of Japan and keep the communal nature” but to discover pathways (even at great risk) that would leverage both paradigms (hierarchy and communal) towards expressions of the kingdom and empowering. I suggest that the undermining of social roles in order to gain equality in not Jesus’ point in Jn 13 (“you call me “lord” and so I am”), but the appropriate use of those social roles that leads to vision of thriving.

      What do you think? Or have I missed your point?

  3. AdamP AdamP says:

    Mark,

    Thanks for this. In reading your response, I’m noticing that even I’m not that comfortable in seeing how a strictly hierarchical / communal culture like Japan can express kingdom values. Reading your Ruth / Boaz example, I struggle to believe that Ruth truly wanted to engage with Boaz in such a way (this probably speaks to my ignorance of how kingdom values can be seen in very different cultural paradigms than my current one).

    I understand and agree with your suggestion that “there may be some ‘positive deviations’ already at play in the Japanese setting that results in people being empowered.” To be honest, I don’t know of any examples. I’m sure there are, since kingdom values can be found in both hierarchical (Ruth / Boaz) and communal cultural settings. I need to look more into this. Maybe the strong notions of self-sacrifice and honour in Japanese society play key roles in empowerment…

    “Such a scenario also likely does not mean that the one in authority equates themselves to the lesser. The power and respect differential remains the same, but there is a communal affirmation of appropriateness that allows both to play out their roles according to the common expectation of what creates a healthy environment for communal thriving.”
    – This is key. I need to discover examples of this “appropriateness” and how mutual-empowerment can exist within existing hierarchical and communal social roles.

    • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

      Thanks Adam,
      Yes, from an egalitarian perspective it is easy to see the abuses of authoritarian structures and equate “unequal” with “less worthy”. I think that we misread Jesus if we think that he was a revolutionary seeking to replace structures (which is at least the language that some people use, if not actually suggesting this). I think, rather, that Jesus redeems structures, even patriarchal structures, by reorienting roles and purposes within those structures. That is, authority is not something to be relinquished, but to be used with a servant mindset and desire. The greatest servant is the greatest king.

      Yes, finding those positive deviance examples of empowering in Japanese society is critical. Would not the martial arts be an example with the Senpei dynamic?

      • AdamP AdamP says:

        Mark,

        Martial arts might very well be. I confess I know very little about how martial arts and the senpai dynamic work. I’ll look more into it.

        • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

          Or that little video link you gave on Kintsugi: The Art of Broken Pieces
          https://vimeo.com/90734143
          It seems that the young man saw himself as a part of a group, appreciated by the broader society and acknowledged with a particular status, and mentored by his father and others.

  4. Cathy Yinger says:

    Hello, Adam! I enjoyed reading your post. I’m looking forward to meeting you and talking about these things in person! Tell me more about how you, as a young person, see your role in a patriarchal culture.

    I love the fact that you are a good listener and are able to foster a safe space where people can be heard and responded to. You said that it becomes increasingly frustrating when no “progress” is being made. Sometimes listening is not just a step toward a completing a task, but is the task itself. I know there have been times when people have expressed to me how important it was when I was there for them in a difficult time, just to listen.

    • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

      Like: “Sometimes listening is not just a step toward a completing a task, but is the task itself” So critical to see ourselves as servants in a process that the Holy Spirit is in control of. There are many times when we are called to be good listeners, rather than good answer people.

  5. AdamP AdamP says:

    Cathy,

    Thanks so much! Looking forward to it as well in Poland. Hm, great question. In Japan, foreigners are given (to my knowledge) quite a bit of privilege. But two things seem to be “against” me (this is how I see these realities, which may not be the complete picture):
    – I am relatively young in a society that values and respects older people.
    – I am a foreigner. I’ve been told by Fellowship missionaries currently and formerly in Japan that regardless of how much time I spend there, I will always be an outsider.

    How do I specifically see my role in a patriarchal culture? While it may seem passive, a lot of my role will be building trust with locals, both Christian and not. Any kind of vision casting, stepping out ahead, calling others to follow Christ in me, and empowering those people – trust must be the first thing that is built. Regardless of where I fall on the hierarchy, there are ways for me to build trust. Discovering the pathways within Japanese culture in which that trust can be built organically is the key.

    • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

      Thanks Adam,
      Building trust so that the Japanese know you respect them, appreciate their worth, learn from them and desire their best is critical. Because becoming a Christian is viewed as an undermining of the society in some sense, there is a clash or a tension that needs to be overcome. As we have been discussing, how do you get to the point of empowering people so that they live life as Japanese with the added dimension of being centered on Jesus?

      • AdamP AdamP says:

        Mark,

        This might seem simplistic, but if trust has been built, sustained, strengthened between myself and a Japanese believer, he will have experienced an extended period of me serving him, loving him, inviting him to contribute, listening to him, etc. Crucially, I hope he would have experienced this building of trust (all Christ-centred) not inside a “church”, but in and through the daily rhythms of life. So, when empowerment to live as a Christ-centred Japanese in the rhythms of his culture occurs, he will have the experience of being changed by it himself. That, with the added knowledge of being a Japanese person himself (something I am not and cannot really give too much guidance in), he will begin to navigate those pathways himself.

        Does that make sense? I had trouble expressing it from my mind.

        • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

          Yes, I like what you are saying. When you are saying “the rhythms of life” I think you are moving more in the direction of more subtle, indirect ways of creating change. You are seeking to be a change agent, but that will come about by contemplating the cross as the broken plate is mended and meditated on, not by sweeping the table clear of the broken pieces and plunking a Bible down.

  6. itskevinmiller itskevinmiller says:

    Hey Adam,

    A thoughtful post as always! Looking forward to finally meeting you in person in Poland 🙂

    The cultural dynamic of patriarchal and age hierarchy is also common in Pakistan. One of the biggest challenges Micaela and I feel that we face in going to Pakistan is finding ways to empower women. For us that means finding more ways for Micaela to engage in ministry as it would not be appropriate for me to be empowering the women. Is that a factor in Japan as well or is it predominantly a status issue? In other words would it be considered inappropriate for you to be empowering women of the same age as you or younger? Do you think there could be any ways around this or ways you could empower others who could address this issue instead?

    In response to yours and Marks conversation I’m wondering the following: in order to get around the age hierarchy do you think that you would be able to empower from a position of service? Do you think it is possible to empower others for leadership by putting yourself under others rather than taking on a position of leadership? How do you think this could look?

  7. AdamP AdamP says:

    Kevin,

    Likewise man! And great question. Japan is not only status-driven, but also extremely patriarchal. A lot of women who end up having children don’t go back to work after – they stay at home with their children. Not that it’s a bad thing by any stretch, but the option isn’t even there. I would imagine it’d be inappropriate for me to empower women. Though, if I was a leader in the church, my “status” as a missionary would probably give me privileges to empower them, which is a very interesting thought as I’m typing this haha. Because the church in Japan is predominantly male-lead (at least in official roles), I have difficulty in thinking about how empowerment looks like in the church. BUT, in Japanese society, I’m feeling stronger and stronger about the opportunities for service, empowerment in places that have been devastated by natural disasters: North East Japan with the 3/11 disasters, and western Japan recently with the terrible flooding and landslides. People’s livelihoods have been ripped apart, so potentially crossing cultural barrier / obstacles may not seem that serious, if we are seeking to love others as Christ loves them.

    Example: If a Discovery Bible Study is starting in a temporary house, among a mixed group of locals, displaced by the disasters, and all living in temporary housing, empowering a young female believer to lead such studies might be a beautiful illustration of the upside-down kingdom. Women are perceived as weaker then men, and youth is attributed with innocence, not wisdom. And the people attending are in that place for the same reason (natural disasters), so there might be more of an openness to the gospel. (Apologies if I went off-track – this topic of empowerment in Japan has really thrown me for a loop. I don’t know too much).

    “In order to get around the age hierarchy do you think that you would be able to empower from a position of service? Do you think it is possible to empower others for leadership by putting yourself under others rather than taking on a position of leadership? How do you think this could look?”
    – Hm. Interesting. I’m assuming you’re referring to positions ‘in the church’? If so, I think there definitely are ways to leverage serving others rather than leading others (in the strict sense). I honestly have difficulty thinking of Japanese-specific ways to have this happen. I’m sure they’re out there, but whenever I think of empowerment in Japan from a position of service, I get stuck.

    • Mark Naylor Mark Naylor says:

      Thanks Adam,
      I like your creative thinking about service and empowering in places of disaster when people’s lives have been shaken up and therefore are drawn to new relationships because of a common struggle.

      Re. your last statement, “whenever I think of empowerment in Japan from a position of service, I get stuck,” that is when it good to look for “positive deviance”. Is there anyone who is in such a position and makes a positive difference that impacts the elders? I just read this morning a link you gave that illustrated this – the young man who cleaned up the garden and then shook the cherry tree so the blossoms would fall. This is now legendary in Japan. How does one serve well, but then shake the cherry tree?

      • itskevinmiller itskevinmiller says:

        Love the analogy with the cherry tree! I feel like I’m in a similar place Adam where I still have so much to learn about Pakistan I’m not entirely sure what leading from a position of service would look like in a culturally appropriate manner. I feel pretty grateful to already be entering into the culture with some of these questions in mind however. It helps to have a point of reference for things to be looking for rather than going in without a clue what the difficulties and challenges will be.

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