“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Philippians 1:27a
Many mothers around the world battle incessantly to instill good manners in their children, so they should be impressed to learn that cell phones used in Japan include a “Manner Mode” or “Māna Mōdo” (マナーモード) button. Unfortunately, these same mothers will be disappointed to discover that pushing this particular button doesn’t eradicate all poor behavior by the user. However, it does prevent one’s phone from ringing or making other distracting sounds once it is activated. Passengers on public transport are frequently reminded through announcements and signs to put their phones on māna mōdo to avoid disturbing others. Loud talking, ringing phones and audible music are quietly frowned upon by those nearby, so everyone is expected to exercise good manners in such situations. While almost all the passengers are typically engrossed in their own cell phones, no one uses them for talking while riding on the train as it is considered to be very rude behavior.
Good manners in Japan come in many different forms. For example, returning to the theme of train etiquette, priority seating is provided in every train car for the elderly, handicapped and pregnant mothers that should be strictly observed. Passengers waiting to get on a train are also expected to dutifully line up in an orderly fashion on the station platform and allow people to disembark before attempting to board. When riding an escalator, it is good manners to stand on the left side so others in a hurry can move past you. If you are dining with others, it is considered impolite to pour your own drink. You must also refrain from picking up food from a common plate using the end of the chopsticks that you use for eating. Below are some other cultural blunders to avoid:
- Don’t eat or drink while moving around.
- Avoid chewing gum in the company of others.
- Try not to blow your nose in a public setting.
- Resist using your car horn unless absolutely necessary.
- Avoid pointing at others or objects.
- Don’t treat another person’s business card with disrespect.
- Refrain from public displays of affection.
Every culture has it peculiar lists of do’s and don’ts that subtly demand our adherence, but sadly, many Christians mistakenly import such a simplistic approach to their spiritual walk. The Christian life, when viewed in such terms, is reduced to a mere list of rules that focuses on the prohibition of certain behaviors. History teaches us that many of these ideals of Christian “manners,” fall by the wayside over time, only to be replaced by other rules that will in turn eventually give way to a new set of injunctions.
While rules are certainly necessary, and there are several lists of obvious sins laid out in the Bible, the whole concept of what constitutes “good manners” spills over into gray areas that are not so easily defined. As citizens of earthly kingdoms, we must be mindful and respectful of cultural manners, but as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, we are bound by a higher set of “manners” that must not impinge upon the nature or intent of the gospel. Rather than rules, the chief characteristic of the gospel is grace, which should be our life māna mōdo.