Not long ago, I spent two days teaching a course called “Understanding Worldview” to my son Jeremiah’s high school classes. In my line of work, I have to explain this concept to students who travel across the globe as missionaries. Your worldview is your perspective—the way you see the world. Everything you believe and do comes from your worldview.
Years ago when I was in China, I attended a banquet with some of that country’s top officials. My hosts seated me next to the oldest person in the room.
The other day, I asked my son’s students why I might have been seated by the oldest person there. They thought for a while and responded, “They were probably putting all the old people at one table.” (What? They think I’m an old person?)
Every worldview is based on a value. So what value did the Chinese communicate when they seated me that day? They greatly respect their elders, so in their culture, age carries a high value. They believe age brings wisdom and wisdom demands respect. Their worldview meant they were honoring me by placing me beside the oldest, wisest person in the room.
As I sat eating, the elderly lady beside me started smacking her lips and making slurping noises. I shared this with my son’s students and asked, “Is that the proper way to behave at the table?” Being students, they said their parents wouldn’t let them get away with that kind of behavior, but they saw nothing wrong with it.
As our meal continued, the elderly Chinese lady exploded with a big burp. The other 150 people in the room soon followed suit.
I asked the students, “Would you consider this behavior right or wrong?” They all agreed it was wrong. But I explained that the answer depends on your worldview. The Chinese base their burping and lip-smacking on their worldview, and all worldviews are based upon values. Part of my job as a missionary is to discover the values and worldviews of the people we serve.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the Chinese value the person who prepares the food more than the food itself. When the cook, back in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove, hears the guests smacking and burping, he smiles and thinks to himself, “They love my food!”
Is it right or wrong to smack your lips, slurp and burp at a meal? Your answer depends on your worldview.
Mama always taught me to clean my plate. If I visited another home, she sent me with instructions to eat whatever my hosts put before me and leave a clean plate. But in China the children are taught from early childhood not to clean their plates. Which is right? Your answer depends on your worldview.
In China, if you clean your plate, you are telling your host he didn’t give you enough to eat. In fact, if you are given only two grains of rice, you eat one and send the other back.
Imagine the cook and his assistant in the kitchen preparing the second course. They’re happy because they hear the people burping, slurping and enjoying their culinary efforts. As the busboys clear off the first course, they carry plates back into the kitchen covered with food the people didn’t eat.
The cook grins. “Not only did they love my food, but I also gave them so much they couldn’t eat it all!” In China, table manners are all about showing honor and value to those who prepare the food.
As an adult, I now understand that the manners and habits of different cultures aren’t right or wrong. Instead, they’re ways people express their values. Families have their own values and worldviews, too. If you come to my home, you’ll find my family does things differently than yours.
God wants us to move from our culture’s worldview to one that embraces biblical values. In other words, our values should reflect the Bible’s teaching. The world says to hate your enemies, but God tells us to love them. The world says to get even. God says, “Turn the other cheek.” The world says, “Do enough to get by.” God says, “Go the extra mile. The world says, “Rebel!” and God says, “Submit to authority.”
The way we respond to the world shows our values. When I’m in China, I smack, slurp and burp. When I’m in Europe, I keep my fork in my left hand. But why do I do these things? So I’ll have a chance to tell more people about the One who shapes my worldview: Jesus.
Lord, help me shape my values according to Your Word. And help my worldview come from the One who loved the world so much that . . . He gave.
Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827)