Being a student of culture, theology, church, and life I have often come back to the word “value”. Not in the sense of “value-meal” or “is this blow dryer a good value?” Instead I mean what someone or something is worth, and more importantly where they acquire that worth from.
Lately I have found that there are many that find their value in the culture that they identify with. I know that this flies in the face of some that believe in being sensitive to all cultures so I will say this with as much even-handedness as I can: No culture has the ability to ascribe true value, only perceived value.
This sounds like a naive statement to some I am sure, but consider this: culture, like humans and like the very ground that we stand on are created things. Unlike humans and the ground that we stand on however culture is man-made. Deeply ingrained, ethnically informed, geographically shaped, and most times arrived at honestly and without intended malice, but still man-made. That statement to many might seem ignorant too, but I assure you that I have not arrived at that conclusion based on ignorance but a preponderance of evidence.
Instead of stepping on ethnic or sexual landmines that I could step on accidentally or on purpose I will use the church as my case study for this particular foray into cultural awareness according to Bart. The church over the centuries has developed many cultures. Some of these cultures are based on liturgies, some on programs, some on pet theologies, some on specific moral behaviors, some on buildings, some on particular heroes of the faith (many people refer to these people wrongly as “Saints”). To some that have followed these cultures the culture itself has actually served to distract from what was to be the actual purpose of the church in the first place and that is The Glory of God. Let me state that differently so that the point is not missed; the church has many times supported cultures that actually distract from our very purpose as Jesus followers.
This is actually what I consider to be the heart of my life’s purpose, to show people that The Glory of God is even greater than the treatment that it is given by the very people that are supposed to be displaying it. People, myself being the worst, will always fail to fully show The Glory of God.
So now I come full circle back to culture and value. To the extent that I find my true worth or value from the culture that I identify with I will be detracting from where my true value comes from. This is the heart of the issue for many that disagree with the values that God upholds. If the culture that I support conflicts with God then I will always lean on the source of my value, and for many that is their culture and not God. I cannot expect people to behave as I would if they find their value from another source than I do. This by the way is not a statement to diminish the value of culture. The varieties of cultures that are displayed throughout the world can in many ways display The Glory of God in so far as that culture and/or its practices are not counter to God.
The real frustration for me is to see a person that so desires to find their value in God, but is still sold out to the culture that defines them. One of the joys in my life is when I stopped trying to fit my beliefs into who God truly is and who I truly am, and started to truly accept what God says about himself and about me. It flies in the face of our rugged independence to say that there is freedom in submission, but that is the scandalous gospel. And the truth is that no matter how much we hate to admit it, we are submitting to a culture that we have used to define ourselves for most of our lives.
Value is found most correctly from the source of an objects existence. While I have an smart phone in my pocket, I don’t understand the true value of it, only what it does for me. The one that knows the true value of it is the one who designed it and knows what a masterful stroke of innovation it truly is.