What determines value in our culture?

It has been said that real estate is all about location, location, location. Designer labels are keen indicators of what is special and important in clothing, jewelry and shoe lines. Trend-setters lead us toward what the next great vacation destination will be. Meanwhile, the media act as observers and informants so the rest of us will know where to place our attention and our resources to remain current, up-to-date, and in-the-know. If we approach life in this manner we find ourselves constantly chasing after the next best thing because we believe our value as human beings is attached to the things we bring into our lives.

Perhaps a more telling question is: Who determines value in our culture? There are always people behind the home construction, fashion houses, trend analysis and media conglomerates that make the decisions translated into what we eventually pay attention to and purchase. Along the way many people are telling us who they are and often we choose to become a part of their story and make it ours. Our participation in this process includes us as co-creators of these consumer-based values, some consciously, many unconsciously.

A perfect example is my friend’s belief that buying name brand foods is essential to a healthy life. The company’s name on the paper wrapper around the can makes what is inside better. It doesn’t matter that the product in the can wrapped with the grocery stores company label is the same food processed in the same plant. Her belief in the power of the label transcends all logic.

How we view ourselves often transcends all logic to the contrary as well. While most of us don’t live our lives under the media scrutiny of celebrities we all have people around us willing to give unsolicited opinions of our character and behavior. The truth is that these thoughts and comments rarely resonate with the truth of our lives. Yet, we can very easily fall prey to what other people think, feel and believe if we come to value their opinion of us more that what we think of ourselves. How regularly do you hear yourself thinking or saying, “I don’t want you to think . . .”? Do you often worry what other people are saying about you after you’ve left? Do you find yourself considering what someone else would say or do in the situation and do the same yourself to avoid conflict?

You aren’t alone.

It takes more effort to think of yourself and for yourself, and as soon as you start to do that with any regularity your life will change and people may express their discontent with you. At that point you have come to a crossroad: fit in or pay the consequences. What we often miss in that moment of decision is that paying the consequences is an investment in living an authentic, satisfying life, and most of that is pretty great stuff.

Claiming our own value, rather than letting someone else determine that for us is as simple as saying, “I am worthy.” No one can do that for us, even God who created us, because we must receive that Truth as an act of faith. Free will is allowing ourselves to come to terms with the fact that God did create us and does love us exactly as we are. Worthiness is not based on anything we do, but simply in the reality that we are created in God’s image as ourselves, and that is good.

Living with value is a courageous choice. The word courage itself is defined from the original Latin as “telling your story with your whole heart.” Letting that settle into my being leads me back to the parables that Jesus told about the kingdom of heaven. So ordinary in that they spoke of people going about their business as bakers and merchants, yet so extraordinary in discovering the mysterious power of God to transform their world.

Not everybody chooses to live a self-defined valuable life. Those who do are willing to put their own spiritual growth as the primary goal of their lives and in that process learn from all the missteps and mistakes as gifts. They are also open to the full measure of human experience and range of feelings, and respect themselves and others in that process. Who they are and who they are becoming is more important to them than what others think of them on the journey.

What determines the value of that journey is the understanding that we are not at liberty to give what we do not have for ourselves, especially ourselves. The two greatest commandments in the Christian Bible speak of loving God, ourselves and each other, in that order. If we want to share the best of ourselves in loving relationships in our lives we first must recognize that we are already loved by God and that the next step is loving ourselves as God created us. When we can give ourselves permission to love ourselves we can then love other people as they are. In those simple steps we release the need to manipulate and control, as well as any desire to be manipulated or controlled.

Author's Bio: 

The Rev. Cory L. Kemp, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay with a double major in Communication and the Arts and Social Change and Development and a minor in Women's Studies, was ordained into the ministry of the Moravian Church in North America after completing her Master of Divinity degree studies through Moravian Theological Seminary. Over twenty-five years of experience in individual and community ministries gives Rev. Kemp an informed perception about faith, its implications and struggles in everyday life. Rev. Kemp focuses her work on helping people understand their faith and how faith can become transformational in their lives. Visit her web site at: www.corykemp.com.