Our oldest daughter will graduate high school this spring and head to college in the fall. Before this auspicious occasion, she and I are hunting down scholarship money. Thankfully, it is not elusive prey or an endangered species. Parents can be encouraged by the amount of money available to students—more so than I ever imagined. Granted, many of the scholarships are “niche fits,” open to students living in a particular state or for those who will study a specific major. Nonetheless, the money is there if one wants it.
One such organization that she has applied to is the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF). NIAF is a non-profit which exists to promote Italian American culture and heritage. And, given that one side of our family is Italian, this makes a lot of sense.
She shared with me one of the application questions. It reads, “What does it mean to be Italian American and why is it important to maintain your cultural roots?” It’s the last part of the question I want to focus on, the part about roots.
What are your roots? Grandparents or great-grands from Germany? Scandinavia? England? Perhaps its Africa, Asia or Latin America? (No offense meant if I left someone out!) Wherever our roots are, I think this idea is interesting, this idea that our identity is more than just who we are. As much as we carry genetic DNA around in us to determine eye, hair, and skin color, we also carry the DNA of heritage and culture. Our whole is the sum of many parts.
With that in mind, consider our lives as followers of Jesus, rooted in Christ. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul makes mention of this at least twice, once in the letter to the Ephesians and once to the Colossians. In the Gospels, Jesus warns against not being rooted, likening it to dying, being dead. The Old Testament speaks poetically about rootedness, comparing us to a flourishing vineyard or trees planted by a freshwater stream. Beautiful stuff. Powerful stuff.
And because it is beautiful and powerful, I believe there is more to this idea of rootedness and our identity flowing from it. I think it’s more than just our foundation, as in a plant is more than just the soil it sits in. I think, in a sense, we are the sum of many parts as a follower of Christ and those parts flow not from our earthly parents, but from our Heavenly Father and our relationship with Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
As one example, Scripture tells us we are created in the image of God. And, as much as you might look like your biological parents, this idea of reflecting the divine in our humanity is profound. Yes, we are broken and sinful, and often our minds and bodies remind us of that, but our flesh is not meant to be seen with disdain. So, what does it say for you and me to trace our roots past biology and culture to the very Creator of the Universe? That we are more than what family heritage or medical history tells us? Stand in front of the mirror at home for a few minutes and think about you, me, others, reflecting the divine, having been created in the image of God.
Or, what does it mean to know, as a child of God, that your past has no bearing on the Father’s love for you? We know we inherit DNA which affects our health. Even more so, some people’s heritage is to grow up in a dysfunctional home or unsafe circumstance; that shapes us too. But God, who reconciled Himself to us through the person and work of Jesus, reminds us that He does not view us through that heritage which we can or cannot control. Instead, He sees us forgiven; He sees us set free from those things because of what Christ has done for us. Our past has no hold on us nor does it determine what we will become because we are now in Christ Jesus.
Those are two examples I thought of. What about you? What comes to your mind when you consider your DNA and the heritage you inherit, not from your earthly family, but as a child of God? These are application questions worth considering!
This past Christmas, I was given a DNA kit as a gift. When I received the results, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only is my Italian heritage affirmed for me, but that it even narrowed it down to the region of the Alps—which makes sense given my paternal side of the family originates from northern Italy. Strangely, I did find out there is some German and French blood flowing within me, but we have no record of that in our family tree. I guess a few branches have fallen off.
Do I view myself differently now that I have new information about my origins? Maybe. Having a little German DNA makes me feel more authentically Lutheran! In all seriousness, there is not enough information in any test to supplant the fact that my identity, my heritage, and my roots are as a child of God with the people of God. That’s the best result I’ve ever received.
Your brother in Christ,
Pastor Tom Zucconi