Most people are interested in their origins. Some who are adopted will go to great lengths to discover the identity of their parents. When I lived in the state of Virginia, I learned that FFV stood for “First Families of Virginia.” These were people with distinguished ancestries.
I wonder what the slaves of yesteryear thought—those who could not trace their genealogies at all. An exception was Alex Haley, whose book Roots appeared in 1976 and was televised one year later. It took Haley 10 years and half a million miles of travel to complete an astonishing feat of genealogical detective work.
He discovered his great- (repeat “great” five times) grandfather, who in the 18th century, at the age of 16, had been abducted in Africa and sold on the dock at Annapolis, Md., to a Virginia planter.
Haley’s discovery gave him an identity. It defined him. When I read his book, I could not put it down. His search did much to rediscover a cultural heritage for people who’d had it taken away from them. Haley’s effort was an indomitable quest for physical roots.
What about spiritual roots? We often take them for granted, even though they are generally more readily discernable. Mine are so much a part of me that my actions and reactions are often determined not so much by my brain as by my roots. They define me.
For years I played golf at the same club. There was a tree there that stood athwart the third fairway with whom, for decades, I held secret conversations. Mostly I asked it to move over because it stood in my way. It never did so. Although I hit it dozens of times with my shots, it held its ground steadfastly. Every fall of the year I bade it a not-so-fond farewell.
Returning in the spring, I would greet it boastfully, telling about my travels. Then I would add two observations. I would say that all the time I was going here and there, the tree never moved. And then I would add a coup de grace, which was, “It must be boring to be a tree.”
One day I reconsidered my remark. I suddenly realized there’s something to be said for being an unmovable tree if the alternative is to be blown about by every wind of doctrine. Many people are. Some of my friends. But my roots prevent me from following them. I’m more like my friend at the golf course—“like a tree planted” (Ps. 1:3).
My roots are my lineage. A Christian home. Christian parents. The Covenant. My childhood church. In my roots are the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism. People who moved to America and who built their churches and their Christian schools with their nickels and dimes while they lived in sod huts. Abraham Kuyper. John Calvin. Augustine. The martyrs to whom I owe a ton and whose blood, as Tertullian said, “was the seed of the church.” Reformed theology. Church fathers. Prophets all the way back to Abraham, the father of believers (Gal. 3:7).
And at the center of it all, a cross and an empty tomb. All of this is my heritage. All of this constitutes my roots. But there are those with roots like mine who need to prize them more and seek them out with the fervor of Alex Haley.
Coincidentally, as I am writing these lines, the mail has arrived. It includes a notice from a local tree company reminding me that it is time again to deep-root fertilize our sugar maple in the backyard—$103!
In a time when there is so much accommodation to surrounding culture, let us not compromise our roots but stand on them in order to bring stability to an ever-unfolding age of shifting sand.
Note: The Banner acknowledges there is some dispute regarding Haley’s genealogical sources but nonetheless recognizes the author’s significant contribution to American cultural awareness. —Ed.