My youngest child made an “I’m Actually Irish” T-shirt for St. Patrick’s Day. It sparked some household discussions about where we find our ancestral roots. I’ve done just enough ancestry research to verify my family’s pre-1900 Colorado residency. The rest of what I know about my family tree is a combination of oral history and my grandmother’s DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) information. Every time I go digging, I find some new tidbit that triggers new pride, or questions, or doubts about who I am, my identity based on where I’ve come from and what kind of people my family members were.
Genetic research has verified hereditary connections to certain physical conditions. Sickle-cell anemia in people of African-American descent, for example. Those with Jewish backgrounds have been warned to look out for problems with cholesterol and heart disease. There’s a wealth of anecdotal knowledge, too. The Irish are happy drunks, English people have bad teeth, German women are mean, Italians are bossy, the French are romantic, and so on. We’re especially fond of chalking up our negative personality traits and bad behavior patterns to our ancestors. It’s convenient, too. They’re dead and can’t argue with us.
If you don’t know your family history, the latest DNA tests provide matches to your “genetic cousins.” You do a cheek scraping (very CSI, isn’t it?) and send it to a testing company. They examine your DNA and match it to other people in a database. By matching certain keys, your family tree can be revealed as clearly as counting the rings on a tree stump.
NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” program takes celebrities through their family history to find their genealogical roots. (It airs tonight at 8/7C, on NBC. If you missed the first two episodes, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Emmitt Smith, you can view them online here and here.)
For centuries, people have been corralled by their family backgrounds – aristocrats or peasants, white collar or blue collar, civilized or barbarian. Those labels can hinder, or promote. But when it all comes down to it, under the labels, even under the genetics, we’re all just people.
I think that’s what Paul was trying to explain in his letter to the Galatians:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Galatians 3:26-28 NKJV
Jesus is the great equalizer for all mankind. Through simple faith that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died and was raised from the dead, we can rise above every other label that’s ever been slapped on us. We don’t have to forget our history, but we don’t have to be held back by it, either.
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”Galatians 6:4-5 The Message
In Christ Jesus (not in a church denomination, not in a system of organized religion) our particular branches of humanity are grafted into God’s family tree, and we have a whole new ancestry to look to for our identity. If your family tree, like mine, has some crooked branches and some gnarly roots, knowing you’ve been grafted in to the perfect, life-giving vine is a source of hope, not just for yourself, but for the generations to come.