Heritage: The foundations of identity

What is your heritage? When someone asks you this on the upcoming Heritage Day, what will you say? Will you use labels to define your heritage, labels that refer to race, culture, ancestry?

Our heritage is more than just where we come from.  It also helps us define who we are, to understand our own identity, to project what we are capable of achieving in light of what our ancestors achieved before us. 

But there are many problems with using our history to define our identity.  Mainly because these labels can change their connotations with time.

For example, there was a man who admired his grandfather for the many good works his grandfather did within the community.   The man saw himself as a good person because he came from a line of good people and he, too, carried on this legacy of helping his community.  But when he delved further into his grandfather’s past, he uncovered a sordid secret.  The man was shaken because he realised he had based his identity on facts that changed.

Another example is of a woman who was ahead of her time.  She was intelligent, sought to be educated like her brother and believed herself equal to the men around her.  But because of the time and society in which she lived, she was ridiculed and rejected for this.  She was a source of shame and embarrassment for her family.  But today, her great-granddaughter considers her a pillar of strength, a hero and an advocate for gender equality.

Can you see that with time what you once considered good may become shameful and what was once shameful may be seen as strength.  This information we use to define our identity – good or bad – is changeable, inconsistent, fragile.

And I would also argue that we are so much more than these labels.  These labels only explain what groups we belong or tell the story of our family history, but they do not encompass the entirety of who we are.

How then can we establish our identities and our understanding of ourselves on things that are not certain?  If our foundations of our identity are changeable, surely that means our identities can be easily shaken? And how can we live with such uncertainty for our entire lives?  How can we stay standing in this ever-changing world if we have such fragile identities?

We do it by laying the foundations of our identity on the only constant in existence – Christ.

Our identity is this: we are children of the Holy King.

Our heritage is this: God knew us and had a plan for us before the creation of the world.

And because of this, because of our acceptance of Christ as our saviour, we, too, know what our inheritance will be: we will inherit eternity with our Father.

This Heritage Day, I challenge you to preserve and celebrate that is good about your culture and your ancestry and to learn lessons from it.  But to form the foundations of your identity, look to Christ to know where you have come from, where you are going and who you are now.

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