The roots of the culture tree go deep

May 13, 2020 | 4 comments

Thank you so much for the responses to last month’s post about the culture tree!  I enjoyed hearing back that the comparison between Culture and a Tree was helpful for your global work!

We are going to think more about roots in this column – roots of a tree first, and then the roots of a culture. 

Maybe you remember in your high school biology class soaking a seed and then cutting it down the middle to see inside. I still remember being amazed that the root (technically, the “radical”) was part of that little plant even in the seed. The roots of a tree are so important that they are there from the very beginning.

Why do plants need roots, right from the beginning? What do roots do for a plant?

Roots give stability. Like the picture in Psalm 1 of a tree planted by the waters “that won’t be moved,” plants with solid, healthy roots stay stable in a storm. They will not blow over in a heavy wind. The roots grow deep into the environment, tying the plant to its place and protecting it from the forces that would upset it. 

Roots are the pathway for nutrition and water. We all know that if a plant is droopy and needs water, it doesn’t make sense to pour water onto the leaves. The water that the leaves need comes through the roots. The same is true for many nutrients – they travel from the roots through the stem and then into the leaves, shoots and fruit. If the roots are damaged, chances are good that the whole plant will be malnourished. 

Roots form a connection from one plant to another. In a forest, tree roots intertwine. That connectedness lets trees “communicate.” An insect that damages one tree will probably damage its neighbor. A nutrient that helps one tree to grow will also benefit the neighboring trees. 

It is helpful to think of the values and the belief systems shared by a group of people as the roots of their culture. Those cultural roots give stability, nutrition, and connection to the people. This leads to an amazing truth –  to bring change to a group of people, we have to work with those invisible roots.  Let me give three questions to help to identify the invisible roots of a culture.

1. What gives the people stability and confidence? From generation to generation, how do people feel that their way of life protects them from the storms of life and the shifts of politics, technology and society?

2. Where do people go to “refill”? When their heart feels empty and thirsty, where do they go to be restored? We want to point to the Living Water, but they are probably drinking from another well. Can you find and name that well?

3. How do neighboring cultures influence the one you are in? What are the other groups of people that have a voice where you are at?  You need to know what teachings, goods and values are passed back and forth between your people group and other cultural groups. 

These sources of stability, nutrition and cultural influence are real, but it is so easy to be busy about life and not slow down to answer those questions. The moral of the story, though, is that we don’t bring Light and Life to a group by addressing the leaves; we bring change to the whole plant when we start by understanding the roots. The path to the shoot and fruit is through the roots!

Not sure where or how to begin processing COVID-19? When you Debrief COVID-19 you will be guided through questions that address your context and life, stress and COVID-19, grief and COVID-19, your soul and COVID-19, and what you want to remember. Start the processing today.

Photo by Marcela Laskoski on Unsplash 

Mark Hedinger

Practical Visionary. Director of Culture Bound.. Husband. Life-long learner.




  1. Amy Young

    Mark, this is gold: “The moral of the story, though, is that we don’t bring Light and Life to a group by addressing the leaves; we bring change to the whole plant when we start by understanding the roots.” Pure gold.

  2. T

    I really appreciated the questions! After living in one place for many years, I can easily overestimate the depth of my understanding. Thanks!


    I love this tree analogy! Let me take it a little further… I may be fully grafted in, and I may look like and even act like I belong in my surroundings, but my values and belief system will always be different, so the fruit on my brach will always taste a little different. It’s OK to not understand (some things we may never fully understand, no matter how long and how hard we try to!), just be aware that what you don’t understand makes perfect sense to the original tree. Blessings to all who are “grafted in!”

    • T

      Thanks for adding even more for us to consider!! 🙂


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