Reading a comedian’s biography made me reconsider why I felt ashamed of my family history in the first place.
Comedian Trevor Noah used to go to church four days a week as a kid.
In the first chapter of his book, Born a Crime, Trevor Noah proudly talked about how he went to “white church”, then “black church”, then “mixed church,” just because his mom liked the variety of what the different churches had to offer. He couldn’t listen to Boyz II Men, only Jesus bops. And Sunday school was all about learning the next bible story.
He even casually referenced a pastor casting out demons during service.
I couldn’t stop laughing when finishing the first chapter because though he was referencing his upbringing in South Africa, I could deeply relate.
With religion as such a taboo topic in American culture, at least on the coasts, I didn’t like telling people that my dad was a pastor growing up.
I was afraid people would picture him with a long white robe and gold chained cross, with a life muted to boring, drawn exposition. That as his daughter, I too would be seen as a disconnected alien with stone tablets in my backpack.
Even if the only chain my dad wore was the Swiss watch I bought him and the only activity he did too religiously was reading (our old house almost caught on fire while he was immersed in a book and kitchen smoke), I hated the idea of being associated with the word, religious, at all.
I felt the connotation for religious was naive, unintelligent, detached from real life.
So throughout high school, and especially college, I would reserve details about my family, and ignore the fact I felt ashamed of where I came from. I’d talk a lot about my family’s cultural background instead.
But then I saw how confidently Trevor Noah wrote about his religious past. Instead of politically correct tip toeing, he was just straight shooting his story and having fun.
And the way he owned his story allowed me to see how our stories were never meant to be curated, value propositions for others to accept us.
Our stories were meant to be messy and human. They were meant for us to accept first regardless of anyone else’s opinion.
The problem with me being ashamed of my religious parents and all the years locked in bible studies, worship services, and being a Jesus servant for my mom, had nothing to do with religion itself.
It had everything to do with me valuing other people’s opinion more than my own — inadvertently asking for permission to accept or reject my story when it was mine in the first place.
Even though I’m starting to accept more of where I come from, a part of me still wishes that I had a normal, secular upbringing.
I still wonder what it’d be like to grow up with a family that ate dinner then watched cable t.v. together.
I wonder what it’d be like to not have every other social gathering related to church.
Or how it’d be like to not have to overthink everything I did because of how I reflected my parents to a congregation.
But the other part of me is starting to appreciate more of the characteristic subtext of my family —
- I found out my dad was a journalist for seven years for the first time during my college graduation dinner. Not sure why he never told me earlier given that I graduated with a bachelor’s in journalism.
- My mom sang opera and wanted to pursue music in Korea but was pushed towards chemistry by her college adviser.
- After saying yes to each other and the pulpit, my parents have devoted over 40 years waking up at 5 a.m. everyday to serve people in North and South America.
A huge part of my family story never made sense. But I think that’s the point with family and our stories sometimes, where, the peculiarities are too real, nuanced, and special to closet.