Hiding my privilege in the house of God

Vivien Sweet, Staff Writer

I am a pathological liar — but only in church. Every Sunday, I dutifully walk to the fifth pew just to the right of the pastor’s pulpit (furthest away from the chatty regular attendees, you know, the ones with the crinkly-eyed smiles who grip your hand extra tightly when saying, “Peace be with you”), grab a Bible, and immerse myself into the same scripture I’ve been reading since childhood. In any normal setting, this isolating routine would tend to ward away almost any ambiguous small-talk makers, but this is not a normal setting. This is the house of God, full to the brim with kind, caring people who genuinely want to know if you are happy and well — and also why you haven’t been to Youth Group in the past few weeks. 

When I am approached by these sincere, crinkly-eyed Christians with the simplest questions, such as, “What have you been up to recently?” or “What did you do this weekend?” I bring out my trusty façade I created precisely for these conversations lovingly known as “Your Friendly Average Half-Chinese Half-White Middle-Class Tallish-For- My-Age Christian Teenager Who Is Most Certainly Not Hiding Anything.” And as I settle into this all-too-familiar persona, the lying begins. I lie about the smaller things: what I do after school and what classes I take (as to not attract suspicion that my school offers a wide range of activities and learning opportunities for their students, and therefore must have a lot of money). I also lie about the bigger things: where I went during spring break (just visited family nearby, despite not having any family nearby, as to not attract suspicion that I actually travel quite frequently, and therefore I must have a lot of money). 

There are some things about myself I simply cannot lie about, and in that case, I just don’t tell the full truth. The most glaring example is where I go to high school (the center of my life besides God, my family, etc). Being the terribly crafty, sneaky person that I am, I have successfully managed to keep almost all of the regular church-goers from knowing the real name of my high school for the past nine months. The trick is simple: when asked about my education, I merely describe my school rather than flat-out admitting that I go to a $50,000 a year private high school called Horace Mann. “Oh, you probably won’t know my school, it’s just some random school in the Bronx, near Bronx Science, you know,” I tell the eager interrogators, prayer books clasped firmly in their arms. It is my witty and extremely twisted take on reverse psychology. By associating generic public high schools with my very own exclusive private high school, I am gently encouraging my fellow followers of Christ to believe that I am just like all of the other regular teenage church attendees: a non-rich, somewhat-Asian, well-meaning Christian who goes to a perfectly generic high school.

Unsurprisingly, I was miserable! Maintaining this complex disguise of pure mediocrity was slowly deteriorating the original grounds of why I decided I should switch churches in the first place. The most ironic part about my dilemma was that I had left my old church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, because I lacked the sense of community that I believe is essential to my Christian faith. However, at my new church, I felt as if I were constantly skating on thin ice around a group of kind-hearted people who I was supposed to trust and confide in. It is the pinnacle of absurdity, the epitome of ill-thinking. I rejected their persistent appeals to take me out to Newtown’s famed Vietnamese Pho hole-in-the-wall restaurant out of sheer paranoia of someone discovering my wealth every time I stepped foot onto the church’s old wooden porch.

Of course, bearing the weight of my insecurity and fear, the ugly truth hit me like a brick; my declining of their well-meaning invitations — from group worship and prayer sessions to after-church bubble tea pit stops — might imply that I think I am somehow above them and their petty “get-to-know-you” activities. As I dissected my fake persona, I came to the only evident realization: my external, unchangeable identity factors made this superiority complex seem true. Although I am half-Chinese, I tend to resemble my father more, who is white, and even in a community that is 90 percent Asian, with my brown hair and eyes, tanner complexion, and prominent facial features, my true ethnicity is unrecognizable to most. Put that into the mix with my socioeconomic status (thrown into the spotlight by my home in Forest Hills), and you have a the spitting image of a snobby, privileged teenager who only goes to church because their parents force them to. By lying impulsively, I had dug myself into this gaping hole of a mistaken identity fueled by the negative stereotypes that came with it. Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I could ever climb out. 

This pattern of lying and avoiding becoming friends with my fellow Christians continued for a couple of months, and I felt myself drowning deeper in my own guilt as my conscience berated me for repeatedly making the wrong choices. Until one Sunday morning before the service at Newtown, as I was concentrating on the Bible’s scripture so hard that the words on the crinkly paper bored into my brain, one particular verse struck a chord within me. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28-29) Carefully, I scanned the lines over and over, and then I came to my second biggest realization at Newtown. This was God’s community! I racked my brain, scrambling to see how I missed this vital corner piece to the massive puzzle of my faith. Because what I had failed to acknowledge was that at the very core of it, going to church and being a Christian is truly about different people coming together to worship God, regardless of worldly influences, features, or possessions. It didn’t matter one bit that we didn’t share the same socioeconomic class, race, or age, because we all shared the most valuable thing above all; our relentless faith in God. 

I am still not the perfect Christian. But I am slowly beginning to open my real self up to my Newtown community, finally shedding my façade as I become more and more vulnerable with my new friends. More than ever before, I am taking the first baby steps of an honest follower of Christ by exploring and dissecting my faith with plenty of loving Christians to support and help me. And most importantly; I can now say that I am no longer a pathological liar at church.