Reflections on “Identity”

Last night at the Living Room we had a special guest speaker, Christy, talk to us about the theme of identity in the film Moana. She pointed out a couple things that really stood out to me. In short, one of them was that we can’t really fulfill our calling or our mission in life (of course first you kinda have to seek what that is. One way is to key into the things that you love to do – the things that make you feel alive. There’s probably a calling somewhere in that. The other thing to do is pray to God and seek wisdom and discernment in what it is God wants of you.) until we really know who we are. 

And the other one was that for many Pakeha New Zealanders ancestry isn’t such a big thing.

I think there’s a growing appreciation of recovering one’s lineage here, but I did notice when I first moved here that not many people were too concerned with their ancestral heritage. For me, I remember I was quite young when I found out through my Grandparents that I was part Scottish and part Irish. Actually, to be precise, the term is Scotch Irish, which refers mostly to Protestants (and almost always Presbyterians) who lived in Scotland (and sometimes parts of England) who moved to Ireland to seek new economic opportunities and freedom from the control of the English state church – the Anglican Church. These people tended to migrate to the Kingdom of Ulster which is now Northern Ireland and identified themselves as Ulster Scots. Now, this didn’t make me all that unique in America seeing that over 200,000 Scotch Irish had migrated to America by 1775, but it was new to me and from that day forward I became obsessed with finding out as much as I could about Ireland and Scotland (but for some reason I was more obsessed with Ireland. Probably because it sounds cooler.)

I had this profound sense that my link to that heritage meant something to who I am. Later, in my teenage years, I came to know that my Nana (my dad’s mother) was half Swedish, half Italian! And I thought that was very cool. This was an even closer link than my other grandparents who’s ancestors migrated to America in the 17 or 1800s, and it made sense, all of the sudden, why I always tanned so well (Irish and Scottish people don’t tend to tan very well, as I’m sure some of you know).  I was later gifted my Great Grandmother’s Swedish to English dictionary that she came over to the States with as a young woman. Talk about a link to one’s ancestors! It’s this old, tattered book with her handwriting in the margins – notes in Swedish to herself.

I also found out that I was more or less named after my Great Grandfather, Giovanni, which is basically Jonathan in Italian. I learned about his small farm town in Northern Italy called Mazzano. Again, later on, my parents did some more digging on to because my dad didn’t really know where his father’s family heritage came from, or make up was. He thought there was some German in there but the family tree we did have only went back so far. We found out that the first Barb’s came to America, pre-revolution, around the mid 1700s, on a ship from Rotterdam, Holland. Whether or not they were from Rotterdam, or even Holland is still a mystery. All we know is that they left Europe from that port. But still, I find it fulfilling to know a bit of who I am through my heritage, and I find the mystery fascinating and intriguing. I WANT to know more. My IMAGINATION takes over too, and plays with all kinds of ideas.

I had always planned to travel to these places, Italy, Sweden, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and Holland, and hopefully one day I still will. I’d especially like to go to the old villages of my Great Grandfather in Italy and my Great Grandmother in Sweden, since they are the most recent of my foreign ancestors. Finding out about the history and heritage of those people helps me find out more about myself too.

And I can say the same thing about my Christian heritage too. In fact, from memory, either the father or the eldest son of the Barbs who came on the ship from Rotterdam was named Jakob, which may very well indicate that they were Jewish in heritage. But regardless of that possibility, as a Christian, I’ve been adopted, or grafted even, into the family of God (John 1:12-12, Romans 11:16b-18, Ephesians 2:12-13).

I’ve gained such a great appreciation and understanding of the Jewish people from the Bible and from my studies, as well as the history of Christians in the church from day one. Their stories, their rituals, their lives have an impact on who I am and who you are too. As we become Christians we become part of a bigger story; part of God’s plan, God’s Kingdom, and God’s family. We’re linked together with all the saints of the past, and tied to the history of Israel, all the way back to Moses, and to Abraham, and even to Adam.

European Pakeha seems to have lost their reverence for such heritage, and it does have, I think, a lot to do with what Christy pointed out last night – that upon migrating to NZ many took it as an oportunity to start fresh and shed classifications of their old life and ditch who they were to adopt a new identity as New Zealanders, which I can respect to an extent. But in doing so, so many people have lost contact with what and who it is that makes them who and what they are in many respects.


Where Pakeha have failed in this are, Maori have not. Whakapapa (family heritage) is HUGELY important to Maori. And I wonder if it’s time to recover that intrigue and mystery of who YOU are.

I once watched a documentary thing on ancestry, ethnicity and behavioral patterns. They showed this research that indicated that you can’t escape certain things. For example, Irish and people of Irish decent have certain habits and twitches that are common to their people and are passed down genetically. I just used Irish because my memory is telling me one of the studies they showed was of Irish people, but I can’t be sure exactly what it was they were showcasing. But regardless, it explains why you eventually inherit certain behaviours of your parents as you grow up. Even down to shaking your leg, or whistling when you’re nervous, or twirling your hair, those sorts of things. People whom you share ethnic heritage do those same things and typically for the same reasons and at the same times. The show said that the twiddling of your thumbs when you’re bored is the same thing you’re great great great grandfather did as well and it’s a trait that you can’t easily (nor would you really want to) shed.

Isn’t that neat. Something as simple as twiddling your thumbs can connect you to your heritage.

And praying, reading your Bible, singing songs and hymns, taking communion, all aspects of worship really connect us to a larger family as well. And I think that’s really cool.


And just a quick note on the first observation: we can’t really fulfill our calling or our mission in life until we really know who we are.

Once we know who we are and what makes us who we are and what we love, then we can better understand what to do. I think the pressure on young people and young adults today is to get a career that is on the rise and will make lots of money for a sustained period of time, instead of following a true passion. They are more or less forced to develop a mild passion for something in order to pursue a career in a lucrative field. Is that really following a calling or seeking your personal mission in life? For some, I’m sure it is, but for many I suspect it’s not. And how much of that is due to the fact that we’re out of touch with who we are in the first place vs. who we’ve been made to be?


Anyway, these are just some personal thoughts and reflections. I hope they might inspire some personal thoughts and reflections of your own.


Til next time,




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