When I received the call to First Unitarian, some people who knew me said things like “Well of course you would end up in Orlando.” Last Sunday, I finally explained the reason for this to the congregation. (Audio and text available at “Spirit of Life” here.) It has to do with my love of the Disney ride “It’s a Small World” and my experience of it at the New York World’s Fair when I was 5 years old. I was charmed after the service by the number of confessions from folks that they, too, are fond of the ride, or even that they, too, get a little teary on it. (Please know that I am also capable of social critique of the ride and many things Disney – there are some movies you don’t want to get me started on – but that isn’t the point here.)
My purpose in sharing the story was to talk about the way that our childhood experiences influence us as adults. I grew up without exposure to ethnic or racial diversity. I credit my early experience with this ride with my expectation that diverse people can get along. Here were all these children from around the world singing and dancing together. Diversity to me was a good, even exciting, thing.
It did not escape my notice last week, when I visited the Magic Kingdom for “sermon research,” that “It’s a Small World” is in the Fantasyland section of the park. As an adult, of course, I have learned that the world is a lot more complicated. People don’t always play well with others. I don’t always play well with others. Still, am thankful that my early experiences gave me a hopeful, rather than cynical, place to start in my expectations of human relationships. This gives me the foundation I need to keep expanding my understanding of what true diversity really looks like, sounds like, feels like. And this I realize will be a lifelong project.
Our world is deeply challenged by the inability of people to tolerate those who are different from them in anyway. Sometimes differences are visible or otherwise easy to detect. Others times they are more subtle. Sometimes we go to war over our differences. Sometimes we try to pretend they don’t exist or don’t matter. What a blessing it would be if we could each be who we are and appreciate our friends and neighbors, both next door and around the world, for who they truly are. What if we could celebrate our difference and uniqueness even as we find connection in our common humanity? Ever the optimist, I continue to believe in the possibilities.