Small World Through My Almond Eyes

Disneyland. The “Happiest Place on Earth.” Julia started enjoying the rides while still in the womb. She went from the Baby Bjorn and nursing in the air-conditioned rocking chair room to riding around in a stroller. Oh, I remember the stroller. Probably folded and unfolded the thing 10,000 times maneuvering around Disneyland. After she learned to sit up on her own, she would smile and wave from her stroller to all the people walking down Main street as if to say, “Glad to see you. Welcome to my personal parade. Thank you. Really. Thank you, for coming to my park!”

Once the potty training season came around, she couldn’t wait to try the special toddler size potties. Several attempts, perhaps one or two actual uses. Then we rolled into the princess stage and she patiently stood in long lines, dressed as Belle, and took pictures with all her favorites. Her height had to catch up to her adventurous spirit but soon enough she was tall enough to ride the roller coasters.

A decade flew by. My parents generously gave Julia a pass to Disneyland for her birthday this year (and included me, too, since I’m the driver :)). It had been over a year since our last time in the park. We went on Monday, stood in long lines to ride the fast rides, but we also took time to enjoy “It’s A Small World” together just like we had the previous ten years.

We were seated on the first row. We laughed and threw our hands in the air and “woo-hooed” like the roller coaster rides when the boat moved off the track and slipped into the water. Behind us was a caucasian mom with her preschool aged daughter. We drifted into the tunnel and then into the magical world of 300 dolls singing the song that never ends. The mom behind explained clogs to her daughter as we passed Holland, we saw Alice, Cinderella, Big Ben, Italy, and all the while the mom pointed things out to help her daughter learn and understand what she was seeing about the world.

Then we went through another brief tunnel into the Middle East and Asia section. The explanations behind us stopped until Mushu was spotted by the Chinese fire crackers. The ride took us by Africa, Latin America and then Hawaii, the South Pacific, Australia and the U.S.

Then it struck me.

I’ve ridden this ride hundreds of times but never noticed. Even though the ride was created to illustrate the whole world, the world was presented as primarily a white Euro-centric world. A full three minutes of this ten minute ride focused on Europe. The Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America were all covered in 30-45 seconds each. It brought back to mind the frustration I felt when my oldest needed to pick a foreign language for the International Baccalaureate program. He wanted to take Japanese, but the high school would only give credit for French, German or Spanish because those were the only languages they tested. So much of history and geography taught in our schools centers on Europe. Like the mom in the row behind us, we teach what we know but miss so much of the actual world.

The final section of the ride was when all the dolls, dressed in white, sang together intermingled. I thought about the world’s current population. If the ride was true to actual cultural and ethnic breakdown, one-third of the dolls would be from India and China alone. Only 13% of the dolls in the white section would be white.

Walt Disney had in mind showing the world the children of the world living together in peace for the last section of the ride. I’ve always thought of the white section as a glimpse of heaven. “…a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes,” Revelation 7:9.

If I’m honest, since the vast majority of the Christian books I’ve read have been authored by Caucasian men, the vast majority of church history I’ve been taught have been about Caucasian men, and the vast majority of Christian leaders I’ve seen and heard from have been Caucasian men–I kind of picture heaven full of Caucasian men.

While I respect, appreciate and have grown through learning from Caucasian men, I wonder:

How much do I miss of the actual make up of heaven and of the actual heart of God because I have not learned more from women and from the rest of the world?

What do you think?

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22 thoughts on “Small World Through My Almond Eyes

  1. Your questions warm my heart and bring tears to my eyes because we DO miss so much of God’s heart when we primarily hear from only a few perspectives (or sometimes only one). I love something I’ve heard Carolyn Custis James say about the gospel being universal and, therefore, if we’re to interpret it accurately our interpretation must make sense for everyone. Thank you for this!

    • Thank you so much for taking time to read and comment. I am a huge Carolyn Custis James fan so my head is nodding as I read your words about interpretation making sense for everyone. Appreciate your input and thoughts!

  2. thought provoking, Vivian. One of the things I like most about my current role is the ability to travel and to learn about faith from people on different continents. That is an enriching experience. We miss a lot, I think.

    • Andrea, I am truly honored that you would take the time to read and comment. Thank you. It encourages me to know your voice and perspective helps shape our leadership and ministry culture. I do think our paradigms shift when we are exposed to different ways of thinking, relating and connecting. And I think we are able to see the Lord more fully when other voices have the chance to be heard. Appreciate you, your leadership and example. :)

  3. Hi Vivian,

    First things first–hope you’ve been well since the East Coast Conference!

    Thanks for having the courage to broach this topic. It’s something I think often about because of my experiences. Much of my ministry is done with Caucasians (never intentional, just the path God had for me) but I’ve often thought about the fact that God made me Korean. I know that will come into play in my life though I’m not sure how. I felt that meeting you all at Epic was a piece of the puzzle. I had a big burden for the students and their specific needs, and felt I was supposed to be there as much for the Lord to show me something about me as I was to actually help the event. Thanks to all of you for having me.

    One of the things I most enjoy is seeing the diversity in the body of Christ. Not just ethnically, but in doctrine, praxis, and how these are affected by culture. I grew up in a Korean church so I always thought all churches functioned that way. Definitely a “red-pill/blue-pill” Matrix experience the first few times I stepped outside the nest. I’ve had a glimpse of the rest of the world and so value the different perspectives I’ve encountered. I hope more of the Asian church is able to see more of the world as well, not just for the Euro-centric church to see more of the world. It’s funny that the Caucasian church tends to glorify the Asian church’s emphasis on corporate prayer, obedience to leadership, etc. but have no idea that such things are often steeped in duty, religion, and obligation, which is one of the biggest struggles Asians face when it comes to self-esteem, motivation, and other things! I guess the grass is always greener on the other side =).

    Your testimony of growing up in Colorado really struck a chord with me at the conference…the challenges both internal and external, the social dynamics, etc. I’ve never heard a topic like that addressed publicly, but if any place is the right place it’s an Asian-American conference. Hope you keep speaking up on the unique challenges Asian Americans face.

    And yes, I’ve also envisioned heaven being full of white men, haha.

    • Mike, thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your experiences and thoughts here. I find it extremely encouraging to look back and see how the Lord uses ALL of our experiences and background, good and hard, and often in unexpected ways, to build bridges to others. No doubt He will use your unique experiences growing up in a Korean church and now ministering in a predominantly caucasian environment. I see you as a bridge person. Able to operate and go between both worlds. No accident who we meet– I’m glad you were able to connect up w/ the Epic crowd and look forward to our paths crossing and recrossing. He is great and greatly to be praised! :)

  4. Soooo interesting! I am on an “Equity Team” at school and we try so hard to celebrate diversity. I have attended several seminars where I continue to learn about my “whiteness”, which is exactly what you are talking about! Think about the color of “natural” nylons……natural for whom? Food for thought anyway. Glad Jesus is opening my eyes to the way everyday things are Euro-Centric. P.S. I’ll teach Jonathan Japanese!

    • Lisa, I love that the Lord has you influencing so many through education! As an ethnic minority, it brings encouragement, hope and validation whenever someone white takes the time to learn about power dynamics, euro-centric thinking, etc. Thanks for having a teachable heart. And thank you for offering to teach Jonathan Japanese!! You are a gifted teacher. Thankful for you :)

  5. Vivian–so glad you wrote this post, we need more Asian American Christians stepping out in faith and with courage to say things such as what you’ve written here. The only way that more Christians will be able to see the beauty and full of God’s diverse creation is if, in part, we Asian Americans do more to make our unique voice and perspective seen and heard. So, props to you, sister, for pushing the “publish” button on this post, and keep taking those risks–we may be misunderstood at times, or incorrect at times, but there is no way to further discussions and understanding on the topic of race unless we keep talking and learning from one another. Thankful for your voice!

    • Helen, thank you. I think you describe well the conflict and turmoil inside me of not wanting to be misunderstood, or incorrect, along with the asian, “don’t rock the boat” value. My writers voice is still shaky but I’m willing to start taking more risks. Having your encouragement and the rest of the Buds cheering me on has made all the difference. Can’t imagine learning this writing world without you!

  6. I think Disney is really part of everyone’s childhood. I am a Disney lover and my kids are too. We make sure to visit every once in a year. The experience is just awesome – every time =)

  7. I’m loving watching you grow, Viv. Stepping out, taking bold, risky steps–keep it up. Great, insightful post. I have been through Small World dozens of times–never noticed what you pointed out. We need–and are slowly discovering/pursuing–more and different voices. Thanks.

    • Thank you for your words of encouragement. God continues to use you in my life to move me along in this writing adventure. One scary step after another. Your love and support has meant the world to me. Truly. Grateful for your heart and example. You truly live out your personal mission statement.

  8. Greate post. Keep posting such kind of info on your page. Im really impressed by your site. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Vivian Mabuni – A Place of Abundance. Regards

  9. Vivian–great posting! You made some excellent points, and regarding your final question: I think we’re probably missing out on a lot. Also, as an American of Chinese descent, I second everything Helen Lee said above. It really does take a great deal of courage to speak up about race! But if we don’t, the overarching societal conversation on race will become a monologue instead of a meaningful and enriching dialogue. So please keep speaking up! You’re inspiring me to do the same, and I hope your writing will encourage others to speak up as well.

    • Marlene, thank you for reading and encouraging me to continue to share my voice and experiences. So great to have another Asian American writer friend to cheer each other along!! I so look forward to meeting you in May. :)

  10. Great thoughts here, Vivian. I imagine the new heaven and the earth are going to be Shockingly and wonderfully not-white and not-English! When I was at seminary, a few of our teachers continually appealed to the African men in our class to work hard at developing and writing theology from an AFRICAN worldview. As white men, they realized their perspective was limited, and so they encouraged our classmates to think about things like the meaning of dreams in the bible (big topic in scripture, big topic in Africa, but not one word written about it in western dictionaries if biblical theology). So glad you are asking these questions here.

    • Thanks so much for taking time to read and comment, Bronwyn. Kudos to the seminary teachers who saw the need and encouraged material seen through different lenses. I would love to sit over coffee with you and hear more about your experience in seminary in South Africa. Can’t wait to meet you in person one day. :)

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