Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

We live in a noisy world. Mr. Rogers encouraged us to be still, quiet and reflective. We live in an angry world, where our daily trade is insults, lies and fabrications. Mr. Rogers sang to us of a different way, where reflection leads to self-discipline, which is the good-good feeling of control. We live in a hyper-competitive world, where compassion and kindness are called weak. We live in a world of hubris and heroes with super human powers who must be called on to save the day. Mr. Rogers reminded us that to be loved and to love one another was the most powerful thing anyone could do… and anyone could do it.

Personally, I would describe Mr. Rogers as one of the greatest theologians of our modern era. (He was an ordained Presbyterian Minister) Without using churchy or complicated language he translated the depth of God’s love in Jesus into everyday phrases that elementary age students could remember and understand. He walked into his TV kitchen and quietly fed his fish. When one day a fish died, with the dignity of a king’s funeral, he gently lifted the dead fish out. Speaking calmly and honestly about life and death, he wrapped the tiny fish in paper, and then buried it in his garden. The book of Genesis in its entire splendor came to life in the span of a few moments on TV. Care for the earth, care for creation, care for all life, and humanity as the steward of God’s garden.

In the Gospels the people who show Jesus the most love are those who have experienced pain, suffering, teasing, or been somehow cut off from the mainstream of life. Those with illness, mental torment, addiction, or social “diseases” that have rendered them unworthy by many are those who love Jesus with the deepest fervor. Mr. Roger’s said of those folks, “When a child comes up to me and gives me a hug, I see it is not the (long pause looking for the right word) fancy people of the world who seem to nourish my soul… and I want to learn how to be the best receiver that I can ever be, because I think graceful receiving is one of the greatest gifts we can give anybody.” Instead of believing we are “self-made” Mr. Rogers knew we are “other- made” recipients of love from God and other fellow human beings. Humility, vulnerability, being open to love and help is one of the most difficult things to trust and live. No wonder he ended every episode with “you are special, there is no one in the world like you.” I love you and so does God, just the way you are.

If you haven’t seen the recent movie, documentary about Mr. Rogers, you should go as soon as possible. I cried throughout most of the movie. Maybe there was a bit of childhood nostalgia, but mostly I cried because the world we inhabit does not reflect the love one experiences listening to Mr. Rogers. I’m sure he wasn’t perfect; he’d likely be the first to admit that. But he was certainly filled with a Holy Spirit. As a pastor, I am in awe of his ability to honestly express the depth of human experience and a depth of theology in words that are simple, clear and filled with hope. Next time you pull up your web browser, go watch an episode. You will feel revived, refreshed, loved and hopeful.
Hearing daily the loud voices of our culture and news, one thing that struck me as I watched the movie and revisited some Mr. Rogers episodes, is that living a life of love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness and kindness is much more difficult than winning, accumulating wealth or being perceived as powerful. In this way Mr. Rogers was at the same time one of the most childlike and courageous people that I’ve ever seen.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:13

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