For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As I reflect on my spiritual journey, I am thankful for my many mentors that took the time to patiently help me gain a glimpse into God’s truths. My most recent spiritual mentor was Mr. Rogers. Yes, that’s right, Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Now I must confess that I was never a big fan of Mr. Rogers when his show became nationally syndicated. I suspect, as a very cool 15 year old with bangs that touched my eyebrows, that I may have watched him for all of about three minutes before quickly turning to Man from Uncle, Laugh-In, Star Trek or even Lassie or Mickey Mouse.
Nothing would have been more embarrassing than to have one of my buddies or my older brother walk in and see me watching the slow-speaking, sweater-wearing, dorky Mr. Rogers. Even when my kids were small, I never took the time to sit with them and watch Mr. Rogers. Although I didn’t have to fear my brother walking in on me, I was just way too busy to dedicate my very valuable time watching Mr. Rogers slow routine: walk in the door, take his coat off, change his shoes, change into his trademark cardigan sweater, all while singing the show’s theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
My wife and I recently watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a movie starring Tom Hanks that gives a humorous and revealing glimpse into the life of Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers started his career as a producer and puppeteer on a local TV show in Pittsburg, was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister, and finally became a beloved household name producing, writing the scripts and songs, and hosting over 900 shows over 33 years. While not necessarily a theological giant, Mr. Rogers provided important lessons on how we should accept ourselves and others and to love everyone in our neighborhood.
While these are hardly new revelations, Mr. Rogers lived out his love for others in a unique and consistent way. Fred Rogers, as an international celebrity, was arguably busier than most of us, yet he took time to get to know many of the folks he met. He carried a camera to photograph these new friends, and created files with their pictures, along with details from his conversations with them, their families, their passions, work, joys and struggles. Mr. Rogers took the time to listen and held that “listening… is a prerequisite of love. One of the most essential ways of saying ‘I love you’ is being a receptive listener.”
Fred Rogers once stated that every day, he gave an expression of care to each child to “help him realize that he is unique” and would end each program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
As we near the end of our self-isolation and as we hopefully move into days with more freedom, maybe we can remember just a few of the very practical, transformative practices of Mr. Rogers: to listen more intently, care more deeply and pray more purposefully and intensely.
Steve Hill, elder