This World Needs More Neighbors Like Mr Rogers

I got to visit with an old neighborhood friend today.

When I was a child, Fred Rogers always made me feel that his home was my home, and I gladly spent countless afternoons there learning and listening and dreaming.

Sitting in a packed screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a much older, much more cynical me traveled back in time to that place, and for an hour I remembered what it felt like to be so welcomed and so filled with hope.

The moment that familiar front door opened, and I saw those twinkling eyes and heard his soft voice singing me into his living room again—the tears came easily. Embarrassed, I tried to quickly wipe them from my cheeks, but it would prove to be futile. I looked around the room and also noticed it was unnecessary: I was in good, tearful company.

I always knew how much I loved Mr Rogers. I just didn’t realize how much I missed him, how much this world misses him.

His quiet gentleness, his profound reverence for diverse humanity, his willingness to embrace the outsider, and his absolute refusal to shout in order to be heard—they’ve never seemed so foreign or so urgently needed. 

I am finding myself terribly homesick for the neighborhood Mr Rogers built and made me feel a part of.

Hearing Fred Rogers speaking on screen nearly 50 years ago, his voice is prophetic, as if he was warning us of what we could become if weren’t careful. He lamented children being seen as consumers, abhorred people being treated as less-than, and he subversively resisted the bigotry that was so prevalent—and in all these areas, he gently but defiantly pulled us all toward a better way of being together.

Fred’s unspoken but very real Christian faith feels equally countercultural in these days of showy, empty religion and bullhorn-propelled damnation.
It was a beautifully unassuming presence, existing in the background, solely as a means of him loving his neighbor as himself.
It was a spirituality that didn’t need to announce itself loudly or impose its will on anyone; an ever-widening circle of inclusion that simply made room for everyone without caveat or condition.
It wasn’t defined by anything, other than leaving other people feeling seen and heard and loved—and it didn’t require a word to preach eloquently.

I don’t see these kinds of Christians very much in the neighborhood anymore and it too, grieves me.

I think that’s why I cried visiting with my old friend: because seeing him again reminded me of a world that could and should be, and one that seems so terribly out of reach right now. It reminded me of a version of myself that I miss; someone who believed the best about himself and about the people he shared this life with. I cried because I realized how fractured we are and how exhausting this makes us.

My country desperately needs people like Fred Rogers.
Our Evangelical Church does.
Our Government does.
Our President does.
I do.
We need to be reminded that our humanity shows up most clearly, as we see the humanity in those we so briefly share this planet with, and treat them with the dignity they deserve.

This planet needs more loving neighbors.

It needs people who will walk with us through the nightmares of our days, not afraid to name how terrifying they are—while never relinquishing hope that day will break and that the goodness of people will shine with radiant brilliance.

It needs people who see the inherent beauty in human beings simply because they exist; in all their flawed, original, beautiful difference; who linger with them long enough to really hear their pain and their longings and their dreams—and to see them all as sacred ground.

This world needs people who know that we are all one another’s neighbors and that we are at our very best when we endeavor to welcome each other and to love one another well.

It needs people who realize that a loveless religion isn’t worth practicing; that a faith that damages or divides probably isn’t worth holding on to; that if it needs to loudly declare itself—it’s likely fraudulent.

Most of all it needs people who understand that such things are not hokey or old-fashioned or passé—they are the prophetic, bold, way forward. They are the only method of saving our shared humanity. They are the only chance we have to hold on to our souls in days that would threaten to steal them.

If you’re disheartened by the cruelty in this world, by the absence of compassion you see, by how weaponized religion has become, by how loud the dividers have grown—consider that sadness an invitation.

It’s probably a good time to imagine a world that could and should be, and to get about the work of making that world.

Let my old neighborhood friend Mr Rogers remind you how startling simple, yet how deceptively difficult that world-making can be: 

Open your door widely, see the very best in people, and unashamedly sing them into your presence so that they know they are loveable.

Be a kind neighbor.

 

 

 

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20 thoughts on “This World Needs More Neighbors Like Mr Rogers

  1. Now there’s a message we don’t often hear enough. Glad a trip down memory lane jarred that loose. Sounds like a great film that more people need to see. The trailer was more than enough to get me crying like a baby so I think I’ll have to wait till it comes out on DVD.

  2. You hit home, my now adult children were mesmerized by Mr. Rogers . It took me along time to understand why they had a love of his show except to torment the babysitter with “meow, meow, meow, meow”. Our neighborhood back then was overrun with kids, kids that respected each other, had each other’s back, and now come back to visit us and talk of the memories. Little did we realize we lived in a Fred Rogers neighborhood.-oh how we miss it!

  3. You have put in words how I feel. I was so discouraged with what is happening in our country, but my son connected me with your message. Thank you. I, too, loved Mr. Rogers–such a gentle soul. I would watch PBS with my family and later with my 2 granddaughters that I watched while Mom and Dad worked. We all still love Mr. Rogers and all that he gave us. Still have tears remembering.

  4. Brought tears to my eyes. A lot of us have very personal memories of Mr. Rogers, he felt like a personal friend. I wish I could call him and invite him over to my house.

  5. The one part of the Christian gospel that everyone seems to know is that Christians are supposed to love. We love our neighbor as ourselves as God first loved us and Jesus teaches us that everyone in the world is our neighbor.

    We Christians must challenge ourselves about the decisions we make that benefit only ourselves and our families while ignoring those in need all around us. When we ignore needs, we are ignoring Jesus as He tells us in Matthew 25.

    Sure, there are people with Reformed theology who have come up with excuses for ignoring people. It is no accident that the heretical (if not apostate) prosperity gospel of entitlement developed within Reformed theology and is an off-shoot from it.

    Sure, there are obscenely wealthy Roman Catholics who allow their bishops and cardinals to live as princes while ignoring the needs of others all around them.

    What are we Christians going to do to make love a reality in this world, as Jesus tells us to do, as Mr. Rogers showed us how to do?

  6. Thanks Jon! Being from Pittsburgh Mr Rogers was one of my childhood heroes. And I agree that we could use a Mr Rogers today.

  7. How beautifully spoken, John. Fred Rogers was a true Renaissance man. He served in the Marine Corps (how’s THAT for the gentle man we all knew?), he was a Presbyterian minister, and his love for humanity and especially for the children led him to spend the rest of his life, through a simple television show (did you know he did ALL the voices of ALL the puppets?), taking care of humanity in his own humble and gentle way.

    God bless you, Fred Rogers. You made my childhood a happier place.

    • Amen to everything else you say, but he never served in any branch of the military. Both the Marines and the Navy have confirmed that there’s no record at all of his enlistment or service; they’d love to claim him, but they can’t. It’s a persistent rumor (something about American culture makes us unsatisfied with saints unless we can imagine them as warrior saints), but not a truthful one.

  8. Thank you, John, for your beautiful tribute to a man I truly adore. Indeed, we very much need caring, nurturing adults for our children. (And, as you mentioned, he is a powerful role model for adults, as well.) Mister Rogers would have loved Janusz Korczak, a Polish doctor, educator, orphanage director, and writer. Korczak had the same ability as Mister Rogers to see the world through the eyes of the child. His was a message of respect (“The Child’s Right to Respect”) and love (“How to Love a Child”). The Old Doctor cared for children all his live, right to the end, when he was there to comfort the orphans during the last moments of their lives at the Treblinka death camp.

  9. Bless you, I needed that reminder. I am trying to live by the motto to leave everyone I come in contact with feel that I knew they were there and that they have intrinsic value. Thank you for reminding me of the neighborhood because we need more love and less judgement. Peace and Love,

  10. Thank you, John! I’ve always loved and admired Mr. Rogers for what he stood for and believed. Family and “friends” have always accused me of “looking at the world through rose colored glasses .” But it’s a world that I choose to believe is possible some day, and it starts with me.
    Bobbie

  11. I miss Mr. McFeely,Neighborhood of Make Believe,Handyman Negri,Betty Aberlin,Chef Brockett,Francois Clemmons,the whole show was great. RIP Fred Rogers.

  12. I call him a gentle soul. We really need more people like him. I’m sure we have many, but they are not as visible as Fred Rogers. Indeed, the good die young.. I miss you, Mr. Rogers.

  13. This hit the proverbial nail on the head . . . and the ideas are so simple and costs nothing! I guess that is why it is so hard to accept and spread because we falsely hold to the idea that solutions must be very complex and cost much. Go forward and do no harm . . .

    • It is so difficult to imagine a peaceful, loving world, but Fred Rogers showed us how. Too bad, most don’t want to listen or do anything other then what they are told by politics, bias, etc.

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