February 27, 2013

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor...
Would you be mine?"
For years as a kid, I remember turning on the local PBS affiliate, and there were a few shows I always liked to watch: Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street... and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. My favorite at the time was probably Sesame Street, but I loved all three. Eventually, of course, I grew up and began to feel like I grew out of those shows, and I haven't watched any of them in ages. But looking back, I think I have more happy memories of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood than any of the others.

I remember a few of the educational segments, I remember the trolley ride into the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe", and some of the fun characters there. I remember the sweaters, feeding the fish, and fun songs like "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and "It's Such a Good Feeling". But most of all, I remember how Mr. Rogers seemed to genuinely care about the children watching his show. He spoke in a way that would be easily understood - in a calm, clear tone. He talked about things that were important to us as kids - about hopes and fears of all kinds. And his messages were always reassuring and uplifting.

"You are special."          
          "You are loved." 
"I like you, and I hope you like you, too!"

Sadly, Mr. Rogers left us 10 years ago today. I have a small book called, "The World according to Mister Rogers", which is a collection of quotes published the year he passed away. I'd like to share just a few of my favorite quotes with you.
"It always helps to have people we love beside us when we have to do difficult things in life."
"The gifts we treasure most over the years are often small and simple. In easy times and in tough times, what seems to matter most is the way we show those nearest us that we've been listening to their needs, to their joys, and to their challenges."
"The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away."
"In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts, and be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers."
"Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle."
"Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities."
"The older I get, the more I seem to be able to appreciate my 'neighbor' (whomever I happen to be with at the moment). Oh, sure, I've always tried to love my neighbor as myself; however, the more experiences I've had, the more chances I've had to see the uniqueness of each person...as well as each tree, and plant, and shell, and cloud...the more I find myself delighting every day in the lavish gifts of God, whom I've come to believe is the greatest appreciator of all."
"The more I think about it, the more I wonder if God and neighbor are somehow One. 'Loving God, Loving neighbor' - the same thing? For me, coming to recognize that God loves every neighbor is the ultimate appreciation!"
 * * *
If you didn't know, in 1963, Mr. Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, and he said he saw his show as an extension of his calling. He explains:
"When I was ordained, it was for a special ministry, that of serving children and families through television. I consider that what I do through Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is my ministry. A ministry doesn't have to be only through a church, or even through an ordination. And I think we all can minister to others in this world by being compassionate and caring. I hope you will feel good enough about yourselves that you will want to minister to others, and that you will find your own unique ways to do that."
* * *
Mister Rogers visiting children at Memorial Home for Crippled Children
in Pittsburgh, PA in 1978 - photo by Jim Judkis for People magazine
From everything I've ever seen or heard about him, Mr. Rogers was a man who genuinely cared about people and wanted us to genuinely care for one another. He was, in many ways, an embodiment of the spirit of the Gospel, even though I don't remember hearing him talk about Jesus on TV one time. I don't know if that was his choice or if it was forced by someone else, but I am blessed to remember the way Mr. Rogers lived out his faith by reaching out to as many people as he could.

Today, I still hear a little bit of Mr. Rogers in my head whenever I hear the VeggieTales characters sing "Love Your Neighbor" or conclude a program by saying, "Remember, God made you special, and he loves you very much!"

May we each find our own route to ministry, and may we reach out with that same spirit of love today, as we share the invitation with everyone we meet...

Please, won't you be... my neighbor?

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