Recently thanks to the internet my children were introduced to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. This simple television show still found a way to capture my children’s imaginations. Fred Rogers, the creator of the show, believed that all children were to be valued, loved and seen as an equal. His idea was that his program could be a place for children to view a world full of love, honesty, curiosity, questioning, and grace. For thirty-one seasons and over 900 episodes, a simple Presbyterian minister would grace the screens in millions of homes across the country.
Earlier this year a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers was released and people of all ages (especially on social media) began to tell of their love and fondness for the neighborhood. I remember watching the show as a child and enjoyed it, that’s why I wanted to share it was my children. I found myself wondering what was it about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that captured the attention of so many people? Was it nostalgia? Was it a remembrance of a simpler time? Or was it something deeper than that? Can people even articulate why a man in sweaters living in a house with a fish and a trolley what traveled back and forth from the kingdom of make believe had such a profound impact on their lives?
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood each week gave a glimpse of the humanity we could be. The neighborhood was a place where real issues were discussed. Rogers believed that children’s capacity to understand was not to be limited. He tackled issues such as racial integration, death, different abilities, and divorce.
I believe that so many people long for the neighborhood in their own lives. The neighborhood was a place where all were welcomed and cared for. It was the simple message of Mr. Rogers, “it’s you I like” that struck a chord with so many children. It did not matter what type of house you lived in, the car your parents drove or the color of your skin, Mr. Rogers liked you just the way you were. In the neighborhood, people were not treated differently based on their abilities or even their age. Mr. Rogers wanted to learn and know more about every person whom he encountered. In this neighborhood, differences were celebrated, and the uniqueness of the individual was able to shine through. The fullness of the picture of humanity was growing larger and larger each time we were invited into the neighborhood.
Rogers’ signature line was “won’t you be my neighbor?” This is more than just a song about comradery, it is a question that we as a society must ask day after day. While the picturesque neighborhood of television may not ever come to fruition it does not mean that we do not stop trying to find a way to love, care and honor people. The question posed by Rogers is not rhetorical. It is one that each person in a community asks of the other. Being a neighbor means more than just living in proximity to one another. Being a neighbor means looking out for one another, getting to know and understand each other’s values and beliefs especially the ones that are different than our own. Today our conversations have become nothing more than pithy one-liners or grand exaggerations. There is very little listening and a whole lot of talking. Rogers in his show did not dominate the conversation or even try to change their mind; he asked questions and learned from their conversations. He genuinely cared for every person.
When I look at our country today, I do not see the neighborhood. I do not see people caring for each other as much as they could be. I do not see love being shown as much as it can be. What I do see are people grasping for power in an effort to be on the ‘winning team.’ There is no unity, there is no genuine connection. People are not caring for their neighbors. Instead, excuses are given, and platitudes are stated and that’s about it. The Gospels remind all followers of Christ that caring for the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, and remembering the forgotten are the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God. I believe that if the neighborhood is ever to be realized it will take all of us to begin to care fully for our neighbors. I do not care how a person got into the situation they are in, they are my neighbor and I have an obligation to help them. Each person in our town, state, nation and the world will ask the same question, “won’t you be my neighbor?” How we answer this question will greatly show how we view humanity, how we understand the love of God and it will remind us that we cannot ignore people because we think that they are unworthy of our time.
Fred Rogers once said, “ Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.” Let us commit to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves. When we remove ourselves from the equation then transformation will happen, not only in our community but in our hearts as well.