By B.J. Funk –
Wouldn’t it be nice if kindness made a comeback? Wouldn’t it be nice if we weren’t afraid to send our children to school, to go shopping at the mall, or to go without fear into a movie theater? Wouldn’t it be nice if church were a safe place to be, if sidewalks weren’t dangerous, and if Andy and Barney could walk the streets of our town without a gun?
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back many years ago and have Fred Rogers on television again, speaking kindness, love and acceptance to our children through his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? The show ran on PBS for over thirty-five years. He taped more than 900 programs, winning four Emmys for his slow-moving, slow-talking visits with the children in his television audience. His central message to them was “You are loved just the way you are.”
He sat before the camera and gave children what they needed every day, large doses of kindness with a huge amount of love. Without knowing his audience individually, he approached the children with a voice that said, “Come on in to my neighborhood. You are always welcomed here.” And the children knew they were.
Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who kept his status with the church current by appearing regularly before church elders. But his calling was to bless children by teaching his central message of God’s love for all creation. He once said that his ministry was the “broadcasting of grace” throughout the land, and his vocation was to minister to children through the medium of television. Before taping each of those 900 programs, Rogers offered this simple prayer: “Let some word that is heard be thine.”
He had a name for the space between the viewer and the television set. He called that space, “Holy Ground.” That’s a beautiful picture for us in 2020. Unfortunately, that space is for some of our children not Holy Ground but instead a breeding ground for the unfortunate introduction of too much cursing, unnecessary fighting, and relentless screaming coming through the air waves. Some of our children, left alone without parental oversight, sit in the area Mr. Rogers called Holy and receive a far too early look into the raw and deviant side of humanity. Forgive us, Lord.
Mr. Rogers saw the potential for holiness in every experience through the power of the Holy Spirit. He brought the medium of kindness and acceptance as the doorway into faith and holy living. He invited the children to be his neighbor, to sit with him during his show as they joined hands in neighborly love.
Some have named him a televangelist to toddlers. He would likely have been uncomfortable with that thought, but that is exactly what he was doing. If our gospel is the gospel of grace, then Fred Rogers was seeking to offer the Good News of grace daily through his show.
Faith was so much a part of who he was, as it should be for each of us. His faith moved through his being in simple, yet powerful ways. Having faith was part of his makeup. It affected him in every moment.
If you haven’t thought about Fred Rogers lately, now would be a good time to renew your friendship with this soft-spoken man through the recent release of a movie about his life. Tom Hanks stars as Mr. Rogers in a delightful walk back to the years of his show, 1962-2001. Or you can read Shea Tuttle’s book, Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers.
Practicing kindness has a profound effect on our own mental and physiological health. Being kind helps us to become happier and more compassionate towards others. Being kind can help boost our own immune system, slow down aging, elevate our self-esteem and improve blood pressure.
“Kindness makes a person attractive. If you could win the world, melt it, do not hammer it,” wrote Alexander MacClaren, an English minister born in the nineteenth century.
So, let’s see if we can do our part for kindness to make a comeback. It’s worth a try. And, by the way, will you be my neighbor?