September 19, 2010
As a child, I had many heroes. I wanted to throw like Roger Staubach and hit like Mickey Mantle. I devoured books on the American History. In my room were pictures of Jesus, George Washington, and Daniel Webster. Despite these heroes, other than my father, there was only one person that I wanted to be like.
Through a few words, guess who it is. You are watching tv and on one channel, politicians are attacking each other. On the local news, murder, assault and a failing school. The national news is rife with stories on terrorism, disasters, war, corporate greed. Reality shows depressingly mirror our society, so infomercials then become our comfort. You too can have a better look and life for four easy payments of 29.95.
You hear a voice saying “You are special. I like you just the way you are. Won’t you be my neighbor?” I wanted to be Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a children’s show that taught life lessons to adults and children alike. A yellow flashing traffic light – reminded you to slow down. Life’s formality gave way to sweaters and sneakers. You would be transported to make believe by a red trolley. I can still hear the voices of King Friday, Lady Elaine and my personal favorite - Daniel the striped tiger.
Mr. Rogers never spoke over children, he spoke to them. He dealt with issues such as death, divorce, and anger, fear, and he dealt with them honestly. He validated our emotions. He welcomed everyone and told us that we were important and unique. He made people feel that they were special, despite what they been told.
In my tumultuous childhood, I can remember anxiously awaiting 4 o’clock. In found solace in his show. I needed to hear I was special and someone liked me just for me. That constant message of acceptance made me feel that everything would eventually be ok. For 30 minutes, there was a calming of the storm that raged around me.
Despite this message, he became the object of ridicule. In our jaded society, the message of acceptance and love became the object of mockery. A columnist wrote that he was filling kids with psychobabble and he should teach responsibility. Another wrote that his message made kids weak, and did not prepare children to be tough for the rough real world. The world is not a nice place full of nice people who care and take care of you. Despite the criticism, he never changed his message.
I imagine Jesus heard the same derision. Jesus, why are you are filling all these people with psychobabble. This talk of the poor being important, everyone being welcome at God’s table. It is nonsense, not the real world. God judges and condemns – God does not love. Jesus never changes his message.
He uses the parable of a servant who looks out for himself by misleading and defrauding his master. When his actions are uncovered, he is rewarded. The master appreciates the conniving. Could be Wall Street, Main Street or Capital Hill 2010. Jesus tells them - you are correct, this message does not make sense if your priorities are wealth, power or self.
If your overriding concern is making money, you might not be open to spending time with people who won’t advance your career. You won’t take time off, and you might see other people as tools, or obstacles toward success. You may start to see everything as revolving around your quest for success. Eventually work becomes a God. Few people today believe in multiple Gods, many more believe in newer Gods – like wealth, status or power. We are influenced by what we know; we become what we are influenced by.
If we know rejection, it is easy to reject others. If we know abuse, we may abuse.
If we were never loved, how can we love someone else? And how we see ourselves affects how we see others and God. I read: "If your notion of a personal God leads you to denigrate other people or to denigrate their lives and beliefs, then just question it. Ask yourself, are you really listening to God or to yourself."
Jesus asks us who we are willing to listen to. He then places the responsibility one each one of us. God never changes, so who are you willing to listen to? The world or God? He then reminds us what is essential. Jesus tells us that our ultimate success, accomplishments, the outcome will take care of itself if we seek God first. If the world becomes smaller and the Lord larger. If we seek God, the message of love and trust, begins to make perfect sense. More than a silly message, it become life.
We start to understand what is essential. A little four year old boy whose mother and dad had just brought home a baby sister pleaded with his parents to have some private time with this baby; in fact, he insisted. The parents were concerned; maybe he was planning to hurt the baby. Finally, they said ok. He walked into the baby’s room, and the mother and father watched from outside. The little boy looked at the baby, and said “tell me what heaven was like, I’m beginning to forget.”
Mr. Rogers ministry was to children. Many do not know that he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He never preached, or said the word God. He did not have to. Parents and Children alike received the same elegant, simple message: Be yourself, love each other, be patient, be kind. He reminded us that we are dependent upon one another. Helping children grow into caring adults, begins with being caring adults.
He understood what was essential. In fact he kept a quote on his desk from the book the Little Prince. It said: “what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Like that young boy attempting to remember the essentials of heaven, we must strain to hear that call beyond the clanging of this world.
Mr. Rogers once said that with children, you do not have to talk about the weather. If a child feels safe, very often what happens to be on his or her mind will just spill out. He recounted that a little boy in Chicago once said to him – “I do not wear diapers at night anymore.”
Last week two 4 year olds, reminded me of what was essential in the world. Jordan, was receiving communion and as I said the Body of Christ she smiled and asked me– “did you see my red boots?” Yes Jordan, they are beautiful. Later than evening, Ava ran over and hugged. She asked if I was hungry, offered me the cookie in her hand and said, it is not dessert it was food – eat it Fr. Daniel. Thank you Ava.
They know the important things are invisible to eye. And when we seek God, we realize what is essential - sitting around a table with family or friends. To sit in wonder at the base of the Sandia and take in the breadth of creation. Laying on your back and stare at the stars in amazement. To laugh, as your animals play, and knowing that they truly know what is like to live in the moment. To sit in silent and feel the divine, and then whisper “thank you Lord.”
When we seek God first, we do not have to position ourselves in front of the powerful or trudge along in this cruel world, we can tell someone they are special or that they are perfect the way they are. We can read the bible, and understand it is a book of love. We can cry as we understand the meaning of community within the word communion, or feel God’s healing love as we sing Amazing Grace.
When you think about it, nothing can really compete with that feeling when you are close to God. There is a trust, a constancy, a feeling that we are special just the way we are, that there is no one in the world just like you. We can talk to God about our problems, our dreams, our new red boots or whether a cookie is really food. The clutter leaves and we remember what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Mr. Rogers had a song, and I can imagine Christ singing: I’m taking care of you, Taking good care of you, For once I was little too, Now I take care of you.
* Special Note of Thanks to Amy Hollingsworth for her book: The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor. This book is a gem and I borrowed freely from it. I encourage you to read it.