Pastor's column: Won't you be my neighbor?
"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor." (Theme song from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, PBS)
Last week Tom Hanks was cast to play Fred Rogers in a biopic about Rogers life, "You Are My Friend." Personally, I am thankful that they are bringing Mr. Rogers' memory to the silver screen; the testimony of his life is one well worth pondering.
I first became a Mr. Rogers fan when I was a stay-at-home mom. For the better part of 10 years at my house, almost every morning we went via television to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
In the middle of those 10 years, I went from stay-at-home mom to part-time seminarian, focusing on ministries with children and their families. Then I learned that Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor with a special ordination to ministry with children and their families through the mass media. Our daily time with the Neighborhood became more interesting as I watched him teach my children's generation the second half of Christ's great commandment
"Love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Mark 12:28-31) Knowing he was doing what he was doing, I was amazed as every week he gently presented a story that broke down all the divisions present in our American culture and encouraged a generation to be neighbors.
Mr. Rogers' onscreen neighbors were all sorts of people. However, his most important neighbors were the young children on the other side of the television camera.
As a seminarian, he was called to this ministry when television became a new medium and he saw early childhood programing he found appalling.
"I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen." (Citation 18 in his Wikipedia article, and in many of his video testimonies)
The way Mr. Rogers would address the camera lens directly was based on how young children actually watched television; children most adults assumed were not worth producing television programs for unless to sell them something.
Knowing our children and I were watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood rather than the morning news, my husband phoned from work with the news of the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. The evening of that first 9/11 Mr. Rogers was back on television speaking to adults about helping children grieve the day. He shared with us the importance of asking the children to find "the helpers." Mr. Rogers contended that there were always helpers whenever humans are in need, like the Good Samaritan in Christ's parable (Luke 10:30-37). Fred Rogers was America's good Samaritan neighbor that awful, sad, difficult day.
Fred Rogers died in 2003, but Christians' work of loving neighbors lives on. It is a central part of our Christian duty in this mortal life. A group of pastors here in Hudson gather weekly in the conference room at Hudson Bagel specifically to practice being neighbors. Like all neighbors, we certainly don't agree on everything, but we do agree on putting Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbor" at the heart of our shared work. We also set aside our political differences to unite as Christ's disciples in praying for each other and for all our neighbors in Hudson.
Being a neighbor sounds so easy in writing, but there are times when setting aside our perceived differences is difficult lest we become one of the other four characters in Christ's parable. We all hope to be the Good Samaritan. However, we can just as easily be the priest or the Levite on the Jericho road who passed by their neighbor; we can be the man going from
Jerusalem to Jericho, or we can be the bandits who mortally wounded him. It was only the Samaritan, the enemy of the man going from Jerusalem, who stopped to help bearing both the risk and cost of carrying his neighbor in need to safety that Christ says is our example.
"Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?"