We Need More Mister Rogerses
I have heard it said lately that we need Mister Rogers more now than ever. I think this is true. I think we need more people who can talk to children and adults gently and truthfully about the realities of the world, who can explore and expand our imagination and our appreciation for people of many backgrounds. Mister Rogerses of color. And Ms. Rogerses. And trans Rogerses. Gender-nonbinary Rogerses. And Rogerses of other lands and cultures. Islamic Rogerses. Atheist Rogerses. And many, many Rogerses of faith.
Mister Rogers was a minister and the television was his church and most of the country and indeed the world was his parish. His message was to love our neighbors as ourselves—indeed, that we in fact even have neighbors. Different neighbors from ourselves. That we can and should love them. That it is ok to feel all of the feelings that we have, but that some feelings are ultimately more helpful than others, and that fear is often misplaced.
Our nation is now living under multiple kinds of fear, and we are as far from loving our neighbors as we have ever been. Our nation has grown narrow-minded like I was when I was 18, and afraid of people finding out that I was gay, afraid that I would be beaten and maybe killed if people knew, because those things did happen, and still do.
As a country, we are afraid of change more now than anytime I can remember. We are reactionary, letting fear lead. It’s quite easy to see how we might treat “aliens” as less than human; “aliens,” after all, aren’t human: they’re from another world. Why not take away their children at the border? These children aren’t human either, according to this narrative of “illegal aliens” supposedly “spilling over the border” like rats.
We are better than this. And our children deserve better. They deserve a better nation than whatever we are right now, tearing apart families and throwing actual human children into cages. Human beings. Not “aliens.” CHILDREN. INTO CAGES. And using the Bible to justify those actions. The Holy Bible.
We can do better than whatever we are doing right now. And we have to do better.
What would a movement of Rogerses look like? A broad swath of people who love their neighbors as much as themselves and aren’t afraid to let the whole world know it? Who are willing to have anyone as their neighbors? Even, maybe especially, if they don’t look the same, worship the same, if their family isn’t arranged the same? Knowing that some people are not safe, but that far more are more safe than not.
We’ve come to let the few people who aren’t safe control the many who are. And this is what we have got: we are all living in a cage. The definition of terrorism—living in terror. And this way of life is completely unnecessary.
A central message of Jesus is that we not only should love our neighbors as ourselves, but that that is exactly what we are called to do.
The fear that grips this nation will stop not only when we love our neighbors as ourselves, but when we return to politics as the way in which we negotiate our life together, and not rolling around in the bottom of a messy cage.
Perhaps we can even define a new way of negotiating our life together, which could happen when we determine a new way of calculating net worth not as financial, competitive, and inherently unequal, but as being the worth that we have as living, sentient children of God, who all lose our way and just want to be safe and loved and occasionally take advantage of other people and do horrible things, but are not the sum total of our good or ill works.
“Look for the helpers,” said Nancy McFeely Rogers, Mister Rogers’s mother. We need so many helpers right now. So many more than we have. So what can we do to make this nation better, this frightful and beautifully messed up world better?
I wonder what it would be like to go out and literally ask people to be our neighbor? On a large scale. To take that leap of faith that most of us aren’t going to steal their money or cut their throats or take away their jobs or guns or somehow make their children gay. This could fail, sure, but this could work. But it won’t unless we try.
What do you think?
May God bless you every day!