Fred Rogers, more commonly known, of course, as Mister Rogers, has always been someone I admired; for I was blessed and privileged to be among the generations of children who grew up between 1968 and 2001 when the well-known and well-beloved show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” aired. Mister Rogers, in his kind and gentle manner, reminded us kids that we have great value and worth. Although, never (to my knowledge) explicitly mentioned on the show, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and saw the show as a way to touch people’s lives in a positive, Kingdom-building way.
Why is Mister Rogers on my mind? A couple of weeks ago this Indiana family spent some time on the road – first meeting some of Brittany’s family in Ohio for camping and hiking at beautiful Hocking Hills State Park (highly recommended!), then on to Lancaster County Pennsylvania for a family reunion with my dad’s side of the family. It’s always hard to explain, but we are not from Lancaster County, nor do we have any family there, but it is a good meeting place for everyone traveling. This too was a good time to spend with family, most of whom we only get to see every 3 years or so. But the Mister Rogers connection comes on our journey home, as we decided to break up the trip by staying overnight in Pittsburgh, the city from which “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was broadcast for over 30 years. We visited the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum – a fun and creative place truly full of imagination and learning – we had a blast, and sprinkled throughout the museum are memorabilia, pictures and quotes from Fred Rogers and the show. There are items such as the sweater pictured above (which almost all of his sweaters worn on the show were knit by his mother), a pair of sneakers, and the actual puppets used in the show. But it was after reading several quotes that my admiration of Fred Rogers, and more importantly, of the God who strengthened and guided him, grew immensely, and I was able to gain some very valuable insights into life in the Kingdom of God from this kind and generous soul.
The quote that struck me the deepest is this: “So the greatest thing we can do is to find what is healthy and laudable about somebody else and reflect that to them. I really think that’s the greatest weapon against any kind of bigotry, racism. It’s a large assignment, to be able to help people look deep within themselves and find what is wonderful in there, because at the core of everyone is something wonderful…”
That struck me so much because often I fail to see the great value in others, often those closest to me, and it also helped reassure me that I too have something wonderful deep in me, something that I believe is from God. It helped me realize that when I fail to see the great value and worth of others and don’t work to bring that out, I’m coming from a place of emptiness that I’ve allowed myself to not find my worth and fulfillment in God alone. If I am going to truly help bring out the best in others, then I need to know that my worth and value and creativity and direction come from God alone. He fills me up, He gives me value, and it’s out of that deep understanding that I can have the security and confidence to really help others. Without that piece I will always be trying to get something from those around me, things that ultimately only God can fulfill. But when I do realize how great and amazing that God is and that this incredible God uniquely crafted my life and I find my security in Him, I can see others through “Kingdom eyes” and see their great value and worth. When I do this people are seen simply as unique people, not as enemies or ones who don’t agree with me, but as ones created in the image of God by God’s loving and creative hand. Yes, sin has marred each of us, and marred each of us deeply, marred all of our relationships, but I believe God would have us seek to bring out in one another those deep parts of our souls that are still whole, the parts that may be dirty and dingy, but hold God’s image underneath, like a buried treasure that seems lost, but really just needs unearthed and cleaned off to see it’s great value.
God created our inmost being, He knit us together in His great love. Like the love that Fred Rogers’ mom poured into every sweater that she made for her son, we are held together by God’s great love for us. I believe our task as Christians, as followers of Jesus, as ones living in the Kingdom of God here and now, is to realize these deep truths about who we are in God, the great value He has placed on each of our lives, and seek to bring that value out in others; to spend much more of our efforts on bridge building than wall building. Because the thing is, the differences that divide us, the barriers and walls that we put up between us are all going to come crumbling down in God’s eternal Kingdom anyways, so as citizens of His Kingdom, why don’t we work on tearing those walls down now? Why don’t we invest in one another, trusting not in ourselves, in our own weaknesses, but trusting that God will work in and through us for His glory.
May we seek to fulfill the incredible declaration that Jesus makes in Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world.” Christ’s followers, the ones who have surrendered to Him, the ones who trust in Him, this rag-tag group of sinners and misfits, it’s us who God is using and will use to show the world the way to Him. What an incredible task! But we do not light ourselves, rather it is Christ’s light in us, His life, the image of the Divine in us that can show others the way to God and build His Kingdom. May we, by God’s strength and grace, be shining God’s light and helping others do the same, knowing that all of God’s creations, all of us humans, because we bear His image, truly do have “something wonderful” in us.