19 September 2008

The Radical Inclusion of the Rev. "Mister" Rogers

Fred Rogers, known around the world as everyone's favorite neighbor, "Mr. Rogers," was an ordained Presbyterian minister (Pittsburgh). Fred did not like what he saw on the early days of television and thought this great invention could be used to "broadcast grace." His then-local children's show was his ordained ministry. What may be not as well known was his deeply inclusive love.

He is universally remembered for the kind and tender way in which he talked to his child (and adult) viewers. One of his signature lines was a message of radical inclusion: "You make every day special just by being you!" He really meant it. There are stories of Rev. Rogers being asked to condemn someone who was gay but instead he looked the intended target straight in the eye and warmly assured them, "God loves you just the way you are." One of his over 200 songs he wrote was titled, "I Like You As You Are."

Another typical story relates an evening when he was to be the honored dinner guest at a wealthy home and upon learning that his limousine driver, Billy, would be sitting in the car waiting for him through dinner, invited the driver to eat with them, much to the bewilderment of Fred's hostess. On the way home from the evening, he sat in the front seat talking to the driver and learning about his family. When told they were passing the driver's house, Fred asked if they could stop and say hello. They stayed late visiting and Fred entertained the whole family (and many of their neighbors) with piano playing. A few years later Fred learned that Billy was dying of AIDS. He was on vacation with his family at the time but tracked Billy down to talk to him and offer him words of comfort.

The world was one neighborhood in Fred's vision and everyone belonged -- just the way they are. And in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, during an episode about missing one's parents and having bad dreams, shy Daniel Tiger tells Lady Aberlin that he wonders about things. He "sings his wonders" for her and she sings her reply of "what I believe."

[Daniel Tiger]
Who made the rainbow and the sky?
Who made the bird and let it fly?
Who made the hour?
Who made the day?
Who had the power to make the flower?

And who made the rain and made the snow?
Made us, and made us want to know?

[Lady Aberlin]
God made the rainbow, the bird, and the summer sun.
God made the mountains, the stars each and every one.
God made the sea and she made the land.

God made the mighty and God made the very small
God made the world made the people;
He made it all.

To which we might add, Amen.

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