March 20th is the birthday of the Rev. Fred McFeely Rogers, whom most of us recognize by the familiar, respectful title “Mr. Rogers”.
I’m too old to have known Mr. Rogers as a child. I knew of him later, but I’d name the day I met Mr. Rogers as a day in middle age, on a not-all-that-beautiful day in my own neighborhood. Something bad had happened at church. I don’t remember any longer what was bad, but I remember coming home early, angry, and sad. I popped on the TV and Mr. Rogers appeared. In his bathroom. I turned up the sound, wondering what this peculiar man was doing in the bathroom. Something about potty training? No, it was a different kind of training. He was sharing with his viewers, whom he called his neighbors, a bit about his childhood fear of bathroom drains. And he wanted to share an important truth. It was certainly possible to slip into the potty. But it was not possible to go down the drain. That slice of gospel evoked a flood of healing tears, then laughter, then the beginning of a long stretch of years as a member of the Rev. Rogers’ television congregation.
Just in case these words reach you on a not-all-that-beautiful-day in your neighborhood, I repeat the good news: Slip into the potty we may, but we can never go down the drain.
In the years after the Rev. Rogers’ death, traditions have grown up around his birthday (as they have done for many other saints before him). Folk wear cardigans. Folk engage in purposeful acts of neighbor love, in deliberate expressions of gospel.
I commend to you on March 20th a cardigan, if you have one. I commend to you a gospel-full act of neighbor love. It’s a good day for stretching in an act of kindness toward a neighbor whom it’s difficult to like. It’s a good day for stretching in an act of kindness toward a neighbor who’s new. It’s a good day for stretching out in an act of a kindness toward a neighbor who’s short on neighbors. It’s a good day for stretching toward any of the neighbors around us toward whom we need to stretch in order to reach.
Thank you for letting me know what you may have learned from being one of Mr. Rogers’ neighbors. Thank you for sharing a stretchy story with me of your March 20th offering of neighbor love.
Boldly following Jesus.
Sometimes, in a cardigan.
Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister