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Won’t you be my neighbor?

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very tired. This has been a year to test one’s soul. Just today’s news enough, about the children separated from their parents and incarcerated, was enough to cause exhaustion:

An invasive meanness seems to have infected the nation. This requires a response, first and foremost, and it also means caring for ourselves and our weary, weary, spirits.

So this afternoon, before I returned to the long list of tasks that need to be done before I leave town next week for our general assembly of congregations, I spent 90 minutes and went to the movies. I saw “Won’t you be my neighbor?” the film about Fred Rogers.

I was raised in a household in which we did not watch television much and Mister Rogers Neighborhood was one of the few shows I was able to watch as a child. My sister and I much preferred the faster-paced of Sesame Street, but we watched the show nevertheless. I wasn’t sure how one could make a movie about a man that has been satirized by Eddie Murphy and targeted by the same hate group that targeted us this year at the congregation. I wasn’t sure that there was enough drama and intrigue to make a good movie.

I am really glad that I went to see that movie today. It made me realize that there is, in fact, drama and Intrigue in the idea of a person who truly believes in the goodness of human beings and especially the goodness of children. In this spring when I have watched how personally and societally we disbelieve and degrade children,, this movie touched me in a very deep way. It reminded me of my little self who knew that all was not right in the world from a very young age and yet who also grew up in a world of great ideas which were comforting to me at that time. I sat in the theater with other adults who were crying all around me because there is something incredibly tension producing in today’s world to focus on a life that was grounded in a belief about the goodness of human nature.

Fred Rogers was, of course, a person of privilege as many of us are, and yet he provides an example of how to use privilege and artistic talent to offer quiet comfort to so many over the years. And he used puppets. What more can I say?

I don’t go to movies as much anymore because many of them are so violent and if I’m going to learn about violence I’d rather steel myself and look at it in the real world where it is hurting real people. Today I found a small oasis and I’m glad I rested there awhile. Perhaps you will too.

The simple question with which Fred Rogers opened his show each week is one we need to ponder in a world whose smallness we deny, a world in which what happens to one affects all of us. Instead of inhumane acts anathema to the principles of our nation because we vilify and dehumanize hurting human beings, we need to ask those crossing our borders, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

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