In a neighborhood near our church, I saw this little land of train track in someone's backyard when on a morning walk. How cool! The hours of design and planning this little world indicated. It made me want to knock on their front door and ask lots of questions! It was too early in the morning for that, however. Standing at their fence, looking, I found myself a child again, standing fresh from the bath, my pajamas sticking to my still wet body, long hair dripping-- gripped in front of the telly (as we used to call it) at 5pm. I was mesmerized by the train tracks on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood leading to Land of Make-Believe. I didn't want to miss one single second! Television in Zimbabwe during the 1970's was only broadcast from 5-10pm. The five o'clock hour featured children's programming. A world away from the United States, Mr. Rogers' unconditional love, the way he changed into a cardigan sweater, like my Dad, and slipped out of dress shoes into his tackies--his tennis shoes were like mine! All that felt like home. The fall of 2019, we happened upon Scuppernong Book Shop in downtown Greensboro. Their featured North Carolina author that evening was Gavin Edwards, who had just published Kindness and Wonder: Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever. An ordained Presbyterian Pastor, Mr. Rogers was clear that God was calling him to the mission field of television, most especially to speak to children. The church judicatory body in Pennsylvania finally agreed with him and he was assigned to WQED, the Public TV station in Pittsburgh. From there, his desire to listen to children, to respect them, to value them and explain the difficulties of the world to them grew into an international television ministry to little kids and grown ups alike. There I was in the Harare Missionary Kid Hostel, our home at the time, completely tuned in.
There are lots of things I admire about Mr. Rogers: his calm demeanor, his loving way and vibrant imagination. I respect his health and exercise regimen- he swam several times a week, he didn't eat much meat. He maintained his weight at 143 for his entire adult life. Why 143? In Mr. Rogers' math equals "I love you."
1=I. 4=L-O-V-E. 3=Y-O-U.
I respect that he took off his socks and shoes with Francois Clemmons, an African American actor who played Officer Clemmons, the neighborhood police officer. They put their feet into a children's swimming pool together to cool off on an extremely hot day. That statement wasn't any different than the work my parents were doing breaking down color barriers between Zimbabweans of light and dark skin. As Gavin Edwards concludes in the title of his book, kindness and wonder matter now more than ever. What does it mean for us to be good neighbors, kind ones, ones who wonder together at backyard train sets, blooming crepe myrtles, car trouble and the new neighborhood being built next door?
See all these houses?
They're a few miles away from our Church...perhaps God is calling us to welcome these new neighbors not into the land of Make-Believe but into the land of Belief in Christ, where wonder at God's unconditional love and simple kindness to each other matters most in Jesus' name.
Grace and Peace,