The Gospel According to Mr Rogers
A recent article in the Calgary Herald about Kids TV personality Mr Rogers got me thinking about the good news (gospel). Fred Rogers was proclaiming it to millions of kids.
Fred Rogers built his show Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood on the biblical notion of ‘love your neighbour’. Not surprising once you know that he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduating from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963.
In a time when TV evangelists were preaching a gospel of the consequences of sin and wickedness, Fred Rogers focused on a person’s inherent value and worth. One of his regular lines to his young audience was:
You have made this day a special day by just you being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you the way you are.
What if the gospel we communicate to others was first experienced as this kind of love; an "I like you the way you are" kind of love? Unfortunately because some Christians have reduced the gospel to communication about a sin problem with its remedy in Jesus, what many have heard is judgement and how sinful they are. If you agree with this reductionist view, you have unfortunately missed the Grand story of God.
Talking and living ‘love’ isn’t a smarmy, watered down, universalistic gospel. It is the essential message of the gospel. Living a life that demonstrates the unconditional and grace-laden love of God opens the way for someone to consider that maybe, just maybe, the Gospel message has something in it that is worth considering.
Fred once said that “love isn’t a perfect state of caring…it’s an active noun like ‘struggle’. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Hmmm, kind of like Jesus with a cheating tax collector, or a woman caught in adultery, a prostitute follower, or a cast-off child. Hey - it's just not enough for you to know that you are loved by God and rest secure in that truth. The gospel talks about how vital is for you to be loving.
Our world is a far cry from Mr Rogers’ ‘neighbourhood’ notion. Any hope of a worldwide neighbourhood of humanity has been crippled by renewed expressions of isolationism, tribalism and prejudice. So, what would a gospel of love that proactively lives out the truth that a person is love-able no matter their race, or condition, or gender preference etc., actually feel like to someone experiencing the loneliness and segregation so characteristic of our current cultural context?
It’s not your call to define the Gospel by defining (and of course communicating) the ‘entry requirements’ to a relationship with God. That’s religion. It is your call to live a gospel that expresses the value God places on ALL human life. Jesus never gave you the responsibility to ‘save’ someone. He said that if He was ‘lifted up’, He would do the drawing and calling people to Himself. So lift Him up by loving your neighbour.
In an isolationist, prejudiced world, your act of true love will stand out. As it should. As it was meant to be.