Over the last couple of years there has been a pretty huge resurgence of interest in Mister Rogers. Beginning with the 2018 documentary, Won’t You be My Neighbor?, there has also been a new biography published about Fred Rogers, new publications of his poetry and music, countless magazine and newspaper articles, a celebration of #WorldKindnessDay wearing cardigans in his honor, and now a new film starring Tom Hanks.
What’s been surprising to me about this renewed interest is that it doesn’t seem to be generated by Gen-X adults – those who are in their 40’s and 50’s and grew up during the prime years of the Mister Rogers show. Instead, the energy of this new “movement” seems to be coming from Millennials (and even Gen-Z!), those in their 20’s and 30’s, many of whom did not grow up actually watching the show (at least not to the same degree as Gen-X). So why the sudden interested in this children’s TV show puppeteer amongst grown adults?
In a general sense I don’t think this should surprise us. Who wouldn’t want a friend like Fred Rogers? Who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with people who affirm us, love us unconditionally, and who seem to hang on every word we say as if it is the last word they will ever hear? As human beings we are made for connection, and we are attracted to the kindness of authenticity of others – even if it’s in a deceased children’s performer we’ve never met.
But I also think there is a more specific reason why we’re seeing this passion for Mister Rogers emerging today, in this cultural moment, at the end of one decade and the start of another. A recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that after decades of mortality rates decreasing and life expectancy increasing, the United States is no longer on track with populations in other wealthy countries who are continuing to see progress in extending life expectancy. For the 3rd year in a row, between the years 2014 and 2017 (and I’m sure future studies will reveal this trend continuing in 2018 and 2019) life expectancy is falling for people ages 25 to 64. The highest jump in death rates – a 29 percent jump! – has been among people ages 25 to 34, the generation who seems to be driving the most interest in Mister Rogers.
These findings reveal that there is no one primary cause of excess deaths, but it is the combination of destructive behavior from things like suicide, distracted driving, or opioid, alcohol, and other drug addictions. One medical professor summarized these findings: “People are feeling worse about themselves and their futures, and that’s leading them to do things that are self-destructive and not promoting health.”
Here is the tension of the culture we live in: so many of us are desperate for friends or family who will love us, affirm us, and accept us; yet at the same time most of us are weighed down by a pervasive feeling of shame, the feeling that we are never good enough and incapable of being loved or accepted.
The Christmas story resolves this tension for us. It reminds us that joy has dawned, and light has broken into the darkness. Yet there is one part of this story that often tends to be overlooked – Jesus’ genealogy as it is recorded in Matthew 1:1-17. When we take a closer look at this part of the story, we discover five women who deepen our understanding of how great our need for redemption truly is, but who also reveal God’s love to us in surprising new ways. Continue Reading
I have been meditating on the story of the man with a withered hand in Mark 3:1-6 in preparation for an upcoming men’s retreat. This passage is a wonderful account of Jesus’ compassion on social outcasts. Jesus is willing to challenge the oppressive religious authorities of his day in order to heal this man and restore him in the eyes of the surrounding community.
But this beautiful story has a dark ending. Verse 6 reads:
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Since it is common for us to read the Pharisees as the villains in the gospel stories, it is quite easy for us to read over a verse like this without giving it a second thought. Continue Reading
In college I worked as waiter for the four-star restaurant chain known as Ruby Tuesdays. Our particular restaurant was located in a movie theater, which meant we often had groups of teenagers come in for dinner prior to seeing their movie together. One night I was sat with a large table of teens who proceeded to talk very loudly about their plans for the evening. Each of them began to compare how much money their parents had given them, and they began to evaluate how much money each of them had for food, tickets, and snacks.
It was clear to me as this conversation went along that one very important factor had been left out of the equation: tip. Sure enough when I went over to collect the bill, pennies were left on the table for me. They had used their resources to maximize pleasure for self without giving any thought to others.
Isn’t this how many of us tend to view our time, resources, and energy? In our hyper-individualistic age, we maximize what we have for ourselves, leaving little of behind to give to others. As a result, the communities all around us – even in our churches – are fracturing and collapsing.
If we are going to be those who receive the church community as a gift and properly devote ourselves to its care and growth, then we are also going to need to remember the purposes of the community that God has called us into. Continue Reading
How do adults make friends? We don’t. At least that is how it feels. A common “adulting” joke I often hear today is how difficult it is for adults in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s to make new friends. A quick search on Google revealed this Buzzfeed article that humorously captures how many adults feel today.
These jokes are funny because they’re true. In the time since my wife and I have been married, one of the most frequent conversations we have is how desperate we are for close friends that we can share our lives with. While the circumstances of having moved to several different churches in a short time frame hasn’t helped anything, we have found it tremendously difficult to create deep and lasting relationships with others. Between our busy schedules and the apparent lack of interest from other people, friends are really hard to come by.
We are not alone in this feeling. In fact, all signs point to the fact that Americans have ignored an epidemic of loneliness which has swept through our society, leaving our communities to erode from under us. If Christians are going to be salt and light in this world, then the most important thing we could do is live in a way that promotes deeper friendship and stronger local communities. Continue Reading