Dear Hyde Park Family,
Watching the news lately has felt like a grueling, punishing, full contact sport. So I thought we could all use a healthy dose from our favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers.
Like many of you, I grew up in the charming television neighborhood of Fred McFeely Rogers, affectionately known as “Mr. Rogers.” He died in 2003, leaving behind a forty-five-year legacy of teaching children how to live with decency and honesty and challenging all of us to create a safe, nurturing world for people of all ages.
Mr. Rogers was honored in 1997 by the Academy of Arts and Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The presenter was actor Tim Robbins, who introduced him in this way:
Ladies and gentlemen, the best neighbor we’ve ever had: Fred Rogers. (applause) For giving generation upon generation of children confidence in themselves, for being their friend, for telling them again and again and again that they are special and that they have worth, it is my honor on behalf of everyone here and on behalf of the millions of children whose mornings have brightened with your kindness, to present you with this Lifetime Achievement Award.
The auditorium full of Hollywood celebrities stood to their feet, as the gentle, sweet Presbyterian minister who had became America’s favorite neighbor approached the microphone to give his acceptance speech. It lasted only about ninety seconds, much shorter than many of today’s self-adulating speeches. But what makes it particularly unusual is what he invited the audience to do, right in the middle of the speech.
Read the text below or watch the video, imagining the slow, tender tone of his voice, speaking as if we were all in that famous television living room again:
Thank you. Thank you. Oh it’s a beautiful night in this neighborhood. So many people have helped me to come here to this night. Some of you are here, some are far away, and some are even in Heaven. All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time.
[Ten Second Pause]
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made. You know they’re the kind of people television does well to offer our world. Special thanks to my family and friends, and to my co-workers in Public Broadcasting, Family Communications, and this Academy for encouraging me, allowing me, all these years to be your neighbor. May God be with you. Thank you very much.
As you could see from the YouTube video of the speech, there was hardly a dry eye in the whole room when he was finished.
WE ARE CONNECTION COMMITTED
Now, I share this speech with you not simply as a tribute to Mr. Rogers (whom, frankly, I still miss even to this day, given how hard it has been to watch television lately.) Rather, I offer it for its challenge, both to remember our past and to pledge toward our future.
All of us come from different walks of life – hometowns, family origins, and formative experiences. But we all have one thing in common: we are each the product of a network of people who make us what we are. The right people crossed our paths at precisely the right time to shape our character, our perspectives, and our behavior. And despite living in a culture that celebrates “self-made” people and “rugged individualists,” the truth of the matter is this:
We are the result of a connection of people.
We are not only called to remember those people, but we are to live out their example in shaping those within our influence. We are responsible, right now, for those who watch our example, and echo our actions through their own choices. Others will be affected by the way we handle our emotions, engage in conflict, and resolve our differences. They will watch how we love, how we play, how we talk, how we fight, and how we spend our resources. Many will come after us, and will look back on us someday with the same evaluative gaze with which we consider our ancestors.
This Sunday, we round out our worship series on our core values with the reminder that we are connection committed. We will hear Jesus remind the disciples that he is the vine, and that we are branches, connected to each other so that we can the bear fruit of God’s love that will nourish the world. And we will also be starting our new worship series, called “Free,” which reminds us that in Christ, we are free to love, free to live, and free to give.
Though he is no longer with us, the loving legacy of Mr. Rogers remains, calling us to a future in which we care for those around us and those who come after us. For in the end, we are all connected to each other, in one lovely day in the neighborhood.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist