I am writing this on the Monday before Election Day, and by the time you read this plenty of news will have come before us. It’s hard to write something meaningful when I’m not sure what we’ll be discussing when you read this. I’m still going to give our national conversation a shot, though, even with unsure news before us. I often wonder what our country needs right now, and I’ve decided the answer is “Mr. Rogers.” If there is a figure who could guide us forward, it’s Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers died in 2003, so it seems strange looking to him for guidance almost 20 years after he left us. He’s had a resurgence in popularity due to a documentary film about him and also the feature film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, where Tom Hanks portrayed him.

Many often asked if Fred Rogers was actually like the person he portrayed on his children’s show, and those who knew him say, “yes.” He really was that kind and thoughtful, but I’ve learned, too, in studying his life that he also had an uncompromising vision for what he wanted to do with his show. He wasn’t a pushover; he was determined that his show would speak to kids where they were, and teach them their own value while also respecting the value of everyone. In 1969, when our country was experiencing protests against racism (which isn’t very different from our own time), Mr. Rogers made a point of soaking his feet in a wading pool along with Officer Clemens, an African-American character on the show. This may seem inconsequential to us today, but Mr. Rogers was making a subtle and serious statement when the idea of black and white people swimming in the same pool was controversial in many places. Mr. Roger’s quiet kindness spoke to us in ways that we still hear today.

We’ve had so much cruelty on display the last few years. We’ve normalized hate speech; we’ve made it ok for racists to put their racism on full display. We’ve allowed chest-thumping nationalism to replace a patriotism that values service and the dignity of all citizens. If there is anyone who could show us how to be together as a people again, maybe it’s Mr. Rogers. Most know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian Minister. He saw his work in his children’s show as a way to live out his calling as a Christian pastor. His ministry still speaks to me, and maybe, if we listen, we might still hear him speaking to us as a people again.

Grace & peace,

Jason Jones