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Katie’s Musings: Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?

Katie Miller
October 31 2018

Everything I know for sure to be true about humanity – the good and the bad, the interconnected of us all, the importance of loving our neighbor as ourselves, the importance of not turning people away but just lengthening the table – I learned in front of my tv set as a small child from a beloved pastor, MY beloved pastor.  I knew him as Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers would arrive home every day from work, slip off his work shoes and jacket in favor of some sneakers and a sweater, and instantly you knew he was on your side.  He’d smile kindly, and you knew it was going to be ok.  He’d explain imaginative ideas to you and your world expanded slightly.  He made it ok to be a little different.  And in a time of intense racial divides and acid being thrown into swimming pools where people of color swam, he invited an African-American friend to put his feet into a swimming pool with him.  He invited us all to look past division and despair and into mutuality of human existence. 

Man, I miss that guy.  I think the world does, too.

See nowadays, we send live bombs in boxes to people we don’t agree with.
We tear one another down on social media.
We hear news of people fleeing violence and persecution and we spread fear, casting them as the enemy, fear mongering for political gain.
We take guns into grocery stores and synagogues to shoot people we don’t agree with.  

When news of the horrific shooting in the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh began circulating, I felt the now-familiar immediate rush of despair.  I braced myself for the onslaught of finger pointing, of blame, of hateful rhetoric, of deflection… for the flurry of “false flag” declarations, conspiracy theories, spin…. I looked at pictures of the humans who’s lives were taken:  elderly folks, praying peacefully at a synagogue.  Some of them were alive during the Holocaust, and now their lives were stolen by a man – a white nationalist terrorist, emboldened by toxic, hate-filled, nationalist rhetoric – who felt their Jewish faith was sufficient to make them deserve to die.  

In America.  3 blocks from Mr. Rogers’ Pittsburgh house.  Sufficiently in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, as it were.  He’d be devastated.  

What would he say, I wonder?  What kind of ministry would he provide to the people in his neighborhood?  

Would he advise them to better arm themselves in case it happened again?  Would he say to shut the door to difference and isolate yourself and your community from the world as protection?  Would he tell us to scream louder on social media, engage in virtual yelling matches with strangers to get our point across?

Or would he tell us to be doormats, waiting around in hope that this hatred and division would pass on its own?  To ignore it and go about our business as if nothing happened?To accept this violence as the new normal and “just the way things are now?”

Probably not.

Or….  OR….

Would he tell us to grieve for those lost?
(Because feeling sad for awhile is totally fine.)

Would he tell us to look for the helpers in times of crisis?
(Because there are always helpers.)

Would he tell us then to rip out the fence between “me” and “them”?
(It was just an imaginary fence, anyway.)

Would he invite people from all walks of life to dip their toes into his swimming pool, our swimming pool, the same way Jesus invited all to his tables for conversation and connection?
(That’s how you make a new friend, after all.)

Would he say it all calmly and tenderly, and would he say that all means all, and love is love is love, and welcome only counts if you really REALLY mean it, and you are special just the way you are but so is she, and no one’s special is more important than someone else’s special?

Yeah.  Probably all of that.

And then he’d encourage us to try and make a snappy new day.

Ok, Mr. Rogers.  Ok.