Mr. Rogers, responding to the 9-11 attacks…

“If you grew up with our Neighborhood, you may remember how we sometimes talked about difficult things. There were days … even beautiful days … that weren’t happy. In fact, there were some that were really sad.

Well, we’ve had a lot of days like that in our whole world. We’ve seen what some people do when they don’t know anything else to do with their anger.

I’m convinced that when we help our children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings–ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else–we’re helping to make our world a safer, better place.”

 A week ago, I came across an article giving “gentle” quotes by Mr. Rogers. I admit, I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers much, because I was a member of the Captain Kangaroo generation. It hasn’t been until I’ve grown older that I’ve come to appreciate Fred Rogers’ wisdom and kindness, especially his loving care for children.

Saturday, October 27th, a deranged man entered a Synagogue, yelled awful things about the Jewish people and began to shoot. Right now the death toll is eleven and six are in the hospital, some in critical condition. The police captured the shooter, who was wounded. His social media showed a history of anti-Semitism. The names of those who died and were wounded haven’t yet been released, and I’m praying no children will be included, but my first thought was for the children who were present. Even if they weren’t shot, they, along with all the others, experienced what can only be called a horrific scene.

Earlier this week, another deranged man sent bombs to various high profile politicians. This man has a very long criminal record. Fortunately, none of the bombs exploded. Still, children all over America are aware of what happened. Children are intuitive and more aware than we think. They walk through a room that has a television news program on, we don’t think they pay attention, but they do!

How do parents, grandparents, mental health professionals, teachers and pastors explain these happenings? It’s impossible to shield our children from Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, Texas, and countless other acts of domestic violence, much less the atrocities that happen around the world. Experts say that mass killings, consisting of four or more people, happen on average of once per day! Eventually, even the best “explainer” among us runs out of words to say. Our explanations become inadequate, at least mine do. From Columbine High School through today, our country has become immorally violent. I won’t list a litany of the indecent acts of ultimate cruelty – I don’t have enough space. Anger responses now go from 0-60 in seconds. There aren’t enough mental health professionals to give regular healthy minds checkups to everyone – something I believe would go a long way towards preventing violence of all kinds. No wonder teenage suicides are on the rise and the age is getting younger all the time.

There is enough blame to go around, hundreds of times over. Depending on your world view, guns are the problem, courts are the issue, adequate prisons are not available, poor parenting, broken families, overworked teachers, police departments doing their best but beset by issues they never expected to encounter, a precipitous drop in church attendance, lack of God in the schools and homes, Bibles growing dusty on the coffee table, and many other causes. It’s not good enough to continue to point fingers at each other and assign blame. We are all complicit in some way!

I don’t pretend to have an answer. Anything I could write would sound trite, repetitive, self-serving, all knowing and downright presumptuous. So, if you think this article ends with another grand scheme to “fix” the issues of incivility and violence, you’ll be disappointed. All I know to do is refer you back to Mr. Roger’s quote at the beginning of this article.

“There were days, even beautiful days, that weren’t happy. In fact, they are some that were really sad.” Sometimes I believe there are more sad days than happy days now, in America. I’m grown and can deal with them, at least sort of. The children, however, have a much more difficult time. Much like those children who have grown up in neighborhoods where gang wars are an everyday occurrence, violence surrounds them and becomes the “new normal in places we never thought possible.” That’s unacceptable. Our children don’t deserve the life we are handing down to them. Surely we can agree on that if nothing else!

Except in a few privileged places, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood is gone…who is going to be the Mr. Rogers of this generation? Who is going to show gentleness, thoughtfulness, kindness, exhibit tolerance toward those with whom we disagree to the children growing up now. One of the great American promises has always been that we will hand to the next generation a better America, better opportunities, and greater safety. Even greater happiness! Who will sing, “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood” to our children, mean it and teach it?

I’ll be praying for you and for myself, that God will show us the path to tend to the smallest and most vulnerable of His little lambs. If we can’t show each other mercy, I hope we can show our children mercy by protecting them from this horrible specter of so little respect for the dignity of every life. What our children are learning out in the world is beneath us and is no honorable way to behave.

I close with one more quote from Fred Rogers which may be the beginning of an answer to the mess we find ourselves in:

But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can do to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own–by treating our ‘neighbor’ at least as well as we treat ourselves and allowing that to inform everything…” Amen, Mr. Rogers, Amen.

John †