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The Time Mr. Rogers Slapped Me Upside the Head

Fred RogersEvery time I’ve sat down to write a post in the last month, I’ve come up dry. I was thinking it must be writer’s block, but now I’m not so sure. There’s a quiet revolution happening in my heart and I’m only now beginning to see it for what is.

Waging war to promote peace

Evangelicalism’s been going through some changes. And frankly, it needs to. The social texture that birthed it has changed, and it can’t maintain a 1950’s posture towards a culture that has evolved. It’s becoming irrelevant.

Now, before you hit the “comment” button and start spitting venom, I’m not talking about the need to change “truth” per se. I am just talking about its posture towards truth—a posture I have touched on in posts like What Would It Take to Admit You’re Wrong? and Christianity and the Spiral of Silence.

It’s important to note that evangelicalism is my mother. I’ve been a member of many different denominations, but they’ve all existed under evangelicalism’s banner. But within that American Christian framework where I’ve come to know Jesus, superfluous litmus tests have become the norm.

It’s not easy to fit comfortably under American evangelicalism’s tent and not be nationalistic, right wing, or an NRA supporter. To conflate these ideologies and Christ’s gospel is getting more and more difficult for me (again, hold off on the comments until we reach the end).

That said, I’ve found a certain niche blogging success among some amazing upstart writers who are also frustrated with Christian culture. A lot of these writers are amazing people who I am honored to be mentioned among. But lately I have had the words of Proverbs 20:29 reverberating in my head: “The glory of young men is their strength, And the honor of old men is their gray hair.”

Some of the discussion in this tribe can be a bit vitriolic and the posture somewhat aggressive. Fighting a war (even a culture war) is a young person’s game. If I was in the exact same place twenty years ago, I would have been a lot more vocal, a lot more confrontational, and probably a lot more successful.

Inspiration from an unlikely source

I became “friends” with Amy Hollingsworth recently through some witty banter on a Facebook page. The day we became friends, I bought a copy of her book, The Simple Faith of Mr. Rogers. 

I read it quickly and immediately read it again. It was a revelation to me—or at least a recalibration. There was something magical in Hollingsworth’s enumerations of his virtues.

Mr. Rogers was one of whom Christ would have said, like he did of Nathanael, “in him there is no guile.” Being reminded of this kindhearted and sincere man spoke to something deep within me.

We find what we’re looking for

I tend toward critical thinking. I see this as a profound strength . . . unless I allow it to make me critical.

It’s a subtle step from thinking critically about the church to constantly looking at it through a critical lens. It’s not that I fear that my critical nature is going to hurt church (she’s existed through many terrible manifestations and more profound critics than I); it’s because I fear it’s hurting me.

I’m a real wise ass. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, but I work in sarcasm like William Blake worked in watercolors. When coupled with my tendency towards hyper-critical thinking, I can easily succumb to behavior that is less Christlike than I aspire to.

The longer I look at the world (and the church) through a lens of deficiency, the less I am going to see what is true, noble, and right. I need to indulge and strengthen my ability to see and celebrate goodness.

Similar to Dostoevsky’s The Idiot or the Winston Groom’s Forest Gump, being reintroduced to Mr. Rogers challenged me. Not because I see Mr. Rogers as stupid, mind you, but because I see in him the same sort of purity that the rest of the world sees as simple. Fred Rogers was so busy trying to be the good that the world lacked that he didn’t have time to be publicly critical of her flaws. He simply was the change that children needed to see.

I can be clever and I can be critical. These things come naturally to me—they’re not fruits that I need to nurture. It’s time I turned my attention toward areas where I’m not so strong.

I’m inviting you to join me

I have written some pieces on this blog that I am particularly proud of. If you have read and enjoyed them, thank you.

As we move forward, I expect the tone to change. I hope you’ll stick around for that too. I believe world and the church are struggling, but also believe that Christ has overcome the world and is powerfully at work in the church.

I want to turn my attention there.

 

 

A couple disclaimers:

1. This post is about me. I have many friends and blogging colleagues who are fighting some difficult and entrenched dragons. I don’t want my personal conviction to be read as any sort of condemnation against them or anyone else. We’re all doing the best we can.

2. I reserve the right to write the occasional critical piece, so please don’t point at this post in the future when I do.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Becky #

    I’m in! Everything, well,most things, have their time and place. I recall part of my spewing process and finding a place online that let me do just that. After a couple of years that’s what it was, a spewing place. Sitting in the same vile that got me all jacked up in the first place. It was an anti-evangelical sort of site that turned pro-Catholic. Not wanting to go from one “group” to another, all I really was looking for was Christ and I have a hard time with making assumptions (meaning I’m really good at it), that Christ is in “this” group and not in “that” group. And there came a time for me to leave that site, I needed to learn and grow and stretch beyond my anger and my hatred. Instead of the consistent rehashing, I longed for kindness and mercy and grace. Even though I can be critical, through the lens of those on the “outside” and even with all the revelations of truth I’ve had, I will not stand for anything that dresses itself up; a lie parading as the truth. In that regard, I will always have something to say (hopefully graciously, but I make no promises.) But you’re right, Jayson. The world needs simple and kind wearing a coat of love and mercy. All of that to reiterate what I started with, “I’M IN!”

    June 16, 2014
  2. This is great, Jay! I definitely understand where you’re coming from – I’ve been frustrated by my own critical/cynical attitude as well, and I’m wanting to change that. I’m totally game for a change in perspective/attitude! 🙂

    June 16, 2014
  3. Jayson, thank you for this great post! Myself, being brought up in the 50′s and 60′s, is so ready for new perspectives in the Church. My husband and I pastored for years – we want to move and change and see the way God sees. This generation thinks and sees totally different than ours did – I was just thinking yesterday how our four children were raised. I tried to carry on things my mom taught me……but to no avail for the most part. I had to change with the “season”. Now I help with young grandchildren – different again. I want so much to see God’s perspective.. How He sees His church and how He sees each of us – especially me. The times they are a changin’ – (Bob Dylan) – the times have changed…..
    Great post. 😀

    June 16, 2014
  4. Denise #

    Thank you so much for this. I also find that my smart-assery and constant criticism have done me more harm than good, and I would like to be more kind and generous. But not to the point of losing the edge of critical thought. Looking forward to your ruminations as we all work through this.

    June 16, 2014
  5. Kudos to you, Jason! I love this post. You are so right on. We, in our culture, as a whole, have become so emotionally charged that it’s almost impossible to speak rationally and respectfully to anyone about anything. When that happens, when reverent and respectful dialogue become impossible, the truth is shackled.

    Our pastor spoke yesterday on Ephesians 4:15, where Paul admonishes us to speak the truth in love. We need to work on doing that, constantly, both when we relate to others in the world around us and when we relate to our Christian family.

    Thanks for your honest, humble sharing of these ideas.

    June 16, 2014
  6. Thank you. Sometimes we have a tendency to respond in a way we think would look good to other people. I am all for the good, but fall into the trap of complaining when others don’t. We all need to stop every now and then, if it means taking a break from lashing out on CNN, or other news comment boards when a coverage of a story causes us to want to prove a Biblical point.

    June 16, 2014
  7. Your comment about how being too critical can hurt you is truly inspiring. As a fellow purveyor of sarcasm, I know how easy it is to have strong reactions against particular brands of conservatism or to build up a giant mental manifesto against a shocking act or remark by a clergy or a fellow Christian. Destroying a temple is easy, but building one up again (as Christ proved) is hard.

    June 16, 2014
  8. Jayson, I’m so uplifted by this post. Change is difficult for any of us. “The longer I look at the world (and the church) through a lens of deficiency, the less I am going to see what is true, noble, and right.” We ALL at times indulge ourselves in less than Christlike behavior. Living in the Spirit is a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour choice that needs both prayer and surrender. It’s walking the narrow path, saying good-bye to (and sometimes mourning) former thoughts and ways that distanced us from God.
    The richness that comes from this renewing of our minds, once we embrace it, is like new skin. It is clean, smooth, freshly oiled and scented, with a pleasing fragrance. Welcome to the neighborhood.

    June 17, 2014
  9. I have found (for me personally) that it is a very fine line between being critical with the best of intentions and being a negative, grumpy old man who complains a lot. I have been wrestling with it for a long time.
    I want this to be me.
    “Fred Rogers was so busy trying to be the good that the world lacked that he didn’t have time to be publicly critical of her flaws. He simply was the change that children needed to see.”
    Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading future posts. Now I am going to have the song “Man in the Mirror” stuck in my head all day. Thanks a lot.

    June 18, 2014

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