In the midst of all the distressing behavior among so many prominent figures in today’s news comes the refreshing event of a movie about Fred Rogers, who dominated children’s television for so many years. In all the reviews, one caught my attention, it asked the question as to what it was about Fred Rogers that made him so effective a communicator, and one of the most influential persons of hi generation? The answer: Radical kindness. Don’t you love it?

Then comes the next question: What formed Fred Rogers into such an agent of that radical kindness? Well, he was a Presbyterian pastor with a theological degree, so you could attribute it to that, but that won’t do. There are lots of Presbyterian pastors with theological degrees who are hardly any sort of demonstration of radical kindness, alas! Maybe it was just his unique capacity to look upon children through the spectacles of his New Testament faith, especially needy and hurting children, and to demonstrate to them how the life of Christ in him saw them. Granted, he was gifted in communicating that life.

Go back to the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, to his Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus inaugurating his new creation, i.e., the kingdom of God, spells out some guidelines of behavior for those who would be his followers. We call those: the beatitudes. They reveal an incredible sensitivity to human need, and lives willing to pursue such a lifestyle, even if it brings suffering and persecution on them: affinity for those who are struggling financially, for those who mourn over great loss, those who hunger for justice, for those who incarnate mercy, and more.

At the conclusion of these beatitudes, he tells them that it is such a radically different and new ethic that they will become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He also tells them that if they fail to live out this demonstration of light and life, that they are not fit for the calling to be his new humanity, but only to be cast out (wow!). All of his earthly life and ministry were aimed at recreating his own life in them, i.e., “If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (if not only good for the fire).

Let’s face it: this is not mere human religion—this is a radically new creation that incarnates God’s love for little children and all of his creation. (He also says that by our works shall we be known as his disciples, … which makes the ostensible Christian profession of many prominent public persons a bit dubious.)

Later, in the apostolic writings, it is noted that God’s people are his swelling place, and are the sweet aroma of Christ unto God. This life of Christ, by his Spirit, is demonstrated by a radical new life-style which not only by a radical kindness, but by such a love of all humankind, of joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, of kindness, of goodness, … a whole radically new kind of life, i.e. the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In the context of abusive talk, homeless poor people those struggling to survive, those victim of injustice, leaders of dubious ethics, … Jesus calls his people to such a radical new lifestyle, kindness and all the rest. That could make this questionable scene into a “beautiful day in the neighborhood.”


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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