From the Church of Mister Rogers and Willie Nelson

Note: I originally submitted this to a family magazine, so please excuse the slight deviation from my usual style. Have to keep it a little cleaner when it’s being published. Also, I wrote this in December. 

When I told a good friend at a cocktail party recently that I think Mr. Rogers (of the famous PBS neighborhood) and Willie Nelson have a lot in common, she gave me a strange look. I’m not sure if that’s the first time the two have ever been paired, especially in reference to a personal religion, but I’d say it numbers among the few. 

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not against organized religion. I was raised on it, along with Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. That’s some serious moral character development. 

At least once a day I reference Pa Ingalls, which I’m pretty sure my kids think is a long lost relative. I’m serious, there is a valid Pa Ingalls quote for any major life lesson: want a new pair of shoes but it’s not in the budget? “Cash on the barrel,” Pa would say. Complaining about something that’s over and past? “All’s well that ends well.” Wasting time on the computer when you should be doing homework? “Make hay while the sun shines.”  

I could go on for days, but I promised you this would be about Mr. Rogers and Willie Nelson….

Anyway, it turns out I enjoy finding God, and peace, and great life lessons, in places other than a building.  One of the first times we ever “skipped church” (can you read my Catholic guilt?), we took a tranquil Sunday morning walk in our favorite park. It was a beautiful, glorious morning and I took a photo of the serene setting and labeled it “The Church of Woodland Park.” 

Then a few weeks ago, I found a PBS special about the life of Fred Rogers. I wasn’t intending to sit through the entire thing, but I became mesmerized by his ideals and his dedication to teaching children how to love themselves and others. I mean, I know as a child I watched every episode, and certainly internalized much of what he said (“I like you just the way you are!”), but to think about it now from my perspective as a parent was amazing. 

Mr. Rogers subscribed to the idea that we should seek to be deep and simple, not shallow and complex. All creativity comes out of silence. Take time to explore the deeper levels of who we are and who we can become. In other words, in a time when current consumer culture makes it harder than ever to instill values in our children, shut down the laptops, turn off the phones and just BE. Slow down and be grateful. 

Mr. Rogers was also big on believing in your own self worth and treating others the way you want to be treated.  He said, “Always be yourself,” and “Look for what’s essential in another person; always lift up your neighbor; love your neighbor as yourself.”  Christ said that. 

 Oh, and Willie Nelson says it, too. 

Maybe you didn’t know that about Willie. (I’m sorry, I like to think I’m on a first name basis with him, given the amount of time I’ve spent with him through his music, sipping a good bourbon while I nod enthusiastically at his lyrics, which never fail to inspire). Because of my deep regard for Willie’s music, I found myself reading his latest book, incidentally on the same day I had seen the PBS special about Mr. Rogers. 

In Willie’s book I found that his wisdom extends beyond his song lyrics. Just like Mr. Rogers, Willie says,  “We are our brother’s keeper, and he is ours. Treat him the way you want to be treated.”  He even wrote a song about it:

In God’s Eyes, by Willie Nelson

“never think evil thoughts of anyone

it’s just as wrong to think as to say

for a thought is but a word that’s unspoken

in God’s eyes he sees it this way

Lend a hand if you can to a stranger

never worry if he can’t repay

for in time you’ll be repaid ten times over

in God’s eyes he sees it this way”

Isn’t that nice? I think I’ll sing it to my kids a hundred times or so. It should be a welcome reprieve from my incessant Pa Ingalls references. I’m not going to start a new church or anything, but honestly, can you really think of anything better to teach our children than simply: respect and love yourself and others?

Let’s all try to make it our religion. 

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