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The Best Lesson I Learned From Mister Rogers

Life Lessons of a Loving Gay Christian

“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was a 30-minute television show that captivated young audiences in America from 1968–2001 (33 years!). True enough. I well remember my son being mesmerized in watching this kind, mild-demeanor celebrity. And each day, Mister Rogers taught obvious truths to every child and a mystery to many adults.

Mister Rogers is my hero.

Fred Rogers’ sweet truths have helped me to know I am accepted — exactly as I am.

When Mister Rogers is listening to a person (whether a child or adult), that person is regarded as the most remarkable human on the planet. Fred kneels down to the child’s height; his eyes never move away from the child. As Mister Rogers listens, he does not interrupt. And when the person is finished with all he wanted to say, Mister Rogers thanks him — and adds some form of encouragement.

Here are just a few of Mister Rogers’ hundreds of pithy, life-enhancing quotes:

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is. Each of us has something that no one else has — or ever will have — something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”

“I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.”

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

“The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

Mister Rogers in the Movies

There were two recent movies made about Mister Rogers. Perhaps the more famous, in terms of audiences reached, was “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019). This Hollywood movie starred Tom Hanks in the iconic role — and it is a fabulous movie! However, I appreciated, even more, the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018) — which showed actual television clips of the real Mister Rogers.

In the documentary, there is an unforgettable scene between Mister Rogers and a 10-year-old boy named Jeff. This tiny boy was born with a spinal tumor; the surgery went awry, and Jeff became a quadriplegic. At the time of his television visit with Mister Rogers, Jeff was diminutive with almost an emaciated frame — and a massive smile on his face! Jeff sat in an electric wheelchair and had artificial devices that allowed him to move his arms and increase his vocal cords. As Jeff conversed with Fred Rogers on camera, his body was adeptly (and painfully) forcing the artificial assistance devices.

Then a tear-sobbing scene develops [and I cry every time I re-watch it]. Mister Rogers sings the following song, and mid-way through, Jeff laughs and then labors in joining in the singing.

It’s you I like. It’s not the things you wear. It’s not the way you do your hair. But it’s you I like.

The way you are right now. The way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you. Not your fancy chair [Mister Rogers and Jeff laugh] that’s beside you.

[Now, both are singing in unison] But it’s you I like.

Every part of you. Your skin. Your eyes. Your feelings.

Whether old or new, I hope that you remember — even when you’re feeling blue. That it’s you I like.

It’s you. Yourself.

It’s you. It’s you. I like.

Ever since I came out universally as a gay man, I have tried to emulate Mister Rogers’ way of loving each man I meet. And I have had the blessing of meeting so very many gay men!

Each gay man who seeks my friendship is accepted by me — exactly as he is. He does not have to fit into a tribe’s dogma. He does not have to love Jesus. He may be furious at Christians and sworn off attending any Christian church. But when I am given the privilege of hearing this man — my new friend — I am all ears, eyes locked onto his. In my best Fred Rogers imitation, I do not interrupt and instead bring encouragement when he is done.

I share your pain in being, at times, not accepted by a church. As background, I spent all of my adult years in evangelical Protestant churches. Thus, I was able to see, firsthand, the condescending (even condemning) posture that many evangelical denominations, local churches, and parachurch ministries have toward LGBTQIA individuals. However, I do not malign my dear Brothers from the past. Simply, we hold different interpretations of a text that we both believe to be sacred.

No longer conforming to tribal rules, I extend Mister Rogers’ unconditional positive regard to every gay man I meet. And each man’s story is precious to me! Indeed, the best gift the man can give me is his vulnerable, authentic self. And the best way for me to return the favor is to help my gay friend feel understood and valued.

I am a poor imitation of Mister Rogers. But every attempt I make — to every person I am trying to understand and bring value — changes me into a better man. And my efforts at becoming more like Fred, oddly enough, make me more like Mister Rogers’ hero: Jesus.

Mister Rogers and Jesus

For, you see, Fred Rogers was also a pastor; he deeply loved Jesus. Mister Rogers prayed daily for his former guests on the show. He loved people unconditionally. Always.

So let me ask us both this question: If Mister Rogers can love people so unconditionally, forever … can we imagine the depth of Jesus’ unconditional love for you and me? And Jesus’ love for us is never going to end.

I feel very accepted, very much whole, whenever I imagine Jesus singing this song to me:

It’s not the church you belong to. It’s you I like.

The way you are right now. The way down deep inside you. Not the things that hide you. But it’s you I like.

Whether old or new, I hope that you remember — even when you’re feeling blue. That it’s you I like.

It’s you. Yourself.

It’s you. It’s you. I like.

GAYoda is a publication to uniquely and specifically support gay Christian men. Click here to learn more

Dr. Mike Rosebush is the founder and author of GAYoda. He has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor, with 45+ years of mentoring thousands of gay Christian men. Read a short synopsis of his story here.

Read Dr. Rosebush’s complete set of articles here.

Dr. Rosebush provides friendship support to gay Christian men across the U.S. and can be contacted via Facebook or mikerosebush75@gmail.com.

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Articles & support for gay Christian men — intriguing, clarifying, encouraging. Read, clap, become a follower & subscriber, and respond with your viewpoint. Together we thrive!

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Mike Rosebush, PhD

Mike Rosebush, PhD

Lover of Jesus | Gay Married| Founder/Writer “GAYoda” | Counselor/Encourager

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