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The Theology of Mr. Rogers on Feelings

“Mister Rogers on Feelings”

September 17, 2023 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Blinn Cole

Ephesians 4:25-5:2; Matt 18:21-35

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

It is certainly good to see each and every one of you today. For those of you who weren’t with us last week, we’re in the midst of a somewhat unusual sermon series this month. It’s not often we do sermon series based on TV, but when we do it’s got to be … Mr. Rogers. For four weeks we’re picking up on some of Fred Rogers’ most common and meaningful themes through his 33-year public TV show, and we’re taking those themes: Neighbors, Feelings, Losing, and Loving and weaving them together with lessons from Scripture.

Last week we had to have worship inside because of rain and since our Sanctuary remodel won’t be done until next Sunday (trust me, you’re gonna want to come back next week and see it), we had to have worship in our Social Hall… which was cozy! I don’t know if anyone noticed but I got really into the Mr. Rogers theme and found a red cardigan in the thrift store and wore it along with my tennis shoes for church. But I joked afterwards… I’m not sure how Mr. Rogers did it every week on the show with his cardigans. Summer, winter, every season there he was in a cardy. It was a bit warm last week inside. However, THIS WEEK, now that’s a different story.

I’d like to begin my sermon today by talking about Congress. And no, it’s not a story from this week, although there were happenings there that make one raise one’s eyebrows. No, the story about congress I want to tell you is from 1969. That was the year Fred Rogers asked to speak before the Senate Subcommittee on Communication to express his disagreement with a proposal by President Richard Nixon to cut federal funding for public broadcasting from $20 million to $10 million.

I don’t know when the last time you sat in a room with people who didn’t really like you was, but Mr. Rogers walked into something of a lion’s den that day. No one was interested in what he had to say, especially the chairman, Senator John Pastore. The goal was to spend less money and cutting PBS was clearly the way to do that. Mr. Rogers stood in the way.

And yet Fred Rogers spoke to Senator Pastore as if those two were the only ones in the room. With a gentle, patient voice, Mr. Rogers calmly told the Senator that Public Television, including shows like his, were critical for the children … and he cited one main reason. The emotional impact. Kids need to know that it’s okay to feel feelings. To be mad. To be angry. To be sad. To be hurt. He sat in the halls of power that day and told lawmakers to trust him and listen to him when he said that all kinds of feelings are “mentionable and if they’re mentionable, they're also manageable.”

In the late 1960s kids entertainment was quickly becoming all about cartoon characters bopping each other on the heads, Mr. Rogers spoke up and said we don’t have to create drama for our kids. They’re already living through enough drama. From the little things like getting a haircut, to dealing with brothers and sisters, to the kind of anger that arises from simple family situations.

If we talk about that kind of drama, real-life drama, as an alternative to numbing out our feelings by watching other people’s fake drama like in the shows we stream and TV we watch, maybe we have the chance to do something constructive with our feelings instead of ignoring them. That’s all Mr. Rogers was saying. Let’s not ignore our feelings.

55 years later Fred Rogers Senate testimony has become someone iconic. A quick search on the internet will bring it right up. The PBS website sums it up this way, “Rogers detailed the emotional impact that television had on children and how the medium could be used to provide a guiding influence to them. He said that his program's entire budget of $6,000 was equal to the cost of ‘less than two minutes of cartoons,’ referred to by Rogers as ‘animated . . . bombardment.’ Over the course of Rogers' passionate yet respectful testimony, Senator Pastore's gruff demeanor slowly softened.” By the end of the 6-minute testimony Mr. Rogers’ honesty and sincerity had converted his listeners. The funding was approved.

Fred Rogers ended the testimony by sharing a song he’d written based on a real question a child had asked him:

What do you do with the mad that you feel..

When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong... And nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?

Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag? Or see how fast you go?

It's great to be able to stop When you've planned a thing that's wrong, And be able to do something else instead

Can you imagine quoting this song to a powerful Senator who was himself acting a little mad? Mr. Rogers was a brave man but more than that, he knew the power of being honest with our emotions.

Talking about our feelings is a call to honesty. And honesty is the hallmark of a healthy community and healthy relationships. Way back in the 1st century when the an early church in the city of Ephesus was struggling with how to be a healthy community, this letter which we now call Ephesians was written to them. And I just want to read the first lines again.

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

Can I just comment for a moment on the gravity of that line. We are members of one another. What you do affects me and what I do affects you. In community we will always be interrelated. Let us speak the truth to our neighbors. Let us be honest about how we feel.

The scripture continues…

“Be angry!” Not like… “Go be angry” these are instructions from God! No, the scripture is saying you will be angry in your life. It’s a guarantee. And when such a time comes that you are angry, acknowledge your anger, be honest and call it for what it is…and then it’s what you do with that anger that matters most. Anger is not bad. Anger is not unchristian. It’s just important to understand that when you are angry, there are dangers that can accompany this emotion. Judgment can be clouded. We can act rashly. We jump to conclusions and say things we later regret.

So “Be angry,” the scripture says, “but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”

We’ve probably all had experience, either from ourselves, or by being around other people, of what anger and other emotions look like when they aren’t talked about. When the sun does go down on emotions that we should have brought out into the open. Resentment builds. We find passive ways to act our aggression.

We do this because sometimes it’s easier to just not talk about our feelings. To let them build up inside and keep it private. But the problem is, and Mr. Rogers knew this and the Bible says the same thing, it’s not healthy. It hurts those around us and it leads to us doing things we will later regret.

There’s this animated movie called Inside Out and it’s all about feelings. And inside each character it shows in their head kind of a control panel with different little mini versions of each emotion. And they take turns operating the control panel.

So what’s the summary?

It’s okay to have feelings. It’s what you do with your feelings that matters.

  • Talk about them

  • Find constructive ways to express them

  • Develop a good sense of control

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Anna

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