If you have not yet seen the movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks who plays Fred Rogers, I simply urge you to take time to watch it from start to finish at least once. The movie is about the impact that Mr. Rogers had on those who knew him and about his philosophy of life. Actor Tom Hanks does such a superb job in bringing forth the goodness of the message of the film that this movie now ranks among my all-time favorites.
In one part of the story, Mr. Rogers is helping his friends cope with the reality of death. Knowing that death is a grave subject that people often opt to ignore, he says to a whole family of friends:
“Death is human, and anything human is mentionable, and whatever is mentionable is manageable.”
This triply compound statement is profound. Talking together, sharing together out loud, looking at reality, facing the truth together is human. Therefore mentionable. And with the help of God and each other, everything human that we mention thereby becomes manageable for us all.
Conversely, when a family or a church or a workplace community loses its humanity by losing the inner strength to face the truth, the truth becomes taboo. Unmentionable. The end result, of course, is that any member who tries to help the larger group face reality becomes the black sheep of the family, the outcast, the pariah, or perhaps the unwanted, stoned prophet.
Not too long ago a disoriented, middle-aged father told me that when his college-aged son committed suicide by way of desperate, jilted gunshots, his elderly father (the son’s grandfather) offered nothing more to his son (the son’s father) than this laconic reply: “Just don’t think about it.”
The very family that could not talk about the tragedy of the son’s death was at once the very family that the son himself could not talk to.
Apparently, the son believed his worst pain was unmentionable. Thus the worst pain of the son became unmanageble. It then became intolerable such that the silent son took his own life unnecessarily.
Similarly, institutions, being comprised of human beings, can likewise lose sight of their humanity. They can sin their way into refusing to be truthful enough to mention their worst pain. Once they decide to avoid the truth, they make their hidden problems unmentionable. That is why their problems become unmanageable until finally the institution self-destructs. Even Christian organizations such as Christian universities can become so invested in keeping shameful secrets that eventually they commit institutional suicide.
Mr. Rogers, who was a Christian, indeed, a pastor, understood that people’s problems are actually manageable if only we can find the strength to confess the honest truth. To be human is to tell the naked truth. It is not coincidental that truthful Jesus (Who never lied) was physically stripped naked on the cross.
Nailed to a cross, Jesus took the trouble, while gasping for breath, to speak what surely no one else would mention.
Vulnerably, He confessed, “I thirst.”
Protectively He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son,” and to young apostle John, “Behold, your mother!”
Desperately He groaned, quoting Psalm 22: “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Jesus advocated for us all, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Biblically we know that all the sins of the world fell upon Jesus Who knew no sin.
There is nothing secret about Jesus’ death. He hung on a cross in public for every naked eye to see.
When the repentant thief hanging next to Him on an adjacent criminal cross cried out to Him in faith, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Jesus promised him individually, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
Finally, Jesus declared, “It is finished . . . Father, into Your Hands I commit My Spirit.”
For Jesus, the Perfect Human, there was no unmentionable taboo of hidden truth. Jesus–Who is The Truth– was so truthful that every sinner’s problems became manageable for Him as He sacrificially hung on the cross and died on behalf of every human.
Jesus conquered Death by paying the steep price of Life with His own blood.
So you see, Mr. Rogers had it right. But Mr. Rogers didn’t say it as clearly as the apostle John did in the New Testament Book of I John 1:9: “If we mention/confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is as true for institutions as it is for individuals and families.
The only thing that makes life manageable into eternity is mentioning our sin honestly to God Who cleanses us with the precious blood of Jesus. To mention our own sin is to break the world’s taboo that causes us to hide and self-destruct.
This Easter may we rejoice that Jesus conquered Death by rising from the dead! He is risen! There is no need at all for anyone to tell lies because Jesus Christ the Truth sets us free be so truthful that together with God’s help we can manage any problem, no matter how shameful it might be.
In Christ all our problems are absorbed in Jesus’ final victory.
That is why, no matter where you live, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.