Reflection by Brian Cole
I recently received my kindergarten report card in the mail. My eldest brother, who had been assisting my mother in another round of downsizing to a smaller living space, sent me the 45-year-old record of how life was for me as a 5-year-old navigating half-day school.
It was mostly a pleasant reminder that I enjoyed school and flourished in that environment. The highest mark was “E” for Excellent and the report card had numerous E’s.
Except for sharing. Alongside the phrase, “Shares Well With Others,” there was the letter “N” for Needs Improvement. The marks were given out each quarter. Each quarter my sharing skills received an N. My five-year-old self was not a sharer.
Along with the tangible reminder of early school days provided by the report card, a recent documentary also took me back to childhood. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a film on Fred Rogers and his PBS series—Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood—examines the life of Mr. Rogers and his life’s work of teaching children. Like many who grew up with Mr. Rogers, I found the film to be quite moving. Here was a safe adult, teaching children how to be good and faithful neighbors to all, whether the neighbors were real or from the “Land of Make Believe.”
I was surprised, but am now convinced, that the film made the point that Mr. Rogers was somewhat radical in his inclusive message of love and sharing with all. While the zip-up sweaters and soft voice of Mr. Rogers made him an unlikely revolutionary, his consistent message of love for all in “his” neighborhood and sharing with others was a counter-cultural move. Our world tends to limit who we understand to be our neighbors. And while we expect kindergarten children to share, the real world does not tend to advise it or reward it when adults share.
John the Baptist, a biblical character rarely confused with Mr. Rogers, also invites all his neighbors to share. But he doesn’t take the soft-voice, nice-sweater approach. Rather, he opens with, “You brood of vipers!” That’s not exactly polite talk, nor does it suggest using your inside voice.
When the crowds who came to see John asked him how to get off the Vipers list, he tells them the most radical thing—share. Share your coat, share your food, treat each other fairly. If they do these things, John tells them they will bear fruit that will please God. They will live as God intended, by sharing generously like the generous God who created, and shares with, them.
Living generously is what we are made by God to do. It’s not easy—just check your kindergarten reports. However, when we practice generosity and share with others, we join John and Mr. Rogers in growing up fully into our God-given call.
Follow along with us this Advent season with our daily devotional and engage in discussion in our closed facebook group moderated by The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner & The Rev. Jan Kwiatowski.
In this group, participants will have a chance to share their responses to the prompts in the daily readings, and also the chance to receive additional material for reflection.