Fred Rogers’ uncommon calling

38656999._SY475_.jpgWhen Fred Rogers was about halfway through his studies at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the faculty asked him what sort of ministry he envisioned. Rogers, who was already doing children’s television work, said he hoped to make that a ministry.

“Nothing like that had ever been fashioned from Presbyterian fabric,” relates Maxwell King in The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (Abrams Press, 2018), “and Fred’s teachers were somewhat at a loss to guide him.”

Fortunately, one of them suggested Rogers also study child development with Dr. Margaret McFarland at Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Family & Children’s Center, which he did. He and McFarland would work together for the rest of their lives. Rogers also took graduate-level child development courses at the University of Pittsburgh.

But Pittsburgh Presbytery’s elders felt Rogers should become an assistant pastor, then senior pastor of a church, and stand up in a black robe and preach on Sundays. They refused to ordain him.

A friend from seminary, the Rev. Bill Barker, risked his own position to advocate for Rogers’ non-traditional ministry. Rogers’ television audience — kids from about 2 to 8 — was a congregation of thousands if not millions, he said at a presbytery meeting. “‘And this is a man who has been authentically called by the Lord as much as any of you guys sitting out there,'” Barker recalled telling those gathered.

The elders somewhat reluctantly relented, and Rogers was ordained in 1963.

A few years later, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood popped up on the television landscape. The show contained no Bible verses, prayers, or mention of God. It was just this quiet, sensitive guy and his neighborhood of people, puppets, and stories. Yet the core messages of kindness, courage, and respect for self and others could not have been clearer.

As a young child, I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” when it first aired (in black and white) on a bulky Magnavox that was more furniture than appliance. His approach spoke to a kid who didn’t like a lot of noise and flash, but appreciated a reasoned, encouraging word. The fact that Mister Rogers was also a Presbyterian minister didn’t really surprise me. I figured he was where God wanted him to be. Rogers just had that vibe of someone who pointed the way to a bigger, better reality.

There are many more layers to this comprehensive biography by King, a journalist and now CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. What struck me was the way Rogers, with God and the people who entered his orbit, co-created a ministry. And he did so despite the church not knowing quite what to do with him.

Rogers probably would have continued with his television ministry with or without the presbytery’s endorsement via ordination. The fact that he persisted, a friend backed him up, and the church body changed its position testifies to our ability to learn even when we don’t especially want to.

Answering a call to serve God doesn’t always take the form we expect, and sometimes the best career move is to drop our expectations and listen.

The payoff for our world could be significant.







Stop. Stay. Heal.

Image by Nick_H from Pixabay dog-2655472_1920.jpg

Image by Nick_H from Pixabay

We all do it. Push through illness or injury, or continue on a course of action that doesn’t feel right. We keep going because we have to, or bad things will happen. Right?

Except when we make a different choice and something better happens.

I heal faster when I stop what I’m doing (or what I think I have to do) and allow myself to do nothing but rest and recover. Decisions turn out better when I stop, stay with the questions, and listen long enough to discern the best next step. My animal Reiki practice requires me to be fully present with whatever the moment, and only the moment, requires. Fortunately, the animals I work with teach me how to show up fully in exactly this way.

During the anxiety, restlessness, and melancholy of the coronavirus pandemic, our animal friends are supporting us. They may bug us to pony up a treat or take them for a socially-distanced walk. They may generously help us get our work done at home. In any case, they ask us to stop, stay, and let ourselves heal in their presence.

Most animals will take breaks when needed. Our cat Lucy, a natural healer, has been putting in more lap time recently. Then I’ll find her lounging under the bed, something she hasn’t done in years. Molly the dog, when not on increased alert to delivery vehicles and foot traffic, has been sticking close by. Dusty the calico has kicked the comic relief up a notch, but still pointedly trots up the stairs when she’s ready to retire for the night.

If your animal friends seem anxious or stressed, tell them they do not need to take this on. I’ve been telling my crew and my clients’ animals that smart humans are working on solutions, and we can all help by being patient and courageous. Each in his or her own way, animals offer their prayers and healing intentions. They already know how.

Our world has been pushing through pain. Now much of what we thought we had to do has come to a stop. We are asked to stop the spread of the virus by staying home and, if we have to go out, practicing social distancing. This lets us protect one another, and it  gives our doctors, nurses, and first responders a fighting chance to help people heal.

Now that we’re stopped and staying, what can we do? Ricochet between bored and scared?

We can stay with our animal friends and ourselves. We can pray and send positive energy to those affected by the virus, the medical staff caring for them, and the scientists and health officials who are figuring this out. We can donate to funds set up to help the unemployed, support local businesses, and connect with one another through a variety of non-physical means. (Isn’t this what technology is for? Just sayin’.)

We can nourish our well-being and ask ourselves how we want post-pandemic life to look and feel. What steps can we take right here, right now, to make that happen?

The nudge of a dog’s nose, the rumble of a cat’s purr, or the knowing glance of a horse’s eye could provide the inspiration and connection to bring those intentions to life.

And if you and your animal friend would benefit from a communication session to address behavioral issues or a distant Reiki session to help both of you relax and reset, I am here.

Grandma’s lesson for our time

1969ish Flossie & NJC crop

My grandmother, Flossie Egan Craig, and I in 1969.

Fifty-three years ago, my mother watched news coverage of the war zone her hometown had become.

My grandmother, in her 70s, lived alone in the same house there on Cruse Street. Detroit was burning with arson fires, July heat, and years of anger stoked by injustice and fear. Mom was hours away in Indianapolis with a 6-month-old baby (me). I don’t know how long it took before she knew Grandma Flossie and the rest of our family and friends were safe in a city that suddenly and frighteningly wasn’t theirs.

Flossie Craig in front of 16260 Cruse copy (1)

Grandma Flossie in front of her home on Cruse Street in Detroit in the mid-1940s.

Over five days, 43 people were killed, 1,189 were injured, and hundreds of buildings were burned.

Only later did Mom learn that while the worst of the action was happening outside her door, Flossie played hymn after hymn on the piano, singing at the top of her lungs.

Her African American next-door neighbors, who were under their beds, could hear it.

Flossie was the only grandparent with whom I shared any earth time, and then only three years. The memories I do have of her, family stories such as the one above, and her abiding faith continue to inspire me.

Civil unrest is perhaps a poor comparison to a global pandemic, but I think my grandmother would handle it in much the same way. In a threatening situation, she offered her all to God, creating a bright sphere of protective energy with her music. That energy expanded with every note to surround her modest brick house and those nearby.

We humans have always known the power of sound and song to heal and unify. Whether it’s a lullaby, a protest song belted through tears, or a national anthem sung in unison, music raises our vibration and creates a powerful energy. Does it kill viruses, stop bullets, alleviate shortages, or put out fires? No. But it sure can change the atmosphere that produces and responds to all of these.

I don’t know if “How Can I Keep from Singing?” was one of the hymns my grandmother sang during those trying days. But I think it fits for ours, so I include the Enya version below.

May we, in today’s tumult and strife, hear and join in that “real, though far-off hymn” — with enough strength for the neighbors to hear.