By Trudy Wischemann

I’ve just learned a very important truth: It takes discipline to be a disciple. And I learned it from watching Tom Hanks become Mr. Rogers in the new movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

My family didn’t watch Mr. Rogers when I was growing up. They thought it was hokey. Maybe you’re the same. But if you’ve ever loved Tom Hanks in one of his movie roles—say, Forrest Gump, or Scully, or The Green Mile—you do not want to miss this movie. His rendering of Mr. Rogers, who may not be someone you think of reverentially, could make a believer out of you. At least, it did me.

And what it makes me believe is the possibility of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the ordinary days and places we inhabit, here in the not-always-so-good U.S. of A. Ordinarily I don’t use those words, “disciple of Jesus Christ,” because so many people who do use them seem to have fallen very far from that tree, at least to me. I prefer to let my actions speak and leave others free to make their own interpretation. I end most days knowing that people have seen how very far I’ve fallen from that tree.

Normally, if pressed, I prefer to represent myself as being in covenant with YHWH. I just bought a mug at Big Lots with the quote from Joshua 24:15, with the added four-letter word I love so much, Home: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” For me, “house” is literal, but I’m sure Joshua meant all the residents who fell under his jurisdiction as the male head of his household. That was then, this is now. As the female head, I can dedicate my walls and roof as well as myself (and, of course, the cats.)

Why I am called to imagine the Christ connection now, though, after watching Tom Hanks, is the notion of forgiveness. According to my little Quaker book, Plain Living, William Blake asked the question whether there was anything new in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. He is recorded as answering himself “Only one thing, the importance Jesus attached to forgiveness.” Early on in the movie, we are given Mr. Rogers’ definition of forgiveness, and then we watch as he patiently works the magic of forgiveness into the lives of some people seriously impaired by the lack of it: a family, where forgiveness is most needed and often most difficult to find.

And how Mr. Rogers did this—served as Jesus’ undeclared disciple to little children and their adults for 30-some years—is through the practice of what I perceived to be spiritual disciplines. He didn’t pretend to not get angry, either at people or the injustices in the world we perpetrate. He dealt with his anger in concrete ways, which we are shown in the movie. Dealing with his anger tangibly, daily, allowed him to be spiritually ready to offer people of all ages the insights they needed to break free of anger and the pain below it. To be able to realize that it really is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, especially when relationships matter.

My little Quaker book also provides a definition of forgiveness that is close to what I heard come out of Tom Hanks’ mouth in the film: “giving up the right to hurt someone for the hurt they’ve done to you.” That’s close to what I heard come out of Tom Hanks’ mouth, but not nearly as beautiful. I need to see the movie again so I can hear those words.

In this first week of Advent, in the opening days of Christmas shopping season, as we prepare to celebrate the Birth, I think there’s no better way to get ready than to stop by the theater. The meaning of Christmas is right up there on the screen, with Tom Hanks revealing a true American hero, Mr. Rogers. If they knew, my family would thank me for going.


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