For 33 years, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood sweetly demonstrated that people who behave kindly are good for the neighborhood.
A lovely sentiment.
However, in real life, kindness is not the mother of innovative progress, without which, we would not have a lot of stuff we love.
So, personal drive and ambition are good for the neighborhood too. Take Steve Jobs for example – a revolutionary icon who drove monumental advances in technology that serve us corporately and personally.
Inarguably good for the neighborhood.
However, one of Jobs’ employees felt his life was damaged forever by working on early editions of the Mac. He said, “I lost my wife in that process. I lost my children.” Of Jobs’ death, the team member wrote, “His was a life well and fully lived, even if it was a bit expensive for those of us who were close…”
Good for the neighborhood? Depends on the neighbor.
Therein lies the rub. The moving target of good neighborly behavior is hard to pin down and always seems to short somebody, no matter the good intentions.
Nowhere is “Love thy neighbor as thyself” showcased with higher highs and epic lower lows than in the Bible itself. Case in point: the entire life of David.
David is a big deal among church circles. He was both brave and cowardly, selfless and self-serving. So, was he good for the neighborhood?
Depends on the neighbor.
David was the ignored youngest of eight sons. His brother called him wicked-hearted and his dad didn’t consider him worthy to be king. Yet, amid a lack of early family nurturing, David had an ironclad sense of community.
How do we know? Goliath.
David saw mean, enormous Goliath as defying Israel’s God, which had everybody losing heart. Losing heart in the living God? Not good for the neighborhood.
So David picked up five smooth stones, slung one at Goliath, and pow. Dead.
That’s the finale. It is important to get it out of the way because the details of David’s whole life before and after Goliath can get lost in the adulation around the Goliath finale. That’s reasonable. What a great finale.
However, like any good finale, details count. Where would David’s details position him – as a kindly Mister Rogers neighbor or an ambitious Steve Jobs kind of neighbor? We might be surprised.
For one thing, every step that David took was influenced by his trust in something outside of himself. Which is a little more Steve Jobs than you might think. “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever,” said Jobs.
If everyone agrees there are a lot of options out there of what and who and how to trust, then David’s life would reflect a simple message: choose carefully, because life gets messy, and what we trust better hold up under the lean.
Which is a different thing than following a mantra of “Get God.” David had gotten God – until he blew God off, and more than once.
For instance, when David’s son raped David’s daughter, David didn’t want to deal with the situation. He was furious, but his choice that day was five smooth stones of ambivalence.
There was more. Adultery, betrayal, murder.
Getting derailed in life is not unfamiliar to most anybody over the age of puberty. This is earth, not heaven. People are known to mess up, which is a little more Mister Rogers than you might think. He once said, “Little by little we human beings are confronted with situations that give us more and more clues that we are not perfect.”
No kidding. Repeatedly, that was the case for David. What repeatedly snapped him out of it?
A really good neighbor.
One was a woman. Her husband refused a favor for David and David was smoking mad, ready to retaliate in a way that would have been a disaster for everybody – including David. Mercifully, the woman intervened and saved David from suffering the consequences of picking five wrong stones of retribution.
As such, we see that a neighborly “live and let live” mantra is not as neighborly as one might think.
Also, an “I treat how I want to be treated” is not enough. David didn’t want to be treated to chastisement. Only later was he thankful for the chance to stop his downward spiral.
Which circles us back to where we began. Loving our neighbors enough to act benevolently toward a community’s greater good and loving ourselves enough to live out our personal calling does not boil down to easy, silver bullet, step-by-step behaviors.
So, how do we love our neighbors as ourselves?
Unless we can pay the expense to everyone on our off days when we inevitably pick the wrong five smooth stones for whatever situation is at hand. Or unless we can pay the expense when neighbors neglect to encourage well, or rebuke effectively.
We don’t have that power. However, the Bible claims we are loved by a God who does.
In the case of David, the Bible offers a little-known saying that reads, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” It is referring to a plumb line that compensates for the shortcomings across the spectrum of Mister Rogers-esque kindness to Steve Jobs-esque ambition.
These attributes are featured ad nauseam throughout the Bible, via characters like David, who were rarely categorized as all good or all bad. What kind of man behaves in such extremes?
Humans of yore whose best efforts still fell short, just as cultural icons’ best efforts still fall short today. For the sake of the neighborhood, somebody’s got to absorb the cost.
The God of the Bible wishes we would let that be Him.