Will you be my neighbor?

Vantage Point: Movie prompts thoughts on reconciliation and grace

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Donna and I spent Thanksgiving Day together without our children and grandchildren. We had gathered the weekend before, as is our custom, and enjoyed a wonderful time of loving family, delicious food and thankful hearts. God had blessed us more than we could ask or imagine!

But for Thanksgiving Day, the two of us were alone and enjoying a day of rest and relaxation. I thought it would be a good time to do something special for just us. So, I bought a couple matinee tickets to go see It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the story of Fred Rogers, “Mister Rogers” of children’s television fame. On the way to the movie theater, I remarked to Donna that it would likely be a bit slower paced than the Star Wars movies we have seen and will be taking our children and grandchildren to when they come for our family Christmas celebration.

The story is less about Fred Rogers and more about the investigative reporter who was assigned to do a small feature article for Esquire magazine on Rogers back in November of 1998 under the title, “Can You Say…Hero?” written in real life by journalist Tom Junod. You can read the online reprint of the article here.

In the movie, Tom Junod’s character is named Lloyd Vogel (played by Matthew Rhys). The movie is mostly about his estranged childhood relationship with his father who left his mom as she was dying. The story is as much about Lloyd Vogel’s struggle to be reconciled to his father as it is about Mister Rogers and his neighborhood. It is about the inbreaking of the neighborhood in Lloyd Vogel’s life and it affects every relationship he has, from his infant son, his wife, his sister and eventually to his dying father.

I identified with Lloyd Vogel. There are some parallels in the story to my own relationship with my father who divorced my mother, though not when I was a child, nor in abandonment of her or our family. Still, my pain and sense of helplessness were just as real as a 20-something, married adult as it must have been for Vogel in the movie. I had to find my own reconciliation with my dad, and though perhaps not fully, a degree of grace and forgiveness eventually came to me.

The pain we bear as unwilling victims of others’ poor decisions or worse, outright sin, is hard to pry from our hearts.

I suspect many of us live inside self-constructed prisons of anger and bitterness that keep us locked in as much or more than it keeps those who have hurt us locked out. Truth be told, they are locked inside us when we cannot let go of the anger.

Jesus was asked once, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. I think the teaching is that anyone who is hurting and who I have the capacity to care for is my neighbor. Whoever is hurting encompasses a great number of people, maybe mostly everyone we know, likely even those who have hurt us. Could I, should I, be their neighbor too?

I hope and pray that I can become a better neighbor to those around me. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Tim Sullivan
Tim Sullivan has served as the Southern District Conference minister since 2004. He is married to Donna who is the U.S. Conference administrative secretary and bookkeeper. They live in Wichita, Kansas, and have three married children and eight grandchildren. Sullivan enjoys hunting, fishing, riding bicycle and showing his grandchildren the wonders of God's creation

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