Jesus and Captain Kirk
I always pictured Jesus as one of the cool kids—confident, likable, admired by the masses and willing to stand up to the authorities. Sort of a Biblical Captain Kirk or Dirty Harry. You would never call Him “popular,” because that would be too superficial. But you knew He was cool, and you totally wanted to be like Him.
Who wouldn’t want to be like that kind of Jesus? Who wouldn’t want to be able to say just the right thing at just the right time? (Especially to those uptight, know-it-all Pharisees!) Who wouldn’t want crowds clamoring and disciples following and church leaders complaining that you’re not following the rules? Of course, you knew you could never be as cool AS Jesus, but it was something to try for.
But what if Jesus wasn’t cool? What if Jesus was a geek?
What if He was not someone you’d want to be like?
What if Jesus stuttered? What if He had body odor? What if He was fat? We already know Jesus was ugly (Isaiah 53:2), so why do we always picture Him with gorgeous hair, piercing eyes, and clothes brighter than everyone else’s?
Sure, Jesus was perfect, which means He never sinned. But does being perfect mean you’re automatically “cool”?
Jesus and Mister Rogers
I started thinking about this after I read and reviewed an article about Fred Rogers.
Honestly, Fred Rogers was a geek. When you watch the clips of him that are scattered across YouTube, you see what I mean. His voice is a little too nasal. He talks just a little too slowly. And he can be a little too intense and precise. Seeing him interviewed by various talk show hosts, or sitting through those old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—well, it makes me a little uncomfortable. I get a little embarrassed for Mister Rogers.
But the more I learn about him, the more I’m forced to set aside my embarrassment and replace it with respect.
The gospel according to Tom
It started with that article I reviewed— “Can You Say…’Hero’?” by Tom Junod. Like a modern-day gospel writer, Junod relays story after story of interactions between Mister Rogers and people—children, ophthalmologists, celebrities, New York crowds, a gorilla. It’s amazing. And each story is an example of uncanny perceptiveness, unabashed gentleness, childlike joy, and quiet authority.
I began to see characteristics I hadn’t realized before:
- Fred Rogers was really loving. I mean, really. Not in a fuzzy or silly or romanticized way, but strongly and honestly. Amy Hollingsworth says this in her book, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers (which is available from Amazon.com):
It isn’t that Mister Rogers presented one side of reality and not the other; he wasn’t unaware of the chaos and confusion in the world (and that they were sometimes fed to children through the airwaves). He appreciated and represented the intricacies of life and showed an appreciation for complex and conflicting feelings. He wasn’t naive; he knew that seeing the best in ourselves so that we can see the best in our neighbor—an act that translates into harmonious relationships—is only possible because of forgiveness. (p. 104)
- He was beloved by children. And I think he was child-like without being childish.
- Mister Rogers was true to himself, no matter what the situation. No airs. No falseness. Hollingsworth quotes him as saying, “I’ve always been myself. I never took a course in acting. I just figured that the best gift you could offer anybody is your honest self, and that’s what I’ve done for lots of years.” (p. 52)
- He was focused on his mission.
- He was respectful yet passionate in the presence of government officials.
- He was able to communicate complex realities in simple language without ever compromising the truth.
- In a strange way, Fred Rogers made people uncomfortable, yet they were drawn to him. Perhaps as some sort of defense mechanism against the intimacy he offered, we choose to make fun or him, or change the channel, or tune out his message.
Just like Jesus.
Think about it…
So, doesn’t it make sense that Fred Rogers is a closer likeness of Jesus than Captain Kirk? I mean, really—think about it! Remember how Jesus’ disciples were always trying to advise Him about how to behave, to improve His image, to advance His political career? They thought He needed their help!
They wouldn’t think this if Jesus was like Captain Kirk.
But it makes sense if He was like Fred Rogers.
Forgive me, Fred
I’m pretty sure Fred Rogers wouldn’t want me to compare him to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in this way. But for me, it’s helpful.
What I see in Fred Rogers is someone I should want to be like. Even though it’s not my idea of cool.
I see someone who is able to surprise me with a fresh idea of how love looks, talks, and thinks—and make me aware of how deeply cynicism affects my judgement.
I see someone who would be completely unpopular—a mockery, even—if there weren’t something deeper there.
Forgive me, Fred, but I see Jesus in you.