Role Models

My wife and I loved the Mr. Rogers movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” with Tom Hanks. What struck me particularly is how seriously Fred Rogers took his vocation. He was a Christian minister with a sense of calling to children’s television. That had to be difficult to explain, let alone to get people to take seriously. It’s virtually the basis for a SNL skit. But Mr. Rogers took it very seriously. He thought hard about what children needed to hear, and how they would hear it—and he agonized about the details in a way that was almost monomaniacal. I suspect he could be difficult to live with and work with, not because he was unpleasant in the least, but because he was so otherworldly. He had a vision, and he was not going to deviate from it, not for anything.

He also had a vision for how to relate to people, and he took that seriously too. He kept notes on friendships. He called people and wrote notes, not for business purposes, but to show that he cared for people he met. He prayed for people, on his knees, every day, and he asked children to pray for him. He took kindness to an extreme. He did it every day, with every person.

So I’ve read. I have seen a similar seriousness in my uncle Paul Pulliam, who died last year at the age of 93. He spent his life as a missionary in Pakistan and as the pastor of a large, downtown Presbyterian church in San Diego. He was extraordinarily energetic, adventurous (he treated himself to a jump from an airplane for his 85th birthday), curious. What stood out to me the most was his hospitality. He welcomed me and my family members many, many times, and would have done anything in the world to make us more comfortable. Hospitality extended far beyond his home, though. He showed great interest in the church custodian and the Thai taxi driver, in the small business owner and in the homeless woman with a dog. If he got half a chance he would learn all about their work and their family and everything else. It wasn’t something he did sometimes; he did it all the time, 365 days of the year, tired or busy or in a hurry.

In the same week I attended his memorial service, I also went to Wanda Britton’s. Wanda died at 93 too. She was a school teacher, the mother of four children, and a very devoted member of my church. (One of her daughters told me laughingly she thought her mother was in a Presbyterian cult.) According to what people said at the service, Wanda was a very good teacher and a very good mother, but what stood out to me was her gentle kindness. She knew what to say to encourage people. She had a lovely smile, which she used frequently, and possessed a stillness, a consistency, like that of a deep river. She was very loved, but I don’t think she acted out her life with the aim of being loved for it. She did what she knew was right for her to do. The love of Jesus had penetrated her soul. I miss her, and I am far from the only one.

These three people—two whom I knew, one whom I knew only through TV shows—are role models for me. They were consistent. They took their lives seriously, and they worked at being what they were supposed to be. It was natural to them to be the kind of people they were, but they applied themselves to developing that. It’s so much easier to say to yourself, “This is who I am; I have it down; I will just put in my day.” It’s so much easier to cruise.

2 Responses to “Role Models”

  1. Dustin Ellington Says:

    These examples of intentional living are inspiring. Thank you, Tim!

  2. Bill Reichert Says:

    Thanks, Tim. These are great saints I hope to meet in the Kingdom one day.

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