[youtube height=”315″ width=”560″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdAZ79AhcfY[/youtube]
By Nikki Blair
Last week for my birthday I received a gift that every 39-year-old dreams of. Or maybe just every person who was 4 in 1978–if it still were 1978. That is: an album of Mr. Rogers songs.
Okay, it’s not 33-rpm vinyl like it would have been in ’78; it’s a cd, and the first thing I did was load it into iTunes. (Yes, some things have changed a bit!). But now every day, in the car, on the computer, as a ringtone on my phone, I can listen to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and “It’s You I Like,” and “You are Special.”
The thing about this disc, though, is that it’s not Mr. Rogers. That is, it’s his tunes, his words, even in the truest sense his voice… it’s just not his vocal chords doing the vibrating. It’s a woman named Holly Yarbrough singing covers of Mr. Rogers’ most beloved songs, backed by a swing band.
Sometimes when I’m listening to it, I forget what it is I’m listening to. It sounds so different; not just the vocals, but the settings of the oh-so-familiar songs, the very expression of melodies and lyrics that were practically hard-wired into my ‘70s-child brain.
But after all—as the song goes—”there are many ways to say I love you.”
No matter the voice, whether a jazz soprano or a sweatered television neighbor or a mom at her child’s bedside, the love still shines through these songs. I hear it and feel it when I listen, and I hope my children hear it and feel it when I sing the words to them (however badly). It’s a message I need just as much as they do.
There are, thankfully, so very many ways to say “I love you.” Countless ways. Ways we never even knew existed. If we listen we can hear them: in Jesus’ own jazz-like improvisations as he met women and men on the roads and mountainsides and docksides. We can hear them in our families, in the branches of our ancestries, rooted in our childhoods, and now spoken around dinner tables and over cell phone signals and in everything from diaper changes to care packages. And even in our church–perhaps especially there–if we listen very, very carefully we can hear many ways of “I love you” in unexpected expressions of worship, in the raucous fellowship of children at Godly play, in the quiet tones of a caretaker and the gentle arm of comforter, in leadership that rejoices in the gifts of others, in heated discussions over Bible study or church business, in the complex harmonies of song and of spirit.
If we can learn to hear these many ways, then we may eventually be able to speak in many ways. The listening may not feel comfortable; the songs may not resemble the soundtrack we were raised on, the stylings that we have always assumed to be good and right and true. We may need to listen with new ears to recognize the melodies and lyrics we know by heart, but when we do we can hear it: the same Voice still, reminding us in so many ways that we are special, that we are growing, that we– yes, even we–are loved.