Barney, the purple dinosaur, PBS TV series Barney & Friends. (Photo by Mark Perlstein/Getty Images)

               Back in the 1990s, a children’s television program took the United States by storm. Barney, a big, purple tyrannosaurs rex, won over the hearts of toddlers across the country. In his television program, Barney & Friends, Barney sang, danced, and told stories to young viewers. I was older than the target audience (mostly millennials followed by generation Z), so I never watched Barney as a child. But my brother and sister did. In fact, my brother and sister had Barney videos and they may have even had Barney plush toys. Barney merchandise was hot. Barney’s world tour was even hotter. When Barney came on stage, toddlers would jump and scream and yell with joy as if they were teenage girls at a Beatles concert in the 1960s. It was really a fascinating phenomenon.

               While Barney certainly had his share of fans, he also had his foes. For every mommy and child that watched Barney with joy, there were countless others who seemingly made it their life’s mission to despise Barney. Barney was parodied on late-night television. Former Phoenix Suns star Charles Barkley faced off against Barney in a Saturday Night Live game of one-on-one. Barney was beaten up by the Famous San Diego Chicken. Conspiracy theorists suggested that Barney was “the beast” prophesied by the Book of Revelation (by the way, that’s a complete and utter misreading of the text of the Book of Revelation, but we will get into that at another time). Barney toys were set ablaze. Barney’s closing theme song was played repeatedly over the sound system at Guantanamo Bay to punish prisoners suspected of terrorism. Video tapes (remember those?) were destroyed. Kids were bullied for being suspected of enjoying Barney as if Joseph McCarthy were asking them if they were members of the Communist Party. Kids were severely beaten for watching Barney and Barney was lampooned for years and years and years. But why?

               To be fair, Barney is a kids’ show. And it appeals mainly to kids. I don’t find it entertaining and I probably can’t watch it for more than a few minutes at a time without reaching for the remote. But I don’t despise Barney. I don’t agree with Barney hatred. I don’t agree with kids bullying other kids for enjoying Barney. In fact, in the right context, I support the idea of Barney. Lots of shows are “annoying” or even “obnoxious” to adults, but none have ever been as hated as much as Barney. I’m convinced that the reason people hated Barney so much was because they weren’t ready for his message. The Barney closing theme song, sung to the tune of “This Old Man”, tells kids they are loved. The lyrics to the song are as follows:

I love you, you love me.

We’re a happy family.

With a great big hug

And a kiss from me to you,

Won’t you say you love me too?

I love you, you love me,

We’re best friends,

Like friends should be

With a great big hug,

And a kiss from me to you,

Won’t you say you love me too?

               Love is a complicated word in the English language. We only have one word to communicate the emotion of love. And because of this, the word can make us uncomfortable. Why did so many people have a tremendous problem with a silly purple dinosaur because he told kids he loved them? After all, we are called to love. Time and time again, the scriptures tell us to love. Jesus tells us to love. We are supposed to love. It is good to love. It is good to be loved. Why can’t we take it in?

               I think it’s time that we take it back. I think it’s time that we stand up for love. We all need love. And there are countless expressions of the importance of love. And not just romantic love, but neighborly love. The Beatles remind us that all you need is love. Dion sings about the love shown by Abraham, Martin, and John. U2 reminds us that Martin Luther King Jr. came in the name of love. We have a human desire to love and to be loved. And it’s ok to love. It’s ok to say the words “I love you.” And it’s ok to let the love in our hearts. For as much hatred as Barney took during the series run, I think he got it right. He taught an entire generation of kids that they are loved and that they can love others in return.

               I’m not a “millennial.” I’m at the tail end of “generation X.” Generation X is sometimes known as “the forgotten generation” because many of us we weren’t as financially successful as our baby boomer parents, and we’re not as tech savvy as our millennial or generation Z children. Many of us grew up fending for ourselves while both parents were at work. We rode our skateboards and played our Ataris. We talked on telephones with long cords that reached all the way to our bedrooms to give us a little bit of privacy. We wore jeans with holes in them and wore a façade of apathy. But there are a number of things our millennial counterparts get right. Generation X is not great about empathy, but millennials and the younger “zoomers” sure get it. Maybe this is partly because we watched cartoons of Donald Duck throwing rocks at his nephews and we watched Bugs Bunny feud with Daffy Duck, and the millennials and zoomers watched Barney instead. Maybe the message stuck. It’s pretty common to complain about the younger generations, but the millennials and zoomers deserve credit for the way they show love.

               Let’s all take a page from their playbook. A page from Barney’s playbook. A page from Jesus’s playbook. A page that says it is good to love and it is good to be loved. Tell people you love them. Tell them often. Tell them so much that it makes them uncomfortable. And let them love you in return. Not because you did something to “earn” their love. But just because you’re you! And that’s a pretty darn good thing to be. You are a child of God. You are beloved. I am beloved. We all can share the love and we can welcome and receive the love of others. When we do this, when we love and we let others love us, we will continue to be the Church in the world. And we will continue to make the world a better place.

I Love You, You Love Me