If you were a child during the last part of the 20th century or you had children, then you are more than familiar with the name Fred Rogers, better known as Mr. Rogers, the star of the PBS television show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” With his cardigan sweater and his comfortable sneakers, Mr. Rogers regaled us children and adults with his puppets and music and excursions into the Land of Make Believe. But most of all, Mr. Rogers drew us into his neighborhood by receiving us “just the way we are.”
I’ve been reading a new biography on Fred Rogers, titled, The Good Neighbor, by Maxwell King. King delves deeply into Rogers’s background, informing us as to the experiences and lessons that made Mr. Rogers the special advocate of children we knew him to be.
I was aware that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. What I did not know is that upon his graduation from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary he had to convince his local presbytery, the determining body as to a candidate’s eligibility for ordination into the Presbyterian Church, that his calling was to a television ministry geared for children and not a local church. But Rogers prevailed in his plea and the rest is history.
I also didn’t know that Rogers grew up in a privileged family in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and that his childhood was anything but easy. Partly because of his family privilege and partly because of his shy personality, Rogers struggled in his early years, which instead of destroying him, ultimately shaped him into an adult who understood all too well childhood challenges. Being liked just the way you are is a gift that someone chooses to extend to another, which is always good news to those who constantly feel like they have to measure up to the expectations of others.
King’s biography also doesn’t mince the importance of faith to Rogers’s work. Reared in the Presbyterian Church by his parents, Fred never veered from the church’s embrace so that much of his media philosophy stemmed from his deep-rooted Christian convictions. While Rogers never sought to coerce anyone to his spiritual beliefs, he never hid them either. They informed everything he was about, both in his private and personal life.
Neighborliness is something sorely missing in our culture today. People have tended to retreat to their corners where their only interactions are with those who think and believe like they do. Consequently, our society is much shallower and much less substantive. Sadly, many of the folk who act in the most tribal ways are those who claim allegiance to Jesus, who instead taught his disciples to love everyone, even their enemies.
Who knows how many people in Mountain Brook are looking for a place where people will accept them not because of who they are or what they have, but in spite of it? Fred Rogers’s life’s story reminds me of the richness of a life that is respectful and welcoming to others because of how it recognizes the manner in which every person has been created in God’s image and was someone for whom Jesus died.
So, let us at MBBC be a place where the folk who come our way find comfort and rest in the love of Christ, which wishes the best and works for the best for everyone. Only then will our neighborhood and our world become more of the place God wants it to be, a place where His presence and purposes always reign supreme.
“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).