Saturday, June 02, 2007

Remembering a Very Good Neighbor

WWFD - What Would Fred Do?

My daughters both loved Mr. Rogers. During their younger years, I often found myself late for work in the morning, because I wanted to linger just a moment or two on the couch and watch Mr. Rogers with my little girls. It was calming, heartwarming, and the most emotionally healthy stuff on TV.

The other night I had the time to watch the DVD of
"Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor". It had been recommended to me by a friend. This is one of the more memorable films I have seen in some time. This is a film that stays with you. It sticks. In your soul.

I will tell you why. Watching Fred Rogers makes me feel just a bit uneasy. Maybe it was because he wasn't assertive or macho enough for our world. But really, I think it is because he was such a completely genuine and kind man, with very little guile. He really did not seem to understand or tolerate sarcasm, the way all of us "modern" people do. Rather, he really believed in everyone he met, and felt that they were each a special miracle, never to be repeated.

He seemed to be emotionally way ahead of his time. He thought about and cared for children in a way that, even today, is quite remarkable. He was altogether kind, gentle, perceptive, and loving.

As I watched more of the program, I started to figure out both why I felt slightly uneasy, and also so very fascinated by this man. There was something else motivating him. Rogers attended both the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. He graduated from the Seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963 with a charge to continue his work with children and families through the mass media. He was ordained to care. To sit on the floor and listen to little kids; to respond and communicate to them love and understanding, sometimes with puppets.

I felt strangely moved because Fred Rogers was motivated by the Gospel, but in a different way that our culture is used to. He did not shout, or color his hair, or write a book about six magic ways to success, or start a big shiny church with his name on the marquee. He did not parade his faith about town, carrying a bullhorn. As I listened to him speak, and the words of the many songs he had written for his television show, I sensed that virtually everything he did and said was motivated by genuine care. A care that is not anything like what our culture is used to. Fred was very counter-cultural. Emergent and missional, if you will.

I would have loved to have known Fred Rogers. I think it would have been a bit like knowing Jesus. Slightly troubling and wonderful, together at the same time.

For the past couple of days, as I recall this great biography I watched, I have been thinking to myself, "I wonder what Fred would do?"
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