Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Made Mister Rogers So Special


It's been 50 years since the debut of one of the greatest television shows of all time: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.  And this past week sparked a new interest in the creator and star of the show himself, Fred Rogers.

Perhaps you saw this photo, which was shared widely after the horrific Manchester bombings:


Just as he had done many times in the course of half a century, Mr. Rogers was helping people with his kindness and his wisdom.

I was one of the lucky kids who got to be one of Mr. Rogers' neighbors from the very beginning. I was born in September 1963, so I was four and a half years old when the show debuted on National Educational Television in February 1968. I watched the show from the very first, and it quickly became my favorite. I didn't go to kindergarten, so I got to see lots of episodes before I began first grade. But I didn't stop watching after I started school, either.

I remember clearly one day when I was in second grade. I had been nominated for a small honor at school, and I, along with several other nominees, had to complete an interview with a panel of judges. One of the questions asked of us was "What is your favorite TV show?" There were lots of good shows on the air at that time, but I didn't have to think twice about my favorite. "Mister Rogers," I answered immediately (For whatever reason, I never called the show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood back then.)

All the other nominees laughed at me for that. They named popular nighttime shows like The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family and called me a baby for still watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I liked those nighttime shows, too, but I wouldn't give up Mister Rogers, not even if other kids thought I was silly for watching it.

When I was in third grade, I asked for three particular items for Christmas: a Crissy doll with hair that grew, Barbie's Country Camper, and Mr. Rogers' Songbook. As you can imagine, Crissy and Barbie didn't last too long, but look what's still on my living room bookshelf, 45 years later:


Maybe by third grade I was older than the intended audience for watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. But I wasn't too old to absorb the lessons I learned there, to soak in the kindness and goodness that Mr. Rogers presented.

So I loved my songbook, singing along with such iconic tunes as "Won't You Be My Neighbor?":


And "It's Such a Good Feeling":


Fred Rogers, who studied music composition as an undergraduate, wrote these songs and many others. My favorite, though, was "Everybody's Fancy." Since I was born with a mild birth defect, I struggled with issues of self-esteem. Hearing Mr. Rogers say "Your body's fancy and so is mine" was balm to my heart.


There was something special about Mr. Rogers, for sure. And people who knew him or had the chance to talk with him personally testify that his television behavior was no act—he really was kind, caring, and wise. This past week a personal story of one man's encounter with Mr. Rogers has gone viral. (If you haven't already, you really should read about it.)

That fact shouldn't be surprising, for Fred Rogers was a devoted follower of Jesus. Early in life he considered becoming a pastor, but he became fascinated with television and wanted to do something with that new medium that would be good for people's souls. But after he began working in the television industry, he entered seminary as a part-time student. It took him eight years to complete his degree, but he earned an M.Div. and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In a March 2000 interview with Christianity Today writer Wendy Murray Zoba, Fred Rogers told a story of his most beloved seminary professor, Dr. William S. Orr.

"I studied Greek with him and then I studied New Testament with him. Every Sunday, my wife and I used to go to the nursing home to visit him. One Sunday we had just sung 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God' and I was full of this one verse. I said, 'Dr. Orr, we just sang this hymn and I've got to ask you about part of it.

"'You know where it says—The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. For, lo, his doom is sure. … one little word will fell him? Dr. Orr, what is that one thing that would wipe out evil?'

"He said, 'Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the accuser'—which, of course, is the word Satan in Hebrew—'can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads.' Dr. Orr said, 'On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus.'

"I've never forgotten that. . . ."

"Every time I walk into the studio, I say to myself [as a prayer], 'Let some word that is heard be Yours.' The Holy Spirit translates our best efforts into what needs to be communicated to that person in his or her place of need. The longer I live, the more I know it's true," he says ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Christianity Today, March 6, 2000).

Fred Rogers never talked about his faith on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Instead, he did something far more powerful: he lived by faith, and he treated every person with the kindness and compassion of Christ. 

Mr. Rogers died in 2003 after a battle with stomach cancer, never having forgotten to look with the eyes of Jesus on his neighbors. 

The gospels tell us that when Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, He answered: 
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (see Matthew 22 and Mark 12). 

Mr. Rogers learned from Jesus to love his neighbors. Then he made all of us his neighbors.


You know, we often refer to all the people who write or read blogs or social media posts as a community. Maybe we'd do better to think in terms of neighborhood. With the internet our neighborhood spans the globe, but the wisdom of Fred Rogers—the wisdom of Jesus—is needed now more than ever, don't you think?

Jesus is alive today, ready to teach us to be good neighbors. I want to learn. Maybe we can learn together to make our online world a vast, loving neighborhood.

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let's make the most of this beautiful day
Since we're together we might as well say:
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine? 
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please, won't you please?
Please won't you be my neighbor?


I'm joining these wonderful parties:


15 comments:

Debby Ray said...

I loved Mr. Rogers and both of my boys grew up watching him. Like you, I think it was probably their favorite show. As they got older, they didn't admit it much but I would still find them watching :) I didn't know all of these other interesting facts you shared...how wonderful. The world could certainly use a Mr. Rogers right about now...IF they would only watch and LEARN. Great post, Richella.

Paula@SweetPea said...

I love watching Mister Rogers! I didn't have his songbook nor did I have the Barbie camper but I did have the Chrissy doll with the pull-out hair. Last year I took I took her to school and sat her on a stool by my SmartBoard. The kids were fascinated by her hair and many found her creepy. I wasn't much on playing with dolls but I did enjoy Chrissy!

Sherry said...

Beautiful post. I agree whole-heartedly. My son grew up watching Mr. Rogers and I never once grew concerned about the values being portrayed and taught on the screen during that beloved show. We are truly blessed to have lived during that time, and our children are the blessed recipients. I pray parents today would desire to teach heavenly priceless principles to their children.

Patricia Krank said...

This is what struck me most Richella: "Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the accuser can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads. On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus." This is so very true. Do I want to be like the accuser or do I want to be like Jesus? Thank you for sharing this with us. I am blessed to call you friend. Hugs <3

jenjen said...

A beautiful post. This world certainly needs more people like Fred Rogers. We would all live in a better neighborhood!

Diana Gruver said...

Mister Rogers was also one of my favorite shows as a child. I'm only now as an adult learning about the influence of his faith, and it's only making me love him more. Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

I still adore Mr. Rogers. Maybe we were all attracted to his show because Jesus's character was displayed so sweetly through him. Thanks for this thoughtful post about him and how he lived out his faith!

Kim said...

Haha!! I am 49 and I still think that I quote Mister Rogers once a week! There is something timeless about his kind nature and wise words. I think we need a whole lot more of Mister Rogers on tv today...

Patti Estep said...

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Mr Rogers was a huge part of my life and a great inspiration. Love his mom's words about helpers. Classic.

Stone Cottage Adventures said...

What a wonderful post! I love Mr. Rogers, too! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

taylorlisa said...

I didn't grow up watching Mr Rogers but I did watch it just about everyday when it was still on PBS with my little guys and the children I had in my care. It always had a wonderful calming effect on all of us.

Rita C. said...

Love this, Richella.

Lil' said...

I loved this post so much that I printed it to put on my wall at home! Does that sound silly? I just loved reading it and specially the quote from Mr. Rogers about bad things happening. Thank you for this. You have a nice way with words!

Stacey said...

Richella,I'm the same age as you and remember Mr. Rogers so well! He did provide a sweet, special show for us and we felt like we part of it all. I love your thoughts on having an online community. We spend so much (too much) time online these days and it's important to care for others.

Barbara Chapman said...

I've always loved Mr. Rogers, too! I don't think I ever really called his show by the whole title, either. It was just a good, clean, happy show able to take away any cares I had back then. I loved that his mother made all his sweaters. I agree that maybe we should call all of us bloggers a neighborhood ~ I like that thought a lot! For a long time, I had my blog subscriber description as: French Ethereal Friends. I've come to realize that this is a way of having many pen pals, something I had and loved having as a kid.

Thank you for a lovely post, Richella. I will be sharing,
Barb :)

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