kw: book reviews, spirituality, faith
I was 20 when Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began to air in 1968. I'd been raised on Howdy Doody Time, Mickey Mouse Club, and Captain Kangaroo. This new show seemed much too tame. Many years later, when my son was two, I began to watch two shows with him: Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Sesame Street. About the last, I was on occasion uncomfortable with the content, but never about Neighborhood.
By the time he was seven or eight, he'd outgrown the show. Not long after that, I heard an on-air interview with Fred Rogers, and found he was an ordained minister, and that the show was his ministry. He carried it on nearly to the end. Had he been less frail, I think he'd have been pleased to die in the saddle. As it was, he experienced about a year of retirement before his death in 2003.
Long-time Rogers family friend Amy Hollingsworth has gathered her own spiritual and practical impressions of Fred Rogers for us, in her book The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World's Most Beloved Neighbor. The publisher is Integrity Publishers.
A train runs on two tracks. The author has organized her material around the trinity of heart, eyes, and hands. However, I was most struck by two spiritual influences—among many in his life—that seemed to guide Fred Rogers. Firstly, the proverb of St. Francis: "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." Secondly, Dr. Wm. Orr, Fred's chosen mentor in Seminary, who showed that everyone is either an advocate or an accuser: it is our choice which we will be, in every situation. On these two tracks Fred Rogers guided his life.
One cannot read this book entirely dry-eyed. There is much that is touching, and more than touching. The revelation of a truly spiritual man draws an exquisitely agonizing call from the heart, to grow to such stature, to find pleasure in pleasing God. There is a tremendous difference between religion and spirituality. Mr. Rogers learned that well, and taught that...sometimes with words.
I find much of modern religion to be syrupy sentimentality. There is much sentiment in Amy Hollingsworth's book, but none of it is syrupy, and all is fitting.