It’s fitting, I think, that movie theaters have sandwiched a documentary detailing the life and times of Fred Rogers between hyperviolent films about drug lords and murderous vigilantes.
That’s why Rogers created his famous neighborhood — to serve as a buffer zone between children and violence.
And it’s also gratifying to learn that “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is among the most successful films of the summer.
Maybe people still know what matters most.
The things that mattered most to Fred Rogers, of course, were authenticity, respect, caring and meaningful connections.
They are classic Christian virtues, though probably not one soul in a hundred knew that Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. As the documentary points out, he was more interested in communication than his credentials. His sermon was his ability to bond with others.
The famous quote attributed often to St. Francis of Assisi comes to mind: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” As does a thought from the Buddhist teacher Tich Naht Hahn: “The best theologian is the one who never speaks about God.”
Writing in The New York Times, columnist Tom Brooks summed up the theology of Rogers this way: The child is closer to God than the adult. The sick are closer than the healthy. The poor are closer than the rich. And the marginalized closer to God than the celebrated.
Rogers had detractors, of course.
Some felt his telling children they were special just as they were simply fostered feelings of entitlement in kids. But in his own mind, Mr. Rogers was just being true to his core Christian ideals. To crib a line from Carol Lynn Pearson in the poem "Beginnings," he honestly felt that children were “the seeds of Deity.”14 comments on this story
As the documentary wended through the upper-class early years of Rogers, through his insecurities and ambitions and ultimately to his role as the PBS Patron Saint of Children, I thought of something by C.S. Lewis. He claimed what Christianity needed was fewer writers writing about Christianity and more writers writing about everything else.
Mr. Rogers never wore religion on his sweater sleeve. But he also never hid his light under a bushel. He simply let his faith beam into the lives of others without feeling a need to broadcast his beliefs.
His life was his Christian message.
If more people learned that lesson, the world would be less chatty and more charitable.
And when I say “most people,” what I really mean is “me, myself and I.”