In a world where kindness toward our neighbors is severely lacking, Fred Rogers — Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — is a reminder that everyone deserves to be loved.
BY JON GARCIA
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary recently released about the life of Rogers. The film chronicles his life and work from humble beginnings to faithful endings.
Rogers believed his calling in life was to serve God through the medium of television. At one point during the film, the audience learns that when Rogers sought ordination with the United Presbyterian Church, he told the denomination that his mission field would be serving children — through educational TV.
We learn a lot about Rogers through his TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It quickly becomes evident that the show not only benefited a generation of children, but a generation of adults as well — Rogers included.
Rogers states that as a child, he was overweight and picked on. To add insult to injury, he didn’t feel the freedom to express emotions in his family (in particular, anger). As a result, he felt that one of the most important things he could do for children was to teach them how to understand their emotions. Rogers believed that if you understood your emotions, you could understand how to love yourself and love others.
There were a lot of really interesting themes that Christians could take note of. Perhaps the most profound idea in the movie was Rogers’ commitment to biblical integration. Without fail, his theology was woven deeply into the DNA of his show. The message of every episode was the same — people have intrinsic value, and they are worthy of love because of that. That’s what it means to be made in God’s image. It means you are valuable for no other reason than the fact that you are created in God’s image.
In a day and age where people yell at each other, call each other names, and attack each other’s character, Rogers is a breath of fresh air. He reminds us that we should never forget that even the “worst” among us are worthy of our dignity and respect for no other reason than the fact that they are God’s image bearers.
As I sit and reflect on Rogers message, I can’t help but think that this is the message the world needs today. We need to remember that above all, people deeply matter.
Black lives matter.
Immigrant lives matter.
Isis lives matter.
Republican lives matter.
Democrat lives matter.
It’s a really simple concept, but if you’re not intentionally seeking to live it out, you’re not going to remember that people matter. You’ll get callous and burned by the world, and you’ll forget that Christians are called to love other people — especially those who disagree with us.
Rogers never forgot this because he knew that deep inside each and every one of us, there was a childlike innocence. Rogers knew that the reason Jesus invited little children to come to him was because they were a true picture of faith. So in order to influence a generation of people and remind them that love matters, Rogers centered his life ministry on children.
Because there’s something simply beautiful about the childlike faith of an adolescent and the way they love people. They don’t hold grudges against others. They aren’t racist toward others. They don’t judge others. They just love people.
It reminds me of my childhood, when my father made us listen to a lot of oldies.
By the time I was in high school, I’d heard enough of them to last a lifetime. So at seventeen, I stopped listening to oldies.
Although I still have a healthy appreciation for oldies, I just don’t listen to them anymore. But every now and then, I’ll find myself humming one of the classics. And when that happens, it takes me back to my childhood, when I thought much differently about the world.
I found myself humming Dionne Warwick the other day. And, as the humming ensued, I found myself singing, “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”
Maybe I’ll start listening to oldies again.