Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Fred Rogers - giving Christianity a good name

These days when someone says they are a Christian, and feels that it is their duty to try to tell other people to become Christians, it invariably turns out that all their talk of Christian virtures is simply a way to smother their conscience and avoid examining their deepest impulses and desires. Certainly there have been enough famous Christian preachers who have been caught practicing what they preached against - so many that when I hear someone proclaim what a big Christian they are, I immediately become wary of them, which usually turns out to be the path of wisdom.

Ole Fred Rogers did NOT make a big show of his Christian beliefs. He simply made people, and not only children, feel better. There was an article in the TV Guide in 1985 about Lauren Tewes, who had been a cast member of the TV show The Love Boat:
When Lauren Tewes heard Mr. Rogers offer and question, “I’ll be your friend. Will you be mine?” she broke down in tears and answered aloud, “Yes! Yes, I will!” She later said, “I resolved at that point to get my life together. I was totally collapsed, and Mr. Rogers saved my life — with an offer of friendship.

Naturally this sort of display of honest emotion, vulnerabilty and sincerity is met with derision, and Mr Rogers was mocked and dismissed by those who, I guess, fancy themselves sophisticates. I found this account very interesting:

Yes, at seventy years old and 143 pounds, Mister Rogers still fights, and indeed, early this year, when television handed him its highest honor, he responded by telling television--gently; of course--to just shut up for once, and television listened. He had already won his third Daytime Emmy, and now he went onstage to accept Emmy's Lifetime Achievement Award, and there, in front of all the soap-opera stars and talk-show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are .... Ten seconds of silence." And then he lifted his wrist, and looked at the audience, and looked at his watch, and said softly, "I'll watch the time," and there was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn't kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked... and so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds... and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier, and Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said, "May God be with you" to all his vanquished children.

OK, in this case he got God in there but at least it wasn't on his TV show.

In my own struggle to get past recent grief it helps to think of Fred Rogers, and also of the people who were helped by him who had it much worse than I've ever had:
“This person said that when she was growing up, she lived in an exceedingly abusive household where she was raped and scared every day. And she said the only time that she felt that anybody really cared about her is when she was watching us,” Mr. Rogers said to Pinkston.

Predictably, Fred Rogers antithesis, Fred Phelps appeared at the memorial service for Rogers to proclaim that he was going to hell for not condeming homosexuality.

It's a bad break for Christianity that Rogers died in 2003 while Phelps is still here. Fred Rogers proved that not all Christians are bad.