I'm sure that many of you remember the man who portrayed the friendly neighbor in a popular children's program he created, making him known all over the world as "Mr. Rogers." Who can forget the childlike song that asked the question, "Won't you be my neighbor?" With the macho crowd, he was labeled a sissy and downright creepy, but to children, he was always a nice, polite and comforting role model.
There have been many false accusations about him through the years, like the rumors about him having to wear long-sleeve sweaters to hide his offensive tattoos. But these have all been proven to be nothing more than overactive imaginations and a display of how cruel our human nature can be. How sad to witness the moral convictions of our society falling so far away from God's standards that when someone is acting normal, the world believes they are weird.
This reminds me of the Scripture found in Isaiah Chapter 5 that warns, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that exchange darkness for light, and light for darkness; that trade bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." Unfortunately, this is another example of how the harsh attitudes of the oppressors are always seeking to bully and criticize decent individuals who are trying to make the world a better place.
Actually, most of this negativity can be explained when we realize his presentation was never intended to impress or entertain adults. His focus and passion were completely dedicated to providing an honest and wholesome ministry to children. He did not care about what people were saying; he was grateful to be communicating with the young ones and took his responsibility very seriously. Apparently, he was not trying to become famous or a television star. He was just using the broadcast as a vehicle to reach more children.
He designed "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" as an outreach ministry to the world and extension of his service for Christ. The show began in 1968 and filmed 895 episodes before ending in the year 2000. He is quoted saying, "I went into television because I was convinced there was some way of using this fabulous instrument of technology to help nurture those who would watch and listen."
He approached his young audience with respect and directness about issues such as self-control, imagination, honesty, creativity, appreciation for diversity, cooperation, patience and kindness, just to mention a few. There is a movie being made about his life, and I for one certainly hope this represents Fred Rogers in a favorable expression of honesty and integrity. In 2002 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and quietly passed away in 2003 with his wife, Joanne, at his side.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, Fred McFeely Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1963. I'm sure that most people did not think about it, but he was more like a Sunday School teacher who used simple props and themes to tell stories about everyday life. He was a puppeteer and used his own voice for the many characters in the show.
With a degree in music composition, he actually wrote over 200 songs, including "I'm Proud of You" and "You Are Special." As the character Mister Rogers, Fred was not necessarily acting like someone else but was simply being himself. He was simply devoted to his Christian faith and used his platform to demonstrate and communicate conservative Christian values.
As we acknowledge and appreciate certain modern spiritual leaders and their message of hope and inspiration, we can see that Fred Rogers was a pioneer of the encouragement movement. Instead of traditional religious sermons that focus on how bad we are, Fred wanted to build self-esteem and emphasize how everyone is loved and how we are all unique and important to God.
He once said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
This optimistic outlook and positive thinking approach is a choice we all make every day. We can be like Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh books and always complain about the glass being half-empty, or we can develop a humble awareness to value our blessings and thank God not only for the glass but also for it being half-full.
Dr. Billy Holland is a Christian author, an ordained minister and a community chaplain. Read more articles at billyhollandministries.com.