Farmville Enterprise April 4, 2018
Last week on March 20, the day that would have been the 90th birthday of Fred Rogers, the first official trailer for the film “Won’t You Be my Neighbor?” was released. This documentary about a surprisingly successful children’s television series will be in theaters in early June.
In the trailer the show’s producer Margy Whitmer notes, “You take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite — you have Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood — low production values, simple set, an unlikely star, yet it worked.” Fred Rogers’ series focused on caring for and accepting our neighbors, with kindness as the prevailing theme. In the early 1960s Rogers was generally displeased with most television programming for children. He decided to offer a better alternative. In 1963 Rogers earned a Masters of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh. His ordination included an unusual charge, not one for preaching, but one to continue his ministry with children and their families through media. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood first aired in 1968 and made a positive impact on young people with new episodes for 33 years. In each show Mr. Rogers would put on his cardigan and sneakers, sing certain songs and act as a puppeteer. About one of his special songs Rogers noted at Dartmouth College’s 2002 Commencement, “When I say ‘it’s you I like,’ I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”
At the 2001 Commencement Address at Marquette University, Rogers stated, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing—that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So, in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”
At another time he noted, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle.’ To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
Mr. Roger’s message of neighborly love was based on New Testament teachings. “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25-29)
Jesus went on to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan which included a priest and a Levite not stopping to help a bruised and beaten man, and asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:36- 37)