Jesus and Mister Rogers

June 21st, 2018

I’m a child of the 70’s. I grew up watching Sesame Street, Captain Kangaroo, Krofft Supershow, and Schoolhouse Rock! But one of my favorite shows — even as an elementary school student — was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. There was something about his calm demeanor and kind smile that made me feel like I was more than a television viewer. I was Mister Rogers’ friend.

I remember when I was in second grade, my parents picked up my brother and me early from school and drove us downtown to a special theater. We were there for a live show of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. I can’t recall much about that exciting day, but I do remember getting to meet Mister Rogers in person as we exited the theater. He stood outside the building greeting all of us as we left.  As I walked by, he shook my hand and looked me in the eye as if I was the most important person in the world. He made me feel special.

Mister Rogers is from my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked at our local public television station, WQED. As a child, I didn’t understand the effect this man and his show were having on millions of kids across the country. He was my friend from my town. 

It wasn’t until I had children of my own, and we made trips from Nashville to Pittsburgh to visit their grandparents, that I began to understand the enormous impact Mister Rogers had on generations of children and families. I proudly introduced my three kids to the Land-of-Make-Believe when we went to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and to the Trolley when we visited the play space at the local mall. And, of course, we were all delighted to see the statue at Riverfront Park. I recall lingering at the memorial, with memories flooding my mind as I pledged myself to be an advocate for children like Mister Rogers.

The gift that Mister Rogers and his cast of characters — X the Owl, King Friday, Lady Elaine, Daniel Tiger, Mr. McFeeley and the others — offered us was a safe place to be kid. I could use my imagination, explore my feelings, and ask questions without being hushed. I was welcome just as I am

And isn’t that just like Jesus? The kids came to Him, laughing and playing. He welcomed them. He was never too busy for them. In fact, in my own version of the story, I can see Jesus running and smiling right along with them.

As the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? hits theaters across the U.S., the news and talk shows are flooded with articles and interviews about this simple man who gave his life to help children through the vehicle of arts and media, through television, music, and books. Once again, I am challenged and inspired to do all I can to serve. We don’t need to travel around the globe to do missions. We can start by being kind to the person who lives next door.

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