Living Out The Spiritual Toast Sticks- An Advent Lesson From Mister Rogers

One of the things that I remember most about Christmas time in recent years is sitting down to watch children’s programs with my two sons- now three and six years old. Perhaps the one program series that most captivated their attention was that of Mister Rogers. Inimitable in many aspects of his character, Mister Rogers was best known for his ability to calm down the most restless of toddlers in a world where noise and busyness have become the norm. A quiet and gentle man who had a connection with children, Fred Rogers realized while in Christian seminary just how callous and uncontrolled children’s television had turned. He thus chose television as his medium for evangelism albeit without ever directly referring to God in his programs.

fred-rogersAs one NBC News report noted just after his death, Fred Rogers never preached about God on television – he never had to. His actions and attitudes spoke loud volumes. In this regard he lived up to the mantra most commonly attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words”. Part of Fred Rogers’ uniqueness lay in the fact that he had never lost touch of his childhood. His own memories of growing up had revealed to him the responsibility that men and women have to their children of providing a legacy that can be carried on through future generations. He used the bread toast sticks that his neighbor ‘Mama Bell’ had once taught him to make, as a metaphor for imparting such a legacy.

Author Amy Hollingsworth’s book The Simple Faith Of Mister Rogers provides a wonderful overview of the ‘spiritual toast sticks’ that Fred Rogers left for her through their life experiences together. As the Advent season approaches we can learn a lot from his imparted wisdom. From taking quiet time to reflect on life and our spiritual well being to the need for incessant daily prayer for our neighbors, from recognizing the action of the Holy Spirit on the lives of men and women to being our honest selves, from forgiving others to living in hope during times of difficulty, Hollingsworth’s account of the values that Fred Rogers held so dear to his heart are a lesson to us all. He managed to make over nine hundred episodes of his children’s program, The Neighborhood, and write over two hundred songs. As he told Hollingsworth, he considered The Neighborhood as the ‘tending soil’ for the Spirit to use as a means of touching lives.

rogers-puppetsIn addition to a trolley that ran between Mr Rogers and his fairy tail ‘Land Of Make-Believe’, puppets were a key feature of his programs- extensions of Fred Roger’s own personality that gave The Neighborhood an environment in which children could feel safe and be themselves. These puppets taught children about the importance of neighborly love and the consequences of selfishness and greed. Fred Rogers wanted us to understand that loving our neighbors meant recognizing what was wonderful about ourselves so that we could see the good in others. But he clearly wanted to go one step further, emphasizing the need for forgiveness towards those neighbors who had hurt or disappointed. His own seminary studies had taught him about the power and importance of forgiveness as a gift to be shared. Rather than being caught up in the torrent of consumerism this Christmas we should maybe look to our own neighborhood to see who we can invite into our house or perhaps call a relative who we have not spoken to in a long time.

As he expressed in his last interview with Hollingsworth just before he died, Fred Rogers’ longing was that we all learn to value each other here on earth in the same way God values us. This was not some utopian dream but a reality that he thought was fully achievable for all of us.

Today our responsibility lies in trying to live out these life lessons in our own lives so that we may be a legacy for those that follow in our footsteps. To quote from one of Hollingsworth’s favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, “an inheritance is nothing we ask for or earn or deserve. It is something we are given by the testator, and we can either accept or betray its responsibility.” Perhaps therein lies the answer to Fred Rogers’ dream – we have a God-given responsibility to love our neighbors. If we value such a responsibility as an inheritance given to us, it becomes something that is within our grasp through the little things we do this Christmas time and the year ahead.

Written by Robert Deyes

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Love All

Act Local: Share gifts of time and resources with those in our community. At the Impact Tree in the Atrium, find opportunities available for individuals, families and life groups. All the information you need will be on the cards by the Tree. Take a card – put an ornament on the tree.

Give Global: On Sunday, December 13 during services, we'll take up an Advent Conspiracy offering (a direct result of spending less) to give towards clean water projects and wheelchair needs in Honduras, Kenya and Romania. If you won’t be able to join us at services on that day but still want to participate, just write "Advent" in the memo of your check and drop it in any of the offering boxes.


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