Neighbor: being immediately adjoining or relatively near
Thought for the Day: The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. John 1:14 The Message
There probably aren’t too many individuals in the world today that haven’t heard or remember seeing episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers, it is noted, “began each episode by changing into one of his trademark cardigan sweaters while singing the show’s theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” He then addressed the topic of the day and in the process taught children how to get along with others, feel good about themselves, and cope with their fears.” Having an undergraduate degree in musical composition, Fred Rogers earned a divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church.
Rogers worked first for NBC in New York and then for the public television station WQED in Pittsburgh. In 1954 he began what became a seven-year run of writing, producing, and serving as puppeteer for The Children’s Corner; 30 segments of the show were broadcast on NBC in 1955–56. He then made his on-camera debut in 1963 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Mister Rogers and in 1966 returned to WQED, where the show became Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The rest is history with his programming.
Besides producing, writing the scripts, and serving as host, he wrote about 200 songs (including the theme song) for the program, some 1,000 episodes of which were broadcast between 1968 and 2001. The last original episode was taped in December 2000 and broadcast the following August; following the September 11th attacks in 2001, however, Rogers once again appeared on camera to record public service announcements aimed at informing parents how they could help their children cope with the events.
Fred Rogers was a gentle soul. His love for children and helping them cope with life’s various situations was his ultimate goal. Within all of his programs, songs, and his famous sweaters, Mr. Rogers loved the Lord and it permeated in everything he accomplished. He never preached, but you could feel the teachings of Jesus integrate every lesson and story Mr. Rogers and his family of companions told to the neighborhood audience. You actually felt a part of this neighborhood and wanted to live next door to Mister Rogers. Who wouldn’t desire the peaceful, calm attitude and loving nature of this man?
Why would I give so much attention to Fred Rogers in this devotional? Because Fred was a man whose nature reflected the attributes of our Lord; his calm demeanor, his loving nature, his concern for others and his emphasis on how we should treat one another mirrored the teachings of Jesus.
When I read the above scripture from The Message I couldn’t help but reflect on the one human being most of us saw, listen to, upheld with the greatest of respect and would have loved living next door. Then I began to wonder how we would respond if Jesus moved in next door? As he began demonstrating love toward others by doing kind acts of mercy, teaching lessons on how we should treat one another in a calm respectful manner, would he receive our utmost respect? I would assume we would. But Jesus, although doing wondrous acts of kindness and healing, had those who disagreed with him and ultimately falsely accused him.
Mister Rogers also was not treated respectfully by everyone. In fact, there are some who poked fun of his loving ways, soft voice and lessons that reflected goodness. But those of us who loved Mister Rogers openly and willingly received the valuable lessons he taught. Hopefully we continue to live as if this kind, gentle man was in our neighborhood. There aren’t many individuals like Mister Rogers openly proclaiming teachings regarding the sanctity of life and doing for others as we would want them to do for us being broadcast nationwide.
But there is One, Jesus Christ, who continually urges and nudges us to spread humble and gentle acts of kindness, not originated by Mister Rogers, but paid forward by him. Read through the pages of Jesus’ messages and within each one you will hear the voice of our neighbor, Mister Rogers. I'm assuming he used the same manual.
May we also pay those lessons forward.
Father, thank you for the life and work of Fred Rogers. I can only imagine the experiences and sights he is seeing in his eternal home prepared by You. May we follow the example he set here in the City of Pittsburgh and beyond by our actions, words of encouragement, and love freely given through our Lord. In whose name, I pray…Amen!
Judith "Cookie" White is the founder of The Sounding Board Ministry. She is the author of two devotional books which are available on this site.