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Faces on Faith: Mr. Rogers incarnated the Christian faith in his work with children

August 15, 2018
By REV. JOHN N. CEDARLEAF , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

I haven't seen the Mr. Rogers movie but a lot of people have and as yet I've not heard a negative thing said about it. If we're of a certain age, we remember Mr. Rogers because our children watched him. If we're a bit younger, we watched him. Some thought him a little odd with his quiet ways and slow paced program, especially compared with "Sesame Street" which was also running PBS at that time. What was with that cardigan sweater and taking off one set of shoes for another one, anyway? Since the program has been gone and since Fred Rogers' death, there have been a lot of urban legends about him, such as he was a sniper in Vietnam or he had a sleeve of tattoos on his arms, which is why he always wore a long-sleeved shirt. One fact was true and that he was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church. Fred Rogers was a Christian and this was the ministry he was ordained for.

It might seem strange to think of a minister ordained for television. Perhaps when we think of preachers and television, we don't get good vibes: prosperity gospel nonsense, phony faith healing or political hacks misusing faith. Fred Rogers was none of these things and to listen to him, unless you listened with a sharp ear, you might well have thought he was a reformed sniper rather than a minister. What he did in his work with children was to incarnate (good theological word) the Christian faith, which tells us that in the end what is important is God's love for us and our love for one another. Christians believe that this love was made flesh in that "marginal Jew" Jesus of Nazareth, who broke all kinds of barriers between people and who spoke truth to power in a way which infuriated the authorities and ultimately caused his public execution. Christians believe that in that death and in his resurrection this Jesus drew all people to himself in love.

So you see, Fred Rogers preached this without using those theological words. I wonder what Fred Rogers would say today about the climate we live in politically and socially and how difficult it is for some of us to reach out in love to those who we not only disagree with, but frankly despise. One of his quotes may help: "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." Thanks Fred, I'll keep trying.

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Rev. John Cedarleaf

The Rev. John Cedarleaf is the pastor at the Captiva Chapel by the Sea.



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