When the Pharisee tried to justify himself before Jesus, by asking ‘who is my neighbor?’, he was trying to limit the scope of his responsibilities. Jesus’ answer expanded the 'pharisee in us all limitations' to ‘anyone that we are proximate to’. But the fully expounded, lived out lesson of this encounter with Jesus is really found in a children’s TV show host I had never even heard of until a few weeks ago, called Fred Rogers.
New, Big Screen (Sony) Film About a Christian TV show for Kids
I enjoy watching Tom Hanks, so I read up on his latest movie release in the paper, called ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’. Nothing about the picture of him in a daggy red cardigan and glasses made me think this movie would be such a treat. Tom Hanks plays the Presbyterian minister who in the 1970’s started a TV show in the United States for young kids (preschool and up?) to equip them for life’s challenges and show them their true value from God.
Fred Rogers started the show in a local, free to air TV station that gradually grew to be a much loved and later lampooned, childhood TV classic across the United States. The production values weren’t high, the sets were colourful but very simple, the puppets were elementary but effective. Fred wrote his own scripts, songs and directed and produced the show. Nuts! I think they ended up filming almost a 1000 episodes. I mean it’s staggering and yet, in Australia, we’ve never heard of him.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
The movie is not a biopic on Fred Rogers, but rather about the developing relationship between a journalist who is sent to do a short piece on ‘US’ heroes. The journalist starts our very hostile and is likely to write a scathing review, but something about Fred Rogers changes that angle and slowly the journo is worn down and begins to appreciate his own failings and the place from which Fred’s sincerity comes from.
I guess if you wanted one word to describe Fred, sincerity would come to mind. Some recent reviewers of the movie have criticized and even walked out on the film’s unrelenting sincerity. Australian reviewers have a hard time ‘getting’ this film I think because first, we aren’t privy to its staggering history and contribution in the US and second, we are becoming more and more hostile to anything that remotely stems from a Christian source.
But the sincerity thing I find hard to accept as a reason to not like the film. You think of kids shows in Australia like ‘Play School’. I mean we do have a treasured show that isn’t Christian, that is incredibly sincere and which production values mimic the level of Fred Roger’s ‘Beautiful Day’. We have presenters talking direct to camera, not trying to trick kids with anything, but just be present for them and keep things slow and simple. We know this kind of show. I think we just don’t like that ‘A Beautiful Day, happens to be Christian.
I can see that shows like Mr. Pickles’ “Kidding” (Stan) have been strongly influenced by Mr. Roger’s ‘A Beautiful Day’. I’m stunned that a guy, now a minister, back in the 70’s and 80’s and even through to the naughties was making shows for kids to help them navigate through such troubling subjects as divorce, death and assassination! How on earth, right?!
A Kindred spirit. A pioneer
I sat in awe through the movie for my birthday with my wife. I couldn’t believe someone had the vision and the conviction back in the 70’s to use the TV medium to reach out to kids and share with them the God given value they had. I mean this guy is a kindred spirit, He saw what the medium of television could do and was shocked we as Christians weren’t doing more or better to serve kids.
I’ve been saying to people who pray for me that I have not found a pioneer that has done what I am seeking to do.
Sure, there’s been Veggie Tales, but that was animation and DVD.
I never knew there was an actual TV show with live action, being scheduled and watched on a regular basis that came from a Christian worldview and taught kids their true value and how to navigate the challenges of life.
With the advent of the internet it was my conviction that we needed to use this medium to reach kids globally with a TV show that taught them their God given value and how to live wisely in His world. So, you can perhaps appreciate my excitement as I sat and watch ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ unfold.
Some folk have railed on social against the opening 15 minutes where we are pretty much immersed in the low budget show, faithfully reconstructed in the actual studio in which the original was created and filmed. ‘What am I watching?!’ We feel the awkwardly slow pace (but remember guys, Play School isn’t much faster!), the low production values and the in your face, eyeball to eyeball, sincerity of the host, Fred Rogers.
We wonder, ‘Is this guy for real?’ ‘Can anyone be really like this?’ And this is partly the subject of the film and the conversation that drives a lot of media attention Fred received over the later years of production.
But the thing is, he really does seem to be ‘what you see is what you get, Fred’. Unusually sincere. Dogmatically protective and concerned for kids.
I love this guy.
What a great role model and ‘mentor’. Thank God someone has pioneered something similar to what I’ve been trying to do for the past 10 years.
It gives me hope that someone has gone before me and encouragement that my idea and convictions are not wholly vain or beyond achieving. It reinforces that there is a market and that Australia is not likely to have much of a part in it getting off the ground.
Why you should see ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’
I encourage you to go see this film, because you will undoubtedly be struck by the wonderful concern this man had for kids. You will be greatly moved by the journalist’s journey from cynic to beloved friend. It’s truly a beautiful day in the neighbourhood when you see people of polar differences, find common ground, respect and even deep affection for one another. How is this possible? Well, it’s the affecting, genuine interest and love for one’s neighbor that Fred Rogers embodied.
Your kids will really enjoy this film, especially the older ones and it will exemplify to them a lived, fleshed out version of how to apply Jesus' instruction to 'love your neighbrour'.
Won’t You Be My Neighbour?
You see its not about ‘who is my neighbor?’, ‘is it this person or that?’ but rather, to borrow from the opening song lyrics from Fred’s show, ‘won’t you be my neighbor?’. It’s a conscious choice to see the person next to us in the every day as an opportunity to love and treat with equal value, no matter how different they are, or hostile.
‘Won’t you be my neighbor?’ slows us down, opens us up. Openness, that’s a key thing about this Fred, he was incredibly open, which is risky, but necessary to neighbourly love that Christ Jesus calls us to. That is, to love the other person as we would want to be loved or treated, we need to be open. And that my friends, is super powerful, amazing, God given love in action.
When this journo rings Fred for the first time, Fred is asked, ‘what’s most important to you?’ and he answers, ‘talking to you right now’.
Now, isn’t that an amazingly present and other person centred thing to do; to show the value of the other in the ordinary. But this is what Fred did with his show and in the subjects that he tried to cover for kids; he was open, present, sincere and wanted to kids to know they are special for who they are not what they do. He wanted them to derive their value from being God’s creation, not their net worth as a consumer.
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