Resource Reviews for November 2020:
Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers
Shea Tuttle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019, 211 pages, hardcover, softcover, ebook, audiobook)
I never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when I was a child; in fact, I don’t recall even hearing about it. (My program of choice was Captain Kangaroo.) As it first aired nationally in 1968, maybe the show arrived in my neighborhood after I was no longer interested in such programming. Clips of the show I saw as an adult made me wonder what the draw was—seemed boring to me! But the release of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood last year, with big name Tom Hanks playing Mr. Rogers, really ignited my curiosity about this man who clearly influenced so many people.
Fred Rogers, a music major from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, changed his career plan upon first seeing what he considered an appalling children’s program on the new technological advance in his family’s home—a TV. In those early days, he immediately recognized television’s potential for powerful influence and foresaw how he could have a positive impact on children’s lives. Eventually, his ordination as a Presbyterian minister was specifically for children’s television programming.
The development of this focused, disciplined, and caring man who became Mr. Rogers began from infancy, and Tuttle examines the influences of his parents, childhood, and actual neighborhood, honed throughout his life with studies in music, media, child development, ministry, and theology. Each chapter covers a particular influence, illustrated with a subtitle taken from Mr. Rogers’ simple but profound pronouncements:
- “Childhood, Love, and Fear: Are you brave and don’t know it?”
- “Adolescence and Acceptance: I like you as you are.”
- “Parables of the Kingdom: Won’t you be my neighbor?”
- “Fred’s Big Feelings: The very same people who are mad sometimes are the very same people who are glad sometimes.”
I found those subtitles to be a particularly reflective and appealing aspect of Tuttle’s book.
Mr. Rogers believed strongly that children needed to learn to recognize and deal with their feelings, particularly ones they intuited from their environment were “bad” ones. They also needed to be aware of the feelings arising from change that may lead to disrespect for and attack on others. In chapter 10, “Change, Fear, and Peace: We all want peace,” Tuttle provides an extensive analysis of the first Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode in February 1968, which occurred at the time of the Tet Offensive by the North Vienamese into South Vietnam. This episode illustrates the careful planning of the writers to address hard contemporary issues that children may not have understood, but sensed occurring in their world. This episode is one of many crafted approaches to current events that Tuttle examines.
Tuttle describes many characteristics of Fred Rogers that caused him to be hailed as a saint by some: his focused attention on whomever he was conversing with, his mindfulness of what is most important, his disciplined prayer life and willingness to act in response to God’s prompting, and the transformation he could ignite in others’ lives. However, just like other saints, he had quirks and idiosyncrasies, and Tuttle examines those as well, such as inflexibility at times regarding his ideas for the show and some blindness regarding others’ situations due to a privileged, although generous, background. As Tuttle explains, Fred Rogers believed in “. . . a loving mystery at the heart of the universe that yearns to be expressed” (5).
[He] worked hard every day to help express that loving mystery, to offer God’s abundant love without condition to children, parents, Neighborhood staff, strangers on the street, people who wrote him letters—anyone and everyone who encountered him whether on television or in person. He did not do it perfectly—he was as human as you or me—but he did it extraordinarily. (5)
If regarded as a saint, Mr. Rogers could be a possible candidate for patron saint of chaplains because his life exemplifies so many of the competencies to which we aspire: accepting people as they are, being in the moment with patients, advocating for others, and exploring complex feelings in order to help folks in crisis realize the influence of feelings on actions, for example. He dedicated himself to showing everyone he encountered that they were great just the way they were, based on a Christian faith that he did not advertise because he did not want to exclude anyone (sound familiar?).
This biography is significant because it explores the life of Mr. Rogers through the lens of his faith. The lifelong focus of this man challenges me to review my journey as a chaplain (particularly since this is the year of my 10-year review) and evaluate whether I am continuing to be the chaplain I was called to be, or if I am becoming complacent, settled, and unfocused in my ministry. It could be a good reminder for you as well.
Reviewed by Tamara R. Flinchum MDiv BCC, chaplain at AnMed Health in Anderson, SC.
Reclaiming Life: Faith, Hope, and Suicide Loss
Ronald Rolheiser, Kay Warren, Marjorie Antus (Paraclete Video Productions, 2018, DVD Video, 90 min)
According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States which, in 2018, resulted in more than 48,000 deaths, about one death every 11 minutes
(https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html). Through personal stories, the three presenters take us on a journey through their own emotions and thoughts as they deal with the suicides that impacted them. Kay Warren talks about her son’s suicide. Marjorie Antus focuses on her daughter. And Ronald Rolheiser tells about a friend who died when he was 14 years old. All three have a Christian faith background, and the stories incorporate this faith perspective. However, the emotions and thoughts are common human experience and will benefit anyone struggling with a loved one’s suicide.
Anger is one of the common emotions. Marjorie responds, “How could my daughter cut herself off completely the way she did, how could she abandon us and leave such wreckage behind?” She then turns toward herself, “I should have been able to protect my child, especially in my home.” She also acknowledged her anger with God and her own wrestling with her faith in God, ultimately concluding that God neither willed nor allowed her daughter’s illness or suicide, that God continues to love through it all.
Kay speaks powerfully to our culture’s stigma around suicide: “Compassion, tender support… People don’t want to mention it, don’t want to talk about it, to hide it.” She said, “Choosing to talk about it, not hide, this is hard to be up front about it, but to imagine the cloud of shame/stigma hanging over you, can’t imagine this.” She suggests that we serve people better if we walk alongside with compassion and support rather than making judgements about their suicidal thoughts and desires.
Father Rolheiser talks about coming to terms with a loved one’s suicide:
Having answers is not enough – the pain stays, it’s a scar. The difference is in the understanding you can find some meaning. The person is still dead, but you can find new meaning. God is always loving us, but we don’t always appropriate it. God never stops loving us, but we stop being able to recognize it…. Work at redeeming the memories…. We need to proactively celebrate the positiveness of their lives, and don’t run away from the question of how they died. You don’t erase a good life by a moment of tragedy.
As chaplains, we often interact with people who are contemplating suicide or who have attempted suicide. We also may have the opportunity to impact families of those who have completed suicide. How we frame our conversation with them may make a profound difference in how they are able to process their anger and grief. This video lays a good foundation for our human attempt at talking with patients and their families about suicide.
Reviewed by Jeff Uhler MDiv BCC, Lead Chaplain and Clinical Ethicist, Aurora BayCare Medical Center, Green Bay, WI.