Exactly as You Are

No secrets: starting with its subtitle "The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers", Shea Tuttle's biography Exactly as You Are (2019) isn't shy about interpreting Fred Rogers in explicit Christian terms. Every chapter hammers hard on theological themes that appear implicitly throughout Mister Rogers Neighborhood. God, specifically seen through Jesus the Christ, is the protagonist. And it's a surprisingly successful vantage point from which to sketch a gentle, kind, very human being.

Tuttle necessarily repeats many anecdotes from other writings about Mister Rogers, but often her perspective is striking. In Chapter 5, "Formation in New York City", she explains the "no" as well as the "yes" in Mr Rogers' 1951 career choice:

Even before Fred's "yes" to television transplanted him to New York, he said another quiet, formative "no" in response to pies in faces: "no" to whatever was the reigning television gimmick of the day. Throughout his almost fifty years in television, Fred said no to every voice (perhaps even some internal ones) that told him that to do such and such would generate better ratings and bigger profits: "no" to picking up the pace; "no" to animation; "no" to licensing of merchandise; "no" to moving Mister Rogers' Neighborhood to network television or even to a bigger city like New York or Los Angeles. And as he said no to greater speed, more money, and higher ratings, he said yes to quieter goods: thoughtfulness, intentionality, and his own intuition and imagination for the work, those very same values that pointed him, that second life-changing Easter, toward television as a force for greater good—and, yes, toward New York.

... and likewise, a bit later in Chapter 7 ("Graduate Studies and Life-Transforming Teachers"), Tuttle explains the positive, life-affirming focus of Mister Rogers via the image of the Good Advocate versus the Evil Accuser. At Western Theological Seminary, Rogers met Bill Orr. As Tuttle quotes from a 1994 speech by Fred Rogers:

Oh, we learned about epistemology and Christology and eschatology and sanctification and justification and existentialism, but most of all we witnessed the unfolding of the life of one of God's saints. Dr. Orr would be quick to remind me that we're all saints, we believers; nevertheless, when you see someone go out to lunch on a winter's day and come back without his overcoat because he had given it to a person who was cold, you have a growing understanding of "living theologically." When we asked Dr. Orr about the coat, he said, "Oh, I have one other at home," and that was all he said about it.

... and from an interview later in 1994, Tuttle quotes Rogers:

My seminary professor, William Orr, who died last year, used to say something like, "Evil would want us to think the worst about who we are, so we would have that behind our eyes as we looked at our neighbor, and we would see the worst in our neighbor. Jesus would want us to see the best of who we are, so we would have that behind our eyes as we looked at our neighbor, and we would see the best in him or her. You can be an accuser or an advocate. Evil would have you be an accuser in this life. Jesus would have you be an advocate for your neighbor."

That statement undergirds all of what I do through the Neighborhood and everything I try to do in living.

... and one final, on-target observation by Shea Tuttle (in Chapter 11, "Neighborhood Liturgy"), about Mister Rogers' and unselfing:

Fred's discipline and intentionality showed up even in his everyday speech. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was a "program" and never a "show." Children and families "used" rather than "watched" the program; they were not merely passive receivers, and his language acknowledged their agency and activity. Fred avoided the first person, when he could, and he especially avoided the possessive pronoun my. Instead he spoke of "our work" or "our offices" when speaking of his professional life, and when referring to his home life, he always referred to "our sons," "our home," or "our family."

Shea Tuttle's biography ends aptly with Fred Rogers' own words as quoted in a Pittsburgh Magazine article in 2003:

"I think that after we die,
we have this wide understanding
of what's real. And we'll probably say,
'Ah, so that's what it was all about.'"

(cf 2018-09-10 - Thank You, Mr Rogers, Mr Rogers Asks (2019-11-18), Present in Every Moment (2019-11-25), 143 (2019-11-28), ...) - ^z - 2020-01-31