Mister Rogers, Tom Junod, and the power of story

When you hear about a video called “Mister Rogers Remixed,” you might assume that it is a parody or mockery of the oft-spoofed man and his iconic TV show. But this video is not a spoof. It is gentle, and respectful, and well done, and I love it:

Getting to know Mister Rogers

After watching the video remix, I wanted to learn more about Mister Rogers. Sure, I watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child, and I’ve learned snippets of information about Fred Rogers here and there—that he was an ordained minister; that his grandfather’s name was McFeely; that he played jazz piano. But I never felt like I really knew him.

Then I read Tom Junod’s 1998 article, “Can You Say… ‘Hero’?

It’s a long piece—8,000 words. But it sure doesn’t feel long. I think it may be the best example of feature writing I’ve ever read.

Story upon story

Junod’s article tells the story of the day he spent with Fred Rogers, following him through a typical day. And the story of that single day is filled with smaller stories—about Mister Rogers’ daily routine, about kids who look up to him, about a gorilla who recognized him. Each of those tender tales offers a shining glimpse into the character of the man in the tennis shoes and zip-up sweater.

The thread that binds these glimpses together is Junod’s own story, an apparent account of a boy and his stuffed rabbit that turns out to be a story of faith and redemption. It’s beautiful. In fact, it makes me think that Fred Rogers must have been very much like Jesus—he seems a little strange and simple, easy to make fun of, but there’s depth and power and love that turns out to be disarming and life-changing.

I do hope you’ll read the whole story.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes to look for:

“There was an energy to him, however, a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy, and though I tried to ask him questions about himself, he always turned the questions back on me….”

“Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly black and Latino, and they didn’t even approach Mister Rogers and ask him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir.”

“…[P]eople realized that he wasn’t kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked … and so they did.”

“What is grace? I’m not certain; all I know is that my heart felt like a spike, and then, in that room, it opened and felt like an umbrella. I had never prayed like that before, ever.”

If anything in the article or the video reminds you of your own Mister Rogers story, will you be a good neighbor and share it in the comments below?

And please, someone, tell me you see the similarities between Mister Rogers and Jesus! Or am I over-glorifying the man?



9 thoughts on “Mister Rogers, Tom Junod, and the power of story”

  1. I am embarrassed by the way I used to think of him. After reading this I hope that someday I can minister to others the way he did to the boy with the sword. I`m going to work on having an “insistence on intimacy”. I now have it with some, but not others.

    • I know, I love that story of the boy with the sword. I think that little interaction really illustrates what it means to be Christ-like. Mister Rogers saw that boy’s behavior, understood it, and ministered to it gently and respectfully. He knew exactly the right thing to say. I love that!

      I might have to do a whole blog post someday about Jesus and Mister Rogers….

  2. The boy with the sword is a great example of Fred being Christ-like, as is his focus on others.
    Keeping his weight perfect, which I totally envy, shows a certain vanity. He was raised with wealth, and we can assume that he never had money concerns. Could he be the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus as well?

    • Mmm, I don’t know if Mister Rogers’ attention to his weight shows vanity as much as it shows discipline. And the significance he attaches to the numbers is like a little game he plays to make the discipline fun.

      I don’t know anything about his economic status, but I’m planning to read and research more about him before I blog my “Jesus and Fred” theory. :)

  3. I’ve copied it to an email to myself to read when i get time! Thanks -I LOVE Mr. Rogers…I needed him in my own life I realized when my kids were watching him!

  4. I love the idea of a Jesus/Fred blog, Melanie; I also see similarities. Watching the video brought back such happy memories of watching Mr. Rogers with my kids. One of the kids would even cry when it was time for him to leave. What a wise, kind, gentle, powerful man! Thanks for sharing.

      • Heck yes he reminds me of Jesus like few ever have, and here is why… he resembles so beautifully our meek and gentle Christ. :) ?

        Rudyard Kipling said”

        The tumult and the shouting dies;
        The Captains and the Kings depart:
        Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
        An humble and a contrite heart.
        Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
        Lest we forget—lest we forget!

        The paradoxical TRUE power in this life flows from being meek and lowly of heart. Jesus was prototype of the perfect man and though everywhere in scripture points to the plea of Christ to be the manner of person that he is only in one place does he say “learn of me”

        28 come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

        29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

        30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

        A very meek and Christ like man has explained in connection to what springs forth from being yoked to Christ in this liberating way:

        Our focus tonight will be on meekness, a companion virtue to patience. Meekness, too, is one of the attributes of Deity. Instructively, Jesus, our Lord and Exemplar, called attention to Himself as being “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Paul extolled the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). The Greek rendition of the word meek in the New Testament, by the way, is gentle and humble.

        Actually, meekness is not only an attribute essential for itself; Moroni declared that it is also vital because one simply cannot develop those other crucial virtues—faith, hope, and charity—without meekness. In the ecology of the eternal attributes these cardinal characteristics are inextricably bound up together. Among them, meekness is often the initiator, the facilitator, and the consolidator.”

        Fred Roger’s, embodied the goodness of heaven because he through the grace of Christ walked out the character, perfections and attributes of Jesus so amazingly… He was sanctified through his faith in Christ and like the Apostles of old and all and everyone one who lives in meekness and excercizes their faith in Christ unto repentance they receive the baptism of fire and the holy ghost… to study the life of Jesus and of that of Fred Rogers his faithfull disciple is to easily make this assessment! So much more I could say… but probably the most compelling reason Fred was an awe inspiring example of the grandeur of Christ is that few if any in earth’s history was ever a greater advocate than Jesus for ” such is the kingdom of heaven”— group of people… ❤

        Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. 14But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven

        I surely do love this man and the beautiful window into the life of our greatest advocate Jesus he is for me! ?❤?

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