Everyone knows Fred Rogers (aka Mister Rogers).
But after reading about his background and accomplishments, I wanted to know…how did he become the man he was?
And then I found a copy of one of his letters listing ten books that influenced him.
Here’s the list:
You can read my first blog here.
A couple of comments first. You’ll see that Rogers wrote ‘the writings of..’ Well, Henri Nouwen wrote 39 books. Ouch. I only read two of this books (full disclosure) but I think I’ve figured this out nonetheless.
To start with, I had to remind myself that Fred Rogers was an ordained minister of the Presbyterian church…and he considered his entire viewing audience as his congregation.
Some claim that when he said “Hello, neighbor” at the introduction of each show, he was referencing the second commandment to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” So what does this have to do with Henri Nouwen?
When I look for spiritual help…I go to church.
But where does a minister go?
Fred Rogers would have wanted and needed a mentor too…someone who could dive deeper into religious topics, help address the dilemmas and struggles that are part of being in the ministry. Someone to help him stay strong in his mission. I believe that’s who Nouwen was to Fred Rogers.
Over 7 million copies of Henri Nouwen’s books have sold and they’ve been published in 30 languages. He was a priest, a teacher, an author and a public speaker. Nouwen is considered one of the most spiritual leaders of our time.
What was different about his writings that might have appealed to Rogers?
Nouwen was transparent about his own trials and tribulations—he often spoke of his own feelings of depression and loneliness—giving hope to those that had the same feelings. As ‘one of the flock’ we assume that religious leaders have all the answers but that’s not true, they’re searching too…
Aren’t you like me, hoping that some person, thing or event will come along and give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire?
(Life of the Beloved)
His work had to be refreshing to any minister that experienced self-doubt or spiritual exhaustion. In fact, it’s said that Nouwen’s ‘weakness was his strength”...
There was a time when I really wanted to help the poor, the sick, and the broken, but to do it as one who was wealthy, healthy, and strong. Now I see more and more how it is precisely through my weakness and brokenness that I minister to others.
His books aren’t for everyone. Life of the Beloved was written for the secular (non-religious) world but a friend of Nouwen’s told him, “You are not aware of how truly secular we are…” and “you speak from a context and tradition that is alien to us.”
(Life of the Beloved)
Reading his books was like listening to a sermon specifically designed for a priest…or a minister. Like Fred Rogers.
Whew. I’m ready for something lighter now. Like #4 - The Secret Garden…
Fred Rogers was often scorned for some of his overly-obvious statements such as “I’m feeding the fish now” said while he sprinkled food over the fish tank each day. He starting saying that in response to a letter he received from a mother. She told him that her daughter was worried that the fish might be hungry.
He was talking…reassuring… a blind girl.
photo from PBS.org #thanksmisterrogers