It has been two months since I have posted a review on my blog. I have been on a vacation but mostly working on finishing up my certificate program in Spiritual Direction with six units of classes. I have read many books for class, but little for fun.
In the midst of books for class, I squeezed in the short audiobook of Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers. I am very familiar with Mister Rogers. In addition to the recent documentary and biopic, I have read Kindness and Wonder, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, and the full biography The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers. None of these books are perfect, but each has value in rounding out a human Fred Rogers.
I have been drawn to biography and memoir lately. Maybe it is a recent class on the spirituality of aging, but I am looking for examples of how people attempt to follow God honestly over a lifetime. I think hagiography was originally designed to inspire people to live their lives devoted to God. Ignatius was converted to a life of devotion to God by reading a book about the saints and a book about Jesus. This year I have been inspired by the flawed humanity of Eugene Peterson, Tish Warren’s struggle with depression, AD Tomason’s advocacy of counseling and healing, and Nate Powell’s struggle to parent well as his tries to be an activist. I am not looking for perfection; I am more comforted in the struggle than in the success.
However, Mister Rogers does have a level of “success” in his sainthood that is particularly worth emulating. There is no perfection here; he was a flawed parent and husband and boss. But Fred Rogers was also attempting to be a Christian in his whole life, not just on Sunday mornings. I listened to Exactly as You Are on audiobook as I was doing errands and working around the house, but this is a book that I plan on purchasing in text because there are passages to savor and more inspiration to be gained. Hagiography tried to show not just the qualities of sainthood, but the evidence, often miracles, that showed God was working in their lives. Tuttle isn’t trying to whitewash Rogers, but some near-miraculous stories are shared. I do not think the point of this section is the near-miraculous stories as much as it is the inspiration to follow God when we feel nudged. Silence and prayer are important to attune ourselves to God. But the next step of being open to hearing from and then acting on God’s direction matters just as much. Yes, we might be wrong. And yes, sometimes we might feel silly writing a note or making a phone call or knocking on a door because we think God is prompting us to, but sometimes those prompts are the Holy Spirit, and there is a person that really does need us.
Mister Rogers probably does verge on the maybe too saintly to be helpful. We cannot really get to Mister Rogers’ actual reality if he did not have the wealth of his family and the small-town stability of his upbringing. Most of us do not have wealth that allows us not to worry about income or a grandmother who can buy a concert-quality piano for a 10th birthday. But we do have our own gifts that we are asked to put into God’s service. And I think that is really what Tuttle calls us to take away from Mister Roger’s story.
If you are new to reading about Mister Rogers Exactly As You Are is where I would recommend starting. King’s biography is an alternative starting point, but Tuttle has plenty of biographical details and I think a more human portrait that will be a good introduction to King’s biography if you want to continue reading.