The Gospel According to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
All things Rogers are hot this year, with the release of two documentaries, an official biography, and the announcement of a forthcoming film starring Tom Hanks, all in the 50th anniversary year of the series' premier. For me, though, the writing and publication of this book is the culmination of work I've been doing for more than a decade.
In that time, many excellent books have been written on Fred Rogers, including I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, by Tim Madigan, and The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers, by Amy Hollingsworth. Both books recount these journalists' relationships with Fred Rogers and the latter serves as something of a spiritual biography for the icon of children's television. Similarly, Michael G. Long explored the social and philosophical framework of the series in his book, Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers.
Why, then, write another book on America's favorite neighbor?
Shortly after Fred Rogers' death in 2003, I read a brief article that recounted several then little known facts about him: He was red/green colorblind; he was teased as a child for being overweight; and most surprisingly to me, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister. I immediately marveled at what an amazing privilege it would have been to have attended at least one service at his church--or, better yet, to have been a regular member of his congregation.
Some time later, I learned that Fred Roger's ordination was completely unique. He had been ordained by the Presbyterian church specifically to minister to children and families through the medium of television. That led me to a simple, but profound revelation: I had been a member of his congregation all along.
It was this revelation, along with the birth of my son and my journey through the series with him some years later, that set me on a quest to find reflections of the gospel in sweaters, a trolley, and a tiger living in a grandfather clock.
Much like my Gospel According to Star Trek books (the second of which, The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Next Generation is also in the works), this volume will be an exploration of the Neighborhood program--specific episodes and themes, the neighbors and their roles in the series--asking, as I always do, what Christians can learn from a thoughtful engagement with the series. But it will also be examining the series, for the first time at such length, for what it always was: a Christian ministry.
The positive effect on my life as a child, an adult, and a father of this ministry and the man whose mission it was can hardly be overestimated, nor can my capacity to fall short of the ideals upon which it was based. My hope, then, is to share with you something of what I've learned and of what I'm still trying to learn from the show that first warmed my heart and comforted my soul in my earliest years.
Fred Rogers believed the space between the television set and the viewer had the capacity to truly become holy ground. I believe the same about the space between the book and the reader. Won't you be my reader? Look for The Gospel According to Mister Rogers Neighborhood from Cascade Books as early as next year.
For updates on this and all my forthcoming projects, as well as free chapters from The Gospel According to Star Trek: The Original Crew, you can sign up for my newsletter. I'll be sharing more of my thoughts on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Star Trek, and more in future blog posts.