Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mr. Rogers

Tom Hanks will star in an upcoming Mr. Rogers biopic. Variety reports:
The film is inspired by a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and award-winning journalist Tom Junod. In the story, a cynical journalist begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed.
Here's the original profile Junod wrote on Mr. Rogers, and it's near-perfect and a must-read. Here is the Emmy speech mentioned in the article.

The following won't be useful to you until you've finished the article. It's some perspective on the whole "grace" thing that Rogers pursues with such overwhelming zest.

There are two prongs to spirituality*: fire and silence. Both terms have hordes of equivalents, depending on one's tradition ("fire" might also be called spirit, holy ghost, bhakti, tummo, kundalini, Shakti, etc.; silence can be called emptiness, stillness, peace, communion, Shiva, etc.). If you get out of balance with one prong, you naturally find yourself craving the other.

* - A paradox, given that spirituality is all about unity....but in this realm one soon learns to tolerate and even enjoy paradoxes.

We all love Mr. Rogers. I idolize him. I never liked him as a kid, though. He was way too much of a wet noodle. And here's the thing: it's true; he was a wet noodle. One can be as kind, thoughtful, wise, and respectful as a Fred Rogers without noodling out. Noodliness is not inevitable among saints, who can be quite hot and firey. The hot-headed ones often crave cooling silence. Rogers was the other extreme, which is why he seemed so hellbent (poor choice of words) on acquiring grace* with which to fire up and dry out.

Grace, of course, means other things, as well - most frequently a spontaneous and apparently unearned experience of revelation or communion; what doctors term "idiopathic".

It's revealing that Rogers is quoted as feeling that "he gets it from God, through man." People awash with spiritual heat don't feel that way. They source it from within, and gift it outward (the Mavlevi Sufis believe man serves as a transformer, moderating and directing extreme heavenly energies for Earthly purpose). Just consider this: if grace comes from people, why wasn't Rogers gifting it rather than seeking it? Generous to his core (the gift of his silence elevated the entire country by a notch or two), he'd certainly have showered it forth if he could have. But it simply wasn't his to give.

Different spiritual practices and traditions often stress one prong over the other. Rogers was an ordained minister in the United Presbyterian Church, which is about as silent as it gets. You won't see much in the way of hollering holy-roller preachers or parishioners thrashing around in spiritual passion and speaking in tongues among Presbyterians. On the other hand, it must be noted that if you're going to overdo one prong or the other, it's better to go to excess with silence (I speak from difficult experience).

The thing we loved about Rogers was his silence. The thing we mocked him for was his lack of fire. The two are not unrelated, and this article shows that he spent much time and effort seeking balance. I wish he could have had a brief chat with someone from a more fiery tradition. There were things he could have done to self-balance, without disrespecting his faith. As-is, he's both a saint and a cautionary tale.

My previous posting on Mr. Rogers

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