A Review of Amy Hollingsworth's The Simple Faith of Mr. Rodgers

Fred Rodgers.jpg

I'll be honest.  I was a little nervous to read this book.  Nervous?  You're thinking, "Kirt, how can you be nervous about anything having to do with perhaps the most harmless human being in recent human history!?  That's like being terrified of Gandhi!"  Well let me explain.  As most of you who have been following this website know, I'm in a season of 'deconstructing' my religious heritage.  So this book is the first I've read that is expressly focused on spirituality since I made my decision to leave evangelicalism nine months ago.  When you are going through a season like I am, you are wrestling with a lot of fears, chief among them being the fear that somehow you will be talked back into your prison cell.  Sometimes, the overwhelming loss of community and certainty can become the proverbial siren call, and the instrument that is played is the old, familiar language that is used to define, and therefore control, as all religion's do.  However, the book was a gift from a wonderful friend who understands the road I am walking.  And so, in an act of faith perhaps, I picked it up and finally took in the reflections of the author, Amy Hollingsworth, as she recalled her profoundly personal and touching relationship with the iconic shepherd and friend of children, Fred Rodgers.

Surprise, surprise...

I was pleasantly surprised to find that instead of the author pigeon-holing me into the usual square hole of dogma, the book was actually a very fresh take on the age-old discussion of spiritual disciplines, yet without the overly simplistic moralism that many quietly assume when it comes to conversing on the often called 'holy habits'.  As far as the specific disciplines, what is identified and elaborated on in The Simple Faith is nothing new: prayer, silence, service, and forgiveness are familiar members of the roster.  But one chapter and its highlighted theme stood out to me.  It was called, 'The Best Gift: Your Honest Self'.  When you think of it, Mr. Rodger's Neighborhood was seriously out of date.  Many at the time used that as comedic fodder.  And yet, as Mrs. Hollingsworth points out, "Fred stood fast."  She goes on to observe that, "He wasn't tempted to change the pace of his program when MTV ushered in a generation of attention-deficit viewers" and that "the set was perpetually shrouded in seventies decor, long after puke green went out of vogue" (54).   Beyond physical appearance, the very qualities and characters of the show were a relentlessly faithful depiction of himself.  As such, Mr. Rodgers was far less entertainment and far more an imaginative but very real conversation.  This kind of authenticity and vulnerability was so often lacking in my previous life in conservative Christianity.

My Dog-Eared Review...

In the end, I'm glad I overcame my fears and took the time to read this book.  It was a timely read that helped show me that I can engage with familiar language while still growing past the rigid religiosity of my past towards a more loving and accepting expression of faith.  I think I'll take off my sweater and stay here for awhile.   I give The Simple Faith of Mr. Rodgers two dog-ears.

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