Friends! I’ve just discovered a wonderful book that’s chock full of “spiritual toast sticks.” Grab a cup of joe and join me…
Whether you were a fan of Mister Rogers growing up or not, I predict you’ll become one after diving into this book:
Author Amy Hollingsworth takes us on a journey where we gain a birdseye view of her relationship with Mr. Rogers. She worked in television with CBN and has written five books. She’s also a pastor’s wife.
After Amy’s first interview with Fred Rogers, they forged a long-time friendship. They wrote to each other for eight years, until Fred’s death from stomach cancer in 2003. Many excerpts from their letters are shared. Beautiful Scripture is expounded on plus great anecdotes are included in each chapter, including the story of Mr. Rogers’ car being stolen, and then returned, once the thiefs realized who it belonged to!
Amy tells us of Mr. Rogers’ first friendship he recalls when he was but five years old. It was with an elderly neighbor, Mama Bell, who taught him how to make toast sticks. He loved being able to make something for himself, popping the bread into the toaster, then buttering it and putting jelly on it prior to cutting it into four sticks.
His words of wisdom became what Amy calls “spiritual toast sticks.” She says they are “sustenance to be shared.” She divides them into three parts in her book, each with three beautiful chapters: Toast sticks for the heart, eyes, and hands.
We learn Mr. Rogers intended to attend seminary after college, but he landed in tv before that could happen. He did later become a Presbyterian minister, thanks to studying during his lunch hours. (Don’t miss that story!) His degree in music composition came from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, which I happened to have also attended. (Only for one year before going to UK.)
Mr. Rogers’ degree from Rollins obviously came in handy considering he wrote over two hundred songs and filmed more than nine hundred episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The first three chapters under the first spiritual toast stick happen to be my favorite. The other six chapters are excellent as well, tho’, don’t miss them, especially chapter nine on “Heading Toward Heaven.” I’ll give you a few teasers to get you going…
Chapter One is called, “The Importance of Taking Time. The Importance of Silence.” I was reminded each episode of his show opened with “a shot of a traffic lights flashing in yellow caution mode. That message is the essence of every episode: It’s time to slow down.” He also warned his audience against hurry, and often sang the song, “I Like to Take My Time.”
You may be as shocked over this as I am: Yale psychologists compared Mister Roger’s Neighborhood to Sesame Street, which was much more fast-paced than Fred’s. They concluded, “Children who watched his show were more likely to be patient in waiting for materials or for an adult’s attention, saying there was an increase in ‘tolerance of delay.’”
One of Fred’s favorite writers was Henri Nouwen. They became close friends. He quotes him often. Fred said, “Even though most of the world knows Henri best by his words, I’ve come to recognize his deepest respect for the still, small voice among the quiet of eternity. That’s what continues to inspire me.”
Fred believed everyone should experience silence daily. He went so far as to suggest a moment of silence when he was invited to the White House on one occasion. He declared, “Would you please just have a half-minute of silence to think about somebody who has helped you become who you are?”
After the meeting, a guard approached Fred and told him of his grandfather’s brother being so kind to him, offering him a fishing pole. He said he probably loves to fish today because of that gift when he was so young. He was about the same age Fred was when he learned to make toast sticks from Mama Bell.
Silence is a gift as well as a legacy when you share it with others.
Chapter Two is entitled, “A Presence Transformed by Prayer.” With an emphasis on daily rituals, not only on his show, but in his personal life, Fred stuck to the same schedules. We learn predictability also brings comfort.
His personal routine included rising at 5:00 a.m. for “prayer, reflection, and Bible reading; followed by a 7:30 swim (where he weighed in at 143 pounds daily); followed by his usual workday routine; keeping a 9:30 p.m. bedtime. Each morning he prayed for his family and friends by name.”
He sang a song his friend, Henri, taught him called, Jubilate Deo prior to diving into the pool. Before the taping of his show, he’d say, “Dear God, let some word that is heard be Yours.”
Scores of people agreed Mister Rogers had a calming effect on those he encountered, whether in person or via the tv. Amy called him “Mother Teresa in a cardigan.” (My poker face just left the building.)
Don’t miss the story about the Sturgis Pretzel House where Mr. Rogers took his viewers one day. It’s a memorable lesson on prayer. (Not spoiling it!)
Amy said of this toast stick on prayer:
Finally, Chapter Three is “The Wondrous Work of the Holy Spirit.” In this chapter, we readers are introduced to an interesting concept, that of holy ground. Fred believed, “…the space between the television set and the viewer is holy ground.”
Words from an old pastor friend Fred enjoyed builds on this concept:
“What is offered in faith by one person can be translated by the Holy Spirit into what the other person needs to hear and see. The space between them is holy ground, and the Holy Spirit uses that space in ways that not only translate, but transcend.”
This quote is followed by several testimonies from celebrities who viewed Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and were moved for one reason or another, usually markedly changing their lives forever. Don’t miss Lauren Tewes (who played Julie McCoy on The Love Boat) or Beth Sullivan who during a long-term illness discovered Mister Rogers’ show and later went on to create and produce Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman!
The Epilogue centers around 1 Timothy 6:20 which says, “guard what has been entrusted to your care.” It hadn’t occurred to me the huge responsibility Amy must’ve felt in writing this book about Mr. Rogers. She discovered the word “trust” is translated in the Greek as “deposit.” Thus Paul’s words to Timothy challenged her to greatly render what she’d learned from Mr. Rogers and share it with the world.
Great job, Amy! I learned so much and I know anyone who reads your book will do the same and enjoy the journey. Thanks for being brave enough to write it!
Here are the other chapters to further entice you to read the whole book:
4 – The Best Gift: Your Honest Self
5 – Who is My Neighbor?
6 – The Power of Forgiveness
7 – The Least of These
8 – Difficult Times
9 – Heading Toward Heaven
A favorite quote by Saint Francis of Assisi, which I first learned when attributed to President George Herbert Walker Bush, is also said of Mister Rogers: “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.”
Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and grab this powerful book.
‘Til next time!