Thursday, July 27, 2006


You'll recall that Mr. Rogers and I discussed the shortage of "deep and simple" in popular culture on the very first day we met. He asked me about working for MTV News. "I love what I do," I told him. "I love talking about music, and serving information to fans, but it's not rocket science. It's not PBS." His response was measured, uncalculated, and spot on. It wasn't an indictment. It was an observation that became a challenge.

"So much television is shallow and complex," he said. "I feel so strongly that deep and simple are far, far more essential than shallow and complex."

The following summer, I told him that I thought about our "deep and simple" conversation nearly every day. He leaned in towards me and whispered, "Spread the message, Benjamin. Spread the message."

Even in that moment, I couldn't imagine why he would ask me to spread the message. He's the one with the longest running show on public television!

For almost two years, I told Chris, "We'll just shoot a bunch of interviews and cut them together." But the project has rapidly evolved from a lofty, ambitious abstraction to tangiable reality in the last few weeks. Our budget (anticipated budget, that is; we're still paying for it out of our pockets) has ballooned. We're meeting with lawyers, submitting location applications (and paying location fees) and grant forms. More importantly, though, the gravitas of the project has really begun to hit home. This is not an easy assignment. This is Big Stuff: God, Love, Peace. Frankly, the story touches on some of the 21st Century's greatest minds: Fred Rogers, Henri Nouwen, Bo Lozoff, The Dalai Lama. So still I wonder, why he would ask me to spread the message?

Amy Hollingsworth (who has become an excellent pen pal) and I have discussed it quite a bit. She has repeatedly assured me that Mr. Rogers "knew what he was doing." Still, I've wondered...

I got Tim Madigan's "I'm Proud Of You" on Tuesday afternoon, and finished it this morning. For some reason, it finally occurred to me why Mr. Rogers asked me to "spread the message."

    The authentic spiritual life finds its basis in the human condition, which all people -- whether they are Christian or not -- have in common," [Mr. Rogers' friend, priest/author Henri] Nouwen wrote once. In another of his books, The Wounded Healer, Nouwen wrote that a minister's service "will not be perceived as authentic unless it comes from a heart wounded by the suffering about which he speaks... The great illusion of leadership is to think that others can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.

It occurred to me that the most effective ministering has a ripple affect. The most effective minister inspires devotes, like Jesus and the Apostles, or Moses and the Israelites. Amy Hollingsworth, Tim Madigan, Jeff Erlanger, Bill Isler (and hundreds of others, to be sure): we are all devotees. We are all Apostles. We are all Israelites. We each minister to our own audiences, our own devotees, through the lens of our own personal (and hence, universal) suffering. Mr. Rogers knew this. He knew we were wounded. (We all are.) He knew that goodness beget goodness. He knew that we were up for the challenge. (Now I just hope he was right.)

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