Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mister Rogers, Father Dave & Me

A few weeks ago, my pal Brian Ives appeared on Sirius Radio's Catholic Channel to discuss U2 and faith, a subject he knows I hold near and dear.

Afterwards, he told me he'd mentioned our little documentary to the show's producers, with whom he later connected me via email. Friday night after work, then, found me thirty-six stories above Sixth Avenue, alone in Sirius' massive, space-aged lobby. My interview on Father Dave's Busted Halo Show was scheduled for 8:20. Sure enough, Executive Producer Robyn Gould appeared before me with a huge, rock 'n roll smile just seconds prior. And just an instant after shaking hands with Father Dave and producers Brett and Brian, I was on air.

Now, you may be wondering, why the Catholic Channel when I'm lapsed, and Mister Rogers when he was Presbyterian? And why now, when the film's not even done?

I look at it this way. It's not about the film, it's about the assignment. Mister Rogers told me to spread the [deep and simple] message," so I'm going to seize on any opportunity to do so; it's only going to broaden that message's reach.

Moreover, specific tenants of Christianity never really seemed to be the point. True, Mister Rogers was an ordained minister who treated the space between himself and his audience as sacred, but his values (articulated so well by Bo Lozoff) were core to the world's religions: take time to reflect, be wary of materialism.

So there I was, rambling about my day job (came to learn that Father Dave used to work for my supervisor), my music (specifically, how Mister Rogers gave me the courage to be myself), and the film. Father Dave was quick and hip and funny, and connected it all with a through line of "cool," identifying and inquiring about my "PBS mind in an MTV world." I was self-deprecating (perhaps too much so), characterizing myself as "the least cool guy in most rooms" (which may actually be true. And while the conversation stayed mostly philosophical, Father Dave gently brought it home in the end.

He played a clip from Mister Rogers' last episode in which he says,

I'm just so proud of those of you who've grown up with us, and I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were younger: I love you just the way you are. And what's more, I'm so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you'll do everything you can to keep them safe, and express their feelings in ways that will bring heeling in many different neighborhoods.

Afterwards, Father Dave said, "And that's it, right? God loves us just the way we are, whether we're cool or uncool." And as he wrapped up the interview, he asked when the film was going to reach theaters.

I rambled a bit and finally said, "Sometime next year," then added -- knocking on wood as an afterthought -- "God willing."

To which Father Dave replied, "Looks by what you've accomplished thus far, God is willing."

I spilled out onto the chilly city with a smile, and strode west. The streets were streaked with rain, reflecting the neon lights as if everything were run through with brightly-lit, high voltage. I dialed up Coldplay's "Life In Technicolor" on my iPod, and walked on absolutely gobsmacked that everything is in its right place.


atleast said...

Ben, the 2010 Nantucket Film Festival is accepting submissions. Is it too soon to consider this?


Benjamin said...

Thanks for the heads up, Elyse. We'll submit this week. We've always hoped to screen on Nantucket. Can you imagine how awesome that'd be!?!

atleast said...

Yes....I can, I only wish the screening could be at The Dreamland Theater. My grandmother was one of the former owners. She and I used to see Mr. Rogers and Chef Brockett at the 7:00 show.

Benjamin said...

Oh my word! That's amazing. I hope to do you and your grandmother proud!

Karen from MI said...

Hi Benjamin! I just heard your sweet interview with Fr. Dave and LOVED it! I'm excited for your movie to come out......actually, I found myself tearing up to hear Mr. Rogers send off. Truthfully, I didn't grow up with Mr.Rogers, but my daughter did. Funny little story, when she was getting her braces on some time ago, she said to me, "He reminds me of Mr. Rogers and I NEVER liked Mr. Rogers"! My heart was BROKEN........but as time went on, I could see a change in her attitude. He had even given her a book about money and and how to handle it. He was such a GENTLE man with at GENTLE SPIRIT. I admired him so much. My daughter was sure right, he really was so much like Mr. Rogers. Keep up the good work and being the fine person you are. Can't wait for your movie to come out!!!