If you haven’t seen ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,’ God may surprise you by speaking to your heart through it in ways you weren’t expecting.
The song, “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” written and sung by Fred Rogers, seems to speak to the hearts of people everywhere. The words come easy for children like my daughters who grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s television program taped in Pittsburgh from 1968-2001.
And the same is true for parents like me, too, who sat or worked nearby to hear what he was teaching our little ones. His simple, lovely lyrics begin with:
“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?”
His words invited us all to be his neighbor and to live in his neighborhood, offering us unconditional love and acceptance just as we are, without even knowing us first.
Rogers’ friendly smile and gentle ways ministered to countless children and parents around the world, including us. So when our family recently watched the now-on-DVD film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we looked forward to seeing a more candid look at his life and learning more about him as a person.
Based on a 1998 Esquire magazine article titled, “Can You Say … Hero?” by Tom Junod, it looks at the life of Rogers, the host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers and Matthew Rhys as Lloyd Vogel, its release grossed 67 million dollars worldwide at the box office. TIME magazine listed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood as one the top ten movies of 2019, and Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice, and more.
Surprised by the Storyline
I had low expectations before viewing the film because I felt unsure of Hanks’ ability to capture the kind and gentle persona of Mister Rogers. And although, in my opinion, he isn’t able to truly exemplify the inner qualities and wonder of Rogers, he does better in the role than I expected.
So to my surprise, I was soon quickly drawn into the storyline of a cynical investigative journalist, Lloyd Vogel, assigned to write a 400-word article on Rogers. Pushed to interview Mister Rogers by his editor, a very reluctant Vogel sets off to profile one of America’s most beloved children’s television hosts.
At first, Vogel is clueless and very unimpressed with Mister Rogers and his “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” not understanding the appeal and premise of puppets and humans interacting in a pretend world. But as the film progresses, we see a relationship develop between Rogers and Vogel in this two most-unlikely-to-become friends scenario.
Surprised By Its Depth
Surprised by the depth of the storyline, it didn’t take me long to get past Hanks’s interpretation of Mister Rogers and have my heart warmed by the kindness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, and understanding being played out in the movie.
In real life, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian pastor who some say viewed his show as a sort of pulpit ministry outreach to children. Although the film offers a short sound bite of Hanks praying for people by name, along with mentioning prayer several times, it only offers hints about Rogers’ faith in God.
Still, I was surprised by how deeply the film touched my heart, moving me to tears at times. Even now, it’s still inspiring me to reach out to people with more compassion, kindness, and understanding. It’s encouraging me to have more grace, gentleness, and love in my interactions with others. Its effect on me was totally unexpected but very much welcomed.
I welcomed being encouraged to be more thoughtful and gentle in my responses to others—in like manner to Mister Rogers’ responses to Vogel’s curt remarks and questioning. Through his example to be more appreciative of the questions and opinions of those around me, I’ve started taking into consideration how I can learn and grow from their observances.
Also, I welcomed seeing more clearly how my loving those who at times may come across as less-than-loveable has the power to change their lives. I was inspired by how Mister Rogers didn’t turn away from Vogel in his anger and pain but rather drew in closer to him—and in seeing how God can work through unconditional love to help navigate others through the challenging process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Like Matthew 22:39 nudges us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” so does A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.
Surprised By God’s Remarkable Ways
I also found myself surprised by the remarkable way God can reach out through a secular Hollywood movie to touch hearts and encourage us to love each other more. It’s always amazing to me how much He can communicate and accomplish through humanity’s flawed communication and labors. Of how He can make the most of even the littlest opportunities springing forth out of our imperfect efforts, to move and work in countless ways in people’s lives.
After watching the movie, I read Junod’s original article. Although the film softens and rearranges things around a bit, it seems to capture the essence of his findings, and the impact his interviewing Mister Rogers had on his own life.
If you haven’t seen A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, you might want to take the time to do so. Because like me, God may surprise you by speaking to your heart through it in ways you weren’t expecting.
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