Monday, February 12, 2018

Forgetting Mister Rogers And Rock Of Ages

One source I use to supplement my teaching of the scriptures is a series of lessons by Philip Yancey called The Jesus I Never Knew. Based on his book of the same name, Yancey, a journalist by trade, uses clips from movies to illustrate parts of the life of Jesus. Last Thursday, I used a section in which three vastly different portrayals of the Savior from cinema were presented and had the students describe what they witnessed on our screen. During the course of the year, we see many men playing Jesus in the videos we use on an almost daily basis. The overwhelming majority of the actors who are depicting the perfect Son of God are taller, more handsome, and dressed in cleaner clothes than those surrounding them- the Yancey clips from much older movies weren't what we were used to watching. But what surprised me wasn't the clips themselves- I've been using them for years. In setting up the first movie segment, from Cecil B. DeMille's King Of Kings, Yancey describes a very gentle Jesus as shown in this silent film as, "Mr. Rogers  with a beard..." After the short piece, out of curiosity, I asked one of my classes how many of them knew Mr. Rogers. Out of twenty-three, the total was ....... ZERO. The response was perhaps skewed by the presence of seven international students but, come on; not one American  has ever heard of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood? One young man did relate that he knew of Eddie Murphy's parody on SNL called Mister Robinson's Neighborhood but that was as close as we got. Talk about cultural illiteracy- it's an issue!

I am not quite sure what to make of the erasing of the children's television icon but I guess it has to do with generational drift. Three years ago, I wrote a blog about my students having no clue of the identity of Bob Dylan as we watched a clip of We Are The World, the fund raiser to help feed the hungry in Ethiopia, set in roughly the same time as Mister Rogers. I know, I had no idea of some of the stars my dad spoke of when I was in high school but the advent of the Internet would seem to help galvanize at least a few more memories. As we spoke, I next asked if any of them knew the hymn, Rock Of Ages. The answer again was negative. Hoe could kids, most of them raised with some sort of Christian background, not know Rock Of Ages? You know, cleft for me? Augustus Toplady's song, first published in 1775, almost simultaneous with the American Revolution, stood the test of time for more than two centuries. Maybe the language is outdated- lots of thees and no kid knows the definition of riven. Maybe the tune is difficult- I'm no music expert but the melody is instantly recognizable. Maybe the theme is gut wrenching- our utter hopelessness without the Savior's sacrifice is irrevocable. I just feel a certain sadness when valuable parts of our culture, but more importantly, our faith, fade into obscurity like the names engraved on gravestones in overgrown cemeteries. What's worth keeping and what needs forgetting? Each generation makes its own choices. I just wish this humble man who was Fred Rogers and the soul searching hymn that was Rock Of Ages could have survived one or two more generations in the ancestry of our civilization. We would be the richer.

To listen to a beautiful rendition of Rock Of Ages, click or copy/paste the link below:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

Applicable quote of the day:
"One of the greatest dignities of humankind is that each successive
generation is invested in the welfare of each new generation."

Fred Rogers

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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