Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Kindness Makes a Comeback?

Ted Lasso was the first Apple+ streaming series to have a “must-see” impact. The not quite Ned-Flanders-esque main character prompted the tagline “Kindness makes a comeback.” I have enjoyed the sweetly comic series, which has deepened its drama over its two seasons. That tagline, which only appeared midway through the first season, apparently after much internet chatter about the show providing a needed balm during the pandemic, reminded me of two other taglines.

Two movies came out a year apart, were about the same subject, had very similar titles, and even taglines. In 2018 and 2019, those taglines were “A little kindness makes a world of difference”, and “We could all use a little kindness,” respectively. Have you guessed they were both about Mister Rogers?

The first was a documentary titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and the second was a drama starring Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, which are both lines from the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood theme song. I highly recommend both films, and to see them in this order. The 2018 documentary presents an unassuming Presbyterian minister whose puppetry, music, and compassion revolutionized children’s television. The 2019 drama shows him through his interaction with a jaded journalist. You will better appreciate Tom Hanks’ performance with the foundation of the documentary. The documentary gives a fuller picture of Fred Rogers’ background, motivation, and experience, including studying child psychology, most of which happens before the period in which the Hanks drama occurs.

Neither of these films, by the way, are targeted at Mister Rogers’ original audience. They are not aimed at small children, but at adults who are curious to understand what Fred Rogers was all about. The documentary is actually rated PG-13; while the drama is rated PG.

Both films acknowledge Fred Rogers as a Christian, though the documentary spends more time on it. He saw his ministry as connecting to children through television to help them deal with the world. In fact, I would say that he embodied, modeled, and taught many Christian values, such as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, charity, and humility (Galatians 5:22-23), which are sadly missing from so many professed Christians today. Then, as now, some conservatives balk at his message.

A less obvious Christian aspect is the very concept of “neighbor”. The lead-up to the well-known “good Samaritan” parable is a discussion between a lawyer and Jesus. The conclusion is that to inherit eternal life, one must love the Lord -- and your neighbor as yourself. The lawyer then asks Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a parable demonstrating that a stranger is your neighbor too (Luke 10:25-37).

I think the taglines underplay Rogers’ impact and, if you will, his gospel. After watching these films, I think you will feel that his message was more than “a little kindness.”

As for Ted Lasso, the show (mostly the protagonist) does display kindness, as well as forgiveness, second chances, and compassion, but sometimes seems to want to make a point that these are not due to any spiritual pursuit. Kindness and forgiveness are also supposed to be Christian values (Colossians 3:12-13). Likewise are compassion (1 John 3:17), and second chances (Luke 15:11-32, known as “the prodigal son” parable).