Love your neighbor and love yourself; The biblical message of Mister Rogers
Wow! These are scary times we live in, aren’t they? 2020 has turned into quite a year! As if dealing with the coronavirus isn’t enough, after George Floyd was killed, many cities were under curfews until people could learn to be responsible. Stores and buildings were being looted, vandalized, and set on fire. In the few places where I saw protesters around my city, I saw many people standing in streets shouting, “Defund the police!” and not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Now, due to reports of more people being tested, numbers of the coronavirus are going up. We didn’t get to have fireworks for the Fourth of July. Now the CDC is advising people to take similar actions with other holidays. Some states have shut down and returned to phase one just when businesses were starting to open back up. Some businesses have suddenly had to permanently close down due to financial hardship, causing people to lose their jobs. School districts are trying to figure out how to open safely, educate students online, or explore what their other options are. Parents who never would have imagined themselves homeschooling their children before are now doing it. Restaurants are only allowing takeout orders; a few places have outdoor seating, but not very many. When my mom and I go to a restaurant, we have to wait outside until our order is called. They won’t even let us get our own drinks. Some restaurants are only taking orders through apps on phones, online, or in drive-thrus. I’ve heard stories of some pastors who don’t believe that the statistics the news is giving for the virus add up. They feel that the government has gone too far with what they’re asking the church not to do. These pastors are holding services inside of their church buildings, just like they did before the pandemic. They’re taking a strong stand for God and trusting that He will protect their congregation; obeying God rather than men. I’ve also seen pictures in the news of protesters, who would love to see the church doors closed for good, standing outside the church during the service and fighting with attenders. In some states, people are so fed up with their governors that they’re trying to get enough signatures on petitions to get them recalled. Then, as if the world doesn’t already have enough chaos in it right now, some areas have had fires because the weather has been so hot and dry. We have, as some people are calling it, “a pandemic on top of a pandemic.” Personally, I think we have a pandemic that keeps snowballing and piling pandemic after pandemic on top of each other. It seems like this pandemic is never-ending. Even when the economy does open up again and get back to “normal,” whatever that is, the world will never be the same again. There will be new regulations. The news media is telling us that doctors believe the coronavirus will come back every year just like the flu does. Some people are wondering, “When will a vaccine be developed?” You may be a Christ-follower asking yourself, “How can I respond to all of this? How can I help the world?” Those are good questions.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, done a lot of research, and talked to many people who I trust. This is one article I’ve rewritten many times trying to figure out the right thing to say. I know this is a sensitive subject, and I understand how powerful the written word is once it gets out there; especially in this day and age where we have so much social media. As I’ve been trying to think about the right thing to say to help guide people, I wondered, What would Mister Rogers say about what’s going on in our world? How would he handle it? After all, he often tackled some pretty tough subjects on his famous program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Subjects like the assassination of Robert Kennedy and racism during the civil rights movement.
Many people may not know that Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. In the 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? someone said, “Fred’s theology was, ‘Love your neighbor, and love yourself.'” Those are almost Jesus’ exact words found in Matthew 22:39b where He says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I found a video clip of Mister Rogers explaining the importance of taking care of that part inside you that allows you to, ‘Love your neighbor, and love yourself.’ Click here to listen.
Mister Rogers demonstrated this in May of 1969 when he did an episode with Francois Clemmons remembered by many people who grew up with Mister Rogers Neighborhood. He was known as Officer Clemmons on the show. He was the first African American to appear in a recurring role on a children’s show. In the 2018 documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Francois Clemmons recalled, “They didn’t want black people to come and swim in their swimming pools, and Fred said, ‘That is absolutely ridiculous.’”
In response to the racism going on at the time, Mister Rogers invited Officer Clemmons to soak his feet with him in a wading pool on a hot day outside of his neighborhood house. The same year it aired, the Supreme Court ruled that pools could not be segregated by race, according to the New York Times.
Mister Rogers was a civil rights activist in a very unique way. He didn’t march, shout, hold up a sign, or even sign a petition. Instead, having a black person play a character on the show, and letting the audience see them being friends was enough to make a statement and change the world. In 1993, just before Francois Clemmons retired from the show, he and Mister Rogers recreated the same scene, but this time, Mister Rogers helped him wash his feet just like Jesus did in the Bible. (By the way, the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet can be found in John 13:1-17.)
Now is a great time to learn and practice, ‘Love your neighbor, and love yourself.’ Here are some examples of how to do that in today’s culture. Send a friend or family member a text message or email, set up a zoom chat online or call each other on the phone. We all have cards sitting unused in a drawer; mail them to those people who are not tech-savvy. Offer to help your elderly neighbors with their grocery shopping or yard work. Don’t forget to wear your masks and stay six feet apart from each other. If you need help knowing how far away that is, a good way to measure it is to use a standard pool noodle. That’s what my church is using to help people know where to sit when we meet at our outdoor amphitheater for the service.
If someone has a birthday coming up, do what my special needs group is doing and have a drive-by birthday. Meet a group of people in a public place and form a caravan line to that person’s house. Have the birthday person wait outside on the porch or in their driveway, and bring them decorations for the front porch, the garage, and the yard. Honk your horn when you get to that person’s street and wave. Here are two birthday signs my mom and I made for two of my friends who recently had birthdays.
Everyone signed them, and we then gave them to the birthday people as if that was their birthday card. We put them where neighbors who drove by throughout the day would be able to see them. At one of the drive-by birthday parties, we, the birthday guests, were handed cake as we drove by. We’re still finding ways to celebrate; even in these strange times.
For those people who live with their loved ones, spend time talking to each other, watch a favorite movie, read, or listen to an audiobook and talk about it. Go for a walk, cuddle with your animals, have a family game night, do puzzles, eat in the backyard, or on the front porch. To cool off, run through the sprinklers, wash the car in your swimsuits, spray each other with the hose, throw water balloons, paint rocks or draw chalk art on the sidewalk. If you like to bake, take plates of baked goods to your neighbors. My mom has been talking about taking cookies to some of our neighbors. Let’s follow in Mister Rogers’ Christian example and come out of this having learned how to be better neighbors who know how to care for each other as Jesus would. As Mister Rogers said, “There are many ways to say I love you. There are many ways to say I care about you.” How can you show someone you love and care about them today?
Thank you for the Christian example of Mister Rogers. I pray that everyone reading this would start thinking about what ‘Love your neighbor and love yourself’ really means and live it out as Mister Rogers did. Help us to use this time to grow closer to our families and become better neighbors who care and love each other the way you would. I pray for anyone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with you; that they would invite you into their hearts and say, “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Lord, you hear a sincere heart. Revelation 3:20 says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Thank you for being patient with us as we answer the door of our hearts and for loving us unconditionally. Thank you for being my neighbor.
Author’s Note: If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to love your neighbor, go ahead and post them on my blog; let’s have a conversation. Please make sure to click on “I am not a robot” so your comment goes through. It’s how I make sure everything stays clean and honoring to God. I’m also going to put two clips of Mister Rogers’ episodes below. The first is the clip from 1969 that changed history. The second is the clip from before Francois Clemons retired from the show on February 24, 1993. He and Mister Rogers sing “There are many ways to say I love you”; have a listen. Maybe it will give you some ideas on how to love your neighbor during this time. I look forward to hearing from you. I also found the full-length episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood that was aired on television on May 9, 1969, on Vimeo. If anyone would like to see it, Click here. Mister Rogers, thank you for changing history and showing us how to love our neighbors.
I mentioned Mister Rogers being an ordained Presbyterian minister. If anyone is interested in an in-depth look at the ministry of Mister Rogers, I have two more articles on my blog that emphasize it. The first one is called, “It’s a beautiful day in the Neighborhood… The Ministry of Mister Rogers.” Click here to read it. The other one is called, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? What I Learned from Mister Rogers About Life.” It’s a personal letter to Mister Rogers, thanking him for the impact he had on my life. I talk about some of the hidden biblical messages I see now as an adult as I look back on the program. Click here to read it.
George, Carmen. “You Are Special.” “Mister Rogers” Neighborhood’ Movie Brings Lots of Love to Fresno, 21 June 2018, https://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/carmen-george/article213675559.html.
Hohman, Maura. “This ‘Mister Rogers’ Moment Broke Race Barriers. It’s Just as Powerful Today.” Yahoo Entertainment, 8 June 2020, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/mister-rogers-moment-broke-race-183700720.html.
Benson, Rachael. Mr. Rogers #1065. 15 Aug. 2020, https://www.kapwing.com/videos/5f386713272817001561ba2b.
“Mister Rogers – Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor.” YouTube, 14 Aug. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFlmxh2Ad1Q.
“There Are Many Ways To Say I Love You.” YouTube, 31 May 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrppBYFK3lU.
Haim, Joey. Mr. Rogers #1065. 2 years ago, https://vimeo.com/287490867.