Someone who loves a neighbor allows them to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be. -Michel Quoist
You can be a follower of Muhammad or Jesus or Buddha or whomever. Always, they said that the most essential factor is to love your neighbor and to love you. -Leo Buscaglia
As a kid, I remember Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood probably more than any show. To this day, when I see old clips of him singing “There are many ways to say I love you…” it brings me back to my childhood and makes me teary eyed and happy and peaceful.
Perhaps it’s because Mr. Rogers helped me through some difficult times like when I was sad or bullied or scared. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Rogers’ show was groundbreaking and controversial in its day. The show addressed issues like racism and death. One of the main characters, Officer Clemmons, is a gay Black man with a beautiful tenor voice.
Why would that be groundbreaking and controversial? Because, sadly, at that time, you didn’t see main characters who were black or gay, unless they were stereotypes. And you certainly didn’t see a white dude dipping his feet into a wading pool and singing songs with a black police officer. Mr. Rogers was intentional about asking us each time “Won’t you be my neighbor?” but being a neighbor also meant befriending and loving those who were different than you. Fred Rogers always encouraged us to love ourselves as we were and to love others as they were.
Loving someone—being kind to them, according to Mr. Rogers, was the most important thing we could do to show that we were alive.
I’m with all the critics and pundits who are saying that the recent documentary about Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, entitled: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Little Kindness Makes a World of Difference” is a much-needed movie for people to watch, and it comes to us during a time when kindness and love seem in short supply.
I also remember as a kid some of my classmates made fun of me or anyone else who watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. They said it was a show for babies. According to the bullies, such a show was weak and childish. Now that may seem like playground banter to you, but stay with me. What has changed? Look around.
The bullies are saying and doing the same thing. It’s weak to be kind to people who are on the margins and vulnerable. Instead, we’re told that they take our jobs or money or health care away from us; they worsen our schools and neighborhoods. Likewise, if people look different or come from another country or culture [particularly poor ones], we shouldn’t welcome them, we should keep them out. They are to be feared and not trusted.
They are not our neighbors.
Neither are those who love a different gender [or more than one]. Neither are those who don’t identify with a binary gender or who have transitioned or who are transitioning, or who are just not sure. Neither are people who have brown or black skintones to be trusted. In fact, we should call the police on them when they make us feel uncomfortable. We should use extra force with them because they are dangerous. They are out to hurt us. And so are people who practice other religions besides Christianity—who wear special clothes are hats or coverings and pray in different languages and read from different sacred books. They don’t look or feel red, white, and blue enough, and so they are not our neighbors.
Friends, it’s even true that U.S. elected officials [including the President] are spreading these ideas and bullying those who don’t agree. If we are kind and loving to those on the margins or to those who are different than us, then we are weak. And we’re given license and permission to refuse services and basic human rights to people simply because of their gender identification or expression, their sexual expression, their skin color, their nationality, their linguistic background, or their religious practice. The bullying hasn’t stopped, and it won’t, as long as these bullies are given money and authority…
And as long as people like you and me stay silent and stop making new neighbors. See, the message of Mr. Rogers may seem trite and simplistic in a time such as this, but it’s not. It’s profound and difficult to be kind and to love people as they are. It’s courageous to love yourself with all your flaws and then to turn around and love all people as your neighbor, with all their flaws. There is no weakness in such a thing. Living kindness and love is brave and daring and risky. Jesus taught this and lived this. It was the greatest and newest command of Jesus of Nazareth, to love one another—to know and love our neighbors. And when asked who our neighbors might be, I don’t have any doubt that Jesus and Mr. Rogers would be on the same page, and that both of them would see what is happening in the White House, in Congress, in the Senate—in far too many of our schools and workplaces and courthouses and on our streets–as the opposite of kindness and love.
So it’s time, if you haven’t already started, friend. It’s time to ask: won’t you love your neighbor? Won’t you love yourself? Won’t you be loud with your love and kindness, right now, in this moment?