This Rabbi's Tweets Perfectly Explain How Mr. Rogers Used His Faith to Better the World
He really lived by the words "love your neighbor as yourself."
This week, the first trailer came out for the Fred Rogers movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. It's reminding everyone of what a wonderful man Rogers was and how much his message of kindness and understanding impacted the world. In response to the outpouring of love, influential author and rabbi Danya Ruttenberg wrote a thread on Twitter that gave examples of how the ordained Presbyterian minister applied his faith to his longtime educational show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, to make the world a better place.
"[His] life's work was built almost entirely…around Leviticus 19:18 (Love your neighbor as yourself.) Hence… the neighborhood," she tweeted. Since Ruttenberg posted the thread on Tuesday, it's been retweeted more than 27,000 times, and it's a must-read for anyone who wants to feel inspired by how Rogers chose to express his faith.
Ruttenberg cited the scene in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that played out as swimming pool integration became a major issue in America, when Rogers washed his and Officer François Clemmons' feet together in a kiddie pool. "Presumably the good Rev. Rogers was fully holding the Christian meaning of footwashing in his choices," Ruttenberg tweeted. Many believe that when Rogers picked up a towel and helped dry Clemmons' feet, it was clearly a reference to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and saying, "If I, then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet." The iconic scene continues to be a shining example of how Rogers made helping and accepting others seem incredibly easy—even if it meant going against the grain.
"It should also be noted that Francois Clemmons was gay," Ruttenberg wrote. "Rev. Rogers told him to stay away from gay bars at the time (late '60s/early '70s) because he knew that if that got out, he wouldn't be able to stay on a children's TV show. It seems homophobic now but times were different." She added that she saw this as "a gesture of love and trying to protect Clemmons and his livelihood, and role on the show," especially since he "didn't ask Clemmons to deny his gayness, just not to get 'caught' publicly, as that ruined many a career (outside kids' TV!) then."
After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Rogers used one of his puppets, Daniel Striped Tiger, to explain what the word "assassination" means, thereby "naming true things and simply holding space to let children deal with them—rather than trying to hide or minimize or gaslight because it seems too hard."
Ruttenberg then quoted something that Rogers reportedly once said about the sexual spectrum: "Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive." The quote is from Maxwell King's biography The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, and it sent the internet into a frenzy back in March. In the recent HBO documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Rogers' friends and family maintained that he probably wasn't LGBTQ, but that doesn't affect his overall message of acceptance.
Because, as Ruttenberg wrote in the thread, "the entirety of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood can be summed up as: Cultivate empathy. Be curious. It's ok to have hard feelings. And most of all, love your neighbor as yourself."
And she ended the thread with a call to action to make Rogers proud.
As Rogers once said, "To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." And for more inspiration, check out 33 Little Acts of Kindness You Can Do That Are Totally Free.
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