The Gospel According to Fred: Sometimes People are Good.

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Sometimes People are Good

It’s reassuring that in this time of crisis that many are turning to Mister Rogers’ words for both comfort and encouragement.  Someone brought to my attention André Picard’s article in the Globe and Mail which quoted Rogers’ famous line:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”[1]

We need the gentle, kind actions of one who sought to help make a connection with others in the world, to combat the stories of human fears, and greed and hoarding.  For just as there are stories that make one’s skin crawl, there are other stories of grocery stores allowing for seniors to shop in the early hours, resource sharing and #caremongering, and others as we support one another through this difficult time.  There’s as much good in the world, as sometimes people are good…they do just what they should…and yet sometimes not so much.  We are a profoundly complex species.

The goodness of Jesus’ life is indisputable.   The kingdom of God that Jesus lives out includes resource sharing (the feeding of the five thousand), care for the vulnerable (Matthew 25 and the remembering of those alone, in prison, etc) and in this and next week’s scripture, healing one suffering.  I need to be careful of my language here, because there have been much greater strides thanks to technology developed over the last 100 years which have enabled one born blind to participate as fully in society.  “One born blind” would have been a “stigmatized disability” in Biblical times.  If you were blind, especially as it’s indicated by the story in John, it was believed to be a reflection of your family, pointing to faults or sins, as the disciples ask Jesus:

Who sinned, this man or his parents…

Even up to recent memory, people have carried this wrong theology of punishment to look at disabilities/illnesses/etc (coronavirus) to be reflective of God’s judgment.  Countless bad theologians have stopped at verse 2, while in verse 3, Jesus corrects this way of thinking as he teaches his disciples:

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned;
he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

This would have taken the disciples aback.  Those born blind were afforded simple protections in ensuring that they were not to be mistreated (Leviticus 19:14), however blindness proved more exclusionary than inclusive as a “blind priest was forbidden to officiate in the Sanctuary.”[2]  Exclusion seemed the way of dealing with those with blindness (even blind animals were not allowed to be offered as sacrifices to God).  So for Jesus to say that God’s works might be revealed in the one born blind, that God’s grace was meant for all people, would have been just as radical as healing on the Sabbath (which Jesus got in trouble for too).

This scripture makes me wonder what limits we put on God? 
What limits do we put on another? 

Fred Rogers’ song about Sometimes people are good, reminds us about the complexity of humanity – that we have the power for goodness within us, and we have the choice to act upon that goodness.

There were a couple of individuals in Tennessee who recently received the ire of the Internet, as they were caught “hoarding” medical supplies[3] to resell them for a profit.  Upon discovery, the individuals had their eyes opened (by the law) to the reality going on around them and donated everything to charity.  So does the act of hoarding outweigh the forced donation?  Does the good act outweigh the not so good?  Should the miracle of the healing go missed by the Pharisees just because he performed it on the Sabbath?

We are a complex species, for sometimes people are good…I choose to hope that the blindness of these two in Tennessee was lifted from them, to see the error of their ways, and truly how connected our lives are. 

This connectedness is exactly what Jesus honoured in his ministry.  It’s why he couldn’t pass by people, nor ignore their suffering.  Fred Rogers too spoke about this connectedness when he was invited to be commencement speaker at his alma mater, Dartmouth College.[4]  The important part of the speech starts at 3:52 (and I’ve included the video[5] in the worship playlist):

Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel. A facet of that jewel. And in the perspective of infinity, our differences are infinitesimal. We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not.

Have you heard my favorite story that came from the Seattle Special Olympics? Well, for the 100-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line, and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward, one little boy stumbled and fell, and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying. They slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy, and said, “This’ll make it better.” The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together, and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up, and clapped, and whistled, and cheered for a long, long time. People who were there are still telling this story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.

We are in a profoundly difficult time when we have realized that we each represent a facet of the jewel of creation.  We have stayed home to ensure all can finish the race.  It doesn’t matter who wins and loses anymore.  This “flattening the curve” means a drastic slowing down and this time will undoubtedly change the course of human history. 

The goodness we bring starts with the recognition of the preciousness – the jewel that is all creation – and our role in it – connecting us with one another.  It is the African teaching of Ubuntu, I am, because we are.  Our lives do not live in isolation.  Even though we might be quarantined, have a deeper awareness now (if there’s any good in this whole virus situation) that what one life does can infect/affect the entire planet. 

One person’s donation can save a life. 
One person stopping to play in the mud can open the eyes of the other. 
One person remembering their interconnectedness with their neighbour can keep us all afloat. For sometimes people are good…and they do just what they should… so may the goodness you bring, open the eyes of your neighbours, may you see that goodness that dwells between you, and may you know the precious jewel of this creation shines in you, and each and every life you touch.


[1] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canada-heres-how-we-are-going-to-survive-this-pandemic-together/

[2] McAllister, Ray, Theology of Blindness in the Hebrew Scriptures p237.  https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1088&context=dissertations

[3] https://www.today.com/news/brothers-who-hoarded-17-700-bottles-hand-sanitizer-forced-donate-t176028

[4] https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2018/03/revisiting-fred-rogers-2002-commencement-address

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=907yEkALaAY

6 Comments

  1. beautifully put together. trinity got lost somewhere.so many positive things to think about at this time.Children’s story so meaningful as usual.Sam was just delightful and natural.Thank you so much .Marg S

  2. Thank you for this, Rev. Chris and Sam.
    I absolutely loved the prelude. The beautiful music and the majestical creature – I found it very calming. The whole service was wonderful.
    Thank you for keeping us together in this time of physical distancing and isolation.
    Teresa

  3. Another meaningful service and I am grateful.
    Watching the elephant swaying to the music, watching Sam during the children’s time, listening to message and appreciating the Hand washing Timer, all of these elements contributed to a meaningful time for me to pause and reflect. I pray that as a society we can choose to follow the isolation guidelines and in doing so join together, support one and other and cross the finish line together.
    Thank you Donna

  4. Thank you so very much Rev. Chris – a beautiful service which will be an anchor through the coming week. The music was wonderful too. And thanks to Sam for being part of the children’s story. Appreciate you doing this so we can be ‘together’ despite the need to be isolated. May you and your family keep safe and well. Charmian and Hong

  5. Thanks again Chris for bringing us together. And thanks you Sam too. It was so lovely to see him with you Chris. I am filling up with hugs for everyone. Can’t wait to use them!!!!

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