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Mr Rogers and his sense of vocation in the midst of chaos

Mr. Fred Rogers

A line from Fred Rogers, the iconic children’s television host, is in heavy circulation following yesterday’s bombing in Boston. It’s Mr. Rogers’ recollection of his mother’s advice that the best way to watch “scary things in the news” was to “… look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” Rogers’ own testimony is that, over the course of his life, he found this to be true. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, wasn’t merely projecting his brand of rose-colored all-is-well-in-the-neighborhood positive thinking. Rather, he was confessing the creed of the church: “I believe in God the Father, the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth.”

News reports have repeated the story, how the first bomb went off and how most people were just stunned, not knowing what was going on or what to do. Then, just seconds later, another blast and people were running, not just away from the scene, but also toward it in order to bring help, tearing down barricades to reach the injured. They were called to do so. Not just police and fire and medical personnel, but everyone, who ran in the direction of the blast, was answering a call – a vocation – to help.

As a Christian, I believe that such calls come from God. I believe that in answering such calls to service, even in the midst of catastrophe, even when we don’t recognize the call’s divine origin, we have become the means by which our creator God cares for and keeps all of creation.

Over spring break, the University hosted an event for first responders: police, fire, EMT’s and other emergency managers. They gathered to hear from H. Dwight Douglas, a hospital administrator from Joplin, Missouri, who shared wisdom gained through his experience of the tornado that struck Joplin in 2011. Among his key insights was that professional emergency managers need to think through how they will organize and employ the slew of talented people who, in the wake of catastrophe, “self-deploy.” “People just show up!” he told the room, “What are you going to do with them?” In the context of his talk, it was a great question. At a deeper level, the level at which questions of purpose and meaning in the midst of suffering are asked, we do well to recognize that nobody actually “self-deploys.” In these times, those who Mr. Rogers calls us to notice are answering a vocation.

Such vocations aren’t limited to those on the scene, the first responders and amateurs alike. All those working at hospitals receiving the wounded and the bereaved, those who opened their homes to strangers stranded in the city, the civic officials, working to manage the resources at their disposal, the teachers and counselors, the mothers and fathers and friends of the bereaved and injured, the poets who post their verse as a means of giving voice to it all, even the news reporters who seek to share the stories, are living out a vocation for life and healing in the face of chaos and despair. These all, and so many more, are the means by which the God of creation cares for and keeps the whole order.

This, too, is an echo of the resurrection of Jesus, the first born of the dead.

+Pr Jim

April 16, 2013

Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.