“We can do it!”
Being participants in God’s story
Enough with trying to save the world – that’s an impossible and thankless job. Our task is to save Baby Jaguar. As I sit on the living room couch with my youngest child nestled on my lap and a “Dora the Explorer” book in my hand, I’ve concluded we can accomplish this task with God’s help. Then there will be some peace in the world.
Welcome to the animated world of Dora and her intrepid sidekicks – including cousin Diego, Boots the monkey, a talking map, and a magical backpack – who inhabit the wildly popular books, television shows, and video games churned out by Nickelodeon. Believe it or not, these cartoon characters offer several lessons that can rejuvenate us as followers of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
As each story gets underway, the heroine Dora – a compassionate and determined seven-year-old Latina girl – says, “Let’s go!” as she leads her posse of adventurers in finding lost treasure or rescuing an animal in distress.
Along the way, Dora must overcome physical obstacles, solve problems, and persevere against the dastardly (though feeble) attempts of Swiper the Fox to steal things from her. Nevertheless, Dora always succeeds, and she invites her friends into a group dance and sing-along song: “We did it!”
But, that’s not the end of the story. The signature of every Dora episode is that the story remains incomplete without the participation of the viewer or reader. This is where we can ponder the corresponding relationship between Christians and the overarching story of Christ’s work in the world.
At every turn, Dora looks out at the readers or viewers, expecting us to help. In the face of every problem or obstacle, she turns her head and looks at us as co-adventurers rather than passive audience members.
Moreover, Dora calls upon the audience to participate by speaking words or joining in physical movements to ensure the effectiveness of those words or movements in the story. Storytime with my child is not quiet – listening is punctuated with enthusiastic movements like holding our arms out as if to hold onto a waterskiing rope, shouts of “Backpack!” to activate her magical carry-all, or clicking sounds to beckon a dolphin.
When Dora calls on us – her teammates – to repeat words or do the requested actions, she is not looking for external affirmation. Instead, she’s looking for “external instrumentation” – some kind of necessary behaviour from outsiders. In other words, Dora’s achievements depend on collaboration by the reader.
Thus, the narrative structure of Dora the Explorer can remind us of the narrative structure of the Gospels.
Dora says, “Let’s go! We can do it!” – Jesus says, “Come and follow me.” Dora looks out at the readers with anticipation, assuming they will participate. Jesus looks out at the disciples with love, assuming they will play a part in healing, extending compassion, and preaching the gospel of peace. Neither Dora stories nor Jesus stories allow for couch potatoes.
The New Testament amplifies this theme of people joining in the work of Christ. Second Corinthians 5 declares that we are ambassadors for Christ (v. 20), and God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (v. 18–19). Colossians 3:16 urges us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly. The letter to the Ephesians instructs us to “grow up” into Christ (4:15) and to “put on” the unexpected “disarmament” of the Lord (6:10–17). As unfathomable as it may seem, Jesus transfers the story of redemption and reconciliation to us as protagonists.
This does not mean renouncing God as Everlasting Author of the story. It means affirming the cross both as a revolutionary sign of Christ’s victory and as a reminder that the gospel of peace continues to prevail, in part, through human partnership. It means abiding by Jesus’ message: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21).
This is the first lesson: The story requires our participation. Dora (explorer par excellence) looks to us as the ones who will maximize and fulfill her exploration. Jesus (the Prince of Peace) looks to us as the ones who will maximize and fulfill his peacemaking.
Next month, follow along as Dora’s antagonist Swiper reveals another lesson about the Prince of Peace.
(link to BibleGateway.com)All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.