Time To Stop Asking Where Waldo Is?

Marc Cortez shared this picture yesterday:

At first I just enjoyed it as funny. But for some reason I found myself thinking about it more, and realized that it also provides a nice parable or what is wrong with salvation-oriented, other-worldly Christianity the sole or almost exclusive focus of which is on whether people are “saved” or “lost.”

There are forms of Christianity which would only view Waldo – or anyone else – in terms of whether they are still “lost” or have now been found.

As someone who used to be part of that tradition, I can understand this perspective. Yet even looking back at the attitudes I embraced when I was connected with that form of Christianity, I find it hard to comprehend how it could have seemed plausible to view God, people, salvation and pretty much everything else in the way that I did.

Perhaps that is one of the negative sides of having a life-changing religious experience. When we go from depression and confusion to a sense of light and clarity, it can seem as though that, and that alone, is all that everyone needs, all that matters.

But the truth is that such experiences, however important they may be to us, neither automatically make us nice people, or truly make all our problems go away. And so even those who have had a “born again” experience, and have had some time to carry on living since then, ought to be in a position to recognize that however important a particular moment or a particular experience may be in someone’s life, our lives are more than that. People are more than that. And the question of whether we reach the point of having such an experience, and the way our lived unfold after them, and everything else about our lives is more than just a simple binary categorization of people as “lost” or “found.”

And so as a progressive Christian, I find the cartoon emblematic of what I want to avoid. The Christianity that I embrace is not one that focuses merely on getting a person found. It is about acknowledging the fact that even after a life-changing experience that one might describe as “getting saved” there are still elements of lostness. It is about caring how people are and not only where they are in terms of a particular religious categorization.

I have the distinct impression that when Jesus spent time with the marginalized, when he sent people on their way having told them all sorts of things but never “four things God wants you to know,” when he touched the unclean and helped people with things that today we would categorize as mental illness, when he told stories that used hated figures as metaphors for God and provided a hero for the story that struck a nerve of prejudice, he viewed how people were as important.

  • Claude

    No love for this post? It’s nice.

    But who were the “hated figures” and the hero involving prejudice (the SyroPhoenician woman?). 

  • AnnWebb

    Love this post James. When you said, “But the truth is that such experiences, however important they may be to us, neither automatically make us nice people, or truly make all our problems go away.” I felt that you were talking mainly to me. My experience did change my life from then onward, but old habits creep in and things happen that make us question what we experienced and life changes, sometimes for the worse. Still, the experience is one I cling to, but now realise I don’t have to make sure everyone else has an experience too. It can’t be done. That’s up to God isn’t it? Thanks for this. (oh and love the Waldo cartoon too) :-)

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks for your comment, Ann! I was talking entirely out of my own personal experience, but suspected that it wasn’t unique to me. Glad to hear that others found it a useful reflection!

  • cameronhorsburgh

    I’m currently writing a paper looking at the way the Bible uses the term ‘the lost.’ Concern for the well-being of the ‘lost’ seems to be central to some of the pictures but not others—contrast the concern for the lost coin to the concern for the prodigal son.

    I do get the impression that Jesus’ concern for Waldo (or Wally, as he’s known here in .au) would be far different to the concern we’re supposed to show while we’re ‘witnessing.’

    I’ll be sure to include this picture in my presentation!

    • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      And I think that one can view even the parables about lostness as metaphors for a genuine concern for how people are, rather than their “lostness” understood as a binary assessment of their spiritual state.

      Let me know how the presentation goes!


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