I rarely go to the movies, but I was curious about “Oz – the Great and Powerful” – in 3D no less. It tells the pre-Dorothy, back story of the Wizard of Oz, along with the origin of the good and evil witches. I don’t think it requires a “spoiler alert” to tell you the “Wizard” is not really a “wizard” at all; just a showman and a bit of a conman. And, while this wizard can’t actually perform magic, he still gets the job done by using his ingenuity, skills, and the resources he has at his disposal, although it should be noted that the Munchins do most of the actual work.
A few nights later, the original Wizard of Oz came on TV, so I watched that again, too. I was struck with how true to the original the prequel was – and how far special effects have come in seventy or so years. Both movies essentially have the same message: whether it’s bravery, brains, a heart, or even a ticket back to Kansas, we already have all we need. The notion that simply believing in ourselves may sound a little hokey, but I think there is a certain amount of truth to it and something I needed to hear.
This “Wizard of Oz” is very different than the personal God I grew up believing in. Having a sinful nature, I was totally dependent on God for my salvation. Despite this, “God” was endlessly interested in the minutia of my life, which could have contributed to an inflated sense of self-importance. It also made me expectant of miracles – big and small. This overly-spiritualized faith is similar in many ways to ‘mystical’ or ‘magical-thinking’ and can create a lot of frustration when prayers go unanswered.
Yet, I was also taught that God answers every prayer. Sometimes the answer is ‘yes,’ and sometimes it’s ‘no,’ and sometimes it’s ‘not right now.’ While that certainly covers all the bases, even as a child, I couldn’t help but feel like God was getting a free pass when it came to his batting average. The Wizard of Oz tries a similar tactic by sending Dorothy and her companions on a fool’s errand to get the Wicked Witch’s broom. When they manage to actually succeed, Oz still tries the ‘not right now’ tactic.
It’s only when Dorothy has the chutzpah to pull back the curtains that we discover that the Wizard is really just a man. Even though he’s just a mortal, without any supernatural power, he still gives each person what they really need. I’m not trying to make a theological statement on the nature of God; all I’m saying is, when I don’t get an answer, maybe God is telling me to take personal responsibility and use the gifts he’s already given me. If I listened to my heart and my head, and had the courage of my convictions, a lot of my problems would go away.
This principle can be applied individuals, as well as collectively. For example, if we corporately think that gun violence and shootings are something that needs to be addressed in our society, we should have the brains to figure out common sense solutions – and the courage to carry them out. If our biggest brains (aka scientists) keep warning us about climate change, we need the political will to take some steps toward confronting it. The same is true of deficit reduction. And, at the same time, if we have any heart at all, we should have compassion for the poorest among us.
Sure, it would have been easier if the Wizard had simply granted everyone’s wishes and sent them on their merry way. The Wizard didn’t do that because he couldn’t. But even if he could have, he would have deprived the recipients of participating in the miracle. Being brave or smart or loving is an action that requires exercise and effort and, unless we understand how to access it, the miracle will quickly fade. We all want God to part the Red Sea for us because it’s exciting and easy. But, in the end, the techno-color miracles don’t do as much for us as learning to accept and believe in ourselves. That’s the gift that keeps on giving.
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