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The Wisdom of the Wizard of Oz

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.


9 Responses to “The Wisdom of the Wizard of Oz”

  1. Joy Scudder says:

    Jeff, you really ‘hit the nail on the head’ with this! Especially appreciated your words “… maybe God is telling me to take personal responsibility and use the gifts he’s already given me.” Just what I needed to hear! Thank you for another inspiring article. Namaste’

  2. Bob says:

    Thanks for challenging some of the ‘magical thinking’ that oversimplifies the challenges of living in a complex world. An excellent essay with an important message.

  3. Jordan Alex says:

    Jeff, fantastic article. I have long struggled with the problem of evil. I won’t get into all that I’ve pondered and how that relates to the nature of God, but suffice it to say that this post arrives at many of the same conclusions I have. People say, “Why would God allow all those poor kids to starve in Africa?” Maybe because we Americans, as 3% of the world’s population, use 33% of the world’s resources. I’m not an America-hater by any means; just using this as one example. We already have what we need to feed every single soul on earth. We just need to allocate it so everyone has their portion. I used to have a lot of that magical thinking myself. I can so relate to the “God’s batting average” metaphor. I’m reading Rob Bell’s new book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God.” It’s shoring up some of the other conclusions I’ve come to. I appreciate you being open about your journey and sharing the insights here on the blog. Peace <

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks Jordan. I like Rob Bell as well. There is something very comfortable about believing in a God that absolves me of taking most of the responsibility. I think that’s a mistake that hurts me, others – and ultimately my relationship with God.

  4. Bob Whitmarsh says:

    Jeff, Thank you very much for taking time and putting forth the effort to write. Every time I visit your blog I am renewed and inspired to try just a liitle harder to be true to my belief that God intends for us to care for others. I agree completely that God has given us the gifts we need to make the world a better place. We can do everything you mention and more. No one of us has everything necessary to get the job done. We need to support and encourage one another in the tasks. Otherwise we fall into the self pity trap of “What’s the use?, What can one person do?, It’s just too much.” Thanks a million for showing me I am not alone. Watch for and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Peace. bob

  5. Angel Michael says:

    Thanks for this Blog,I was at a friends house and we started speaking about the Wizard of Oz and then the next day it was on TV. And the next following day my cousin puts a folded paper in my pocket asking me to hold onto it for her. I forgot to give it back to her and when I was home I took it out and surely to say it was a cut out of the Wizard of Oz. I then came home got on my Facebook and my pastor not knowing what I’m going threw or seeing makes a remark of “going down the yellow brick road”. So in my wonder I decided to seek info on the net. And thank God for you I was able to read your Blog and it helped me clarify a bit more.Now to what God wants me to do exactly with what I already have I will keep in heavy prayer. Once again thanks Jeff!!!

    • Jeff says:

      I’m glad it was helpful. I think doing the best you can with what you have is always good advice…. as opposed to waiting for God to intervene. I’m not saying God isn’t involved in our lives; I just think it pleases Him to see us make our own effort and wants us to assume responsibility.

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I grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, where I attended a charismatic church that sincerely tried to follow Christ's teachings and actively sought the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the summer of 84, I interned in DC with the Reagan-Bush Re-Election campaign and was indoctrinated in the dark arts of neo-conservatism. After graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu, I worked in the financial services industry in Atlanta; then I drifted back to Southern California for a few introspective years before eventually moving home to Tennessee. Along the way, I began to question some of my longstanding beliefs and attempted to reconcile my political and religious views. Increasingly, I became saddened and angered with how Christianity was so often misrepresented for personal and political gain. Hometown Prophet was written out of that frustration.

- Jeff Fulmer