Faith & Fandom
The Wizard of Oz & What We're Searching For
As I'm writing this, I’m less than a week out from finishing playing the Cowardly Lion in a musical production of the Wizard of Oz, and while I had no intention of doing a chapter on this, I'm in the place where I still hear the music cues, dialogue, and lyrics randomly in my head, so join me as I pop over the rainbow with some devotional Oz thoughts.
(Also, I’m writing this specifically from the musical, and I haven’t seen the cinematic version in years, so, just keep that in mind if something seems moderately off?)
Almost every night on stage from rehearsals to production, there were 2 lines that belonged to Oz that stuck with me.
“'A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.'” and “Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.” Both of these lines caused me to pause for a minute before refocusing so I didn’t miss any more of my lines. Oz was speaking with Tin Man of course. One of Dorothy’s encounters with the allegorical vagabonds of the yellow brick road puts her in connection with the Tin Man searching for a heart so he can love his munchkin maiden, among other things. He joins with the frolicking sojourners of the yellow brick road and after defeating the wicked witch confronts the eventual humbuggery of Oz and rather than receiving a tangible heart replacement for his hollow chest, he receives a Flavor-Flav style alarm clock on a chain as a testimonial. That works well in terms of a musical with a thick second act and actors nearing heat stroke in their soggy costumes, but it is a little less functional with dealing with our own hearts.
Tin Man was in a place where he recognized his heart wasn’t right and he wanted the situation remedied. If we’re honest and moderately self-aware, most have been in the same place. We know our hearts are broken in some fashion or another, and we want to find healing. Sometimes we think relationships, status, or achievement can fix it but it usually just serves as a temporary distraction. In Jeremiah, God spoke this,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” - Jeremiah 17:9-10.
He makes it clear, that while we may not have hollow tin chests, we do have a heart that is corrupt, and He is is full observance and awareness of our hearts. He would go even further in His discussion with the prophet Ezekiel. God was speaking hope to the nation of Israel, and I believe it is hope that is available for us today as well.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” - Ezekiel 36:26-27.
God wasn’t going to settle for an alarm clock, He wants to give His people a new heart. To remove what’s broken and holding us back, and give us a heart that’s able to actually live and draw close to Him. Our new hearts can still be broken and falter, but He is the one who can restore them above all else. Even though God can restore our broken Hearts, God does warn us to guard them.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” - Proverbs 4:23. Oz said hearts that can be broken aren’t practical, and he’s right, our hearts definitely aren’t practical. But when we allow God to restore them, and when we are intentional with how we use and guard them, they are exceptionally powerful and beautiful. And if how much our hearts are loved determines their worth, then they are priceless because of the depth of the love God has for them.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” - Ephesians 2:4-5
A Brain -
Scarecrow, like the other slipper sidekicks feels he is lacking something, even though time and again the character shows they are actually incredibly intelligent, he is convinced he needs a brain. Scarecrow has discounted himself in to believing he is lacking. So many people will stay away from big steps in life, and even steps towards God because they don’t think they have enough knowledge, they will limit what they think they can do, or what they think God can do through them because they may lack training or degrees. This is one of those times Oz nailed it on the head.
“Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Back where I come from we have Universities - where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But - they have one thing you haven’t got - a diploma!” (This line always reminds me of the Relient K song, “Arts and crafts is all i need, I'll take calligraphy and then I'll make a fake degree.”)
It’s always a funny bit when once receiving the diploma scarecrow spouts out complicated math, but it really does illustrate the fact that it wasn’t knowledge or a brain scarecrow needed, but the confidence and wisdom to use what he had. I think that’s the big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is simply information, wisdom is the understanding to use knowledge, and the confidence to execute and apply it. Just as the crows mocked Scarecrow to the point he lacked confidence in his judgements, the way the world is constantly ready to mock and ridicule others for their idea, opinions, and beliefs makes it hard for us to feel confident in what we know or feel certain in within ourselves.
In 1 Kings 3, Solomon is visited by God in a dream and told to make a request, this is Solomon’s reply, “Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” - 1 Kings 3:9-12.
Solomon had a very Oz like opportunity to ask for a brain, for wisdom, for discernment. And more than Oz’s fake diploma, Solomon actually got what he asked for. Now, sadly, even though Solomon was wiser than anyone to live, he still made horrible life choices and acted foolishly at times, because just because you possess something, doesn’t mean you will always use it well. What I love though is that Solomon and Scarecrow aren’t the only ones that have this opportunity. Scripture teaches us that we have this same access and opportunity to get wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5. It’s a beautiful thing to know that we don’t have to feel shame or like we are lesser when we feel like we don’t have all the answers. That if we are simply humble enough to actually ask God, He will give us the wisdom we need. It’s when we think we already have all the answers that we seem more likely stuffed with hay. “Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.” - 1 Corinthians 8:2
Being the Cowardly Lion was an absolute goal for me, and I spent 3 years in the process of making it happen. I loved every sweaty painful minute. There were a few things that stood out to me as well on the spiritual end of things as well.
My entrance in the show was stalking down the stage right aisle, while Scarecrow, Dorothy, & Tinman sang “Lions & Tigers & Bears” down the stage left aisle. They were big, loud, boisterous (and fantastic btw), they had a spotlight on them as well as all the eyes in the theatre, meanwhile, I was in the dark, crouched down. As I walked in slowly and rhythmically. One of my favorite things was startling the people in aisle seats. I wasn’t interacting or provoking them, but when someone caught me in their peripheral, there was usually an audible gasp or scream, followed by giggling. When the 3 friends started their song, they were frightened, but as they went on, they got more comfortable and confident, to the point that they made it to the stage they were simply joking about the threat. They were laughing as they climbed the stairs to the stage, which is when I joined right in their line and pounced with my one legit “ROAR” per show. Just when they got comfortable is when I attacked, and I think that’s something we can all relate to. When we let our guard down, that’s when are most vulnerable.
Peter, someone who had much experience with this subject, warns believers of it,
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” - 1 Peter 5:8. When we know that we should be mindful of our dangers around us, we act differently. The whole time I was backstage you had to be mindful. You never knew when Miss Gulch was going to ride a bike into the wings, a screen was going to drop from the ceiling, a stray munchkin was going to be running up the stairs, the wheel was going to fall off the wagon, or if the Emerald City groomers were going to rip your tail off when they took the chair away (totally happened opening night). Back stage we lived on alert, but not so much before or after. We do that in our day to day lives. We live without guard or caution until we know we are already in danger, we don’t need to live in fear, but Peter’s warning was serious. His warning didn’t stop there though, it came with more instruction. In verse 8 Peter warned us of the dangerous roaring enemy, but verse 9 and 10 come with the instructions to fight back.
“Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” - 1 Peter 5:9-10.
When I made my big leap and roar, I had about 2 minutes where everyone was afraid, then Dorothy bops me on the nose, and then whimpering tears as Lion cowered down. It took one slap, and the “roaring enemy” was turned away. We need to be careful of a dangerous enemy not because we need to live in fear, but more so because we need to be able to fight back. The same sentiment is in James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Bullies bully because they think they won’t meet opposition, and when we are able to stand boldly, the enemies lose some of their thunder.
As the show goes on the lion steadily, or sort of steadily, builds courage. There’s a lot more hollering and whining than bravery, but it’s definitely more balanced. That’s the goal and direction for believers. To move beyond the dandelion, and into the roaring lion. In my time as Lion, I was scared by Winkies, scared by floating Oz heads, scared by flying monkeys, scared by Jitterbugs, and even scared by pulling my own tail. I ran and hollered from everything. Which lines up with what Solomon shows in Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” I spent a lot of time fleeing when no one pursued, and I think there’s times we all can be in that same place. When we feel guilt, shame, insecurity, regret, can all make us run when we have no reason to. Please understand that with God in your life, you don’t need to run, you can stand, you can be bold, that doesn’t mean you need to go pouncing and roaring at every musical trio and their dog, just like you don’t need to pick a fight with everyone you disagree with. It does mean though, that fear shouldn’t be your motivation to back down in any circumstance.
Dorothy spends the first 15 minutes trying to get away from home, and the next hour and a half trying to get back. Right before she heads back home, Tin Man asks her what she learned, and she states this “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard, because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. Is that right?” There’s this innate thing written into us to wander, to roam. To look for more. That’s not a bad thing at all. It becomes a bad thing when we think we can run to something else because we don’t want to deal with what's in front of us. If we aren’t willing to deal with the people and conflicts here, we won’t be anywhere else. The same is true If we aren’t willing to deal with our own personal issues, resentment, mental health, spiritual health, bitterness, etc. It won’t matter the location if we aren’t ok with who we are. Dorothy ran from her problems, which seem minor from a distant perspective, but the reality is that all our problems seem bigger to us than they will to anyone else. Luke 15 has a brother with some similar traits with Dorothy, packs up his stuff, hits the road, has a less than pleasant experience, and then desperately wants to come home. When he was at his lowest scripture shows us this,
““When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” - Luke 15:17-20. Like Dorothy, the brother realized he needed to go home, and like Dorothy, he was met with loving open arms. There are going to be times and seasons in our lives where we are going to wander from home. Whether that be our immediate family, our friends, our church, or relationships, our jobs, our school, whatever it may be, we are prone to wander. Take just the wisdom and example, and learn that whatever we are looking for inside of ourselves, isn’t going to be found by running away. But also take this wisdom and example, and know that if you have run away, you can come back home. Dorothy was, the brother was, and let me tell you whole heartedly that God wants to welcome you back as well. Arms wide open. Love unending, ready and willing. We see this in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You don’t even have to click your heals, just turn around and go home. Go back to your father, He’s waiting.
Dorothy made it back home safely because of friends that stood with her (also partially cause she never went anywhere). She found friends along the way that were committed to help her back where she belonged. Not only did they help her, but she helped them along the way. Let me encourage you, find people like that in your life and hang on to them. Dorothy’s friends were dedicated, even when they were afraid, rusted, or their legs were torn off by flying monkeys. Find the people that will make sure you get back safely even when it’s difficult. We see this modeled in the famous passage from Ruth,
“But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.” - Ruth 1:16-18. Those are the people that we need to make it home. Sometimes when we are lost, it’s simply a matter of direction. At other times, it’s because we’ve completely taken the wrong direction by choice. Regardless of how, we need people who will not only stay with us, but who will bring us back.
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” - James 5:19-20.
There is no place like home, and the ones who help us get there, and the ones waiting for us, they make it all worth it.
Last little bit before I wrap this up, if you are only familiar with the movie, the Jitterbugs may seem foreign to you. It’s THE big dance number. As someone who spent 3 months learning and performing choreography, it’s a beautiful blend of anxiety and exhaustion. I loved the finished product, but oof. As the Witch states, “The Jitter-bug! There is no more infectious bug in my book of spells. Once bitten, they can never stop dancing till they drop. And when they do, you shall be there to scoop up the little brat and the little brute and bring ‘em both to Now go! Do my bidding.”
The witch failed to capture the friends. The poppies failed. The flying monkeys weren’t strong enough. So, her best plan was to wear the friends down in exhaustion so she could capture Dorothy easily, and it works. At the end of the number, I would get thrown down on stage by some flying monkeys, and I was grateful because I needed to breathe.
I tell you that to say this, Satan can’t take you out. He can’t stop you or steal you away. But he can do his best to distract you, exhaust you, and choke out the life and direction you have. He basically “Jitterbugs” you with busyness, and temporary pleasures in distractions to the point you are so weak that you collapse. Jesus describes this in Mark 4 as He is discussing the parable of the seeds, “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” - Mark. 4:18-19. Jitterbugged. Or as James puts it, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” - James 1:14-15. He distracts us till we are exhausted, or we find a temporary pleasure that keeps us from actually being able to focus or grow into where God is calling and leading us. Keep away from the Jitterbugs. Watch out for the things that are in your life that are keeping you from the things and the one who actually gives you life.