A Journey through the Land of Oz – Psalm 34; Mark 10.46-52
A few years ago, in a book by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo entitled Adventures in Missing the Point, I read a chapter on leadership written by McLaren and had one of those “ah-ha!” moments in which you encounter something both helpful and profound that lingers in your thoughts for several days afterward. In the chapter, McLaren writes about growing up with the corporate, CEO model of leadership, which, for him, felt like David as a young man trying to put on King Saul’s armor to face Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17.38-40). It just didn’t fit; and he looked and felt a bit silly wearing the outfit.
McLaren says (and I quote): “Somewhere in the middle of these musings, I remembered the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the great Wizard of Oz is a rather normal guy hiding behind an imposing image…And it struck me that by exposing the Wizard as a fraud, the film was probing an unexpressed cultural doubt, giving voice to a rising misgiving…with its dominant model of larger-than-life leadership” (Missing the Point, 141). In response to this epiphany, McLaren set aside the CEO, “Wizard of Oz” leadership model and discovered that Dorothy was the unexpected, but ideal, model of leadership, because she is a lot like us, and a lot like the people we encounter in the Bible.
At the beginning of the Bible we find a story about a couple named Adam and Eve, symbolic figures meant to represent all humanity (Gen 1-2). Things are going well for them and life is good, until one day they decide to adjust their lifestyle and live as they think appropriate (Gen 3.1-7). They disregard the divine ecology and find themselves in a wholly unfamiliar and somewhat frightening place (Gen 3.8ff). Like Dorothy being swept away into the Land of Oz, Adam and Eve are swept away into a foreign and unfamiliar land in which they, and all humanity with them, have been journeying ever since.
On this never-ending journey to get our bearings, there have been many who have come along beside us to help—men and women who have held up their little lights and illumined a bit of the darkened path before us. These individuals are unique for each of us, but all of them are in some way or another like Dorothy and like the characters we read about in the Bible. People like Noah; Abraham and Sarah; Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Moses and Aaron; Deborah and King David; Elisha and Hosea; and the men and women who followed around a man named Jesus, like Peter, James, and John; Mary Magdalene and an unnamed Samaritan woman.
On the surface it may appear that we have a pretty good catalog of leaders to guide us. If we look a bit closer, though, we’ll find that by popular standards this list would prove rather dismal. The truth is, if we were hoping for strong, confidant, flawless, fully capable and collected individuals to lead us we should probably start looking elsewhere.
After all, one of the first things Noah did after getting off the ark was get drunk and naked (Gen 9.20-21). It sounds a bit like a bad country song, doesn’t it? Abraham didn’t fare much better, passing his wife off as his sister on multiple occasions (Gen 12.10-20) and almost executing his son because of his erroneous ideas about God (Gen 22). His wife, Sarah, acted just as horribly when she forced Abraham to banish their poor, helpless servant, Hagar, and her son, Ishmael, from their camp because she didn’t like her (Gen 16).
Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all had personality issues. Isaac was too gullible (Gen 27), Jacob too crafty (see Gen 25.19-27.40), and Joseph was a bit braggadocios (Gen 37). Moses could not speak very well and had next to no self-confidence (Ex 3-4), while Aaron did not have much of a “backbone” when it came to dealing with demanding, misguided people (Ex 32).
Deborah and David wrote songs rejoicing over the destruction of fellow human beings (Judges 5 and Psalm 109). David also had that “little” incident where he slept with another man’s wife and when she turned up pregnant he tried to cover it up by arranging for the man to be killed in battle (2 Sam 11).
Elisha called down bears to devour a few youths who had mocked him for being bald (2 Kgs 2), and Hosea was married to a prostitute (Hos 1.2).
When we turn to the Christian scriptures we learn that the earliest followers of Jesus didn’t do any better. For fear of losing his reputation, or maybe his life, Peter denied he even knew Jesus, and cursed the final time to emphasize the point (Mk 14.71). James and John wanted to call down fire to destroy a village simply because they refused to let them pass through on their way to Jerusalem (Lk 9.51-56). Mary Magdalene had been possessed by seven demons (Mk 16.9; Lk 8.2), and the unnamed Samaritan woman had lived with five different men and never married any of them (Jn 4.1-30).
So maybe we should be looking for someone more like the Wizard of Oz—powerful, mighty, authoritative, mysterious and a force with which to be reckoned. Despite the initial attraction, such leadership is often more illusory than substantive. Those who place their confidence in the Wizard-type leader will see the house of cards come crashing down when Toto pulls back the curtain and the mirage quickly disappears, because the authority of the Wizard of Oz leadership model and power only exists as long as everything remains hidden and secret. When the curtain is pulled back, the Wizard of Oz can be truly seen as an uncertain, unwise and unhelpful person who relies on abusive manipulation rather than servant leadership.
Unless I miss my guess, you have likely encountered a few of these “Wizard-leaders” who seem to have it all together, know all the answers, have next to no compassion for the weaknesses of others, and are very good at pointing out the kryptonite of someone else, but act as if they have no flaws themselves. Yet you can’t help but feel that if the curtain were to be pulled back just a little you’d see, as McLaren put it, “rather normal [people] hiding behind…imposing image[s]” (Missing the Point, 141).
For those of you who have been around these “Wizard-leaders,” all I can offer is a humble apology by pulling back the curtain a bit to show you that the “Wizards” of the faith are, more often than not, the most insecure, un-thoughtful and power-hungry of the tribe, and point you toward the better half of our tradition by showing you the Dorothy’s who seek to follow a redemptive and healing way of life as best they know how, a path of compassion that leads toward the flowering and flourishing of our humanity, toward the life abundant and love everlasting of which Jesus spoke and from which Jesus lived.
Wherever you may be on your journey, I speak to you this morning as one who (I hope) is more like Dorothy than the Wizard of Oz. I speak as someone who has encountered a redemptive way of life and has started walking down this path. Nevertheless, I speak as somebody who is far from perfect, doesn’t have it all together, doesn’t have all the answers, doesn’t have it all figured out and is willing to admit it. I speak to you as someone who is stumbling and bumbling his way down the yellow brick road just like Dorothy and her companions.
I believe it’s the Dorothy’s rather than the Wizards that should be our guides, because in them we encounter people very much like ourselves. People with more questions than answers that can help us live with and embrace the unanswerable questions of life. People just as confused, flawed, fearful, lonely, broken and vulnerable as you and me who can empathize with us rather than continually criticize us. People who listen before than they speak, who are humble enough to admit that they do not know everything, who refuse to exploit their power to control others, and who journey in solidarity rather than superiority. And they are people who refuse to stereotype because they realize that, like Dorothy’s companions, everyone is unique—some struggle with intellectual issues, others with courage, still others with matters of the heart.
Dorothy’s are the leaders we need and, hopefully, search for, because they are people like the man in Mark 10 who once were blind but cried out to the light of the world amidst all the noise, regained their sight and began journeying down the road toward life abundant and love everlasting (see Mk 10.46-52).
We are all of us different, and I do not pretend to know exactly where you’re coming from or what you’ve gone through. And even if I did, I couldn’t possibly pretend to know what it has been like—though we’ve all got our scars, and we’ve all taken our share of falls. I cannot promise that this road will be easy; in fact, it can be quite difficult at times. And the truth is, neither I nor anyone else will be able to help you avoid all the problems, pitfalls and painful missteps anymore than Dorothy could with her traveling companions. But I can assure you that we follow after one who brought a light of compassion and love into the world and who promised to link arms with us on the journey. And, for me, that is hope enough to continue on.
So, wherever you may find yourself this morning, remember that we are all of us on a journey together—surrounded by the unfamiliar and seeking to find a way that leads to healing and hope. And though we often know it not, the presence we call God is continually with us in ordinary, everyday, “run-of-the-mill” people like Dorothy and like you and me, who link arms with us, point us toward the yellow brick road and call us to close our eyes, click our heals, and remember that “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” AMEN.