July 12, 2009
When I was a kid, there was one event that I looked forward to more than anything else. This event was one that made me almost crazy with excitement. I anticipated it for weeks and as the day grew closer and closer, I felt the excitement inside me build and build. Finally, the day arrived and all day, I would be antsy in anticipation. And then it arrived. And it was incredible!
The event—this is going to be kind of disappointing (or possibly downright disturbing) to some of you, I know—was none other than the annual airing of that great 1939 Technicolor masterpiece—The Wizard of Oz. Now, remember, this was the days before DVD players or even VCRs, so I had to wait for the networks to air this movie. And when it arrived, it was truly glorious. I would just sort of check out from all my surroundings and watch how this movie assailed all of my senses—especially my senses of sight and sound. I was enraptured about how the film went from that kind of sepia black and white to brilliant Technicolor and then back to black and white. And the film contains everything we want—it has action, it has the battle between good and evil, it has death and rebirth.
In the Church, we use a word called eschatology to refer to “end things.” When think of things like “The Second Coming of Jesus” or “The Rapture,” those would fall under the heading of eschatology. And with eschatology, we often talk about anticipation of these end things. In a sense, my waiting and watching of The Wizard of Oz was an eschatological moment in my life. And it mirrored in many ways the anticipation I imagine we all have to some extent for heaven.
Even to this day, I still get a tingly, warm feeling when I watch The Wizard of Oz. It puts me back in another time and another place. That’s maybe why I was so blown away by something I read just recently.
Last week I talked a bit about Brian McLaren. Very rarely will you find me gushing about anyone. I’m just not that kind of a person. But I am going to gush a bit about Brian McLaren. I cannot get enough of his writing. He has become my favorite theologian and church thinker. Last week, I mentioned how influential his book, A Generous Orthodoxy has been to me. I also mentioned another book he co-wrote with Tony Campolo, called Adventures in Missing the Point. In that book, in a chapter called “Leadership,” McLaren wrote about church leadership in a way that blew me a way. This is why I am so enraptured by McLaren. He is a contemporary Christian who thinks very much outside the box. And if one would ever second-guess how much he thinks outside the box, one only has to read that chapter on leadership.
McLaren looks to, of all things, The Wizard of Oz for his illustration of effective Christian leadership. Now, at first, your mind is going to reel at this. What does The Wizard of Oz have to do with Christian leadership? Well, bear with me.
This weekend I was in the Cities visiting my best friend from high school, Greg. As I’ve said many times before, Greg is a militant atheist. Occasionally, though, he will ask me what I’m going to preach about. When I told him that I was going to preach about McLaren’s view of Christian leadership according to The Wizard of Oz he actually engaged me on this topic.
“Of course that makes sense,” he said. “The Wizard of Oz is the perfect example of most of the Christian ministers I knew when I was growing up at the Assemblies of God Church.”
All talk—blow-hards, but in realty they’re just little men hiding behind a curtain. McLaren actually agrees with my friend Greg. For years, that’s exactly the kind of idea for Christian leadership we’ve had in the Church—the Wizard himself. Big, gusty blow-hards. But, as we all know, when Toto pulls away the curtain, what we find behind it is a normal albeit cowering guy.
But McLaren says that there is actually another example of Christian leadership from The Wizard of Oz that is better and actually more Christian. The true leader in The Wizard of Oz is not the Wizard at all. Nor is it the Tin Man nor the Lion nor the Scarecrow. Who’s left. That’s right—it's actually Dorothy.
Now at first glance, she doesn't fit the model of what a true leader should be. She's young. She's a girl. She doesn't have all the answers. She is being told where to go and what to do. She is lost. She is, as McLaren writes, "a seeker, vulnerable, often bewildered." But in the end, she does emerge as the leader.
McLaren writes: "Dorothy doesn't have the knowledge to help [her companions] avoid all the problems and dangers...she doesn't protect them from all threats and temptations. But neither does she give up. Her passion remains strong, and in the end they get what they need."
Dorothy is the exact opposite of the Wizard. Where the Wizard is all show—a false, inflated image that shoots fire and glares from above—Dorothy is truly and fully human.
As McLaren writes, “ Dorothy as a leadership model is very different. Instead of manipulating images in a control booth, she’s stuck in a predicament…As she set outs on her journey, she finds other needy creatures—one lacking courage, another lacking intelligence, another lacking heart….She believes that that their needs can be fulfilled on a common quest, and her earnestness, her compassion, her determination and her youthful spunk galvanize them into a foursome (five, with Toto).”
McLaren goes on to identify a true (and I love this) “post-wizard kind of leadership” that includes being a listener, a spiritual friend, an includer (he writes that “If Dorothy poses any threat, it is the threat of inclusion, not exclusion. She threatens you with acceptance—you’re a part of the journey, a member of her team’).
Other characteristics including being a seeker and a team builder. McLaren sums it up this way: "I find in Dorothy's way of leadership many echoes of our Lord's. After all, can you imagine the great and terrible Oz washing his subject's feet? Or his voice booming out from behind the curtain, 'I no longer call you servants, but friends?'"
Now to be fair, others don’t see Dorothy as quite the shining example of Christian leadership. Tony Campolo, McLaren’s co-author of the book, writes in response to McLaren’s views: “Dorothy is a lot of fun and makes her partners on the Yellow Brick Road feel good, but she is not what you would want in a leader, say, during a time of crises.” A good point, but maybe that’s what endears McLaren’s theory even more to me—it isn’t perfect. It has flaws. And it does, because Dorothy isn’t perfect. She has flaws. As we all do. But that’s just the point. Even despite all of this, we can still do good.
Last week I talked about how we as Christians are essentially called to be prophets—a community of prophets. In our reading today from Amos, we find a description of the prophet that fits very well into our “post-wizard” view of Christian leadership. We find Amos resisting his call to be a prophet. Amos says, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord to me, “Go, prophesy to my people…” I have always believed that an effective leader must first be an effective follower. And as Christians, who are followers of Jesus, we also must, in turn, be leaders to each other. Each of us must be leaders and prophets to those we are called to serve.
Of course we have a choice in the kind of leaders we can be. We can be the Wizards—big-headed, conceited, spouting fire and fear, while, inside, behind the curtain, we are cowering—afraid. Or we can be like Dorothy, ourselves seeking, ourselves often bewildered, but always fully including all of those people who join us on the journey. As corny, unreal, and absurd as The Wizard of Oz might seem to us, the fact is, oftentimes life seems corny, unreal and absurd. In those moments it’s helpful to have coping skills to get us through the journey—and to do so without disrespecting or hurting those we encounter on the journey.
So, cling to this “post-wizard” ideal of leadership in those absurd, strange moments of the journey. Be the prophet, the listener, the spiritual friend, the seeker, the includer. Be the visionary to see that those moments of the journey that seem pointless and too weird to be true as catalysts for God’s grace to shine through into our lives. And realize that our quest for the Kingdom of God in our midst may not be found at the end of the Road—in that dazzlingly colorful magical emerald city of our imaginations, but rather, that Kingdom might actually be where it was all along—in the sepia black and white of our everyday world.