Leaving Oz
March 28th, 2007 by Sonja

On the journeyGrowing up in a small town in Vermont meant that I hardly ever saw the movie. I almost always read the book. In fact, I didn’t see The Wizard of Oz until I was 22 years old and a somewhat belligerent (now) ex-boyfriend insisted that my life was incomplete without seeing that movie. So now I have the movie images to replace my own imagination images. Eh … The only movie I’ve yet to see that came close to successfully duplicating the book was the Lord of the Rings, but even that was a sad replacement. I loved the movies. I loved the books more.

So here’s another piece in my patchwork quilt of church leadership thoughts. How do churches operate? How do human organizations in general operate? Should a church be substantially different from other human organizations? Should the leadership structure of a church be substantially different from the leadership structure of other human organizations? Ought we (in the church, the Body of Christ … the Bride of Christ) to be taking so much of our guidance from other human forms and structures? I don’t really have any answers to those questions. They are simply the questions I’ve been asking as I’ve been reading, thinking, and looking at the Church.

One of my best loved books when I was young was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I lost count of how many times I read that book. It never occurred to me that the movie would be worth the price of admission since the book had so captured my imagination. I’ve always been disappointed that my children have not read the book since they saw the movie so young. The book is well worth reading and has far more symbolism apparent in it than one would think for a children’s fantasy novel. I remember being somewhat disappointed as a young adult when I discovered that L. Frank Baum wrote this novel as a political essay advocating remaining on the Gold Standard (the Yellow Brick Road). But there are many spiritual themes evident in the book as well.

Wizard RevealedI still remember the shock and dismay I felt when I got to the scene where the wizard was revealed. I was completely unprepared for that. I was so wrapped up in the magic and fantasy and completely undone by the reality. I was fully empathetic with Dorothy’s despair, anger and betrayal.

The Lion thought it might be as well to frighten the Wizard, so he gave a large, loud roar, which was so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen that stood in a corner. As it fell with a crash they looked that way, and the next moment all of them were filled with wonder. For they saw, standing in just the spot the screen had hidden, a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face, who seemed to be as much surprised as they were. The Tin Woodman, raising his axe, rushed toward the little man and cried out, “Who are you?”

“I am Oz, the Great and Terrible,” said the little man, in a trembling voice. “But don’t strike me–please don’t–and I’ll do anything you want me to.”

Our friends looked at him in surprise and dismay.

“I thought Oz was a great Head,” said Dorothy.

“And I thought Oz was a lovely Lady,” said the Scarecrow.

“And I thought Oz was a terrible Beast,” said the Tin Woodman.

“And I thought Oz was a Ball of Fire,” exclaimed the Lion.

“No, you are all wrong,” said the little man meekly. “I have been making believe.”

“Making believe!” cried Dorothy. “Are you not a Great Wizard?”

“Hush, my dear,” he said. “Don’t speak so loud, or you will be overheard–and I should be ruined. I’m supposed to be a Great Wizard.”

“And aren’t you?” she asked.

“Not a bit of it, my dear; I’m just a common man.”

“You’re more than that,” said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; “you’re a humbug.”

“Exactly so!” declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. “I am a humbug.”

“But this is terrible,” said the Tin Woodman. “How shall I ever get my heart?”

“Or I my courage?” asked the Lion.

“Or I my brains?” wailed the Scarecrow, wiping the tears from his eyes with his coat sleeve.

“My dear friends,” said Oz, “I pray you not to speak of these little things. Think of me, and the terrible trouble I’m in at being found out.”

“Doesn’t anyone else know you’re a humbug?” asked Dorothy.

“No one knows it but you four–and myself,” replied Oz. “I have fooled everyone so long that I thought I should never be found out. It was a great mistake my ever letting you into the Throne Room. Usually I will not see even my subjects, and so they believe I am something terrible.”

“But, I don’t understand,” said Dorothy, in bewilderment. “How was it that you appeared to me as a great Head?”

“That was one of my tricks,” answered Oz. “Step this way, please, and I will tell you all about it.”

from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

As a child, I was heartbroken to read this passage. It seemed that all of their dreams were never going to come true and all of their hard work and trials were for nothing. It was a terrible moment and all hope was dashed. But when I read it as an adult, I see other more interesting things going on here in the Great Throneroom of the Emerald City.

First of all, there is the wizard’s response to being revealed. He is at once relieved and frightened. Finally, there is someone with whom he can share his burden. But he is uncertain as to whether or not these are trustworthy allies. There is tension in the room and bargaining begins to take place between the entities. Each wants to know what they might get from the other in response to giving a little.

The Wizard continued to tell his story:

“Well, one day I went up in a balloon and the ropes got twisted, so that I couldn’t come down again. It went way up above the clouds, so far that a current of air struck it and carried it many, many miles away. For a day and a night I traveled through the air, and on the morning of the second day I awoke and found the balloon floating over a strange and beautiful country.

“It came down gradually, and I was not hurt a bit. But I found myself in the midst of a strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to.

“Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”

“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy.

“No more than in any other city,” replied Oz; “but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy. I have been good to the people, and they like me; but ever since this Palace was built, I have shut myself up and would not see any of them.

He went on to say that he would be able to make good on his promises to the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. He wasn’t so sure about getting Dorothy home. That would take some thinking for “… two or three days.” In the meantime the journeyers would be his guests in the palace as long as they kept his secret … “In the meantime you shall all be treated as my guests, and while you live in the Palace my people will wait upon you and obey your slightest wish. There is only one thing I ask in return for my help–such as it is. You must keep my secret and tell no one I am a humbug.”

I’ve been thinking about this scene quite a bit lately. L. Frank was onto something when he wrote this bit. He drew a picture of how we humans love to put leaders on a pedestal. We imbue them with a form of magic and believe they can do no wrong. We are willing to wear (metaphorical) spectacles that change the color of our world in order that we see things in the manner that they tell us it looks. We all do this. We do this in order to work in large institutions. We do this in order to pursue degrees of higher learning. We do this in order to vote. But do we do it in order to be in community in our churches? I believe that we do.

I believe that we wear spectacles of the strongest hue when we walk through the doors of the church. We love to think that our pastors are wizards, capable of making our dreams come true, putting us in touch with God and with our community. They will keep the peace and the money flowing. But here’s the problem, the pastors also think they are wizards. I don’t mean they think it consciously, that would be ridiculous. But they buy into their half of the bargain. They hand out the spectacles and work very hard at making the people feel good about living in a beautiful city. They are very “good to [their] people” and the people like them in return.

Now this is fine if we’re talking about a university or a corporation. I think it’s natural, human nature to think of human beings behaving in this manner. However, I just think that the church might want to be different. If we claim to be redeemed by a Saviour, maybe, just maybe we could try living without our spectacles on in one place in our lives. It’s scary and shaky ground. But all of the colors are beautiful. Really … they are vibrant and wonderful.

UPDATE: After I wrote this, I went surfing. No, not in the ocean, it’s too far away and I don’t know how. Out on the good ole www. I ran across The People Formerly Known As the Congregation which delves more deeply into the subject by Bill Kinnon. It’s an excellent read. My only quibble with Bill is that I believe we are in the midst of breaking a long held social contract in a dearly held social institution. This contract is one in which both entities stand to gain and lose much when the ties that bind them in this contract are broken. At least that is what is apparent to us in this world. By Kingdom standards who knows what we will gain and lose, the powers that be will be restrained in this world, and the Truth will indeed set us free.

11 Responses  
  • Doug Jones writes:
    March 28th, 20075:05 pmat

    the secret might be found in being leaders who call others to follow another leader…

  • ross writes:
    March 28th, 20075:13 pmat

    You are wise beyond your years there Doug…

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    March 28th, 20075:14 pmat

    I’m thinking that Baum was addressing the social contract. But leaders have to be willing to allow their followers to take off their spectacles and their followers must be willing to do so. It really cuts in both directions, I think. Both entities must be willing to see in full-spectrum color … and I think you’re right, it would mean directing attention in other directions as well.

  • jamie writes:
    March 29th, 20076:56 amat


    Wow. This is one my favorite posts you’ve written. Beautiful and very powerful.

  • kate writes:
    March 29th, 200711:55 amat

    Taking it back to the superficial… I have loved all 12 books in the Oz series since I can remember. Before I could read, my dad read what we had of them to me, and I got hold of the two we were missing as soon as I was able to do so. I’m constantly astonished by how many people aren’t even aware there were other books! Great, great memories. I probably read them all a dozen times at least.
    Those and the Narnia series were the ones that stood the test of ‘repeat reads’ for me as a kid.

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    March 29th, 200712:03 pmat

    TWELVE!! There were twelve books?? Wow … I read 2 sequels, but never could quite get into them as much as I loved the original. I didn’t know there 12, though. I think I just couldn’t get past the name, Ozma … that bothered me to no end. I don’t know why. Now I think I’ll have to try again. Thanks for the tip :-)

  • Steve H. writes:
    April 2nd, 200711:26 amat

    Great insights. The classics like this are full of truth about human nature. As a pastor I do everything I know how to do to avoid the Wizard syndrome in my own heart and in the attitudes of others. It does, as a previous person noted, cut both ways. These problems are not all a result of pastoral ego. My heart is continual burdened with the disparity between what I see as the New Testament portrayal of the church and Western Christianities practice of the church. Watch “Shawshank Redemption” when you have some time. The problem faced by some of those men who had been in prison most of their lives is the same problem we face. We have become institutionalized. We are so accustomed to what has been we would rather die than experience and enjoy the freedom that can be ours. (I use the pronoun we in a generalized way – not true of everyone – which you can see in the movie as well)

  • aBhantiarna Solas writes:
    April 3rd, 20078:35 amat

    Hi Steve, and welcome to the conversation.

    Shawshank Redemption is one of my alltime favorite movies. I think it’s the saddest part when it becomes clear that the old man (who’s name is escaping me right now) isn’t going to make it on the outside because he’s become so institutionalized. I find myself praying for a different outcome to that scene every time I watch the movie.

    I think that we all wander into that forest. In a certain sense, it’s the ultimate consequence of the original sin. It’s wanting someone else to take responsibility for us and our needs and our errors. Some of us go further than others. Sometimes we can turn around and get back out. Sometimes we can’t.

    Thanks for joining in the conversation here.

  • Calacirian » The Bifurcated Church writes:
    April 10th, 20077:02 amat

    […] A couple of weeks ago Bill Kinnon wrote an excellent post entitled PFK as the Congregation (if you haven’t yet read it, go do so now. I’ll wait). At almost the same time and with much, much less thought I wrote Leaving Oz, which, we agreed, was on the same wave length. Last week Emerging Grace wrote The Underlying Issues as a follow-up to PFKC where she outlined Bill’s main points. She hit the ball out of the park, once again. […]

  • Old Pete writes:
    April 21st, 200712:59 pmat

    I found Bill’s site yesterday and then found yours.

    Brian Mclaren wrote an article entitled ‘Dorothy on Leadership’ which can be found at http://www.emergentvillage.com/downloads/resources/mclaren/DorothyonLeadership.pdf

    Thought you might be interested


  • Ravine of Light » The Terrible Threes writes:
    July 10th, 20086:27 amat

    […] to which I no longer belong and from which I was rudely dismissed when I began to point to inconsistencies in leadership.  Then I became the problem. I continue to grieve that gaping hole in my life and struggle with […]

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