Friday, March 22, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone 
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
- 1 Peter 3:15b (NIV)

Recently, Amber and I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful, Disney's new prequel to the Judy Garland classic, The Wizard of Oz. Ordinarily, when I hear "Disney" or "Oz", I tend to imagine things that are bright, cheerful and family-friendly; but for some reason, when these two came together (as before), they created something often dark, scary and I would say not really appropriate for smaller children. It only earned a PG rating, but I'm surprised!

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in 1939 anymore!

That being said, I thought the Wizard's origin story was interesting, and the movie took time to emphasize several good lessons, which is (of course) why it's being featured here!


One theme that carries over from the classic film we all know and love is the importance of hope and faith. Just as Dorothy and her friends were inspired to sing and skip their way down the Yellow Brick Road and to stand up to every challenge along the way because they believed the Wizard would help them, so we find that without a Wizard/king, the inhabitants of the Land of Oz are not so merry. They seem to live in constant fear of what the Wicked Witch may do to them. Even young Oscar (Oz for short) is plagued with fears and doubts because he doesn't have anyone to believe in. He pretends to glory, but he doesn't really believe he's the prophecy-fulfilling Wizard others claim he is. Thankfully, Glinda the Good Witch is able to convince Oz that even if he doesn't have all the answers, it's important for him to give the people a reason to believe!

Hope is also vital in real life, as psychologists are starting to understand. When we have a reason for hope, we can face anything the devil (or a witch?) throws at us with the expectation of victory. If we go in believing we will lose, however, then we've already lost, even if the instruments of victory were with us all along! As Christians, we have the power of Christ on our side! If we know God is all-powerful, we ought to be able to overcome anything by having faith in God's ability and willingness to help us as we put to use the talents and spiritual gifts he's given and look for the paths he's carved out ahead for us (1 John 4:4; Jeremiah 29:11).

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. 
In this world you will have trouble. 
But take heart! I have overcome the world."
- John 16:33 (NIV)

Unfortunately, too many people are living in fear, either because they haven't yet learned that they can depend on the Lord or because they've bought into the enemy's lies and allowed him to destroy their hope. They've heard the threats of the Wicked Witch too many times - they've listened and believed when she said that the Wizard wasn't really as powerful as they thought - so they feel like they have nowhere to turn!

Those who have hope, then, have a responsibility (like the Wizard) to spread hope. Oz doesn't give us the perfect example, because even in the end, he relies heavily on deception to save the day, BUT he does show us several times that you don't have to have all the answers in order to do good and inspire others. All you have to do is put your God-given abilities to use and trust God to help you and to give you what you need along the way. Oscar's struggle to understand his role in all this is what pushes him to grow as the story progresses.

In the beginning, Oscar doesn't really care about anyone else. He wants nothing more than to be revered for his skill as a magician, so he bills himself as "Oz: The Great and Powerful", and he explains to one of his lady friends how he doesn't merely want to be "good" - he wants to be great! What Oz desires is something I imagine most people can identify with, especially in this age of reality TV, YouTube and such. It seems like everyone's looking for their 15 minutes of fame, and many don't care who they have to hurt to get there! Even if that's not you, surely no one aspires to live a mediocre existence and leave no mark on this world: we all want to do something worth doing so we'll be remembered well when we're gone!

So Oz sets out to make himself famous, and while that takes a certain amount of self-aggrandizing pride, he is also reminded constantly of his human imperfections. He is visibly shaken when a crippled girl at one of his magic shows asks him to heal her and he has to admit he doesn't have the power. He loves the idea that the people in the Land of Oz look up to him and want him to be their king - his ambition drives him to put his life on the line for the sake of earning the royal treasure - but he is frequently humbled and fearful because he has no idea how to stand up against the magical powers of the evil witches.

Yet along the way, Oz begins to care deeply for the people. He "heals" a crippled porcelain doll and he finds a way to help the people stand up for themselves by using their own talents and skills. In the end, although the facade of "The Great Wizard" is born, by that point, it's not as much about glorifying himself (though that may still be part of it) - it's about making a loving sacrifice in order to save the people. The ingenuity that leads to Oz's greatness is driven by love for the people! Glinda finally makes this clear near the end of the film when she observes:

Glinda: "I always knew you had it in you."
Oz: "That I'm great?"
Glinda: "No, you're better than that: you're good!"

Likewise, instead of worrying so much about making a name for ourselves, we do better to focus on doing the loving thing. That is the meaning of life, right? After all, the goal of the Christian's life is to become more like Christ, who gave us the ultimate example selfless love (John 15:13).
"In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. And when he was living as a man, he humbled himself and was fully obedient to God, even when that caused his death—death on a cross. So God raised him to the highest place. God made his name greater than every other name..."
- Philippians 2:5-9 (NCV)
Oh, to someday reach the far more beautiful city of God!
All these ideas tie together in an interesting way. If you want to accomplish something great, you need hope. You need the determination to put your abilities to use and honestly believe you can overcome any obstacle. With that, it's important to remember that both the tools and the success are God-given, and they're given for a purpose - because he loves you - and since he loves all of us, we know God wants us to love others by doing good and teaching them that they also can hope in the Lord! As you focus on the goodness, you can trust God to take care of the greatness in his own time (Matthew 23:12; 1 Peter 5:8)... And really, the greatest we could ever hope for would be to someday reach that Emerald City somewhere over the rainbow and hear the lovely words...

"Well done, good and faithful servant; 
you were faithful over a few things, 
I will make you ruler over many things.
Enter into the joy of your lord!" 
- Matthew 25:21 (NKJV)

Remember the love Jesus showed when he humbled himself and died in your place; remember how God exalted Christ because of his faithfulness to do what was right; and remember the heavenly reward that lies in store for those who accept his love and model it in their own lives.

May these inspire you always to do good, to live with the greatest hope, and to share the reason for that hope with as many others as possible!

Here are some related links I thought were interesting:
* A Theology of Oz the Great and Powerful: A Movie Review
* Musing's End - memorable moments in Oz the Great and Powerful

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