10 Odd Life Lessons from Oz

I see a lot of movies for my day gig at Plugged In. But, alas, I cannot see everything. So as much as I\’d like to tell you about the spiritual themes of Oz: The Great and Powerful, the only thing I can definitively say about the movie is that it stars James Franco. I’m hoping it ends a bit differently than the last James Franco movie I reviewed.
\”A little help here?\”
But while I haven\’t seen the new, Disneyfied Ozfest out in theaters yet, I do have fond recollections of the first one. So, in a retro homage, I thought I\’d talk about the great lessons—good or bad, spiritual or otherwise—that I\’ve taken from 1939\’s Wizard of Oz.
10. Nature is bad. Despite all the green we see here, The Wizard of Oz just hates the environment. Trees throw apples at Dorothy. Poppies put her to sleep. A tornado rips her away from her loving family. Her best friends are mostly environmental subjugators: The Scarecrow’s only job is to frighten poor, innocent birds. The Tin Man is a manifestation of Oz\’s thriving timber industry, perhaps. And while the presence of a lion in Oz might make the Sierra Club give a smile, he is a Cowardly Lion. When he\’s acting like most lions do in nature—growling and threatening and all—Dorothy smacks him on the nose, domesticating him immediately. And let\’s not forget that the Emerald City looks as if it\’s made entirely of plastic.
9. Leash laws are good. Sure, Toto\’s cute and all. But if Dorothy had just kept better control of her yippy mutt, Miss Gulch (the Kansas doppelganger of the Wicked Witch) would\’ve never been bitten and Dorothy could\’ve spent the rest of the movie in the root cellar with Auntie Em. (And really, can we blame Miss Gulch for being a little miffed getting bit by Toto? I think not. If Toto was a Rottweiler, the movie might\’ve gone in an entirely different direction.) And lest we think this a one-time occurrence, let\’ remember that just when Dorothy\’s set to get the heck out of Oz via balloon, Toto leaps out of the basket to chase a cat, nearly spoiling Dorothy\’s return to Kansas. Lucky she had those magic slippers. Oh, and speaking of which …
8. Never trust a witch. All due respect to Harry Potter and all, witches are a duplicitous lot. Naturally, we expect nefarious behavior from the Wicked Witch of the West. But Glinda the \”good\” witch seems, at times, just as bad. Consider: When the Wicked Witch seems a bit put out that her sister was crushed by a falling house, Glinda shows not the least bit of sympathy and instead gives the departed’s precious ruby slippers to a complete stranger instead of the next of kin. (What, they\’re not even going to consult the will?) The move not only ticks off the Wicked Witch something awful, but it immediately puts Dorothy\’s life in obvious jeopardy—and then Glinda sends Dorothy skipping down the yellow brick road by herself. (Considering in Frank Baum\’s original book Dorothy is all of 9 years old, you\’d think Oz\’s department of social services would have some stern words for Glinda on that score.) And then, after many harrowing adventures in which Dorothy\’s nearly killed, Glinda tells her that she could\’ve gotten home via those stupid ruby slippers all along. Is Glinda some sort of sadist?
7. Steer clear of flying monkeys. Have you seen those things? \’Nuff said.
6. Miracles can look like accidents. And frankly, accidents can look like miracles. When Dorothy\’s house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, the munchkins are apoplectic with joy. Dorothy insists that the whole thing was an accident. She didn\’t mean to set her casa down on anyone. But when you look at the situation from the munchkins\’ point of view, the whole thing must feel fairly miraculous. I mean, how often does a house just land on your own worst enemy? If a Kansas farmhouse tumbled from the sky in the middle of a New England/Denver football game and caused Tom Brady to throw an interception, I’d be inclined to point to the happening as evidence that God’s a Bronco fan. But is it proof? Absent a mailing sticker reading, “This miracle was brought to you by God,” probably not. Belief does not come easy to us these days. And that can be pretty frustrating.
5. Death is a tricky thing. Most of Oz seems to go to the Miracle Max school of mortality—that there’s a difference between all the way dead and mostly dead. Though the Wicked Witch of the East was crushed by a house, she’s not officially dubbed toast until the coroner tells us that \”She\’s not only merely dead, she\’s really most sincerely dead!\” And I’d imagine that if the Wicked Witch of the West had done anything less than melt in front of our very eyes, there might’ve been some doubt whether she might find enough life to come back for a sequel.
4. Stay on the road, yellow brick or otherwise. Bad things happen, we learn, when you leave the road—even if the road vanishes under a blanket of poppies. That cautionary warning is sounded regularly through eons of literature. The road represents safety and, more importantly, direction. Go off the road, and who knows? You could be snagged by flying monkeys. It’s a resonant metaphor for me obviously, since I’m prone use the cliche “walk of faith” far more often than I should, and even the name of my blog conveys a sense of road or pathway (be it a bit indistinct). Maybe it’s because I have a bad sense of spiritual direction at times. I’m prone to wander. And if I don’t have a yellow brick road to guide me, I’m in danger of getting lost.
3. Don\’t be fooled by appearances. Near the beginning of the movie, Glinda tells us that “only bad witches are ugly.” But we know that Glinda has some issues, and I think the rest of the land of Oz isn’t so caught up on looks. Lions typically look ferocious, but the one we meet is a wuss. Tin men supposedly have no heart, but our Tin Man would likely cry during Hallmark commercials. The Wicked Witch’s soldiers look awfully evil, but they turn out to be pretty nice blokes. This is a pretty obvious but important lesson for most of us—living in a society where image counts for so much and in a Christian subculture that places so much emphasis on some (I think) pretty superficial things. This is a good reminder to, before we start casting dispersions on someone’s soul or relationship with God, it might be a good idea to get to know ‘em a bit. 
2. Friends are in our lives for a reason. Dorothy is very appreciative of the help she gets from Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. And since they did save her life and all, that makes sense. “Oh, you\’re the best friends anybody ever had,” she says. “And it\’s funny, but I feel as if I\’ve known you all the time.” We learn later, of course, that they all bear striking resemblance to folks she knows back in Kansas, and perhaps Oz was just the product of a bump on the head. But for me, there’s a deeper significance to this admission of Dorothy’s. See, when I look at the people in my own life, it seems they often arrived just when I needed a friend—and that type of friend—the most. Now, that’s not to say I knew them from some weird, spiritual version of Kansas: I’m not saying that at all. But just like Dorothy’s fevered brain may have stuck some characters along her journey to help her, it sometimes feels as though that God placed people in my life to help me. And maybe, if I’m lucky, God is using me the same way in other people’s lives, too.
1. What we really need, God will provide. The journey to the Emerald City proved to be a big waste of time, in a way—given that everyone had what they wanted all along. Scarecrow was pretty smart. Tin Man was pretty soft-hearted. The Cowardly Lion was surprisingly brave. Even Dorothy had home within her reach the whole time. (Thanks a lot, Glinda!) In the same way, I think that God has blessed us with attributes that best serve both our needs and His ultimate purpose for us. He’s given us gifts that he doesn’t want us to squander. And even when we’re feeling overmatched by the world, God has given us the tools to soldier on and—with His help–push through. “God is faithful,” we read in 1Corinthians 10:13. “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” The road might not always be easy. But it is navigable. And in the end, it leads Home.
And as Dorothy tells us, there’s no place like it.

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