TEXTS: Isaiah 6:-1-8, Matthew 5:1-11
Dorothy and Kansas
In the late 1990s Alaska Airlines ran an ad that showed a beautiful scene in Alaska, tagged with the words, “When you’ve seen Alaska the rest of the country looks like Kansas.” It was a short-lived ad campaign and needless to say the people of Kansas were not happy with it. [Note: I have searched in vain for this ad and have not found it. Either Alaska Airlines buried all evidence of it (not likely) or it was a fake ad, and I thought it was real. Having lived in Alaska, I can agree with the general sentiment, but I have to admit that I have never seen Kansas, so I could greatly mistaken.]
The opening scenes of the Wizard of Oz take place in Kansas and are definitely not suitable as a tourist bureau ad for Kansas. The Kansas parts of the movie are all shot in black and white, a neat trick showing us how spectacular Oz is, and how mundane Kansas is. The farm Dorothy lives on looks like it comes straight out of the first part of the Grapes of Wrath.
Dorothy Gale, Kansas farm girl, would have understood that Alaska Airlines ad.
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During the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wants two contradictory things. At the beginning, she wants to get the heck out of Kansas.
She is stuck on the farm and is clearly not a happy farm girl. Although the movie does not make a big deal of it, her parents are absent, presumably dead, and she is the charge of her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. Her companions are the farmhands, and her life looks to be one long trudge of chores. Her only real friend is her dog Toto and mean ole Miss Almira Gulch wants the dog put down because he bit her.
But she has her dreams. She dreams of a place that is not Kansas, a place where there isn’t any trouble. “Do you suppose there is such a place?” she asks Toto. “There must be,” she says. “It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away.” She cannot get to that new land, because she is stuck on the farm in Kansas–the dull, boring, same-thing-day-after-day Kansas farm. Her wings are clipped, and her home is a cage. She is not a bluebird, free to fly to whatever exotic place tickles her fancy. She is Dorothy Gale, and there are chores to be done, and no one listens to her, and Miss Gulch wants to take Toto.
So where is this place? It’s over the rainbow of course.
That’s where Dorothy wants to go, to a place “over the rainbow. Where is “over the rainbow?”
She has no idea, but she knows it is not anywhere near Kansas.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?
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We need to note here how Dorothy gets into this wonderful story. She is dissatisfied with where she is. If she were a happy, Kansas farm girl, with a crush on Hunk, one of the farm hands, and had no goals beyond Kansas, there would be no movie. (In fact in one of the scripts Dorothy did have a crush on Hunk, which only survives in the final script when she says to the scarecrow that she will miss him most of all.)
But Dorothy is not happy where she is. She knows there is more to life and she wants more out of life. Maybe life has dealt her a bum hand so far, but that does not mean she has to accept it. If nothing else, she can dream.
Dissatisfaction is often what moves us forward. If all humanity were perfectly happy with their lot in life, we would still be living in mud huts, hunting and gathering. But time and time again someone said, “I’m happy with this. There has to be a better way!” Time and time again, someone looked “over the rainbow,” and changed their life, and sometimes changed our lives in the process.
To those who think the church is fine as it is, and needs no change, the great writer C. S. Lewis says that our desires are not strong enough. “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” There is something to Dorothy’s dissatisfaction in Kansas that is right. We should not sit in our comfortable pews and think we have reached any kind of pinnacle, no matter how long we have been at it.
What do you dream of? Is there a part of you that is looking somewhere over the rainbow? Is there a part of you that is dissatisfied with your life, if only parts of it? If you are perfectly satisfied with your spiritual life, for example, you can expect to really grow spiritually. But if there is a part of you that is saying, “This could be better. Is it possible I could be closer to God? Is it possible I could be more spiritually fulfilled?” If so, then you are in good very good company.
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I Wanna Go Home
But almost as soon as Dorothy lands in Oz, she wants to go home.
As much as she longed to be away from the Kansas, she has plenty of reasons for wanting to back. Her house, airlifted by a twister to a strange and dangerous land, full of munchkins, witches, wanna-be wizards, flying monkeys, now sits on top of a wicked witch, who’s sister, the Wicked Witch of the West is not pleased with the deadly landing. The Wicked Witch of the West is even less pleased with the fact that her sister’s ruby slippers, which should now be hers, are planted firmly on Dorothy’s feet, not to be taken off while Dorothy is alive, a minor inconvenience she hopes she can soon remedy.
Welcome to Oz.
Isaiah was in the temple one day, a very familiar place to him, when suddenly something very strange happened to him. A tornado blew through. He saw six-winged Seraphs, one of whom was carrying a live coal toward him. And he saw the Lord. He was blown into the spiritual equivalent of Oz. At some point he must have said to himself, “I don’t think I am in Jerusalem any more.”
And what happens? God needs a messenger to tell the world a very unfortunately message and Isaiah says, “Here I am, Send me.”
Jesus stood up to preach, and says, “Blessed are… the poor in spirit.” Wait. He must have meant blessed are those whose spiritual growth is off the charts, not the poor in spirit. Why would the poor be blessed? “Blessed are…those who mourn.” Jesus, you are getting this all wrong. People who mourn are not blessed! Who wants to mourn? “Blessed are.. the merciful.” No, he could not have meant that. If you show mercy, you are weak, and will be overthrown. “Blessed are … those who are persecuted.”
And his followers must have said something like, “Peter, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.”
Dorothy is no longer in Kansas. The twister comes, swirling and twirling Dorothy to the place of her dreams, the place over the rainbow, but when she gets there her dream feels more like a nightmare than a dream. Once she is in Oz, once she is blown over the rainbow, she longs for the familiar climes of boring old Kansas. Apparently “over the rainbow” is not all it’s cracked up to be. She doesn’t say the actual words until the end of the movie, but “There’s no place like home” becomes her mantra as soon as she realizes that she and Toto are no longer in Kansas.
And her experience in Oz turns out to be a quest to get home.
She misses Kansas. She misses her home. She feels dislocated and lost, and no amount of lollipops or even ruby slippers will ease her the ache.
She wants to go home.
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“Home” is a common spiritual theme. Churches are full of people who, like Dorothy, are looking for a home. Most of us are not so different from Dorothy. A large part of our spiritual journeys is the quest to find and maintain a sense of home. We talk about our “Church home,” and we work to maintain the traditions of that home.
One of my colleagues was into creative worship. (When I was first applying to churches I was warned that putting down “creative worship” as one of your strengths was a great way to assure your resume stayed to the bottom of the pile.) But my colleague charged in where angels feared to tread. One week he moved the pulpit and communion table to the middle of the sanctuary and placed all the pews in a circle around it. He was constantly tinkering with the liturgy and throwing symbolic actions around left and right. The final straw was when he started to baptize babies naked to symbolize their entrance into the Church as new Adams and Eves.
Needless to say, the church found a way to sack him. It was a painful experience for him, and while he was between calls, he attended a local Episcopalian church. He and I met for weekly coffee, and one Tuesday morning he launched into a diatribe about Sunday’s worship service.
“He just went and changed the liturgy on us. I mean, here I am expecting the Lord’s Prayer, and he launches into the Creed. I was totally thrown off kilter.” Then he paused and said, “Now I know why my old church got so upset every time I changed things.”
You could say he was just hoisted on his own petard. He who lives by the creative dies by the creative. But what he did was to rearrange his parishioners’ home–their spiritual home.
In every church I have pastored people tend to sit in the same place week after week. I can tell who is missing by which seats are empty. Church services are a second home for us. We no more want someone coming in a monkeying with the liturgy (whether it is a formal or informal liturgy) than we want people to come into our homes and rearrange our furniture.
Church is a stable place, where we can enjoy a modicum of stability, familiarity, and acceptance. As the world whirls out of kilter around us, as our personal lives are affected by radical changes, the church is a place where we can be somewhat immune from the chaos. Often when people think of church they are like Dorothy–they just want to go home.
When we come to Church, that last thing we want is to be blown into Oz, or that matter, to be confronted with the reality of God the way Isaiah was. But if we were to encounter God the way Isaiah did, I’m pretty sure we would want to do it in the context of something that was familiar to us.
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The same thing
While it sounds like Dorothy wants two very different things, to go over the rainbow and to get back to Kansas, in fact they are two sides of same coin. What is Dorothy really looking for? Not Oz, and really, not Kansas. She is looking for home. That home that lies in her heart.
She is looking for a place where she is loved and accepted for who she is. She is looking for a place where her heart can hang its hat. She is looking for a place where home is not just the surroundings but a state of mind. She has to go on a journey to find it, an incredible journey. Isaiah has to go on a journey to find his spiritual home, as did the followers of Jesus. Usually the essence of the journey takes place in our hearts.
- S. Lewis called this home “joy.” He says that we have fleeting experiences of Joy in this life. “…they are,” he says, “only the scent of of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
But they are real. They are fragments of what we call eternal life. And by that I don’t just mean life after death. I mean the abundant life Jesus promised us here and now, as well in our eternal future. They are reminders of our true home.
Like Dorothy we have a part of us that longs for Home, that longs to find the place where we are loved and understood. We long, deep in our hearts, for that place which seems over the rainbow, which seems far, far away, which is the place of our dreams. And the good news is that place is real, and not just a pie-in-sky, one day after we die kind of place. We cannot fully experience it here, but we can experience it here.
Ironically, in order to find that place, in order to find our true home, we have to leave Kansas and we have to leave Oz. Because, as Dorothy found, what we really want is bigger than Kansas, and bigger than Oz. Its bigger than our reality and bigger than our dreams. We live, in the words of C.S. Lewis, under the weight of Glory, and that glory spills into our lives at expected and unexpected moments. It is not a wispy thing, for the glory we seek is much more real than our dreams, even more real than the reality we currently inhabit. In the Gospels, the resurrected Jesus could go through walls. He could do that, not because he was insubstantial ghost-like creature, but because he was more real than the walls.
Isaiah got a glimpse of what lies behind Oz that day in the temple, and it changed his life. Jesus offered, in his teachings and his life, a glimpse of what lies beyond Oz.
And what lies beyond Kansas and beyond Oz?
The heart of God. That is what we really seek. That is what our true home is. Everything else is a pale imitation. Deep down, like Dorothy, we know this is not our real home, our true home. We know that there is something further, something deeper, something more real that the reality we know now. We look at this world and we know there are things seriously wrong with it. We should be able to live in peace, but we don’t. We should be able to share, so that everyone has enough, and no one has to go without, but we don’t.
And we long for a place where it is all right, where things are as they should be.
And our life here is no movie. These problems will not be resolved in two hours and twelve minutes. And that is OK.
We should nurture that longing. It is what ties us to eternity and what ties us to the heart of God. When we lose that, we lose a big part of our spiritual life.
And, we should let that feeling, that yearning, that longing guide us in this life. Maybe we cannot create Oz on earth, but we can do what we can. We can let eternity spill over into our lives as much as possible, and live as if the Greater Reality were starting to take root here.
Because when you do live that way, it is starting to take root.