We are almost at the end of our journey on the Yellow Brick Road. Today we will learn how Toto, the mythic Trickster, helps Dorothy see what life is all about.
28We know that all things work together for good[a] for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.[b] 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
20Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Alfred Hitchcock was asked in an interview why one of his characters in the movie The Birds, walks upstairs into a dangerous situation, instead of fleeing a house that had clearly been ravaged by the killer birds. The motivation was simple, said Hitchcock. I wanted to make an interesting movie. If she had just fled the house, that would have been boring. By making her walk up the stairs, I was able to build tension, which made The Birds a better movie. Really good movies have to have some kind of creative tension. In a romantic comedy, the couple has to have something that keeps them apart before they can finally get together. A movie about a couple who meet, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after is a pretty boring movie. But a movie about a woman who saves the man of her dreams on a subway platform, and who is mistakenly identified as his fiance while he is in a coma, only fall in love with the man’s brother while he is in the coma–that is an interesting movie.
If the flying Eagles had been able to carry Frodo to Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring of Power, without him having to make the arduous journey through enemy infested lands, the Lord of the Rings would have been a short, boring book, and an even more boring movie.
If Luke Skywalker had a tearful, father/son reunion with Darth Vader at their first meeting, Star Wars would have been an unsuccessful, one movie run, instead of a blockbuster multi-movie franchise. If Jennie had realized early on that Forrest Gump was the kindest man she would ever meet, and married him in college, none of us would ever had heard the name Forrest Gump. If Tom Hanks could have helicoptered to where Private Ryan was, Saving Private Ryan would be ultimately forgettable.
Or, if the Good Witch Glinda had told Dorothy when she first met her that all she had to do to get home was to click her heels, the Wizard of Oz would have been much shorter, and I never would have based a sermon series on it!
It is often the tension, the conflict, the setbacks, the obstacles and the challenges that make a movie, a book, or even a piece of music interesting. There is a reason an album of lullabies is not going to sell as well as a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth symphony.
While not to the same extent, this is true in our lives as well.
Last week I talked about the Flying Monkeys–the bad things that happen to us. Natural disasters, like earthquakes or hurricanes, illnesses, such as cancer or mental illness, or life events, just as losing your job are examples of flying monkeys. Anything bad that happens to you is a flying monkey. The presence of the flying monkeys were bad for the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, and the presence of things like natural disasters, illnesses or life crises are flying monkeys for us. But I said last week that not all bad things that happen to us are flying monkeys. Some of them are the work of Toto.
Toto, I believe, is the trickster hero of the Wizard of Oz. A Trickster is the character in a story who upends the conventional order. The trickster is the one who makes the story interesting. Whether it is Loki in Norse myths, Anansi in the Caribbean, the Raven in Native Alaska stories, the Coyote in Native American stories, especially of the tribes around the Pacific Northwest and the plains, or Brer Rabbit, in African American stories, the trickster thwarts authority, turns things around, and is often seen as a creative and creator force. Raven is responsible for bringing light into the world in Tlingit stories. Coyote steals water from the Frog people, so the rest of the world can enjoy it.
In the Bible, Jacob is a trickster. His name literally means, “pulls your leg.” He tricks Esau out of his birthright, and Laban out of his sheep. Because of the incident with Laban, he has to get the heck out of dodge, and because of that, ends up wrestling with an angel, or God, and receives the name Israel. It is the children of Jacob who become the twelve tribes of Israel–the twelve children of Jacob, now known as Israel.
There is a sense where even Jesus is a trickster. Time and time again he upends the authority of the Pharisees, and after he is finally killed, he pulls the ultimate trick, rising from the dead. In one story, the Gospel of John, the Pharisees and religious establishment is trying to discredit Jesus, who goes and heals a blind man. The blind man is running around saying “Jesus healed me,” while the Establishment is saying, “This man is up to no good.” At one point they even try to get the man to say he wasn’t blind, or that the man who healed was a very bad man, to which the formerly blind man says, “I don’t know anything about that. All I know is that I used to be blind, but he healed me, and now I can see,” leaving the establishment with the proverbial egg on their faces.
Without tricksters a lot of stories would be a lot less interesting. But the problem is, tricksters cause problems for other people in the process of making the story interesting.
And this is where Toto comes in. How does Dorothy end up in Oz? Why isn’t she down in the storm cellar with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry? Because Toto bit Miss Gulch. He then escapes from her (a perfect trickster action), goes back to Dorothy, who runs away to keep Miss Gulch from coming back and getting him. Were it not for Toto, there would be no story.
And how does Dorothy learn that “There’s no place like home?” How does she learn that home is in her heart? She is in the balloon with the Wizard, ready to travel back to Kansas, and Toto sees a cat, jumps out of the balloon, and Dorothy jumps out to get him, just as they are releasing the balloon for its journey. She could have taken the balloon, but then she would have learned the true lesson that Oz was teaching her.
Toto does two things that look really bad. It is because of him that Dorothy is blown away from Kansas, and it because of him, that she missed her ride back. That may look like the work of flying monkeys. But it’s not. Its’ the work of Toto, the Trickster.
There are things that look like flying monkeys, but they are really Toto events. Take losing a job. The psychologist Karl Jung used to say, when a client informed him that they had lost their jobs, Jung would say, “That’s great!” Why? Because he knew that if someone was stuck in life, often the only thing that can get them unstuck is a radical shift in the situation. It may look bad at first, and it may actually be bad at first. When Dorothy landed in Oz, one of the first things she learns is that there is now a wicked witch who wants to kill her. That’s bad. The trip down the Yellow Brick Road was not all fun and games. But it changed her life, and changed it for the better.
Losing a job can change your life, and there is perils in that. But the possibility exists that it will change your life for the better.
I had a parishioner who lost his job. He had screwed up at work, and they fired him. This was in October, 2008, and he told that every morning he woke up and heard the latest unemployment statistics on the news, and that scared him to death. He was afraid he would lose everything. He had to make drastic cuts in his lifestyle. His kids had almost no Christmas that year. He had to sell a car to make his mortgage.
But he did find a new job. And it was his dream job. He never would have quit his previous job, which he told me he really hated, especially in that economy. Had he not been fired, he would still be doing that job today. But he was fired, and he had to make a change. And in the end, it was a change for the better. Losing his job looked like a flying monkey at first, but in the end it became a Toto event.
I have heard it said many times that an alcoholic, or and addict has to hit bottom before they change. Hitting bottom can be a flying monkey. Hitting bottom may mean you lost your car, your house, your family, your dignity, your self-esteem, but often hitting bottom is the only thing that can get someone to change destructive behaviors.
Divorce can look like a flying monkey. Someone who used to love you walks out on you. But more than once I have a divorced person eventually bounce back, find someone they really love, someone who really loves them, and now they are happy. Or better yet, they learn to love themselves, and can be happy with who they are. Sure, there are countless nights of loneliness along the way. Toto events can look catastrophic. At first. But sometimes they are the only thing that can change us. They are the only things that can get us unstuck.
This is not to say that all flying monkeys can turn into Toto events. Sometimes it starts and remains a flying monkey. Sometimes the disaster can undo us. But the Biblical witness points us to resurrection. In the Romans passage we heard this morning, it says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Now the “all things” in that passage really means all things. It means good and bad things. This passages does not say that all things are good. It says all things can work together for good.
Paul also says, in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Afflicted. Perplexed. Persecuted. Struck down. Those things happen. But in spite of them, we are not crushed, we are not driven to despair, we are not forsaken, we are not destroyed. When someone is grieving I often say, “You may never get over this; but you will get through this.
Part of what can turn a flying monkey into a Toto event is our attitude toward it. Part of it is the support we receive from family, friends, and our church. Those things cannot always turn a flying monkey around, but they are important if we are to turn it around. This is not work we can do on our own. Dorothy needed Toto to get to Oz, but she also needed the friendship of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion–and especially the Good Witch of the North, to see this the situation for what it really was–an opportunity for growth.
If there is one overall message from the Wizard of Oz, after seven weeks of preaching about it, it is this–we have within and around us what we need to make our way through this life. It is obvious from the get-go that the Scarecrow is the brainiest of the bunch, and the Tin Man has a deep heart for others. It is less obvious with the Lion, but even he had within him the courage to do what needed to be done when the time came.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” It is within you. The Greek word ἐντὸς is often translated as “In your midst,” or “Among you.” The word only appears twice in the New Testament–once in this passage, and once in Matthew where Jesus says that you have to clean the inside of a cup to make it clean. The word he used for inside the cup is the same word he uses for where the kingdom of God is–it is inside of you. It is inside of us. We don’t need to go looking for it, although often we will. But it is here. Now. In us.
The thing is, sometimes we have to go a long way to find what is already in our own back yard. In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes (Phil. 2:12-13): …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. We have to work things out while God is at work in us. That is the whole idea behind a spiritual journey, which is what this whole sermon series has been about. On the one hand, we move from one place to another. It’s a journey. That is us working out our salvation. On the other hand, God, whom we seek in this journey, is with us the whole way.
If Dorothy had woken up one morning and said, “You know, I think there is no place like home,” that would not only make for a bad movie, it would also be unrealistic. The fact is, we have to struggle for some things. There are things that should not come easy. When I have done counseling with people, there are times when I can see clearly what their problem is. But if I tell them, “You clearly have some issues regarding intimacy,” or, “You are still working out the problems you had with you older brother,” or whatever, it can short circuit the process. I might say that, the person would say, “Ah, I see what you mean,” but they really don’t. It’s not real to them. It is just an idea.
I first learned about God’s love and God’s grace when I was a young child. It was repeated to me over the years. When I committed my life to Christ, at the age of 17, I knew about God’s love and grace. But to be honest, I did not know God’s love and grace. It was all theoretical to me. But later in life, down the road in my spiritual journey, a few things happened to me that made me see, with fresh eyes, what God’s love and grace was all about. I saw it. I felt it. I experienced it. I knew it as a reality, not as an idea.
That is the aim of our spiritual journeys—to put into our hearts and will the things that live in our heads. To make our thoughts a reality. It can take some time to do that. It can take a journey down the Yellow Brick Road. I promised you, at the beginning of this, it was worth the trip. They only way to prove that, is to make the trip yourself.
Go with God.