Whatever else we may have in common with the Wizard of Oz, we share at least this: If we want to be the best we can be, if we want to live into the fullness of the hope of our calling, we have got to stop aiming so high. In order to reach maturity, what Paul calls “the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), we’ve got to stop trying to grow up, and we’ve got to learn to “grow down,” to come down to our true selves.
Do you remember the scene at the end of the movie when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the real Wizard at the controls? The Wizard starts to speak into the microphone, then turns weakly to Dorothy as his voice and the illusion he created fail. “You humbug!” the Scarecrow scolds. “Yes,” the Wizard confesses, “I’m a humbug!” And Dorothy chimes in, “Oh, you’re a very bad man!” “Oh, no, my dear,” the Wizard replies, “I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad Wizard.”
In order to hold power over the great city Oz, the Wizard thought he had to maintain the illusion of greatness and could never reveal who he was. But in order to help those who stood right before him and provide what they needed most, he had to give up the illusion he created and become his true self, the ordinary very good man he was. When he did that, he didn’t provide something the others were lacking; he helped them discover and claim what they already had – a brain for the Scarecrow, a heart for the Tin Man, courage for the Cowardly Lion.
When we celebrate the saints of the church, it would be easy to recall, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews did, those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11:33-34). It would be easy because so often that’s the way the world defines greatness. It would also be misleading. The Wizard, I think, has just as much, if not more, to teach us about saints.
When I decided to become a pastor, I viewed it as a role I had to study for and learn to practice. If I added enough skills and polished them well enough, I could be a good pastor, perhaps a great one, maybe even a bishop one day. The daily grind of parish life, and life in general, have a way of stripping away those illusions.
One of the oldest, most enduring heresies in the church is that a good and acceptable pastor is not one who authentically embodies the gospel. The good, acceptable pastor is one who embodies the culture and values of the congregation, whether or not those things have anything to do with the gospel of Christ.
Because I was trained at an early age to be the person others expected me to be, I was especially vulnerable to that seduction. For most of the first half of my life, I tried to live up to others’ expectations, never really knowing and expressing the authentic self God was creating me to be. I hid behind a curtain and manipulated the controls that maintained the illusion of power. Frankly, that has been true for much of my ministry as well. It’s a fool’s game, and I’ve played it well.
Now late in life I’m learning another way, a way I’ve known about for a long time and am only just now coming to know more deeply. The thing I want most in life – true community, authentic relationship with God, with others, and with all of creation – is not something to be found at the end of a long pilgrimage. It’s to be found here where I started, in the heart from which my deep yearning arises. As Dorothy said, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”
Are you tired of your heavy burden, Jesus asks? Are you tired of trying to grow into the full stature of Christ by being the person others expect you to be, by living up to the impossibly high example set by the great saints of our faith? “Learn from me,” Jesus says, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29). Give up the life you define for yourself or that others define for you, he says, and you’ll discover the life God is creating for you (Mark 8:34-37).
The stripping away of illusions can be a painful thing – it is for me – but our illusions of ourselves are not ourselves. They are only illusions, after all, and they only obscure the true self God is creating in us as a gift for the world. If the stone could feel, it would seem as if it is being destroyed by each blow of the sculptor’s hammer and chisel. But those blows, the chiseling away of our illusions about ourselves, only release the figure within the stone – the angel, the saint within the heart.
That’s what we do for one another when we undertake the work of holy community. We love each other into freedom from our illusions. And together we live into the high hope of our calling as real saints, the kind with feet of clay.