What do Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have in common? Besides the fact that they are both splendid, waterfront communities, probably not much. Except this: Seventy-five years ago this week, these towns were the first public release points for one of the greatest films ever. “The Wizard of Oz.”
Few movies have had such a prolonged, impactful history. It is consistently voted into the top ten of any “Greatest Movies” list, has been preserved by the Library of Congress and the National Film Registry, and contains some of the most recognized one-liners of any film ever made.
Generations of people have said in times of confusion, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” They have dropped their bags at the front door and collapsed onto their couches with the shibboleth, “There’s no place like home,” falling from their lips. Who has never said, in a moment of being cornered, “There are lions, and tigers, and bears!” And of course, the Wicked Witch has her place in the conversation: “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” still terrifies children (and her cursed flying monkeys still terrify me).
But my favorite line from the film is spoken by the Wizard himself. The scene is iconic; Dorothy and her friends return to Oz’s throne room with the Witch’s broomstick, confirming that their assignment is complete, and the Wicked Witch is indeed, dead. But the Wizard rebuffs them. He is about to break his promise of sending Dorothy home, and about to renege on the handing out of brains, hearts, and courage.
Then, in the midst of booming voices, thunderclaps, and lightning bolts, Toto scurries over to a mystical shower stall and pulls back the curtain where a mere mortal is pulling levers and speaking into an amplifier. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” the Wizard warns. But the game is over. There is no great and powerful Oz. There is only Oscar Zoroaster Diggs from Omaha, Nebraska. It was all, quite literally, smoke and mirrors.
Why do I love this quote, this scene, so much? Because it reveals the truth on so many levels. There is nothing to be afraid of – especially when it comes to God. We have been taught and told that God, the “Wizard” for my purposes, is more terrifying than all the dangers of the world. We have been told that to enter the presence of this “Great and Powerful” is to take our lives into our hands.
Like the Cowardly Lion, we know we need God and all that he offers, but we might as soon throw ourselves out his palace window to escape his terrors than to remain in his presence. Yet, this is all smoke, mirrors, curtains, and megaphones. Jesus has done something even the legendary Toto could not accomplish. He doesn’t just pull the curtain back, he tears it asunder, showing us a God who isn’t playing a game or hiding his true identity.
This God is no imaginary Wizard. He is a compassionate, loving, heart-sick parent who refused to keep his distance from us, who decided he would no longer allow his name or his reputation to be misrepresented, but would represent himself as a mere mortal, that he might enter the sufferings of his creation and undo the chaos of his creation.
The coming of Jesus into the world was the coming of God into the world. And the cross of Jesus, in all of its foolish glory, did not change God – he has always been in love with humanity – it changes us. We begin to see clearly that so much of what we have been told simply isn’t the truth.
With no heavy curtain obscuring our perspective, we see that God is more gracious, more wonderful, more welcoming, and more loving than we previously imagined; there is no reason to be afraid of him. This is not a fanciful measure of “Somewhere over the Rainbow.” It is the place we call home, and there’s no place like it.