Donald Miller, Charlie TV and the Wizard of Oz
Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
My favorite writer is a guy named Donald Miller.
He hit the New York Times bestseller list a few years ago with a book called Blue Like Jazz. The subtitle is Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, which perfectly sums up his writing style. Blue Like Jazz is great, but i like a couple of his other books even more—Searching for God Knows What and Through Painted Deserts are both excellent, and his other two books are really good as well.
In the book Scary Close, he decides, at age forty, to stop trying to impress people and to be himself, no matter what the cost. The Amazon summary calls it ‘a book about the risk involved in choosing to impress fewer people and connect with more, about the freedom that comes when we stop acting and start loving. It is a story about knocking down old walls to create a healthy mind, a strong family, and a satisfying career.’
In the book, he talks about masks that we wear, how we present ourselves the way we want people to see us, most of the time because of the fear that if they really knew us, how we felt, what we thought—all of the stuff that makes us ‘us’—then they would run away. Who you are is the person on the inside, and everything outside of that is just a character, a role you’ve chosen to play, or been forced to play in life.
Keep that in mind, while i tell you another story from my childhood.
When i was a kid, we didn’t have a color television set until i was 13. Everyone i knew at school had at least one color TV by then. Most of their homes had a color set in their parent’s bedroom, and a couple even had a little one in their room. They were so common that the shows didn’t even say “In Color” after the title cards like they had a few years earlier.
But in my folk’s opinion, the old black & white RCA worked just fine, and it sorta did. Except every six or eight months, the ‘vertical hold’ or ‘horizontal hold’ or some doodad would go out and the viewable area of the screen would get progressively shorter and shorter over time, until the upper and lower thirds would be totally black with a little strip of short, skwunched down people in the middle. At the point it all became unwatchable, my parents would call a guy we called ‘Charlie TV’ and he would come out to the house, replace some parts inside the box and it would be good to go until it all started happening again a few months later. I saw Charlie TV so much growing up, that when i was really young, i thought he was an uncle or something.
So when The Wizard of Oz came on, in my world, Kansas and Oz looked pretty much the same.
Now, Kansas didn’t have singing munchkins or good/bad witches, or anything like that, and it was not really ‘happy,’ but the magical scene where Dorothy opens the door to the new world was decidedly less magical in black and white.
You know the story. You’ve seen it a hundred times. If you haven’t, what in the world is wrong with you???
In the climactic scene, the great and powerful Wizard, who rules over Oz with smoke, explosions and bombast, is revealed, by Dorothy’s dog, Toto, to be just an ordinary man amplifying his voice through a microphone and pulling levers behind a curtain to set off the special effects. The whole thing was a con. The great and powerful wizard was just an insecure man, lording over his subjects through fear and intimidation.
But Donald Miller points out something about the final scene in Oz that should give us all something to think about. We know that the now not-so-great, not-at-all-powerful former wizard points out that each of the characters already has in his possession what he was seeking from the beginning. The Lion had really demonstrated bravery at crunch time, the Tin Man had a caring, loving heart and the Scarecrow had brains all along.
But the scary wizard behind the curtain could not have revealed any of those things. It wasn’t until he was ‘real’ without playing a character, pretending to be someone he was not, that he could actually do anything to help Dorothy and her friends. When ‘the Wizard’ is a just a man—a real man, that’s when he has real power—the power to encourage them and remind them who they really are.
Think about the ramifications of that in your life.
If we quit pretending to have it together, if we show people our warts, our failures…if we stop hiding behind the curtain, what difference would it make in our Journey Groups? If you strip away the character you’ve played and were honest about what’s gone on in your life, how would your co-workers start seeing you?
How would families change if parents admitted their flaws and let their kids know it’s okay to screw up, because we all screw up? What if we told our children ‘here were the places in my life that i did what God’s word says, and here’s where i did the opposite, and over here’s where that got me. And can you forgive me for not being honest about it before?’
Let’s try taking off the masks, stop acting and start loving. Who can you encourage today by being real? Where can you start?
Our families need it, our relationships need it, our church needs it.
In a world that’s all too colorful these days, let’s try being black and white about some things.