Henry "Hank" Simoni was the ministerial intern at First Parish in Norwell from the fall of 1989 to the spring of 1990. It was a good experience for him and for us and concluded with his ordination into the Unitarian Universalist ministry on June 17, 1990. I had the pleasure at that time of giving the Prayer or Ordination. A few years later I had the pleasure of performing the wedding ceremony for Henry and Linda at which time both of them took on a new surname, Simoni-Wastila. So I have the pleasure for a third time in Henry's life of participating in yet another rite of passage, his installation as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brookfield.
Did you know that when we ordained Henry in 1990 we ordained him as a wizard as well as a minister? I kid you not. If a wizard be one who seeks wisdom and knowledge and endeavors to impart that wisdom and knowledge to others, then Henry was indeed ordained as a wizard minister. Let my quote to you from my Ordination Prayer of 1990:
As your servant Henry pursues greater knowledge and higher education in a ministry of scholarship and teaching let your spirit of Logos and Reason be wed within him to the deeper spirit of Sophia and Wisdom. Make him wise not beyond his years, but wise in the ways of life that lead to justice, righteousness and peace. Remind him always that to understand all mysteries and and to gather all knowledge is to gain nothing without the universal spirit of love and Agape.
Well, Henry did indeed go on to get his Ph.D in the Philosophy of Religion and to do some teaching and preaching here and there. He was a wizard in the making and he has now seen fit to complete his education in wizardry by taking on the challenge of full time ministry. I think he will find it takes a different kind of wisdom than that of a professor of philosophy and religion though the skills learned as both student and teacher will certainly be of help to him.
Well, this afternoon, I would like to reflect with you for a little while about the meaning of what it means to be wizards in the making for both ministers and congregations. I will, of course, take you back to that famous movie starring Judy Garland, "The Wizard of Oz." You all know the story. Judy Garland, who played the part of Dorothy, is a young girl on the verge of adolescence, who runs away from home with her dog Toto to prevent his being taken from her because he had nipped the heels of a dour old maid. At the urging of a friendly charlatan fortune teller medicine man she decides to return home just as a tornado is heading for the farm. Her family have all gone into the storm cellar so she dashes back into her bedroom to ride out the storm. She is struck on the head by a flying window sash, falls on her bed, and has visions of the house being lifted into the air. She sees the dour old maid riding in the sky on her bicycle who then turns into a witch riding a broom, and finally the house descends and lands intact on the ground. She opens the door and the movie changes from black and white to color and she finds herself in
the land of Oz. "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
Every child has had the thought or fantasy of running away from home, for one reason or another, some actually do it, and all of us eventually do leave home in the course of our becoming an adult of sorts. Those of us who have children of our own relive in our children the perennial struggle of leaving home versus wanting to stay at home, of wanting to become an independent adult versus wishing we could remain as children and be taken care of forever. There's no place like home. But eventually we will have to leave it and will discover with the novelist Thomas Wolfe that "You Can't Go Home Again", at least not to the home of our childhood.
The challenge of leaving home and finding a new home, of leaving behind our dependent child self and finding a new interdependent adult self, is a process that can't be hurried or forced or it will never really complete itself. We were all moved last year by the tragic death of seven year old Jessica Dubroff who was killed in plane crash with her father and flight instructor in Wyoming. With her parents encouragement and blessing she had hoped to become the youngest child to fly across the country. The wind shear took her down. Should a seven year old have been allowed to fly in the first place? Probably not. Was she a victim of the "hurried child" syndrome, trying to make her into an adult before her time? To a certain extent, yes. But ours is a "hurried child" culture. Too many children have had their childhood stolen from them by well meaning adults, and some who are not so well meaning. Orsen Wells once did an ad for a vintage wine--"we will sell no wine before its time." The same applies to children. You can't make them into adults before their time. It doesn't sell. Even when they think they're ready, they may not be.
Parenting a child into a responsible caring adult is a risky venture from day one. We will all make mistakes along the way, be we children or parents or church school teachers. It's a miracle any of us get out of childhood alive.
The Land of Oz is an imaginary world where evil has been conquered and eliminated and only good is now made manifest. Dorothy's house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and kills her. She is declared a hero and given the key to the city. Then she learns that the Wicked Witch of the East has a twin sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, and it becomes her task to eventually conquer this last vestige of evil in the world. This is the child's fantasy version of the ancient Jewish/Christian vision of the Kingdom of Heaven come on earth. We all know it will never come to pass in time and space and human history, but the vision of a world of peace and love and justice continues to inspire and empower modern day prophets and politicians, even charlatans and despots appeal to its rhetoric. Can there ever be a world in which evil has been entirely eliminated? Only in the land of Oz, somewhere over the rainbow. Never in Kansas or Washington or Jerusalem, though the struggle to keep the destructive effects of human malfeasance and doom at bay is perennial.
Dorothy's encounter and adventures with the three characters along the yellow brick road to Oz are the heart of the story. They are meat for a minister's ideal three-point sermon. First, there is the Scarecrow whose hope and dream is to get a brain, a brain he can think with. Second, there is the Tin Man whose deepest wish is to have a heart, a beating heart, that he can feel and hear in his hollow tin chest, a heart he can love with. Third, there is the cowardly lion, whose ambition is to get courage so that he can truly become the king of the forest. Dorothy's wish is to find her way home, to hit a home run, and get back to her home in Kansas. With each encounter she invites her odd companions to join her in her journey to meet the Wizard of Oz.
What we learn from their journey together is that intelligence alone is not enough. Intelligence can be cold and unfeeling and become the servant of evil as happened with those who designed and built the Nazi death camps. And let us not forget that it was supposedly "the best and the brightest" in our government that framed the policy that drew us into a war in Southeast Asia that lasted more than a decade and brought death and destruction to thousands. Heart and compassion alone is not enough. Bleeding hearts devoid of intelligence can foster dependency and become enabling to dysfunctional patterns of thought and behavior. Courage alone is not enough to take us through the world and back home again. Courage can become sheer foolhardiness and bravado. A little bit of cowardice serves the instinct to survival. We need all three--intelligence, love and courage to make our journey through life. And even more, we need one another. Loners do not make or find a home. Home is being with and for others, caring as much about our companions along the road of life as we do for ourselves. Is that not what a church is for, to provide a spiritual home for the needs of the soul for truth, love and courage? Remember Jesus' teaching regarding the summary of the Jewish law, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. One thing is for sure, you can't love your neighbor all by yourself.
I would like to suggest to you that the three characters Dorothy encounters in her journey to Oz represent the three major functions or roles of the professional ministry--that of Preacher, Pastor and Prophet. The Preacher is one who shares his or her quest for existential truth, the truth of being, with the congregation, or as Emerson put it, the truth of our lives passed through the fire of thought. An educated mind or intellect is necessary to this task, but it is not enough. The minister must also be Pastor to the people of the congregation, one who can stand with others in love and mercy, forgiveness and compassion, through the joys and sorrows that come to all of us in greater or lesser measure. Finally, the minister must also be the Prophet, one who in courage speaks truth to power and calls the people to measure their lives before the plumbline of justice. Some of us are better at being wise scarecrows, or compassionate tin men, or courageous cowardly lions than others, but we must somehow embrace all three roles in our ministry at one time or another. Dorothy represents the minister who brings all three together in a common quest for divine truth, love and justice. Where two or three are gathered together there we have the makings of a religious community.
My favorite scene in the film is near the end of the movie when Dorothy and her three companions have completed their task and mission to bring the broom of the wicked witch of the west back to the Wizard of Oz, in exchange for which, he has promised to grant their wishes. Just as it appears that he is going to renege on his promise, Dorothy's dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain to reveal a man at the controls of a machine and a microphone that projects the image of the face of Oz onto the screen above. He says to them, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
That's what too many political, social, and even religious leaders say all too often these days--pay no attention to the man or woman behind the image. Listen to what I say, pay no attention to what I do. Only the image matters. But Emerson said long ago that what we are speaks volumes over what we say. Dorothy, you will remember, is upset that the Wizard is apparently no wizard at all. She says to him, "You're a bad man." And the Wizard answers, "No, I'm a good man. I'm just a bad wizard." I'm afraid that's true of all of us. We're all poor wizards more or less, making a mess of things like the sorcerer's apprentice, but most people are well meaning and good at heart. There's a little bit of bad in the best of us, and a little bit of good in the worst of us. The job of being a wizard is to sort out the good and bad within us and between us and to maximize the good. In that sense we are all wizards in the making, the laity no less than the clergy.
It's interesting to note that in the First Parish Church in Norwell we have a curtain that hangs just behind the pulpit. Over the years different people have asked me what's behind the curtain. When I tell them there is nothing there, just a bare wall, they seem a little disappointed. Perhaps they hoped to find God or the Wizard of Oz. In the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem there used to be a curtain or veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the congregation. Only the High Priest could enter in and then only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In the first Temple under Solomon it contained the Ark of the Covenant. In the Second and Third Temples, after the Ark had been captured and destroyed by Israel's enemies, the Holy of Holies was just an empty space, the symbolic dwelling place of the invisible divine presence. If someone had deigned to pull the curtain back on the Day of Atonement they would have only have found a man there dressed in priestly robes, no god, no Wizard of Oz. How disappointing.
I would suggest to you that even in our less priestly and less liturgically elaborate tradition there is a secret yearning or expectation that our ministers will be just a notch closer to God or wisdom or righteousness than the rest of us. How disappointing to discover that when we take off our clerical robes or put aside our ministerial role we are only a man or a woman trying to be a wizard but always falling short of that impossible task. Or maybe how liberating. It depends on what you're looking for. But the task of ministry belongs to all of us, to the whole church, not just to the theologically trained professionals. Only by working together and recognizing that we carry our varying gifts of the spirit in earthen vessels, as the apostle Paul so well expressed it, can we create a holy caring community where people of all ages can travel together on the road to wholeness.
Poor or inadequate wizards though we may sometimes be, by luck or by grace, we can come through in the end and give our companions on the yellow brick road what they really need--acknowledgment, recognition and support--an honorary doctoral degree in Thinkology, a heart-shaped watch that ticks, and a medal of Courage. Let us not forget the importance of symbolic gestures and remembrances. We need to thank people publicly and in writing for works and deeds well done. We need to remember our friends, parishioners and loved ones at times grief and gladness--anniversaries, memorials, graduations, weddings, birthdays, christenings, installations, times of illness, grief and loss. We do so by giving hope and love and encouragement and sympathy. We learn to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
It doesn't take a wizard to do it, but it helps, and there's magic in the doing of it. And there is just as much magic to be made in Kansas and Brookfield and Norwell as in Oz or other extraordinary ordinary places. What it takes is intelligence, and heart, and courage, and cooperation. Put it all together and you're home free.
Bless us, O Spirit of Life, in our journey to become all too human wizards in the making. Help us to find the magic and to be the magic that makes life worthwhile. You who have given us minds to think with, hearts to love with, and courage to live by, give us one more thing--to find our way home to thee who art the source of life and love within us. Amen.