Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ezer in Oz

Sometimes, Hollywood gets it right! 

While watching Disney's recent movie, Oz, the Great and Powerful, I was amazed. How is it that they could so beautifully illustrate the unique role of ezer kenegdo found in Genesis 2:18? This word has been translated as “help meet or suitable helper" but is better explained by author, Carolyn Custis James as a strong helper, a warrior, an ally in battle. In her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, James says, “The woman is the man’s help, his ally in battle...Her mission is to build him up in God, to stand with him in truth and to oppose him whenever he veers onto wrong paths…She is a valiant warrior conscripted by God, not to fight against the man but to fight at his side as his greatest ally in the war to end all wars.”

Meet Oscar Diggs (played by James Franco), a small town carnival magician in 1905. His stage name is Oz, the Great and Powerful. He gets what he wants in life by cheating, lying, sleight of hand, deceit, trickery, manipulation and flattery. He is a fake, a fraud, unappreciative of others and friendless. Of himself he says, “I am many things, but a good man is not one of them. I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one.”

Through a series of unforeseen events, Oscar (Oz) finds himself in the mystical and colorful land of Oz where there exists a prophecy that states that a Great Wizard bearing the name of the land would descend from the heavens and save them all from the oppressive grip of the wicked witch.

At first Oz's magic tricks and flattering words convince most that he is the Great Wizard and he is happy to play the part because of the promise of a kingdom, along with lots of gold, a grand palace and the attention of beautiful witches. Oz thinks he’s struck gold (literally!) until he realizes what is expected of him. Before he can claim the throne, he must risk his life to save others. He realizes that his bag of tricks is not enough and he will be exposed for the fraud that he is.

Enter Oz's ezer, Glinda the Good Witch (played by Michelle Williams). Glinda immediately realizes that this is no Great Wizard. She is not deceived by him but quickly discerns his true character. When Oz finally confesses, “I might not actually be a wizard,” Glinda replies, “Yes, I know. At least not any kind of wizard we were expecting. I can tell you’re weak, selfish, slightly egotistical and a fibber.” Despite the truth, Glinda sees the potential in Oz and believes in him. “It is imperative to behave like the great leader that they think you are. Morale is essential if we have any hope of defeating [the wicked witch]. You have a plan. You are going to lead us into battle and take back the throne.”

When it becomes apparent that their meager army, made up of Quadlings, Tinkers and Munchkins, has little hope against the organized armies of winky soldiers and flying monkeys (Deborah and Barak, anyone?), Oz tries to bail, saying, “I’m just a con man, a carnival magician. I’m just not the man you want me to be.”

Glinda, ever the ezer, replies, “But you’re all I have. So, you’re not the wizard I was expecting. So, you don’t have the power I thought you’d have. But you’re here. There must be a reason. Maybe you’re capable of more than you know. You’re much more than a con man. The only person you’ve got fooled is yourself.” Glinda encourages him to use the talents he does have and not the supernatural powers he doesn't have. So finally Oz understands! “Allusion, misdirects, slight of hand. I know I’m not the wizard that you expected, but I might just be the wizard that you need.”

After the victory (spoiler alert), Oz is a changed man. Now he has friends, partners, people who believe in him, a family - all thanks to his ezer, Glinda. Her ezer qualities are summed up in her final words "I knew you had it all along." 

"Greatness?" Oz asks. 

"No, better than that - goodness."

We can all be ezers like Glinda. We can see past the imperfections of others into the goodness of their souls, which is simply the image of God in all of us. By believing it is there, even if deeply hidden, we call them to set aside their fear, their agenda, their desires, in order to fulfill God's higher purpose. In doing so, we create what Carolyn Custis James calls the Blessed Alliance, the true partnership of men and women, which is God's strategy for building His kingdom. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Let the Older Women...

Several years ago, my women's ministry team decided to honor our women over 60. We created a theme entitled, "Wise Women" and we planned an entire year's worth of events and opportunities for the women to be encouraged and learn from our older, wiser women. But to my surprise, I had a very hard time convincing the older women to participate. My invitations to share their testimony or teach a skill or mentor a younger women were turned down or ignored. Involvement was reluctant, at best.

Since this experience, other leaders have confirmed what I experienced. One of the biggest challenges we have is involving older women (especially those over 65). They are reluctant to serve in the ministry or mentor younger women. I believe this reluctance comes from several factors:

Lack of Confidence
Most older women were not given many opportunities to exercise their gifts when they were younger. If they taught, it was to children only, and they typically did not lead others. More specifically, few were mentored by other women themselves. Consequently, they feel that they don't have enough skill to fulfill what is required of them.

Health Issues
Older women may sincerely want to be involved and share their knowledge and friendship, but they are held back by numerous health concerns. Their mind may not work as well as it once did and answers to questions are harder to formulate, causing panic and fear.

Been There, Done That
Some women served many years in the nursery, children's ministry, choir etc. and now that they are older and tired, they feel they deserve a break and it is time for younger women to step up and take their place.

Spiritual Formation
Unlike the previous reasons, some older women are reluctant to serve because they are being led into a deeper intimacy with God that is characterized by being and not doing. They desire to spend time in private prayer and solitude with God and not in running around being busy for God.

So how do we creatively use the gifts of our older women?

Encourage and Encourage Again
Be prepared to do a lot of encouraging, hand holding and guiding the older women to be willing to step up to mentor. They may need to be shown how and certainly need to be told over and over again that they can do it, that they are desperately needed and that the younger women value and want them in their lives.

Don't use Titles
Titles such as mentor and accountability partner tend to scare women off because of the expectations associated with them. Older women may be intimidated by younger women. The goal should be to help women develop friendships and use their gifts, not to fill a specific role.

Create Opportunities
Schedule opportunities in your ministry for the voices of older women to be heard. Invite them to tell their stories, feature them in your events, interview them and intentionally use their knowledge and skills.

Be Flexible
Be aware of the physical limitations of your older women and so find creative ways to accommodate them. Go to where they are, don't ask them to come to you. Make sure you have handicap access to your locations. Make and edit a video of them rather than putting them on the spot in front of a large group. Be patient as they move and think slower. And mostly, give them grace when they decline to be involved due to physical reasons.

Educate Younger Women
Explain this reluctance to the younger women so they understand. Encourage the younger women to initiate with older women. Guide them to look for creative ways to spend time with an older woman, such as asking a woman to teach them how to can produce or knit. While learning a practical skill, the younger woman can ask questions about faith and parenting or whatever other subject she is interested in.

Let them Guide You Spiritually
Don't ask the women who have chosen prayer and solitude to fill a role or serve on a committee or plan an event. Ask instead to sit with them in prayer or in silence. Ask for the privilege of joining them on the journey.

We all know that Titus 2 admonishes older women to instruct younger women. This will not happen all by itself. Women's ministry leaders must be willing to focus on the older women and find creative ways to apply Titus 2.