New Life for an Old Coat

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the film The Wizard of Oz. Actor Frank Morgan portrayed The Wizard and also Professor Marvel, the once magnificent showman who fell on hard times and was relegated to working county fairs in Kansas. To play this part, Frank Morgan needed an elegant coat that also had fallen on hard times. So rather than create such a costume, the wardrobe department bought fifty dusty coats from a secondhand clothing store. Frank Morgan and the director chose a tattered, black Prince Albert coat with a velvet collar. One day while filming under the hot movie lights, Frank Morgan was sweating profusely while wearing this heavy coat. During a break in filming, he took off the coat and turned the sweat-soaked pockets inside out so they could get some air. That’s when he glanced down at the lining on which was written the name of the original owner as well as the tailor in Chicago who made the coat. Coincidentally, the original owner shared his name: Frank.

This coat was about to be seen by millions in movie theaters across the country. So, Frank Morgan did a kind thing. He had the studio track down the original owner, who, it turns out, had died twenty years before, but his widow still lived. She was touched that this Hollywood actor would want her to have this final reminder of her late husband. Yet, this coat was no longer the same. Only a short time earlier, it was one step away from the trash heap. Now it had a whole new life in a timeless movie. And having been given new life, it was happily returned home where it belonged.

Do you ever feel like you are getting a bit threadbare and tattered? Even as spring brings promise of new life, the reality is that it all starts with dead seeds planted in the dry dust. For old coats, dead seeds, and  tattered souls, the common need is hope.

The Biblical prophet Ezekiel had a vision (Ezekiel 37) in which dry bones come back to life. This vision was a lifeline of hope for the original hearers who were living in exile after their nation had been obliterated. Bereft of identity and seemingly any future, they felt like a valley of dusty bones.

Then this vision of hope breaks out. Life comes from the four winds, from breath and from God putting God’s Spirit in people. The bones reunite, put on flesh and breathe again because of wind, breath, and spirit. In the original Hebrew of Ezekiel's prophecy, they are all the same word, RUAH.

Why is the same word used in such diverse ways? Perhaps because each version of new life is all the same thing. The wind at your back. The breath of friendship. The Spirit of your God. They are different forms of one movement, any and all of which restore life and hope.

But there’s a catch.  Revival is not individual. It’s communal. The prophecy was not for a person but a people. We are the means of renewal for each other. This is just the way Life/God seems to operate:

  • As we inhale gratitude and exhale compassion, we become the Breath of Life for each other.
  • The wind at our back is the encouragement we give one another.
  • The Spirit in us, literally “inspiration”, is Sacred Essence flowing through us to inspire each other.
  • That’s the way it works. Life/God revives us is through each other.

Here's one extra detail about that coat from “The Wizard of Oz”. According to oral legend (and one documented account), this coat had travelled from its creation in Chicago until it reached a secondhand clothing store in Los Angeles.  Of all the clothing stores in Los Angeles, the wardrobe department happened to pick this store, and of the fifty coats brought back to the studio, this one dusty coat was selected, and it fit Frank Morgan perfectly.

What I did not tell you was the full name of the original owner. Frank Morgan was stunned when he looked at the lining and read the name of the coat’s first owner...a man who had the coat tailored in Chicago, a man who had died twenty years earlier, a man whose coat was saved at random from a used clothing store, a man named...L. Frank Baum, the author of “The Wizard of Oz”.

Finding our way home takes brains, heart, and courage, that is, a community, and sometimes a wee bit of magic. When we feel dry, alone and without purpose, remembering where we belong is the wizardry that restores hope. In the context of community, we are revived and become revival for others. New life for coats and people comes when we find our way into belonging, that is, we make our way home, and there truly is no place like home.