Dragons, Part 1
I've been thinking about dragons lately. Before you laugh, hear me out.
Dragon stories have been around for ages, and not just in Western culture. Today let's focus on Western European dragon stories.
The idea of dragons in Christianity is not utterly unknown. Just look at St. George. And before you write him off, you might want to tell the Swiss and some of the Slovenians, Croatians, Czech, Russians, and Spanish - all of whom have St. George and the Dragon on their flags. St. George's Cross, of course, is a perennial favorite of England, among many others.** [see below for link]
Hang with me a little while longer while I talk about folklore and mythology. We ordinarily think of these things as untrue or only for ancient cultures. It turns out folklore, legends, fairy tales, and mythologies are an ancient human method of speaking truth and teaching truths in a way that we can absorb. They are some of humanity's greatest inventions! We tell stories in our own time, too. If we know what to look for, we can find mythologies even in our hyper-modern era.
For now, let's hold this one type of story, the dragon story, and see where it takes us. Let's keep an ear to the ground over the next little while and see what comes up for us.
There are so many things to be said about dragons that I'm going to break things up a bit.
With dragons, we've got:
What is a dragon? What is its nature?
How do I know I've got a dragon?
What do dragons demand?
How do I avoid a dragon?
How do I get rid of a dragon?
Why do I keep attracting dragons?
For just a moment, let's pretend that there is a place in Christianity for dragon stories. Let's consider dragon stories a metaphor for something. With me as your guide, let's explore what we might learn from dragon stories as they relate to challenged congregations.
I'm using dragons as a collective symbol for communities in the same way that Jung used "bees" as a symbol for trauma among individuals. I have no research to back this up - full disclosure - although there may be some somewhere. If you know, let me know. For right now, however, this is how I'm suggesting we decode the symbolism.
So, dragons symbolize collective traumas. That's the theory. Let's see how far it will take us.
Dragons can be anything, but they're always more powerful than you. More powerful than your community. And they're manipulative. They suck at you like a parasite, making you suffer but not die.
Instead of diagnosing others with a bad case of dragons, I'm putting this "out there" for you to use as a tool. Using this definition, metaphorically, are there any places in life that you have a dragon? Focus on your communities and families, since dragons are a metaphor for groups of people. Using this basic tool, is there any indication that you or your congregation might have a dragon?
Other things are manipulative and powerful and parasitic that are not dragons. We must be sure we have a dragon and not something like… oh, gosh… lots of other creepy things in our collective mythology that plague us. Like plagues! Those are totally different!
In the stories, a dragon arrives:
..more or less unannounced.
It finds a place nearby that is secure.
It is quiet for a time while it secures itself and grows in strength,
...and then it starts to show its power.
It begins demanding things:
It creates a system of manipulation that provides a consistent supply of resources and sycophants without killing its host or causing a revolt.
It keeps its weaknesses hidden until there is close inspection (risky for the "hero!”),
...and hides its power to destroy until threatened, displays its power when threatened, and somehow finds more and more significant (and sometimes subtle) ways to show its ever-increasing power every time it is threatened.
Let's stop there. It's scary already, right?
From a historical, community perspective, how do we identify a dragon? Examining how they behave is an excellent place to start. "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck," as the old saying goes.
We can see dragons in our personal lives. A covertly abusive boss or manager are decent examples, or a gaslighting emotional abuser in a family relationship.
But I'm not talking about personal lives right now. I'm talking about collective experience because that's what's relevant to our congregations.
An example of a dragon in a community might include some of the more horrible Roman emperors. Without an extensive power network, a merely mad king is pretty easy to identify and get rid of. Dragons, like some historical leaders, are subtle until they are too strong to fight. They are challenging to locate and remove.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not at all saying that any leader in your church is a dragon. Dragons can be as subtle as habitual group behaviors in addition to individuals (who can be anyone!) who exert some dragon-like behaviors.
Mythology, even something as absurd as a dragon story, is always relevant if we look closely. Those little nuggets of truth are still relevant because we human beings need to be taught how to identify, avoid, and remove subtle dangers that trip us up.
So, two things you can take away from this somewhat silly conversation about mythology and dragons and symbolism as they relate to our churches:
There are always dragons lurking around here and there. Look carefully. If you don’t find them, congratulations. You probably have excellent ways of avoiding dragons in your congregation. If so, share them with the rest of us!
How to identify dragons by observing behavior. Remove all your pre-conceived notions and try to just look at behaviors. Are there dragon-like behaviors you observe? Take note.
Later we will talk about how dragons feed on us, ways of fighting them, and all the rest. But always remember that these metaphors are never perfect. I'll point out the ways metaphor may not work for us as we go along as best I can.
Tune in next week when we continue to look in this playful way at how we can ensure our communities, particularly our faith communities, can maintain their health and longevity.
In the meantime, do you have a dragon story? Tell us! Comment below!
** St. George and dragon flag information comes from: https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/Flags/rel-stge.html