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  • Writer's pictureAlice J Stewart

Dragons, Part 3

The last time we looked at dragons, we looked at political and other power structures, primarily external to our Christian communities. Today, let's look inside our doors. Let's look in the mirror. Let's seek out the subtle things that are easy to miss. Let's see how a dragon might hide among us.

But first, some history.

Cultures in contact are cultures in conflict, as my old Anthropology professor used to say. We are all aware that there is a continual balance in our boundaries as organizations and communities. Who is "in" and who is "out" can be a matter of healthy identity and healthy boundaries. But more often than not, we stumble and struggle with these things. We find un-health in our identity and boundaries in virtually every group - within and without a culture or society. Dragon stories are here to help.

Beliefs, and behaviors derived from beliefs, can be both obvious and subtle. The sacrificing-virgins part of dragon stories may indicate a community's view of outsiders' frightening spiritual and cultural practices, who may or may not have practiced actual human sacrifice. Human sacrifice or another jolting ritual practice would be an obvious (not subtle!) behavior based on belief that one community might resist when seen in another.

We can see how beliefs and behaviors might infiltrate a community if we look at an invading tribe like the Huns or a resistant tribe a society tries to conquer like the Picts. We see a lot of examples of how to relate group-to-group and culture-to-culture throughout the scriptures. It's one of the major themes of the Bible. Specifically, regarding our churches, the New Testament has an array of things to say about being Christian in the "world" among differing beliefs and behaviors.

What to reject, then? What to accept?  

I'm skipping the theology right now. I'm passing by the "right and wrong" argument.  Instead, I'm looking at the practice of unhealthy community relationships where we harm ourselves.  I'm focusing on the subtle ways we become our own worst enemy.  

When subtle, beliefs and behaviors are no less dangerous to a community, including a religious community like a Christian congregation. Remember that we are focusing on a threat to a community - a dragon - not who prefers coffee and who prefers tea.

We Westerners have a pretty good track record for vanquishing powers and peoples and regimes. But we are not so good at rooting out beliefs and behaviors that are threatening. Just one look at the Inquisition, and we can see what a fiasco that was, and it was just the most egregious of this type of thing. For ages, and up until relatively recently (from a historical perspective), we were still torturing people to death because they had different beliefs or practiced their religion differently. Maybe even a minor way, from our modern perspective.  

I would venture to say that if you scratch the surface of our mainline Protestant believers, we will find a deep and unexamined fear of violence if we change our traditions too much. The fear of external violence or real damage is there, from losing our building to being defrocked, and we have some excellent theological reasons for our resistance to change.  But we resist looking *deeply* at ourselves from the dragon-metaphor perspective. All too often, there's a dragon down there in our collective unconscious. We don't know unless we look hard at our situation and look hard in the mirror.

It's easy for us today to write off those bad-old-days from long ago, but we still carry with us the seeds of the damage done. In very subtle ways, we continue to do this sort of damage. We do it to ourselves.  We did it then, we do it now.

A threat can harm by the power it wields, and it can harm through engendering fear by its presence. A community is damaged more by its reactions to fear than to actual violence from "outside." The dragon - and this is its secret weapon - manipulates fear and threat in a community.  The community then habitually *harms itself* so it can avoid the actual violence of the dragon.  

Our defenses against threatening dragons become dragons themselves that we must deal with. We shoot ourselves in the foot, in other words. We become that which we fear.

We can see this happening in communities, organizations, and families of all sorts and sizes.  It is a significant risk for failure if we are not careful to ensure we have healthy communities and relationships.    

All of this is so incredibly common in virtually all unhealthy relationships, communal and individual, that we almost can't see it. It's a dragon.  It's subtle.  It's hidden, often in our own midst.

We must be the hero, hunt the dragon out, and evict it any way we can. Far better to be killed by a dragon than to essentially nibble ourselves to death in slow communal suicide.

And before you say I'm going too far, count how many congregations, families, and other organizations over the last 100 years have imploded because of unhealthy relationships that became dragons.    

So there is danger. There is danger in not recognizing the danger. There is danger in refusing to see how we become dangerous to ourselves.

Dragons thrive on our refusal to look deeply at our own sense of threat and self-inflicted violence. Unhealthy communities become dragons and almost never realize it. Because it's subtle.  It's difficult to look at ourselves, our communities, in a mirror.

But we must. It is what heroes do.

Are you feeling heroic today? I hope so. Because we need you.

Be the hero.  Then tell us your tale.  

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