First Chapter: Taming the Dragons
ONCE upon a time … the raging dragon … a hero and a damsel in distress. Remember the old fairy tales? Prince Charming and Sleeping Beauty and happily ever after? It was always that way in our bedtime stories. But what about real life? What’s happened to our happily ever after? Daily we live under the dragon’s fire: we can hardly conceive of victory.
Once upon a time a dragon stepped across our path, the hero pulled his sword. The damsel swooned. And here we are, men slaying, women submitting, all of us forever locked into fairy tale roles that have somehow been Christianized—thinking this is the only way to respond to conflict. And we wonder why we live in defeat.
We live in defeat because, typically, men have been taught to conquer conflict—to slay the dragon. Counterpoint, women have been taught to submit to conflict—to subdue by swooning before the dragon, to give in.
When both of these roles, conquering and submitting, are practiced exclusively, it puts all of us at risk and backs us into a corner. For one thing, it leaves men always on the battlefield without any R&R, and we all know that men are dying younger than women; maybe this is why. Alan Basham, former director of the counseling center at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington, adds another interesting angle. He believes that men die younger than women because they are never allowed to experience the love of damsels in distress until they first relieve the distress. And so men, their use of sword and shield an art form, are dying not so much from battle wounds but from something more deadly—not being loved for who they are, but only for what they do.
Women are living longer, but in today’s violent world they’re often surviving as victims, helpless damsels who shy from picking up sword and shield in self-defense. As women, we’re to await the hero and, in the event of a hero’s absence, submit. We grow up learning to depend on rescue. Like Rapunzel? Failing rescue, to then commit ourselves to martyr-dom and self-sacrifice. So if statistically men are dying younger than women, women statistically are surviving as victims. But if we’re to defeat this destructive pattern and find victory—for both men and women—we need to recognize roles other than those our fairy tales have assigned.
But is that fair? Is there more to story than just hero and heroine, Warrior and Martyr? What of other characters and other choices when up against peril? Peter Rabbit fled. Thumbelina asked for help. Fairy god-mothers guessed riddles and transformed rags into riches, frogs into princes. Warriors and Martyrs, yes, but there are also Pilgrims, Orphans, and Wizards. We have options; we have choices.
When up against conflict there is more than one way to tame the trouble. For one, we can trade shoes. If we are men, we can learn what it means to submit, to be a Martyr, to swoon in the face of conflict—as did Hansel at the wicked witch’s house. Likewise, if we are women, we can learn what it means to be the fairy tale Warrior, to slay and conquer and defeat—as did Gretel to save Hansel. Both of us can try on new shoes altogether and learn a few new roles. I suggest that if Warrior and Martyr aren’t working, try Pilgrim, Orphan, or Wizard. Because when we deal with dragons the same old way every single time, it doesn’t always work. The dragons too often win. And it’s why so many of us are not living happily ever after.
For a woman, particularly one raised in the more conservative churches, this concept of choice can be difficult. Making it even more difficult is that the male Warrior and female Martyr roles are the fundamental warp and woof of our heritage; they’ve been woven into our literature, our myths, and our laws, and then passed down to us. So it’s quite difficult to look at Scripture and see a different story, and this is why it’s so difficult for us as religious women to see we have a choice. We can’t help but look at the Bible and see reflected from its pages our own cultural misunderstandings.
We look into the pages of Scripture and almost automatically see only the fairy tale roles of Warrior and Martyr. David the Warrior. Martha the Martyr. And so when the dragon roars, men rush to slay, women to submit, all of us dying and being victimized, and we zip right past all the other possible choices. We forget that there is a choice. We didn’t even know to look for choice.
I didn’t know to look for it.
Like most women raised in the church I only knew the role of Martyr. This was it as far as God was concerned; in conflict I was to swoon, to give in. But at the age of twenty-nine I was forced to wake up to the fact that this wasn’t working. Self-sacrifice was getting me just that—sacrifice of self. My doctors were concerned.
Why? I wondered, looking around at the failure of my life. Was I doing everything I could? Had I missed something important? I spent some time poring over Scripture to find out where I had gone wrong.
At first I kept finding verses that supported the role of Martyr—good old Sarah keeping mum and winding up in Pharaoh’s harem, Martha washing dishes and serving tea and sweeping floors. These women kept shoving me back to square one. Fogged by cultural mandates, I saw only men slaying and women submitting and it all seemed to work out so well in the Bible—but in real life? Was the sacrifice of self a woman’s only option?
One day, eating granola at my kitchen table, I ran into Deborah, a Hebrew prophetess and military commander. Nobody in Sunday school had ever told me about female warriors. And then I found Abigail while eating cold toast. Nobody had ever told me about her either. She disregarded her husband and before it was all done King David married her. Wow. Ignore her husband and find a new life? Suddenly I began looking at men and women in the Bible with new understanding. Every morning over breakfast, I was able to find, easily enough, all kinds of roles being played out in the lives of dozens of men and women all down through Jewish history as they battled the dragons before them! Here was Tamar, seducing Judah in order to assure herself of her lawful rights to a son by his house! Priscilla in Rome, teaching and discipling men. Mary Magdalene, a financier of Jesus’ ministry. Suddenly, no longer stuck interpreting Scripture from my fairy tale assigned position as Martyr, I began to grasp the concept of alternatives. In the face of conflict I could flee, I could fight back, I could play tricks, I could choose! Behold! Deborah the Warrior! Ruth the Martyr! Esther the Orphan! Hagar the Pilgrim! Abigail the Wizard! For me, a religious woman taught to blindly submit, this was liberating illumination; I rejoiced in this affirmation, this permission to make a different choice!
This was my beginning. I have since gone on to discover these same roles everywhere, not just in the Bible but in women today, in history, in characters from our favorite stories. They can even be found in our fairy tales—oftentimes more picturesquely than in the book of Judges. We don’t know Deborah the Warrior, but we know Mrs. Jumbo. Few of us have been taught to see Ruth in the role of Martyr, but Piglet? Jumping into Kanga’s pocket in lieu of Roo? We certainly aren’t used to looking at Wizards in the Old Testament; this idea can seem threatening. But in fairy tales? We love and applaud our fairy godmothers.
In looking back I am not sure how any of us missed the obvious, for choice is the underlying theme in both our childhood stories and Scripture, read to us from the cradle. I’m not sure why the “Matchstick Girl” sticks in our minds or why we get stuck on Martha when Jesus himself said Mary’s way was better—for all stories, “in the beginning” and “once upon a time”—teach us choice.
I’m not sure, yet for some reason, we have restricted ourselves, and in our self-imposed restriction the dragons win.
How then, do we choose and dragons lose?
Naming a thing brings power over it. God said:
Let us make man in our image ... and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.1
He then told Adam to name every living creature.2
Naming empowered mankind to rule.
In the same way, by naming our choices we gain the power to choose. In my own life, once I got it through my head that I could in fact choose, and that I had at least five options—Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, and Wizard—I discovered that given any crisis I could literally sit back and decide which of the five I would use to solve my problem. Choice took the sting out of my powerlessness. Choice enabled me to move from victim to victor. Did this particular dragon, I’d ask myself, naming my options, call for Mrs. Jumbo, the fairy tale Warrior? Or Abigail, the Old Testament Wizard? Or was the battle one to martyr myself for, as did Ruth of Moab? Piglet in the Hundred Acre Wood?
Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, and Wizard. Naming is one thing, understanding another. Fortunately we have the Bible to offer example and fairy tale to offer metaphor. Out of the Old Testament we have our beacons of choice: Esther, Hagar, Ruth, Deborah, and Abigail. We also have in The Wizard of Oz (handily enough) Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion, and Wizard. An odd combination, but one that serves clear purpose.
Both Esther and Dorothy are Orphans, needing and finding help through their own courage. Hagar and the Scarecrow are Pilgrims, fleeing cultural expectations in order to seek clarity of mind and identity. Ruth and the Tinman are Martyrs, sacrificing from a position of power in order to redeem. Deborah and the Lion are Warriors, drawn into the fray to protect. And Abigail and the Wizard are Wizards, taming evil by naming it for what it really is and, when they can, bringing into play creative alternatives. By following the footsteps of these Biblical heroines and by metaphorically walking the yellow brick road of Frank Baum’s Oz, we can discover on a more personal level what it means to make these choices.
The following six chapters—Innocent, Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, and Wizard—open with a character from the Wizard of Oz, each a role model for powerful choices. I quickly partner in women from the Bible so we might understand the scriptural support for such a role. And because the idea of choice can be difficult to grasp, I go on to tell short stories of women who’ve made these choices: Two women from history, literature, two more from the Bible, two contemporary women, two personal examples of my own life. These stories told, each chapter concludes with a second—and closer—look at what each role means. An Orphan learns to ask for help, yes. But an Orphan also learns in the process how to help herself. A Wizard names evil in another person’s life, true. But a Wizard also names the evil within herself. Finally, I end each section with “Something To Think About,” a Study Guide that provides more Scripture and offers questions to ponder—accompanied by journaling pages to write down your own experiences and ideas.
My dragons have largely been those of single parenting, poor health, and poverty. Today I have other challenges. Others have problems with their marriages. Still others have conflict on the job, with their kids, with their finances. Men, too, have their troubles. Yet it seems some of us—if we’re to be honest—aren’t coping with crisis well. I’m convinced we live in defeat or despair or from behind plastic masks because we remain stuck responding to diverse conflict in but one prescribed way. But by choosing among our options—taught to us by our fairy tales and modeled for us in the Bible—we can begin to see God active in our affairs; and because we choose to, we can begin to put away that despair and pain and move toward redemption and new life.
This is the happily ever after our fairy tales and Jesus’ promise. Once upon a time … the raging dragon … a hero and a damsel in distress. Wait! The hero doesn’t pull his sword, the damsel doesn’t swoon. Both pause and then choose—Orphan, Pilgrim, Martyr, Warrior, or Wizard. We too can choose.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”3 So said Jesus. We can live happily ever after.
1. Genesis 1:26 (NIV).
2. Genesis 2:19, 20 (NIV).
3. John 10:10 (NIV).