Crikey, I’d like a dragon. (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J K Rowling)
I’m a little late to the game, but yesterday I watched How to Train Your Dragon for the first time. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend it. It’s a great family film with amazing animation, fun characters, and a fantastic story. If you saw any trailers for it, you’ll have some idea that the story is about a Viking teenager who befriends a dragon in spite of the longstanding enmity between Vikings and dragons. As he becomes friends with the dragon he calls Toothless, he realizes that the conflict between the two species is based entirely on misunderstandings. Of course, you will probably realize that this kind of story has a lot of applications to the world we live in.
As I watched, I was thinking that the Vikings in the movie have a really similar attitude toward the dragons as most of us have toward the world around us. We see ourselves as separate from whatever we don’t fully understand. We cut ourselves off from the natural world in a way that is, I think, unbiblical. Think about it–how many people do you know who have irrational fears of harmless insects? Who don’t like spending time outside? Who stiffen up around animals? I’m not trying to say anything bad about people like that; I certain qualify from time to time and I definitely have an irrational fear of snakes. What I am saying, though, is that we as a culture have so thoroughly cut ourselves off from the natural world that we often forget that we are actually part of that world. It isn’t us versus it (it being nature and creatures) because we are a part of it. That’s what I like about Hagrid (and why I felt this quote was appropriate): although he often fails to see the natural danger of some creatures, he understands his place in the natural world, and he sees the creatures not as monsters but for the beautiful, wonderful (albeit sometimes dangerous) things that they are. He sees them as part of the same order that he himself and other humans are part of. There’s a sense of harmony and balance in the way he approaches the world, and I think that’s why he is safe around even the most dangerous creatures. Hiccup, the main character in How to Train Your Dragon, learns the same lesson and it changes everything for him.
I also think that this tendency of ours to withdraw from the natural world, to create psychological boundaries between ourselves and what we perceive as Other, feeds into our tendency to create boundaries between ourselves and other humans as well. It seems like the world is forever fraught with divisions of us versus them, in which we perceive them as entirely alien and develop a perception of them as wrong or dangerous or bad or evil. And then we assume that our perception is entirely true. But you know and I know that our perception of others, especially those perceptions which lead to violent conflict, are almost always based on misunderstandings. We seek to define ourselves by our differences first and rarely make it back around to our similarities–similarities which all humans have because we are all part of the same system and created in the same Image.
Yesterday, before I watched How to Train Your Dragon, I attended the wedding of a couple from my church. The groom is of a Muslim heritage, and so a number of the people at the ceremony were Muslim. I wrote on my personal blog about how moving the experience was for Christians and Muslims to be mingled together in blessing the marriage of the happy couple. And this morning at church, one person shared his experience sitting at a table with Muslims during the reception. He said that they asked questions about our church community, and they stretched across the two faiths to make a connection by discussing the similarities of the creation story in Genesis and the Qu’ran. And I can’t help but think that this is a model of what the world should be like. We should always identify the ways that we are alike before we acknowledge differences. If we did, I think we would find that the world we live in is not as threatening as we sometimes believe.