Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home:
How to Train Your Dragon

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached August 28, 2011 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Jeremiah 20:7-13: "I have become a laughingstock all day long"
Matthew 16:21-28: "those who want to save their life will lose it"
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

This morning's first song comes from a Scottish folk band called Stealers Wheel. The band was formed in the early 1970s by two guys who were teenage friends - Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan. The band released today's song back in 1972. "Stuck in the Middle" sold more than a million copies and went to #6 on the Billboard charts. Let's try it:

Well I don't know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain't right,
I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, 'Violence and destruction!'
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.

This is the lament we hear in today's Hebrew scriptures from the prophet Jeremiah. Laments are nothing new from prophets. In the past few weeks we've heard from other prophets like Elijah who have found that their profession as speakers of the Holy's truth is a hard job. The world doesn't seem to want to listen. Instead of heeding the prophets' words, the prophets are scorned, shunned, threatened, and generally treated like pariahs.

Pity the poor prophet, stuck in the middle with clowns to their left, jokers to their right. They are a laughingstock - they are mocked. They warn the people that their violent and destructive ways will come to no good - and they are met only with reproach, and derision.

Jeremiah is a man who is acquainted with dragons - demons who pursue him, dog his every step and seek to destroy him. In fact, Jeremiah is so acquainted with being denounced and derided, that he is known as "the weeping prophet." He resisted his call to be a prophet - and doesn't carry out his duties with joy. He is deeply connected to the Holy, however, and even though he is a reluctant prophet, he knows he has no choice but to be who God has created him to be - a prophet. So, he goes about his job, warning that Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Babylonian army, but to no avail. The people refuse to believe him and refuse to return to their loyalty to Yahweh, instead chasing after other gods.

The dragons that pursued Jeremiah were relentless - not just his own lamentations, but dragons in the form of kings and temple officials who persecuted him and sought to kill him.

If I say, 'I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name', then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering: 'Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!' All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. 'Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him.'

Pity poor Jeremiah, stuck in the middle, with all those dragons closing in from all sides.

Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
And I'm wondering what it is I should do,
It's so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I'm all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

Well you started out with nothing,
And you're proud that you're a self made man,
And your friends, they all come crawlin,
Slap you on the back and say,
Please.... Please.....

Jeremiah reminds me of Hiccup - the young aspiring dragon slayer in the movie How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup is a young Viking living on the island of Berk. Slaying dragons has been a specialty of his clan and his father, Stoick, is the leader of the Viking troops. As the movie opens, we see dragons terrorizing the village - stealing sheep and other livestock. The dragons are also emptying the sea of fish and other sea creatures - leaving the Vikings with the dim prospect that they may starve to death during the coming winter. The dragons must be stopped.

Hiccup dreams of being a dragon slayer - but everyone in the village knows that's just not going to happen. Hiccup is known as a klutz, a nuisance, and an all around screw up.

"If you ever want to get out there to fight dragons, you need to stop all... this," Hiccup's employer the blacksmith says to him.

"You just gestured to all of me," Hiccup complains.

"Yes! That's it! Stop being all of you!" the blacksmith replies.

What the village believed it needed was less of Hiccup as a whole - as in gone.

How many times have we felt the dragons of the world tell us that what the world really needs is less of us - because we're not good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people just don't like us?

In an effort to redeem himself, and show the others that he's one of them, he dreams of slaying the most elusive dragon of them all, the Night Fury. On one fateful night, as the dragons attacked the village, he rolls a catapult to a high ridge and spots the pitch black Night Fury in the sky and fires. His aim is true and he hits the dragon - injuring him. He crows about his accomplishment to the villagers, but they don't believe him. The last person to slay a dragon - least of all the mythical Night Fury - would be Hiccup. Just like Jeremiah, he is mocked and made a laughing stock.

To prove his heroics, he goes looking for the downed dragon and finds him in a low valley. The dragon is snared in ropes from the volley Hiccup fired at him and is unable to defend himself. Hiccup declares that he will finish the deed and finally slay his first dragon. He raises his knife and tries to plunge it into the dragon, but he finds that he can't. Instead, he uses his knife to cut the dragon free from his bonds. The dragon immediately pounces on him, snarling at him - but returns the favor and spare's Hiccup's life. This confuses Hiccup because he has been told by his father and the villagers that dragons will always go for the kill.

Hiccup soon realizes that his volley has ripped off one of the dragon's tail wings and so he could not fly high enough to escape the valley. The dragon was trapped. Hiccup took pity on him and began to bring him food and the two eventually begin to warm up to one another. Hiccup names the dragon Toothless, because at first sight he seems to have no teeth, but in reality, the teeth appear when he is angry or frightened.

Eventually, Hiccup rigs up a prosthetic wing for Toothless, along with a saddle and navigation controls so Hiccup can ride the dragon and help him fly. Toothless is unable to fly without Hiccup at the controls - so the two learn to work as a team.

Hiccup tries to tell the others in the village that they have dragons all wrong - that they are not the villains they have been portrayed as. Instead, they are terrorizing the village because they themselves are being terrorized, by a huge dragon that demands to be fed - or else he will feed on them.

The villagers have no interest in hearing about how good dragons are. They are determined to wipe them out, and Hiccup is scorned and mocked. He can't help himself though - he has to show his kinfolk that dragons - though they can be scary and deadly - can also be helpful, and friendly.

Poor Hiccup - stuck in the middle - denounced by those closest to him who won't listen when he tries to show them the truth.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
'Cause I don't think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

Well you started out with nothing,
And you're proud that you're a self made man,
And your friends, they all come crawlin,
Slap you on the back and say,
Please.... Please.....

At one point in the movie, one of Hiccup's friends asks him why he didn't kill Toothless when he had the chance.

"I wouldn't kill him," Hiccup answered, "because he looked as frightened as I was. I looked at him and I saw myself."

We are all hotly pursued by dragons, Jubilants - and history tells us that we must slay them or they will never go away. There's no negotiating with a dragon - that's what Hiccup was taught - they go for the kill every time. But, like Hiccup learned, we need to learn that our dragons are not all that different from us - in fact, they are us. If we look close enough at our own dragons - we will see ourselves.

Dragons come in many forms - anxiety, worry, depression, anger, fear, or avoidance. Those dragons may be easy to spot, but some of those dragons come to us in the forms that may initially feel good, or make us feel superior to others. Those are the dragons of ego, or judgment. All of these dragons prevent us from fully experiencing life's ecstasies - they keep us from going "Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home."

It can feel good to get our egos stroked - to be cheered by the crowd, or win the game, or make the most money. When the dragon of our ego is in control, it's all about us - and we forget about the "we-ness" of life. Ego is out for its own glory - its own pleasure. While that may feel good, this is not true ecstasy, writes Matthew Fox.

"True ecstasy is the very opposite of an ego trip - it is our forgetting ourselves, our losing something or at least risking the loss. True ecstasy urges us to stand outside of ourselves, to let the ego go."

This is how Jeremiah lived his life as a prophet - letting go of the ego, but still being deeply hurt by those who rejected him. Hiccup, too. He desperately wanted an ego - for it to be all about him, but in learning how to train his dragon - he learned the key to true ecstasy - truly losing oneself and risking it all to save everyone else.

Breathe deeply.

Well I don't know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain't right,
I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I'm wondering how I'll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you
, Here I am, Stuck in the middle with you.

Not all stories about dragons portray them as evil and in need of killing. In the East, dragons are revered for their spiritual power, wisdom and strength. They live in water and bring wealth and good luck and use their powers to help people in trouble. Most often, in both the East and the West, dragons are appointed to guard treasures.

Instead of seeing our personal dragons as fire-breathing enemies intent on killing us, how would it change the way you lived if you understood that your dragons come bringing gifts? How would it change the way you lived if you knew that behind every dragon was amazing treasure? How would it change the way you lived if you knew that the best weapon to slay that dragon is not a sword, but fearless love?

Breathe deeply.

Last year, singer Melissa Etheridge released her 10th album. It was called "Fearless Love," and our second song is the title track from that album.

When I woke up I was 17
You kissed my lips in a bad bad dream
Showed me things aren't what they appear to be
Called me angel and set me free
You gave me life in the cold, cold dark
But you ran away in the mornings spark
Made me think that reality Is not where I want to be
I am what I am and I am what I am afraid of
Oh what am I afraid of

CHORUS: I need a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
If you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love
I won't settle for anything less

In our Jesus story, we find our guy faced with a dragon - in the form of one of his own disciples. Jesus is trying to prepare his followers for what is to come. He knows his fate is the one of all who come prophesying about peace, love, and unity. Like Jeremiah, like Hiccup, they are not lauded for their words, for their bravery, or for their actions. Instead, they are vilified, called crazy, shunned, surrounded by clowns to the left of them, jokers to the right. Some are even killed for their trouble.

Peter believed this kind of fate could not fall on Jesus, because Peter was expecting the Messiah - the great warrior that would lead them out of bondage, the great leader that would overthrow their oppressors - by force, if necessary - and return Israel to its greatness. Here is Jesus, telling them he would be persecuted and killed by the powers he was supposed to come here and do away with. It's too much for Peter. He tries to pump up Jesus' ego just a few verses earlier - declaring boldly that Jesus was the Messiah. Now, he's getting a dressing down from Jesus, who calls him Satan.

Now, that seems really harsh for Jesus to call Peter, the guy he later assigns to be the rock on which the church will be built, Satan. But, Jesus isn't really calling his friend evil here. The original Hebrew meaning of "Satan" isn't some personification of evil with horns and a tail. Instead, Jesus is simply calling Peter out for being an obstacle in his path. Perhaps it would be better, for our purposes, if Jesus had said, "Get behind me, dragon." Because, Jesus knows a dragon - an obstacle in his path - when he sees one - even if that dragon appears in the form of a close friend. Those friends who try to pump us up - who try - perhaps unconsciously - to make us into the person they want us to be, the person they expect us to be - instead of accepting us for who we are, flaws and all.

Jesus rebukes this dragon and encourages us to do the same. Instead of giving in to that ego trip, Jesus says we must deny ourselves - which means to tame that overwhelming ego - and take up our daily tasks. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?"

The dragons tell us the only thing worth pursuing is the world - but Jesus knows the real treasure is the one being guarded by the dragon - that treasure of life. Only fearless love can train that dragon to serve us and share that treasure of life - that treasure that makes us say "Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home!"

It is only when we can fearlessly love ourselves - flaws and all - that we come into the true ecstasy of life. When we feel the dragon of anxiety, or worry, or restlessness approach, instead of taking up our sword, we can call on that fearless love to transform the dragon into a helpful friend. All of those emotions, instead of overcoming us, can serve as a warning sign that we are being drawn away from the true path to life's ecstasy. Instead of surrounding us as a threat - our dragons really surround us to keep us safe - to keep us in the middle of the path of life. Our dragons aren't out to kill us - they're out to save us from ourselves - from thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that separate us from God, that separate us from ourselves, and separate us from others.

Our dragons teach us how to be fearless - how to step out on faith in this big scary world and trust that the Holy will guide us, if only we'll train our dragons and use them wisely.

In the end, Hiccup and Toothless save the day and dragons and humans learn how to work together. Hiccup's father, who had earlier disowned him, comes around and tells him how proud he is of him. "We could use more of 'that,'" he says.

"You just gestured to all of me," Hiccup replies.

That's exactly what this world needs, Jubilants, more of all of you. Are you ready to saddle up your dragons and become all that the Holy has called you to be? Are you ready to see your dragons as friends who bring you treasures that enrich not only you, but everyone around you? Are you ready to face this world - dragons and all - with fearless love? Are you ready to enjoy the true ecstasy of life and go, "Whee! We! Wee! All the Way Home?"

Because, we really could use more of "that."

I've walked my path had worlds collide
I lost my way and I fooled my pride,
This lover's ache wouldn't feel so strange
If I could only change
But I am what I am and I am what I am afraid of
So what am I afraid of?

CHORUS: I need a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
If you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love
I won't settle for anything less

Now I'm not here to lay the blame
I understand when you hold a flame
Heads will shake heads will turn
And sometimes you just get burned
Ohhhhh

I want a fearless love ohh
I need a fearless love
I want a fearless love
Don't need to fear the end
Ohh if you can't hold me now
You will never hold me again
I want to live my life
Pursuing all my happiness
I want a fearless love I won't settle for anything, anything less
oh I need a fearless love I won't settle for anything less
ohh I want a fearless love
I won't settle for anything less

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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