A Clash of Crows and Dragons

A Clash of Crows and Dragons
Rev. Douglas Taylor
October 2, 2016

Imagine. John Lennon asks us to imagine a world of peace. This song along with its message has woven its way into our culture over the years. Imagine what it would look like to live in a world of peace. He offers a few steps into that vision asking us to consider a world without the usual causes or focal points leading us to conflict: no religion, hunger, national borders, or possessions. Do you remember some of the lyrics?

Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too

He puts some details into the dream. Most people are ready to nod and agree that a world of peace is a good thing and they are all for it. I nod and agree to the general sentiment. But when we start considering some of the possible details, some of us begin to have reservations. I, at least, begin to have some reservations. I like religion, for example. I would rather transform religion to include a vision of peace without divisiveness than to eliminate it all together. Visions are easier to agree with. It is in the details we come to disagreement and conflict.

But may I suggest that disagreement and conflict are not intrinsically negative. They are a natural aspect of being in community. If peace were our only goal and value, then it would be much simpler to find agreements in the details. But we also value freedom and personal integrity, justice and joyfulness. There is disagreement and conflict when we allow all our values and goals for life to be seen in the details of our living.

My Colleague Margaret Keip has said it well.

We are always dancing, often delicately and with difficulty, on the twin horns of dilemma. In most instances of human conflict, both horns are in some way true. It is their truth that creates the dance, and it is in this very dance that we are free. Whenever an idea reigns unchallenged by another point of view, there is no freedom because there is no choice.

Thus, conflict is the cost of freedom. If we treasure choice we may also learn to honor conflict and discover it may grant us peace and strength and stature. In devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.
Rev. Margaret Keip

“Conflict is the cost of freedom” she writes. This shows up in the development of communal goals such as the world at peace Lennon dreamed of, as well as individual goals such as personal financial security or training to compete in a race. When my personal dream of running a marathon shifts into the details of training each week, I begin to have conflicts about doing one thing with my time rather than another. I am free only because I have a choice.

This becomes more dramatic when we’re talking about communal goals. The previous two weeks I preached about our choices and our conflicts as they relate to the coming election and the issue of gun control. This week I am focusing on how we create the congregation we need to become – how we live into the Long Range Plan we voted into existence a few years back. We are at the point with those dreams when some of the details have presented the opportunity for disagreement and conflict. Which is good because conflict, as Margaret Keip reminds us, is the cost of freedom and “in devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.”

Before I get into the actual details, let me fill you in on the Crows and the Dragons. It begins with a prominent Wiccan writer and activist named Starhawk. I’ve drawn some lessons about leadership, decision making, and group dynamics from her 1987 book entitled Truth or Dare. I used one leadership exercise in particular with our Board of Trustees last month for our annual retreat. This is where the reference to Dragons and Crows comes from. Interestingly, I find the exercise illuminating not only for leadership but also for navigating conflict.

At essence, the exercise is about group dynamics and leadership roles in non-hierarchical structures. “In every group,” Starhawk says, “certain tasks need to be done and roles need to be filled if the group is to function.” (p 276) So think about the various groups you are in. For the Board of Trustees, we were obviously thinking about our roles on the Board but we also noticed at our retreat how we function differently and fill different roles in family circles, work teams, Small Group Ministry, or in a circle of friends.

Starhawk listed five key roles. The Crow and the Dragon are two of those roles. She also has Spiders, Graces, and Snakes, and I can give you the full exercise if you want it, talk to me later. For now, I want to focus on how we can be Crows and Dragons together.

The Crow style of leadership is most synonymous with what people think of as leadership: visionary leadership. Visionary leaders “take the long view, see the long-term vision, keep in focus the group’s goals. They suggest new direction, make plans and develop strategies, and look ahead to anticipate problems and needs.” (p 278). Starhawk calls this the Crow form.

Crow is a mythic character, particularly from American Indian tradition. Crow flies high and sees far, but more than that, Crow is intelligent. Crows are ranked among the smartest animals. Orangutans, Dolphins, Octopi, Elephants, and Crows are all regular features on the various lists from biologists, cognitive researchers, and neuroscientists. Crows are crafty. You can be the Crow.

All of us have all the various roles within us, we have one or two as particular strengths but that doesn’t mean that’s all we have. We each have the capacity to be the Crow in a group. It is a matter of what questions we pay attention to.

Crows are the symbol of visionary leadership in Starhawk’s exercise. Spiders work from connections, Snakes pay attention to the emotional level of group dynamic, and Graces attend to the energy of the group and of the work. Each brings another nuance to the group, each lifts up another layer of leadership. Each has a role to play.

But Dragons are the ones most likely to clash with the Crows. Crows cast the vision of where our purpose calls us to be. Dragons are the guardians of the resources and ask, “Is this sustainable?” Our Long Range Plan was the work of the Crow, living into it is the work of the Dragon. The Dragons are in the details!

Dragons are the mythical creature usually cast as the adversary. But Starhawk is instead tugging on older mythos for the image. The Dragon is still the guardian of the treasure. This leadership role is the one of grounded leadership. Grounded leaders stay “in touch with the practical, the realistic.” Starhawk says “The Dragon in the group guards its resources and its boundaries and articulates its limitations.” (p 281)

When the Long Range Plan says we are going to put money aside each year in a capital fund for repairing the sanctuary roof – that is the Crow among us. When our budget comes to us as a deficit, it is reality the Dragon needs us to acknowledge. Money is one way there is a conflict between the Crow and the Dragon in our lives, between Visionary Leadership and Grounded Leadership. Consider your own situation as well as that of our congregation. But there are ways other than money that the conflict can play out.

Let me tell you a little of what I see happening and why it matters.

There are three major areas in the life of our congregation that are currently unsettled and open for change. These three areas are at different stages between the visionary-dreaming stage and the detail-decision making stage. But in some way all three are stuck and in need of attention by our whole community to move forward. We are like the horse from our story (“The Horse” by Carolyn Petry), we see the new forest still a little way off but we can’t seem to move forward or cross this very round log. Or I could say we have done our good work as Crows and now we must wrestle with the Dragon. What are these three key areas? They are our physical building, our Social Justice work, and our Sunday morning Children and Youth programs. Each is stalled and in need of attention.

First: Our building. Back in June we took a straw pool of the congregation and heard a significant desire to stay and renovate our current space rather than move to another location or build anew. Not much has happened over the summer with that. Later this month we will take a formal vote on that, which will actually end the work of the ‘Space Task Force’ and begin the work of the new ‘Renovation Committee.’ Then, over the course of the fall, the Renovation Committee will develop the ideas and dreams into plans for the congregation – we’ll finally begin to get into the details. We are on target with this. This one is not really stuck so much as waiting.

Second: The Long Range Plan which set in motion the conversation about moving or renovating our space also had a call to change how we do Social Justice as a congregation. The key element in that 2014 plan involved a shift in which

… the Social Justice Committee become(s) the planners [and] coordinators … for justice and service programs, so that the members of UUCB and of the community become the primary “doers” rather than members of the SJC doing it all.

In short, we are transforming the work of the committee so that we can change how we do Social Justice as a congregation.

Last year the Social Justice Council hosted a survey of what the congregation wanted to do, which justice issues and types direct service we wanted to do. The next step, for this fall, is to engage the congregation again with a little more detail about developing a plan. We need a cottage meeting to get people talking together about this. Again, we are at the stage of shifting dreams into details and again it means the congregation as a whole needs to take part in naming the details. The problem is, the Social Justice Council disbanded recently – mostly due to low participation in the committee and no chair. Rather than scrambling to find a new chair and more people for the committee, the recommendation is to move forward with the next step of re-imagining our Social Justice work and let a new committee arise from the new model.

Third: The Long Range Plan remains mostly silent on the topic of Lifespan Faith Development beyond an acknowledgement that things are going great in that aspect of our congregation. At least they were or seemed to be back in the spring of 2014. Over the last few years, however, some of the demographic and generational changes in society have caught up to us. The current Sunday School model we have relies on significant volunteer commitment and consistent attendance from participants for cumulative learning – and the reality of how people and families are engaging has made that increasingly untenable to maintain. So we are considering a major responsive shift, but a shift to what?

The Children and Youth Programs committee is sifting through the possibilities and will be ready to suggest a few new models this fall for experimentation in the spring. They will be able to do the Crow work this fall and be ready to drop down into the detail work when the Dragon leadership will be needed.

Here is the trick. We can’t simply let each of these three conversations happen independently. They feed back into each other. We have heard from families a desire to have justice-making opportunities woven into the programs for the kids. And if we shift away from the classroom model of Sunday School, there will be implications for how we are using the space which we might need to know as we renovate. And the conversations around Social Justice may lead us to see a new possibility for opening our building or using our space in a particular way.

There is work each aspect needs to do independently, but there needs to be a coordination and shared conversation as well. I’m working with the board and others on how to manage that. But a key piece is that I need all of you to show up as Dragons for this.

We are creating the congregation we need to become. We are living into the Long Range Plan we voted into existence a few years back. Without losing sight as Crows we must now dig in as Dragons. And the Dragon is in the details. It is the opportunity for disagreement and conflict. Which is good because conflict, as Margaret Keip reminds us, is the cost of freedom and “in devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.”

Listen for the conversations. Think about your visions and your sense of our congregational resources. Or take the message more personally for navigating your own conflicts. Be the Crow and the Dragon – welcome the clash for that is exactly how we will find our way forward.

In a world without end
May it be so.