Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Leaders as Dragon-Slayers

Written by: on March 9, 2021

There is a cave on a farm in the hills just outside of Bethlehem that is among the most transformational locations for me in the world. It’s a cave that has been hand dug by a family of Palestinian Christians because they were denied permission and permits by the Israeli government to build structures on their land. The cave is illuminated by lights that are connected to a solar system that was necessary because the family was disallowed to pull from the energy sources that light up the surrounding Israeli settlements. The cave, a space of hospitality, always features freshwater drawn from cisterns because water tanks above ground were banned for this family by the Israeli government.[1]

Whenever I’m inside that cave, I meet with a mentor whose name is Daoud. After we catch up on one another’s lives, he tells me the stories of what has occurred on his land since we met last. He shares of the olive trees that were pulled up by their roots and burnt by neighbors. He tells of the military vehicles that plowed through his fences and threatened his family. He speaks of the new boulders that have been placed on the road in front of his farm, making it impossible to drive to his home.

But he doesn’t dwell there. Before I know it, he’s pointing to the settlement across the valley and is speaking of a burgeoning friendship with an Israeli settler. Soon, he hopes to host his neighbor in this very cave for tea. Then he points at the newly planted olive grove that will take years to become fruitful and celebrates the community from Sweden who purchased and planted the trees to replace those that were destroyed. Following the valley, he points to the Palestinian village and speaks of the mentoring project his wife is working on that is focused on job creation and economic development. He then shares of the many children from that same village who were just up at the farm for a five-day day camp that focused on creative non-violence.

I marvel at the ability of this man to practice his faith so courageously and to lead so humbly. Coming from the place of privilege that I do, I could not imagine responding to the violence and injustice that he faces on a daily basis with such generosity and deep commitment to practice non-violence. This man, this leader, this peacemaker is made of a different substance.

The first time I asked him to reflect on his approach to leadership, he put his hand on his heart and responded: “If I have no peace here, I have no peace to give.”

In The Undefended Leader, Simon Walker reflects on how true leaders are formed rather than appointed. He speaks of the environments that are created that test our character and invite us to wrestle with our inner selves. He points to the circumstances that are beyond our control that cause our inner demons of power and control to the surface and identifies those moments as the most formational for leaders.[2]

My friend Daoud is a dragon-slayer. He has fought his inner demons. As a result, while he is physically occupied and oppressed, he lives as one who is free. He is free from the need to conquer, dominate, and acquire. He is liberated to farm his land, fight injustice, and love his Israeli and Palestinian neighbors.


[1] Learn more about The Tent of Nations at http://www.tentofnations.org/about/about-us/

[2] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 13.

About the Author

Jer Swigart

16 responses to “Leaders as Dragon-Slayers”

  1. Darcy Hansen says:

    I think you have shared about Daoud before? Your admiration and love for this dear man is evident. What a gift to have Daoud in your life. As people who live in the “land of the free,” we have a tendency to think we are free, when in fact we all have our demons to battle. How has his example encouraged you to battle your inner demons? Is there a particular circumstance that stands out where such a battle occurred? How has increased freedom manifested in your life?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Daoud has taught me much about the gift of circumstances where the inner demons surface. He has been a source of encouragement to me as I choose to slay the dragons rather than fight those who trigger, oppose, and/or seek to do damage to me, my reputation, and my work.

      One very specific invitation that Daoud has offered me is to notice and give consideration to the accelerating interior pace when triggered or attacked. He’s helped me understand my habits of leveraging the revved RPM’s in order to dominate the person who triggered or attacked me. In contrast, he invites me into the centering practices that allow me to maintain a glimpse of the divine in my other, encourage me to search for the gift that’s being offered, and respond in a way that reminds both me and my other of our own humanity.

  2. Dylan Branson says:

    In my small group, we’ve been going through Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Last night we were talking about “the Wall” – those moments when you have your crisis of faith / have to come to grips with your demons before embarking on the journey (Campbell would call this the “belly of the whale”). Like you were commenting on throughout your post, before we can continue our pilgrimage we have to come to terms with the demons as they rear their heads.

    What are some of the demons and dragons you’ve had to slay on your journey?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      You mention the need to slay the dragons before the pilgrimage continues. In many ways I agree. Yet I’m also wondering if the slaying of the dragons doesn’t occur throughout the pilgrimage. It’s been my experience that the deeper I go into the pilgrimage, the more core (& likely the more strong) the inner demons are. Thus, pausing to do some dragon slaying along the way has been essential.

      With regard to my inner demons, I would echo what Walker identifies as power, control, and domination. I would add the nuances of image management and the pursuit of influence/platform as well.

  3. Shawn Cramer says:

    What a great story and another facet of the peacemaking ministry that continues to form you and transform others.

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Great story! I wonder if your friend would have been able to truly slay his dragons without his cave experience? I only wonder because our dragons don’t often rear their ugly heads until circumstances come that bring them to the service. For me it has been a slow process. Once I think I have slain the dragons I am reminded through the next trial that they are not as dead as I once thought. For me there is a great need for constant vigilance. For me death to self is an on going internal struggle. How has the process been for you?

    • Jer Swigart says:

      I really appreciate that Greg. I, too, wonder if the dragons ever fully die or if they simply lose their power. As I reflect on my original post and the interactions with our colleagues in this thread, I am humbled by the notion of dragons & demons and am reminded that powers and principalities do exist and that their purpose is to deceive, divide, and destroy. Thus, the dragon-slaying is deeply spiritual.

      • Darcy Hansen says:

        And it would seem in some ways, life long. I was reading in The Solace of Fierce Landscapes about the imagery of dragons as related to death. In Western culture, we see those dragons as dangerous, something to be vanquished. In Eastern cultures, dragons are seen as “beautiful, gentle, and friendly. They bring change and even death, but they do so as promise instead of threat. They symbolize ancient wisdom, the quiet rhythms of nature as opposed to the savagery of disorder” (Lane, 96). A shift in perspective may help us embrace the inner dragons, not as something to be vanquished, but as something to be embraced, even befriended. This echoes much of what I have recently read about ego and transformation. It also seems like what underlies your friend’s ability to love others in beautiful ways despite circumstances. Its that inner peace he speaks of.

        • Jer Swigart says:

          Oh my goodness. That’s profound. Gonna need to metabolize that a bit. Would you be willing to play with it a bit, Darcy? Help me understand the befriending of the “dragon” of power.

          • Darcy Hansen says:

            I wonder if you don’t already do that in many ways? I think of Ben Sand and how he uses his position and power to get closer to power to bring about holistic change in oppressive systems. I think it looks like continuously asking am I seeking power just to be powerful, or am I using the power I have to be loving and effective in the work I’m called to do. I see you doing that in many ways. Yes, there is still shadows within, but as you continue to bring them into the light, they lose the power to control you. The dragon of power is needed, is necessary in many ways, but not in the way it once was. Rather than a force of destruction, how can it be a force for good and life? It moves from something that is self-serving, to that which serves others.

            I’m working on this with my inner-critic, who I have named Olga. She has served me well over the years as a voice of discernment. But when she begins wielding her gavel of judgment against me, she is no longer helpful. As I bring her into the Light, and ask her to lay down the gavels, she complies. She isn’t someone or something to be vanquished, but is an inherent part of me that won’t simply go away, and thus can be befriended rather than battled. Thoughts?

      • Greg Reich says:

        I agree Dragon slaying is vital deep spiritual work. It is a work that seems to have fallen to the way side and isn’t a popular sermon topic.

  5. John McLarty says:

    Your post called to mind the leadership challenge we often face where the energy we need to fight the dragons is consumed by constantly swatting at the mosquitos buzzing around us. It’s not easy to set aside the annoying distractions or to intentionally ignore the petty inconveniences. But if we are disciplined enough not to get sucked in to every fight or react to every provocation, we find ourselves more able to take on the battles that matter. Your friend sounds like someone who has learned to do this. Our world needs more people like him.

    • Jer Swigart says:

      Oooh. The mosquito metaphor is really helpful. Short of an excellent Executive Assistant, is there a particular practice that you’ve found to be a helpful bug-zapper?

      • John McLarty says:

        Citronella candles? I don’t know how it was for you in local church ministry, but some days were better than others. There were times when the mosquitos were all-consuming and exhausting no matter what I tried. Others when I was able to ignore them or deal with a bite or two. Still others when I felt I had some really effective insect repellant. You can’t stop them, but I do think with discipline and focus it’s possible to co-exist with them. The peace your friend demonstrates is a great example. It doesn’t eliminate the negative or the distractions, but it does offer strength and perspective.

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