It’s fair to say that I’m fairly ambivalent about St. George’s Day. “Englishness” is a slippery concept at the best of times, and St. George has, over the years, been co-opted as a symbol of nationalism and civic ritual, and that makes me twitchy. Too many bad things end up getting wrapped in a flag.
But maybe St. George works as an icon for modern Britain. After all, once you scratch away the myths, he’s a multicultural figure – born in Turkey to Greek parents, with most of his life lived in Palestine. And then there’s his death, martyred by the Emperor Diocletian for his beliefs.
So I’m okay with St. George’s Day as long as we remember that our national saint was a Near Eastern victim of religious oppression. That’s the sort of context that has the potential to rewrite the narratives wired into our flags.
But then it’s also worth remembering that St. George doesn’t belong to England; we share him with Georgia and Ethiopia, soldiers and farmers, sufferers of skin diseases and syphilis. The Church transcends borders – connecting a white blogger in Derby with a Turkish soldier from 1,700 years ago. That has the potential to break down some of the barriers we’re so keen to put up. We are all siblings of Christ, regardless of background or race or the flag we live under.
So if we’re the product of the stories we tell, let’s tell good ones; there are many dragons still to be slain, some of our own making, and so may we overcome the dragons that divide us; may we find room for all people in our stories and our churches.