Community, Power & Peace
in the Tiger’s Mouth
PDF of the Published Paper now available - click here
This paper is based on a presentation at the Historic Peace Churches’ Consultation of Mennonites, Church of the Brethren and Quakers with the World Council of Churches held at Bienenberg Seminary, Switzerland, in June 2001 as part of the WCC’s decade to overcome violence. The original conference papers are all accessible at www.peacetheology.org . The version given below is considerably revised, and is published as the concluding chapter of the conference proceedings, "Seeking Cultures of Peace: a Peace Church Conversation", ed. Fernando Enns, Scott Holland & Ann K Riggs, Cascadia Publishing House (Telford, Pennsylvania), Herald Press & World Council of Churches, 2004, pp. 215 - 226.
this paper I want to suggest that community is the soil in which peace unfolds.
The purpose of peace is to build community in tripartite relationship with one
another, with the Creation, and with God. This is achieved not by denying power,
or necessarily by renouncing it, but often by engaging with it in the midst of
conflict - in the “tiger’s mouth”. The calling to engage, however, must
not be of this world. It must be moved by the grace of God, the preferential
concern of which is for the poor of the Earth and the broken in nature.
Community is a condition of belonging that results from living in growing
consciousness of interconnection. It is, as Paul put it, the “church”
as “membership one of another” (Romans 12:5). Christ said that we are
all branches of one vine. If we cut ourselves off we will, as sure as a
branch dies without water, wither and be good only for the metaphorical fire
(John 15). Similar principles of interconnection are found in all mystical
religions. “Consider my sacred mystery. I am the source of all
beings, I support them all, but I rest not in them” says Krishna in the Bhagavad
Gita. “Thirty spokes share one hub,” is how the Tao te Ching
puts it. “All Muslims are as one person”, says the Hadith –
the oral tradition of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
Christian tradition “sin” can be defined as the breaking of God’s
community. We might see the three temptations of Jesus on the mountain as
representing pressure to break community in each of its primary fields of
expression (Luke 4, etc.). Had Christ used his power to change stones into
bread he would have violated, and so misused, the laws of nature. For him
to have assumed landed power by acquiring kingdoms would have wronged human
social structures. And for him to have put God to the test by leaping from
the pinnacle would have been an abuse of spiritual power.
deep understanding of community integrates both the social and natural
environments that comprise “human ecology” into an all-embracing spiritual
Simultaneously immanent and transcendent, such a human ecology
constitutes the totality of reality.
It gives humankind an integral role in a universe bound together by love.
Love articulated out into the universe, made incarnate, is justice.
But for this to “run down as waters” (Amos 5:24), spiritual justice
must underlie social and ecological justice.
justice may be understood as the avoidance of spiritual delusion.
If social justice concerns our affairs with one another, and ecological
justice our relationship with the rest of the Creation, spiritual justice
concerns right relationship in worship. Worship,
in the broadest and deepest understanding of the concept, is about how we
fundamentally orientate our lives. It
is a perceptual matter, being concerned with how we see reality, with
what happens when the scales fall from our eyes.
In living life worshipfully we lift our eyes to God.
We make God the measure by which all else is judged.
Spiritual justice means seeing life reverentially, seeing with eyes that
accord with God’s love, and not with eyes set upon some lesser “god” such
as money, status, or a human leader. As
social and ecological justice follows on from spiritual justice, and as
community and therefore peace arise at the confluence of all three faces of
justice, it follows, as the prophets repeatedly saw, that the most fundamental
barrier to creating a peaceful world is idolatry.
In this sense the seemingly glib assertion that “all wars have religion
at their heart” is deeply true. All
wars idolize violence.
being community and so becoming the church, we have to make choices of whether
to become more dead or alive. If
need be, we must leave the dead (note, the dead, not the living) to bury
their own dead, shake the dust from our feet, and walk on through desert until
we come to where community is alive (Deuteronomy 30:19; Luke 9:60; Mark 6:11).
This refusal to collude with the deadness of everyday life, the
“banality of evil”, the idolatry of necrophilia, implies a continuous
commitment to “turn back the streams of war”
as peace workers.
the antithesis and negation of community, comes about when understanding of the
interconnection of all life has either never been developed in the first place,
is inadequately developed, or has broken down. As such, war derives from a
perceptual failing, from a deficit of conscious awareness about reality.
War reflects a fragmented worldview, one that considers “collateral damage”
to be an acceptable possibility, rather than seeing it as an oxymoron in what is
“One World” that can have no externalities to the economic or military
equation. If we could but see and experience our membership, one of
another, as one body, we would no more harm that which surrounds us than we
would willingly cause harm to our own corporeal body. Yes, it is true that
self-harm is a common psychopathology. But it is precisely that – a
psychopathology. Except in specific testimonies of witness as sometimes
expressed in making certain types of protest or in shows of mourning, self-harm
is invariably connected to a loss of self-worth. As such, the resolution
of war connects with the wider work of salvation that seeks to “salve” our
sense of who we are.
The ability to experience interconnection with the other derives from empathy.
Empathy is the fruit of spiritual presence.
War can only be sustained in an absence of empathy.
It results from a deficit of presence, which is to say, from connection
with wider and deeper reality in consciousness.
Empathy is the capacity to feel for and with the other.
It is a gift of grace. It is
revealed and not something that can be forced.
It can only be opened out to, asked and waited for by becoming
confessionally more present to our lack of presence with the other.
Peace is therefore built from the recognition that war has a socially
emergent property. It derives from lack of mutual presence in a society’s
members. Its presenting symptoms
may be geopolitical, but its roots are psychospiritual.
“Do you know where wars come from?” asks the Indian Jesuit, Anthony
de Mello. “They come from
projecting outside of us the conflict that is inside.
Show me an individual in whom there is no inner self-conflict and I’ll
show you an individual in whom there is no violence.”
This is what makes deep peace work spiritual work.
We should not despair at having to undertake peace work, or at the
hugeness of the task. We should not
fear when we find ourselves in the mouth of the tiger, because that is where God
most needs us to be. That is where
presence will be sharpest. That is
why conflict, spiritually understood, can be so good for meditation.
It challenges us to seek the strength that can bring us spiritually alive
through unthinkable situations. It
challenges us to work out our own salvation in the context of the troubled
social and natural environments in which we find ourselves living.
It brings liberation.
Gustavo Gutiérrez saw liberation as a three-fold process. First, he says, there is “liberation from social situations
of oppression and marginalization.” That is to say, liberation at levels that
affect family, community, and political and economic institutions.
Next there is the need for “personal transformation by which we live
with profound inner freedom in the face of every kind of servitude.” This is
psychological and spiritual development - liberation from our internal
blockages, hangups, and various uptightnesses.
And thirdly, there is what he calls liberation from “sin”.
Gutiérrez describes this level of liberation as that, “which attacks
the deepest root of all servitude; for sin is the breaking of friendship with
God and with other human beings.” Liberation, he concludes, “gets to the
very source of social injustice and other forms of human oppression and
reconciles us with God and our fellow human beings.” It sets us free at
social, psychological and spiritual levels of experience. “Free for what?” Gutiérrez asks.
“Free to love,” he concludes, adding that “to liberate” means “to
Power is germane to conflict, therefore the dynamics of power must be
faced by peace workers. Too often
in justice and peace movements, power is denied, forgetting that power denied is
power abused. This is the cause of
much strife within our movements.
Power is the capacity to bring about change in the structure of reality.
As such, power and the making of community cannot be separated.
Power, including our personal power must, therefore, be confessed: we
must live in conscious acknowledgment of it so that we are fully accountable to
one another and can yield power when that is appropriate.
Our communities must be confessional communities, predicated on
mutual psychological honesty. In
his trilogy, Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the
the American theologian, Walter Wink, explores the principle that power is
central to the spiritual expression of life.
Power constellates or crystallizes reality. It might be seen as the will to be.
We are familiar with power’s exterior expressions in people,
institutions, buildings, nations, and natural processes such as the growth of a
tree. But it has also, according to
Wink, an interior dynamic.
This interiority is, Wink suggests, “spirituality”.
Such spirituality underlies the outward manifestation of things.
Outward forms of reality are shaped by their inner spirituality.
This is certainly not to deny the importance of molecular structures,
genetic sequences, and the laws of physics.
It is simply to say that spirituality is at their root.
Spirituality accounts for their emergent properties – features that
arise from systems that would not have been predictable from only the sum of
their component parts. Consider,
for example, the Periodic Table of the Elements as a template for the material
world. Spirituality can be seen as the difference between an
aggregation of carbon, water, and a few other compounds, and what constitutes a
human being. It is the difference
between C2H5OH, the chemical formula for alcohol, and a
cup of wine sacramentally representing the spirit of life.
The implications of understanding the interiority and exteriority of
power are profound for the peace activist.
The following matrix illustrates this.
It was developed for a lecture that I give annually at the Joint Services
Command and Staff College, Britain’s foremost school of war,
It suggests a spectral relationship between conventional applications of
military force and the Gandhian “truth force” that spiritual activism
employs. It acknowledges that both
the peace activist and the serving soldier may be participants in a connected
process. As a generalisation, and
one that is not always valid, both the soldier and the peace activist think of
themselves as working for peace, and each knows that this involves engaging with
power. The difference between us,
and it can be a decisive life-or-death difference, lies in how we go about it.
At the end of the day, we might remember, God told David he could not
build the temple because “you have shed so much blood in my sight on the
on Wink’s theology, the matrix below represents power as having both an
interior, spiritual or intrinsic face and an exterior, physical or incarnate
face. This interior/exterior
“dynamic”, as I have called it, is shown on the downwards y axis.
these dynamics power can then be expressed at levels of being that can be
physical, psychological (of which I distinguish two types), and “spiritual”.
This is shown moving right along the x axis.
Peace, I suggest, is a process by which the expression of power in the
human world shifts from left to right along this spectrum.
Spectrum of Socially Expressed Power
as persons are, in terms of Christian theology, “fallen”, in the sense that
they fall short of their God-given potential, so too the “Powers that Be”
(Romans 13:1, KJV) governing the inner spirituality of institutions and nations
are “fallen”. They therefore
necessitate constant calling back to their God-given potential.
At the level of nationhood, Walter Wink consequently distinguishes
between the fallen personality of a nation and the higher vocation
or “calling” of nationhood – a nation representing a community of people
at the macro level. Wink says:
a little-known essay of 1941, [Martin] Buber acknowledges that every nation has
a guiding spiritual characteristic, its genius, which it acknowledges as its
“prince” or its “god”. The
national spirit unfolds, matures, and withers.
There is a life cycle for every nation.
Every nation makes an idol of its supreme faculties, elevating its own
self as absolute, and worshipping its own inner essence or spirit as a god.
But to be limited to oneself is to be condemned to die.
When the national spirit decays and disintegrates, and the nation turns
its face to nothingness instead of participating in the whole, it is on the
verge of death... Whenever the
state makes itself the highest value, then it is in an objective state of
blasphemy. This is the situation of the majority of the nations in the
world today, our own included.
The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung, saw that the ideologies and symbols of nationhood are important because they mediate power from the collective unconscious of a people into political action. In one of his last essays, The Undiscovered Self, he wrote of the danger that, “Where love stops, power begins, and violence, and terror.” “The individual who is not anchored in God,” he said, “can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world”:
are living in what the Greeks called Kairos - the right moment - for a
“metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols.
This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious
choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing.
Coming generations will have to take account of this momentous
transformation if humanity is not to destroy itself through the might of its own
technology and science. . . . So much is at stake and so much depends on the
psychological constitution of modern man. Is
he capable of resisting the temptation to use his power for the purpose of
staging a world conflagration? Is he conscious of the path he is treading, and
what the conclusions are that must be drawn from the present world situation and
his own psychic situation? Does he know that he is on the point of losing the
life-preserving myth of the inner man which Christianity has treasured up for
him? Does he realise what lies in store should this catastrophe ever befall him?
Is he even capable of realising that this would in fact be a catastrophe? And
finally, does the individual know that he is the makeweight that tips the
are the implications of this for we who work in a “fallen” world? Based upon
a Biblical exegesis of the “Principalities and Powers”, Wink derives the
The Powers are good.
Powers are fallen.
Powers must be redeemed.
can illuminate the challenge of this if, as Wink intends, we substitute for,
“The Powers are” etc., the name of a person, institution, or nation that we
know. Conflict between others and
ourselves can then be seen in a framework that understands strife as both
inevitable but also, potentially, mutually redemptory.
It can help us to face our enemies without hatred, with love; to search
for ways to free their higher God-given vocation while, at the same time,
allowing them to challenge ours. After
all, Jesus never said not to have enemies.
He had plenty himself. He
only recommended trying to love them.
Wink’s schema of naming, unmasking, and engaging the Powers the first stage -
naming – aims to place handles upon psychospiritual processes that are
otherwise difficult to see. In the
Bible, these processes had names like “Moloch,” “Mammon,” and the
“Golden Calf”. Wink suggests
that such principalities, “angels,” or “gods” remain present in the
idolatry of modern life. We do not
notice them because we have been persuaded to think that they belong to a bygone
age, yet they dominate many of the structures of our lives.
We see them in the worship of such obsessions as war, money, power,
drugs, corporations, and sex.
the Powers” entails recognition and therefore the restoration of a visible
power dynamic. This is because
naming calls into presence - it makes features of reality manifest in
consciousness. Once that is
established, once we are more spiritually awake to that which is, we can proceed
with “unmasking the Powers” - that is to say, stripping off the disguises
and camouflage to expose the means by which the psychodynamic principles in
question cause degradation and corruption.
For example, nuclear weapons and their massive cost can be seen as being
psychologically similar to the worship of Moloch - that Old Testament
fire-filled stone god, into whose arms the children were sacrificed to purchase
prosperity. Or to take another
example, it can sometimes be useful to personify the spirit of a
greed-led economy by using Jesus’ Aramaic term, Mammon - the worship of which,
he said, was incompatible with loving God.
after naming and unmasking can we attempt “engaging the Powers”.
This aims not to destroy power, which was originally a God-given
organizing force, but to redeem it from a “fallen” or degraded state.
Wink sees nonviolence as central to this task.
If violence is used to combat what he calls the “domination system”
of oppression it will ultimately fail, because the domination system actually
feeds on violence. More violence is
how violence clones itself. Wink
therefore refers to the theory that violence can be redemptive as “the Myth of
Redemptive Violence”. If social
transformation is to be effective, he says, it has to avoid being sucked back
into the cycle of violence.
these reasons if peace is to become a long-term condition of society and not
merely the temporary absence of war, it is imperative to shift along what I
called, above, the “spectrum of socially expressed power”.
It is necessary for nations to learn how to evolve from coercive forms of
governance that express “power over” others, through persuasive techniques
that express “power with” them, and on into the autopoetic transformative
mode of “empowerment within”. This
spectral shift is required to achieve effective consensual governance.
As it raises the application of power from a physical level of being,
through psychological ones, to the spiritual, it moves towards progressively
greater degrees of recalling the world to a higher vocation.
This is the practical work of redemption. The former US president, Jimmy Carter, understood this very
clearly. He writes:
and currently, we all realise that religious differences have often been a cause
or a pretext for war. Less well
known is the fact that the actions of many religious persons and communities
point in another direction. They
demonstrate that religion can be a potent force in encouraging the peaceful
resolution of conflict.
Personal experience underlies my conviction that religion can be
significant for peacemaking. The
negotiations between Menachem Begin, Anwar el-Sadat, and myself at Camp David in
1978 were greatly influenced by our religious backgrounds.
. [Such] cases suggest that
the world’s religious communities possess moral and social characteristics
that equip them in unique ways to engage in efforts to promote peace.
. [We] must recognise the growing importance of religious
factors for peacemaking and develop ways, both informal and formal, to cooperate
with religious leaders and communities in promoting peace with justice.
arguments are not to belittle the insightful views of our Mennonite friends
against Constantinianism. They do,
however, suggest that if a nation can be understood as a community at a macro
scale, it is difficult to see how the church, as the body of membership one of
another, can or should avoid having an impact upon it.
There are various ways in which that can be achieved and the discredited
model of the “Holy Roman Empire” is but one.
Renewing the Evangelical Counsels
I opened with a
discussion of the tripartite nature of community – community with nature,
community with one another, and community with God.
I paralleled these with the three temptations of Christ and followed that
through with an exegesis of power. I
would like to close by suggesting that a further parallel can be drawn with the
so-called “Evangelical Councils” – poverty, chastity, and obedience.
calls for right relationship with the Earth, including the richness of enjoying
the fruits of Providence. It is
about cultivating the simplicity of sufficiency rather than the obesity of
surplus. It means frugality rather
than destitution. As Jesus showed when he made the equivalent of 900 bottles of
wine in John’s gospel, or when he accepted the costly anointing oil, and when
his parents (presumably) accepted on his behalf the wise men’s gifts of gold,
myrrh and frankincense, poverty does not mean the compulsive-obsessive denial of
serendipitous luxury. It simply means having good things in right proportion, in
right relationship, and as Jesus clearly saw in his parables about feasting, it
is actually the poor who can most appreciate good things!
strictly speaking means “purity”, and is only synonymous with celibacy if,
for some reason, sex is inappropriate. Chastity
might be thought of as right relationship with one another – for example,
through cultivating psychological honesty.
It will not go unnoticed that such chastity is prerequisite for rich
obedience is simply obedience to God, to the deepest lifeforce within.
It will similarly not go unnoticed that this is not the same as obedience
to any worldly power. Rather, it is relationship to the deepest level of our inner
selves – to that of God within, as St Paul pointed out (Galatians 2:20).
relationship between tripartite community, the temptations of power and the
Evangelical Counsels can be expressed in the following matrix:
the power of community to build peace and give life can be a very real thing.
On 25 January 2002, as I edited the publication version of this paper,
Scotland’s Herald newspaper ran an obituary of Church of Scotland
minister Ernest Gordon, Dean Emeritus of Princeton University.
Gordon had nearly died from beatings in a Japanese POW camp on the River
Kwai. But it was through creating community in the camp that his
life, and humanity, remained intact.
was awful,” he testified, “yet it helped to re-affirm your faith in
humanity. . . . All of us had experienced something approaching grace.
I think we all began to realise that bitterness was not an option.
Although no-one would ever forget what happened, some of us discovered we
Shields, In the Tiger’s Mouth: An Empowerment Guide for Social Action
Pa.: New Society, 1994).
This expression is associated in Celtic tradition with St. Bride.
It is substantially from Celtic perspectives on spirituality that I
draw the tripartite schema presented here.
I explore this in a less condensed way in Soil and Soul: People
versus Corporate Power (London: Aurum Press, 2001.)
Anthony de Mello, Awareness (NY: Image Doubleday, 1992), 182.
Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation
(London: SCM, 1988), xxxvii-xxxviii, 24.
 Walter Wink, Naming
the Powers: The Language Of Power in the New Testament;
Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces that Determine Human
Existence; Engaging the Powers:
Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Philadelphia
and Minneapolis: Fortress,
1984, 1986, 1992).
1 Chronicles 22:8. God, of course, had been sceptical from the outset about
the feudal, patriarchal and militaristic consequences of Israel acquiring
for itself a king (1 Samuel 8:10-22).
The danger of this schema dualistically separating the spiritual from the
material can be avoided by seeing each advancing level of awareness as
incorporating the earlier expressions, thus the spiritual would incorporate
both the physical and the psychological levels.
Unmasking the Powers, 95-96.
Storr, Jung: Selected Writings (London: Fontana, 1983), 360, 402-403.
Engaging the Powers, 10.
 Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson, eds, Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (Oxford: University Press, 1994), vii-viii.
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