This book is not the latest and greatest. It was published in the eighties, by the late M. Scott Peck, the author of the more widely known book The Road Less Traveled. M. Scott Peck has gotten a mixed reviews from the Christian community. Some have accused him of faulty theology, while others have acclaimed his work as revolutionary.
For my part, I never read The Road Less Traveled, so I can not address any criticisms (or praises) of his theology and/or ideas in that book. I can only comment on The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, which I recently finished reading. I will say my approach in reading this book was not to read Peck as a Christian psychiatrist per se, but as a psychiatrist with extensive experience in individual and group psychology, who also has an interest in how these topics relate to Christianity and Christian issues. His value as an author is not as one who examines Christian theology from a rigorous perspective (I look to other authors for that), but instead as one who approaches the topics of community and spirituality from a rigorous psychological perspective.
My interest in this particular book was sparked through a desire to understand more about the psychology of community. In other words, what are the psychological factors that create a sense of community in a group of people? With a movement in evangelical Christianity and the emergent church toward simpler church structures, are there lessons about community psychology that might be useful in the search for authentic Christian community?
The book is written in three parts. Part I focuses on the sociology and psychology of community. Part II is entitled “The Bridge” where Peck attempts to make a bridge between the principles presented in Part I and those presented in Part III. In Part III Peck discusses how the principles of community could be used in international diplomacy. For me the first section of the book needs to be reviewed as a separate entity from Parts II and III.
Part I: The Foundation
Part I was a fascinating read, with multiple implications for building Christian community. The most useful aspect of this book was Mr. Peck’s basic framework of community as presented in Part I. He described 4 stages of community.
- Pseudocommity – This phase is what I started calling the “I’m Okay You’re Okay” stage (I don’t think Peck used this description himself, but that was the most descriptive for me). Like it’s name “pseudocommunity” implies, it’s that stage where everyone in the “community” is basically faking it. We pretend to get along, and try to make community by being “extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement”.
- Chaos – in this stage the pseudocommunity falls apart and conflicts arise. In this stage, people start to get real about what’s really going on, but the first reaction is often for other members to feel the need to heal/convert/fix those bringing up issues, so that they can get back to “normal”. This need to “fix” of course backfires since as Peck puts it “underlying the attempts to heal and convert is not so much the motive of love as the motive to make everything normal — and the motive to win, as members fight over whose norm might prevail.” As this continues those who are the “victims” of the healers and converters begin to strike back and try to “heal the healers and convert the converters.”
- Emptiness – Peck describes emptiness as the only path to true community. It is also the one that most aspiring communities do their best to avoid. Typically rather than enter the stage of emptiness, group members will attempt to move the group into greater organization to combat the Chaos. While organizing does bring an end to the Chaos, it does not result in community. Emptiness is a time when group members empty themselves of all barriers to communication. The barriers are things like: Expectations, Preconceptions, Ideology, Theology, Solutions, the Need to heal/convert/fix/solve, and the need to control. In saying this he is not saying that that we stop believing what we believe, but that we lay it aside long enough to “get inside the others skin” (to use term my friends at Fusion tend to use in their training programs), and to understand the other. The reason this stage is typically avoided is that it is incredibly frightening. I believe scripturally it is the stage of being “crucified with Christ”, of dying to one’s self and one’s own agenda.
- Community – Peck says: “When death has been completed, open and empty, the group enters community.” In this stage group members are able to be vulnerable, and to share without other members trying to heal, convert, fix the other. Paradoxically, it is in this stage that healing and conversion starts to happen. One caveat, once community is reached it is not a given that it will remain. Most groups trying to live as a community will go through these stages multiple times in their life cycle. As an aside, I see a parallel of these stages with the stages of grief – pseudocommunity relates to the denial stage, Chaos to the anger and bargaining stage, emptiness to the grief stage, and community to the acceptance stage.
While Mr. Peck uses primarily modern day examples of these stages, I couldn’t help but observing myself that the early church went through exactly these stages. The stage of pseudocommunity was exemplified by the time where Jesus was with his disciples. Unaware of their own lack of true community, Peter makes his famous “I’ll-never-deny-you” line, James & John are asking to sit on his right and left, and everyone generally assuming that soon Jesus is going to have victory over the Romans and everyone is going to live-happily-ever-after.
Next comes, Chaos with Jesus death. Every one is scattered. Peter curses, denying Christ. While Peter gets a lot of press for this, he was simply a picture of the state of the “church”: in the moment of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and burial, they came to terms with how little true community they really had.
Third, starting with the resurrection, and continuing until near the day of Pentecost, the fledgling church experienced the Emptiness stage. All that their previous assumptions about what Jesus was going to do and how were now being looked at afresh. They were then prepared for the final stage of True Community, which was exemplified in the days following Pentecost.
As I read the first Part of The Different Drum, the main thought I walked away with was how Peck’s framework could be extremely powerful if applied to Christian communities of faith as they seek to develop authentic community together.
Part II and III: The Bridge and the Solution
In parts II and III Peck begins to build an argument for models of community making to be used to run a more effective government, especially as concerns international relations. At this point, a little lesson in contemporary history is helpful for younger readers who may not remember or have really studied the period in which the book was written. The book was published in 1987 at the height of the Cold War and the arms race, which was a huge military buildup especially between the U.S. and the Soviet Union who were the two top world powers at the time. It was only with the breakup of the Soviet Union that the U.S. became the world’s top super-power. It was in this context that Peck wrote the book.
His basic premise in this section of the book is that in order to deal with issues such as the arms race, government should use community-making principles as a core part of international diplomacy. Even though the arms race is no longer happening as it was then, I still found there were things from this section that could be gleaned. There were places also that my basic theology differed sharply from Peck’s, but since my main aim in reading his book was to examine the psychology of community rather than the theology of community, this didn’t really bother me.
Besides some of the theology, my own perspective also veered sharply from Peck’s in some other areas as well – philosophically I suppose. I think I tend to be much more politically pessimistic than Peck was. A core belief I hold, formed both from my theology and my philosophical outlook, is that political solutions are like band-aids on deeper more fundamental societal problems. As such, I tend to see our societal ills from a spiritual perspective rather than a political one. I also tend to believe that grassroots movements are the forces that most effectively change society rather than governments. Not that good government does not play a role, it’s just a matter of emphasis. In general in this section, I found Peck’s outlook more optimistic than I tend to be, despite his very convincing arguments that the solutions he offered were feasible.
Still, I think the second two sections are well worth reading. For those who have an interest in diplomacy or in cross-cultural communication for other purposes such as humanitarian work (this second option being more my speed), I believe the principles Peck puts forth are invaluable. What is building authentic community but learning to truly see and love the other, and breaking down barriers to communication. There is indeed a link between community making and peace, and so while I might disagree with Peck on the feasibility of some of his specific applications, his point is still well-taken.
In summary, the book is well worth the read, and gives much food for thought as we seek to build more authentic Christian community.