Walter Wink

Reviewed by John Cowan

(If you are able to access Amazon Books, insert the title above and then go to the spot where the book cover would be, if they had one, and then click on it to follow their invitation to browse, and then read the introduction. You will receive a better summary of this book than I will give you. You do not have to buy from Amazon if you are hinky about the Powers even before reading the book.(Yes, Amazon is a Power but then so is Quakerism.)

Walter Wink was a scripture scholar. The bible was in his bones. You will hear many bible references, for instance he notes the Angels of ancient towns and countries by name and verse as the first instance of somebody understanding the existence of the Powers. 

I met Walter at a seminar he taught and he could have doubled for an Old Testament prophet except he was too gentle to mount a pulpit or a ledge or a stump and roar. Further he attended Quaker meeting about which I am very pleased. (Through my Friend Howard who contacted that meeting I learned that he did not have an inclination to join but did have one to attend frequently there and at no other place. The Meeting liked that a lot.)

He is also an advocate of non-violence as the only proven way to make change in violent circumstances. I know you are going to say “What about Hitler?” to which I will point out that while it took violence to stop the mad man, in the end it was non-violence, The Marshall Plan, that quieted the violence left in the German spirit. Walter might say that Germany had a violent angel that in part rose from the punishment it received for losing World War One and sought redress in World War Two. The Marshall plan talked the German angel down from the chariot of War after the military defeat.

In these times what our ancients called Angels, Walter calls Powers. The Powers of a company, or a non-profit or a city or a state is a rollup of all the spirits of the membership, particularly those in the hierarchy. Although I think he overlooks the Power of underdogs. Some dogs fight better from the bottom. (A great truth for free!)

I was asked to consult to an Interim Pastor, (They hold the fort and clean up the mess while a new Pastor was being hired.) He told me he could not figure out what his new and temporary parish wanted from him. I asked him what his goal was. He said that it was to get them beyond all the carping and criticism of one another and help them become a loving community. I asked him if he played golf and he said he did with enthusiasm. 

I said that they wanted him to say mass, visit the sick, and play golf. The priest before the failure he was replacing did not play golf, but said mass, visited the sick, and took the young on canoe trips. The Power, The Angel, in this parish liked carping and criticism. They too loved others and would visit the sick but blame the sick for being sick, or for not getting over being sick, or the smell of the room. That was what they did. Anything else would not even be understood. 

That was the Angel of the parish, created by “the followers” the parishioners, not the “leader” the Pastor. Since the 19th century they had thus moseyed on. And would still be so moseying in the 21st no matter what the Interim Pastor did. It’s the Angel they created. They will stick by it. They are it. The receivers of this treatment enjoyed it. That was the package the Angel’s love came in.

Walter recognizes that there are Powers that are effective, kindly, generous. We need the Angel of the corporation to organize the effort. Not the formal rules and regulations, but the web of interrelated forces that surreptitiously define appropriate behavior. 

I took my wife to the Executive Dining Room at a corporation in which I worked. I was high enough in the hierarchy to be allowed there although not an executive. She commented on the similar dress of all the men. Shades of blue and grey and tailored suits, inconspicuous ties. There were some women in the room but there was no garment code for them. Little did they know that until such a code existed, they could not really belong. Or maybe they did. A similarity was beginning to emerge when I left. 

I told my wife the dress is a symbol of buy-in to the Power of the corporation.  They are wearing the same suit to indicate that they have committed their soul to the organization, will follow its unwritten rules, will give of their time heartily to fulfill what it needs. All of this without formal stated rules or requests. They did not even know what they were doing. But the Power demanded it and if their dress did not measure up their commitment would be questioned. Quietly.

On the other hand, we had one of the top dogs who was a real jerk. Everybody who ever worked for him hated him. After a year or so they would beg off. Kathleen, as one of the few women even close to the thrones, was tagged to pick up his personnel function. She was the emerging woman of the blue suit, in spades. Busted her butt. Used her head. Produced where others could not. When she requested out what do you think happened. She stayed, he was dumped. The Powers knew that she had bought in and if she couldn’t take it,he had to go.

The spirit of the Powers does not necessarily emanate from the top. The Chairman of the Board, Founder, and CEO was approached with a request for an Executive Dining Room and laughed the requesters out of his office. “Why do you need that?” he said pointing to his own brown lunch bag. “If I can eat a bag lunch, so can you. And if that is too difficult, you can get in line in the employee cafeteria.”

So they came to him three months later asking for a Guest Dining Room to which he readily gave permission because guests were usually customers or potential customers and it was not very hospitable to force them into the noise and bustle. Since we had few guests, very soon executives began filling the seats themselves. Even members of the hoi poloi such as I. The sign still says Guest Dining Room. The Power wanted a dining room. As Walter points out, the deck is stacked. In this case against the Chairman of the Board

When Walter finished his academic pursuit, a theoretical review of non-violence, he and his wife bolstered their theoretical studies with visits to violent countries where the population was held in thrall to violent overlords. His visit to Chile and its depredations actually made him ill. (He is not shy about noting the negatve impact the United States had in these countries.) From this he constructed his view on non-violence which is the second third of the book. (Read Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Tolstoy or Jesus. It is the same message.)

Walter was smuggled into South Africa to teach the principles of  non-violence to the Native Resistance and fellow travelers. When he was done teaching he turned himself in to the police and got a free ticket home. They called it “expulsion.” He also wrote a handbook teaching non-violence to be used in South Africa which then spread to several other countries because people, in very bad conditions, found it useful. 

The first third of the book is a summary of Walter Wink’s three classic books on The Powers. This summary is better than those books, in my estimate. The second third is a summary of the knowledge rising from decades of theoretical study and practical experience teaching non-violence to people in violent circumstances.  As near as I can figure out the last third is stuff he just wanted to say. Hey, he died. When that is the next step you get to do what you want, logical or not. And be appreciated for it.