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

Our Collective Mirror

Written by: on August 31, 2022

“The heroes and leaders toward peace in our time will be those men and women who have the courage to plunge into the darkness at the bottom of the personal and the corporate psyche and face the enemy within.”

– Sam Keen, The Enemy Maker from Meeting the Shadow

 This quote from Sam Keen continues, […] Depth psychology has presented us with the undeniable wisdom that the enemy is constructed from denied aspects of the self. Therefore, the radical commandment “Love your enemy as yourself: points the way toward both self-knowledge and peace.” (Keen, 199) Though Carl Jung himself would not reduce evil to simply a psychological origin, this truth offers an incredible opportunity to explore the personal and collective shadow cultivated and perpetuated by systemic inequity and injustice.

This blog post focuses on the idea the “third way.” Desmond Tutu‘s book, No Future Without Forgiveness, speaks of the ultimate aim forgiveness has of naming injustice while ending perpetual retaliation – ultimately, forgiveness is impossible to arrive at without naming and confronting injustice, the collective shadow.

South Africa’s National Party come to power and instituted Apartheid (Afrikaans for separation/segregation) in 1948, which remained the rule of low until 1994. During that time, countless atrocities and massacres were institutionally committed and conspicuously ignored by the South African government. I was mostly unfamiliar with the history of South Africa, which could be an entire separate blog post, but it was clear that the era of apartheid was a mix of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and the United States,’ Jim Crow era from roughly 1866 to the 1960s.

I knew nothing of the state-endorsed violence carried out by the South African police or how the institution of a state of emergency gave the police sweeping power to enforce racist laws and justify violence. I was born in East Tennessee in 1987, so I was old enough to remember being gripped by the death of Princess Diana, but I have no recollection of the name, Nelson Mandela, or the struggles of the South African people.

This post is not enough to dissect the history or implications of Apartheid in South Africa, so I want to move to its implications for our cultural moment, and the sociological evolution impacting the church, and its collective shadow. Shadow work is often initiated by simple questions. So, for my minority yet powerful Christian leader collogues, I ask this simple question: who is separated, not allowed, and seen as second class, or outside? In my years of preaching I often asked this question when preparing my sermon: Who is not going to be at church on Sunday? If someone is likely to be consistently missing from the audience on a Sunday morning, then they likely carry a crucial, yet disowned part of the collective shadow.

Jungian writer, Audre Lorde defines racism as, “[…] the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance.” (Lorde, 212). She goes on to define sexism, heterosexism, elitism and classism by the same terms. All of these isms represent the extremism and the exclusion of opposites. The late Jungian analyst and episcopal priest, John Sanford writes, “Indeed, if we strive to be too good we only engender the opposite reaction in the unconscious. If we try to live too much in the light, a corresponding amount of darkness accumulates within.” 23. Is this not the story of apartheid? Of Jim Crow? Of the growing fundamentalism within MAGAism? Too much light, to the exclusion of shadow, leads to scapegoating, dehumanizing, exclusion, and oppression of the other.

I’m struck by life and story of Nelson Mandela and his spirit that was able to sustain so much injustice as an individual man. As I write this Jackson, Mississippi is without clean drinking water or air conditioning on a week when temperatures are to reach consistently into the 90s. Body camera footage from police shows the ridiculous arrest of a black pastor in Alabama, while he waters his parishioner’s lawn. And, a black man is fatally shot while unarmed in his bed room. What are we do to as a culture? Are we to learn from South Africa’s example? How are we to move toward forgiveness? Nelson Mandela knew South Africa could neither continue forward as the Western Allies did with the Nuremberg trials, nor could they simply forget, and further shadow the injustices of their past. Forgiveness was the only way forward.

As I heard his story, I feel Nelson Mandela, embodied what I’d call the archetype of forgiveness. How else could someone sustain decades of imprisonment, so much loss of his family and friends? He truly was a symbol for the South African people, meant to transcend the either-or paradigm of revenges or amnesia. I have questions more than answers at this point, but I am excited to see where this semester takes us, how being in Cape Town affects my soul, and the ontological grounding of our cohort. This is sacred ground during a sacred time in American and global history. I think we have an opportunity to investigate and integrate the collective shadow of racism in American Christianity.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

13 responses to “Our Collective Mirror”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:


    Incredible parallel. While America joined the United Nations in calling for the end of Apartheid as early as the 1960s, the U.S. government had yet to sign the Civil Rights Act into law. Moreover, many post-Civil War Jim Crow laws were still in full force throughout the American South. Even still, the 13th Amendment still gives the right to the Southern States to imprison black and brown citizens under the guise of the law, enslaving people to this day.

    I wonder, do you ever see yourself returning to your home state to fight against such things within the church and culture?

    • Thanks Andy. I wanted to write much more here, but feel I didn’t quite do it justice. I’m sure I’ll have more time to explore this.

      I don’t see myself returning to the South. For whatever reason, our souls have rooted here. However, through spiritual direction, I meet with directees in various conservative pockets (Dallas, East Michigan, Alaska). I encounter the “apartheid” spirit everywhere, so I feel we have a healthy distance from it, but access to effect change on individual basis.

      I’m alway curious to hear more about your experience. What are you finding as the biggest shifts from Louisiana and NC?

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:


    I too found myself focused on the dates as I read both of these readings, comparing them to what was taking place in the US at the same time. Do you think had we followed suit with something similar to the TRC, we would have brought healing for the US? Could it, or something similar to it, still offer restorative justice and healing or are we too far gone?

  3. Kayli, that is an excellent question. I honestly can’t say, but I think we have a few things working against us in the US. Our two party system creates a political binary and polarization, so the two ends are forced to increasingly reduce any tension that otherwise could create change. I also think our history of native conquest also looms in our collective shadow, so the civil rights era perhaps addressed the “vine” without addressing the “root”. I don’t think we’re too far gone, but for the first time in my life, I’m considering the reality of the USA looking entirely different – redrawing of states, secession of states, etc.

    Also, one of the big drivers of change in SA was the pressure the international community put on their government. I think things would have to get much worse and overt in the US for that to happen. However, I do think we will have some pretty disruptive in-fighting and even state secessions over the next few election cycles.

    What do you think about all this?

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Michael thank you for your questions for our North American context.

    How to you apply “too much light” to your theological construct of forgiveness?

    • Yeah I think any time we move towards an ideal, we must keep an eye open to the shadow it may create. This is amplified when dealing with forgiveness on a national/collective level. I don’t think shadow-making is avoidable, to be honest, but it’s always important to leave bread crumbs to access the collective shadow. Often in Christian language we talk about our “sins being cast as far as the east is from the west.” Forgiveness is a great ideal, but in practice what happens when individuals or subgroups do not experience it as reality? How do we (whatever communal context we’re in) create pathways to access and integrate the shadow when the ideal is so illuminated?

      I think that’s part of the polarization in the US. The left and right move towards their ideals, and in turn inflate the collective shadow further.

  5. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, there is so much depth in your words and thoughts – so much to ponder. I admire your grasp of the human psyche. About the American racial issue, I hear about the principle of racial reconciliation and I agree with it totally. I’m not sure how that gets applied specifically – what do we actually do to make that happen? What are your thoughts about that? Also, from you knowledge of Jung, to what would he attribute the source of evil?

    • Thanks Roy. I always get a good dopamine hit with your replies to my posts!

      Yeah, I think there has to be the symbolic level and the practical level when it comes to racial reconciliation. Mandela became a “myth,” a symbol for the people and the whole world, which allowed a vision for what was possible. Yet, there also had to be space for such reconciliation to play out, for example with the post apartheid victim testimonies.

      In the US, I think we need something similar. MLK Jr. was that during the civil rights movement. We need a new symbol for such a collective transfiguration.

      Regarding evil there’s a book called “Evil: The Shadow side of Reality” by John Sanford. Sanford was an Episcopal priest and a Jungian psychoanalyst who wrote extensively in the overlap of Christianity and depth psychology. Most practically, I think depth psychology encourages relationship with what has been deemed evil. I think many forms of Christianity foster splitting good and evil. Such splitting is a huge contributor to evil, from a Jungian perspective, but Jung would not reduce evil to purely psychological origins or functions. He left the door open for tension here. Much more to say and discuss, but I’ll leave it there. What are your thoughts?

      • mm Roy Gruber says:

        Michael, my thoughts are that I would like to hear more from you about this if time allows in Cape Town. Your grasp of psychology far exceeds mine. I would like to learn more…

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed the connections you made. Personally, I have mixed emotions as to Mandela’s approach. Obviously, his life was unparallel as he demonstrated great commitment and excellence to a cause. I wonder, if he could go back in time, knowing what he knew by the end, if he would change his approach? What would he do different? Sadly, and realistically, we have much broken around us to which these principles can (and need) to be applied.

    On a separate note, yes, what is happening in Jackson, MS is unreal. One of my heroes, John Perkins, has spent much of his life working toward reconciliation – https://www.jvmpf.org/. I wonder what he must be thinking as he is watching these events unfold.

  7. Elmarie Parker says:

    Michael, thank you so very much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post. You took up some of the USA context themes that were on my heart and mind as I read, but like you…limited space…can only address so much in a blog. Your opening quote by Keen captures so well Mandela’s personal journey. He was forced to face those shadow spaces in his life. As he integrated the shadow, he found a way forward to initiate and implement transformative change in South Africa–imperfectly, yes, but better than anyone else had done. I’m curious how the questions raised for you by Mandela’s and Tutu’s journey inform your NPO work, specifically for the church’s role in addressing shadow work in the context of the USA?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Your posts prompt deep reflection. I am intrigued by your questions that urge us to consider the voice of those who are absent. As a leader, how do you hope to draw those individuals into the conversation? What leadership behaviors are necessary to create a bridge of safe and authentic communication?

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