Home > Emergent, God, Theology > Have You Been Incepted?

Have You Been Incepted?

…or Justice as Inception/Interruption

This post is a reflection on Anthony Smith’s presentation “Justice as Inception” at Big Tent Christianity in Raleigh, NC.  You can follow Anthony at Musings of a Postmodern Negro.

Justice as Inception

If you haven’t seen the movie Inception, the premise of the movie is that Leonardo DiCaprio is an extractor who steals secrets from people’s minds while they are asleep and dreaming.  After a failed extraction on a powerful business man named Saito, DiCaprio finds out that Saito was auditioning the team to perform a more difficult form of inception: implanting an idea into a person’s mind while they are asleep.

At Big Tent Christianity, Anthony proposed the idea of  justice as inception.  In this sense justice is not an abstract idea, but something deeply implanted in us that moves us to action.  If we are truly people of God, then we can’t talk about justice without doing justice.  We can’t preach about caring for the alien, the orphan and the widow without knowing a few.  We can’t believe that God will “make the crooked places straight” (Isa 45:2), if we are complicit in making things “crooked.”

Justice as Inception isn’t a new idea.  It’s not inherently postmodern either, although it does give me another reason to watch the movie again.  Micah 6:8 comes to mind:

He has showed you what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

To be a person of God requires a different set of eyes and ears, so that we are moved to action when we see or hear injustice.  It requires that we speak truth to power (i.e. Nathan saying to David “You are the man!”) but only after removing whatever planks are blocking our own vision.  Once we’ve been incepted with the idea of justice, there’s no turning back, and the world we now live in is wildly different from the world before.

Justice as Interruption

Justice is interruption.

When we tend to think of justice, particularly in America, we think of justice as “restoring the balance” or “getting what is rightfully owed.”  We often see justice as “reward” or “retribution.”  It’s hard not to view justice this way with all the small claims court shows (Judge Judy, People’s Court, Eye for an Eye, etc.) and personal injury attorney commercials.

While those types of justice have their place in society, that is not the type of justice that we’re called to embody.  “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”  justice is what we’re called to take to the streets.  It’s Jesus ransacking the temple to drive out profiteering, preventing the stoning of an adulterous woman and forgiving her sin, picking wheat with the disciples and healing a man’s hand on the Sabbath.  It’s that messy, subversive, and at times law-breaking justice that makes the crooked places straight.  It’s the kind of justice that makes law-abiding citizens and suburbanites squirm.

Justice interrupts the daily rhythms of life and it wakes us up at night.  It makes us uncomfortable…and it should.  The gospel is a great message but a difficult one.  It’s much easier to be the Priest and the Levite than the Good Samaritan.  It’s easier for us to avoid the road from Jerusalem to Jericho altogether because “that’s a bad neighborhood.”  Justice requires that we go into unusual and uncomfortable places, and moves us to commune at the table with unlikely people.

Justice interrupts because it washes away all pretension and complacency.  It’s why Amos, and later Martin Luther King Jr. exclaimed:

Let justice roll like mighty waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Justice is motion.  It’s four students sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, NC.  It’s a bishop celebrating mass with his people in El Salvador, and taking a bullet after calling on soldiers of the country to stop the repression and violence.  It’s a man being imprisoned after marching against apartheid.

Justice is part of our ethos.  It’s that response deep within us that says “no more.”  Justice moves us to takes risks.  It moves us to subvert.  Justice opens our eyes to a new world.  Justice costs us everything with no promise of reward.

Have you been incepted?

These are only a few fragmented phrases on the idea of Justice as Inception/Interruption.  If you wish to continue the conversation about justice, please leave any comments you have below.

Categories: Emergent, God, Theology
  1. September 23, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    I don’t agree with the idea that justice is not about restoring balance. Justice is about affirming the worth and dignity of every individual through all our actions, regardless of where society views them because of class or even their own individual actions. Thematically, that’s what Jesus was doing with many of his actions. It’s restorative.

  2. September 24, 2010 at 12:04 AM


    Thanks for the response.

    I’m actually with you when you say that “justice is about affirming the worth and dignity of every individual…” That’s what Jesus did when he prevented a woman from being stoned and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). It’s when Jesus affirms the faith of a Canaanite woman and casts a demon from her daughter, even after calling her a dog (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

    When I say “restoring balance,” I’m talking about the “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” justice. That’s the kind you see on small claims court shows and personal injury attorney commercial. The kind of justice that says, “if you’ve been injured, get the money that you deserve” (James Scott Farrin). If you’ve wronged me, then you owe me something, and if you don’t pay I’m taking you to People’s Court. It’s the kind of justice you see on movies and TV shows. I call this retributive justice.

    Jesus calls us to a radically different kind of justice. A kind of justice that says, “you’ve heard it said, but I say to you…” In other words, “eye for an eye” justice is no longer the justice we live by. It’s radical forgiveness – if someone takes your tunic give them your cloak (Matthew 5:38-42) – and radical justice. That’s why the parables about the Kingdom of God/Heaven are so difficult because we find that the people who are supposedly “in” are out, and those who were supposed to be “out” are in. The people who are invited to the banquet are those who were seemingly out, the rabble, the people off the street (Matthew 22:1-14) and those who were unknowingly “doing” justice (Matthew 25:31-46)

    It’s the kind of justice that says, “pick up your mat and walk” and “go and sin no more.” It’s that kind of head scratching justice that leaves the Scribes and Pharisees bewildered, where there are Good Samaritans, tax collectors and Roman Centurions that have become the heroes of faith. This kind of justice subverts common sense thinking and even religiosity. It’s justice on the fringe.

    Hopefully I’ve hashed out my thinking more clearly. You may still find disagreement with that, and if you do, break it down for me and keep the conversation alive.

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