We Need a Confessing Movement

October 7, 2011Nichola Torbett

Post image for We Need a Confessing Movement
This morning I saw a Photoshopped image on Facebook that caught my attention. The photograph captured protesters at Occupy Wall Street, but superimposed over parts of the photo were captions like “Video camera by Panasonic,” “Camera by Sony,” “Black marker by Sharpie,” and “Posterboard by Weyerhauser.” Underneath the photo was a longer caption that ended with something like “Meet me at Starbucks after we finish protesting those greedy corporations.” As you might have guessed, the photo, originally posted by Midnight Trucking Radio Network and clearly intended to discredit the protests, was drawing the ire of my radical left-wing social network.

But the creator of the image has a point, right? The truth is that we are implicated in everything we indict. Just by virtue of living embedded in a network of social structures that privilege some at the expense of others, we end up participating in oppression, violence, and exploitation, and to the extent that our protest movements ignore that, opting instead to present an image of us as the righteous good guys and “them” (in this case Wall Street stockbrokers and corporate execs) as the bad guys who done us wrong, we perpetuate a lie and make ourselves the targets of snide and cynical discrediting of the kind represented by the Midnight Trucking Radio Network’s Facebook photo. And we have that much less chance of winning over whoever subscribes to their posts, who I imagine are truck drivers whose interests would actually be served by joining us.

So all this has me thinking that we need a confessing movement. We need a movement in which we start by confessing our part in the suffering we have perpetuated in our efforts to escape suffering ourselves. “Not my banker brother, not my stockbroker sister, but it’s me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

Or maybe I should model this by starting with myself. I need a confessing movement. I need a place where I can go to confess my complicity in the very systems and structures I protest against. I rail against the crimes of the big banks and help to organize Occupy Oakland while maintaining an account at Wells Fargo out of convenience that feels necessary to my harried life. I lock elbows in a buffer line, faced off in oppositional stance with a police officer from whose work, like it or not, I benefit, whether or not I ever call the police myself. No matter how much I work for racial justice, my white skin and the (so far) continuation of white supremacy conspire to keep me locked in the oppressor position, keep me benefiting from the limitations placed on darker-skinned people. I do not think this nullifies my work for justice, but I do long for more honesty. I long for a place to say: “Sometimes I am greedy. Sometimes I put my personal profit above the good of the community. Sometimes I seek status at others’ expense. And I am not sure I can stop on my own. “

I long for a movement in which I can cultivate my ability to sit with the anguish of my both my complicity and my captivity, and do it in community, until in our midst some new creative freedom projects emerge. I long for a movement that transforms me as it transforms social structures. I can’t do any of that alone.

And so, I need you, and I need a confessing movement, so maybe it’s okay to say that we need a confessing movement. We need a movement that transcends the old-school protests organized by us (the good guys) to target them (the bad guys) to recognize that we are all accomplices in the creation and perpetuation, of the systems that are killing us and our planet. To the degree that we haven’t participated, it is often because structural barriers have barred us from the chance.

The confessing movement is a place for confession, yes, but it is also a place for radical repentance. It is a place to cry out to God for deliverance, a place to seek God’s face in each other and in the Spirit of change that seems to be gripping us, and a place to recommit to cultivating the disciplines of love, generosity, honesty, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.

The confessing movement is for ordinary people—imperfect and no less lovable for it, deformed by our experiences of social trauma, at once yearning and tentative—people of all colors, classes, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, immigration statuses, and ages, who are coming to understand that we have benefited (albeit to vastly different degrees, depending on our social locations) from the suffering of others, who are starting to recognize the ways in which we’ve compliantly played out the roles assigned to us by a brutally exploitative set of interlocking death systems, and who are committing ourselves to each other in a movement of healing, social change, and solidarity. We need a movement where it is safe to look honestly at ourselves, acknowledge our true histories, make mistakes, be forgiven, and keep moving forward together.

I imagine a movement that is radically open to critique from those who are hurt by it. In the past week, a number of nuanced, passionate posts and articles have been written by activists of color about the ways that white supremacy is being replicated in the Occupy movement. Similar critiques are emerging from women and people who identify as genderqueer. As a white cis-gendered woman involved in that movement, I want to listen carefully, without defensiveness, to these critiques and change the things I am doing that are hurtful, and I can only do that if I am not insisting on my absolute righteousness as a source of my esteem and legitimacy.

I imagine a movement in which we acknowledge that we have suffered under and benefited from systems of oppression differently depending upon our social locations.  White people have received far more consolation prizes (privileges) for their participation than have people of color. Men have received more than women; heterosexuals more than gay, lesbian. bisexual, or queer people; cis-gendered people more than transgendered or gender-queer people; people with wealth more than poor people, US-born citizens more than immigrants. We are committed to holding this complexity, to resisting easy solutions that leave anyone’s struggle out, and to finding ways to honor a variety of contributions, recognizing that some forms of activism are far safer for people of relative privilege than for those who lack those privileges. I imagine a movement in which we come into relationship without reducing our different histories and experiences to sameness.

So what do you think? I’ll bring the ashes if you bring the sackcloth.

  • Paulrack

    Yes. I am reminded of the Native American Ghost Dance movement at the end of the 19th century. A movement of grief, mourning, sadness, and yet also apocalyptic hope. Of course, they were victims of massive genocide. We are all complicit in the system we rail against. But there is no way to disconnect from the sinful system without marching naked… and even then…. Confession, definitely. And also perhaps targeted non-violent action: boycotts, strikes, etc.

    • Nichola Torbett

      Wow, thanks for the reference to the Native American Ghost Dance movement. You prompted me to read a little more about it. Yes, it’s as if the radical hope emerges out of getting honest about the devastation. And then we take direct action, as you suggest. (I appreciate your adding that to your comment because I’m aware that sometimes we go too far in the direction of personal browbeating, so that living one’s faith becomes just a matter of personal piety, and we forget about challenging social structures that are harming people.)

      • Martisco

        If you see the parallels between Occupy and the Ghost Dance, why do you then assume that things will end any differently for the American middle class than for the Native American? (in other words, why did their Ghost Dance “fail” while you’re so convinced that the middle class Ghost Dance will “succeed”?)

  • Blythe

    Excellent article, Nichola. None of us are without some accountability for supporting the system that has failed us.

  • Nichola Torbett

    I also wanted to acknowledge an omission in this piece–one that was pointed out to me very gently on Facebook–and that is that the movement describe above focuses on the U.S. in isolation. We also have to remember that as North Americans, we have North American privilege compared to those who live in countries occupied by U. S. military bases. We must be careful not to solve our problems here on the backs of people in other parts of the world, which of course is how imperialism works. I very much appreciate this reminder to listen always for one more voice, one more struggle, so that no one is left out.

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate this article’s point of acknowledging privilege, which is very important, but the original image I find very harmful. It’s not okay to start judging other activists based off of whether or not they are privileged enough to avoid all corporations or ‘unethical’ ways of living. It’s like an abusive relationship, the abuser (corporations/systems) gives no ethical alternatives to the victims (activists & humanity) and we turn on each other when we’re not buying into this capitalist activism and say that we are the problem (“Hey bro you didn’t buy Toms shoes? Don’t you care about the children?”), turning the blame onto the victim rather than the abuser. We can’t blame victims of sexual abuse for “asking for it”, natives for not integrating, immigrants for stealing our jobs, victim blaming is harmful and unproductive. Instead we need to acknowledge privilege, try to subvert, no dismantle systems of injustice while keeping the focus of our blame on the abusive corporations and systems of power.

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      I don’t think playing the victim card is a better response. I’ve seen too many people excusing themselves that way. “You can’t criticize me, I’m the victim here!”

      • Nichola Torbett

        Yes, I don’t believe we are just victims of this system. I believe we help to perpetuate it with our consent. At the same time, I have been very influenced by William Stringfellow’s notion that corporations, nation-states, and other such institutions comprise “principalities and powers” and have a life of their own, and they actively recruit us into serving their ends (profit, growth, increasing power and status). Stringfellow says that the only way to live as a human being (as beings created in the image of God) is to be in resistance. So I’m certainly not arguing that we just confess and leave things as they are. We must be in resistance. I just think our movements could be so much more powerful if we stop locating the evil-doers in other people and recognize that evil runs through each of us. Our resistance is to that part of ourselves, as well as to the corporations and other principalities and powers.

        • http://www.mutations-radicales.org Zora

          We born in that system, we are sort of prisoners inside, and we work for it (like buying capitalism productions) even if we don’t like it and don’t want it, even if we are anarchists ; because this system is everywhere. So if you really want live outside of it actually you just have the choice to die.
          Yes we are not only victims, because at a moment, we can understand that-it’s very bad, and have the choice to continue that way or to change.
          Yes we can confess, we can confess to have been blind too long, but the more important is to build another world, a world that we’ll not have to confess if it become reality tomorrow.
          The more important is not to protest and to do act of resistance against some parts or consequences of this system. The reasons for protest are too large, there is too many horrible problems. So the most important is to begin to live differently now, to build with others a true community.

    • Boydcster

      HomelessDrew makes an important point here. The fact that we use the products of corporations does not make us complicit in a morally significant way for the simple reason that we have no practical alternative. We cannot produce our own razor blades and video cameras because we don’t have the means to do so. Furthermore, these products are actually the product not of the corporations but of ordinary people trying to make a living in conditions not of their own making.

      The fundamental lie of the picture at the top of the article is that it is to Panasonic or Samsung to whom we owe these products. That is certainly what they want us to believe, but these corporations don’t actually produce – they only exploit the labor of those who have no choice but to work within the system. HomelessDrew’s analogy to an abusive relationship is exact. We live in a world that provides no ethical alternatives to the victims (activists and workers), and then tries to blame those who must live in the world created by these powerful forces for not living untainted by the products of that exploitative world. The implicit corporate message is “You participate in this world because you enjoy our products. Why complain about a little exploitation? After all, you’re part of it too…” What is important is that struggle to free ourselves and our world, not some concept of absolute moral purity.

      • Boydcster

        However, when we do have a genuine choice – such as whether or not to bank at Wells Fargo – and we know the consequences of that choice, then the choice becomes morally significant. That is where complicity enters the picture. Even here, though, there has to be a weighing of values. We live in a world controlled by corporations where convenience favors using their services, just as the abusers intended. Since we do not have control over the conditions through which we obtain the necessities of life, there will be times when convenience will trump other choices. But, once again, when we do have a genuine choice, we must always choose whatever will undermine and help end the exploitation.

  • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

    Your idea of a confessing movement seems like something I’ve heard a lot about for some time now. Long enough that I wonder if the confessing hasn’t become an end in itself. I appreciate your brief mention of “radical repentance.” I’d just like to see what actual changes of action and life you propose.

    I think part of the issue is that we are being told to confess so broadly, our complicity in a system that we are also told we can’t completely not be a part of. So everyone is complicit, everyone is guilty, everyone needs to confess. And that kind of confession doesn’t seem like much of a confession at all. I’m guilty as everyone is guilty, and no matter what I do I can only be slightly less guilty, maybe.

    So is the point just to be humble, and admit our complicity? Can we change it significantly? Is there hope and true freedom, true repentance that leads to life that is not complicit in oppression and destruction? Or do we just keep confessing and confessing?

    It seems to me that Jesus offered actual freedom. And that he lived a life that needed no confession, and offered us that same life if we would follow him. But then I wonder if he also would be called to confess, of racism (since he focused on the Jews) or sexism (since the twelve disciples were all men) or other insensitivities (since he said things like “God created them male and female”) or complicity with Empire (since he bought things and used Roman roads and answered the tax question by showing a coin with Caesar’s face on it and saying “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”). That, and the apparent inability to avoid the complicity with evil we are told to confess of, makes me think something’s a little off. If Jesus said we can be free, and he demonstrated that freedom, then I believe we can be truly free too.

    And don’t have to settle for endless confessing.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Andy,

      In church every Sunday the community of catholic says a “contrition act” (at the beginning of the mass) which acknowledges sin as a general state of human beings… Then we have the sacrament itself which is what you are describing.

      So we are very aware abot sin as a “general” state.

      Thanks!

      • Anonymous

        Thank you Andy.

        At the beginning of the mass we acknowledge our sins in general, asking forgiveness because we know we sin in our thoughts, our words, what we do and what we fail to do… And we do not mention a single specific sin. However we do briefly pause and each one is invited to think about the particular sins he/she has committed. The Church only requires us to Confess (use the sacrament) once a year but it encourages the use of the sacrament more frequently…

        I post this in benefit of those who do not know the Church.

        Thanks

  • Nichola Torbett

    Great question, Paul, and one I hope others will weigh in on. My access to it comes from my experience with the experiments we are doing at Seminary of the Street. Right now, for example, we are holding a 14-week class called “Living into an Economy of Love,” in which we 1) get honest about the fact that much of the wealth we enjoy as Americans (even the little bit that class members have, which ain’t a whole lot) originated in the theft of land from native peoples and stolen labor by enslaved Africans. We do some work on family histories, and we also consider who is helped and who is harmed by the work we currently do. For example, even those of us who work for nonprofit organizations doing “good work” helping “underprivileged people” are making a living from their suffering. Then, 2) we explore alternative models that have been developed. We are looking seriously at reparations as a framework for this, as well as considering things like communal living to reduce expenses and footprint (which I am doing), time banking, subsistence businesses and farming, relational tithe, etc. Finally, 3) we are selling off half of what we own (or as close to it as we can get) in response to John the Baptist’s instruction, “If you have two tunics, give one to someone who needs it.” The money we get from selling those things we don’t give away will be pooled and used to create some alternative economic institution that is accessible to people who have been most harmed by the current system. I don’t know what that will be yet, but it answers our sense that if we are going to dismantle corporate capitalism, we are going to need alternative means for growing/making and distributing what we need to survive. All of this we are doing in the context of an extremely low-income neighborhood in Oakland.

    Does this change the overall system? No. But it points toward something new, and I think that in combination with direct actions like boycotts and strikes (mentioned by Paulrack above) could actually do something.

    And all of this is based in my sense that it is not up to us to bring about the Kingdom of God ourselves, that only God can bring about the real change, and our job is to do the footwork.

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      Those sound like pretty good efforts, and I encourage you in them. And I like your message that the evil is not just in “them,” but runs through us as well. What I wonder is, with the convictions of broad complicity that you seem to have, do your efforts make you feel any better? Do you have hope that you can get free from the complicity that you confess here?

      For example, do you see your efforts significantly diminishing these areas of concern/guilt?

      Just by virtue of living embedded in a network of social structures that privilege some at the expense of others, we end up participating in oppression, violence, and exploitation…

      I lock elbows in a buffer line, faced off in oppositional stance with a police officer from whose work, like it or not, I benefit, whether or not I ever call the police myself. No matter how much I work for racial justice, my white skin and the (so far) continuation of white supremacy conspire to keep me locked in the oppressor position…

      You write, “I long for a movement in which I can cultivate my ability to sit with the anguish of my both my complicity and my captivity, and do it in community, until in our midst some new creative freedom projects emerge.” So, even if we can find community, are we still stuck sitting with anguish, in captivity, until “some new creative freedom projects emerge”?

      As a fellow Jesus follower, I would think we can expect (and experience) quite a bit more. I agree that we can’t bring the kingdom of God ourselves, that it is a gift of God. But from Jesus’ words and life it seems that he was announcing the kingdom of God now for those who would follow him. The gift of God is offered to us. And Jesus showed that it was a present reality, he showed what true freedom in the midst of empire looked like. So why should we think we have to wait in anguish and captivity?

      • Nichola Torbett

        Man, I am loving this exchange. Thanks, Paul.

        It’s a weird thing, because for me, at least, true, deep lament is very connected to joy and can easily flip over into it. I’m reminded of this spiritual with origins in slavery:

        Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
        Nobody knows my sorrow
        Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
        Glory hallelujah!

        Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
        Oh, yes, Lord
        Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
        Oh, yes, Lord

        Although you see me going ‘long so
        Oh, yes, Lord
        I have my trials here below
        Oh, yes, Lord

        If you get there before I do
        Oh, yes, Lord
        Tell all-a my friends I’m coming too
        Oh, yes, Lord

        The singer moves seamlessly from deepest lament to powerful praise–glory hallelujah! There is some way that really confronting the truth of our situation and crying out about it, especially in community (when I know I’m not alone but have God’s family all around me), that can lead me into deep, deep joy. In Exodus 6:5, God says to Moses, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.” Later, in 2 Chronicles 7: 13ff, God says to Solomon: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” God hears our prayers! Rescue is on the way! How can we keep from singing?

        (Sorry, felt a bit of a preach coming on. :-) )

        My theology of the kingdom, which I think I owe mostly to the Anabaptists, is a “now and not yet” theology. The kingdom is at hand. It was initiated by Jesus’ radical love. But it is not yet fully here, and we do not know when it will be consummated. In the meantime, we, as Jesus’ followers, are called to live as if it were here, loving each other and our enemies, sharing all that we have, forgiving, welcoming the stranger….When Christian community actually approaches this way of living, oh what joy is in it, even and especially as we recognize that we live Jesus’ way imperfectly! And all the while we recognize that, because the kingdom is not yet fully here, doing so may cost us our lives. When it cost the apostles their freedom, they burst the walls of the jail with their singing! To me, Jesus modeled nonviolent resistance to the ultimate degree, and I long to follow him. I believe that there is incredible joy in it.

        • paul munn

          Yes, I’m familiar with the “now and not yet” theology. The only problem is that I almost always hear it used with the emphasis on the “not yet.” And I keep wanting to know what the “now” part is supposed to be, because that part sounds so much more interesting. But I always get the impression that the “now” part they speak of is “in our hearts” and the “not yet” describes the outside world, reality. Which is not very exciting.

          Jesus proclaimed, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand.” That sounds like an announcement of fulfillment. If he was just announcing that God would eventually rescue us, then he wasn’t announcing anything new. The prophets had been saying that for a long time. The “now” is what is amazing and unique about his proclamation, what makes it such very good news.

          And then I look at Jesus’ life and there’s no trouble seeing the kingdom present now. In a real, concrete way that made his life experience so different from what everyone tells me life has to be (no complicity with evil necessary in his life). With the disciples too, as you say, jail walls actually fell down. So that’s what I want, and I’m seeing more and more of it. The limiting factor, though, is not God and it’s not “the system.” It’s me. The kingdom of God is available to us right now, as much as we’re willing to accept it.

          If you’re truly joyful and fulfilled in lament and confessing, then I won’t try to dissuade you. There’s certainly much worse places to be. But I just want to insist that Jesus offers us more than that. I can give concrete personal examples if you want. But the kingdom of God is truly available to us now, and that’s what Jesus’ followers should be shouting about.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Ha. Very well said, Andy.

            I guess I think Paul’s words in Romans 14 offer a pretty good “kingdom of God present” response in that area of concern, especially verse 3: “Let not those who eat despise those who abstain, and let not those who abstain pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.”

          • paul munn

            Sure, I think what I’m saying can be applied to the concerns about the meat industry. If anyone feels complicit in those evils, if they feel guilty and captive because their food supply is controlled by a system that they hate, then I think Jesus’ message about the present kingdom of God can offer hope that we don’t need to stay complicit. That God can provide other real options, now, that we don’t need to feel guilty about. Real freedom. And I think people like you (and others I know) have proven that’s true. Right?

            Heather and I have taken some of those options ourselves, and I support them. What I’m challenging is the widespread “doctrine of complicity” that accuses us all of being complicit in an endless list of systemic evils (because of our necessary participation in society) with no real possibility of being free of that. So the best we can do is try to minimize the evil we are constantly perpetuating, and confess and confess. I believe Jesus’ words and life assure us that we don’t have to settle for that.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            Paul, I don’t think the two paragraphs you’ve written here (which, I think, sum up the points you’ve been making above) logically follow from each other. For me, both of the views of confession Andy described above are insufficient – if God knows everything, I’m not telling him anything he doesn’t know already, ever. What I might be doing is recognising that I’m corrupted by being the person that I am. And whichever corner of the picture I chose to try pinning down, another one always comes undone. It is hard to imagine that I’m ever going to be fixed.

            But that isn’t to say that *all* we can do is recognise the evil and confess. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that should be all we do, because we all recognise that we could spend all our time confessing and do nothing else. Each person must listen to the inner voice of Jesus and obey the calling that is on their own lives – but I struggle to believe there is anyone who would have a calling to spend all their time in confession.

            It seems to me that the way out of this is to hold onto the notion of fearing an all-powerful God in whom All Things are Possible. I don’t know how to bring down the Empire, but continue to believe that in God, All Things are Possible. I don’t know how to disentangle my own corruption with the evil systems which hold millions captive, but in God, All Things are Possible.

            Confession is a necessary part of the process – because only when we are totally broken are we in the space to allow God to take control and allow Jesus to be born again within us. And then we have the strength enough to hold onto the hope of change – instead of retreating into a constant blubbering wreck or self-righteous pharisee, we can deal with the true image of ourselves and our world whilst allowing the kingdom to come.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            I like this, Joe: “I don’t know how to disentangle my own corruption with the evil systems which hold millions captive, but in God, All Things are Possible.” I agree.

            It sounds like you think this is possible for you (by the power of God). And if so, then let’s talk about the real ways God does make this possible for us right now. Again, my complaint is that what I hear so often is that we can never get disentangled from the corruption of these evil systems, only hope to reduce it somewhat, and work for the eventual destruction of those systems. That message just falls so short of what Jesus offered and demonstrated.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            When I said ‘I don’t know’, I meant just that. I don’t know. One one level, for example, I can support the 99% movement – and read their expressions of pain at invested so much into a culture that failed to deliver the dream. And yet, the solutions are not simply to look for a return to the way things always were – because even the 99%ers are in the top dunno-what% of the world. As Nichola says, there are not them (the bankers) and us (the 99%). There are them (the least of these) and us (the rich young man).

            I think if anything we need to stop talking about our own clever solutions and ideals for a while. Stop assuming that there is anything we could possibly do that would make the situation any better. And listen more carefully than we have ever listened before for the voice of Jesus – even if the calling is for us to abandon everything we have held dear to date.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            So if you think you’re the rich young man, then change the story. Don’t walk away sad. Be like Zaccheus (and it sounds like Nichola’s community is doing something like that also). Jesus’ voice says “follow me.” He didn’t want the rich young man to stay the rich young man but give away his possessions and join him.

            If you honestly “don’t know,” I guess that’s good to admit. But we don’t have to not know. Jesus showed us that, with God, freedom is possible and real. Faith means believing him enough to act on it.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            I think you’re deceiving yourself.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            I might have believed you, if I hadn’t already tried it myself and seen that the results are so good. See, that’s the thing about faith. It’s a risk, but when you try it and see what God actually does, see the impossible actually happening, then no one can tell me it’s not true now.

            You say in God all things are possible. But it sounds like you think you have to sit on the sideline and just watch what God can do. Why not let God do the impossible in and through you?

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            It is not my role to dictate to God how he should work or how he should use me. I can only wait, listen and obey.

            I am not calling for anyone to sit on the sidelines, I’m calling for a quieting of the spirit in order to allow God to tell us each, individually, what to do. Not gazing longingly at what others are doing. Not assuming that we can push God in a particular direction.

            That’s it.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            If you want to wait, that’s your choice. But Jesus didn’t say to the rich young man, “Wait and listen.” He said, “Follow me.” Lots of us want to do that, right now, and Jesus says we can. And many have stories about amazingly good results and freedoms we have experienced now as we have taken risks to follow Jesus. So please stop naysaying or discouraging others who do not want to wait any longer, or be part of the problem any longer, but want to follow right now.

            We don’t have to wait on Jesus, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near.” He’s waiting for us.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            I don’t think Jesus does say that, and just repeating the point does not make it true.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            You mean you don’t think Jesus says to us, “follow me”? Or you don’t think he assures us that we can follow? Or that we can’t experience the kingdom of God right now?

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            Is that one of those ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ questions?

          • paul munn

            Nope. But you don’t have to answer. Jesus said some pretty inspiring stuff about this though, if you’re interested.

          • http://waysofresistance.com Jason Winton

            I hope you don’t mind me jumping in to this discussion, Joe. It’s just that you seem to be expressing something I’ve always felt: the Spirit moves in my life often in ways I don’t understand. I also hear the urgency of Paul’s voice reminding us that we’re often looking for a sign when the Kingdom of God is now quite literally within reach. So I guess I think the tightrope walk-of-faith, which can be part of ‘expectantly waiting’ in obedience, also invites us to trust the Really Real to be at least as serious about making radical changes in us as any human (including us).

            But we’ll need a heart space big enough (like when one sells their possessions) for Jesus’ good news to actually come into our lives, don’t you think? Another way to say it is similar to Isaiah’s phrase ‘in repentence and rest is your salvation.’ So I pray that all of us may seek a deeper response and act to demonstrate we trust his words to come to pass.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            Thanks, yes I like that, Jason.

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            [sorry if this is hard to follow, the thread was getting thinner. This is a reply to the last post by Paul in this exchange below]

            I don’t accept your premise, I don’t understand Jesus’ words in the way you do, hence the question makes no sense.

            Yes, Jesus says to me and to the rich young man to follow him. Yes, I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is here. Yes, I believe that Jesus comes to live within anyone who will let him.

            No, I don’t believe that the Kingdom is just to be experienced. No I don’t believe that there is a formula we can learn to change the world. No I don’t hold that your experiences are any kind of evidence of anything.

            My position is far more nuanced than you appear prepared to give me credit for.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            Okay, well each of us can judge for ourselves what we find to be convincing evidence. But I wonder, do you think that the life and works of Jesus (and his disciples) are evidence of something?

            As Jesus said to some who were challenging him, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works…” (Jn 10.37-38)

          • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

            Plenty of people point to all kinds of signs-and-wonders as evidence that they’re works of Jesus. In itself, this is not a sign of anything.

            Again, I don’t accept the premise of your question. Yes, I believe in the life of Jesus. No I don’t believe that this necessarily evidence that individuals in 2011 are doing things in the spirit of Jesus.

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            I just ask because I saw the life of Jesus and his disciples as evidence that the kingdom of God could really be lived and experienced here and now (even right in the midst of empire), with all the power of God evident in real, physical ways, actually setting people free (including me). If that was indeed true, I wanted it very badly. So the invitation to follow Jesus and the promises of freedom and the kingdom of God life were unbelievably hopeful and inspiring to me.

            And I tried some of the things I saw Jesus and his disciples doing. And saw pretty amazing results that changed the rest of the way I lived my life from that time on. It was evidence, in my opinion, that we can live the same kind of kingdom of God life now that Jesus lived. And I’ve experienced quite a bit more evidence since then.

            I’m just trying to encourage that faith in others also, and encourage us to act on it. To try and see. Saying that we don’t just have to lament our bondage to the system, that we believe we can never get free from. I’ve seen evidence we can get free, we can be delivered in a real way. Not someday when empire falls, but now.

            I don’t want to force that on you if you don’t want it or don’t believe it. But I will insist it’s true.

          • paul munn

            I just ask because I saw the life of Jesus and his disciples as evidence that the kingdom of God could really be lived and experienced here and now (even right in the midst of empire), with all the power of God evident in real, physical ways, actually setting people free (including me). If that was indeed true, I wanted it very badly. So the invitation to follow Jesus and the promises of freedom and the kingdom of God life were unbelievably hopeful and inspiring to me.

            And I tried some of the things I saw Jesus and his disciples doing. And saw pretty amazing results that changed the rest of the way I lived my life from that time on. It was evidence, in my opinion, that we can live the same kind of kingdom of God life now that Jesus lived. And I’ve experienced quite a bit more evidence since then.

            I’m just trying to encourage that faith in others also, and encourage us to act on it. To try and see. Saying that we don’t just have to lament our bondage to the system, that we believe we can never get free from. I’ve seen evidence we can get free, we can be delivered in a real way. Not someday when empire falls, but now.

            I don’t want to force that on you if you don’t want it or don’t believe it. But I will insist it’s true.

          • Nichola Torbett

            Actually I would love to hear your examples, Paul. For me, I experience the “now” of the Kingdom in a community of people who are practicing honesty, vulnerability, authenticity, and gratitude for and celebration of what God is doing in our midst. I would love to find even more ways of experiencing it!

          • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

            You can find a brief sketch of my experiences receiving real freedom from the military, institutionalized religion, working for a wage, if you go here.

            But it might be better to offer examples that specifically focus on areas where you currently feel “complicit and captive” (which is what seems to have prompted you to write this article). Perhaps in your feeling of dependence on corporations like those mentioned in the picture, or the bank you mention? Complicity with the state, like perhaps in your dependence on the police you talk about? Other dependencies that make you feel that “we are all accomplices in the creation and perpetuation, of the systems that are killing us and our planet”?

  • Zorniod
  • http://profiles.google.com/jake.olzen Jake Olzen

    Thank you, Nichola, for your call for a “confessing” movement – both bold and pastoral. I think the place to start is our communities, especially communities of faith or shared mission. At many of the Catholic Worker gatherings, conversations are happening that are trying to create space for experiences of gender, sexuality, and privilege. They are difficult, awkward, but because we are bound together in mission, somehow we make it through them – hopefully strengthening our movement(s).

    In an article I wrote for Waging Nonviolence, I noted how #OccupyWallStreet is really about resisting empire – and the contradictions such a stance entails. Thanks for clarifying some more of that for me. I think part of our resistance, like Gandhi’s must be rooted in simplicity – both because it frees us for action and because the pillaging of the earth’s resources by global capitalism cannot continue. I think protest needs to embody the world we both wish to live in (with its conveniences and “guilty pleasures”) with the reality that choosing such wishes may be our undoing or contributing to violence/injustice. I think Jesus Radicals has a lot to offer movements like #OWS.

    http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/10/occupywallstreet-a-radical-perspective-part-1/

  • http://theprodigalprophet.com Dylan Morrison author

    Someone once said that society and systems are 3D projections of the human heart. If this is so, then the healing of the inner psyche will starve the insecurities that such Empires run on.

  • Kelvin Reynolds

    I am concerned that so many of of you seem to think that there is no way of not participating in the evils of society. sure it is very difficult to remove yourself from everything at once, but that is not the way to do it. Learn what are the biggest and easiest to avoid evils to avoid first and do it. Buy fair trade, buy locally produced products, find out where the things you buy come from and refused to buy things made with slave labor or very low wages. it might be a slow process and it requires an holistic approach (you can’t just look at one aspect of a product, look at everything). It’s a project, it takes time, but the start is to confess that the way we have been living is sinful, and start to change.

    • http://twitter.com/thejoeturner Joe Turner

      To be clear, many of us (perhaps all on this website) are involved in the kinds of actions you mention. My point is not that these things are unworthy or unethical. One one level they are clearly the ‘right thing to do’. But at a deeper level they are as nothing, simply moving the deckchairs whilst the titanic sinks.

      To take your example of fairtrade – I’ve personally seen soils in India depleted due to monoculture of tea. Now, it is possible to create an argument that says ‘it would be really nice if people were paid a living wage for picking tea’. And it is possible to create a convoluted alternative trade system which may or may not make a real difference to people’s lives. But the real underlying truth is that nobody is going to get rich picking tea – far from it, they’re only going to remain really, really poor. Fairtrade at its best will give them an income which is a bit above the bare minimum for survival. Most will not have, and could never have, lives we would consider essential for our own children.

      The truth is that tea is never going to leave pickers and farmers in any position other than subservience. Whichever way we butter the bread, we’re going to remain rich whilst they stay poor. We may be able to placate our conscience temporarily, but we are never going to be able to consume anyone out of poverty. These systems are so corrupted that the superstore benefit more from the fairtrade certification than the farmers it is supposed to be helping.

      The system is buggered, to use a colloquialism. It would be far, far better for all concerned (and by far better for the local soil conditions) if people stopped growing cash crops for export.

      Multiply this thought up to every other solution you or I know for a problem that we perceive. So often we avoid our own complicity in injustice by accepting second (or third or fourth) best. We swallow the lie that ‘something is better than nothing’ even when the ‘something’ involved is tiny.

      But then, the problem is that even our best intentions sometimes have unintended consequences. The wont to do something positive in the nightmare that is Congo by requiring purchasers of minerals to take responsibility for the impacts of their use sounds like a fine ideal – especially when it is linked to the horrific stories of rape in that country and a commodity most of us carry around (mobile phones). But what do you do with the information that this requirement has not lead to a reduction in rape, that the local minerals cannot be sold legally, that they’re being sold on the black market at lower prices to unscrupulous violent men who export it illegally to sell in another country (and who the whole stinking system was set up to do out of business)?

      Even our best intentions are messed up.

      • Anonymous

        “The system is buggered, to use a colloquialism. It would be far, far better for all concerned (and by far better for the local soil conditions) if people stopped growing cash crops for export.”

        Just wanted to add an AMEN to this! This is the way I think about fair trade. If Paris Hilton must purchase things then I would much prefer she get it from Ten Thousand Villages. But in an ideal universe no one would be spending their days producing goods for other people to consume–goods that they often cannot afford to keep or purchase for themselves. There is no good reason that people in these other nations are still bound up in making things that get shipped far-far away. A return ti local community sufficiency and to subsistence–I think that would go a much longer way in the longer term.

    • http://cimarronline.blogspot.com/2004/05/paul-munn.html paul munn

      I agree with Joe that those things don’t really get at the source of the problem. But I agree with you, Kelvin, that it is possible for experience real change and real freedom, and see real help for others.

      It’s just that real freedom is only promised by Jesus for those who follow his ways and example, and that certainly wasn’t “consuming anyone out of poverty.” But if we follow him and change our lives in the ways he showed us (and shows us) then we will get at the source of the problem.

  • http://davidrhenson.wordpress.com Bluegrassrambling

    Amen. This is what I’ve been trying to say on my blog for a week now but did not do so nearly as eloquently or comprehensively. Thanks.

  • http://waysofresistance.com Jason Winton

    As someone who feels guilt fairly often–sometimes good guilt, sometimes not so much–I can understand the need to confess. Like I tried to describe in an article I wrote here, I’m also looking for concrete expressions of repentance in my life. I haven’t completed it yet, of course. But grace has been a motivating influence for taking risky steps and bearing witness to the freedom I’ve found so far.

    Like Paul has been saying in this discussion, I too believe God’s Kingdom provides real freedom that requires no limitations from our conscience, no previous evidence, or even confession when lived into as Jesus showed with his own life. So this is a good thing.

    And it occurred to me as I read a psalm this morning that there is something fundamentally mistaken about God (and ourselves) when we give credence to the lie that “God has forgotten” (Psalm 10) about the problems and oppressions we face. In a certain sense, believing so leaves us languishing in the wake of sin and seems to perpetuate the captivity itself. In other words, we might tell ourselves (and others) that God does not see what’s happening and won’t call things to account because our complicity remains fundamentally unchallenged. I don’t see anyone here (much less Nichola’s essay) trying to promote this error. But I wonder if the confessions we’re discussing, in as far as they might be perpetual, doesn’t then make true freedom impossible for us? And could they have a similar effect as the lie that says ‘God has forgotten’? Why not name the real freedom (and fruit), as well as the evil we all seem to have to account for?

    The final lines in Psalm 10 are an inspiring note to me on the freedom we need so much:

    O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
    to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

  • Kelvin Reynolds

    I’m sure some people think that they can ‘shop the world better’ but it’s not about that. it’s about not being party to slavery. simple as that. we might want the economic systems of the world to change, but for me the first step is to finally and truly abolish slavery in whatever form it takes. we have to start somewhere. think of all the times Jesus talks about setting the captives free, but we as Christians and as The Church still own nameless slaves.

  • JanWnek

    Easy solution to the above – convert all those speculator-controlled corporations in the photo to cooperative corporations like Mondragon in Spain, where the only “owners” of the corporation are those whose work there, and the problem is solved – no speculator ownership and no state ownership. Bailouts of “too big to fail” corporations must be prohibited and such corporations should be allowed to go bankrupt. General Motors should be run by General Motors employees and no one else – they would be responsible for choosing their managerial team and the company should be reorganized as a solely employee-owned and controlled corporation. Proprietary capitalism in the form of small business should also be encouraged, but limited as to the number of chains one can accumulate. Greed could be countered by additional taxation. Only in this way can true capitalism proliferate and benefit the greatest number of people……it would reflect capitalism in its purest, socially most compassionate form.

  • Lizardskinsuit

    I’ve had similar thoughts as this article, then I recalled Paul used Roman roads to spread the Word, Roman law, Roman courts, Roman citizenship, Greek (pagan) theatres, and probably even money with the image of Caesar.

  • http://profiles.google.com/emanationster Sara Harding

    There are a couple fallacies in that doctored photo. The first is the complete irony of capitalism. If, in capitalism, the exchange of money for goods is a free and complete transaction, then there is nothing owed from the buyer to the producer, no ethical ties, no thanks, nada. If the person chooses to use their purchased goods against the producer, this is not an infringement of any free market standard, because the buyer is free to use it any way they want to: it is a transfer of private property.

    The second is more philosophical. The corporation, as a system in our imaginations, makes the claim that we are part of that system. So our relationship to the tools produced by that system results in our becoming extensions of the tools and of the systems, rather than autonomous agents outside of the system with the freedom to make the tools extensions of our own minds and hands. We are not slaves of the system if we refuse to allow our relationships with the world and other people be defined as systems by the system makers. This does not get us off the hook, but decolonization must, I think, supplant systems and system making with living community.

    • Boydcster

      I think both your points hit the mark. Part of what makes capitalism “work” is the implicit message that radiates from popular products: Apple iPads, Panasonic video cameras, whatever it might be. These products have qualities that we want to share in, so we become extensions of the corporate image. And, as you say, we are not slaves of the systems if we refuse to allow our relationships with the world to be defined by the system makers. But this refusal is dependent on awareness and most are unaware of any realistic option to choose another way. This causes me to question whether “complicity” which seems so close to “original sin” is truly a liberating concept in this situation. To expropriate the symbols of capitalism and subvert their corporate meaning seems a more creative and liberating response than suffering guilt over buying a can of Coke.

      That’s why I liked HomelessDrew’s point about abusers. People find themselves in a system of exploitation by forces outside of their control. Once they recognize the exploitation, they can begin to find strategies of resistance, but the exploitative dynamics remain. The forces involved are the result of millions of anonymous transactions in a self-replicating system and cannot be pinned on particular individuals as satisfying as that might be. We must resist to the extent of our awareness, but berating ourselves for complicity in a system not of our making seems like an abuser’s guilt trap.

      And yet, we know we were born for a greater purpose than the one we have ended up living. Part of this comes from accepting the images that surround us with their false promises. The fact that we are aware of the system that enslaves us imposes the possibility, as unwelcome as it may be, of breaking the power of that system. To defer from that possibility lessens our humanity.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cassidhe.p.hart Cassidhe Hart

    AMEN, Nichola! And thank you to all of you for your thoughtful comments as well. It is a breath of fresh air to read so many carefully crafted ideas and respectful exchanges about a dividing topic.

  • http://humandiscourse.wordpress.com/ Gideon Frambert

    Nichola, I really like the perspective and approach you’ve presented. Do you feel, however, that the use of corporate items truly discounts the protestors? It seems to me that in some ways the complete saturation and dependence on corporate goods exhibited by the protestors could actually further their argument. Although, it could be extremely powerful if these protestors enacted something along the lines of of the Ghandi movement — perhaps wearing non-corporate clothes, etc. The reality is that the rich, and likely massive corporations, will be around until Jesus returns. I think what we can do is live for something new in the shell of the old and resist greed and corruption through renouncing our own temptations to it (as you suggest) and by living for eternity.

  • rcarolinian

    There are so many good ideas here. However, I’m afraid that people who would like to see fundamental change sometimes ignore a basic fact of corporate structure: that executives of publicly held companies are legally obligated to return as much money as possible to shareholders.
    I’m not saying that’s right; in fact, I think that requirement is at the heart of the oppression and income inequality that is the subject of today’s protests. What that requirement means is that execs make decision that will make their quarterly earnings reports look good, so that analysts will recommend their stock and people will buy shares for larger and larger sums.
    Taking approaches that would need longer stretches to bear fruit, or, heaven forbid, forsaking bigger profits for social or moral reasons, leads to a quick ticket out the door. And the rank and file, including many of us whose retirement accounts are sunk in 401Ks, implicitly support this structure by asking the highest rate of return we can get from our investments.
    This corporate structure also means that shame has lost its rightful place in economics. When a banker lived in your town, even in the best house, he had to see people on the street, worship with neighbors in church, serve on town boards, and generally become a part of the fabric of life. A banker or manufacturer who wanted to make 400 or 500 times as much as his lowest paid worker would be an object of home-town horror, I believe.
    In any case, any proposal for change that doesn’t recognize that corporations are built on the rapacious desire for more and bigger profits seems unlikely to succeed.
    We can all become vegans and go off the grid, but the wheels of power will keep turning, and they will continue to be greased by everyday people who just want everyday, supportable lives. It’s amazing that the GOP has managed to convince so many people for so long that the party is on the side of working people. In fact, it’s the blood and sweat of working people that fuels this machine, both through cheap labor and through their purchase of goods and services produced by these corporations.
    I’m glad that the need for change has become ever more manifest. I pray for the reality of change.

  • Dennisaverybrown

    Boydcster makes a good point when he says “The fact that we use the products of corporations does not make us complicit in a morally significant way for the simple reason that we have no practical alternative.” However, most “Christians” today are not even aware there are any alternatives available due to the fact that we have forgotten the history of the Apostolic Church and have bought into post-Constantinian Christianity, the Christianity of the militaristic “Victor” which is the theology of the Oppressor. Those today that do truly understand the message of Jesus and are attempting to strive for a valid alternative are few. The Amish are one example. Their deliberate decision to avoid the use of new technology is a conscience recognition and rejection of the principalities and powers works today. However, even the Amish make certain concessions; purchasing property for rental to the non-Amish, borrowing phones and cars or hitching rides from the non-Amish when convenient.

    Zora makes the same point as Boydcster when she wrote “We born in that system, we are sort of prisoners inside, and we work for it (like buying capitalism productions) even if we don’t like it and don’t want it, even if we are anarchists; because this system is everywhere. So if you really want live outside of it actually you just have the choice to die.” No matter how much we strive to break completely free from the influence of the “principalities and powers” we shall never be completely free in this age. Luke Chapter 4 tells us that the Kingdoms of this world are under the authority of Satan. There is recognition in the Christian Scriptures that we must accept the fact that we live within this system and must use it in an appropriate manner. In the parable of the unjust steward Jesus said we must make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. This sounds to me like an admission that a certain amount of concession and accommodation must be made to the principalities and powers until the “restoration of all things”. The fact that this website exists is evidence that those who post here have also made certain concessions to the principalities and powers.

    I also believe Zora has some very valid points when she states “Yes we can confess, we can confess to have been blind too long, but the more important is to build another world, a world that we’ll not have to confess if it become reality tomorrow. The more important is not to protest and to do act of resistance against some parts or consequences of this system. The reasons for protest are too large, there is too many horrible problems. So the most important is to begin to live differently now, to build with others a true community.”

    I believe the Christian Scriptures are clear that this alternative community will not become a reality until the “restoration of all things”. The testimony of the Early Church is they sought to create an alternative community that disassociated itself as far as possible from the “principalities and powers”. Many believers in the community turned over their property to the Church, pooling their resources into a communal treasury which was “equally” shared by all. However, one thing that community did not do is “protest”. They were most effective when they demonstrated to the rest of the world how this alternative community works in real life and then invited everyone to participate.

    Having called myself a Christian for almost 34 years (I am in my mid-fifties), I have recently come to the conclusion that Christendom today is in need of returning to its roots. As a student of history, however, I recognize that true Christian will always be a fringe element, will always exist in the margins. As a result, I believe the only true alternative is to create a separate community that serves as a witness to today’s world, including Christendom. I applaud those of you that post on this website who have made the choice to live in one of these alternative communities. I wish I had the faith to make the same choice. I am excited to have found this website and am interested in seeing how the different communities represented here grow and respond in their deliberate efforts to present the face of the Kingdom to the world.

  • Dennisaverybrown

    Paul Munn wrote “I like this, Joe: “I don’t know how to disentangle my own corruption with the evil systems which hold millions captive, but in God, All Things are Possible.” I agree.”

    As I mentioned in the previous post, “There is recognition in the Christian Scriptures that we must accept the fact that we live within this system and must use it in an appropriate manner. In the parable of the unjust steward Jesus said we must make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. This sounds to me like an admission that a certain amount of concession and accommodation must be made to the principalities and powers until the “restoration of all things”.

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