Dec 28 2015
From Joy to Justice and Back Again
by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Here at First Unitarian, we move from December’s worship theme of Joy into January’s theme of Justice on purpose. It’s no accident that these themes sit side by side in this church year. Does this surprise you?
Many of us think of justice making as hard work—and indeed it is. Systemic roadblocks and our human failings often make the road to justice a long, winding, muddy, and difficult journey.
But we Unitarian Universalists have a mind and heart for justice. A vision of a better world, the conviction that we can help to create it, and a passion for taking action in solidarity with our kin near and far—all these act like a compass for the journey. And in my experience, once we set out along the road, we discover just how much joy comes with the journey itself. No wonder coauthor Karin Lin and I have chosen as our book’s working title The Joy of the Journey: Unitarian Universalist Congregations on the Road to Multiculturalism! For us, justice and joy walk hand in hand, just as injustice travels with pain, delay, and frustration. When we live leaning toward justice, we encounter all of these companions.
Some of my learnings on this journey keep me moving forward. Let me offer these conversation starters for our month of renewed exploration of this theme:
- Justice is partial—by which I mean two things:
First, justice usually arrives in bite-sized pieces. We never get every change that we want; no justice is “final.” This means that it’s crucial to celebrate every move in the right direction. Marriage equality was a big win in 2015! We know we have much more work to do—for transgender rights and understanding, to name just one area where lives are at stake. Relishing the joy of each win gives us energy for the work to come. We will spend some time this month lifting up our progress toward justice in the past year.
Second, justice is partial in the sense that it is “biased”; it leans in a particular direction. The scales of Lady Justice tip toward all that’s loving, compassionate, and inclusive. Justice leans in the direction of those who are oppressed and marginalized by society’s broken assumptions that some categories of people are “better” than others based on race, gender, gender identity, abilities, sexual orientation, class, education, ethnicity, religion, and so on.
Yes, no doubt some of you are already objecting to my description of Lady Justice here. Isn’t she supposed to be impartial, with the scales neatly balanced? I claim poetic license, along with the wisdom of such traditions as liberation theology, where Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor” marked a new era in justice making. We need a compass for the journey of justice making—and this is as strong a compass as I know.
Perhaps Dr. Cornel West better sums up what I mean when he says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” As always, the love referred to here is muscular and active, not sentimental and passive—a Love that connects us to something larger, extending beyond our individual limits, yet it gets expressed in sturdy, practical ways through our individual and collective words and deeds. Love made visible in all that we say and do.
- Justice making relies on authentic, accountable relationships across all kinds of diversities. And that’s the real joy of the work—the fun, and interest, and curiosity, and warmth, and compassion, and humanity of it.
In congregants’ responses to our Vision 2020 conversations, First Unitarian’s leaders hear your hunger for a better world that we help create. Racial justice, economic justice, environmental justice; issues of homelessness and mental health—these aspects of our lives cry out for our attention and our care. Just as we discovered in December, when we turn toward what we love with a deep, abiding love, we discover the joy that both guides us and fuels us for the journey we have ahead. Come, join in the journey! Let us be joyful, committed companions for each other on the road to justice!
With renewed love and commitment,
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