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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Curations: Justice and Joy

Artwork by Diana Ejaita, a multidisciplinary Italian-Nigerian artist based in Berlin

J. Drew Lanham is a native of Edgefield, SC, and a birder, writer, poet, and author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature.

His poem, "Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves," was recently shared by a church member of ours and I found it incredibly powerful. It's long, so I won't post the entire thing here, but you can read it using the link above (or listen to the poet read it!). I'd love to hear which stanzas and lines and images stood out to you, and why. Comment on the post, or send me a message.

There is so much to explore in this poem, but here are some stanzas (in bold italics)

that struck me as particularly meaningful.

Joy is the paradise

we can claim,

right here,

right now.

No vengeful gods

craving prayer,

no tenth in tithes to pay,

no repenter’s cover charge—

no dying required to get in.

Joy is the sunrise,

breaking through night’s remains

bright shone new

on a shell-wracked shore;

a fresh tide-scrubbed world

redeems what was,

to is.

(I especially love this idea of redeeming "what was, to is"...past to present, night to day, old to new.)

Joy is the soul stirred

underneath the journey,

gaze snagged on wonder,

not knowing final destination,

blessed as a witness

moored to ground,

worshipful tears

dripped into grateful smile.

This, to me, is a beautiful image of the importance of pausing, "gaze snagged on wonder," and the ways that God can surprise us in those moments, bringing us to gratitude and even worship.

Joy is being loved

up close,

for who we are.

("...being loved up close..." Beautiful!)

Joy is the last song,

drifting in

as dark curtains fall;

the sparrow’s vesper offering,

whistle lain down

in pine-templed woods,

requiem in me-minor—

church in a cathedral time built.

No stained glass.

No pulpit.

Altars everywhere.

Just listen.

Just Look.

A much-needed reminder of God's ever-presence, and the holy ground of creation (if we will pay attention).

Joy is the sharp eye

watching little brown sparrows,

and the kind one,


on little brown children too.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father... So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

Joy is the loss

we take to gain,

monuments to traitors

torn down,

lost causes finally buried,

never to be found again.

What is it we might need to lose in order to gain (faithfulness, justice, joy)?

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

Have yourself a heapin’ serving.

Have seconds. Or thirds.


joy is the justice,

we must give ourselves.

I hope you'll share your thoughts on these stanzas, or on others from the poem as a whole. And if you'd like to hear more from J. Drew Lanham, he has a great interview on On Being with Krista Tippett, titled "Pathfinding Through the Improbable." Check it out!


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