The Justice Conference founder Ken Wytsma was the opening speaker at last year’s conference in Portland. He told the crowd they were at a “conference to die to yourself” and were “among 4,000 people who believe it’s better to give than to receive.”
Ken spoke about giving our lives away for the betterment of others. As the conference kicked off he said, “I hope you get crushed this weekend.” Boy, did I. My friends and I left the conference different than when we arrived. And there was one sentence he spoke that has stuck with me since and is what this blog is named after:
“We may not be able to fix the world, but we can change it.”
As soon as I started to read Ken’s first book, “Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things,” I was back at the Portland Convention Center listening to empowering and encouraging stories about justice, faith and finding true joy in giving ones life away.
In “Pursuing Justice” Ken uses the gospel, life experiences, history and various works of art to explain what justice really looks like, and how it’s knowing God as much as it’s serving God.
Here is my Q and A with Ken:
Q: You’re a pastor, a husband, a father to four daughters, the founder of The Justice Conference, President of Kilns College and a consultant and creative advisor to non-profits (did I leave anything out?!). How did you find the time to write “Pursuing Justice?”
A: Much of the book is what I have been living, learning and teaching for over the past decade…the rest of the writing was motivated by deadlines!
Q: How did the idea come to you to write this book?
A: I’ve felt called for sometime to try and get something out that would redeem the word justice and also show it’s relevance to the rest of the big questions: God, life and happiness. Much of what is out there either leaves people feeling guilty, over idealistic that we can “fix” the world or thinking that justice is about certain causes like Human Trafficking. In the end, justice is bigger, deeper and more central than all of that. It leads to joy (it truly is better to give than receive) and surfaces the need for grace both to cover us and sustain us.
Q: Why did you feel it was important to share your story with this book?
A: We all have a story. Mine is inextricable from what I’ve learned. Insights and lessons have come from both people and experience. Showing where that comes from will hopefully make the book more real and also help people to look at the voices and experiences in their lives that will teach them to see the world through bigger and more sensitive eyes.
Q: I enjoyed the format of the book with your words as well as inserting poems and other written works titled “Interludes.” What was the idea behind the format?
A: I’m a big fan of the arts and part of the lesson about justice is that it needs many voices to flesh out. I decided to include what we called “interludes” as a way of working in art and a greater larger cast of people into the conversation.
Q: While dialoguing, researching and writing this book, did you learn anything you hadn’t already heard or known before?
A: I think humility is the big lesson I’ve been stewing on. Justice is about standing up (which is so very necessary), but humility (which is about sitting down) is also so very necessary for us to see what we don’t see, recognize our flaws and be willing to celebrate others rather than trying to be the hero ourselves. The role of humility in justice is one that I continue to chew on and think about even now. It is an under explored facet of justice.
Q: What advice do you have for people who feel pursuing justice feels like a chore?
A: If pursuing justice feels like a chore then someone probably hasn’t connected it to proper motivation (delight and joy rather duty and guilt) or hasn’t found the outlet that fits their gifts or calling. When we connect justice to proper motivation and proper calling it will wear us out, but not burn us out. As Paul said, “I am being poured out like a drink offering.” In other words, I’m being emptied out with labor, but it is my spiritual act of worship. A phrase I often use to describe Paul’s statement is that the sweet spot is to fall in bed exhausted and empty, but with a smile on your face.
Q: This year marks the third year of The Justice Conference. What was your original vision for the conference when you founded it, and has that changed over the years?
A: The vision has always been to explore theology of justice in addition to talking about specific issues of justice. The hope is that in connecting justice as a necessary component to our knowing and being known by God that it will lead to deeper, more lasting and more satisfying engagement than if we just whip up group excitement about flashy causes. With the conference we are looking for lasting change and a unity between justice and Christian belief and practice.
In addition, we hope conference goers will be able to network and be exposed to hundreds of organizations, schools or movements leading to collaborative endeavors and engagement that, without the conference, might not have been possible.
Q: For those who are headed to Philadelphia in February for the conference, what can they expect?
A: I think Philly will be a lot of excitement as well as deep and meaningful talks sure to spark reflection, heart change and motivation to continue forward in pursuing God’s call to justice in our individual lives. The amount of pre-conference sessions and main conference speakers is far greater than any previous conference and is sure to be worth its weight in gold.
Lastly, there is something about the solidarity of thousands of people coming together for a weekend who share the paradoxical vision giving our lives away on behalf of others is where we’ll actually find true life.
Pursuing Justice Quote Board
“When we act justly — when we give our lives away — we have the best chance of glimpsing what grace truly is and experiencing along the way, what Jesus calls ‘complete joy.'”
“If it is impossible to change the world, God wouldn’t have told us to try.”
“Justice is a thread running throughout the gospel.”
“Just as Jesus entered the world to give his life away, so too can we.”
“Every blessing is an opportunity to be grateful. Every blessing is an opportunity to give.”
“What will we decide to do with the time and opportunities we’ve been given? It isn’t enough to say we want to change the world — part of changing it is learning how.”
“Not only will the world not flourish if we aren’t giving our lives to it, but neither will we.”
“Justice is a necessary part of God’s call in the Christian life.”
“We don’t always need to see where the road leads — we simply need the faithfulness and commitment to take the next few steps in front of us.”