April 15, 2019
Matthew Avery Solomon and Noel Espinoza were murdered on September 4, 2008. Three men were charged with the crime. In What Is Justice?: A Personal Exploration, author Bill Denham studies the crime and what it reveals about himself and about our broader culture’s pursuit of retributive justice. Incorporating poetry, philosophy, theology, and memoir, Denham suggests an alternative system borne out of our inter-connectedness and reliant on the exercise of our imaginations. What Is Justice?: A Personal Exploration is an engaging, deeply personal, and deeply felt exploration into the meaning of justice. It is an essential and thought-provoking piece.
“Wrestling with grief over the killing of a boy he loved as a son, Denham confronts his own impulses to condemn the ones who murdered him. With the courage to perform ‘open-heart surgery’ on himself, Denham returns again and again to restorative justice as the only way forward. A solemn read, a quiet contemplation, a hopeful longing, What Is Justice? is a respite for anyone committed to labors of love and justice.”
—Valarie Kaur, Founder of the Revolutionary Love Project
“There is a murder; there is a pending ‘execution.’ There are victims and there are perpetrators. Into the midst of these deep contradictions, Bill Denham plunges with his honest, searing, hope-filled poetry. He dares to imagine that we are all bound together in this human crisis as one. We are not ‘over-against’; we are rather ‘with’ and ‘belonging to.’ That solidarity evokes compassion that presses toward restorative justice and away from revenge. Denham sees that it ‘falls to me’ to do justice. Indeed, it ‘falls to me’ and you and you and you. Those who enter Denham’s world of poetic imagination may be called to care in transformative ways. It is his hope. Indeed, it is our hope!
—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary
“What does it mean to love our enemies? I know of no better answer in our time than the care Bill Denham shows the men who killed his stepson. With vulnerability and courage, he uses a poet’s ear and a prophet’s eye to redefine justice. His story moved me deeply.”
—Bruce Murphy, retired as President at Northwestern College, a former Pastor at La Jolla Presbyterian Church and Bethany Presbyterian Church
“Bill Denham has given us a gift in a few short pages. As he shares his experience of losing someone he loves to violent death, he invites us to accompany him as he searches his own heart and enters as he can into another’s experience. The insights he gathers into his poetry, prose, and the quotations he incorporates challenge us to do the hard work of subverting the systems that numb us by learning compassion for the other.”
—Becky Ankeny, Ph.D., Recorded minister in Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends
“After the 2008 gang-related murder of his stepson, Bill Denham embarked on ten years of deep and profoundly revealing self-examination. This book is a compelling account of the results of that questioning. Here, in both prose and poems, Denham voices an impassioned plea for replacing our retributive justice system with restorative justice. Avowing that true justice ‘must come from an honest and humble place,’ he bears wise and eloquent witness to ‘the excruciatingly hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation.’”
—Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita