Rev. Liz Kearny (she/her/hers)
Liz is a member of the PPF Activist Council and Co-Pastor at Longview Presbyterian Church in Longview, Washington
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, 1958
These words from Dr. King came back to me as I spent time pondering Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 this week. That passage isn’t in the Revised Common Lectionary any time soon, but for some reason, it pressed in on my consciousness this second week of January. I recalled the disciples’ first instinct when faced with the tremendous tension created by 5,000+ hungry people was to walk up to Jesus and insist, “We need to send these people away. They’ve got a huge need that we cannot even begin to imagine addressing. The solution is for them to meet that need somewhere else.” In an effort to disappear that tension and driven by a scarcity mindset, the disciples thought the best way forward was to disappear those hungry people.
Is this not what we are currently doing through the prison industrial complex? Communities that have been systematically abandoned by our white supremacist, settler colonial society are left without any of the resources of quality food, education, healthcare, etc needed to thrive. Our society criminalizes them for their hunger to simply live. And instead of getting to the root causes of “crime” (we should be asking who decides what qualifies as “crime”, shouldn’t we?), like hunger, like lack of access to education and healthcare, we fatten up those police budgets and build more jails and prisons so that we don’t have to see the suffering created by our refusal to equitably share the abundant resources God has given us. In an effort to disappear the tension, we too insist on disappearing people.
And then there’s Jesus. Even with the disciples clamoring to send the people away in order to relieve themselves of the fear that there’s not enough to go around, Jesus says: “You give them something to eat.” In these words, I hear Jesus saying, “In my kin-dom, we don’t disappear people – we feed them. In my kin-dom, we don’t send people away – we set the table so that everyone will have enough. In my kin-dom, we hold hands through the anxiety and tension and we show up for each other in hope. In my kin-dom, we don’t build peace by avoiding tension – we show up ready to make justice real with our own hands.”
In all this pondering, another quote came to mind: “Abolition is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” – Ruth Wilson Gilmore (scholar and leader in the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex).
The work of peace-making that Dr. King was calling us towards all those years ago is coming to fruition in the modern movement to abolish the prison industrial complex.
We are all those disciples who come to Jesus worn out by the scarcity mindset we’ve inherited from capitalism, and Jesus calls us to try a new way – God’s way – a way of abundance.
Abolition is not about avoiding tension or tearing things down for the sake of tearing them down. It’s about presence, about showing up with our full selves, trusting that the Spirit is empowering us to create what is needed for our collective thriving so that we can say a definitive ‘yes’ with movement leader Angela Davis to the question that titles her 2003 book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”
We practice this presence of abundance every time we divest from policing and prisons so that we can invest in community-led efforts to provide safety, food, education, healthcare, robust mental health support, and opportunities for relationship-building in our neighborhoods.
We practice this presence of abundance every time we divest from these systems of punishment to invest in ways of giving everyone what we need. And in the process, we become those transformed disciples who, with trembling hands, start handing out five loaves and two fish and find that somehow, some way, there is more than enough to share. “And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. (Mark 6:42-43 NRSV).