FEBRUARY 22, 2023
Look, there on the mountains, the feet of one who brings good news, who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, people of God, and fulfill your vows. No more will the wicked invade you; evil will be completely cut off.
Did you celebrate Lent growing up? What does it mean to you? Lent is often presumed to be a time when we purposely deprive ourselves: seeking human scarcity in order to meditate on divine abundance. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our frailty, and the lifelong dance with inevitable death. Lent can also be a season of sufficiency. Ashes to acknowledge our limits. Our God given, embraceable limits; the limits that often keep us alive. These are all too despised in a culture which worships busy work and pedestals the sleep deprived. Lent is our time to simplify. A time to believe that God gave us enough right here on this earth, if we care for it. A time to believe that God has made us enough for each other, if we seek each other’s good. A time to believe that God has called our goodness good enough for the abundant future that we can frame together.
For if God is Love, if the Holy Spirit is Help and Freedom, then Lent is a season of preparation for the glorification of God’s attributes harmonized into a human embodiment of the same.
Good news for the loved ones who yet live in cages – Lent must not mean deprivation for you. Lent means recognizing your own power, the spirit of divine origins that you were born with. Dare to demand a broad acceptance for this truth – even as you are limited in participating in the democracy that seeks to erase you and name you property of the state. Good news, beloved, Incarceration is not part of God’s future.
Good news for our cousins in danger of deportation: borders are not in God’s future.
Good news for survivors: The Lord has come to remind you that evil will be cut off.
Good news for the tribes to whom this land truly belongs: The Lord has promised to make your invaders flee and never return.
While empires insist that civility is born from massacre, God builds power with people participation. Capitalism and the carceral mind define effective safety as the threat of punishment, but God holds all things together with the truth. Creator God raised up every human from water and dust: uncontainable, unpredictable, the stuff of chaos and the ground. We are all made from meager stuff, on purpose.
Jesus’s journey is a series of radical prophetic fulfillments that bring us this good news. Perhaps none so radical than the good news of humanity’s divine sufficiency.
We were not made to Lord over one another, or presume to put someone in their place. The Prison Industrial Complex exists to separate and degradate. Jesus teaches that godliness requires togetherness. But somewhere along the way, some strange, slavery-based somehow, somebody got it twisted. Humanity became the reason for God’s promise at the end of Nahum 1.15
Mass Incarceration has disappeared Black and Brown people, divided families and devastated communities. From the Fugitive Slave Patrols of the Carolinas, to the 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories, United States history is carceral in essence. This nation was born from the blood of Indigenous and African peoples, and still runs on our exploited goods. Today, all together, the collected carceral systems in the United States hold almost 2 million people. Two million people in the United States alone. The vast majority of them are legally innocent. The government does not maintain records of deaths in jail and custody. Simply put, we do not know how many lives have been lost in cages in the United States.
What if there is life on the other side of Mass Incarceration? For many, this is a dream, for some, this is a nightmare. The concept of life without a system of cages is called abolition. Abolition of the prison industrial complex is a political vision and a community journey to create lasting alternatives to prison, policing and surveillance. Abolition is also a spiritual worldview embraced by many Christians who understand the failures of Mass Incarceration. Abolition does not mean no consequence. It means acknowledging that the current system is failed, and something else is possible. God is not afraid of abolition, because They have the vision of what is coming next.
Good news – all you who are searching for the God of Love and Help and Freedom, They are already near to you, within you. Freedom is yours; the so-called justice system didn’t give it, no cage can take it away.
Recommended Soundtrack: Lauryn Hill, So Much Things To Say
“I will never forget, no way, how they crucified Jesus Christ.
I’ll never forget, no way, how they sold Marcus Garvey for rice.
I no come to fight flesh and blood
But spiritual wickedness in high and low places
So while they fight you down
Stand firm and give Jah thanks and praises
‘Cause I no expect to be justified
By the laws of men, by the laws of men
Whole jury found me guilty
But prove, truth shall prove my innocency”
– Lauryn Hill
Prison Policy Initiative
NAACP on Fugitive Slave Patrols
Vera Report on Prison Deaths
The Rev. MICHELLE HIGGINS
Meet the Author
Reverend Michelle Higgins holds a Master in Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. She has deep roots in the Pentecostal worship tradition and lives in Saint Louis city with her two children.
As Senior Pastor at Saint John’s Church – The Beloved Community, Pastor Michelle is the first woman to be settled as lead pastor and teacher in the congregation’s 160 year history.
Pastor Michelle is a Director and founding member of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group dedicated to continuing the biblical story of activism. Faith for Justice promotes public justice actions and leads training events that connect Christian communities to Black Power movements.
Rev. Higgins is proud to be co-founder and Board Chair of Action St. Louis, where she organized multiple bailout campaigns with national and local groups seeking to address the criminalization of poverty as it impacts Black people. This resulted in her launching the St. Louis office for the Bail Project, and serving as Lead Organizer for the campaign to #ClosetheWorkhouse, a local jail in St. Louis under lawsuit for inhumane treatment of inmates. As a member of the Operations team for the Electoral Justice Project of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), Pastor Michelle supports the work of organizations working nationally to ground local contexts in the Black queer feminist politic.
Pastor Michelle actively promotes the pursuit of social justice as a gospel imperative. She participates in civil disobedience and disruption for the sake of public justice; and often works as a consultant for event design, leadership development, and worship arts in faith spaces.