hope is a discipline

I owe a lot to Twitter, believe it or not. I joined Twitter reluctantly 12 years ago when I was recovering from surgery and in need of distraction. My friends made fun of me – what kind of stupid stuff was I getting myself into? Twitter has changed and grown since then, and some of it is gross and ugly. But one thing has remained the same: Twitter opens doors for me to listen to important conversations and learn about them before wading on in like a fool.

On Twitter, I can follow and learn from people who do all kinds of fascinating work, like Gerald the English gardener and a local lawyer who unravels ridiculously twisted legal scandals and MacArthur Geniuses (also local, and I heard her speak in person before the dang panini descended. Seriously, I live in Nirvana, here). It’s like slipping into the back of a lecture hall or festival of curiosities and filling up to my heart’s content. Of course, I follow a ton of preachers and church leaders, which is both professionally helpful and often very, very dull. The good stuff is learning from people who do wildly different things than I do, and are willing to share their wisdom with the world.

One corner of Twitter that I stumbled into somehow a few years ago is Abolitionist Twitter. Did you know that abolition wasn’t just a 19th century movement but actually alive and well in the United States? The modern movement is called “PIC Abolition,” which stands for “prison industrial complex.” I am not an expert. I barely even know what I’m learning about, but I am learning. My favorite person to follow on Abolitionist Twitter is Mariame Kaba. She has some strict privacy controls on her account, and I don’t fully understand how I managed to be randomly accepted as a follower, but I’m really, really grateful for her presence and insight.

Kaba has been doing this work for decades, and she’s committed to it. She also knows how to use Twitter for good. She is funny. She resists drama. She intentionally supports young people. She shares about her organizing projects and makes fun of herself in charming ways. I bought her book, and am reading it now.

In the first essay of the collection, called “So You’re Thinking about Becoming an Abolitionist,” Kaba manages to pack a ton of beauty into just a few lines. The essay is only four pages, and you can read it here.

Let’s begin our abolitionist journey not with the question ‘What do we have now, and how can we make it better?’ Instead, let’s ask, ‘What can we imagine for ourselves and the world?’ If we do that, then boundless possibilities of a more just world await us.

When we set about trying to transform society, we must remember that we ourselves will also need to transform.

I know that there is a whole world of abolitionists doing work out there – some I even know and love. I understand that I am following tiny threads of a massive movement, that I am just dipping my toes in a wide ocean. I’m mostly sitting in my house and reading, and haven’t yet managed to put this learning into action. But I confess that what I am reading and learning feels like gospel work to me, far more than anything that is emerging from the church structures to which I am required to pay attention.

I should say that the abolition movement includes people of varying faith commitments and many who have none. It is not a “Christian” community. But the work – freeing captives, setting the oppressed free, confessing the ways our own hearts are tangled up in the mess of it all – and the ways it gets explained as a holistic vision of another way…well, it feels like Jesus to me.

Kaba has a refrain that folks have painted, cross-stitched and worn on their shirt: “Hope is a discipline.” In a world where the structures that taught me to hope and work for a world that was already but not yet here are crumbling, I am grateful to find the Spirit soaring and making herself known in other, unexpected places. I am grateful for the reminders that transformation is both personal and structural. I am glad for examples of how to live life holding tightly to conviction and lightly to ego. In the midst of this Holy Week, as we remember Jesus’ unjust arrest and sham of a trial and tragic death at the hands of the state, I’m deeply moved by the witness of folks who name these persistent evils in their present-day form and remind us that we are called to live in other, more merciful, mutual and just ways.

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