From the desk of Chris Barbera at Jesus the Liberator

July 22, 2020

There used to be a Walden Avenue bus that would follow that road all the way from downtown Buffalo, NY to the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden, NY.   The Buffalo Correctional Facility and Wende Correctional Facility were all on the same line.  It was a direct, energy efficient and easy way to visit people.   Like many such services (we paid a fare), it was cancelled.  

Those 3 prisons were near each other, in a rural area by Ellicott creek.  As I took the bus out there to visit one particular poor, black woman who was being punished for her drug addiction, I read St. Teresa of Avila’s The Foundations.   I reflected upon how the great Teresa organized her monastic order and contrasted that with how America organized prisons.  I reflected upon the intention of the monastic order as a “house of God,” a kind of “Bethlehem.”  Like the 19th century poet Rimbaud re-conceiving factories as mosques, I re-conceived prisons as monasteries.   Imagination is necessary for inner freedom and the re-conceiving of the world.

From this seed of conception, I began to develop, with others, a center of spiritual learning within captivity – a seminary within prison.  From this, a prison theology began to evolve.

I do not know what became of the woman I visited.   She is one of the multitudes of voices that have been integrated into our spiritual vision.

Photo by Leo Cardelli on

July 14, 2020

Would Jesus Christ or New Testament writer Paul work to defund the police?  Of course they would.  Although diplomatic overtures were made to authorities, most of the people who accompanied these men were victims of the police.  The Centurion guard that Jesus makes peace with was both an expression of his universal love and also a pragmatic gesture of self preservation for him and his movement and people.  Paul wrote the Book of Romans as an insight into spiritual reality (Jesus) and worldly (Roman) law.  Romans represent the body, Christ represent the soul.  But one cannot “serve two masters.”  

Can Christians engage in the tribulations of a culture?  The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and others would say that they (we) must.  There is a link between Christ and culture.  The culture of America is rooted in a slave owning class of aristocrats.  They needed and used the police and military apparatus to maintain and perpetuate their power.  Jesus Christ, in the American culture, would most definitely proclaim “defund the police!” 

The police and military apparatus “live by the sword.”  Rather than asking them to “die by the sword,” it is spiritually necessary and reasonable to rather “defund the police!”  

Is it within the nature of Prison Theology to reduce the violence of the centurion guards within prison cell America and on the streets?  Of course!  A direct and nonviolent way is to “defund the police!”

July 9, 2020

Our third book, available online or in print form, is centered on one of our principle ideas and practices – that knowledge, faith, meaning, and identity are contained within each person; “The kingdom of God is within.”  We facilitate a process of revelation and connect that to larger themes of theological insight.

Part of our methodology/pedagogy is described in this excerpt from More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology:

“We maintain a kind of Socratic Method of seeing ideas and answers within others and drawing them out in dialogue and relation. Memory and subjective vision are a core of a confession or autobiography. Words such as “hermetic, atomistic and autodidactic” apply.  Because solitude is a condition of prison, we draw out the good essence of a bad situation.  

Each autobiography is then supported and enhanced.  Every person is accepted, and each autobiography is valid.  This makes the approach relative and relational. Perhaps it makes it somewhat “postmodern” in that each point of reference is individual. This is our fundamentally democratic approach to education. The collecting of a multiplicity of voices makes it a democratic experience. 

The ethics of a confession is that in articulation, one is bearing the weight of the past (a sin or crime) and bringing it out into a light which heals. In so doing, the dead survives the dead in their time. Positively told, by “taking the light from under the bushel” and showing the world, one brings a truth into existence.”