From the desk of Chris Barbera at Jesus the Liberator

August 19, 2020

Prison Theology takes into account the power of words and the emotion and thought behind them.  When people in prison do not construct a reasoned and researched theological position, we do not judge them or discredit their insight.  Neither do we discredit or judge the parables of Jesus or the short insights into wisdom of the Book of Proverbs

In our new book, More to this Confession: Relational Prison Theology, I give examples of insights and parables in our introduction.  I write about the depth of feeling and the intuitive aspect of knowledge.  For example, an anonymous inmate wrote this succession of words:


“Explosive anger”

“Attica and 3rd world poverty”

“Collective act”

Taken together, these words poetically sum up a historical moment and worldview of liberation coming from the grassroots.  These words could have been spoken by a prophet.  Do churches or universities exhibit this depth of power?

August 11, 2020

“The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither reveals nor conceals but signifies.”  Heraclitus 

What does Prison Theology signify?  That life exists within captivity and oppression and suffering?  That the life born of that possesses a depth of love and resilience not felt in polite society?  That the seeds of transforming the world are deep underneath and unseen?  It is this and more.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians, the city of Heraclitus, as a “prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” (1:1) He was signifying the unifying power of Christ Jesus to a diverse, cultural, and urbane city.  Paul, a Jew, became a Christian.  He would become neither Jew nor Gentile.  As a prisoner he would become free.

Prisoners in 21st century America are signifying that if freedom can occur in captivity, then it can occur outside captivity.

August 5, 2020

Q Anon is a conspiracy movement that protests unseen “powers and principalities” while supporting a primary power and principality – Trump.  Martin Luther protested the “powers and principalities” of the Catholic Church while encouraging German peasants to support the German nobility.  John Calvin advocated for a Christian government.  If people believe they are moral, then oftentimes they want that morality to attain power.  

Some primary aspects of religious or pseudo-religious organizations are shared experiences, values and vision.  These distinguish a community from the rest of the world.  A special designation of “chosen or special or superior” may poison that community.  It would then degenerate into a cult or what Dr. Martin Luther King called many modern religious structures – a “glorified social club.”

At Jesus the Liberator, we believe that humility, sacrifice and service are core values of the Christian life and message.  We conceive of power as emanating from the liberation from suffering.  Within that is wisdom.  It preserves us from the hubris of empire.  It also squarely aligns us with the proper aspect of protest within the Christian example. We are separate only because moral society deems us “criminal” which means “immoral.”  But Jesus was considered the same.

July 29, 2020

One aspect of our nonprofit model has been to form and sustain spiritual community.  We have done this by creating a “life-line” with people incarcerated and by working with prison chaplains.  That connection is maintained by people on the outside.  The community is based in the “word.”  The word is the meaningful dialogue between “us and them.”  It is also the dialogue between “self and God” where people listen and speak to the “still small voice within.”  People often hear the “still small voice within” by reading.  There is a dialogue between the author and the reader.  The dialogue is expressed through reading and writing.  

One of the foundations of education is literacy.  We encourage people to read and then provide them the books free of charge.  We emotionally support them and give feedback and insights.  We do not judge but we enhance and guide and facilitate.  

Jesus claimed that “freely you have been given, freely you shall give.”  Within a society motivated by the accumulation of wealth and goods, we labor for free and distribute books for free.  Many of our books have been freely donated.  Below is an excerpt from our recent publication that testifies to one of our witnesses.

“Rev. Dr. Douglas Gilbert was a Presbyterian minister and medical doctor who greatly influenced our thinking about the interrelation between body and mind and spirituality and addiction (Meister Eckhart and brain chemistry for example).  When he passed on, he bequeathed his great theological library to us which over time (especially within this house) we have shared freely with hundreds of prison inmates.”