Happy Friday to you, Church!
It’s a typical March day in the NoCo– the icicles are dripping, the snow is s-l-o-w-l-y melting, and the sap is a runnin’. Has anyone tapped any maple trees this year?
The news for the week is short:
A Special Opportunity
Two years ago, SUNY Potsdam dipped their toe into radical justice work: they started offering a bachelor’s degree program to men incarcerated at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg. Since then, the program has exploded in popularity, and now, nearly 20 professors are teaching classes there to over 45 students.
The morale among these men, and the pride they take in being SUNY Potsdam students is growing, and quite a few of them are considering coming to Potsdam to finish their degrees when they are released. (This summer 3 of them will be transferring to Potsdam, and possibly 4 more will be coming later in the year.)
Most of these men have never been to Potsdam in their life, but their education, and the relationships they are forming with their professors are important enough to them to consider moving to an unknown place in order to continue improving their lives.
In the last few months I have been working with the director of this program to create an opportunity for local citizens to get to know some of these men and support them on their journey of finding new life. We’ve put together a tutoring program, and are looking for local folks to go to Riverview two nights per month for a semester to encourage our soon-to-be neighbors in their educational pursuits. Tutors, knitting instructors, drawing teachers, and AA/NA facilitators are needed at this time.
If you know how to take notes while reading a chapter in a textbook, if you know how to use Microsoft Word, or you can proofread a paper; if you’d like to teach men how to knit or draw; if you’ve come out the other end of addiction and want to share hope with others; or if you just have a desire to offer positive encouragement and friendship to men seeking to rebuild their lives– you have the chance to make a profound impact on the world.
This call for volunteers has been sent out to all of our PIC neighbors, and we are hoping to find a small group of people across town who are willing to travel to Riverview at least twice a month for a 4-month block of time. The tutor room and computer lab will be open Monday-Thursday from 5:15-8:30pm for our volunteers to come and help out in a timeframe that they are able to commit to (even 90 minutes would be enough to make a difference) and a knitting or drawing class could be built around your schedule.
Attached is a document explaining more of the details of the programs and what you would need to know if you decided to sign up. An informational meeting is also scheduled for later in the month to organize volunteers, answer any of your questions, and for you to meet the first student to come to Potsdam from Riverview (his name is Brandon, and he’s a spectacular human being with an incredible story to share).
America’s prison system is a corrupt, unjust part of our society which is often hidden from the public eye, but which plays a major role in upholding poverty and racism in our country. Eight years ago I stepped into a prison for the first time and got to know men who reside there, and I will tell you– my experiences there have had a deeply profound impact on my life. I have made some very important friends who have taught me more about America, our culture, and even myself, than just about any other experience I’ve ever had. I can’t encourage you enough to consider giving this a try. I guarantee that you won’t regret it if you do.
Will you pray about this opportunity? It’s a chance for us to put into action our Christian belief in second chances, social justice, and compassion.
Lynn Warden Died this Week
For those of you who knew him, I am sad to report that Lynn passed away earlier this week down in Albany. I don’t have any contact information at this time to send a card. If any of you knows how to contact Lynn and Shirley’s family, please let me know and I’ll pass that information along.
Crossing Boundary Lines
One thing that Jesus was known for was crossing over social boundaries– of going to places to meet people he wasn’t supposed to know or befriend. This Sunday we will look at how Jesus went out of his way to go to Samaria, to offer hope to people who were supposed to be his enemy. And next week at church he will be talking with a blind man (a sinner)– another individual he’s not supposed to fraternize with.
Friends, our salvation is a communal salvation, and a major part of “the good news of the gospel” has to do with befriending people we’re not supposed to know or care about.
James talks about this very thing. He writes, “
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”~James 2:14-17
Whether it’s getting really brave and deciding to step foot in a prison, talking with a homeless person, befriending people with disabilities, or reaching out a hand to someone across the political divide– Jesus asks us to step outside of our comfort zone and welcome people into our lives that don’t win us social status with our peers.
It’s a lonely, despairing place to live on the margins of society, and when those of us who live comfortably in the middle can step outside of what makes us comfortable, we create a small spark that brings to life the Kindom of God.
This week I challenge you to reach out beyond the boundaries of your normal life. Who could you be kind to? What friend might be waiting for you to get to know?
You never know what treasure is waiting for you when cross over a social boundary designed to keep you from knowing someone!