Dreamin,' Dr. Joann Cross

Joel 2:28-30, Mark 12:41-44, November 8, 2015

When I’m given the opportunity to lead worship, I try to use this time of reflection to gnaw at some idea which troubles or concerns me. I find that a good way to actually figure out what I really think.

This is a problem I’ve been thinking about for a couple of weeks now.

I belong to a Giving Circle here in Oshkosh. There are about 60 members in the circle I belong to. We agree that each meeting we will contribute a set amount of money to the organization and then get together to choose a cause or a project to give the money to.

We get together every four months or so and randomly choose three groups to present their project to the assembled circle members. After the presentations the circle members vote on who gets the $5,000 we have promised ourselves we will donate each time we meet.

There have been some interesting projects, varying from Beaming, an organization that gives therapeutic horseback rides to developmentally disabled individuals, to Making the Ride Happen, an organization that matches volunteer drivers with individuals who need rides but can’t get a cab.

We’ve heard presentations from The Community Food Pantry, Bethel Home, Bella Health and several others, some I knew about, but other I had no idea existed within the Oshkosh area.

Recently the Core Management Team for this group met to consider whether any changes to our structure were necessary to serve the need of the Giving Circle members. WE surveyed our members to ask what they thought we could do to improve the group. One of those responses is the problem I am wrestling with. Let me explain.

One of our members challenged the model we were using saying that with so many fundamental need in the community, why wee we wasting good money on horseback ride and ride sharing programs. Why weren’t we addressing homelessness and hunger and violence rather than frivolous recreational and other non-essential activities? The response startled me and started me thinking. Two conflicting thoughts kept battling in my head.

One thought questioned me “Shouldn’t we focus on solving what the United Way calls ‘Oshkosh’s One Big Thing’”. In the case of OAUW that is Women and Poverty. But in the case of our Giving Circle it could be anything involving basic needs like food, housing or clean water.

The other side of me argued, but our tiny contribution can’t really make a difference, can it? And besides the Community Food Pantry isn’t very interesting or different or exciting. And after that last thought I mentally blushed. I guess it’s pretty easy to find the Food Pantry boring when you have plenty to eat!

So here’s my problem and in typical academic fashion, it all comes down again to two conflicting thought:

What are basic need? And what constitutes making a difference? Notice how they are related, but different? Now you begin to see my problem; you can’t answer the second question until you answer the first question and you can’t answer the second question until you answer the first question. Sigh. But let me try by putting together some random thoughts here.

First, what constitutes a basic need: Certainly: food, water, air, shelter. I guess there’s no argument there. But shouldn’t we include faith? Don’t people fundamentally need something constant to believe in lest they become overwhelmed by the futility of this all?

Maybe we should include human contact? Can people really survive alone – reality TV sometimes tries and fails to address this issue because isolation is not very photogenic.

Should we include mental health – where is Rosangela when I need her?

Should we include music, art, dance?

Should we include health as a fundamental need?

What about education?

What about pure and simple joy? I think Tom would agree that humor is critical to human mental health.

What does it mean to be a “basic need?” You see my problem.

So let’s assume that there is no good answer to my first question. Let’s agree for the moment that most of us can decide what is NOT essential to our own existence, but we can’t really successfully create a finite list – a list with an end - of what is.

So let’s turn to the second question: What constitutes making a difference?

Do I make a difference by the size of my contrbution? If it is true that only by volume (in dollars or time), then Jesus’ parable of the widows donation makes no sense. Although I only have few dollars to offer or a few hours to devote, according to the parable (or one reading of it) I am still making a difference.

So let’s conclude that size isn’t the determinant of making a difference. Which I find hugely comforting. One of my worst fears is that I will spend my whole life and never make a difference because I am not rich or well-known enough. I look around at the world and feel so tiny and insignificant that sometimes I wonder what’s the use. Jesus tells me just because I’m small and my reach is limited, it is still possible for me to make difference, but it is not for me to know how I made that difference.

And this actually helps to solve the rest of my dilemma. That is, what kind of things should my Giving Circle be funding to make a difference?

It seems to me that what I have been moving toward in this reflection is that everything makes a difference to someone. To a lonely person, companionship makes a difference. To a person trapped in an uncooperative body, a horseback ride, a rickshaw ride can be liberating and change a life. To a scared or unhappy person, a smile can make that difference.

Thus, I guess I can conclude that I make a difference every day. It is my job on this earth to dream a dream of possibilities, to listen to my heart and the small voices within me and do things to make progress towards those dreams for all people.

John Lennon wrote a song about those dreams. Some people have advised me that these words are very offensive, but although my dreams are different than his, the scope of his vision encourages me to think more creatively about what I want the world to look like:

Dream big, then take actions small and large to move toward your dream. God working in you will be there to help if you have but faith.