Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Lord of the Ring-Bearers (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is all about a company of persons chosen to go on a great quest.

As is common in such quests, the fellowship —charged with shepherding the "Ring of Power" to its destruction in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom— is packed with persons of great stature. There are current royals, future royals, great warriors, the brave, the bold, and ... some Hobbits.

These hairy-footed little Hobbits —not the brave, the bold, the royals, or the great warriors— are the focus of the story. They are from a pleasant backwater of Middle Earth called The Shire. Outside of the adventures recounted by Tolkien, these little beings live generally low-key, unsophisticated lives; taking joy from eating and drinking and other homely activities ... the kinds of lives where Second Breakfast may well be the high point of the day.

And yet, Tolkien chose Hobbits to actually bear the corrupting "Ring of Power" to its intended unmaking. Much debated: why were the Hobbits entrusted with such a crucial task?

It reminds me of the reaction of the crowd at Pentecost to those chosen by Jesus as the bearers of his Good News.

["Utterly amazed, they asked: 'Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?'" Acts 2:7 NIV].

I know it’s not a movie script, but I think the Bible translators may have really "under sold" the crowd's reaction. Shouldn't there be an exclamation point in there somewhere??!!

Umm, Galileans?! Really?!

That pretty much sums up the general response of ... well, almost everyone who encounters this band of Jesus-followers. They consider them unsophisticated and ill-suited to the tasks they have been assigned. Nathanael was not the first (nor the last!) to ask, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?

And yet, these rough people are the ones Jesus chose.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf chose the Hobbits to take the ring to its doom because they could bear it ... as opposed to every other member of the fellowship —those brave and bold fellows— who would likely succumb to the corruption that comes from possessing such great power.

I don't think we know why Jesus chose the Galileans for the core of His group. But maybe it was for a similar reason. None of the seemingly obvious choices, as it turned out, were really appropriate.

Sometimes, the very person needed for the difficult task is the one judged as least likely. Never forget: God chooses whom God chooses ... and God often chooses “the least of these.”


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Portions of this reflection are from Hobbits at Pentecost? (a reflection that appeared in May, 2013).

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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Here is a link to a Table of Readings that extends through May 31st: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//lections.php?year=A&season=Easter

Day of Pentecost (May 31, 2020)
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (May 31, 2020)
1 Samuel 2:1-10
Psalm 113
Romans 12:9-16b
Luke 1:39-57

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DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast remains on hold, of course. But we can still read this week’s scripture passages and reflect on their purpose for our own lives. We will focus on The Pentecost (the Acts passage), this coming Sunday; but, as you can see, I have also included Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, as well.

Blessings,
Steve

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Are You Lonely in the Pandemic? (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

How do we care for others in the Pandemic?

In a time when caution should be the watchword, a time when staying apart is the only option for many, a time when communication is usually not face-to-face, how do we care for others?

In the past, active caring meant being physically present. We visited the sick and those imprisoned. We actually went to the homes of shut-ins. We lifted, bathed, fed, dressed, and generally assisted those who could not do for themselves.

We were hands-on.

Today many, for whom we were once present, are alone. True, there is a difference between "alone" and "lonely," but the difference is not quantitative. When we say someone is alone, we mean a person is by themselves. Lonely, though, has no numerical limit. Sometimes we want to be alone; it's a choice. Sometimes we experience unplanned aloneness, but that is not necessarily unpleasant. Some of us enjoy our alone times, even if they happen upon us randomly.

Lonely, on the other hand, is not good. We need interaction with others, to one degree or another, and we have had that need from the very beginning.

“One” really can be the loneliest number.

Stephen Covey gets at this in his book, First Things First. He suggests there are certain things we need in life: "to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy." All four are worth our time to explore, but let’s focus on "to love." It’s all about our need to relate to others —to love and be loved. One interesting aspect of this: it doesn’t come pre-loaded with a sense of urgency. In fact, unless we intentionally cultivate it, we tend to not have it. “To love” awaits our desire to elevate it to true importance in our lives.

And that brings us to this weeks Psalm 68 selection. It asserts that God "sets the lonely in families." This passage carries a sense of restoration; of being placed among those who care about our wellbeing; of, finally, coming home.

What does that mean for us, today, as we continue to grapple with separation, social distancing, face masks, latex gloves, and lockdowns? God knows our needs ... all of them. We are made in His image; how could He not know? And he offers to meet those needs. But how God meets our needs is almost never through some miraculous agency. No, it’s almost always through the good actions of other people in our lives.

There’s two directions to this. One direction is how we “reach out” to those in need when we cannot, physically, be present with them. It may seem obvious, but let’s say it: do what you can. Phone them, write them, message them ... and don’t do it just once. Make a habit of it. They need our connection, even if we can’t join them or touch them.

The other direction? Are you lonely? Take an inventory. Look about at all those people who used to surround you every day. You know the ones: maybe in the past they got on your nerves, stood too close, talked over you; maybe they forgot to return your stuff; maybe they were the ones who lived for the drama; but maybe you also noticed that they meant well. Sometimes they hugged you even when you didn’t want to be touched, and they often showed up uninvited (but also came when you were ill or in need). Sometimes they were needy. And let's face it, their choices baffle you, including the one where they chose to hang around you.

They're also the people who were consistently present in your life. Or, to look at it another way: they are the ones who choose you.

Congratulations. God has already placed you in a family. Allow yourself to see them for the gift they are. Reach out and connect (even if it’s not in person) ... and enjoy.


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Portions of this reflection are borrowed from a June, 2014 entry titled “Live, Love, Learn, Leave A Legacy.”

PHOTO: Steve Orr
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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
CLICK HERE or copy and paste—> https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//lections.php?year=A&season=Easter

Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 24, 2020)
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11
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DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast is still on hiatus. Here are the coming week’s scriptures for Sunday, May 24th (Seventh Sunday of Easter), as well as a reflection.

Blessings,
Steve

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Bravery in the Pandemic: Fearless or Foolhardy? (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
—U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (In his 1933 Inaugural address, at the worst point in the Great Depression)


On the bravery front, a lot has changed since the Great Depression. We still fear, of course. It's a thing we do. But the sources of our fears have a new entrant.

A lot has been written about our fears. New thoughts on the subject are being forged with each passing week of pandemic. And there’s quite a bit about our reactions to them: fight or flight ... or freeze.

Considering how many billions of us occupy this planet, the list of our most common fears (at least, as they were pre-pandemic) is relatively short.

1. Fear of failure
2. Fear of success
3. Fear of dying
4. Fear of commitment or intimacy
5. Fear of spiders
6. Fear of flying
7. Fear of public speaking
8. Fear of heights
9. Fear of the dark
10. Fear of rejection
11. Fear of open spaces
12. Fear of enclosed spaces

While I am not offering a cure to any of these, I do have an idea for how we should regard our fears ... and, perhaps from there, we can at least find a path toward taking away their power over us. FDR was right about one thing, certainly: we need to find a way "to convert retreat into advance."

A start: recognize that the power of our fears over our thoughts and actions is strengthened by our focus on them.

This is the beginning of bravery.

In this week's selection from 1st Peter, he writes to believers about how to deal with the distresses to which they have been subjected, the suffering they are experiencing. Quoting Isaiah 8:12-13, Peter exhorts them: "Do not fear what they fear." They? Peter means we should not fear the same things, in the same way, as non-believers. But how? We all fear.

It's in the focus.

Isaiah told his listeners to focus on God rather than fear what "they" fear. Peter pivots the focus to the Messiah, Jesus. Neither is saying we are not going to fear. Both are saying we need to shift our focus, our attention, our concentration ... to God.

Throughout scripture, we are told to place God first. It's the first commandment given to Moses. It's the greatest commandment according to Jesus. Nothing and no one should be positioned ahead of God. In that light, it is probably not a great surprise that God must also be placed ahead of our fears.

If we fill our thoughts with God, God will fill our dreams.

We need not pretend to be fearless. And we need never be foolhardy in our actions just to prove we are brave. When faced with what we fear, we need to focus on God.

That’s how we turn retreat into advance.

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Portions of this reflection are borrowed from one which appeared in May, 2017 titled What They Fear.

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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 17, 2020)
CLICK HERE for the readings: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=44

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

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We won’t be gathering, this week, for DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast. Maybe we can try a Zoom gathering in a few weeks. But, in the meantime, we can still pray for one another, spend some time in God’s word, and meditate on its meaning.

Keep safe. Keep in touch.
Steve

Sunday, May 10, 2020

How Do We Trust in A Pandemic? (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

My wife and I are solidly in the bullseye of this killer virus. By this point in the 2020 pandemic, we have learned there are unseen (and unseeable) snares just waiting to trip us up. And it’s forced us to become quite cautious. Also, to be completely transparent, our trust levels are pretty low: people don’t appear to be taking sufficient precautions. My reaction to someone attempting to interact with me while not wearing a mask and not practicing social distancing will be negative. For us, such behavior is just too risky.

What level of risk can you live with? Corollary: how much are you willing for your behaviors to put at risk the lives of family, loved ones, and strangers?

Remember: risk goes both ways.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, "The best way to make people trust-worthy is to trust them." He penned those words after experiencing the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Do you find yourself wondering how he could feel so comfortable taking that approach? Does it sound dangerous to you? At the very least it sounds risky; certainly so in today’s environment.

For many of us, when we weigh the possible costs of choosing the Hemingway Option, the risk of being hurt (or worse) just seems too high. We won't do it. But don't think Hemingway was naive. He, too, had weighed the potentials. He knew that, even though some could be trusted, not everyone could be. The difference: it was far more valuable to Hemingway to know who was trustworthy than to continue to wonder. To him, it was worth the risk.

But there are situations where the risk is too great. When I can actually see someone acting in a way that places me at greater risk than if they acted a different way, then I must wonder just how high is their regard for my wellbeing.

In this week's scriptures, the Psalmist implores God to "Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me, for I find protection in you alone." But what if the “trap” is not personally directed at me? What if their behavior is non-specific, not really directed at anyone? What if that person isn’t thinking about me ... at all?

Is it any less a trap for those of us who fall into it?

Most of us would rather not exercise the Hemingway Option to determine if a “trap” awaits us. In fact, most of us can see the obvious if we will only pay attention. Sure, someone could lay a trap for us in some clandestine way, but God has provided a response to that.

When I need rescue, God is my deliverer. When I need a place to hide away, God is my refuge. But I won’t test God by going about in this life ignoring obvious pitfalls. What I‘m going to do is elect the Psalmist Option: trust God to deal with my enemies and to pull me from any traps set for me ... even if the people setting them are unintentional enemies.

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PHOTO: by Pattie Orr

Portions of this reflection appeared in one titled Just Because You’re Paranoid... published in 2014.

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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 10, 2020
https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=43

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14
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At this point, DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast won’t reconvene until at least June. Even our smallest attendance exceeds the maximum currently allowed.

Until then, here are this week’s scriptures and a meditation to think on.

Many blessings,
Steve

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Pandemic Dreams (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

this long tale of dark Christianity...

That’s how Stephen King described his enormously popular novel about a super-flu pandemic when he reissued it in 1990 as THE STAND: THE COMPLETE UNCUT EDITION.

There are many reasons I agree with his description; the novel is packed with themes any Bible reader would recognize. One in particular, though, stands out for me.

They had strange dreams.

King’s characters dreamed of a person and a place. All were being called to come. Each commenced a journey to follow the voice in the dream. In time, they formed into groups, moving with single-mindedness across the country toward their destination. Like the sheep in this week’s passage from the Gospel of John, they knew the sound of their Shepherd’s voice ... and they came when they were called.

There was just one hitch: they were not all dreaming the same dream.

Strange dreams seem to go hand in glove with pandemics. They were a feature of the 1918 Flu pandemic, and they are back with us, today. Even now, media reports are filling up with people retelling their dreams, and serious studies have commenced. The dreams of our 2020 pandemic, though, appear to be more of the stress variety. No one seems to be calling our modern dreamers on a journey.

However different our dreams may be, we each get to choose which Shepherd we will hear. But you have to choose long before you hear that call. Are you among those who can say, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” like David in Psalm 23? Or, like some of THE STAND characters, do you not hear what the others hear when the Good Shepherd calls?

God knows we stray. And God also welcomes us back if we choose to return. And if any do return, the Apostle Peter assures us in his first letter: the Good Shepherd will once again be the “guardian of your souls.”

Where you take your stand matters. Choose your Shepherd, today. Don’t take the chance you won’t hear the call when it comes.


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PHOTO: Steve Orr

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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2020)
CLICK HERE for the full scripture texts ... Or, copy and paste this link.
https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=42

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

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For the moment, quarantine rules still rule. That means another Friday morning without DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast. Hopefully, in a few weeks, our group will again read the scriptures, discuss their meaning, and enjoy a meal together.

In the meantime, here are this week’s scriptures along with a reflection to use in meditating on them.

Keep safe. Keep in touch.

Steve

Friday, April 24, 2020

Love in the Time of Quarantine (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

In this time of quarantine, social distancing, and separation, a song from Eagles singer, Don Henley, speaks to thoughts that have been on my heart of late.

The more I know, the less I understand.
All the things I thought I knew,
I'm learning again.
I've been tryin' to get down to the Heart of the Matter,
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter.
But I think it's about forgiveness, forgiveness,
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.


When Henley and friends wrote The Heart of the Matter in 1989, I doubt they ever considered it might become part of a scripture reflection. But I find it perfect for reflecting in our time of quarantine. As the song unfolds, it reveals the singer has learned that an old love has found someone new. How many songs have you heard with similar themes? A hundred? A thousand? And, if that was all there was to it, it would still be a hit because of Henley's voice and the fact it is so singable.

But there's quite a bit more to it.

What may not be apparent at first is that the song includes themes of love, grace, and trust. A close listener will discover the song is not really about someone pining for a lost love. Rather, it’s an exploration of what should come after that. Henley, of course, pours his soul into each verse, making it easy to get lost in his singing ... and miss the song. A careful listener will soon realize that the singer's search for that next step, "the heart of the matter," leads to just one place: forgiveness.

You don't find that in just any old song about lost love. This, then, is truly more; a transcendence over the love that was lost; an elevation to a higher love, a love that forgives "even if" his old love doesn't love him anymore.

Listen to The Heart of the Matter here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAeJy3KDwMw

The word for this kind of love is Agape. It’s an unconditional love, a love without self-benefit, often referred to as "love, in spite of." It's the kind of love one employs to love one's enemies.

No one considers it an easy thing to do.

Agape is also the kind of love the Apostle Peter is referencing in this week's passage from 1st Peter. He exhorts his readers to, ". . . love one another deeply from the heart." The Common English Bible renders that as "love each other deeply and earnestly" and the God's Word translation has "Love each other with a warm love that comes from the heart." Peter is calling on believers to truly live out the new commandment Jesus gave them. “Love one another,” is more than a little challenging, but is essential to life together as His disciples.

In the song, we discover: "All the things I thought I figured out, I have to learn again." Now is the perfect time start learning, again, how to release all the negatives; bitterness, envy, anger, revenge, malice, hatred. We have to continually revisit this, to keep returning to it —deeply and earnestly from the heart— as a fundamental building block of our growing faith ... especially in this time when we are so separated from each other.

Forgiveness ... that's how we "get down to the Heart of the Matter."


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PHOTO: Steve Orr

Portions of this reflection are borrowed from one called The Heart of the Matter which appeared in May, 2014.

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READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Third Sunday of Easter (April 30, 2017)
https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=41

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35
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I wish I could see you Friday morning at DaySpring’s Lectionary Breakfast to read the scriptures, discuss their meaning, and learn how better to love one another. Alas, our continued quarantine means we are still not meeting.

Below are this week’s scriptures along with a reflection to use in meditating on them.

Keep safe. Keep in touch.
Steve

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Secret City of World War II (a Steve Orr scripture reflection)

No one was told why.

In 1942, agents of the US government, using the power of eminent domain, force-purchased more than 60,000 Tennessee acres near the Appalachian foothills. Earth was leveled, streets were laid, foundations were poured, and buildings began to rise.

No one was told why.

The "whatever-it-is" needed people who could cook, run laundries, be janitors, collect trash, type, file, do carpentry, be lifeguards, teach school. They needed plumbers, nurses, doctors, librarians, pastors, musicians, coaches ... everyone needed to run and occupy a city.

No one was told why.

Many specialists were brought in. Over 75,000 people, though not told what they would be doing, or even where it was located, agreed to work in a place without a name. Everything was done in secret. Only after they were hired and on site were they told the details of their specific jobs. But, they were forbidden to discuss even that small part with anyone ... even each other.

No one was told why.

Over those first three years, the folks who worked and lived there began calling the area, “Oakridge.” Then, two-thirds of the way through 1945, everything changed. On August 6th, news began to whirl through Oakridge like wildfire: the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan!

What they had been doing at Oakridge those three years, with each one knowing no more than was essential to do his/her specific job, was producing plutonium, enriching uranium ... making "the blowing up parts" of the bomb. Each person came and did his/her part day after day, despite the fact they were not allowed to know anything more, and even though they had no inkling of the implications of their work.

The "big picture" was only knowable in retrospect.

Similarly, the three years of Jesus' earthly ministry were somewhat like the Oakridge experience: men and women drawn into an enterprise that was not really understood. The reality —and its implications(!)— far too enormous for them to truly grasp.

It was only in the past tense that even the inner circle came to more fully understand what had come before. That is the scene we read in this week's passage from Acts. Peter draws together the facts —those previously known and those not previously understood— and lays out the full picture for all assembled at Pentecost.

God came down. He allowed himself to be crucified as a sacrifice. He did not stay dead. And what sealed it all was the witness of Peter and the other apostles. Everyone could ... at last ... now know how all that had come before fit together ... to make the greatest spiritual explosion of all time.

It spread like wildfire.

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PHOTO: https://www.amazon.com/Girls-Atomic-City-Untold-Helped/dp/1451617534

Portions of this reflection are borrowed from The Girls of Atomic City which appeared in April 2014.

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For more on the Secret City, there is a little bit on Google, but I recommend these two excellent reads:

The Last Reunion - The Class of 52 Comes Home to the Secret City by Jay Searcy: https://www.amazon.com/Last-Reunion-Class-comes-Secret-ebook/dp/B007M4593U


The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan: https://www.amazon.com/Girls-Atomic-City-Untold-Helped/dp/1451617534