“A Whispering Call” now available in paperback

In A Whispering Call, Joe LaGuardia explores the treasure of God’s unfolding drama of salvation from the earliest pages of Genesis to the advent of Jesus Christ.  It is a celebration of scripture and a plea to take a renewed interest in the First (Old) Testament.

“By way of neglect,” LaGuardia writes, “the church has lost the ability to read the Old Testament independently from the Jesus whom Christians serve…The breadth and depth of the Old Testament solicits as much, and begs a closer reading by Christians, various faith groups, and people of no faith at all.”  A Whispering Call seeks to let the Testament stand on its own, to hear ancient voices for a new day, and rediscover the hope that launches the greatest story ever told.

A Whispering Call is LaGuardia’s second anthology of essays on sacred scripture, and it is sure to encourage, challenge, and inspire readers in the journey of faith.  It promises to bring biblical principles to life and affirm God’s mission in the world.

Every essay pays careful attention to biblical research and cultural insights, and each includes a series of study questions perfect for private devotions or public use.  Read them for group discipleship, incorporate them in the classroom, peruse them to prepare for that next sermon.  They promise to enlighten and entertain.

Order your copy today!

Here are some excerpts from the book…

On scripture…

God’s Word is not a sounding board that reinforces our cliché beliefs about Jesus; nor it is an echo chamber as cheap as social media platforms sometimes assume…Regardless of contemporary, common arguments about the nature and inspiration of scripture, the ancients believed that the Bible was a dangerous book, one that beheld the mystery of God and reinforced the fragility and myopia of God’s people. 

Its radical message had the power to transform lives, communities, institutions, and nations.  In the words of Barbara Bowe, savoring scripture makes the difference between admiring the flame of a candle and touching the flame of a candle so as to engage that which is dangerous, purifying, and–in many ways–scathing.

On sexual abuse and #MeToo in the Old Testament…

Although forgiveness [in the Bible] breaks cycles of violence, forgiveness does not exclude speaking out, protesting, and resisting personal or systemic abuse.  It does not condone violence or look in the other direction.  Jesus’ forgiveness does not give us an excuse to continue to see, seize, and subdue like Shechem did with Dinah.  Rather, the act of forgiveness calls us all to holiness, restoration, and healing.  It gives the oppressed a voice–all who are at the center of our texts of terror–and empowers those of us on the sidelines, that we might intervene…It is not enough to say “I’m sorry,” we must right wrongs so that reparations can prevent future abuses and exploitive practices.

On the state of the church…

Many people claim that today’s church is worse off than ever before and in need of reform…Some Christian scholars believe that this is not the end of the church, but only another beginning–the Holy Spirit is moving the church from the laurels of comfort and inspiring a new movement of outreach and missions that pivots God’s people from an inward-focused ministry to an outward-focused missional agenda.  Fundamentalism will collapse in on itself, exposing the false gods of nationalism and tribalism, while the God of Pentecost–always breaking boundaries of ethnicity, gender, race, and economics-is moving well beyond the walls of the church.

On justice in the Bible…

If there is any voice for justice crying in the biblical wilderness, it is the prophet Isaiah. Throughout his message to Israel, he called for people to “do justice” (1:17). Echoing other prophets, such as Micah and Amos, he challenged people to have mercy. This was not only for personal enrichment, it was a community ethic in which relationships were set straight, economic injustices repaired, and people long-neglected were protected and honored. Justice was not about having one’s head in the clouds, but about making space for others in one’s own living room. It was not a reach beyond community, it was a diligent plan to make community one of integrity and compassion—an organic, living model built on the theology that all people are part of God’s creation, even if some people do not believe in that fact.

For Isaiah, justice means caring for the refugee, widow and orphan. It means insuring economic opportunity, minimizing debts, sustaining land ownership, and understanding that if things are not right between neighbors, then things with God will not be right.

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Star Wars and its Spiritual Ancestors

starwarsBy Joe LaGuardia

There is a tidal wave of excitement over the seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to be released in a few weeks.  Tickets for opening day are nearly sold out, people will camp out to get first dibs on good seats, and costumed movie-goers will drag entire families to watch what some are calling the event of the century.

This is no exaggeration.  For many, Star Wars is the ultimate science fiction movie that shaped childhoods, established cultural icons for generations, and set an example for cinematic heroes and plots since 1977.

The franchise’s momentous history was not always as prominent and positive.  Few people remember, for instance, that some faith leaders refused to see the movie because of the eastern philosophies and world religions that influenced the plot.

I remember vividly my father’s warning that the film was too “New Age” to take seriously and that the “Force,” an energy that defines and holds the entire Star Wars universe together, is none other than a pantheistic idol in disguise.  He might as well have quoted Han Solo in referring to the Force: “It’s a whole lot of simple tricks and nonsense!”

The truth is that the franchise’s religious and spiritual undercurrents are what inspires its staying power.  The subplots of call, conflict, redemption, death and rebirth, baptism, rites of passage, and victory through sacrifice or self-denial communicates a message that transcended time and place unlike any movie before or after its release.

The evangelicals were actually on to something.  The father of the franchise, George Lucas, admitted that eastern and New Age spiritual mythology set the stage for the narrative arc.  This was not to exclude western worldviews, but to connect people with the larger themes all of us–and every religion–have in common.  It is parabolic in its power to express the human struggle through images and metaphors.

Lucas also relied on comparative religious studies that his good friend, Joseph Campbell, perpetuated in the book, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, which outlined common threads that messiahs, villains, and saviors from every religion and mythology share.

Star Wars is popular not only because of its award-winning affects, marketing, and music score, but because the basic story appropriated Campbell’s findings for a new, contemporary audience that sat squarely in an age that valued spirituality and postmodern storytelling.

Of course, the first three Star Wars movies were not the only ones controversial.  The three prequels, released years later, were controversial too, but for different reasons.

Fans and movie critics lambasted the prequels for an over-reliance on computer-generated special affects, a thin plot and flimsy script, and actors that did not seem to replicate the movie magic of the original films.

Even today, when one thinks of Star Wars, images of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo come to mind rather than Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker or Samuel Jackson’s Mace Windu.  Some people would pay good money to lobotomize memories of Jar Jar Binks from their brains once and for all.

But I think the prequels flopped because of something more primeval:  Lucas failed to engage audiences on a cerebral, spiritual level so aptly achieved by the first three Star Wars installments.  Somewhere along the way, he neglected Campbell’s work for the sake of action, adventure, and campy lunchboxes.

That Lucas is not directing the forthcoming movie is a relief for many.  The new director, J. J. Abrams, has a formidable resume, and anticipation remains high.

Can Abrams muster a film as significant as the first three?  If it taps into the spiritual longings of a people who still yearn for a savior, then it just might do.  If it only seeks to tickle the senses of audiences by having big explosions and fight scenes, then it may as well fall into the same forgettable category as the prequels.  Only time will tell.

Reconciliation (part 2): The Beloved Community

MLKJ

Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged Christians to build a Beloved Community marked by God’s reconciliation with humankind and peace between one another.

By Joe LaGuardia and Karen Woods

Several weeks ago, Trinity’s associate pastor, Karen Woods, and I wrote an article on the art of reconciliation and truth-telling to improve race relations.  This is the second of two articles.

In the book of Genesis, God created Eden, a place where God and humans communed together (Genesis 2).  There, a man and a woman were equal partners in having dominion over the earth.

In Genesis 3, however, a crafty serpent exploited that one nagging feeling we humans have: That if we step out on our own and be like gods, then we can live independently from God.

By listening to the serpent, Adam and Eve sinned.  Division resulted:  Humans were cast out of the garden, hid from God, and were ashamed of one another.

Part of God’s punishment affirmed that division: men and women would live in a hierarchy from then on (Genesis 3:16).

People experience that division throughout the Bible until, at the appointed time, God sent Jesus the Messiah to die on the cross for Adam and Eve’s (and our) sins.  Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death reversed the disharmony between God and humans, and humans one to another.

In Christ, all barriers fell away.

Jesus said that the greatest commandments was love for God and for neighbor.  Paul argued that “in Christ” divisions do not define people (Galatians 3:28).  Rather, people are brought into harmony with God and with one another.

Paul echoed this miraculous act in Ephesians 2:13-16, which states that Jesus’ blood brings us near to God and breaks down walls of division and hostility between people.  We become a “new humanity” that makes up God’s family.

In Christ, there is no slave or free, male or female, Gentile or Jew.  Christ rebuilds Eden 2.0.

No one cannot guarantee that all people will make a decision to follow Christ in order to benefit from that peace and reconciliation.  But that is between individuals and God.

Our concern relates to those who call Christ “Lord.”  Christians are obliged to live in this new humanity and model a household of God that invites people–regardless of differences–into what Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the Beloved Community.”

Jesus created this community before America was discovered, before slavery, before we were born, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Acts Rights of 1965, 1970, 1975, and 1982.

No amount of legislation makes us equal.  Only living into God’s “new humanity” does.  In that sense, Martin L. King, Jr.’s dream was not far from the Jesus’ vision for how the Kingdom of God plays out in every day life.

There is another thing about Jesus’ act of reconciliation: it never ends.

For far too long, we Christians have ignored what Jesus did on the cross, and many churches remain segregated, stagnate, lost, and aloof.   In some cases, churches adhere more to the partisan politics of the state than the reconciling politics of Christ’s cross.

The major thrust of responsibility falls on Christians because the church is to be a space where co-existence and peace flourish.  If Christians do not discuss these important matters of justice, trust, reconciliation, then who will discuss these matters?

Our concluding questions are important ones for our readers to ponder: What would America look like if Christians practiced a true spirit of peace and co-existence in a fully-realized Beloved Community?  How would our churches, faith, and our very lives change if we adhered to the truths set forth in Paul’s second chapter to the churches in Ephesus?

How would we spread that Beloved Community beyond the walls of the church in order to bring about just communities in which racial profiling, economic inequality, and discrimination no longer have strongholds over the institutions our nation holds most dear?

May God bless us with a Christ-centered vision that overcomes the many divides that create hostility.  May God bless us with renewed hope that the Beloved Community is still our inheritance, a blank check ready to be cashed.