The World’s Almost* Best Advice on the Rest of Your Life. No kidding.

Welcome to laelarrington.com in this, the official launch week of my Faith and Culture: Live wisely │Love well website. Here you’ll find original weekly posts from a Christian worldview on any topic that helps us  thrive in today’s culture with a confident faith. I also scatter jewels of resources you may not find in Facebook memes.

axstj-successdsc_0808-1013-6142This week’s diamond is the June 2015 Dartmouth University Commencement address from my favorite comic sociologist and New York Times op-ed writer, David Brooks.

You’ll want to invite every 20-30 something you know to listen. You’ll glean great insight into the secrets of success and course corrections for your road ahead. Here’s a Fb Timeline-worthy Ivy Leage speech for all our friends that makes the extraordinary case, with wry humor and standing on reams of research, that what we really need is…steadfast love.

Not just Taylor-Swift good feelings, but love that sends down roots of commitment.  And the moral character that can keep it. The path to exploring your freedom and keeping your options endlessly open is “a path to a frazzled, scattered life in which you try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one.”

A Prayer for Josh Duggar: God’s ruthless exposure of secrets this summer

Ashley MadisonSince I wrote last May about the disclosures of Josh’s inappropriate touching of his younger sisters (and a friend) when he was fourteen and the ensuing scandal, my thoughts turn again to him and his family today.

Now we find out that for years he’s been leading a double life, addicted to porn, getting on the Ashley Madison website that facilitates adultery and has been unfaithful to his wife.

“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have been unfaithful to my wife,” he wrote in a public apology. “As I am learning the hard way, we have the freedom to choose to our actions, but we do not get to choose our consequences. I deeply regret all hurt I have caused so many by being such a bad example. I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

Sorrow upon sorrow. So disheartening for the body of Christ. And another shot across our bow to turn from our failures and indifference and draw near to a God who reaches out in terrible, loving rebuke to draw us to himself.

This summer I’ve been reading the prophet Ezekiel.  I’ve been struck by how God ruthlessly exposes the sin of his people, especially their leaders, before he brings down horrific destruction.

Back to School, Back to Work: How you can find more joy in work than play

vector-school-background-with-colored-pencils-913-1923

We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?

Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)

He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.

But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.

As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:

When Politicians Fail Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to doublespeak and cunning…what you can do

Doublespeak Meme

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds.

We have become cunning and learned the arts of obfuscation and equivocal speech.

Experience has rendered us suspicious of human beings, and often we have failed to speak to them a true and open word.

Unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

We will not need geniuses, cynics, people who have contempt for others, or cunning tacticians, but simple, uncomplicated, and honest human beings.

Will our inner strength to resist what has been forced on us have remained strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves blunt enough, to find our way back to simplicity and honesty?” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Germany, 1943-45)

Until you reach the last lines you might think this quote could be from political outsiders Ben Carson, or Carly Fiorina…or, if it weren’t so eloquent and respectful, even Donald Trump. Simply substitute “political class” for “human beings” in line three.

When Friends Frustrate Us: A Bonhoeffer alternative to criticizing or withdrawing

My Or Your Way Keys Showing Conflict Or Disagreement

How do you respond when people frustrate you? When their vision is smaller, their personalities grate, their pride annoys, their fears quash progress? Our culture nurtures a critical spirit. Social media affords more opportunities (and reinforcement) to vent and complain than ever.

German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew how to speak truth to people in the wrong and how to give grace when the relational issue was more a matter of personality or preference. As the Lutheran Church of Martin Luther fell under the spell of Adolph Hitler, he boldly joined the dissenting “Confessing Church,” becoming one of Hitler’s earliest and staunchest critics. (In Part 2 of this post I’ll review Bonhoeffer’s challenge, “When Politicians Fail Us.”)

But first, the personal challenge. Bonhoeffer’s commitment to speaking truth was tempered by great love. In his book, Life Together, he challenges our Western penchant for radical individualism, even (especially) in the church, and shows us, better than anyone I’ve ever read, how to forbear others who offend and try our patience. How to see and honor the image of God in each person.

Shopping for a New President: Why Strength and Cool without Kindness Can Bring Buyer’s Remorse

Every four years, when we shop for a new president in debate season, we have a history of looking for what we believe is missing in our current president. You can look back from president to president and see the cultural pendulum swinging from one profile to its opposite.

DSC00336

For example, after four years of Jimmy Carter’s malaise and sunset in 70’s American  gas lines, we elected Ronald Reagan to be strong and bring back the morning again.

In the wake of Pres. Bill Clinton’s affairs and slippery I-did-not-have-sex-with-that-woman deception, we wanted someone who was honest and trustworthy. In George W. Bush we elected a straight shooter with no history of scandal or corruption, and a strong family man.

After years of war on terror, we settled on a president who was less of a “cowboy” and more of a conciliator. Now, after eight years of negotiations with Iran and retreats from red lines, we see a lot of enthusiasm for a strong man again– someone who will Get. Things. Done.

Have you discovered The Stream?

This daily news and opinion digest produced by leading voices from Breakpoint and Discovery Institute requested a reprint of Thursday’s Wilberforce post. So appreciate the insightful writing, respectful tone and Christian worldview. Just launched a few months ago. I’m subscribing and setting as my browser home page. I invite you to join me.

The Stream Wilberforce Screenshot

A Wilberforce Moment: The PP videos and how you can make a difference

Planned Parenthood supporters are leaning on congress and the media to kill the story of what’s really going on inside America’s abortion trade.  Reminds me of how England’s  slave ship owners did *not* want the Brits to see what went on inside the slave ships. We are living in Wilberforce times, no?

amazing grace movie slave ship

William Wilberforce was the British Member of Parliament who led the fight to abolish the slave trade. If you haven’t seen Amazing Grace, the 2006 movie about that struggle, now would be a good time. Especially to see the scene where Wilberforce has arranged for a pleasure cruise of British lords and ladies to pass by the moored slave ship Madagascar. Watch them recoil at the chains and manacles draped across the stern that had recently bound its human cargo. Imagine the stench as they hold their noses.

Ioan Griffudd as Wilberforce calls out from above the manacles, “I want you to remember that smell… remember the Madagascar… remember, God made men equal.”

Wilberforce and his friends in Clapham Circle feel compelled by their love for God and each person he created to not just tell but show the truth about slavery. Thanks to them and the encouragement of Prime Minister William Pitt (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), eventually things change. But only as the public becomes more and more aware of the abominations that are out of sight/out of mind.

In addition to the PP supporters who want to keep hiding the truth from public outrage and legal investigation, I’ve heard too many  conservative newscasters and friends say they do not recommend watching the Planned Parenthood videos because they’re too graphic. Please don’t follow their advice. Here’s why…

An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood: What exactly are you apologizing for?

Nucatola meme2Dear Planned Parenthood,

With great interest I watched your apology in response to the undercover video of your Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, discussing the sale of human livers, hearts and lungs.

“Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide,” said Cecile Richards, your president. “In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.”

Planned Parenthood apologizes for a lack of compassion. Is this a monumental shift in your values? Or an astonishing use of Orwellian doublespeak? What do you mean by “compassion”?

We know what the dictionary means: “Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” (Dictionary.com)

Compassion is always directed at another person. Please clarify: Whom do you think deserved compassion but didn’t receive it?

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy movie, and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson Part 2

Love and Mercy portraitThe funny, sensitive musician has reflected that he lost his sense of humor in the 60’s. Combined with his own insecurities and mental fragility, his quest for drugs-and-music-drenched enlightenment  took a fearful and paranoiac toll. Which makes the redemptive story of Love and Mercy all the more amazing. (view Part 1 here)

In Smile Brian was reaching for music that would take the listener into totally new spiritual experiences–transcendent, epic and yet intimate at the same time. Brian was no philosophical-art-student John Lennon, but in Van Dyke Parks he found a Lennonesque collaborator to put lyrics to the great art and music in his soul.

For months they pulled drug-fueled all-nighters at Brian’s famous piano in the sandbox and conceived a musical mosaic to guide listeners on a journey through American music, beginning at Plymouth Rock and ending in Diamond Head. It would incorporate the elements of earth, air, fire and water as an image of ego death and oneness with the all.

On one of the instrumental tracks Brian worked to created the musical experience of fire–“a dark, booming, reverb-drenched blur of sound.” An “eerie whine that grew into a giant conflagration…the weirdest was the crash and crackle of instruments smoldering for the final time.” Listening to the final cut of “Mrs. O’leary’s Cow,” the musicians marveled at what Brian had produced.

Then, a couple of days later, a building across the street from the studio burned down and there seemed to be a rash of fires in the LA area.

Beach Boys, Love and Mercy Movie and the Lost Gospel of Brian Wilson

love and mercy LP poster

So there I was cruising down a woodsy road in the balmy summer twilight, stereo cranked…”You gotta help me Rhonda, help me get her outta my heart bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom-bom…”

Most of us associate the Beach Boys with summer-soundtrack songs about surfing, cars and girls on the beach. And their staggering 100,000,000 records sold.

Back in the 60’s, outside the music business, we didn’t realize that Brian Wilson, the creative genius who wrote most of their music, was taking his place among American greats like George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Burt Bacharach.

We just knew that when we pulled the sun roof back and crooned along on “Don’t Worry Baby,” something deeper reeled us in: the sheer beauty and increasing complexity of the music.  The constant shifting from major to minor chords that somehow captured our exuberance in the major theme of life’s joys and our longing for love and mercy in a fallen, minor-themed world.

The movie Love and Mercy chronicles the story of Brian Wilson in two narrative arcs. Paul Dano plays twenty-something Brian in the 60’s at the height of his creative genius.

John Cusack plays Wilson in the 80’s—a damaged soul who slips a beautiful Cadillac saleswoman a note with three hastily written words: lonely, frightened, scared. The movie seamlessly weaves together scenes from both periods to show how Brian fell into the minor theme and couldn’t find his way out. Yet it leaves the larger story of why unexplored.

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: A July 4th Prayer for America

The Happy Birthday America celebrations are ramping up. Some of us are not feeling all that festive yet. (Which surprises me—always the optimist, loving my country. So many happy memories of watermelon and home-made ice cream. Family and fireworks.) In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision maybe we can take a cue from the apostle Paul. Maybe it’s a time to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Grunge flag of USA. Horizontal composition

Lord, we thank you for your good gifts of life and liberty. Thank you for men and women who risked so much to give us the gift of America…
…those who pursued an “errand into the wilderness” to worship in freedom
…the Pilgrims on the Mayflower who “for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country” planted their Plymouth Rock colony.
…the thousands of Puritans who sought to build “a city on the hill”… [where they would] “love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments…that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it”

…the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence against a world power when they had no great army to fight it and no navy to break the blockade they knew would come
…the 17 who fought in the Revolutionary War and the five who were captured and held as prisoners of war
…the 4 who saw their sons or wives killed or captured
…the 11 whose homes and lands were ransacked, occupied or burned
…the many who lost their businesses or gave their personal fortunes to fund the war

Your Response to Gay Marriage: Seething, Fearful or Soothed?

The Supreme Court released its long-awaited ruling on gay marriage Friday morning. By a vote of five to four it’s now legal in all fifty states. We are living through a tidal wave of cultural change. How do you respond?

Supreme court gay marriage

Maybe you are celebrating the news. Relieved that the issue will not need to be fought out state by state. Glad for your friends who are gay. Maybe you are working hard to show tolerance in this new social reality but, under the surface, are you seething? (Or maybe not under the surface…)

If you are angry, sort it out…why?

Surprised by Majesty: How a Navy Honor Guard reveals what’s missing in our casual lives

Dad's funeral honor guard1

We arrive at my Dad’s graveside service and park behind the hearse. Even though we had asked for an honor guard, the sailor and Naval officer standing watch over his flag-draped coffin surprise me. While we welcome family and friends they face each other with unflinching gazes–all dress whites, gold buttons, epaulets and gloves.

The Guard’s gravity gradually pulls us into its orbit. In perfect synchronization they tuck under the ends of the flag. About a hundred feet away a sailor lifts his bugle and begins to play. The sailor and officer posted at the casket offer a slow-motion, final salute.

Dad is gone: What We Need to Let Go of the People We Love

My Dad died last night. Mom was on her way over to see him in his memory care facility, but Jesus, who holds “the keys to death and Hades,” slipped the key in the lock and opened the door.

Dad young and old

Today Dad is in heaven. And we are getting washed around by alternate waves of grief and urgency–to make plans and respond to family and praying friends. I’m a words girl and your words of sympathy and tenderness are washing over my soul. Comforting me. Encouraging me. Thank you.

Yesterday evening I was on the front row of a political forum, listening to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal tell his story of how he found Christ (or Christ found him, and wow! he was impressive, more later) when I got the call.

Media vita in morte sumus. In the midst of life we are in death. The ultimate disruption.

Dad’s life has been severely disrupted by the deepening onset of Lewey-Body Dementia and Parkinsons. He fell and broke his hip in the summer of 2011. He has spent the last four years in that place where none of us want to be–losing his brilliant mind and his independence, living in a wheelchair. He did not go quietly into that good night. He hated the limitations of both.

Getting over the Duggar/Jennar outrage…for the common good

In Touch DuggarsImagine if *you* were Jim Bob or Michelle Duggar. Imagine the InTouch reporters and editors who broke the story on your son’s dishonoring innocent young girls turning up at your door and asking you for a personal interview. Now imagine that you gather your tribe together and knock yourselves out to serve them dinner. And afterwards you serve up coffee and strawberry shortcake and sit down to answer at least a few of their questions.

There’s a great precedent for such outrageous kindness. It’s what Christians have been famous for through the ages. Consider church father Polycarp (AD 69-155). When a cohort of Roman soldiers arrived to arrest him and take him to be judged in the amphitheater in Smyrna, Polycarp calmly greeted them. Noting they must be tired, he asked them if they would like to refresh themselves with food and drink while he took the hour to pray.  They agreed and he accompanied them without protest to his death.

And then there was Jesus.

As people who want to follow Jesus we honor the image of God in everyone. We have been champions of the image of God in the unborn. Champions of the weak and dying. But we tend to fall off the wagon in between. As the heat turns up over the the Duggars, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and the anticipated gay marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, we get angry. We attack. We mock. We say things on Facebook that make Jesus weep. How can we champion the image of God and the common good in the weeks ahead?

Some Deep Thoughts on San Andreas

San AndreasIt’s a disaster movie designed to be a roller coaster ride–the kind of scary fun you expect from summer blockbusters. Not quite a Spielberg roller coaster, but still, pretty intense, with a story of family reconciliation to boot.

My original title for a short post was going to be, “San Andreas: There is no thoughtful cultural commentary to offer on this movie. Just have fun.”

But even insurance companies acknowledge that earthquakes are “acts of God,”  so it’s natural to see a link between earthquakes and earthquake movies and God.

But first, the movie…

Before we throw stones at the Duggars…and some advice from a CPS pro

It’s been a terrible, no good, very bad week for the Duggars and their 19 Kids and Counting reality TV show. A few days ago a celebrity gossip tabloid reported that twelve years ago Josh, the oldest child, fondled 5 young girls, several of them his sisters. He was 14 at the time. The tabloid took the police report public and the web has exploded with condemnation.

19 KIDS AND COUNTING 7

19 KIDS AND COUNTING

(August 22, 2010 update: With Josh Duggar’s confession of unfaithfulness and holding an account on the Ashley Madison website that facilitates adultery, I’ve written a sequel to this post.)

Parents Jim Bob and Michelle have been publicly shamed for calling it a “very bad mistake” and covering it up. Last night CNN’s Don Lemon and his guests slammed them for dealing with Josh through a religious lens of sin and repentance rather than acknowledging “the reality”: his actions are a crime and he should be reported to the police. (Really? Keep reading…)

The Learning Channel is deciding whether to continue producing the show. Viewers are deciding whether they will continue to watch it. Or permit their children to watch it. Many of us are listening to the uproar wondering how to respond to fellow-believers with wisdom and grace. And no doubt many families with a similar experience are watching this unfold in horror of what this all means for the way they handle their own children.

What It takes to move people from here to there

Gate Gothic Fantasy Background

(“Best of” blog) This post was written when we moved from Houston, to Columbia, South Carolina almost five years ago. We are still delighted to be in our new church family and home. The lessons in how we can see a new hope and a future and move people there and keep them inspired are still fresh.

After months of transition, job search, selling a home, finding a home, a month of living with delightful, incredibly generous friends while we wait for the new home sale to close, we have finally, actually, irrevocably MOVED. What seemed so daunting and risky and unknown has become, step by step, reality. Actually, God is in the business of moving us all from HERE to THERE. And as Bill Hybels pointed out at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit last week: the essence of leadership is to lead people from HERE, the current reality, to THERE, the much preferred future.

Five ways to have a richer, more joyful vacation

DSC00260Vacation offers the possibility that, for at least a week or two, it really *can* be “all about me.” Relax and indulge in what we want to do when we want to do it.

But, if we were to pursue a vacation with Jesus at the center, might we actually find more joy? What would it look like? Here are five ways you can have a richer, more joyful vacation:

Plan and Pray

Part of the fun of vacation is planning what to do. Even letting the kids help pick out places to see and things to do. It ramps up everyone’s expectations and anticipation of the fun to come.