As for me and my house, we will push play.

Every morning we begin our seminary class with a “devotional,” which is a scripture and thought shared by one of my students.  It’s a way for the kids to dig into the scriptures and share what they know and is, in my opinion, always the best part of the lesson.  Since today was our first day back after spring break, I had no one assigned for the devotional and decided to mix things up and do it myself.  I thought it would be nice for them to hear from me as a fellow learner, not lecturer.  What a great chance to open up and share a bit of my softer, non-lecturer heart.

I thought all week about which scripture I’d choose, how I would present it, what personal experiences I’d share to underscore my appreciation for it.  I thought about the kind of devotional I wanted to give my students on our first day together after a week apart.  I thought about it a lot.

Until, um, I forgot about it.  (In my defense, please see my Standard Line of Defense:  It’s Really Not My Fault.)  But it worked out, because guess what I remembered at 11:30 last night?  It flew across my groggy, grateful mind like a yellow bumper sticker on a crowded freeway:

No preparation?  No problem.  Just push play.

And so I did.


I found this fun little  Mormon Message about how we can open ourselves up to blessings if we just understand the process.  I loved it, the kids loved it, and I know you’ll love it too.  (Because it’s also really short, and we can spend only so much of our day in deep thought.)  But this clip, cute as it is, is only the tip of the lazy teacher/leader/mother/father iceberg:

Don’t feel planning your youth lesson?  Push play.

Don’t feel like planning family home evening?  Push play.

Don’t feel like having that talking-to with the kiddos?  Push play.

Push play.

Push play.

And then, for a really good one, push play again.

These videos are engaging and encouraging;  they explain who we are and who I am.  They are perfect to share with my kids, my students, and my friends—both of and not of my faith.

But that’s not really the point, is it?

The real point is that when you’ve committed to be:  Insightful, Prayerful, Inspired, Prepared, and generally the Best Version Of Yourself, you…well, you can try that.

But if that seems like too much work, you can always just push play.


p.s. bringing donuts doesn’t hurt either.



It’s that moment when you’re asked to be an early morning Seminary teacher…

At first you think, “Wow.  I must be pretty sharp.  They asked me to teach early morning Seminary.”

Then, through an unintentional but utterly reliable grapevine, you start to suspect that you were second, or third, or maybe even fourth choice for this assignment.  “Wow,” you think.  “I must be pretty nice.  I’m the only one who will say yes.”

Then you spend ninety-seven hours the week before school starts (because they didn’t ask you until the week before school starts) doing online training, reading manuals, and replying to a dizzying onslaught of emails regarding attendance policies, tardy policies, reading policies, credit policies, classroom policies, and a bunch of other policies that sound superduper important but will just have to wait until you figure out where Habakkuk can be found in the Old Testament (between Nahum and Zephanian, thankyouverymuch) because that is what you will be teaching this year:  the Old Testament.  And then you think “Wow.  I must be pretty gullible.  I just agreed to teach the Old Testament.”


In just ninety-seven hours, you went from sharp to nice to gullible.  But, whatev: you still have to teach the Old Testament—to a classroom of teenagers, at six a.m., Monday through Friday.

At six a.m., Monday through Friday.

Wait…did I already tell you that last part?  No matter.  It bears repeating.  That, and the part about the Old Testament.

My land.  I haven’t read the Old Testament since I took it as a religious class at BYU–and when I say read,of course I mean “skimmed.”  (I was twenty and single.  As if.)  And now here I am, standing at a podium in a classroom every morning while it’s still dark out, pretending that I:

a) know the Old Testament,

b) understand the Old Testament, and

c) can explain the Old Testament to these eager young minds.  (Wait, did I say “eager?”  As if.)

And on top of this sorry charade, I am also trying to make the Old Testament interesting! and fun! to a classroom of teenagers—at six a.m., Monday through Friday.  It’s been, um, challenging.  It’s been, um, hard.  It’s been, um–okay fine–patently impossible.  Because they see right through me, I know they do.

They may not say it, but I can sense the suspicion, the contempt, the secret-sleep-trick-where-you-shield-your-eyes-with-your-hands-and-look-down-like-you’re-reading-but-I-know-you-are-sleeping-because-I-invented-this-trick-in-my-tenth-grade-oceanography-class.  I can feel the eyerolls and silent yawns when I turn my back to write Bilbah on the chalkboard.  Oh, they smile politely and laugh when cued, but these kids are smart and they know a fraud when they see one.  I should run and hide in shame, but instead I keep showing up and talking, just a little more loudly, morning after morning.  I pretend not to know that they know I’m a fake.  And they pretend not to know that I know that they know.  Thanks to the collective sleep deprivation, it all works out.

But in spite of all this, I will tell you a secret that, after much speculation over many issues for many years, finally secures my place as a Nerd among Nerds:

I love it.

I love it.


Wait…did I already tell you that last part?  No matter.  It bears repeating.  Because this is the most fun, fascinating, fulfilling thing that I’ve tackled since I had children of my own and, truth be told, I’m a lot less tired and cranky now than I was back then. (Waking at five is nothing when you’ve been allowed to sleep the night before.  My little ingrates never gave me that luxury.)

And here’s another secret:  teenagers are great people—great people.  As in, fabulous.  At least, the ones who take early morning seminary are.  Because really, what kind of kid signs up to go to church for an hour before school every day?  The fabulous kind, that’s what.

Teaching is fun, and teenagers are fun, and the Old Testament is fun (really) and so at six a.m., Monday through Friday, I immerse myself in a Trifecta of Fun.  A Funfecta.  And I love it.

My only regret is that I’ve had no time to write, as all of my reading/writing/laptop time has been consumed with Noah and his terribly naughty neighbors.  But when I start to feel pained for my forgotten pen, I ask myself:  what are my unexpressed thoughts compared to those of a woman who morphs into a lump of salt?  Talk about being rendered speechless.  Worse things could happen to me than a neglected blog, so I’m trying not to worry about it—to everything there is a season, et al.  (Not to show off, but that’s fresh from Ecclesiastes, which is found between Proverbs and the Song of Solomon.  I’m just saying is all.)

And though I do miss the writing, what I really miss is you.  Very much.  I’ve never been into social media (my blog is more of a writing outlet), but since we’ve moved, I understand people’s need for it.  I understand my new need for it, because it makes me feel less alone in this brave new world of changed town, changed house, changed people, changed church work.  All good changes, but changes nonetheless.  And you—you are my happy and familiar place to come back to, always always always.  I hope you don’t mind.

So I will write when I can, and I hope you will write when you can.  And I’ll try not write too much about a man scuba diving in a whale’s gut or a nasty band of brothers going postal over a striped coat, but I can’t make any promises.  Art imitates life, you know, and right now, the whale and the coat–and a whole lotta other craziness between Genesis and Malachi, at six a.m., Monday through Friday–is my life.  And I love it.

Three cheers for organized religion.

Last Saturday morning found me in my standard mode of listening to a podcast while scrubbing down the bathroom.  Although I was in beast-mode cleaning (as my son would say), I paused mid-Windex spray when I heard a friendly woman’s voice advertising a new “religious recovery” hotline that was recently made available to the suffering and deluded American public.

The concept is simple:  like a suicide or addiction recovery hotline, trained staff wait by the phones to help a doubtful believer in their moment of crisis.  What makes this hotline unique, however, is that instead of trying to talk the hurting caller out of destructive behavior (like a gun or a drink), the staff here try talk a caller into destructive behavior, like giving up on any religious belief whatsoever.  The end goal of each conversation, said the chipper promoter, was to help callers leave religion behind without the judgment or guilt that evolving disbelievers often encounter on their road to “recovery.”  When the show’s host argued that if nothing else, religion gave people an outlet for compassionate service, the woman replied that nothing could be more compassionate than helping someone find their way out of organized religion.

With all due respect (and by that, I mean with no respect whatsoever) I disagree.  I think the most compassionate thing you can do for a person is help them find their way into organized religion, because I think organized religion (with a few fragmented and fundamentalist exceptions) makes people—and people’s lives—better.

Here’s three reasons why:

1.  Religion requires belief in its doctrine.

I often hear people say, “I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”  That’s a benign and well-intentioned statement, but it’s kind of like saying “I like learning, but I don’t believe in facts.”

We can dance around the deeper issues of life with nothing but our benevolent “spirituality” leading us and land in Happy Neutral Territory every time.  It’s a pleasant place; lots of company and little criticism.  But without religious doctrine—specific, non-negotionable teachings and expectations—our spirituality has no place to live and breathe.  It’s a book without binding, a heart without a spine.  Without religious doctrine and practice, our spirituality lies dormant as a lovely and passive idea.

The most toxic assumption made by our popular culture is that religion is somehow for the small-minded.  As usual, they’ve got it all backwards.  To even consider considering a belief system–reading and dissecting it’s doctrine, then thinking and praying about that doctrine’s truthfulness—requires the best and most of what our scrappy mortal brains can do.  When else do we find ourselves wide awake at 3 am, sweating in our sheets and staring out the window, trying to make sense of who we are and why we’re here?  When was the last time a piece of literature or a differential equation put you in that state?  Understanding religious doctrine—and understanding what it means for us personally—requires a whopping energy of thought, reason, and care.  The light-minded need not apply.

So intellectually grinding is this quest for religious understanding that many of us would rather skip it altogether (as is encouraged by our friendly hotline.)  Life would go on and it might even be easier.  But religion was never meant to be easy; that’s kind of the whole point.  So unlike the cynics claim, the narrow path of religious conviction—which is very different from the broader path of “spirituality”—is taken only by the strong, the thoughtful, the curious.  And the first step is confronting religious doctrine.

 2. Religion requires sacrifice.

Religious life has been on the decline in the West for decades, and I can’t quite believe that it’s all due to theological skepticism.  Religion is hard.  And it living it, harder.



For the casual participant, religion requires some things.  For the faithful, religion requires many things.  For the devout, religion requires everything.  Time, money (yes, money), reading, teaching, testifying, meeting with others, understanding others, putting up with others.  Sometimes it’s a pain.

But what religion asks us to do pales in comparison with what it asks us not to do.  Depending on our domination, we may be asked to refrain from:  smoking, drinking, eating certain foods, gambling, premarital sex, adultery, racy books, racy tv, racy movies, racy internet, racy clothing, racy language, racy cars.  (Wait.  I think racy cars are ok.)

And these thou-shalt-nots of the body are nothing compared to those of the heart:  greed, lust, envy, pride, self-centeredness, short-sightedness, materialism, narcissism, cynicism, and a whole lotta other -isms—all are forbidden, or at the very least discouraged, by the Mean ‘ol Grouch of Religion.  No wonder so many people ignore him.

Yes, religion is hard.  But isn’t everything that matters?

That’s the question that struck—and worried—me mid-Windex spray.  Honest doubt is one thing, the path of least resistance another.  And I have to wonder:  could our society’s spiraling disdain for any kind of restraint—food, sex, money—be hijacking our willingness to sacrifice for faith, too?  Is our current religious anemia due to enlightenment, or apathy?

 3.  Religion requires change.

Whoever said “religion is the opium of the people” must have been smoking some of his own.  Far from cocooning us in a misty haze that dreams of Life Beyond, organized religion gets you off the transcendental couch and into the real world of change.  We take a hard look at ourselves in unflattering light, and it hurts.   But it also makes us grow—which is what we religious types are all about.

Not a person alive can (honestly) say of themselves, “Yep, all done here.  No further improvements needed.”  Instinct tells us we should always be changing for good, but religion gives us the reasons to do it.  (There’s gotta be reasons.  Or else why bother?)  Religion is the original blueprint for positive change.  A religious person believes that by their very human nature they are deeply loved and deeply flawed, and that mortal life is the means to change into something better.  This is comforting and terrifying; the love part is great (think spirituality) but the change part is scary (enter:  religion.)  And so the hotline’s message rings glorious to our slothful and anxious ears:  you’re all done here, no improvements needed.  But we know that many improvements are needed, and our religious nature feels its way to those dark places where human nature is scared to go.

Yes, change hurts.  But doesn’t everything that matters?

So there you have it, my three big loud cheers for organized religion.  I did leave out one major benefit, though, which is the sense of community religious life provides.  I skipped it because, though our church families mean a great deal to us, they’re not enough to keep us committed to our faith.  If social support is why we attend church (as some critics suggest), then we’re as well off joining a country club or knitting circle.  Lots of worthwhile venues can provide us with a sense of family, and we are grateful for them.  But let’s not confuse dipping our toes in the waters of civic life with the sacrifice and change required for a religious life.  Which is, in my opinion, the good life.