Ways to Foster Inclusivity at the BYUs


This is an article I wrote while I was a professor in the English Department at BYU–Idaho. I had written it at the request of the faculty journal’s editorial board, but I ended up leaving my position before it was able to be published (I relocated to another state where my husband got a faculty offer). I’m hoping these ideas can do some good here, and that it keeps the conversation going regarding how we can make church schools more inclusive and welcoming to students regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, particularly now that the updated CES Honor Code no longer cites “homosexual behavior” (including “forms of physical intimacy”) as breaking school rules.

But it’s one thing to alter the Honor Code and another thing to alter the heteronormative rhetoric that dominates these campuses and classrooms. This essay was written in the hopes that small changes in the way we perceive BYU-school students and communities will increase empathy and a sense of belonging for everyone. [Read more…]

“God Loveth a Cheerful Giver” (2 Corinthians 8–13) #BCCSundaySchool2019



Another Paul who modified his ethos by mimicking the rhetoric of a “fool.”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8–13

Main Topics: (1) Cheerful Giving, (2) Paul’s Fool’s Speech, (3) Thorns in the Flesh

1. Cheerful Giving

In 2 Corinthians 8–9, the Apostle Paul preaches about “cheerful” giving, emphasizing that Christ’s followers should come to the aid of others not through “exhortation” but out of their own choice:

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6–7, NRSV)

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“Overcome Evil with Good” Romans 7–16 #BCCSundaySchool2019


Reading: Romans 7–16.

Main topics: Overcoming Evil with Good, Predestination and Adoption, Women in the Early Church

There is a scene from Toni Morrison’s Beloved that takes my breath away every time I read it, that makes me gasp and ache and weep with grief and hope. Baby Suggs, the matriarch of the community, the grandmother-prophet that leads the congregation in worship, takes her people into a clearing and prays over them. She tells the children to laugh, the men to dance, and the women to cry.

“It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart.

“She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”

[Read more…]

#BCCSundaySchool2019: “Continue Ye in My Love”


Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

Readings: John 13–17

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, all cited scriptures are from the New Revised Standard Version translation)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:12–14, 17)

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“I am the Good Shepherd” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Good_shepherd_02b_closeChrist as the Good Shepherd was one of the most common and early illustrations of the Savior in early Christian art, before the Edict of Milan in 313 AD granted religious liberty to minority groups like Christians. The image of a shepherd was a furtive, sneaky way of remembering Christ through paintings and statues without being persecuted or even executed by the Roman Empire. These images of Christ were also reminiscent of Greek depictions of Hermes Kriophoros, representing a story in which Hermes saves a city from the plague by carrying a ram on his shoulders and running around the city’s walls. In other stories of kriophoros, or “ram-bearers,” the rams are representative of sacrifice—a fitting complement to Christ’s own atoning sacrifices. Additionally, the tragic Greek hero Orpheus (who was very nearly able to resurrect his wife, Eurydice, from death, and whose own head had been able to keep singing sad, beautiful songs long after it was torn from his body) was also commonly depicted as a shepherd, playing music to birds and animals from his lyre. It’s not always easy to distinguish among these various personalities in ancient art, and it’s also possible that many pieces of art simultaneously represented a synthesis of these various stories: stories of heroism, tenderness, care, and sacrifice. [Read more…]

“Be Not Afraid” #BCCSundaySchool2019


Ivan Aivazovsky’s “Jesus Walks on Water” (1888)

Readings: Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; and John 5–6.

The other night, my husband and I heard our 7-year-old daughter crying in her room, around 10:30pm. We knew she had fallen asleep a couple of hours earlier, so we went to her together, hoping that one or the other of us could help calm her down from a nightmare. “Why do I have bad dreams sometimes?” she asked us. Dave told her that when our brains are sleeping, they are still active and still creating stories for us, and even though it is no fun to have a scary dream, it’s comforting to know when we wake up that none of it was real. I added that sometimes if she wakes up from a dream and can’t shake the scared feeling, and Mom and Dad don’t immediately hear her and come to her, she can pray to feel strong and safe, too. [Read more…]

Jesus Wants Me for a Skeptic


There is a trend in Latter-day Saint rhetoric to argue that having questions or researching answers about the church are dangerous and misguided ventures. These arguments have good intentions—they are meant to help people avoid discomfort or cognitive dissonance by encouraging them to wear blinders or to place difficult questions on “shelves” to be ignored until all is revealed after death (this analogy is not quite as useful in the age of Marie Kondo, however!). I sympathize with the intentions behind these arguments, although I disagree with them. It’s true: questions can be painful. Questions can inspire disobedience to authority. Questions disrupt what is normal and familiar.

However, questions are also necessary tools for strengthening faith. God teaches us through questions, inspires us with questions, expects and even demands that we continue coming up with questions in order to have reasons to keep praying and researching and exploring and wondering. Questions keep us awake and curious. Questions are requisite for growth. [Read more…]

Lesson 47: “Let us Rise Up and Build” #BCCSundaySchool2018


Gustave Doré’s Ezra reading the Torah to his people

Lesson Objective: To talk about the complications of what it means to build Zion.

Scriptures: Ezra, Nehemiah

Introduction: Ezra and Nehemiah came from a single scroll in early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible; Christianity would separate the text into two books later on. [Read more…]

Elegy on a Maiden Name

“You blushed, and now you are white, Jane: What is that for?”
“Because you gave me a new name—Jane Rochester; and it seems so strange.”

—Charlotte Brontë

scan0018 copy

Lil’ Emily Gilliland with her Grover doll

I’ve been thinking a lot about Carolyn’s post a couple of weeks ago in which she listed reasons for why she didn’t change her name when she got married. I’d like to respond to her post with some reasons of why I did change my name as well as reasons why this change was a lot harder than I expected it to be. [Read more…]

Lesson 42: “I Will Write It in Their Hearts” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Orthodox_icon_of_Prophet_Jeremiah_largeLesson Objective: To encounter jeremiads with open hearts.

Scriptures: Jeremiah 162329; and 31. [Read more…]

Lesson 39: “How Beautiful Upon the Mountains” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1920px-Antonio_Balestra_-_Prophet_Isaiah.jpgLesson Objective: To seek a “teacher’s tongue” and an “open ear.” To be moved to our feet in spreading a message of peace.

Scriptures:Isaiah 50–53; Mosiah 14–15 [Read more…]

Lesson 34: “I Will Betroth Thee unto Me in Righteousness” #BCCSundaySchool2018

ProfitisOsie01Lesson Objective: To appreciate and comprehend the Book of Hosea, which describes an ultimately loving, merciful, and forgiving God to the children who repent and rely on Him. [Read more…]

Lesson 31: “Happy is the Man that Findeth Wisdom” #BCCSundaySchool2018


“Give me Shelter” by Kate Langlois

Lesson Objective: To appreciate and comprehend the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

Scriptures: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes

What are these books and where do they come from?
Proverbs is a compilation of folk wisdom passed down for many generations, recorded and compiled by various authors, but generally attributed to King Solomon, the son of King David and Bathsheba (who may have said many of these proverbs, but whose name is attached to the book in large part to establish the text’s authority, and not necessarily because King Solomon said or wrote all of the proverbs). [Read more…]

Fragmented Thoughts from a Former Breastfeeder


“The Flower Girl,” by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, 1900.

Breastfeeding did not come easily for me. Growing up, I was never close to any woman who breastfed, nor had I ever seen a woman breastfeed without a cover. I read several books about childbirth and breastfeeding and postpartum motherhood as my body swelled and my garments no longer met over the middle of my body. I remember being surprised to see so many photographs of naked women in labor, and I wondered if I should be embarrassed at seeing pictures of breasts and nipples as I read about different latching positions and breastfeeding troubleshooting tips. It had not occurred to me so plainly until then that I had no need to feel shame or shyness about these body parts that are designed for growing and feeding new little lives. Although I had always prided myself for being able to appreciate nude art in museums, the realization that my own private body parts were not just sexual objects was still something of a revelation to me. [Read more…]

Lesson 25: “Let Every Thing That Hath Breath Praise the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2018

This week’s lessons covers Psalms—as in, all the psalms. Here are some things to keep in mind as we get started:

  • “Psalms” in Hebrew means “praises,” or תְּהִלִּים; “Psalms” comes from the Greek ψαλμοί or psalmoi, which means “songs” or “words that accompany music.” The Book of Psalms is the Bible’s songbook, full of emotion, prayer, pain, gratitude, despair, and praise. As Blair wrote last month, the psalms “sanctify our joy and grief, our anger and doubt, as well as our hope and faith.”
  • There are 150 psalms, written by various authors, many of them written by David. However, because in some cases the psalms have been translated out of their original poetic format, and because of copyist errors, etc., scholars debate how the psalms should be numbered, or what their original formats might have been.
  • The psalms are old, and they were written over a span of possibly five centuries.

[Read more…]

Sunday Mixtape


“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart.” (D&C 25:12)

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (Article of Faith 13)

I learned in seminary as a young person that keeping the Sabbath day holy included listening only to hymns and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sundays while avoiding any “secular” music. I realized even then, though, that the line between “secular” and “sacred” is not clear cut. [Read more…]

Lesson 20: “All the City . . . Doth Know That Thou Art a Virtuous Woman” #BCCSundaySchool2018


Lesson Objective:To understand and encourage class members to emulate the righteous qualities of Ruth and Naomi.

Scriptures:The Book of Ruth[1]

Introduction: The story of Ruth and Naomi is about sisterhood, immigration, family, and a powerful female partnership. It is also involves Ruth as a foreign Other, Ruth being purchased as a commodity, and Ruth bearing a child as a handmaiden for another woman who could no longer bear children. It is as much TheHandmaid’s Taleas it is Gilmore Girls. This story does not take up much space in the Old Testament, but it has meant something considerable to me since I was very young, if only for that it is a woman-centric narrative peopled with female characters who have names and desires and actions not necessarily directly related to their relationships with men. [Read more…]

10 Reasons Why Mormons Should Love “A Quiet Place”


This post contains spoilers-ish.

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Lesson 12: Fruitful in the Land of My Affliction #BCCSundaySchool2018

To help class members understand that if we are faithful and obedient, God will consecrate our afflictions for our good.

Genesis 40-45

Genesis 40-41 takes place in prison, with a butler, a baker, and a candlestick mak— er, I mean, Joseph. The butler and the baker have troubled dreams in their prison cell and wake up sad. Joseph tells the butler that his dream about a three-branched vine that makes grapes for the Pharaoh’s cup means that the Pharaoh will forgive the butler in three days and give him his job back. Unfortunately for the baker, Joseph’s interpretation of his dream about three baskets full of bakemeats that get eaten by birds instead of by the Pharaoh means that the Pharaoh is going to hang the baker in three days. The dreams come true—the butler is forgiven and the baker is hanged. [Read more…]

Stephen King Should Not Have Been My Sex Education Teacher


The Losers Club, a group of friends I strongly identified with in Jr High

“You would have [a girl] be tenderly and delicately nurtured, like a hot-house plant—taught to cling to others for direction and support, and guarded, as much as possible, from the very knowledge of evil.” —from Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Lesson 8: Living Righteously in a Wicked World #BCCSundaySchool2018



Guido Reni’s “Lot and His Daughters” (1615)


Genesis 13–19 (but mostly chapters 18 & 19)
Ezekiel 16:49–50

Learning Outcomes

Students will more capably and confidently live their lives with integrity, peace, and hope, even when their world around them is harsh, upsetting, and seemingly without love. [Read more…]


I spent the night on an outdoor couch on the front stoop of a boy’s apt at BYU-Idaho in the summer of 2001. We had worked together at Hogi Yogi, and he was beautiful. I had only ever been kissed one other time (when I asked a friend of a friend to teach me how) but this boy was the first to hold my hand (at the Bar J Wranglers Chuckwagon in Jackson Hole). He fell asleep holding me, and I loved being in his arms so much that I decided to just fall asleep, too. The next morning, I woke up and slipped back to my own apartment, where I WAS WRACKED WITH ALL THE PANGS OF GUILT AND HELLFIRE AND SACKCLOTH. [Read more…]

Lesson 4: “Because of My Transgression, My Eyes are Opened” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes

To help each class member understand that the Fall was a necessary part of Heavenly Father’s plan for us.



I have always had something of a conflicted relationship with the Adam and Eve narrative. I take it more metaphorically than how it is typically taught in LDS chapels and conferences, and I am not comfortable in how we use scriptures from this section of Genesis and Moses to justify husbands holding “presiding” power over their wives. I know my readers might disagree with me here, and that’s okay—I just want to be up front about the perspective I’m coming from as I study this lesson.

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A Churchgoer’s New Year Resolutions

I am committed to going to church and being active in my LDS faith. I hold callings, take my children to Primary, and do my visiting teaching. I hold a current temple recommend. However, lately, I haven’t always felt inspired or filled or strengthened by my church attendance. In fact, I admit that sometimes church has felt draining and exhausting instead of replenishing (and this is in spite of having a fantastic and kind bishop, the ideal visiting teaching partner, and a chapel right across the street from my house). So here are some resolutions for the coming year that I think will make my church experiences something to look forward to, because I believe I have more agency in my church experience than I’ve recently been admitting to myself.  [Read more…]

We’re Walking in the Air


The first time I ever watched The Snowman, an animated version of Raymond Briggs’ picture book with no words, it was on a laserdisc at school and I’m fairly certain we watched it during recess on a day when it was determined too cold to play outside. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, an age when I still believed in Santa in spite of my suspicions that he was perhaps a lie after all. The Snowman haunted me that day we watched it at school, because in spite of depicting the very kinds of magic I indulged in as a kid, it also hinted at the inevitable disillusionment that lay ahead of me. [Read more…]

Advent Sunday: Finding Hope at the End of 2017

advent-week-1.jpgToday is the First Sunday of Advent, and the candle lit today represents Hope—specifically, the hope we have in Christ, that He was born, that He lived, that He suffered, that He died and lived again, and that He prepared a way for us to follow Him. These musings are part of the Mormon Lectionary Project.

“A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did he become, from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned all the blessed strain. [Read more…]

How do you reconcile your love for those who behave badly?

Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer’s cohost on Today, asked, “How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?” This effectively captures how I feel about the multiple men in my professional life who have sexually harassed me as my teachers, mentors, and colleagues. [Read more…]

To Mourn with Gay Friends that Mourn

When Alma baptizes at the waters of Mormon in Mosiah 18, he preaches to these covenant-makers exactly what they will be promising to each other as a community. In his instructions, Alma says that in order to “come into the fold of God” and “be called his people,” they must also be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light, “to mourn with those that mourn,” and to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” We love to share these scriptures in Sunday School, particularly when we are aware of fellow ward members suffering from a death in the family, from sickness or unemployment, or if we have a family that needs help moving into or out of a home. One of the things I most love and value about my LDS church family is how we are there for one another.

I have noticed, though, that it is harder for us to be there for the LGBTQ members of our congregations, who are many of them hurting and not understanding what their life inside in the Church should look like. [Read more…]

BYU-Idaho Faculty Conference Keynote

Here are the remarks I had the opportunity to give this morning at the fall faculty conference here at Brigham Young University-Idaho. The presentation is titled, “We Were Voyagers: Embracing Our Latter-day Saint Pioneer Legacy as Educators.”

In the film Moana—which, if you have young kids, you have probably watched ad nauseum this summer, like I have—the eponymous heroine is a young woman preparing to someday lead her people. Moana and her village are islanders, and the island provides everything they need to sustain and fulfil their lives: fish, coconuts, water, culture. There is one rule on the island that Moana’s father underscores repeatedly: “No one goes beyond the reef,” or, in other words, don’t swim or fish too far from shore, because the waters are dangerous, unfamiliar, and risky beyond the reef.

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 12.06.49 PM.png [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #12: Mary Larsen (the 11th—and final—wife)

Mary Larsen

Sidsie Marie “Mary” Larsen Gardner (1850–1921)

Part 12 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

To commemorate Pioneer Day this year, I am returning to the Sister Wives Series I began to commemorate Pioneer Day last year. Today I am writing about Archibald Gardner’s 11th and final wife, Mary Larsen from Denmark, who married 55-year-old Archibald Gardner when she was 19 years old and would have 8 children with him. Archie was possibly her second husband. [Read more…]