I spent Thanksgiving this week with a group of people who, a year ago, I had barely heard of – and that only through Facebook connections – and had not ever met. My friend, Brian Beckle, blessed the feast and in doing so compared our gathering with that of the pilgrims at the feast that is commemorated by our 21st century holiday. He pointed out that the original pilgrims left their homes and occupations in the face of religious persecution and were seeking a land where they could worship according to their conscience.
Well, it’s obvious that any persecution our tiny group might have faced in our former life was benign compared to the threats faced by the Mayflower passengers to their life and liberty. There are few valid comparisons between our temporal experiences today and the life and death struggles they faced in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and after landing in what is now Massachusetts. Yeah, there were Native residents in17th century America, and there are Native Americans in Boundary County, Idaho, but the Kootenai tribe owns a casino and about 4000 acres of reservation land. Those who met the pilgrims owned nothing, yet they owned everything – at least for a short while. Our original pilgrim friends faced great hardship that year of 1620-1621, spending the winter on board the ship where more than half of them died. We are spending the winter “braving” 60 degrees inside and 20 degrees outside with plenty of food, warm clothing, and an excess of serviceable vehicles. We have Home Depot, Walmart, and Taco Bell within 40 miles and a Costco within 100 miles. Our greatest temporal concerns are centered around finalizing the sale of our homes and getting needed repairs made to our moving van named “Betsy”.
Clearly most comparisons end with the simple fact that both groups left many comforts and securities behind in their desire to serve the Lord in the way they felt compelled to do. Compared to those 17th century pioneers, we’ve got things easy because, while their most urgent challenges were largely temporal, ours are decidedly more spiritual as we try to leave behind the traditions of our fathers and seek after the Lord’s real truth and light – just as Abraham did as detailed in the first chapter of Abraham.
Oh, there is certainly much work to do – physical work; hard work when you’re 62 and only 2 months removed from a job where the greatest exertion in any given week was hurrying from the commuter terminal to the long term parking bus at the Salt Lake City Airport. This work is, frankly, overwhelming. I have no idea how we’re going to get it all done, although I’m sure it will be done in time. If it makes anyone feel better, I figure it’s going to take 20 years to do all the Lord needs us to do, so the Second Coming is at least that far off…(that’s a joke – folks).
This physical work, though, is not our biggest challenge – not even close. Our biggest challenge is becoming of one heart and one mind. The work is largely a vehicle to help us accomplish that. What, though, does it mean to be “of one heart and one mind”?
- It means leaving behind the lessons of competitiveness and pride and jealousy that we’ve survived on our whole lives, and which are so embedded in our psyches that we are typically oblivious to them. In short – it means a new way of thinking – an entirely new way of social interaction.
- It means worrying about your own contribution to the work load and not whether everyone else is working as hard as you are. (This is a tough one – a surprisingly tough one)
- It means loving people even after the honeymoon period is over and you start seeing the inadequacies and weaknesses that pop up as we get tired or stressed and start falling back on the aforementioned pride and jealousy.
- It means trusting in the Lord’s word when He tells us there will be enough, and that there’s nothing in the chronicle of the early saints that suggests they were going to starve to death in Zion; only that the cause of their failure was “jarrings and contentions and envyings and strifes”.
- It means realizing that all that Christ said about loving your neighbor and the Golden Rule really is the only possible recipe if one hopes to build a Zion community.
- Then there’s that whole consecration thing…you know – where you offer it all…idols, money, fears, stakes, desires, hopes, wishes. There can be no other way. As a matter of fact, part of the whole process of seeking to know the Lord is unearthing those things you’ve secretly been holding out on. These aren’t typically even things like money or stuff. It’s more like, for example, recognizing your own personal manipulation card – that very subtle, passive-aggressive type thing that slyly gets people to do what you want them to do without them realizing they’ve been played. You probably don’t even know you do it. The problem is – there’s not just one of them. You’ve got an entire Pinochle hand full of them! You’ve been using them all your life, and you don’t even know it! And the worst part is – no matter how hard you try – you’re incapable of cleaning it all up by yourself. You have to go to the Lord and say “Lord…I can’t do it. Fix me.” Furthermore, if you’re not living consecration, there’s just no way these things are going to forced out into the open. If you’re holding onto your own home, your own property – giving only part (doesn’t matter how much – 10%, 20%, 50% – anything less than 100%) to a tithing group or something – the refiner’s fire just isn’t going to be hot enough. The dross will never be burned out. It’s hard enough when you are in a consecrated community, but if you’re not…well, it’s just not going to work.
I recently shared the following with one of our families. What I wrote was as much of a discovery for me as it was for them, but I think it summarized many of the things I’ve personally learned since being here in our community…
- With the exception of 2 families who were old friends, we all knew OF each other, and had respect for each other, but we didn’t know each other. We didn’t know each others’ eating habits, work habits, hygiene habits, etc. We didn’t know anything about family dynamics, strengths, weaknesses, shortcomings, fears, jealousies, etc.
- The only thing we really knew was that each family is called of God and is supposed to be here, and that each family is “All-in”. This remains true (I know, I know – it’s only been 2 months), even though we now know a lot more about the things mentioned in the previous paragraph.
- I personally have learned – and shared with everyone else – that I am not responsible for pointing out the faults of others. I am responsible for preparing myself and becoming pure in heart. I cannot be responsible for how pure others’ hearts are – only my own. My efforts, my contributions, are not conditional on what anyone else does, thinks, believes, etc. I can, however, be responsible to lift and enable others, but not to the point of exercising control, compulsion or unrighteous dominion.
- Our consecration is not only of money, food storage, tools, etc – it is of our patience, kindness, trust, and faith. Each of us has different things we need to learn. I need to give others the time to learn those things and trust that they are doing their best in their own effort to align with the Lord’s will.
- The only qualification for being here is that we are willing to consecrate. It’s not our perfection, work ethic, spiritual vision, or cleanliness. That is why have been gathered. The Lord has made that very clear to me.
- We have a wide spectrum of people – especially when it comes to how we choose to spend our time. I simply must trust that, as things continue moving forward, the Lord will guide us to do the work that He needs to be done. If someone struggles with that, it is between Him and the individual. Again, it is not up to me to police what others do. I can only do what I can do – that I might have peace with my God and my “family” members.
- We currently have 11 adults here. There are not 11 other adults in the entire world who have what it takes to be here at this time, in this place. I don’t say this to be prideful, but there are many who are looking for the right group, or want to buy a home for their family close to others of like mind. That’s great. It’s laudable, and it’s a powerful step in the right direction, but it’s not consecration. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not consecration. I was somewhat open minded about that approach before we actually came, but now I know. It is the consecration of ALL THINGS – including our heart, might, mind, and soul – that calls down the powers of heaven and enables us to do the things we have been called to do.
- Finally – Zion is not, and never will be, about finding a group that I fit in with. It will always be about me fitting into the group that the Lord has chosen for me to be in. First comes the commitment, then comes the burning – the refiner’s fire. It cannot be the other way around.
So, by now you’ve got some idea of what this community is trying to do, although we are not “declaring” ourselves. The work must be done first, then labels will come about organically and will be applied by someone other than us. Be it “Zion”, a stake of Zion, a “place of refuge”, or just another in a long list of failures, we will have tried. I hope and pray we will have given our all – 100% – and nothing less. Going forward, having no poor among us will be easy. If we run out of money, we’ll all be poor together – no one will have more than anyone else. However, what about becoming pure in heart? What does it really mean to be pure in heart? I’m learning a lot more about that, although I still have much to learn. My idea so far is that it means that I’m more concerned about how I can serve others than I am about how others can serve me. It means that I have absolutely no desire to convince someone to act in the way I think they should act, but that I love them for who they are right now, today, in their own place or stage of progression, and not for where I think they should be, or where they are in comparison with me. It means that if I help them, I help them according to their desires, not what I think their needs are. Finally, I think being pure in heart is to treat everyone, no matter their age or status, with the kindness and patience that you would naturally show a sweet doe-eyed 6-year-old girl like the one who, with her 12-year-old cousin, just gave Diana and me beautiful hand-made Thanksgiving cards.
May the Lord bless each of us in our search for Zion. Whether you’re seeking it in your heart, your family, or in a community in a remote part of the country, I pray that you find it. It is the destiny – the measure of our creation – for all saints. Zion is real, and not just an ideal or a dream that someone else in some other place will bring about some day in the distant future. No, Zion will be built – the scriptures make that clear – and it will be built by hands that are willing to work, but mostly by hearts that are willing to love.