Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Living/Losing Zion

In recent weeks, it has occasionally occurred to me that it should be odd for me to continue attending church at my ward as if nothing had ever happened, given the supposed bad blood between Latter-day Saints and same-sex families these days. But such thoughts came to me only as slightly disconnected observations, never as any serious temptation to leave. Really, it has never occurred to me to do anything else but continue to show up at my ward for worship just as I always have, because that is one of my spiritual life lines. My continued faithfulness, come hell or high water, is a condition for keeping the Spirit in my life. So I won't stop. I just have to trust God to work out all the strangeness and contradictions.

And the Spirit has been present, so vividly and powerfully. It's almost as if the willingness to risk, the willingness to go out on a spiritual/psychological/emotional limb, the willingness to give something up, to sacrifice gives me a hotline to Heaven. What have I given up? My defenses. I won't do any special pleading. Won't argue. Won't demand my own. Won't expect people to accommodate me. Won't harbor any sense of self-righteousness or indignation. (Self-righteousness always gives a perverse kind of short-term comfort but, like any addiction, eventually leaves us cold and empty!) And amazingly, the Spirit is there in this most amazing, sustaining, powerful way. I find peace, wisdom, knowledge, comfort. I am never alone. It is so much better than the cheap, worldly substitute of defensiveness.

My former bishop gave a Sunday School lesson on Sunday, in which we discussed Zion. It came up in the context of 4 Nephi; in the context of discussing a civilization that had achieved a Zion society, and then lost it. And there was some talk about what can cause us to lose Zion.

We have to choose Zion. It's always a conscious choice, even when you "have" it. Because you can lose it any day, passively, by failing to choose it.

There is no "right" or "wrong" in a Zion community, not from our perspective. Because there is nothing to be won by "being right." Because it is not for us to judge. It is only for us to love. It is for the Lord to make judgments. It is for the Lord to correct. For us there is only attentiveness to what God would have us do in the here and now. We have to hold to that like the iron rod.

Hearts are warm in Zion. We love, not out of a sense of duty, but because people are amazing and cool and powerful. Because our love makes all of us stronger. Because love is what defines us as human beings and as children of God. We love not the abstract, not the ideal of a person. We love the real, flesh and blood, warts and all, living, breathing actual humans. Our love makes us sensitive to their hurts, hungry for their successes and their joy, eager to help make their path easier, not harder. Love is seeing clearly, not blinding ourselves, not hardening ourselves, not de-sensitizing. I'm not sure, but I don't think I've ever seen a love that felt genuine accompanied by the phrase "for your own good," a phrase that signals a distinct lack of empathy. Zion is having hearts and minds as one. It's having no poor. There's no VIP table in the dining hall of Zion.

But Zion is the realization that as wonderful as it sounds to be in a place like that, to receive that kind of unconditional love, it is we who must create it first. There's no Zion we can cash in on that someone else has built before us. Zion always takes our willingness to be the first one to give, even when we feel no one cares about us, no one gives to us. The door to Zion is locked so long as we insist on fairness for ourselves. We have to fight for fairness for others, even when it feels unfair to us. Zion is sorrow for our wrongs, our failure to love, not anger for the wrongs or failures of others. That's the gate, the only way in. It takes that leap of faith, that trust. Zion is a city with invisible gates. You can't see it until you are inside of it.

In Zion, priesthood is our way of life. The principles of the priesthood are the bedrock of society. Namely that you cannot use the power of the priesthood for yourself. You cannot bless yourself with it -- except by serving others. Your work is for others. Your hope is for others. Your prayer is for others. You trust your own welfare to God. It's the only way it can work.

Zion is not a place we can find alone. So to a certain extent, sometimes Zion requires waiting. We can't all be ready at the same time. But we always have a work to do, even while we are waiting.

I want to go. Who will go with me?

3 comments:

Matt said...

I love it when you write like this. Thanks. It's a great message to read as my day gets started.

GeckoMan said...

John,

You are my Balm in Gilead. What you say is so true, so simple, so within reach, and yet we often fail to grasp it!

I have a daughter struggling with her testimony of the church, which was torn even farther apart by the whole Prop 8 controversy. I am not out to her, but perhaps I need to be. I hope by reading your eloquent thoughts with her, and then reflecting them within our contexts, that she will come again to the realization that love and humility must be the basis for the spiritual and faithful exercise of our religion.

J G-W said...

Gecko - I'm gradually coming to the realization that we "know" everything we need to know fairly early on in life. It's just a matter of getting the heart to a place where we are able to live it.

I am very grateful for folks like your daughter, who obviously have a deep hunger for justice. The challenge is to do the soulwork that will yoke that hunger with patience and charity.

We'll get to Zion eventually...