I am currently serving as the RS president in our ward. Basically I have spent the last almost year pining and waiting for things to get back to normal, but lately I have been thinking that maybe that is not at all what I want. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait until we can leave the house without masks and can be with people without it, you know, ending in death. But I’m also realizing, what better time to shake things up a bit?
Firmly believing that if you’re going to do something you might as well do it big, and in honor of this year’s study of the Doctrine and Covenants, our Relief Society is going to put forth a concerted effort this year to create a Zion community, and we want to think outside of the box to do it. For example, many people think Zion is a place where everyone can be accepted, but it’s also a place where people are not free to hurt each other. There have to be some firm boundaries of accepted behavior. How do you see boundaries being implemented while at the same time appreciating diversity? What problematic behaviors do you think are deserving of patience and what ones cannot be tolerated under any circumstances? I have a million questions and I would love to get some ideas from you all. I would truly love to know what you picture when you think of what Zion could look like in your own home/ward/neighborhood. What are some specific experiences or ideas of what Zion is/could be to you? What do you do when another’s idea of Zion differs? Please share your comments to help me think outside of my assumptions!
(The following is an email I sent out to our Relief Society board to give you some idea of the direction we are going.)
I am so excited about this year and to see what comes from it. I have been thinking and praying and fasting about what we can do to facilitate our year of Zion building. There are a few things that we need to consider.
I think that it is intentional that the teachings surrounding Zion in the scriptures are both specific and vague. There are certain laws that are universal to Zion communities. Service, consecration, kindness, forgiveness, sacrifice, generosity, doctrinal understanding, etc. are all necessary and fundamental. These laws are what make Zion work. However, there is a lot that is not taught about Zion—like how do we incorporate diversity? How do we know what and how to give, whether money, time, or other forms of help? What if not everyone in our community agrees with our world view? How do we handle tension and disagreements? There is so much that isn’t specified and I believe that is because our Heavenly Parents and Savior want us to be active participants with them in creation. We are working with them to create a Zion that can meet the specific and varying needs of the specific and varying communities of Christ all over the world. As creators we do not always get to choose the material we get to work with, but we can work with our Heavenly Parents in taking what we have and striving together to make something beautiful. The doctrine that all things can work together for our good needs to be foundational to our work, and this means we will have to be willing to think outside of the box in creative and bold ways. For example:
- Our community has a ton of mental health challenges. Often those experiencing this in themselves or family feel like their life is on hold until they can heal or at least get it under control. However, sometimes these are lifetime struggles. Even when they are not, mental illness takes up a huge chunk of time and energy when it is experienced. How do we incorporate these (and other) struggles into Zion rather than just wait for them to go away? How do we help the sisters who are suffering to realize that they are not a burden everyone else has to serve, but that their experiences and perspectives are actually a valuable addition that help others in unique and profound ways?
- One of the most common themes I hear from sisters that holds them back are feelings of unworthiness and just not having enough knowledge or experience to make their voices or understanding valid. How do we help the sisters see that the life we are living now is part of eternity, and all the things that they are learning and experiencing have eternal significance and practical use for both themselves and others?
- There are many inactive, non-member, and former members in our community. There is no indication that most of them are interested in changing that. How are we genuinely appreciating them? Are we seeing and valuing them for who they are right now as opposed to the person we think they should be or want to change them into? Are we aware of the contributions they make to our community and are we making room for them to be involved in ways that they are comfortable with with no ulterior motive on our part?
- A lot of sisters are deeply uncomfortable asking for help. How are we creating an environment where we don’t only encourage service, but also encourage being served? How are we associating both sides of service with gratitude and grace and joy and connection and not just with being saved?
- How can we step up our revelation game so that the sisters can see God being revealed in prayer and scripture and people and the world around them right now? How can we help the sisters to hear God speaking to them in the current events and struggles and successes in their lives? How can we help them to realize that it is their privilege as daughters of God, just because they are daughters of God, to speak with God and have the heavens opened to them today, not just to help them with lifestyle questions, but to actually know and understand their Heavenly Parents and Savior?
Another thing to take into consideration is what we can do to make sure that we don’t fall back into bad habits of going through the motions. It is so easy to act as if “man was made for the Sabbath”—that our job is just to go through the obedience check list for which obedience God will hopefully save us. But the purpose of the gospel is to help God to live in us, and us to live in God. This is incredible! What can we do to help the sisters to experience a living relationship with God, as opposed to a check list? For example:
- In our lessons/discussions/talks are we asking questions that require a reflective rather than a reflexive response? Are we encouraging the sisters to see from a different perspective or are we just encouraging the perspective and responses we have come to expect? Are we focusing on how principles and laws connect us personally to God and each other right now? Can we listen to struggles, especially faith struggles, without feeling defensive and threatened? Are we helping sisters to think with hope? Even audacity? (Cause let’s be honest, the gospel of Jesus Christ requires some audacity. It is a bold doctrine!)
Without overstating our situation, we are in a wonderful position to help create something life-changing. We will have to be willing to take faith-induced risks. There will be times that we will have to act even though we are not sure how it is going to turn out, but we can have faith that it will all be turned together for our good! We will need to be willing to act on inspiration, which means that we will need to be willing to think and act in different ways than we have before. This will take effort and momentum because it’s going to be very easy to fall back into old habits. Over the next few weeks please pray, fast, study, and consider specifics of what our Zion community can look like and we will get together to create a plan. Think outside the box! Be daring! Let’s really go for the best, most amazing possible scenario we can imagine and see what happens!
This is awesome.
One thought I had is to focus on individual growth similar to your thought of meeting someone where they are at versus where we think they should be. I get the most down about church and life when I feel like I have to meet others expectations. When I can focus on who I am, the goals I have set, and what I want to become I am happier and more compassionate towards others. Collective goals have there place but can also feel like box checking without real commitment.
I think talking and focusing on individual goals and growth also lets in diversity with hopefully less chance of contention. It is easier to see someone’s individual goal as that (their goal, path) and I can encourage and support them in achieving it while I work on my own goals.
It does mean leaving behind the need people have to one up each other and compare our progress. That is hard to do.
This is a really important point. I think one of the greatest values of a Zion-like community is that it brings to bear a constant pressure that pushes us to act better than we perhaps normally would, which is good when done the right way. It can very quickly lead to competition and lack of appreciation for individual needs and struggles and gifts.
I believe we are here on earth for 2 reasons; to become like God, which I understand to mean develop moral judgement, love our fellow beings, never discriminate against anyone, overturn systemic discrimination.
Second. Woman is that she might have joy.
I expect that these would be the basis of a Zion society. Along with no poor among them, which will be accomplished if there is no discrimination. Perhaps a redistribution might be discussed, and revaluing of work. Why are various jobs valued as they are? Should they be asbthey are? In the time of covid is it obvious some jobs are valued wrongly?
Laudatory and ambitious. I think you will find that the best course of action is to choose one or two of the objectives and focus on setting goals and actions plans that you can monitor for each of those objectives. I would expect that if you try to accomplish all you would be overwhelmed.
This is a great and ambitious work you’re undertaking (that we should all be undertaking, really)!
Do remember that Enoch’s Zion took 356 years to build. I second Ojiisan: choose one or two things to work on at a time.
My two cents:
1) Zion incorporates diversity, true – diversity of opinions, of life experiences, and of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, among other things. However, there is a fundamental foundation that such a community is built on, and that is Christ. He said to the Nephites that the spirit of contention is not His.
Contention is different from conflict. Conflict is a disagreement on the process of how to get somewhere, with a shared view of where the participants in a conversation want to go. Contention is a wall built up between them or around one party, which prevents them from seeing that shared view. I believe that a Zion community may have conflict, but it can never have contention.
2) A Zion community is a people who forgive and are forgiven – for sins, insults, mistakes, and any of a plethora of other things.
Outside of the box:
Consider that faith is not belief, and that many beliefs we hold as Latter-Day Saints are mistaken for doctrine. Zion requires “faithful” saints, not “believing” saints. We would do well to discern between faith and belief if our object is to move toward a more Zion-like economy.
Consider the effort made by overzealous leadership at the time of the United Order: the concept was based on a belief-system, not a pattern of faith, or even a pattern for earthly-restoration.
Ironically, the revelation that lays out the order for Zion is buried by an unsubstanciated belief system in a vague, inconsistent, even confusing, “dietary” law:
Consider reading the 89th Section as representing a covenant between Mankind, Earth, and God, after the pattern of Joseph’s revelation recorded in the Moses text, where Enoch intercedes. Consider that Joseph’s Word of Wisdom has less to do with dietary law, and everything to do with the order of agriculture and economy (covenant) for Zion.
Whereas “law” emphasizes obedience, “covenant” emphasizes responsibility. Are we are brother’s keepers? Consecration is covenant: it is not made, had, kept, or broken. Covenant is either neglected or fulfilled.
How easy will it be for the poorest in our wards to sign up for consecration when they have no property? Therefore, to the Lord, these poor are already consecrated, despite their “standing” or “activity” threshold. The poverty in our wards and stakes reflects our neglect of covenant… and our neglect is exposed like a Milgram experiment.
I trust the Relief Society with the “cultivation” of Zion far more than I trust any group of men who claim to have power and authority to build it.
I really like this. Thank you!
This is a great place to start. People don’t act boldly when they don’t feel seen and valued.
Excellent advice. I my leadership style tends to be jump in head first and figure it out as you go, this is a good reminder to create a strong foundation foremost.
I love your questions Mary, I think they will help the sisters to orientate their thinking.
One of the things that I have been thinking about recently is modesty, not so much in the what I wear way, but in the what I say way, particularly in relation to social media when we are being asked to publicly show gratitude.
I am very cool with the idea of private gratitude as being the solution to many distresses we experience, but public gratitude can only leave many others wondering why they are not ‘so blessed’. I think it’s a key factor to Zion building as it can help others not to have to struggle with their envy and focus on making sure we all have access to like blessings, rather than focusing on our own blessed state.
It seems to be almost inconceivable to many that this is problematic, and the result is very divisive in a society thaat has come to value greed and ambition as the only really effective motivators.