Stassi Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles
by Stassi Cramm,
Council of Twelve Apostles
I grew up in the church, hearing sermons, singing songs, and listening to prayers about Zion. There was an awareness Zion was coming, and we needed to be ready to go to Independence, Missouri, when the call came. I remember one reunion before I turned 16. The message focused on the idea that Zion was coming very soon. We were living in the latter days, and we needed to be ready.
I was petrified in the following months that Zion would happen before I got my driver’s license, and I’d never get a chance to drive a car. (I guess somehow I had inferred that cars would be unnecessary in Zion.) I was also sad that I would have to leave my life and friends in Illinois and move to Independence. Even with my limited understanding of God and Zion, leaving others “behind” seemed like something a loving God would not require or even want.
I remember all of these feelings about Zion with a bit of humor and deep fondness. My understanding of Zion may have been incomplete then (and probably still is), but the idea of Zion coming was—and still is—a formative vision for me. It has continued to guide my discipleship and ministry throughout the years.
When I first heard, and later read, the closing paragraphs of the words of counsel presented in April 2013, my heart overflowed with joy. There was that old familiar idea: Zion, beckoning us onward. More important was the idea that God challenges us to move beyond talking about and just waiting for Zion into the action of co-creating with God the reality of Zion. How amazing is that?
If we survey Doctrine and Covenants about Zion it becomes clear this closing paragraph of the 2013 words of counsel repeats counsel we have heard before.
There is a recurring theme that Zion is something we need to work toward and not just wait for. As early as 1869 in Section 6:3a is the encouragement: “…Keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.”
This counsel highlights that Zion is not something we are waiting for. Rather it’s something we help make happen. More than 100 years later, in 1982, Section 155:8 reminded us: “The call is for workers in the cause of Zion.…” This was another reminder that God was looking for people to help bring about God’s vision of shalom. Again the indication was that God wants and needs workers to help build Zion, rather than for people to wait faithfully until God brings Zion to us.
It has taken me awhile in my own journey to grasp that I’m not waiting on God to bring about Zion. The call to go to Independence is not going to come. God’s waiting on me and—more importantly—us to create expressions of God’s reign on Earth in our families, neighborhoods, and cities.
It reminds me of the song, “Waiting on the World to Change,” by John Mayer. In a world where we often feel powerless to overcome injustices and bad situations, we feel like we are stuck waiting. Waiting on the powerful. Waiting on an intervening God. Waiting on something or someone to change the world.
To give ourselves hope and encouragement while we wait, we speak and sing about Zion. It is good to speak and sing about Zion because this is how we expand our understanding of what God’s peaceable kingdom on Earth is all about. However, we can’t just wait while we speak and sing. We must live, love, and share as Zion. Preceding the call for workers in Section 155 was the encouragement to act now:
Know, O my people, the time for hesitation is past. The earth, my creation, groans for the liberating truths of my gospel which have been given for the salvation of the world. Test my words. —Doctrine and Covenants 155:7
I love the challenge to test God’s words. Throughout our journey as a people, we have received many “words” on how we can help Zion happen: tend to our spiritual condition; have courage; witness; heed the call; create pathways for peace in sacred communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness; hold to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ; visibly be one in Christ; and more.
Words are funny things. They often mean different things to different people. No matter how clearly I think I’ve said or written something, inevitably someone will have an interpretation that differs from my intent. So even agreeing on how we test God’s words is a challenge.
I began a journey in June 2013 to build on my limited Spanish knowledge. Learning a new language has underscored for me how complicated communicating with words can be. Maybe that is why Mark Twain wisely observed, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.”
We have filled volumes with beautiful words about Zion. Meanwhile, God keeps calling us into action. I am certain each of us has a different idea of what Zion might be or how to help create it. I suspect this is why we get stuck in the “talking about it” phase and never get on with the “testing of God’s words” phase.
Meanwhile, our words have limited impact on influencing others and inviting them into a new way of seeing and interacting in the world. If Mark Twain was right and our actions do speak louder than our words, then our inaction as we wait for God to bring about Zion is screaming an unfortunate message to a world in need.
I talked for years about becoming more fluent in Spanish. However, every time I thought about taking action, it seemed too overwhelming. I wanted the “quick fix” that magically would move me from illiterate to fluent without any real effort on my part. The reality is that learning a new language (or a new way of being) is really hard, very time consuming, and most humbling.
The call to build Zion is a call into a new way of being. It is the action of developing zionic skills and behaviors. It is really hard, very time consuming, and most humbling.
We have to start small. I had to relearn the Spanish alphabet so I could start learning the basic words and grammar rules. I had to move beyond just reading the rules and into the action of practicing them. I had to experiment with speaking and writing the words. I had to test everything I was learning. I had to be willing to be humble because of my countless mistakes.
With each new section in Doctrine and Covenants about Zion we have gone deeper in our understanding of the “alphabet” and basic grammar rules of Zion.
Now we need to start experimenting with what we’ve learned by “testing God’s words.” We have to be willing to jump into living, loving, and sharing as Zion, striving to be visibly one in Christ, where there are no poor or oppressed.
We’ve been told our ability to create zionic conditions in our family, with neighbors, at our workplace, and in interactions with others is dependent on our spiritual condition. If our cup is filled, we are more likely to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the way we live, love, and share. We need to tend to our spiritual condition.
We have been told to have courage about our call to bring about the cause of Zion. If we make time to be spiritually healthy, this will give us more confidence.
We need to ignore natural insecurities about being incapable of making a difference and instead look for opportunities to serve and jump in.
This means we have to get out of our homes and congregations and become involved in the community around us. As we prayerfully engage with others, God will open our eyes to opportunities for service.
Many in the church have been praying the mission prayer being used by the Leading Congregations in Mission project:
God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.
Those who have made this a daily practice have discovered that prayers are answered and opportunities to bring blessing become visible.
We have been told to witness of God’s love and concern for all people and to become a global family. We do this by listening to others’ stories, sharing our stories, and weaving our stories with God’s unfolding story for creation. We are called to be in healthy relationships with others to include bearing each other’s burdens.
Actions shared with others in Christ-like love are great ways to share our witness. This then leads to the opportunity to invite others to be part of Christ’s mission through baptism and confirmation.
We have been told to create pathways for peace in sacred communities of generosity, justice, and peacefulness. For me sacred communities include my family, friends, work colleagues, my church family, and neighborhood. As I consider each of these communities, I am challenged to consider how I can be more attentive to making all of these encounters a zionic experience and a witness to the world.
When I visited Honduras after my first week of Spanish immersion, I realized my Spanish-language skill was equivalent to the abilities of the Honduran 2- to 3-year-olds. I remember Carlos Enrique teaching his grandson, David Enrique, a song to help him learn the alphabet. I almost cried when I realized David Enrique could sing it better than I. I wanted to give up.
In reality, I just want to wait for the technology that will allow me to insert a data card into my head and bam!…I am fluent in Spanish. However, what I am learning goes so much beyond knowing the language. I am shaped and formed by the struggle. I would lose so much if I just wait for technology to do it for me.
Similarly, we’ve been invited into the creative struggle with God. For me, this is what the last two paragraphs of the 2013 words of counsel are all about. We are being shaped and formed as we tend to our spiritual condition, act in courage, develop healthy relationships, and create sacred communities that witness of Zion through our collective actions. This often comes with pain and suffering, but the outcome makes it all worth it.
More than a year has passed since the 2013 USA National Conference. As I look back, I see that all who gathered created a sacred community that witnessed to the world a new way of making decisions about difficult topics. Regardless of whether people agreed with the result, most present recognized the profound nature of sacred community struggling to listen to God’s guidance through the blessing of the Holy Spirit. It was hard and even painful at times.
Those gathered were generous with their love, patience, and contributions. They sought to be just in how they treated one another. Most experienced a peacefulness that passed all human understanding, even amid heart-wrenching moments.
People came spiritually prepared to be together with one another and the Holy Spirit. Most received an undeniable glimmer of the nature of Zion that has continued to bless many throughout the USA as stories have been shared.
So you see, the closing paragraphs of the 2013 words of counsel align with our own story of why we should have courage and hope. Our story teaches us to trust what will happen when we test God’s words. It encourages us that we can struggle together with difficult issues, trying to be true to God’s vision of shalom in our actions. It shows that Zion happens as we endure, persevere, and stay the course, holding to God’s covenant of peace in Jesus Christ as best we understand it. Ultimately, it is about seeking to visibly be one in Christ not only in word, but in action.
Most experiments that yield significant results are not easy and can even be dangerous. As we continue to experiment with living, loving, and sharing Zion, we undoubtedly will experience difficulties and setbacks. We need to be patient with one another and open to continued understanding of how God is leading us.
Nobody has all the answers. But the 2013 words of counsel end with a recurring and undeniable truth from people’s continuing interactions with God: The story always ends with “resurrection and everlasting life in Christ’s eternal community of oneness and peace. Trust in this promise.”
Enough with the words…What are we waiting for? Let’s build Zion…Onward!