What the Cross Means to Me

31 07 2014

By Ralph Aona, Pacific Islands Mission Centre president

As a young child, I grew up in a congregation that had a framed painting of Jesus, who appeared to be knocking at a door. This drawing was in the front of the church, just above the baptismal font. It remained there for years, and then a painting of Jesus’ resurrection replaced it. His hands stretched out, as if reaching and touching us. Later, a koa (local wood in Hawaii) cross replaced that painting.

When I see that cross, it captures my attention. I am not sure why, but maybe it was the first cross that reminded me of my experiences on my journey with Christ. It is not the physical cross that captures me; rather it is what it represents. It represents my journey with the living Jesus knocking on my life and reaching and touching me.

When I went to college I thought I didn’t need to attend church. No one would know while I was in Washington. I was wrong. Jesus knew. Jesus was knocking on my door, my life, reminding me that he is not only lived out in oneself but in relationship with all sacred creation.

The fellowship and relationship with others in the community was important in my spiritual growth and journey. Jesus was right. On my first visit to the Woodland Congregation, I caught the bus and then had to walk several blocks. It was worth it. I met loving and caring people. In that fellowship, my faith continued to grow, my spiritual journey was strengthened, and Jesus was alive.

On another occasion, I was asked to go to the hospital to visit and pray for a young child with multiple medical needs. When I arrived I met the mother and saw her daughter hooked to several medical machines. The family members were not members of the church. So I had to explain about the sacrament of laying on of hands for the sick. The mother was receptive. She was open to anything that could help her child to live.

On another visit, I offered the sacrament again. After the prayer, the mother turned to me and said, “My daughter has taught me about love.” Her daughter did not have to say a word or move. It was her daughter’s presence that reminded her about love. Her daughter taught her that she was loved. The prayers just confirmed that to her.

Here, Jesus was knocking on this mother’s door through her daughter, and she was able to allow Jesus into her life through her child. The child passed away, but the mother found healing. When the celebration of life for the child was held, it was at a park with games, rides, and good food. It was a wonderful celebration.

The cross is all about Jesus knocking on our door and stretching out his hands to touch us. Jesus can reach us in so many ways—if we allow Jesus in. May we hear and see Jesus knocking and just be willing to open up and feel his hands reaching and touching us.

Return to Me

29 07 2014

By Vera Entwistle, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Following my father’s suicide, I was bereft. I was angry with God, and I felt unable to pray. I was alone, drifting in my grief—afraid of running aground. One day my counselor asked me to sit facing an empty chair. “Imagine your dad sitting there. What do you think he would say to you?”

My dad’s image came to me so powerfully that I wept. I saw myself as a young child, distressed over some perceived hurt. My dad picked me up and comforted me. For the first time I could sense the distress my dad may feel, watching me wallowing in my grief, and I knew that for his sake I needed to pick up the pieces of my life and go on. But how?

After my counselor left, I again sat facing the empty chair. This time I visualized God sitting there. I demanded that God show me how I possibly could go on.

I felt prompted to turn to the scriptures, and I began to search for comfort. As I turned page after page, one sentence stood out: “God yearns to draw you close so that wounds may be healed, emptiness filled, and hope strengthened” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10a).

In that moment, I began to heal.


25 07 2014

By Carman Thompson, apostolic assistant

About a year ago, a blog by a Presbyterian minister I casually follow, www.achurchforstarvingartists.wordpress.com, published “Mistakes Were Made (But It Was OK).” The post was about churches that are afraid to make a decision or take a chance on trying something new. One comment has stayed with me.

IMG_3330“Realize that mistakes are our friends. If your church hasn’t made a mistake in the past year, you haven’t tried anything creative.”

In the past year? Many congregations haven’t tried anything really adventurous in the past decade, probably two! That seems somewhat ironic given that during that same period, the inspired guidance given to Community of Christ has grown increasingly strident in its call for action.

The words that eventually became Doctrine and Covenants 161 were presented to the church by then-President Grant McMurray as words of counsel in 1996 and canonized in 2000. That document contained a fresh and compelling voice. It used the phrase, “Heed the urgent call…” (Doctrine and Covenants 161:6b).

Four years later, in 2004, another revelation was presented to the church, again conveying urgency. “The call to respond is urgent. Look to the needs of your own congregations, but look beyond your walls…” (Doctrine and Covenants 162:7d).

In 2007, Section 163 was given, and the call for immediate action became even more heightened. This document contains phrases such as “Open your ears…Do not turn away…Humankind must awaken…,” and “…equip people of all ages…” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a–c).

Then three years later, further counsel was presented to the church, primarily with timely guidance to help us through complex and difficult issues. This counsel, now Doctrine and Covenants 164, continued to call the church to immediate action. It contains urgency in a statement followed by two powerful questions:

The challenges and opportunities are momentous. Will you remain hesitant in the shadows of your fears, insecurities, and competing loyalties? Or will you move forward in the light of your divinely instilled call and vision?—Doctrine and Covenants 164:9e

Then in 2013 came further words of counsel, including:

Lovingly invite others to experience the good news of new life in community with Christ. Opportunities abound in your daily lives if you choose to see them.
Undertake compassionate and just actions that seek to abolish poverty and end needless suffering. Pursue peace on and for the Earth.

Let nothing separate you from this mission.

…Additional innovative approaches to coordinating con­gregational life and supporting groups of disciples and seekers are needed to address mission opportunities in a changing world.

Recognizing the need for innovative approaches in congregational life, is it time we perhaps took a few more chances and risked making a few of those mistakes mentioned earlier? Let’s have a conversation about risking making some mistakes, shall we?

It may just be urgent!

Joy and Gratitude

25 07 2014

By David Bolton, Independence, Missouri, USA

Browne at organI came home from high school and Mum asked, “Would you like to take organ lessons?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Joy Browne offered to give you free lessons.”

I knew Joy Browne as the 80-year-old who played “Freely, Freely” every Communion Sunday. I appreciated the opportunity and took up Joy’s offer. She coached me through my first experiences with playing hymns. She taught me to look to the text for moments to break a phrase and allow time for the congregation to breathe. She emphasized the importance of playing expressively rather than hitting the keys like a typewriter. Most importantly, she taught me about gratitude and appreciating others.

When I played at church Joy expressed appreciation immediately after the worship. It didn’t matter how well I had played, she always encouraged me. As I started to play regularly I wondered whether Joy would stop, but she thanked me every Sunday I played at Oak Hill Congregation for the rest of her life.

As she reached her 90s Joy had difficulty playing. Her joints swelled with arthritis. Some fingers bent to the side, while others curled downward. Her accuracy suffered, and large chords were now beyond reach. Her family lamented that she spent more time practicing for Christmas than being with them. It became painful for her to play for extended periods.

Not long after, the pastors asked if I would play for a Communion service.

I will always remember her coming to me afterward, just as she always did. Except this time, tears ran down her checks as she said, “I wish I could play like I used to, but I’m so glad you were able to play today.”

Joy passed away January 24, 2010, at age 93.

These days, I frequently play for church. I try my best to express the text of the hymns musically and to encourage others as she encouraged me. And whenever I’m scheduled to play for Communion Sunday, listen for:

Freely, freely
you have received:
freely, freely give.
—“God Forgave My Sin in Jesus’ Name” CCS 627, Carol Owens

One Hero, Many Heroes

23 07 2014

By Jimmy Munson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA

One of our 10-year-old boys has been attending church for weeks and is nicknamed Meal Ticket. He’s a hero.

Thirteen younger cousins live with him and his mom for many reasons. He would bring a different one with him to church each week so they could eat.
We finally found out Meal Ticket’s cousins all stayed with him. They had little food, little clothing, no medicine. So we spent $1,400 to get these kids what they needed. We also arranged for Family Services to come.

But listen to this: The last few years we have not been able to afford T-shirts for Memorial Day Camp. This year, though, somebody saved $700 for the shirts. Butwhen our kids found out about Meal Ticket and his cousins, they voted to help by giving up the T-shirts for camps and their trip to a Passion play.

The kids are really Jesus heroes.

A Spiritual—and Physical—Workout

21 07 2014

By Marilee Martens, Pickerington, Ohio, USA

During the spring of 2012, I attended a 10-week Bible-study class on Monday evenings at my home congregation in Grove City, Ohio. Each week class leader Tara Cummings chose a song that we would listen to before we started our class.

2013-06-09 17.24.20At the time, I also was taking a ZUMBA® Fitness class on Tuesday evenings. After listening to upbeat music from our Bible-study class, I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some form of a ZUMBA® class at church?

We could start by sharing prayer concerns and then work out, using Latin and Christian music. We then would finish with a meditation or spiritual discipline.

I asked my fitness instructor if she would be interested in teaching, and she loved the idea!

We started in September 2012 with a few members from our congregation. Soon we began to invite friends. Then the friends began inviting their friends. The class has evolved so that a friend of the church now leads the group. She invited a friend who leads yoga stretches at the end, and a Community of Christ young adult leads meditations.

I envisioned this group as an opportunity for congregation members to meet with each other and those from other congregations in the Columbus area.

Instead this group has become an opportunity for invitation and outreach.

We all look forward to our “Body & Soul Fitness” class. Last week I even heard someone ask if we could meet twice a week.

“This ministry has really blossomed, and it’s obvious that we enjoy each other’s company as much as we enjoy the act of building up our bodies,” said Karin

Blythe, a group member. “I have grown to value these new friends because we are able to share in a physically, emotionally, and spiritually rewarding activity. I also love how the group has been able to…remind us that we each have a gift to share with one another.”

Stained-glass Trees

19 07 2014

The Spiritual Practice of Creating Sacred Space

by Brittany Longsdorf, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Most of my life, I have lived in rural towns and villages in the Southern and Midwestern USA. I was raised by wide-lined cornfields and formed in the branches of oak trees. These spaces were sacred to me, though I often undervalued their spiritual essence while living among them.

photo 1When I was in college I read a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. It suggested that trees can be a home once you destine one to be. In a light-filled, clarifying moment I realized I had always done that—I somewhat unintentionally had made tree-homes.

Tree loves of my past flashed through my memories:

  • An ancient oak that sprawled over a creek near my grandparents’ house in Alabama, where I would fish and read novels.
  • A tall and rotund walnut in the woods by my house as a teenager, where I would cry and vent.
  • A circle of three pines that I ceremoniously dubbed “heaven” at Graceland University, where I used to study, laugh with friends, and discuss theology.
  • A warm, yellow ginkgo outside my apartment at seminary, where I would sit for hours, attempting to discern vocation, call, and mission.

These tree-homes were intentionally created sacred spaces where I felt safe to live fully in the present and explore my relationship with others and God.

My husband and I recently moved to Boston, and I am thoroughly enjoying the adventure of living in an urban place for the first time. The city is abuzz with life, diversity, and culture. Working as a university chaplain I am blessed with meeting incredible students every day and exploring spiritual formation in this generation in new and beautiful ways.

But for a while, I struggled to make this vibrant city feel like home. I missed the cornfields, the bubbling creeks, and the chirping woods. Facing the stress and labor of moving, starting a new job, and setting up a new apartment, I was determined to find another tree-home among the Bostonian brick and mortar.

The large maple in our front yard sits next to a busy road, which didn’t feel quite right. A beautiful magnolia on the lawn outside my office is convenient, but it’s always surrounded by students and picnickers.

After a few months, I found an ancient weeping willow in the Boston Public Gardens that had been planted nearly 200 years ago. The curving branches barely caress the ground, and I can sneak under them into a holy green fort of peace and prayer. I seek those willowing arms every couple of weeks and journal, meditate, and pray.

In our search for spiritual growth in experiencing the sacred presence we often wait for the Spirit to “find” us. In our quest for holy awareness, we want to be shaken, stirred, or struck with an overwhelming emotional experience of God. In waiting for these moments, we often forget we can seek, find, and create.

What I discovered through my tree-home search is that sometimes we can “find” the Spirit by intentionally creating sacred space. Rilke said a tree becomes a home if you destine it to be. We can name those sacred places, those holy havens, ourselves.

We can turn something entirely ordinary into hallowed ground for prayer, for peace, for spiritual formation. These are places for faith, places for hope that we create through intentionality and thoughtfulness. Katie Harmon-McLaughlin says it beautifully in her poem:

I pray with my whole heart
That generations from now
The stained glass leaves
Of setting sun trees
Will still remind people
Of hope

You have the ability to create holy spaces—to make a tree a stained-glass sanctuary, turn a porch swing into a church bench, or transform a candle on your work desk into a sacred altar.

Not all tree-homes are trees: Discover the sacred space unique to you. Push yourself to grow, change, evolve, and create in the spaces you find holy every day.

We grow in love and relationship as we join in community at church on Sundays. This is a beautiful, sacred time of assembly and worship where we join in our calling as the body of Christ. Further your spiritual formation by acknowledging you also have the opportunity to continue to grow throughout the week in all the sacred spaces of the world.

The stained-glass trees of setting-sun leaves are holding firm in their old holy ways, awaiting your discovery. Seek those tree-homes and stand firmly beloved and blessed on your holy ground.

When the World Came Undone

16 07 2014

By Matt Naylor, National World War I Museum president and CEO

The world is commemorating the first global conflict. Centennials are often a cause for celebration. But not this. Rather, it is a reason to learn, make meaning, and remember.

 The world leading up to the summer of 1914 was much like the world of today. Europe faced rising nationalism and awareness of ethnic differences. Alliances shifted between nations and ruling families. Countries and empires sought increased influence to drive their goals of expansion. Changing technologies, including shifts in energy sources, changed power balances.

So while the June murder of the heir to the Austrian Hungarian Empire—an empire unfamiliar to most of us today—is considered by many as a cause of World War I, it is better thought of as the match that struck the kindling of a well-set fireplace.

What made this war different from earlier ones was that it was the first global conflict. Indians, Australians, Costa Ricans, Haitians, Thai, and multitudes of others soon found themselves traveling to foreign lands or providing resources to propel the war. And the world was never to be the same.

Going to Scale

The scale of death was massive. Additionally, conditions on the frontlines caused illness, leading to even more death. Some 9 million soldiers died, and 21 million more were wounded. For example:

More than 400,000 Australians (thousands of miles and continents away from the war) enlisted, representing almost 40 percent of the male population between 18 and 44 years old. Almost 65 percent were killed or injured.

The Austrian-Hungarians mobilized 6.5 million troops. Almost 5 million, or 75 percent, were killed or injured.

The French Empire enlisted 7.5 million, and 75 percent were killed or injured.

Whole towns of young men, who were conscripted or enlisted together, were lost. The war brought terror of weaponry, gases, trench warfare, and disease. It also brought social and technological change, perhaps the greatest in human history. To name but a few changes:

Disintegration of empires; creation of nation states; environmental damage; new technologies in communications, medicine, aviation, weaponry; oil’s rise in importance, leading to modern conflicts; civic and human-rights movements; and a USA shift from isolationism to global leadership.

One City’s Response

In Kansas City, people wanted to honor those who served, and they wanted to seek a peaceful world.

In 1919, 83,000 men, women, and children donated more than $2 million (equal to nearly $40 million today) to create a memorial. And they did this in two weeks. Everyone, from the city’s leading lumberman, R.A. Long, to schoolchildren contributed.

The memorial’s site was dedicated November 1, 1921. An estimated 100,000 people witnessed the stirring ceremony. The five main Allied military leaders—General Jacques of Belgium, General Diaz of Italy, Marshal Foch of France, General John J. Pershing of the USA, and Admiral Lord Beatty of Great Britain—addressed the throng.

A nationwide architectural competition yielded the winning design by New York architect H. Van Buren Magonigle. Following construction between 1923 and 1926, the mostly completed memorial was dedicated November 11, 1926. It attracted more than 150,000 people. President Calvin Coolidge and Queen Marie of Romania delivered addresses.

In the late 1990s when the memorial needed renovation, leading citizens again motivated the people. Kansas City’s citizens provided a place suitable for the tremendous responsibility of properly reflecting on the war—its sorrows and significance. More than $100 million has been spent in the past decade.

Ominous Contemporary Parallels

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, historian Margaret MacMillan says today holds ominous parallels to the world leading up to World War I. For example, globalization before 1914 led Germany and Britain to be each other’s largest trading partners. Yet each felt threatened by the other’s economic success and rising commercial and military power.

“It is tempting—and sobering—to compare today’s relationship between China and America to that between Germany and England a century ago” MacMillan wrote. “Lulling ourselves into a false sense of safety, we say that countries that have McDonalds will never fight one another.”

MacMillian points to the Middle East as resembling the Balkans leading up to World War I. “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside power as the United States, Turkey, Russia, and Iran all look to protect their interests and their clients.”

The centennial of the Great War provides people of faith with an opportunity to reflect on how the world was swept into this global conflict, and what it means to live in its shadows.

I propose people of faith can do three things. Many nations are responding with similar and culturally appropriate actions.

1.    Tell stories. The Great War was about people fighting people. Sure, it was also about nationalism, tribalism, empires, and geopolitical rivalries. But those things are really about people. Telling stories can help us turn history into human story.

2.    Teach people what happened and why it matters. The world today is more like the world leading up to World War I than we would like to imagine. The great American novelist, Mark Twain, is credited with saying “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Appreciating the past can help us successfully navigate the future. In partnership with a consortium of churches and affiliates, including Community of Christ Seminary, the National World War I Museum will host a symposium in 2017 about conscientious objection as a response to war.

3.    Remember the courage and values of those days. Many thought World War I would be over in days, surely by Christmas. But the war was not over by Christmas. War was envisioned as romantic and colorful—flags, spiked helmets, flashing sabers. Those called to arms would be heroes, defending their homelands and way of life. The grim reality was far different. To remove any notion of war as a grand adventure, remember what happened. Remembering also can make us aware of real and present threats to our world.

Monumental Changes

The world came undone in those days. When it was put back together—if it ever was—it was forever changed: new countries, new weaponry, new threats and ideologies.

This war matters, if only because it is about the power of a fractured world. And it showed us as never before destructive power on a massive scale.

The great Frieze Wall at Liberty Memorial is 488 feet long and 43 feet high. Combining images of the horrors of war and the fruits of industry and peace, the wall’s central figure is a woman with spread wings, symbolizing peace and understanding. Inscribed above it:

These have dared bear the torches of sacrifice and service. Their bodies return to dust but their work liveth evermore. Let us strive on to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Remembering those who served and learning and finding meaning in the Great War and its enduring impact is a tribute to the past and a commitment to a world of peace.

Longing for Peace

14 07 2014

By Greg Clark,
Integrated Communications

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

Church leaders were among the many guests who found images of peace amid stories of conflict at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Hall.

It would be easy to think the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City reflects battle, pain, and strife—and it does.

Even more, however, it tells of humankind’s yearning for peace.

To be sure, when Community of Christ leaders toured the site in May, they found many spectacles of warfare: tanks, trenches, and testimonies of tragedy. They also saw reflections of our desire for peace: red poppies depicting the Flanders Fields, where so many died in Belgium and France; 40-foot-tall carvings of Guardian Spirits, who symbolize protectors of peace; and the Great Frieze, a 488- by 48-foot sculpture that represents the end of the war and the creation of an era of peace.

Sadly, peace was short-lived. The war to end all wars didn’t. Since its first shots 100 years ago this month, wars have popped up across the world like mushrooms in a moist forest. Today people fight in Ukraine, and others needlessly die in places called Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and more.
All of this makes Christ’s mission—our mission—imperative.

“We have to learn about the causes of war to understand how to wage peace,” President Steve Veazey said during the tour. “We are to the best of our ability doing that.”

Many anniversaries are seen as celebrations. Not this one. No party hats, no cake, no reliving past glories. Rather, this centennial reminds of war’s horrific nature and humankind’s imperative to find different paths.

“For me, the claim as a peace church forces us to be aware and see the presence of non-peace in our midst, and it requires us to look into the ugly face of brokenness and conflict,” said Scott Murphy of the First Presidency.

“I was very supportive of coming here. It’s one thing to talk about peace around the table, but to see representations of [war] makes our work more critical.”

Apostle Susan Oxley echoed that sentiment: “I don’t think the church ever can be reconciled to war. We stand for looking for alternatives. War is alien to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His teachings are designed to solve conflict and encourage us to seek solutions.

“I support museums like this that don’t glorify war but present the horror of it.”

Historians cite many reasons for the start of World War I, which killed 9 million, wounded 21 million, and brought changes the world still feels today. Among the causes was widespread and fervent nationalism, still a force today.

World Church Historian Mark Scherer said that initially in World War I the church urged neutrality. “People were not supposed to join, but if drafted, to ‘do your duty.’ But there was a disconnect between the general church and the patriotic fervor most Americans held. With the enthusiasm of going ‘over there, over there,’ church members flocked to join.”

Not all members. F. Henry Edwards, an English citizen and future member of the First Presidency, was in England during the Great War. He was drafted but refused to fight, and he went to prison.

Over time, the church’s stance changed. Peter Judd described the shift in “RLDS Attitudes in World War I,” a 1975 article:

It appears evident that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints moved from a position of strict neutrality with respect to the war in 1914 to a position of unqualified support for the United States and Allied nations by 1918.

Today leaders from the church, the museum, and others are seeking peaceful paths and hoping to learn from history. Among them is US Army Colonel Robert Ewing, who leads the 79th Service Support Command. His group toured the museum at the same time as the church leaders.

“Our chaplain unit is having ministry team training,” he explained. “We want them to practice exercising their faith…with people like those represented [in museum exhibits].”

Presiding Evangelist David Brock, like many other church leaders on the tour, holds hope that humankind will learn from the causes and tragedy of World War I.

“In a strange way, being aware of the reality of how horrible and costly war is presents one of our greatest hopes.”

Apostle Andrew Bolton said every generation must learn the lesson of peace over war. “In answer to nationalism, we’re an international church. That’s one of the social forces that pushes our peace mission.”

Apostle Linda Booth noted the irony of the US entrance into the war. It was April 6, 1917—the church’s birthday. While church members were celebrating their heritage, the nation was entering a dark period.

“We learn from our experiences of the past, mistakes in relationships that caused people to determine war was more important than reconciliation,” she said.“Here we see the stark reality of millions killed and families changed because leadership couldn’t [turn away from war].”

But Booth also found hope in the tour.

“I’m walking behind a tour of high school students who will see the reality of what war does, and hopefully they will become advocates for peace.”

Living, Loving, and Sharing Zion

11 07 2014
Stassi Cramm, Council of Twelve Apostles

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!