In this Series we're discussing a path forward; how can we become "one"? Will we ever learn to love one another? Is Zion just a tall-tale we tell our primary classes, like Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe?
In case you were wondering, we're building up towards something the apostle Paul taught the Romans, which I think will blow our minds.
A Description and a Definition
We began with a description of Zion ― "And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them" (Moses 7:18).
But the Lord also gave us a definition of Zion ― "Verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion ― the pure in heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice" (D&C 97:21).
What connects the two? What do we find in common between the description and the definition of Zion?
Does this mean the "pure in heart" are the only people who have any hope of becoming "one heart"?
Are the only ones who sit on a wooden log around the campfire singing Kumbaya those whose hearts are pure?
A Devil's Bargain
What does it mean to be "pure in heart?" Well, let's conduct a test:
1. Whose heart is more impure: (a) a prideful man (b) an immoral man
2. True or False: Harlots enter heaven before the Pharisees (Matt. 21:31).
3. Hardened hearts are best achieved by: (a) thinking we have the answers (b) seeking for greater light and truth
A thing is pure, by definition, when it is "free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind." Water is pure when it is free from bugs and germs; our hearts are pure when they are stripped of things like "jealousies and fears" (D&C 67:10).
Purity, then, is not synonymous with virtue; purity of heart requires far more than chastity.
Fire Lizard Fur
Pretend we lived during the Middle Ages, when everything was lit by candlelight and fireplaces and oil lamps (talk about a fire insurance salesman's dream!).
And pretend we discover a magical mineral that is fire-proof. We show a couple of monks a bit of cloth we found in Jerusalem made of the stuff, and when they see it doesn't burn in the fire, and becomes white in the flames, they believe it is the very cloth the Savior used to wash the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.
We're rich! We start a booming business weaving tablecloths and napkins from the magical fibers; we even create suits of armor from it. Now all the noblest knights wear our special, flame-retardant garments.
Well, there's a downside to our fabulous cloth, a devil's bargain. Because asbestos sheds microscopic fibers that are invisible to the naked eye. When asbestos is inhaled, it causes mesothelioma (a deadly form of cancer).
But what if we thought the benefits of using asbestos outweighed the risks? Say we're Charlemagne and one of our advisors reports that some of our knights are dying, but only the ones who wear asbestos clothing.
Would we tell them to throw away such a useful thing?
Isaiah warned us; really he did. He told us all about the health-risks of spiritual asbestos: the very thing that is fatal to the "pure in heart." See if you can spot it:
Jehovah of Hosts has a day in store for all the proud and arrogant and for all who are exalted, that they may be brought low.
It shall come against all the lofty cedars of Lebanon that lift themselves up high, and against all the oaks of Bashan. . . .
The haughtiness of men shall be abased, and man’s pride brought low; Jehovah alone shall be exalted in that day.
He will utterly supplant the false gods.
(Isaiah 2:12-13, 17-18, Gileadi Translation)
How can we be "pure in heart" when our hierarchies enshrine pride and status; when we construct temples and seminaries from cedar and oak? When we clothe our leaders in the asbestos robes of high offices and rank and inequality, which is causing cancer among the community of Christ?
"By Pride Cometh Contention"
For our purposes, let's think of "pride" as believing our "way" is the right way (which others should follow). Isn't this the root of pride? Preferring the superiority of our judgment, and skill, and experience?
By pride cometh contention.
Put a couple prideful people together and sparks will fly. The Mike Tyson of pride was Lucifer, who thought we should all see the genius of his plan. I mean, none would be lost? Sounds too good to be true!
Aren't we all like little-Lucifers when we peddle our own wisdom, our own opinion, our own strength, on others?
Let me put the shoe on my other foot to better explain what I mean, by taking an example of something I personally do not like, and asking myself, "Do I fall into the trap of trying to impose my standards on others? Am I any different than the the next guy?"
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.
Haunted Houses. There, now you know. I hate haunted houses. I think they're full of yucky evil; they give me bad vibes, filled with darkness (and it never fails to amaze me how popular they are).
Pride goeth before destruction.
But, since I am trying to be open-minded, let's pretend that I'm wired differently than you. Unlike me, you can enjoy a haunted house as a bit of harmless fun; you aren't bothered by the chainsaw-wielding wackos in blood-splattered lab coats. Oooookay.
Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim.
I see you; if your spirit is unaffected by haunted houses, who am I to try to convince you it's wrong? Just because I've learned it's wrong for me, does that necessarily mean it's wrong for you?
For a minute, I am going to try to be spiritually mature. Can I let you go to haunted houses without judging you for it? Am I man enough to sip my hot cocoa on the Ferris Wheel and wait for you while you go through that twisted maze of misery, and still embrace you afterwards and love you every bit as I love myself, though our "values" are different?
Yes, yes I think I can do that. I will try.
O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
Let's switch the shoe. Maybe you can watch the half-time show of the Superbowl without it offending your spirit. Good for you! I will honor your walk with God even if it isn't identical to mine. But let's say I don't want to watch Rihanna's performance last night ― will you want to convince me there's nothing wrong with Rihanna and her music and gyrating dancers?
So we see it cuts both ways; we all need to throw a "cloak of charity" over each other's differences. This means allowing them to do things we don't approve of, but also to NOT do things we DO approve of (see the difference?).
At the end of the day, aren't we supposed to afford everyone the privilege of following their conscience? Or do we expect them to follow ours?
Better to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
What I am trying to say is very simple: pride is the opposite of love; in fact, pride prevents us from loving each other purely.
Why? Because pride makes us feel like what is "right" for me is "right" for you, and what is NOT right for me is NOT right for you. Pride, at best, is judgmental; at its worst, it is controlling and abusive.
When we think about it, a prideful mindset treats others as extensions of our ego; as objects that either confirm ("oh, they agree with me; I like them") or threaten ("apostates!") our worldview. Isn't it funny how insecure pride is? Which is why pride craves, above all else, the validation of others' obedience.
But when we use others to stroke our pride ― excuse me: "gratify our pride" (D&C 121:37) ― the heavens withdraw from us. (And not just "us" individually, but also us-as-a-Church.)
Why? Because we are no longer treating others like children of God; we're treating them like animals who have to be potty trained (i.e., get with the program; fall-in-line with "the right way"; yield to the correctness of my authority).
Thus we see the most common way for love to perish is to place it in an environment of prideful "authority." What better way for love to wax cold than placing it in the chilly corner outside of the sunlight of Christ's cross-won liberty?
The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.
Order of Magnitude Greater
There's a very real danger of inviting others to "come unto Christ" and then bossing them around, telling them the "right way" to do it, unloading our spiritual baggage onto their backs and making it their burden.
Isn't this what Christ meant when He accused the Pharisees:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, ye blind guides.
This is like treating Jesus as a museum exhibit, placing Him behind red ropes and glass, charging admission and telling guests not to get too close, as if He were the Mona Lisa (think: prayer-pronouns).
After all, He's the main draw, the main attraction: the people come for Him and that's how we keep the lights on; but we've got security cameras and darned-if-we-don't make sure you follow the rules. No food or drink! No flash photography! No kissing the glass!
Boy, we think we're doing a great job for God, shuffling the crowds through the line to get their signs, tokens, and covenants, moving people towards the Lord . . . just don't hold up the line! "Keep the line moving, folks!" And be sure to shoo-away those pesky teenagers who don't know how to behave like civilized people in a museum, for heaven's sake, didn't their parents teach them manners? Good grief.
Whenever we start acting like curators who are in-charge of "the Christ Exhibit" (i.e., His Church), we demonstrate a level of pride on an order of magnitude that makes the angels weep (see D&C 76:26).
I'm talking about massive, collective, institutional pride ― the generational, marble-hewn pride of an organization priding itself on being "the only true and living Church."
Don't believe it? Recently the Relief Society in my ward (as my wife tells me) has begun cracking down on members who are not following the Handbook-prescribed rules for speech and dress in the Church, as if Christianity has become Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen and we're all just sous chefs, flustered and running about in fear we've overcooked the scallops, as Gordon shouts we're falling behind!
As the Lord described it:
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart [ah, here we find "heart" again] is far from me.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
I keep coming back to the need for us to collectively repent, as a people (as a Church!), and to seek the Lord humbly, like little children.
Repent of what? How about behaving like we rule the spiritual sandbox with our priesthood authority, as if Daddy gave us the keys to His car and everyone else has to ride in the backseat.
Pure love requires equality; Zion requires equality (see D&C 78:5-7).
What would happen if we all rose up like Rosa Parks and said peacefully to the drivers, "We are all equal on this bus; let's stop treating others like they are less-than."
Or we can stick with the status-quo, delivering casseroles as puffed up as our hearts, with Zion remaining a nice fairytale we tell our children as we put them to bed.