Three-Year Mission to Seek Out New Life and New Civilizations
Happy anniversary, Owls; three years ago we began this journey together.
The traditional third-year anniversary gift is leather (looking at you, Elijah's girdle, 2 Kings 1:8), but in modern times it has become customary to give crystal.
When I think of crystal, I am reminded of John's vision of the New Jerusalem:
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
And on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, [does this mean the tree's trunk split upon each bank for the water to pass under it?] which bare twelve manner of fruits. . . and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
So my hope for us is to receive the clear crystal waters that nourish the roots of God's family. Owl of the Desert is my modest attempt to spread the word of God through poetry and prose, trying to trumpet the good news of God's unending and eternal love.
I have made new friends through this effort who have greatly blessed my life. I love you and I bring you the love of the Stake Presidency. . . . uh, wait a minute.
Three years! I went back and counted 273 blog posts and 67 poems during that time. We've covered a lot of ground and a variety of topics, but at the end of the day all of them have been about only one thing:
Charity. The pure love of Christ.
My first blog, "A New Earth" was posted on May 16, 2020 during the height of COVID and the government shut-downs. Back in 2020, during those challenging times, I wrote:
"The only way we'll arrive at the New Earth is to live the New Commandment." The commandment is still new, I think; it hasn't become old because we haven't kept it yet (if we had learned to love like Christ, Zion would have descended already).
A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
So it's time to return and report on how we're doing living the Lord's law of love. Have we grown in unity and brotherhood and sisterhood over the past three years?
That is the true measure of success.
Biting My Tongue Makes it Bleed
Over the years, you may have noticed I have become more bold. I suppose it's because we all sense our mortality and I don't know how much longer I have been allotted here on earth, or when the internet will catastrophically go dark forevermore.
So I try not to mince words as I thrust in my sickle while the day lasts. We have a fleeting window in which to communicate across continents and to hold one another through a web of digital rainbows.
It may surprise you that I frequently bite my tongue (figuratively-speaking); yes, despite appearances I really do try to remain circumspect and temperate in what I say.
The reason for this ― trying to mind my P's and Q's ― is because as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ I don't want to say or do anything that might reflect poorly on Him (neither do I want to offend the tender Owls who are new here).
But as far as I can tell, signs that the love of men is waxing cold continue unabated (yes, even in the Church).
What can we do? And how much time is left in which to do it?
"The Bond of Perfectness"
I made the mistake in college of asking Heavenly Father for the gift of Charity. I wanted His love to flow through my veins like blood.
I didn't know what I was asking for. Now I realize the only way to be clothed in the robes of Charity is to undress ourselves of everything else (yes, everything) that we might put on Christ's skin (garment), slain for us in the Garden to cover our nakedness.
And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.
This verse holds a key, I think. It explains what Christ meant when He told us to "be perfect" even as our Father in heaven in perfect (Matt. 5:48).
The verse teaches us that the particular kind of perfection we're seeking is found in the "bond of charity" (which it equates with "perfectness").
Not Greek-perfection, no, but Christ-perfection. What is that? Moroni told us that if we "love God with all our might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for us, that by his grace we may be perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32).
We're talking about a mantle of love that can't be bought off-the-rack; one we cannot be given by mortal hands ― for the garment of the holy priesthood is obtained at the edge of a knife's blade; one that is bloodied and tailor-made for us by Christ himself.
A Field of Diamonds
Once upon a time when I was a young newlywed my father gave me a priesthood blessing and told me that one day I would look back at my life, over all of the trials that would be part of my journey ― all the heart-wrenching anguish we experience as part of this fallen world, as if walking over hot coals and shattered glass, drawing blood from our bare feet ― and lo, looking back I would see only a field of diamonds.
Now in middle-age ― bald with a root-beer belly, five children and a mortgage, trying to balance paying the bills with seeking first the kingdom of heaven while juggling changing the oil in my car with filling the oil in my lamp ― I can say that my father's promise has been fulfilled.
Looking back, I see diamonds; I see the cut gemstones the Lord placed along the path leading to the Tree of Life, glowing with His inner-light and glistening in the blood of those who had passed by barefoot (having removed their sandals upon holy ground); and I recognize how those trials changed me.
I am no longer the man whose feet bled; in some areas I've softened and in others I've hardened; the Savior's object was not to give me shoes but to transform my soles, and soul, so that I might become a new creature molded in His image.
As a father and as a son, thinking of Isaac upon the stone altar beneath Abraham's knife, I think perhaps I am beginning to understand at last what it was all for.
I no longer crave escape nor deliverance ― simply love. Whether in life or in death, the only riches worth having is that found in the everlasting arms of God's Love.
I have learned that the love of God cannot be bottled or tamed; it is always changing, churning ― like living waters. It can become hard as ice or soft as drifting snow; it can seemingly evaporate without notice, only to return as a blinding blizzard.
God's love is liquid and air and ice.
But like living waters flowing through the earth’s veins, love always returns in the end to the place it belongs; no matter how it was spent ― no matter what shape it takes ― love always finds its way home.
Heaven is Here
One of the first blogs I wrote back in 2020 was about shifting our perspective on heaven, where we don't view heaven as a place we go after we die, but something we create here on earth. After all, earth was, and will be again, Eden (2 Nephi 8:3).
"The Garden of Eden is the Holy of Holies, and the dwelling of the Lord . . . and Mount Zion [is] the center [or] navel of the earth" (Jubilees 8:19).
While it is convenient to think of this world being blown up in a ball of flames at the Second Coming, rendering our choices here-and-now as largely irrelevant whilst the righteous are raptured ― the fact of the matter is we have real skin in the game; we aren't spared from the destructions of the Second Coming but are delivered from them as we create pockets of heaven on earth, literally. These are "holy places" we are to stand in, which the scriptures describe as being a "refuge from the storm" (D&C 115:6) for the righteous.
So my dear friends, there is a better world out there, but I'm not talking about the afterlife; it is the one we build here on earth, together ― a dwelling place worthy of the gods, for which words are wholly inadequate, waiting for them who love God and who love as God.
What's holding us back?
Well, Nephi can tell us. Nephi knew as much about the last days as anyone; he used Isaiah to give us an insider's-view of the end times.
But when Nephi quoted Isaiah 49, he made a fascinating emendation in his record. Here is what Isaiah wrote:
"Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name" (Isaiah 49:1).
Okay, now look at the major revision Nephi made (highlighted):
"And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name" (1 Nephi 21:1).
He added an entire sentence! And what a beefy-bunch of meat it is for us to chew, tough as beef jerky that imperils our root canal. The crux of it comes down to this: what causes the Lord's people to be "broken off" and "driven out"? Nephi says it's "because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people."
Well, what was Nephi talking about? Could it be, for example, the way the latter-day Church continues to amass authority and wealth in a manner incompatible with the pure love of Christ?
Could it be the way the Church makes a mockery of God's love by enshrining a managerial corporate structure as a priesthood-equivalency?
Could it be the way the Church pollutes the holy word of Christ by preaching precepts that are antithetical to charity (see, e.g., "Divine Love" by Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign, February 2003; see also, Elder Dallin H. Oaks on "Same-Gender Attraction")?
This is why I've spent so much time over the past three years speaking about authority and priestcraft and inequality and priesthood and keys ― because the way we love each other determines the kind of world we can create.
And Zion cannot be built but by a celestial love.
The scary thing is Nephi uttered a dire warning to those who invoke priesthood authority but who aren't following the Lord's law:
The Lord hath forbidden this thing [i.e., priestcrafts]; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love.
And except they should have charity they were nothing.
But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.
(2 Nephi 26:30-31)
As I watched the 60 Minutes exposé on TV about the Church's finances, detailing the elaborate lengths Church leaders took to conceal its wealth from the members by deceit, fraud, and lying ― I thought of Jacob's words:
Wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.
(2 Nephi 9:30)
A New Day is Dawning
In 1820, Joseph Smith was told to join no churches. He was 14 years old.
Ever since, we've been asking the same question: "Is the Church true?" But this question is poorly constructed; it reflects a spiritual immaturity. The whole notion has a spirit of sectarianism that was deeply rooted in the religious establishment of nineteenth century America.
So it is understandable that Joseph would ask it, being a creature of his culture and time (as we all are). But we're not 14 years old anymore.
Childhood crushes shouldn't dominate the landscape of an adult, mature love.
The Lord showed through His condescension and mercy that He can work through compromised institutions, corrupt leadership, and craven communities. The Savior's gift is to draw good from imperfection, to make things work together for good even when His ingredients are lackluster.
God ministers in chapels that preach falsehoods; He comforts in homes filled with contention; He blesses the honest-hearted seekers of truth even when they are surrounded by mists of darkness and the errant traditions of men.
In other words, instead of asking, "Is the Church true?" we could start asking, "Is the Church loving?"
And none doeth good, for all have gone out of the way.
These words apply to me as much as anyone else (which is why, when the Lord tells us to "speedily" repent (D&C 109:20), I try to be as Usain Bolt, but instead of spandex I wear sackcloth).
And my vineyard has become corrupted every whit.
But it's okay!
We don't need another church ― we need to connect with the Church of the Firstborn. So rather than lamenting the faulty foundation of earthly institutions built on sand, we can work to draw down the church of heaven (you know, the one built upon the rock of our Redeemer).
Remember, the whole point of the Restoration (before it became hijacked by banking collapses, polygamy, ambitious men, and wealth-colonization) was to fulfill the everlasting covenants of the Father.
And this is mine everlasting covenant, [no, we're not talking about marriage] that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward [where are we looking?] then shall Zion look downward, [where does Zion come from?] and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy [a new earth being born].
And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn [which church?] shall come down out of heaven [where is this church?] and possess the earth and shall have place until the end come And this is mine everlasting covenant [no, still not marriage, you horn-dog].
(JST Gen. 9:22-23)
The Lord is working with, and among, all peoples, faiths, and traditions, to bring about His Zion, calling His sheep who can hear His voice.
And we're part of it!
The Full Stature of Christ
Paul told us that we are children who need to grow up spiritually (whereas Christ told us we are adults who need to become like little children; an illuminating paradox). To assist in our maturation, the Lord gave us apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers and parents and friends and grandparents and uncles and aunts and Mr. Fred Rogers (see, Ephesians 4:11).
So the good news is we're surrounded by helping hands in the nursery of life. As we come unto Christ, Paul taught, the community of believers become "edified" and united in their love for one another (Ephesians 4:12). We matriculate when:
We all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure and stature of the fulness of Christ.
Looking at that verse, what is perfection, according to Paul? Is the "fulness of Christ" something we attain unto individually, or is it achieved collectively, when the entire body of Christ come together to do the will of their Father?
The challenges and tribulations we face before the Second Coming are going to require more than just "holy men" and holy women; it will require "holy communities" comprised of those whose hearts are knit together in love.
Strangely, most of the discussions I see going on is still concerned with who-and-what-is-right (as if this were still 1820) ― so much so that I worry we're missing the bigger picture, which is: a Zion people will need to be able to govern themselves (following the Lord's revelation, of course).
This will require compromise and common consent instead of running to the nearest authority-figure to settle our disputes.
Picture the angelic police hauling us down to the Station for a line-up, making us stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Do we think the Lord is looking at our denominational affiliations? Or is He looking for those who love? Because disciples of Christ are known not by their titles and offices and priesthood, but by their love.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Would we stand out in a line-up?
Zion will require us to prioritize people over traditions; we will need to choose love over doctrine; and to outgrow our tribalistic-view of others being good-or-bad based on whether they hold the same beliefs as we do.
Why? Because it's going to burn. I'm not talking about jalapeño-level-heat; not even serrano-chile-hot ― we're going see the Lord turn the spiritual Scoville Scale all the way up to Carolina-Reaper-levels (see, Matt. 13:30).
Infants on Thrones
Heaven is full of weirdness, so it should not surprise us that Zion will be weird too. I don't think Zion will resemble our comfortable churches and temples because Joseph Smith indicated we're going to be in for a surprise: "Now I make this declaration, that those things which John saw in heaven, had no allusion to anything that had been on the earth previous to that time."
(Let that sink in; it means we're going to encounter novelties in Zion, so keep an open-mind; it will take us outside of our comfort zones.)
"John saw curious looking beasts in heaven ― he saw every creature that was in heaven.... I suppose John saw beings there of a thousand forms that had been saved from ten thousand times ten thousand earths like this; ― strange beasts of which we have no conception ― all might be seen in heaven.
"The grand secret was to show John what there was in heaven: John learned that God glorified himself by saving all that his hands had made, whether beasts, fowl, fishes, or men."
Let's take an example of something that is perplexing: the fate of children who die before the age of accountability. If we were in Sunday School, the discussion would end with the hopeful refrain, "They are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ."
Okay. But is it more complicated than that? Are these children married in heaven or single? Because "in the resurrection the angels neither marry, nor are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30). But we believe they go to the Celestial Kingdom, right (see D&C 137:10)?
Reconcile these ideas with what Joseph Smith taught: "But as the child dies so shall it rise from the dead, and . . . will never grow — it will still be the child, in the same precise form as it appeared before it died . . . but possessing all the intelligence of a God. Children dwell in the mansions of glory, and exercise power, but appear in the same form as when on earth. Eternity is full of thrones, upon which dwell thousands of children, reigning on thrones of glory, with not one cubit added to their stature."
Oh boy. That sounds a bit messed up; it throws a monkey wrench in the doctrinal teachings on marriage and the new and everlasting covenant, doesn't it?
My point is not to freak anyone out with images of infants on thrones wielding God's knowledge and power, a la Alia in the novel Dune. It's that we need to become more broad-minded than we currently are if we expect to be part of Zion.
Years ago I was invited to co-author a chapter for the book, Presidents of the Church. I spent a lovely summer in the Church History Library and in the BYU Special Collections researching the extraordinary life of President Spencer W. Kimball.
In 1978, President Kimball inaugurated a new day in which all races could receive the priesthood and their temple ordinances. In other words, President Kimball brought us a little closer to heaven (some view the change as being about the priesthood, but what they don't understand is that it was always about love).
Read these words from Official Declaration 2:
"As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords."
The point I want to make is that while, yes, bringing about Zion is the Lord's work, we are fellow-laborers with Him in this; so how can we be more proactive in inviting heaven down? I sense that the Lord expects us to approach Him boldly with our anxiously-engaged initiatives to make the desert blossom as a rose.
What is surprising is the fact the Lord doesn't unilaterally send thunderbolts from heaven to knock some sense into us (or the leaders of the Church). In 1978 the Lord didn't cram His will down our gullets. Since He's not overbearing, He waits patiently upon us to approach Him and to plead with Him with firm minds and hearts filled with real intent in shaping a better future.
Here's the point: the 1978 revelation would not have occurred but for President Kimball's insistence and faith with the Lord and (the real challenge) with his Brethren.
As I researched the legwork it took for President Kimball to prevail upon the Brethren, it became apparent that the one who needed convincing the most was not the Lord but His people. It begs the question: in what areas, today, are we holding the Lord back because of our unbelief? What blessings is the Lord more-than-willing to grant His people if they would but ask Him?
It took a man of President Kimball's courage to rise up to the full stature of Christ and show us that love transcends our traditions.