Monday, November 5, 2018

Getting Things Done

As I have said before, I say again, Love one another, labor willingly alongside each other. Learn what you ought, and when I ask you to labor, do so wisely even if you know not beforehand what you will find. I do not ask what you cannot do. Trust my words and proceed always in faith, believing that with me all things are possible. 
—Revelation in response to Statement of Principles

In the wake of the Statement of Principles adoption and the Lord’s acceptance and explanatory parable, many people have understandable concerns about how the covenant body should go about getting things done in the future. Some envision future group assignments or projects, and contemplate various mechanisms for coming to agreement and accomplishing them. As I’ve pondered such future possibilities, I’ve come up with a few thoughts I’d like to share.

First, it’s important to consider the issues in the guide and standard effort that complicated its completion. The Lord  consistently identified the problem as our hearts, both in the Answer to Prayer for Covenant, and in the Parable of the Master’s House.

In the Answer, the Lord said the following:
As a people you honor with your lips, but your hearts are corrupt, filled with envy and malice, returning evil for good, sparing none — even those with pure hearts among you — from your unjustified accusations and unkind backbiting.
But remember that without the fruit of repentance, and a broken heart and a contrite spirit, you cannot keep my covenant; for I, your Lord, am meek and lowly of heart. Be like me.
Do not murmur saying, Too much has been required at our hands in too short a time. If your hearts were right it was a light thing I have asked. You hinder and delay and then you say I require too much of you and do not allow you time, when, if your hearts were right and you prepared yourselves, you could have finished this work long ago. Do you indeed desire to be my people? Then accept and do as I have required.
Notice how many times the Lord addresses the state of our hearts. Likewise, in His analysis of the early Saints’ failure in Missouri, our Lord speaks of matters of the heart:
Behold, I say unto you, There were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them, therefore, by these things they polluted their inheritances. (T&C 101:2)
Jarrings, contentions, envyings, strifes, lust, covetous desires…all these dwell in the heart of mankind, and they all prevent Zion. It’s always about the heart.

With that in mind, let’s consider the Parable of the Master’s House. Remember, three groups with three different approaches initially set out to obey the Master’s command.
  • The wood cutters quickly found their plan unworkable, gave up, and supported what they viewed as the next best option.
  • The stone haulers labored and struggled under ponderous loads in a work based on their assumptions, rather than the Master’s plans.
  • The brick group strictly obeyed the Master’s commands, neither adding to, nor taking away from what the Master had asked. When they arrived at the Master’s chosen spot and found no way to build a house, they didn’t immediately give up, but instead pondered the place and the command. They gained insight by doing so, and exercised faith by trusting their Master.
But even among this third group who had strictly kept the Master’s command, and who had exercised faith and received further light and knowledge, the solution did not readily appear. Only some of them had the idea to clear an area of brush and grass, and acted on this idea. By so doing, they discovered the Master’s plans and the clay at hand to use in making bricks.

What I take from this is that, even among the faithful whose eyes are open, in any given assignment, not all will immediately understand what must be done. The fact that it was only some, implying a rather small group, speaks volumes.

Now, consider this application to our current, and future, situation:

Everything I can think of that has been accomplished thus far in this movement, has started with a single person or small group directed by the Lord. Whether the task was to establish an archive, call a conference, build a website, start a podcast, recover more accurate scriptures, write a statement of principles, or even give the 10 talks themselves, in every case, the effort and action were undertaken by a single individual, or at most, a small group, consisting of those inspired and directed by the Lord. (And these are just a few examples of many other valuable works in this movement I could cite.)

From a practical standpoint, this makes a great deal of sense. Most things are accomplished by individuals or small groups for a simple reason: As the size of any group grows, the interpersonal complications multiply exponentially. Working through issues and coming to agreement in a small group is far more possible than attempting to do the same in a group of hundreds, particularly if every voice must give vent to every thought and opinion they may have.

Bad Solution 1: The World’s Way

The world deals with the group-size problem by making people unequal—that is, appointing hierarchies of leaders who make the decisions for the group, and more or less forcing the rest of the group, or organization, to submit. We do it in business, in education, in government, in religion; we establish hierarchies to govern larger groups. In the end, all worldly progress comes as a result of decisions and actions of very few, who rule or govern the masses.

But such cannot be the case in Zion.

Bad Solution 2: Everyone’s In Charge

Among us, it’s been proposed that in any group undertaking, the entire group of hundreds must all be heard, all have a voice, all value every opinion equally, and all somehow come to agreement on any action before it is taken, so the entire group can act unitedly. This is the only way to preserve equality, as the argument goes. But it is a practical impossibility to do such a thing in our current state, as we demonstrated by multiple efforts to do exactly that in the G&S effort. Attempts to make decisions or act as a united group of hundreds, without any leader or hierarchy to direct the group, fall flat when hearts are not right. Hence the worldly tendency to establish mechanisms and governments to make the decisions and take the responsibility.

I believe this is precisely why the Lord forbade his servant David from participating. We would have all expected him to tell us what to do, and had he done so, we would have complied. By eliminating a leader, the Lord forced us to confront the deficiencies in our own hearts, that could only be manifest when we had to act without a hierarchy.

Additionally, we should remember everybody has different gifts and abilities. Some are more qualified than others to accomplish certain tasks, and putting everyone in charge of everything simply means those who are most insistent will end up in control, though they may be utterly unqualified. Aren’t we better served to let those with the appropriate gifts and abilities exercise them on behalf of the group?

So what’s the solution?

Well, first, we have to define the actual problem.

Each of the fruitful efforts I listed when we started this discussion (like the temple fund, scriptures project, conferences, and more) have encountered opposition from those in the greater covenant body who see things differently. Likewise, each effort has enjoyed support from many quarters. In the end, worthy efforts have accomplished much good, even prepared the way for new revelations, the covenant, and the coming temple, all because individuals or small groups acted, often against opposition, criticism and even accusations from parts of the larger group. Ask the scripture committee, the temple fund representatives, conference organizers, or practically any other group that has acted to accomplish something good, how much opposition they had to deal with from fellow believers. I know first hand how this goes; the unfounded accusations are destructive and heart wrenching.

The Lord made several statements regarding this very issue in the Answer, but I’ll quote just one of them here:
Nor is it enough to say you love your fellow man while you, as Satan, divide, contend and dispute against any person who labors on an errand seeking to do my will.
So…this brings us to the heart of the matter, and a third way to accomplish things as a united group. Let’s turn back to the Parable of the Master’s House.

Recall that in the parable, the small group who discovered the way forward, had no trouble convincing their fellow laborers to join them (referring to the fellow laborers who were waiting and pondering at the place the Master had chosen.) But when they attempted to convince the stone haulers, who had different ideas, things didn’t go so well. Some were willing to support the brick effort, while others demanded that ALL labor stop (not just their own), so they could go complain to the Master. Some wanted to argue and dispute, while refusing to abandon their misguided stone-hauling effort, and wasted much time and effort in argument.

As you recall, after all the disputations, more lent their support to the construction project already underway, but in the end, some were never persuaded, and they completely missed the opportunity to labor on the Master’s house. Though their efforts were eventually salvaged for a lesser purpose, the exercise served to hopefully soften their hearts to prepare them for the future. The house reached completion, and their opportunity ended with them still opposed to any approach but their own failed effort.

The upshot of all this is quite practical.

First, the problem wasn’t that the people in the parable lacked a mechanism by which they could make and enforce group decisions. It’s not about a mechanism at all. A government, hierarchy or ruler was not the solution. Nor was it practical for all to gather and discuss, contemplate and contend until they at last all came to agreement before ever starting on the labor. When hundreds of people insist on being in charge, nothing gets accomplished. (This is, in effect, substituting a single ruler for many rulers.) The rest of the parable demonstrates there were some who would never be persuaded, regardless of what mechanism was tried, or how many joined the effort, even as the house reached completion.

No, in reality, the problem was hard hearts, as I discussed above. This is, of course, what the Lord told us all along, despite our unwillingness to believe Him. The three groups in the parable all tried their own ideas, but in the end, it was a small group, a subset of the whole, who found the solution. This seems to always be the case. The Lord inspires an individual or a small group to begin a labor, and the rest of the body is free to support or oppose.

In the parable, once the small group had found the solution and begun to build the house, all others were invited to support the effort, but also free to respond as they saw fit. Some readily joined and supported, some argued and opposed, and some refused to ever be persuaded. I believe there’s a great lesson there regarding our hearts.

The notion of coming to agreement requires that there’s something with which to agree. Had the three groups spent days, weeks, or months hashing out a plan, arguing, compromising, making sure “all voices were heard,” dealing with intractable opposition and stubbornness…well, you get the picture. They never would have even started the labor, much less discovered the hidden cache of clay.

No, what happened is that a small group, inspired by the Master, actually started the labor. They learned His will and did what He expected them to do. They invited others to support the effort, which clearly manifested the Master’s will, and some did. All were equal in the opportunity; all were equal in the invitation. Thus, equality was preserved.

Consider what might have happened if the entire body had decided they must all be united before any work could commence. They might have argued for months or years, and perhaps even settled on a plan. But what are the chances the plan on which they settled would have included the clay and the bricks? Zero. This is because the only way to discover the clay was to actually begin the work! It’s clear, therefore, that the key is being easily persuaded when someone has discovered a workable solution, rather than attempting to get the entire group on the same page before any work can start. When concurrent projects aim for the same goal, but one becomes clearly more effective, it’s time to abandon the competing efforts.

Now, speaking to the Statement of Principles effort: many individuals and groups attempted to obey the Lord and write the statement. EVERY individual and group effort encountered opposition from other covenant holders. Some opposition was based on legitimate questions about scriptural accuracy or truth, and some opposition was based on many other factors like emotion, participation, process, perceived intent, ego, inclusion, and so on. Many of these might well have met the Lord’s requirements, but continued opposition kept any of them from succeeding.

Ultimately, most of the larger group agreed to let the Lord choose whom He would, by lots, to do the work, on behalf of the larger covenant body. That small group of seven worked together in a miraculous manner to create a remarkable result, as is possible in a small group. Even then, that smaller group encountered unfounded accusation and opposition from fellow covenant holders.

The Third Way

And so, this brings us to the lessons of the parable and our actual experience. I expect there will be many more efforts and projects our Lord requires; there remains much work to be done. And I expect, in every case, He will speak to and guide individuals, or small groups to perform the labor He requires. If there happens to be an assignment to the whole body, we will, as a matter of practicality, need to allow a small group to actually perform or direct the labor. Of course, such a labor is temporary, limited only to the task at hand, and ends when the work is completed. (See the scripture committee and the lots group for good examples.)

A movement-wide governing body that must be obeyed, or official process that must be followed in every case, are both ill advised and fraught with danger. The Lord has plainly illustrated these are not effective.

In future projects, our hearts will be on trial, to see if we have yet learned what we should have learned from the Statement of Principles effort and the Parable.
Nor is it enough to say you love your fellow man while you, as Satan, divide, contend and dispute against any person who labors on an errand seeking to do my will.
Will we employ envy, malice, strife, and accusation against those who labor? Or will we have learned from this experience to trust those with an errand from the Lord and allow them to act according to His will? What if we believe we know the Lord’s will better than they do? Will we still uphold and support them, joining our hearts and prayers to their effort, or will we envy them because of the perceived importance of their temporary position as servants? Will we criticize, contend, or demand they stop? Will we insist it must be our way? Most of all, do we seriously believe the Lord will look kindly upon us if we continue to make the same mistakes, after His clear correction?

To summarize, lest there should be any misunderstanding, these are the points I hope we will remember in future efforts.
  • The entire group of hundreds cannot, and should not, directly participate in every decision or effort. Insisting on such leads to intractable gridlock.
  • The Lord has shown His pattern time and time again in calling an individual or small group to a labor, and directing them in that labor. The effort that succeeded with the Statement of Principles consisted of the larger body intentionally submitting to the Lord’s will by allowing Him to appoint whom He would to a small group. In the parable, a small group discovered the Master’s will and invited the Larger group to support it.
  • Anyone called to labor on behalf of the larger body should be very open to input and constructive suggestions from the larger body in their labor. Likewise, they should go to every length to ensure they understand and act on the Lord’s will.
  • Those who have different opinions about how to perform the labor must be free to express those opinions, but should also avoid intractable insistence on getting their own way. If you can’t persuade, digging in won’t help. 
  • In future labors, our hearts will be on trial to see what we have learned. Will we criticize, oppose, accuse, envy, or threaten? How much of this will the Lord tolerate, now that He has gone to such lengths to teach us?
In the parable, all those who laid down their own preferred approaches to join the brick effort, equally succeeded in accomplishing the commandment together, regardless of who actually discovered the clay and started the labor. When there is more work to be done, will we lay down our own wills to be united? Have our hearts changed from our experiences thus far?

What ought we to have learned?

But among these servants some began to prepare the ground, clearing a place to build the house. As they moved away the grass and brush, they found there was clay suitable to make bricks with which to build a house. They told their companions, See, there is clay here. Let us make bricks and build the master a house from what we have found here on his chosen spot. And so they made bricks, laboring, digging, shaping, and drying. 
—Revelation in response to Statement of Principles