Prepared as a Sacrament Meeting talk and given on July 15, 2018
Last summer included one of the unique experiences of my life. While the Detwiler Fire was becoming the largest wildfire in our county’s history—burning more than 80,000 acres and taking 74 homes-- I was stationed in the Emergency Operations Center. The Emergency Operations Center does everything except respond to a disaster. This is where a limited number of staff are making sure firefighters are fed, disabled residents are getting help to evacuate and recovery efforts are underway from the first day. It is a government operation, so you have to expect a few acronyms are involved—we call it the EOC for short.
A couple of things made working in the EOC a unique experience. First, normal organizational hierarchy is suspended. There are no bosses or subordinates in a traditional sense and it doesn’t matter what you do in your day job or where you normally do it. There’s no time for drama or office politics. Each person has an assignment and everyone depends on everyone else to get the job done.
Normal organizational rules are also suspended. For two weeks, it didn’t take committee deliberations and public meetings to make a decision. I didn’t receive a single request to meet with a union before work could continue. The EOC is authorized to do what needs to be done. Fortunately or unfortunately, doing what needs to be done also tends to include very long hours without many opportunities to take a break or slow the pace. In fact, one of the assignments is for someone to get food for the rest of the EOC staff so they can keep working.
Now, perhaps some of you are thinking that casual relationships and loose rules are no way to run an operation. And much of the time, I might agree with you. But I also observed some behavior that taught me a great deal about the principle I’ve been asked to discuss today. I’ll share three quick anecdotes.
On the morning of the second day, it was becoming clear that we would need more staff in the EOC to support the more than 5,000 firefighters that had arrived or were on their way. I texted the department directors and asked for five volunteer clerical staff to work 12-hour shifts in the EOC with no mention of overtime. In less than five minutes, I had seven volunteers on the way.
A few days into the fire, I noticed that one of the department directors assigned to the EOC was smiling more than usual. When I asked about it later, I was told that they had been so bogged down with administrative duties that they felt like they had almost forgotten why they entered public service in the first place. Though a tragic event, the opportunity to directly serve the people of our county was rekindling all of the positive feelings that drove them to public service in the first place. They felt privileged to be doing something that would make a positive difference for their community.
Shortly after we returned to normal operations, one of the EOC staff who responded that second day related to me what a positive experience they had. They told me that working for the County had always just been a job before, but now they wanted to make a career in public service. This employee enrolled in an online bachelor’s program shortly thereafter and is already making plans for a master’s degree when that is done.
These experiences, and dozens more like them, left me with a question. What is it about two weeks of casual work relationships and loose rules that makes seven people drop everything, an accomplished director love their job again and an already stellar employee recognize there’s even more they could be doing? A year later, almost to the day, why is the EOC still the most mentioned positive experience when I ask my team about their work?
As I’ve asked these questions, many of those that participated in that EOC echo the words of one of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, who wrote that it is “not in numbers but in unity that our great strength lies.”
In the days of the prophet Enoch, the city of Zion was unbeatable. The scriptures record that “so great was the faith of Enoch” that he used earthquakes, moved rivers and mountains and called lions out of the wilderness to fight their battles for them. The enemies of Zion, including the giants upon the land in those days, were so intimidated by the strength and glory of Zion that they scrambled away to a newly-formed island where they hoped they would be safe.
And how does the Lord describe the people of Zion? As ferocious? Of superior education or training regimen, perhaps? Or as a peaceful, giving and united people? “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… and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven. And the Lord said unto Enoch: Behold mine abode forever” (Moses 7:18, 21).
The Lord wants each of us to enjoy great strength and so he commands that we be One in at least four different ways: one with ourselves, one with our spouses, one with Him, and one with our fellow Saints. Each of these is important for our salvation.
First, we must be one with ourselves. The people of Enoch were “of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness.” The Lord has warned that we “cannot serve God and mammon” and that he spews out the lukewarm because it is neither hot nor cold.
I recently read an interview of Wendell Berry, who is a farmer, poet, novelist and a sort of philosopher of the land. He was asked in the interview if farming was more of an art or a science. He replied, “To farm you have to know, which is science, and you have to do, which is art. In practice,” he continued, “it is impossible to draw a straight or firm line between knowing and doing. When this line is drawn… it is at best tentative and suppositional, at worst false.”
None of us would imagine that we could stop watering or weeding our gardens and get the same results. It seems too obvious to say that we cannot enjoy the fruits of our labor, literal or metaphorical, if we skip planting or harvesting. We understand quite clearly that what we know and what we do must be in sync for our garden to be successful. Yet, somehow, we don’t always seem to understand that it is the same with what we know is right and how we live our lives. Life, like farming, is a good deal of art and a good deal of science with no clear lines between the two.
The polarity and union of knowing and doing shapes our lives and our challenges. For example, sometimes we get comfortable coming to church and listening to those who have been assigned to teach us for the day. We come to expect inspiring messages and maybe a list of what we should know or what we can do; but reading a list about what we can do is not doing, so when we approach our church meetings in this way we relegate ourselves to passivity. We can come to church every week and still be little more than observers—and we can learn very little this way.
The opposite of passive observance is active participation. What the observer appreciates as valuable concepts and ideas, the participant understands as a call to action. The Lord has designed his Church as a place of activity: we sing the hymns together as “songs of the heart” (D&C 25:12), we “teach one another words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118), we volunteer for assignments and magnify the callings we are asked to perform. On occasion we have a reason to practice forgiving someone who has offended us or serving someone who needs our help. Approaching our time in church as a time of giving, rather than receiving only, not only increases our learning, but it also affects our integrity.
Integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” but the second definition is “the state of being whole or undivided” including “the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction”. We are whole or undivided with ourselves when there is high fidelity between the person we know we should be and the person that we are because our knowledge of what we should be doing is consistent with what we do—or, in other words, when we are honest with others and ourselves about who we really are.
Interestingly, this is similar to a definition of the word, “perfect,” which is to be “complete, finished, or fully developed.” I submit that one way we can heed the Lord’s call to “be ye therefore perfect” (Matt. 5:48) is to be true to the person we really are, a son or daughter of the Most High God with courage to do the things we know we should. Because we cannot really give what is not real, personal integrity, or what we might also call “strength of character” or “unity of self” is prerequisite to dedication to the Lord, fidelity to our spouse and unity with others.
Next, unity with our spouse. In Matthew 19, the Pharisees attempt to trick the Savior into verbal support for no-fault divorce. “Is it lawful,” they asked, “for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (v. 3)
Jesus answered, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 4-6).
The unity of a married couple is recognized in our temporal law as well. When Tara and I were married, she had recently graduated from BYU. She had a full-time job teaching at a nearby elementary school, a newer car, a rented duplex and no school debts. I, on the other hand, was just starting my sophomore year of college. I had no car, I was sleeping on a buddy’s couch and since I didn’t have a fancy scholarship I had already racked up over $10,000 in student loans.
On the day we were married, we were no longer Dallin Kimble and Tara Thurston in the eyes of the law. We became one unit: the Kimbles. I was now the proud owner of a little white Hyundai; and with my name, Tara also received responsibility for my school loans. This is another reason why you should always date people who are smarter than you.
The same thing happens to us on the day we step into the waters of baptism. When we are baptized, we covenant with the Lord that we will always be willing to keep his commandments, remember him and take his name upon us. We take his name upon ourselves as a bride takes the name of her groom. So long as we keep that covenant, the laws of eternity recognize we who have sinned as a single entity with our Savior, who died and rose again the third day as a part of His infinite and eternal atonement. Through our baptismal covenant and the boundless grace of God, our debt of sin can be wiped out by the wealth of his grace. Each of us can be declared perfect as a consequence of our unity with our perfect Savior, making us joint-heirs with Christ of all the Father has (Romans 8:17).
Finally, the Lord commands us to be one with each other. This, of course, makes perfect sense in light of the unity introduced by the baptismal covenant. If I am bound to Christ by virtue of my baptismal covenant and you are as well by yours, then you and I are bound to each other. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, when we are baptized we are “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
In the household of God, we are charged with being of one heart and one mind, dwelling in righteousness with no poor among us. We teach each other the peaceable things of the kingdom and pray to know the Lord’s will individually and collectively. A slight against another is a slight against ourselves, particularly if our offense breaks the covenant we have made. We may choose to cut ourselves off, but we cannot choose who else is in the household of God.
Likewise, service to one another is only service to our God. Such service is for our own benefit and has a multiplier effect as those we serve are strengthened, our capacity grows and the household is enhanced more than the sum of the two. No wonder the Lord would ask us now to improve our efforts to minister to one another.
Each of us brings our own gifts to the household of God. The Lord taught Joseph Smith that these gifts “are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do… And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:9-12).
Unity in each of these covenant relationships—with ourselves, with our spouse, with God and with each other—are of the upmost importance to the Lord. Each of the ten commandments address these relationships. The third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” refers not only to our language, but also prohibits wasting or abandoning the strength that comes through the baptismal covenant, for example.
In many respects, a life in the household of God is a lot like what I experienced in the EOC. The staff of the EOC was unified and motivated by an urgent need to help our community; the household of God is united by the urgent need to save all mankind. Worldly status is irrelevant here—we are all equal in the sight of God. Worldly excuses are also of no use here—none of us are too old or too inadequate or too busy-- each of us has gifts that are given for the benefit of all.
When we live with integrity, being true to our real and divine identities, we will recognize that this is the greatest cause there ever was. We will prioritize service to others and be willing to drop everything to help them. Our service will bring us joy and help us smile a little more even in the worst of times. And we will undoubtedly find that there is more we can be doing, more purpose for our lives and more blessings available to us than we are currently experiencing.