A Pragmatic Zion

Ephraim Moses Lilien, Zion, 1903. (Public Domain)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I forgot that—after the Sunday afternoon session—the October 1975 General Conference had one more session to go: the welfare session. And this, my friends, is the most quintessentially Mormon thing ever.

Back in the day, my father1 said in a PBS interview:

One of the hallmarks of Mormonism, and of Joseph Smith in particular, is the collapse of sacred distance. Joseph insistently refused to recognize the distinctness of those categories that were typical in traditional Christianity, the sense that there is an earthly and a heavenly, a bodily and a spiritual.

That stubborn refusal to see any distinction between spiritual and the physical, the practical and the ideal, the holy and the mundane, is one of the most distinctive attributes of Mormon faith, and also one of my favorite. We’re relentlessly effective at finding the sacred in basically everything. We’re as universalistic in our aspirations to find holiness everywhere as we are in our plans to save all mankind.

And so it is that we’ve got an entire session of General Conference dedicated to such mundane concerns as how to pick a career, the importance of budgeting, and the necessity of having enough food storage on hand. And yet at the same time, there’s the stubborn insistence that working out the nuts and bolts of practical self-sufficiency is a stepping stone towards reaching Zion.

I love it in part because it’s just deliciously paradoxical, and paradoxes are fun. But that’s at best an adolescent appreciation. There’s nothing deep or lasting in that regard.

What matters to me more is this: the only kind of Zion that could ever be realized—in practice—is one that is fundamentally pragmatic in conception. If anyone could ever build the kin of society we believe a Zion society to be—one with no distinction between rich and poor, and where the people are united in heart and mind—it would be practical people, willing to take every mundane step necessary in pursuit of their heavenly aspiration.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

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