We will break down the barriers between kingdoms


We went back as a family and it was heaven again.


Originally posted August 2007.

I have just returned to England after five years away, four in Maryland, one in Austria. The last year in Vienna was particularly splendid. I have an obsessive love for that place, so much so that my wife suspects that I have Vienna for a mistress. I suppose I cannot deny it. But here’s the thing:

“Vienna” (and substitute “New York”, “New Dehli”, or “Preston, Idaho” for personal effect) is not so much a place for me as it is a place with people, friends, memories. In other words, it’s not so much Vienna, Austria that I love, but Vienna where-I-served-my mission, Vienna where-my-son-went-to-German-school, Vienna where-my-wife-and-I-went-to-the-opera.

I recently went back to Vienna for a conference. It was sunny and warm, free concerts were being played at the Rathaus, and the cheese and bread were as good as ever…

…but I was on my own and I was miserable!

I walked past our old apartment and thought of my daughter playing with her dolls on the balcony; I swam in the Danube and thought of my sons jumping off the pier; I stood at Schwedenplatz and thought of my wife valiantly taking the tram to church to teach piano. As I flew away from Vienna I saw the “bomb-tower” in the park next to where we lived (“bomb tower” being my boys’ description for the old WWII flak towers) and almost choked on my stale peanuts. You see, Vienna ohne Familie sucked. Old Vienna in all its imperial and cultural glory could not stop me from feeling like a lone man in the Garden of Eden.

Dramatic and sentimental, yes. But still true.

Heaven without family could never be heaven. Which is not simply to say that families can be “together forever”, but that families (and friends) must be “together forever”, or the whole sh’bang is not worth a bean.


  1. Splendid, Ronan. Simply wonderful. Thanks.

  2. Heaven without family could never be heaven.

    In the intro. film they showed at the temple open house, Elder Holland said something similar, and every time I watched it I had to look out the window or it made me cry.


  3. Jonathan Green says:

    Too true, Ronan. I had the same experience, but in reverse: in October 2005 I had the chance to visit Nuremberg for half a day on the way back from a conference, and the city was beautiful, but what I wanted most of all was my family to be there with me. And here we are.

  4. MikeInWeho says:

    Welcome back online, Ronan. You and Rebecca were missed. Thanks for this beautiful post. Having just spent a few days with my parents, now seriously aging, I really touched by your words.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Welcome back, Ronan! Wise words.

  6. I’ve missed your input. Glad to see you back!

  7. Brilliant. Thanks man.

  8. RosieRose says:

    You see, Vienna ohne Familie sucked. Old Vienna in all its imperial and cultural glory could not stop me from feeling like a lone man in the Garden of Eden.

    That’s so sweet. Thanks for sharing such a touching story.

  9. Wonderful!

    “…not so much a place for me as it is a place with people, friends, memories.” Yes, it is the memories and friendships that make a place significant, not the location itself. I have many such places.

    You have captured the essence of what “together forever” truly means: “Heaven without family could never be heaven.”

    Thank you for sharing your insight.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Your online family has missed you as well.

  11. Peter LLC says:

    Admit it, Ronan, Vienna sucked ’cause Herb was on vacation and left the Schnitzelwirt unattended.

  12. Peter,
    Can’t be true seeing as that Korean beef was better than any schnitzel ever made.

  13. good insights, hermano.

    I continue to be amazed at how many important things Joseph Smith got 100% right on the first attempt.

  14. So what are you doing in England? Dissertating?

  15. Deep Sea,

  16. Mark,
    Too true. Before anyone congratulates me further, there’s something a little subversive about what I’m saying here. So there.

  17. Nah, there’s nothing subversive in what you’re saying for a Mormon Universalist like me.

  18. MikeInWeHo says:

    Mark IV is right. Your crypto-universalism no longer qualifies as subversive in the Bloggernacle, Ronan, but I sure missed it.

  19. Ronan,

    If you need an extra hand with the sledgehammer, I’ll be right there.

  20. I enjoy the sentiment of the message, and I get the “subversive” nod to universalism, but I still don’t get the title of the post. What does it allude to?

  21. i spent 6 years in great yarmouth, 3 years in verdun france and 6 months in copenhuaven denmark aqnd wish my family who has been no where could share in those memories because everytime they hear me talk they tell me to “be quiet old man” i am a 65 year old MORMON in the valley fo sanpete, farming and trying not to be trivlized

  22. I am sure that when all is said and done that the barriers will not be that great and the walls will break without much effort or hammering. I must believe that. The sealing power is too great!

  23. cj douglass says:

    The post makes sense Ronan. But maybe the real *link* is not necessarily people we love – but people. Surely there will be many among the friend-less and family-less who will find themselves in the presence of God. For these sons and daughters the celestial experience will be that much sweeter – to find that though they were abandoned and forgotten in this life, there are multitudes waiting to love them just because. Experiencing Vienna without your family is sad but imagine Vienna with no people at all – even sadder.

    I know, I know, my heart is bleeding…

  24. CE I think the title is the subversive part.

    Ronan, I have often wondered about this in all seriousness. Antis sometimes accuse us of being hypocrites for saying that “families are forever” then subscribing to a view of a very exclusive “heaven” where some members of every family will (presumably) fail to make it to the exclusive highest level and therefore be separated forever.

    It’s great to say we will break down the barriers between kingdoms and I heartily endorse that sentiment, but how do you seriously respond to that criticism?

  25. tesseract says:

    So if heaven for my Dad is being with his kids – but that sounds like hell to me – can I have the option of cloning myself? I want my Dad to be happy but I really can’t stand being around him. Maybe in heaven my Dad will suddenly be cool.

    haha, my husband likes to use the excuse that he can’t go to said church meeting because someone needs to be there for his grandmother (who’s not a member) in the lower kingdom.

  26. Rob Osborn says:

    I have always wondered about the real “families can be together forever through heavenly fathers plan” doctrine. I mean really- without family relationships that include mingling together in each others presence, it would be some kind of hell indeed!

    Once one takes away his material posessions and stature in society what is he left with- God and his family and friends. So really, once people die and come to see how things really are, the main driving force for them accepting the plan of salvation will be to be sealed to their families.

    According to Christ, there is only “one place” where he brings the numbered sheep whom he saves whereas the “goats” are cast off and not allowed where everyone else is enjoying each other in heaven partaking of the tree of eternal life.

  27. Struwelpeter says:

    If I read this post correctly, Ronan, you’re kind of a Wiener.

  28. Ugly Mahana says:

    I’ve wondered sometimes if there isn’t a one-way exclusion. That is, the faithful may visit the unfaithful, but not the other way round.

  29. Ugly Mahana says:

    Does that even make sense?

  30. No — but it’s fun!

  31. I want to hear more from d dae!

  32. Me too–he sounds fascinating!

  33. BtIV, your former name was a lot better.

  34. Totally agree with Steve, BiV, but I love your slideshow.

  35. FWIW, I think we all know so little about eternity that we will stand with mouths open in amazement and delight when we finally get a clue.

    BiV (formerly known as BiV), Steve is wise. (and MCQ’s no slouch) If we have no way to acknowledge Vernal’s central characteristic, what meaning does life provide?

  36. As much as I love the Pope and Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama, I sure am grateful I’ve learned something besides the Catholic/Protestant/Dharmic heavens.

  37. I work now in the senior care industry. We help quite a few people who are caring for a spouse with dementia and/or alzheimer’s. When one man was asked why he has continued for the past five years his daily visits to his wife who no longer remembers him, he simply said, “Because I remember her.” I have a feeling that heaven will be hell for him if she isn’t there with him.

  38. MCQ (#24),

    You are right that there is a tension between the two Mormon concepts of salvation.

    On the one hand, we have the three-state solution, which seems like a just and equitable thing to me, except that if it ends up excluding those we love, heaven could never be heaven. Ugly Mahana (#28) voices a common settlement to this problem, namely that my kids can fly back from Vienna to visit me in Slough from time to time, but if you think about it, that’s still pretty lame.

    If family is everything, there can be no heaven without family, thus the barriers between kingdoms must go.

    But Ray (#35) is right: reality is almost certainly far removed from the Gospel according to the missionaries’ flashcards. God will cut the Gordion knot.

    cjdouglas (#23),

    That’s a great point. We forget sometimes that “families are forever” is often exclusionary in its own right. Certainly we should broaden our vision of family.

  39. Getting to this discussion late, but I have a huge interest here, as I have a couple of my adult children who are not currently acting in a way that qualifies them for exaltation. I agree, heaven would be impaired without them.

    There are, however, promises made through the sealing power concerning our wandering children. I’ll try to find my notes if I can here at work, but the basic premise is that if we are faithful to our covenants, a couple of the prophets have indicated we will be able to bring our wayward family members along with us. I don’t know how that squares with their agency, but as I look at these two sons, I can’t help but have hope.

  40. Kevinf, I am in the same position. I, too, have children that have wandered. I agree that that the sealing power will work in our behalf. I think that agency will still be involved (no one is dragged kicking and screaming into glory) but I believe it will eventually happen. One other hope for me is that my wife and, therefore, my children are descendants of Heber C. Kimball and it very specifically states in his Patriarchal Blessing that all of his posterity would eventually hear the call and would be joined together in an eternal family unit. So my wife and kids are going to be fine. I just have myself to worry about.

  41. I should point out that I am not sure I am always acting in a way that qualifies me for exaltation, either.

  42. kevinf (#35), I don’t have my books with me here at work, but the idea you mention stems back to a sermon taught by Joseph at a funeral (not King Follett, but can’t remember the name at the moment) while in Nauvoo. There were several different versions of that sermon written down. The subsequent official histories (i.e., History of the Church, Teachings of Joseph Smith) chose the version that says parents who are faithful will have their sealed, though wayward, children come back to them in the eternities. This idea was most forcefully stated by Orson Whitney in a conference talk near the turn of the last century and has been repeated several times in recent years, including by President Hinckley (though the quotes are generally given in the context of providing hope to parents and do not tend to grapple with the obvious agency issues).

    If you look at the Words of Joseph Smith by Ehat and Cook, you’ll see that another scribe of that same funeral sermon included a qualifier in Jospeh’s statement, such that the salvation of our children (sealed or not) is dependent on their own choices and faithfulness. Ehat and Cook discuss the issue and associated agency ramifications in a footnote.

    Berger in Mysteries of Godliness takes issue with Ehat’s and Cook’s agency argument, though I can’t now articulate his point, probably because I never really understood it. I just don’t see a way around the agency issue.

    At the end of the day, I am still much confused about how things will actually be, though I am confident, as Ronan says, that God will cut the Gordion knot.

    By the way, excellent post, Ronan. Great to have you back. And count me in with greenfrog (#19).

  43. If I understand correctly, the Orson F. Whitney quote referenced in #42 is Elder Whitney quoting Joseph Smith: “The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”

    On the other side of this is the fact that some may be sealed together but may not qualify for that blessing:

    “As taught in this scripture (D&C 132:19), an eternal bond doesn’t just happen as a result of sealing covenants we make in the temple. How we conduct ourselves in this life will determine what we will be in all the eternities to come. To receive the blessings of the sealing that our Heavenly Father has given to us, we have to keep the commandments and conduct ourselves in such a way that our families will want to live with us in the eternities.” (Elder Hales, Conference, Oct. 1996)

    I’m not exactly sure how to reconcile these two statements….

  44. Jim, your exactly right on the Whitney quote. Thanks for pulling that.

    Like you, I’m not sure how to reconcile that statement with scripture, Elder Hales, and others.

    Perhaps the answer is eternal progression. Who knows.

  45. Perhaps the answer is eternal progression. Who knows.

    Emphasis on eternal. Emphasis on progression. That is one of the most comforting phrases that I know. It is an amazing prospect. Something that I do not think we can wrap our minds around right now. I trust God enough to leave it in His hands.

  46. MikeInWeHo says:

    I found this post very hopeful. Thanks, Ronan.

  47. Darrell and Randy,

    Thanks for your comments. I, too, enjoy the concept of eternal progression. I don’t want to “threadjack” here and hope that this still pertains to the original post….

    If I understand the scriptures and teachings correctly, we will take with us to the next life the knowledge that we obtain in mortality as well as the same personality, interests, habits, desires, attitudes, etc. that we have when this life ends. So, I am very comfortable with my own progression, because I am generally aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, and I understand that my progression is determined by my own choices and actions.

    Where it gets less clear for me is in my relationship with others where I have stewardship. For example, as a father and even as a husband, hopefully I have some influence for good on my children and wife, but especially with the children, I feel as though this influence decreases as they mature and become more independent. Also, I don’t know them as well as I know myself, and I cannot completely influence their choices. At what point does one become “completely responsible” for one’s own progression, or is it always that our progression is dependent on so many variables that only a merciful and all-knowing God can justly reward us? And, in the next life, will we be completely free from things that limit our progress now, such as misconceptions, lack of understanding, and even personality traits (prone to anger, etc.)? Or is it just that we will have an eternity to free ourselves from these limitations?

    I take my responsibility as husband and father seriously, and sometimes wonder if being too concerned about my wife and children becomes counter productive….

    All of this is very interesting to me, and I apologize for the length of this post. One final quote from Elder and Sister Hafen’s article on equality in marriage from the Aug. 2007 Ensign: “…equal partnerships are not made in heaven—they are made on earth, one choice at a time, one conversation at a time, one threshold crossing at a time. And getting there is hard work….”

  48. The bridge crosses the Danube canal from Rossauer Laende U-bahn station to the 2nd district near Augarten. Our apartment was behind the red building. We walked this bridge hundreds of times; how good it was to have my boys on it again.

  49. After spending most of my adult life as a single girl, there are many moments with friends that have felt heavenly. My friends and I are all a little bit naughty so mostly we’re thinking that hell will be heavenly cuz we’re all there together.

    And by hell, I’m not sure what I mean. The bottom of the terrestial kingdom? Top of the telestial? Do the lower kingdoms have degrees of glory too?

  50. You sound like Joseph Smith, Ronan.

  51. Oh Ronan, now you are making me cry. I so miss Vienna. I lived on Gumpendorferstrasse near the Naschmarkt. Oh man . . .


    “You see, Vienna ohne Familie sucked. Old Vienna in all its imperial and cultural glory could not stop me from feeling like a lone man in the Garden of Eden.” I was there alone my last five months. So true.

  52. Mark Brown says:

    Just as good the second time around.

  53. I’m lucky that visits to Austria are quite easy now, but I still wish I could sink deeper roots. Please, someone, find me a summer job with apartment that I can return to year after year. Thanks!

  54. Fun picture — it brings back great memories. I think we have one of the girls on that bridge with your boys. Was it still covered with those massive spider webs?

  55. Yeah. W calls it “spider bridge.”

  56. Antonio Parr says:


    This would never happen in Bawlmar, ‘hon.

  57. Antonio,
    I love Baltimore.

  58. #43 — I agree with Joseph. Either this path is very narrow and only the very fewest of us will enter in at the strait gate alone or we will all draw each other through holding hands.

    I much favor the latter picture. But we all have to try and hold on as tightly as we can.

  59. Naismith says:

    Um, y’all are making me feel guilty, but really, I love going to conferences alone. One of the factors I consider in deciding to accept a new job is how many conferences I can go to. Two is about right; one year it was four and that was a bit of a stretch.

    But mostly I love the break from family.

    On a typical day, I wake up and gets kid to seminary and and school, then go to work and deal with people all day. I race home, pick up and drop off kids for whatever activity, cook dinner, work the phones or make visits for church work and family stuff, and generally fail to get the kids to bed before I collapse.

    Time alone helps me get my mojo back. I love the peace on the plane, having a hotel room to myself, being able to finish a conversation without worrying that I have to be somewhere else. If there is a nice exercise room and hot tub, all the better.

    When I can’t find a conference to attend (they tend to clump together so that I have to choose one of three, and then nothing in 6 months when I need it), I go to a theme park alone, or go to the temple and spend a night away. I dream about going on a cruise all by myself, but that really is pricey.

    Are there no introverts in the celestial kingdom?

  60. Steve Evans says:

    “On a typical day, I wake up and gets kid to seminary and and school, then go to work”

    I resent the implication that time spent getting one’s family ready for the day somehow doesn’t count as work. Mothers may not get the luxury of attending lavish conferences or theme parks alone, but they are still WORKING.

  61. You go, Steve!

  62. I find it interesting that so many on this forum have ties to Vienna. My wife and (at the time) young daughters spent nearly a year living in an apartment in the Pfeilgasse, in the JosefStadt, while I worked in post-Gulf War Kuwait for six weeks at a time. I would join them there for my two weeks’ R&R every other month. They attended the International Branch in the Boecklingstrasse, near the Prater. I was always jealous of them while away in the desert ;). They had a wonderful adventure while Daddy was away on assignment. My lasting impression of Wien is that of a large city that feels like a small town.

    Thank you, Ronan, for sharing, and bringing back the memories.

  63. Naismith says:

    “I resent the implication that time spent getting one’s family ready for the day somehow doesn’t count as work.”

    Steve, I used to be a fulltime mother. I am not any more. I am a fulltime research coordinator. I go to work outside the home nowadays, and it is in many ways easier than my former job at home (I do at least get to go to the bathroom alone).

    And really, I am not doing much work in the morning with my kids. Not like when I was nursing, diapering, teaching, playing with, cleaning up after. As teens, they are pretty self-sufficient doing their own showering/dressing.

    But I still don’t refer to myself as a “working mother.”

    Please don’t make this a personal vendetta with me. I would like to think that each idea presented here is considered on its own merits, irregardless of the signature. I have never brought up that issue on a thread about church history, only when someone else brought up something that I thought applied to it first.

    The first few years after “working mother” came in vogue, I also thought it was harmless. It wasn’t until I endured substandard health care, prejudice in getting a paid job, etc. that I started to see how insidious it can be, the notion that only those who work for pay are “working.” It isn’t trite to me; I can never get back the years that my family and I suffered because doctor after doctor assumed that I was a neurotic housewife, when actually surgery was needed.

  64. Peter LLC says:

    I agree that it’s first and foremost about the relations we enjoy that make places important, but liking Vienna sure comes a lot easier than, say, my favorite whipping-boy, Barstow.

  65. Naismith,
    I also like alone time, but the point of the post was that being alone in Vienna — a place which I had just experienced with my family — was quite painful. If the conference had been in Berlin, the feelings would have been different.

  66. avisitor says:


    Hooray for introversion. Even Christ sought for solitude.

    I too love traveling alone by car or plane, a quiet hotel room with a good book, walking on the beach alone, etc. I find that after a chance to be alone and re-center myself I appreciate my family and enjoy their company more (and they feel the same way about me!)

  67. Steve Evans says:

    Naismith, I was just messing with you. No vendetta. If you’re gonna keep hitting that theme, you can’t blame me for poking fun at you.