Kingdom Come

Adapted from a talk I gave recently.

“Thy kingdom come.” Let there come the full establishment of thy realm. This is the first thing Jesus teaches us to pray about after addressing God and honoring God’s name. There’s a Jewish saying used in the yeshivas, “a prayer where there is no mention of the Kingdom of God is not a prayer.”

Jesus puts it up front and center. Zion is not just something to pray for, it is the first thing to pray for. It is both a wish – because the arrival of God’s kingdom means rest and paradise – and a pledge of allegiance, submission to God as the real commander in chief. Whatever authorities and governments we have over us now, Jesus seems to ask us to look to God and say, “thy kingdom come.”

I feel like we are living in very dark times, both as a nation and as a community. There are some very real divides between us that threaten us. I want to talk about how God’s kingdom can come at a time like this. These are the questions I want to talk through: How can we have Zion when we are not one? What hope is there for us to come together, when everything else in this world is tearing apart our countries, our wards and our families?

It seems impossible. And Zion doesn’t just seem impossible, it seems almost a relic, something we used to believe in but now is a vestige of an earlier version of our religion, like speaking in tongues or holding Fast & Testimony meetings on Thursdays. Does “thy kingdom come” become a traditional phrase, like leaving an empty chair for Elijah at the Passover Seder table?

Well, I do believe that God’s kingdom will come. This is part of the Good News. And God’s kingdom will come, not just when Jesus returns someday – no, I believe that we can be a united people now, today, that these enormous gaps between us in politics, in economics, taste in movies, all of it – these can be overcome. We can see eye to eye.

To get there, allow me to get personal. I want to talk about my father a little. In college, dad was big man on campus, dashing looks, a popular guy with a tremendous personality. He swept my mother off her feet. My dad was the sort of man who had lots of friends all over – people would call out to him as he walked down the street. He was gregarious and personable and fun. But this is not the father I knew.

My father was moody. He worked long hours and would spend his evenings in front of the television. He would become furious for inexplicable reasons, then sulk for days, ostracizing us. Dad would plan grand, sweeping gestures of love for us, then retreat into himself when the real world would get in the way of that big romantic vision. We didn’t have words for it then, but my father had untreated depression and was likely mentally ill, subject to huge swings of mood and behavior that we could not understand. I spent most of my life not understanding him. It felt like we were on opposite sides of a door that we were both desperately trying to open, each of us by pulling as hard as we could. So of course that door could never open.

Then, this summer, I was pulling out of the Costco parking lot and my phone rang. It was my parents. I hope it’s ok that I’m sharing something a little personal here. My father had been in some declining health, and had some onset of dementia, and hadn’t been doing very well. But now he was on the phone, and he said, “Steve, I’m feeling good today, and I don’t know how long this will last. I wanted to talk to you while I can.” And there, while I sat in my car on some side street in West Valley, my Dad reached out one last time to me. He called to petition me, to try to breathe life into a relationship which had been burning low for many years – for too long. He told me that he loved me. He had faith. And in that moment, the door between us swung open. Dad would die a few weeks later.

From a favorite prophet, Bruce Springsteen:

We honor our parents by not accepting as the final equation the most troubling characteristics of our relationship… the sum of our troubles is not the summation of our lives together… you work to turn the ghosts that haunt you in to ancestors who accompany you.

So this sums up, more or less, how I feel about our families, our ward families, our broader communities as well: we are not defined by what divides us. The sum of our troubles is not the summation of our lives together! We are defined by the love we show for each other, each moment of kindness. Each time the bishop slips a candy to one of my kids. Each time the EQ president wears a crazy sweater. Each time our home teachers leave a note because they were thinking of us, but we weren’t home. Drop by drop, we are filling up a well of living water.

Jesus says, “thy kingdom come,” and the next words are “thy will be done.” You cannot have the first part without the second. Each of these moments of joy we have with each other, each shining moment, is doing God’s will and bringing God’s kingdom closer. I believe we will still have divisions, because we’re human beings. I can promise you that I am still going to roll my eyes hard when someone brings up Cleon Skousen in class. I can also promise that you are going to groan when I talk about women’s marches and civil rights. There are some really bad times ahead, even though there will be good times. Some of those divisions are because of important issues that we shouldn’t ignore. It will take a miracle to keep us together.

One more story: we recently switched wards a few months ago, and at the time we were feeling really at the end of our rope. We’d been going through some difficult times, and we were starting to wonder if there was really a place for us in the community, in the ward, in the church. We were afraid. So we showed up, and just sort of stowed ourselves off to the side.

And then miracles started. Kindness from people who were strangers to us. Not just kindness – real love, real concern. I have come to view my ward as a place where God has shown us that He is there and that He listens to prayers. To quote Elder Springsteen again: “those you are with in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you.”

In the end, yes. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. It will take a miracle. But miracles are real, and I already know that they can happen here. Life will not separate us. Death will not separate us.

Comments

  1. Amen, Steve. Thanks.

  2. Thanks J. Sorry for getting a little personal.

  3. Steve, Thanks for sharing. These experience and stories are important to know about.

  4. Brother Sky says:

    This is wonderful, Steve. What you narrate is similar to my own relationship with my father. And kudos for the Springsteen quote. He, too, knows a lot about distant and difficult fathers. God bless.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Lovely, Steve. (But that unity of taste in movies thing might have to wait for the Millennium, though…)

  6. In the Millennium we’ll all love John Wick.

  7. I feel like Zion is a hollow phrase every time we sing a hymn that talks about it. And I feel twinges of guilt every time I do endowments at a temple. Those are the only two times where Zion is talked about. We never discuss how to make it happen, or what it would practically look like for us to try. We’ve given up on the idea IMO. And I hate that.

  8. Alpineglow says:

    My home teacher and I have very different political views. I lean left. He is a Republican Party activist and campaigned for Donald Trump, though he doesn’t love Trump himself.

    He smiles as he sits next to the Hillary Clinton pillow on my couch multiple times a month. He freely and generously supports my efforts at community involvement. He asks me how my career is going, and looks for ways to share his connections (gained through his politics) with me. He asks how my gay brother and his husband are doing, and he listens. He regularly tells me how important I am to our ward.

    He is Zion to me.

  9. Alpineglow, I think that’s just right. I love that.

  10. Love this and love the comments. When the Good News is delivered well and with love, there is nothing sweeter. My I do that. Thank you.

  11. Steve, I want to simply appreciate and applaud, because this is thoughtful and personal and moving. However (there’s always a however) there’s a suggestion in here that Zion in the community, in the country, in the world, is too hard to imagine and impossible to achieve, and that we must revert to an insular local LDS ward where the possibility of Zion is imaginable. To the extent that’s hinted at (but I doubt intended) I want to stand up for a larger vision and a greater optimism. Quoting Martin Luther King (who was himself quoting a 19th century preacher): “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

  12. Thanks, Steve. This made me think of my own parents, both now gone, in better ways.

  13. stephenchardy says:

    Thanks for this Steve. I wish I could write/express myself as well as you can. Thanks so much.

  14. Hey, thanks.

  15. What you wrote is poignant. And I do have to agree with christiankimball. If we are paying attention, that Zion you speak of can and should be felt in all kinds of circles. It’s a wide, wonderful world out there, full of God’s children.

  16. Thanks, Steve. This is beautiful. And, echoing christiankimball, I also believe that these moments of Zion can burst out anywhere.

  17. Amen to all this stuff. I believe so hard in what you’ve said here that I named one of my kids after it.

  18. orangganjil says:

    Steve, this post ranks up there in the BCC Hall of Fame for me, in part because you got personal. Thank you so very much. The ideals you discussed are among my favorites. Fantastic post.

  19. Hey, thanks for that.

  20. Genuinely needed this to day. You are wise and necessary.

  21. Thank you. I am in an unsteady relationship with my dad right now and I needed to read these words today.

  22. Steve, thank you for this, for reporting your experience, and for pointing me to Springsteen’s comments. It is good to hear father-son stories like yours even if some of us must do without that door opening and hope for the miracle in another life. Your story suggests that is possible.

  23. JR, I highly recommend Springsteen’s autobiography. It is a great read, poignant and profound.

  24. I don’t like oversharing in blog comments, but your personal account was touching to me, and invited me to reflect on my own crossed wires with my parents.

    I have so much baggage with them, especially the one who now is facing advancing Alzheimer’s. Political differences are the least of it. What strikes me is that I can set all the baggage to the side in order to make sure that their life is as safe and comfortable as possible. It’s not that the issues go away, they’re present as much as they ever were, and sometimes have to be addressed anew, but now there are bigger priorities in play.

    It’s quite a learning curve that informs my understanding of community. I see how love can override the painful differences that separate us, if we choose it. Partisan political bias is a petty, prickly thing that makes a mess of our efforts to cooperate– an inevitable, common, aggravating mess. It’s just part of the pantheon of entropy in this estate that must be constantly addressed and the best one can do is keep it at bay. But the fuel for that wearisome task, that is never depleted if you can access the lode, is love.

  25. Thank you.

  26. Steve, it’s good when the personal emerges from under the mountains of snark you hide behind. We all know you’re in there anyway.

  27. Kristine, you must taste the bitter to know the sweet. Not sure which is bitter vs sweet in this scenario, but whatever I’m a mixed bag.

  28. Mark Olmstead says:

    Today in sacrament, the talks were on removing distractions and developing unity. In Sunday school the discussion was on avoiding contention. The third hour was on “looking a little deeper for the good”. The kingdom is here, Steve, it’s just hidden in darkness.

  29. Bless you Steve. And bless Doug.

  30. A beautiful hope. Thanks for sharing, friend.

  31. Thanks JJ. That means a lot.

  32. Kristine N says:

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I’m glad this is a sufficiently safe space for you to do so. I think that safety–both that you feel and that the rest of us provide–is necessary aspect of a Zion society. I don’t want to generalize, but I see what you’ve done here in sharing something personal and imperfect, and expecting us to accept it and see the good, as an example of what I also need to do to build Zion within my own corner of the kingdom.

  33. Kristine that’s a really perceptive comment. Safety is a tricky thing. It is tied to the relationships of trust we have with each other, which are often so fragile and so demanding that they don’t seem worth it. Establishing that safety is hard work.

  34. Very touching. Thank you. I can recommend Neal A Maxwell’s “Of One Heart” about the city of Zion.

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