Talk: Pioneers and Principles
This is a talk I gave today (July 21, 2019) in my ward.
Being a member of the Church in the 1800s had its perks; there were revelations and miracles, but it also involved people mobbing you and setting your stuff on fire.
How about building a city out of a snake and mosquito-infested swamp? Next, there was the whole leaving the United States and going on a horrible family road trip for hundreds of miles across an incredibly boring landscape.
After that long journey, they came to the mountains. Now they had to climb way up there with all their stuff and build another city at the top. They kept going and built more cities, hundreds of them; these were hardcore people.
Fast-forward 170 years or so.
When next day shipping isn’t available on our Amazon orders: “the struggle is real.”
When your pop socket falls off your phone, “That’s, like, literally the worst.”
My father is a convert, and both of my mother’s parents are as well. I don’t have church pioneer ancestors, so it’s always been difficult for me to connect with them.
In 1977, Dallin H. Oaks said this about the pioneers:
“It is not enough to study or reenact the accomplishments of our pioneers. We need to identify the great, eternal principles they applied to achieve all they achieved for our benefit and then apply those principles to the challenges of our day.”
In her talk a few weeks ago, Sister Davis said that “we can always talk about principles.” Principles are critically important as they bridge time, space, minds, and circumstances. Principles are doctrinally-based guidelines for the exercise of agency;  they are things we can do that have promised blessings attached.
We often joke about ‘First World Problems,’ but when the diagnosis comes back, and it’s stage 4 cancer, the struggle IS real.
When human lives become impacted by a loss of purpose or hope, sorrow, betrayal, depression, abuse, human trafficking, genocide, or natural disasters, these things can feel like they are literally the worst.
How many of us have felt “shattered” by specific experiences? How many of us have felt burdened to the point where have cried out, “O God, where art thou?” 
Elder Oaks continued:
“…the wolves that prowled around pioneer settlements were no more dangerous to their children than the drug dealers or pornographers who threaten our children. Similarly, the early pioneers’ physical hunger posed no greater threat to their well-being than the spiritual hunger experienced by many in our day. The children of earlier pioneers were required to do incredibly hard physical work to survive their environment. That was no greater challenge than many of our young people now face from the absence of hard work, which results in spiritually corrosive challenges to discipline, responsibility, and self-worth.”
“Life is suffering.” That is one of the four noble truths in Buddhism  and something every single one of us experiences to varying degrees unique to our conditions. While that sounds pessimistic, it is merely a recognition of reality.
Interestingly, Buddhists teach that suffering comes from obsessive attachment to desires and that the cure is to let go of those attachments and focus on walking the path of principles.
Elder Oaks said,
“We praise what the pioneers’ unselfishness and sacrifice have done for us, but that is not enough. We should also assure that these same qualities are guiding principles for each of us as we have opportunities to sacrifice for our nations, our families, our quorums, our members, and our Church.”
In pure Monson form, I have three pioneer principles that we can apply immediately to bring about positive changes in our lives:
- Faith in every footstep
- Together as one
- Sacrifice perfects faith
Faith in Every Footstep
“Faith in every footstep” conveys to the mind the importance of honoring each step in your journey. Consider your current challenges. We may hate our challenges, and we may resent others who cannot identify with our particular set of challenges; I have.
In a book I’ve been reading recently the author wrote:
“How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.”
Faith in every footstep means in claiming and owning the NOW, the current step, even if it is in a swampy puddle or a rocky terrain high up a mountain. The faith that you place into each step will determine your direction and ultimately your destination. It’s your path, and when you walk it, it will become your legacy.
Together as One
“Together as one” means that every single one of us in this room is here today because you belong here. Yes, all of you, even with all your issues, especially with all your issues.
An author once observed,
“It is that unlikable bishop, or the unworthy and uninspired high councilman, or the abrasive and unlikable semi-heretic, complaining every Gospel Doctrine class about some pet project or issue who provides us the greatest opportunities to begin to develop charity. These people are there as gifts from God to help us become more like Him. Having unlikable Saints about us is exactly as it should be. Having leaders who fail in their callings is also just as it should be. These things are a gift to you, to provide you a chance to return love and charity to those who need it, and probably will never recognize the gifts you are developing through their shortcomings.”
Jesus gave us all the tools we need to live as one; we simply need to use them. I feel like we sometimes pollute simplicity with words like “easy” or “hard.” For example, some one offends you, Jesus says “forgive them” which is a simple principle, but we say, “Oh, no, I can’t do that, that’s super hard.” In reality, the only thing that is hard is our heart.
If you feel like you have a chill life; your pop socket is in working order, good, you belong here. If you seethe with rage against anyone in this room and if I have offended you multiple times already in this talk, good, you belong here too. Look at us! We are all sitting together peacefully, that’s a great first step, don’t you think?
Now we need to become one, which is a simple principle but how hard are we going to choose to make it?
Sacrifice Perfects Faith
“Sacrifice perfects faith” because it eliminates the things that rob faith of its power. We value things above God and our neighbor. Whether they are material possessions, our time, or even ideologies, we can be terrified to let go of things that we perceive to have value.
Lecture 6:7 teaches:
“that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; … When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, … because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, … Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.”
The pioneers learned that following Jesus didn’t mean just going with him up the mount of olives to enjoy a sermon with a free lunch. It meant following him through betrayal, false accusations, physical abuse and torture, humiliation, and condemnation, to the point where even Jesus exclaimed, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” 
Following Jesus means that we follow him all the way, even into the darkness. Nobody gets to the tree of life without passing through the mists of darkness, and there will be tremendous and profound darkness.
After three days, a dark tomb became filled with light, and the Son of God opened his eyes and took in a fresh breath; everything changed at that moment.
The pioneers survived incredible circumstances and built majestic temples that we enjoy today. Millions have gone there covenanting to receive the greatest of all God’s blessings.
What will your legacy be? It will consist of what you choose to do next.
In Saint John’s revelation, he saw “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, [standing] before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes” 
They worshipped God saying, “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” 
John said, “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; […] For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” 
May we be among them and enjoy that day together when all the struggles and pain in this life are swallowed up in joy and glory.
- Dallin H. Oaks, Following the Pioneers, 1977 General Conference. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1997/10/following-the-pioneers.p5?lang=eng
- David A. Bednar, Increase in Learning
- D&C 121:1
- Dallin H. Oaks, Following the Pioneers, 1977 General Conference.
- Dallin H. Oaks, Following the Pioneers, 1977 General Conference.
- Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, Ch.2
- Denver Snuffer, The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil, p.193
- Lectures on Faith, Lecture Sixth vs 7
- Matthew 27:46
- Revelation 7:9
- Revelation 7:12
- Revelation 7:14-17