My friend Richard Eyre asked me to do something remarkable and even a bit unusual last year. He asked me—and thirteen others—to think about unity and then write an essay about it. The essay was important, but the thinking came first. We were to contemplate unity, search the scriptures about it, pour light into the hidden corners of our own souls and see who we were. We were to examine all the facets of unity that reflected light out in every direction—and in working our minds and souls so hard, the challenges and beauty and secrets of unity would begin to yield. We would understand something we hadn’t seen before.
Then we would each write an essay about unity. That book, No Division Among You, has just been published, but what is most interesting is how it came to be. It was a journey for each writer.
To think about unity means the questions and soul-stretching multiplied.
For me, I began to see more than before that unity was more important to God than I had ever supposed. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine”, He says, and this is not to threaten or dismay us, but simply a reality of eternal law. The Lord’s presence could never be a place of contention or division. We do not break into tribes in His presence, rallying around the banner of our own wounded dignity and hurt pride, or our sparring ideologies.
If I were climbing toward a celestial mountain height, exercising all I had and could ever have, giving energy and breath, and, as the air grew thinner, shedding every heavy weight because their burden was too big; if, at that point of exhaustion, when I was approaching heaven’s gates, trembling with my efforts, I saw someone who needed whatever help I had left to give, it may be my enemy—the one who hurt me most—and it would be he or she who I was asked to carry the last distance to pass the gate. That is how important unity is to the Lord.
We are asked to love one another that purely, because the Lord is training us how to be unified.
So Many Questions
Yet, seeking unity brings up so many other questions. Inevitably, I must ask, am I part of the problem, perhaps not in my actions, but in my heart?
Richard wrote, “Few if any of us have consciously or deliberately made choices of division or dissention or dismissal. We slip into it. We become, subconsciously, part of a certain tribe, or “ite” or mindset, and within that echo-chamber, whatever it is, we feel more comfortable than elsewhere, and our natural assumption that we are right projects “wrongness” onto those who don’t match.”
Loving others and being unified through Christ with them means we have to shed some invisible, but familiar weaknesses. It assumes that I have learned charity and forgiveness, that I have shed resentment, disdain and distance, that I have struggled away from offense and unfair judgment, that I have given Christ my woundedness and hurt pride. It means, after all, that I must check the biases that are invisible to me. That’s a tall order, and the next requirement is even harder.
Living in unity means we have passed that acid test, which may be the most difficult of Christian commandments, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”
The Toughest Question
OK, but this is the toughest question of all. How does one really do this in a world where people hurt, challenge and dismay us so much and where that pain is so often personal?
You know how it goes. You are working toward having a family unified around Christ, but your son-in-law, who last year was in the bishopric, suddenly announces he no longer believes, and is taking your daughter and their children out of the Church with him. Oh no, this was the daughter who read the scriptures every day growing up. They will not participate in your family activities if you continue to pray on the food and talk about your spiritual experiences.
Or try this, the world suddenly is full of people whose politics seem to be a personal attack on your moral worldview and the founding of this nation. Their assertions seem to twist the truth and they seek to punish people who believe as you do. They see you as an enemy.
How do you both stand for what’s right as you know it and love those who subvert it? This is particularly hard in families. How do you love a child who rejects you because she finds your ideas hateful? She has refused to speak to you for years.
If we think we can ignore these questions, no worry, they will find us. We will all be compelled to think what love and unity requires of us, while we refuse to have our worldview plowed under. Seeking love and unity does not mean you are weak before the issues of the day. It means you are strong because you refuse to let rancor or division mar your spirit.
Then there are the questions like these: does living in unity mean we lose our individuality? How can we be both perfectly unified and perfectly free? Can we stand like Moroni and wave the title of liberty or is love more passive?
Musing on Unity
So, I thought a lot about unity and prayed for help to finally write an essay, and so did thirteen others. Richard asked us to do this because he’s worried that there is a unity problem in the church and in our families. He thinks that getting people to talk about it and think about it might begin to help.
Richard explains how he chose the writers:
“Some of the 14 essays that follow will give you different slants on the nature of the unity problem and others will suggest potential solutions. The essays range from the prosaic to the political, and from the metaphorical to the methodological. They are written by 14 of the best thinkers and writers I know, who each see things differently than you or than me or than each other. They are scientists, physicians, artists, managers, PhDs, CEOs, students, and manual laborers. You will like and agree with some of them instantly, and you may be prone to dislike and disagree with others equally quickly (realizing as you do that those quick opinions you form illustrate the problem we are getting at.)
He continued, “These writers are called essayists in this book, but I think of them as friends and collaborators. We shared our drafts with each other as we wrote them, and received feedback from each other—sometimes complimentary, sometimes critical, sometimes expanding or elaborating.”
These writers and fellow collaborators thinking and writing about unity include:
Richard and Linda Eyre
New York #1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on parenting, life balance, and most recently, grandparenting.
Maurine is the author of many books, a podcaster, and co-founder of Meridian Magazine, a magazine published daily for Latter-day Saints for 25 years.
Thomas B. Griffith
Thomas served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and is currently a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and a Fellow at the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University.
Kathy K. Clayton
Kathy has spread the gospel worldwide with her husband, Whitney, for nineteen years. She is the author of Teaching to Build Faith and Faithfulness and Your Birthright as a Child of God.
H. Craig Petersen
Craig has a PhD from Stanford University, taught economics at Utah State University, and later served as mayor of Logan.
Adam holds an MBA from Oxford University and runs an aerospace firm.
Kimberly, PsyD. Is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah.
Ben works as an Honor Code administrator and adjunct professor at Brigham Young University and is the author of A Walk in My Shoes: Questions I Am Often Asked as a Gay Latter-day Saint.
Neylan is an advocate for women who founded the Mormon Women Project and Better Days 2020. She is the author of Women at Church.
Mark has an MBA from BYU and works as an operations manager.
Bill is the co-founder of the Faith Matters Foundation whose mission is to explore an expansive view of the restored gospel.
Elizabeth is an MD and professor or pathology and medicine at the University of Utah.
Melaney is an educator by trade and an advocate in the public square for civility and unity.
He is the founder and CEO of Breathing Inclusivity, which is focused on giving business leaders and companies the tools they need to create meaningful change in their organizations.
Together, these collaborators found so much meat to chew on and so many ideas to explore. Each had a desire to one day be gathered in concourses of unity and radiance around the Lord’s throne, but this required a climbing, a cleansing, and a transformation through the atonement. What the Lord asks is behaviorally difficult. It calls for a deeper engagement with Him.
I finally called my essay, “Why the Lord Asks Something Beautiful but Difficult”.
You can join in our discussion by getting the book No Divisions Among You here. This book has discussion questions after each chapter and is a great idea for book clubs who want an important topic to talk about.
We will also be running small excerpts from the book regularly on Meridian in the coming weeks.
Just as fourteen of us were asked to join in the discussion on how to find and build unity, we invite you to join the discussion as well. You can send short articles on the topic to ma************@co*****.net and, of course, we invite you to comment below.
Our sense as collaborators was optimism and hope, and that by thinking about and valuing unity, we could come a step closer to the Lord.