Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Strange Lessons I Learn...

Wow. So much has happened in a week. I finally finished unpacking
(well, at least enough to hide it under my bed) from the move last
night and collapsed in a heap. But it happened. Monday I had work,
packed, and went to FHE. Tuesday was the same, with ward council added
in. Wednesday and Thursday I spent every spare moment packing. Friday
I learned that my brother was going to St. George for a convention
until Saturday night, so I couldn't even go to work. For the next two
days straight I focused on moving (my date for Friday night was out of
town, and I was crazy stressed anyway). Add another major surgery for
a family friend, and my week could have easily been deemed terrible...
but where last week I was still stressed and sick, this week I feel
peace. Maybe it's added perspective that I gained last week and the
weeks preceding. Probably it's because my To Do list has only a few
more deadlines on it (graduate school applications, auditions for
Nauvoo, etc). Either way, I feel like life is great.

I had an interesting epiphany this last week between taping boxes.
It's a bit eccentric, and you probably knew this without having to
have divine revelation, but for me it's big.

I'm incredibly frugal, and (as most people) I project my own
personality on to others' decisions. If I think about it, I know that
most of the people around me don't flinch about going out to eat (fast
food included). They don't have massive internal struggles every time
they see people throw away food or anything else. And they don't do
all their day-to-day shopping in bulk or at thrift stores. I know why
I spend & save the way I do – with every dollar I spend, I wonder how
I could have used it better – what I could have done with that dollar
instead. And, after hearing stories and seeing the sacrifices of
others to gain the blessings of the gospel, there aren't many personal
expenditures that really seem necessary when I could save and somehow
bless the lives of others. While being frugal (if impulsively buying
things that are on amazing sales is being frugal) does run in the
family, I don't know of any who impulsively doesn't buy things.

I remember learning about the Law of Consecration when I was probably
8 years old... and knowing about the City of Enoch, the Church shortly
after the Savior's Resurrection, and the people in America following
His Ascension. In each of these scenarios, there was a different type
of society. People didn't work to “get ahead” or to earn money to
spend on frivolous things. Everything they did was dedicated to
building the kingdom. They worked hard in whatever they could do,
willingly gave what they had, took only what they needed, and were
happy, industrious, and there were no poor among them. In most cases,
the scriptures described them as the happiest people on earth. I
looked at my society, with its greed, corruption, and vice, and longed
for the opportunity to be part of a Zion community – to be able to
simply do my best, give it my all, and dedicate everything to the
building of the kingdom. I thought that simply allowing people that
chance would do it, so each night I prayed that the Lord would
reinstate the Law of Consecration. In my mind, that also meant the
abolishment of money, barter, or any form of currency. When you need
an apple, you just ask and the apple farmer willingly gives one to
you. And you do the same in return. Thus we would be free to work and
serve one another. I mean – that's the way that the human family was
originally created, right? I doubt that Adam paid his children for
working alongside him; it was simply expected that they would, just as
it was expected that he would take care of them.

The Lord responded to my prayer and explained that He would reinstate
the Law of Consecration in His own due time. But, He explained, I
could still live by its principles without the formal organization. So
I tried. On the giving side, I tried to spend my life volunteering.
Sometimes it worked. Other times, I would babysit for others and then
refuse to be paid. That confused people. Whenever I bought something
in behalf of someone else, I gave it as a gift. That was only a little
less confusing. Even at my present job at the MTC, I began as a
volunteer, happily working long days without pay. At the same time, I
lived a somewhat ascetic life. I only bought things that were
completely necessary and accepted money from others only when it was
necessary as well. While I'm incredibly happy with extreme frugality,
I've begun to realize that it may not be as scalable as I first

The thought itself actually came as I was trying to determine the
pricing structure for my new business. I had determined most of my
costs and was trying to figure out the right price based from a moral
perspective. Donating everything was my first thought, but that meant
that I would need to fund my endeavor with an alternate income stream.
I'm not terribly wealthy, so, barring massive donors, that would
definitely not be sustainable on a large scale. But providing
meaningful service to others without cost is a big tenet for me, so I
decided to accept part of that model – donate oils to people who
really needed them and couldn't afford them otherwise. The next
potential model was to simply charge my cost and donate my labor time
– sort of like doing service. That seemed like a more sustainable
approach, since I would end up recouping my actual dollar costs to put
into more inventory, and the initial investment would just be a
donation to the cause. But even that approach presented problems.
Being willing to rake your neighbor's leaves is one thing. But if a
thousand people call you to rake their leaves, you have a problem.
Also, if you work all day and sell a thousand products at cost, you
have no money to buy food.

And so I hit an impasse. I realized that I couldn't afford to charge
nothing for labor in a large, long-term business, but something inside
me pushed me to do just that. On the one hand, the business would have
to rely on outside funding & labor in perpetuity. On the other, it
wouldn't pass the regulations I had imposed on my own behavior. I
wondered what the answer would be under the Law of Consecration. The
first choice was obvious. If there is no monetary system, and you have
the assurance that as you work and give you will be able to receive
according to your needs, then it makes complete sense to donate
everything you can. The second choice – selling everything at cost –
is just as absurd as it is for a business in our society. If everyone
sold everything at cost, no one would be able to buy anything. And
that was the epiphany. In my mind, a Zion economy was the antithesis
of money. You give your all, the best that you can, and everyone else
does the same. Together you succeed, together you struggle. Together
you face every trial. There's no need for money. But the scriptures
don't say that the people of Zion did away with monetary systems. In
some cases, I know they didn't. Take the story of Ananias and
Sapphira. They lived under the Law of Consecration in the early
Christian Church and were condemned because they had withheld money
from the sale of a piece of land. More thought on the matter revealed
that, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gave tithing as an
eternal law... for those in service-related fields, paying tithing
without money can be very hard. And even an isolated, non-monetary
Zion would still need to interface with the outside world. We can't
just be self-sufficient and call it good, as the people of Enoch or
the Nephites in the time of Christ did.

And so my realization: The Law of Consecration does not have to mean
freely giving everything away and expecting the same in return. If you
live without a monetary system, in a society where everybody opts in
to abide by its precepts, that is great. But in our world, today,
consecration means dedicating everything you have (blessings, talents,
time, money, and everything else) to building the kingdom of God. And,
in a business model or anywhere else, that translates into working
hard, performing honest labor, and receiving fair compensation for
your efforts. The key word is fair. Then it means being willing to
share what you have with those in need, giving meaningful service, and
finding ways to bless others and build the kingdom.

And so I solved at least the first part of my moral dilemma. For my
business, I just need to determine what fair means and apply it to my
pricing structure. At least I'm closer. It also means that I don't
have to feel bad about being paid to work at my job at the MTC
anymore, as long as I am not being paid too much and as long as I am
working honestly. Most of all, though, the whole experience
demonstrates to me that the Lord is willing to help me come to a
better understanding of gospel principles any time I want to apply
them in my life.

Sometimes our experiences, and the lessons we learn from them, are
universal. We learn patience from undergoing trials. We learn love and
long-suffering through feeling pain. Sometimes our experiences, and
lessons, are completely unique – like coming to a better understanding
of the Law of Consecration while trying to apply gospel principles to
a business venture. Each of us can have the same experience in our own
lives, because each of us is engaged in the pursuit of perfection. The
principles of the gospel apply everywhere, in everything we are doing
in life, and the Lord has infinite things to teach us, if we are
willing to listen and to ask Him for advice. In my case, it helped me
better understand something I have wondered for most of my life. For
each of us, it will be the knowledge and wisdom the Lord knows we need
to progress, no matter where we may be.

I know that God loves us and wants to be involved in every part of our
lives. If we will let Him, He will give us guidance and direction in
every facet of mortality – opening our eyes to see the spiritual
significance behind the physical world. My invitation to you: look at
a mundane, worldly part of your life. Try to apply a gospel principle
to it – whether studying what the principle of “cleanliness is next to
godliness” really means as applies to your home or “be thou an example
of the believers” should be influencing your driving habits. As you
strive to better understand the gospel in context, I promise that the
Lord will teach you great things... and your testimony of those
principles will grow. Then go out and be missionaries!

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