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Devotionals

“Act Well Thy Part” in Building Zion


"'Act Well Thy Part' in Building Zion"

Sisters and brothers, aloha.

I am grateful to be at this devotional this morning. I am appreciative of the invocation from Sister Gariki, the scripture from Sister Burton, and the musical number. I am very grateful for the continued support from my wife and family. Our daughter Amy and six of our 20 grandchildren are in attendance today and other family members and close friends are watching or will watch this broadcast later. Weekly attendance at the devotional has been a consistent habit pattern of righteousness that has brought an element of spiritual strength into my life for many years.

As we continue with the devotional this morning, I invite you to listen closely to what the Holy Ghost teaches you to do as a result of being here. I acknowledge the Holy Ghost as the teacher of all truth and I promise that as we listen for and respond to the promptings we receive in this devotional we will have truly been taught.

Today I want to focus on how we can “act well our part” in building Zion. When I think of Zion I think of wholeness and completeness. I think of living in a balanced way so that all aspects of life are aligned with Godly purposes. Being worthy to live in Zion does not suggest to me that we are free from errors or weaknesses, but that we are consistently allowing the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to make us complete and whole.

We read in Moses 7:18, “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”

This verse does not say that the Lord called his people Zion because they were perfect, but that they were unified. They were of one mind and one heart. They were living in righteousness. There were no poor among them.

What is required to prepare for a state of unity so that we can live with “one heart and one mind” with “no poor among us”? Being poor is not restricted to economic matters. Living in Zion requires that there are no poor economically, physically, spiritually, temporally, emotionally, intellectually, or socially. We need to care for ourselves, our family members, and others in ways that eliminate all forms of poverty as we become a people prepared to build Zion.

Is it possible to achieve such a state? We know that it is. The scriptural verse just cited from Moses 7 is a description of Enoch and his people that resulted in their efforts to live in harmony with each other.

We also read in 4 Nephi of the condition of the Nephites immediately after the Savior’s appearance to them.

"And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings. "

I desire to live in a community where there are “no -ites” among us; where “there could not be a happier people among all the people . . . created by the hand of God.”

I know that as I have listened to previous devotional addresses or to General Conference talks, I often feel overwhelmed by thinking of all that I need to do to prepare myself, my family, and others to live in a Zion environment. The feelings of being overwhelmed can cause paralysis which results in me doing nothing. We need to find a balanced approach to achieving this goal.

A Traditional View of Balance

When you think of balance, what image comes to mind? If you are like me, the image of a balance scale comes to mind.

This image suggests that there are only two things to balance at a time. When we consider balancing all of the economic, physical, spiritual, temporal, emotional, intellectual, and social factors that impact our lives, we immediately recognize that there are more than two things to balance at a time.

President David O. McKay

Allow me to suggest an alternative view of balance. But, before I share that alternate view, I need to provide an appropriate background.

David O. McKay was the prophet of my youth. When I was born, President McKay had served as the President and Prophet of the Church for four years. I was 13 years old when President McKay passed away. I have a very clear memory of my parents taking my siblings and me to Salt Lake City on a cold January evening for the public viewing of President McKay. We stood in a long, winding line, slowly moving forward in order to quietly walk past his casket and have one final look at him. That is a powerful memory for me.


President McKay had a significant impact on the establishment of this campus starting with his 1921 visit when he attended the flag-raising at the elementary school and received the initial impressions of a Church school here in Hawaii and continuing to the groundbreaking for the Church College of Hawaii 65 years ago in 1955. President McKay’s impact is felt on all parts of this campus. We have the McKay Classroom building, the McKay Faculty Building, the McKay Gymnasium & Pool. You cannot be on this campus for very long without understanding the influence this prophet had on this place.

President McKay served his mission in Scotland. This was a missionary assignment that pleased him because the McKays originated in Scotland. In 1898 while serving in Scotland, Elder McKay and his companion were transferred from Glasgow to Stirling. Upon arriving in Stirling, they needed to find an apartment. After preparing themselves for the day, they went in search of possibilities. They found an appropriate place and then decided to familiarize themselves with the area. They spent the afternoon sightseeing. They visited “Stirling Castle, the Statue of King Robert the Bruce, the Ladies’ Rock, the Battlefield of Bannockburn, the Public Green, the King’s Tournament” (Larson & Larson, 1999, p. xxxiii), and other sites in Stirling. As they left Stirling Castle to return to their newly acquired apartment, they walked down Back O’ Hill Road. Elder McKay noticed a building under construction for new apartments that would be known as the Albany Crescent buildings. As he and his companion passed the construction site Elder McKay noticed something unusual about the building. He later recalled, “from the sidewalk to my surprise I saw an inscription carved in stone on the lintel of the front door. I said to Brother Johnson, ‘I want to go over there and see what that inscription says.’ I was not more than halfway up the pathway leading to it when this message struck me:, ‘What e’er Thou Art, Act Well thy Part...’ (McKay, D. O., 1959, The Improvement Era, 62 (October), pp. 726-727, 770-771).

There is no record in Elder McKay’s missionary journal about this experience, but the message from the Albany Crescent stone had a tremendous impact on him from that day forward. He recounted during a 1959 General Conference address the impact that this experience had on him as a young missionary. I recall hearing this phrase, What e’er Thou Art, Act Well thy Part, as I was growing up. I assumed for many years that this phrase originated from President McKay himself.

Allow me to provide additional information about the Albany Crescent stone. The stone was carved by a Scottish architect by the name of John Allan. Mr. Allan was the architect of the Albany Crescent apartments. On the front of the building, he had a stone carving inlaid above the door (Stirling Archives, 2016). Below the inscription was a 3x3 magic square.

I would like to consider Mr. Allan’s carving from two points of view—first, from the point of view of the inscription and then second, from the point of view of the magic square. The inscription, what e’re thou art, act well thy part, provides a powerful message for each of us. In whatever activities we are involved, we should act well our part. We should be focused on the present moment and do our part well. If we were to use this as a guiding principle, we would always be focused on the current task before us. We would not be thinking about other tasks that we need to accomplish, but rather we would dedicate all of our thoughts and energy on doing the very best at that moment in time on the specific task that we are involved with.

For example, when I am in the classroom working as a teacher educator training the next generation of TESOL professionals, I should act well my part and focus on accomplishing the learning outcomes for the course. I should not be focused on other tasks that I need to accomplish when class is over. My full attention should be on the present moment, in meeting the needs of my students, and acting well my part.

As I mentioned, I have heard and understood the phrase what e’re thou art, act well thy part, since I was a teenager, but until a few years ago, I did not understand the design below this powerful phrase on Mr. Allan’s carving. Let us examine the magic squares portion of Mr. Allan’s work. Magic squares have their origin in mathematics and have been identified in Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Persian, and Indian cultures dating back to as early as 587 BC (“Magic Square,” n.d.). Magic squares are 3x3, 4x4, 5x5, or 6x6 tables that are perfectly balanced numerically. Notice here how Mr. Allan’s magic square contains a 3x3 table. Each square on the stone represents a different numerical value. I have superimposed the numerical values on Mr. Allan’s stone. The first row of the magic square includes the images to represent the numbers 5, 10, and 3. The second row 4, 6, and 8 and the third row contains the numbers 9, 2, and 7. What makes it a magic square is that each row, column, and diagonal equals 18.

We cannot rearrange any of the numbers without having a negative impact on the balance of the magic square. For example, if we were to exchange the 5 and the 7 on the diagonal, the balance is lost. You see how the magic is broken when two numbers are switched because all rows, columns, and diagonals no longer equal 18. Balance is lost and therefore the squares are no longer magic.

A very important concept to understand about the magic squares is that each individual square has a different numerical value. Each individual square is not equal to the other squares. The balance is achieved across rows, columns, and diagonals. The magic square provides us a new view of balancing responsibilities in life, and I believe, building a Zion community. Not everything that we try to balance in life is equal in value to everything else. Different roles and responsibilities that we have can receive a different value and thus receive more or less attention, focus, and time.

The Magic Squares: Preparing Personally to Live in Zion

What does this magic square have to do with building Zion? I would like to examine this idea from two perspectives, first from establishing personal balance and preparing as individuals to live in Zion and second, from the perspective of establishing balance in order to build a Zion community.

As I have described, we have various roles, responsibilities, and needs in life. Each need can be represented by one of the squares in the 3x3 magic square. For example, let me map out nine needs that I believe we each have in life that require attention to be balanced: economic, intellectual, physical, spiritual, temporal, emotional, social, individual, and familial. Each of these needs requires time, energy, and active involvement on our part. There are tasks and responsibilities that we have with each of these needs that require us to make decisions in order to maintain balance in our lives.

Again, notice that not all of the individual squares are of the same value. Over the course of a week , I have to give different amounts of focus, time, and energy to these different needs. In this example, the intellectual need has a rating of 10. In assigning a 10 to this need at a given point in time suggests that this is a need that requires greater attention and focus than other needs. The individual need, which I assigned a numerical value of 2 in this example, suggests that at this particular point in time my focus on my needs as an individual is lower and less important given other needs in my life. I do not need to exert equal amounts of time, energy, and focus to each need all the time. I can adjust the focus on my needs given the demands that each may require during any day, week, month, year, or stage in life. But, let me also emphasize that I cannot ignore any one of these nine needs. None of the needs ever receives a numerical value of 0. I want to make sure that I am well balanced by anchoring myself daily in scripture study. I want to make sure I get sufficient exercise. I want to make sure I get sufficient sleep. I need to be aware of my relationships with family members and friends. I need to be aware of my financial needs. My intellectual needs require attention. In order to be truly balanced, all of these areas need at least some focus and attention. If I am neglecting any one of these areas, I will ultimately suffer negative consequences.

From my personal experience of adjusting to this new paradigm of balance, it requires a major shift to go from thinking about the balance between two needs or responsibilities to looking at the big picture and keeping all needs and responsibilities balanced. As I balance my own life, I am aligning all aspects of life with Godly purposes and appropriate daily habit patterns of righteousness so that I can contribute to building and establishing Zion. I want to make sure that as an individual, I am balanced and that I have prepared myself to contribute in positive ways to assist others.

The Magic Squares: Preparing to Live in a Zion Community

With appropriate individual alignment of needs to Godly purposes, we are prepared to become contributing members of a community that is focused on establishing and building Zion.

President Tanner established the vision of Zion for us at Brigham Young University–Hawaii. I recognize that we have a completely new generation of students on campus today in 2020 than were here in the fall of 2015 when President Tanner was inaugurated. That is the nature of university life. You enter, study, and graduate. That is the cycle. At his inauguration in 2015 President Tanner told us: “I see a university that is intended to be not only ‘a school in Zion’ but a Zion university—a place where people from many nations learn together in purity, peace, unity, and love. May this school savor so strongly and so sweetly of Zion that it creates an appetite in its graduates to build Zion everywhere.” (Tanner, 2015).

President McKay’s initial experience with the Albany Crescent stone can help us learn how to accomplish the vision articulated by President Tanner. After reading the words on the stone, President McKay related. As I rejoined my companion and told him what I had read, do you know what came to my mind first? The custodian at the University of Utah, from which school I had just graduated. I realized then that I had just as great a respect for that man as I had for any professor in whose class I had sat. He acted well his part. I recalled how he helped us with the football suits, how he helped us with some of our lessons. He was unassuming, unostentatious, but did his duty well. To this day I hold respect for him. (McKay, D. O., 1959, The Improvement Era, 62 (October), pp. 726-727, 770-771).

I believe that every person on this campus has an individual responsibility to act well [his or her] part. Regardless of our roles and responsibilities on campus, each must contribute to a community where there are no poor and no -ites among us.

Students play a central role in the balance we achieve as we establish and build Zion at BYU–Hawaii. Students must remember that they are contributing to the overall balance that we must achieve. Because I know and understand that without students there would be no university, I have placed the students into the magic square with the numerical value of 10.

We have many positive examples on campus of individuals who are acting well their part and who are contributing to and building Zion on our campus. I will highlight a few selected individuals, but keep in mind that there are many more than the six I will now name.

Individuals like Brother Feao Heimuli our university’s Plumber from Campus Maintenance, Sister Melba Latu, the Dean of Students, Sister Mele Lavulavu from Campus Property Services, Brother Alika Lopes from Campus Maintenance, Sister Gerry Tacderan from Health Services, and Brother Michael Tuia, the HVAC & Electrical Supervisor from Systems Maintenance. I have had positive interactions with each of these individuals in which they have simply been acting well their part to establish and build the Zion community that President Tanner envisioned for BYU–Hawaii. With each of these individuals added to the BYU–Hawaii magic square, we are progressing toward the achievement of balance. Each is acting well his or her part.

Any discussion of our Zion community at BYU–Hawaii and Laʻie would not be complete without including our brothers and sisters who work and serve at the Polynesian Cultural Center under the direction of Alfred Grace and those who serve at the Laʻie Hawaii Temple under the leadership of President and Sister Hallstrom. The PCC, the temple, and campus constitute a tripartite that is unequal in unity and power, consecration and aloha anywhere in the world. We have a perfectly balanced magic square.

In a recent meeting with a small number of faculty, Brother John Bell, Vice President for Academics, shared an interaction he had with Elder Paul V. Johnson when he was here on our campus a few weeks ago. Elder Johnson asked Brother Bell what he saw as the future of BYU–Hawaii. As they talked about the future, they discussed the value of all individuals on this campus collectively having revelatory experiences related to the destiny of BYU–Hawaii. It is those revelatory experiences that I believe will allow each of us to know how to act well our individual parts so that Zion can be established.

We can establish and build a balanced community as each of us act well our part. We each have unique and different responsibilities on our campus and in our community. We should not be comparing ourselves with others in our community, but rather we should each focus on the part that we have been invited to play and we must act well our part. We need to be focused on our individual habit patterns of righteousness that will allow the Holy Ghost to witness to us personally and to us as a community that we are doing our part well that will lead to the establishment of Zion.

“What e’re thou art”—whatever your role or responsibility is on this campus or in our community: student, administrator, staff, or faculty—“act well thy part”—do your part exceptionally well.

As we seek and achieve balance in our individual lives and seek and achieve balance in our roles and responsibilities on campus and in our community, let me add my voice to Moroni’s voice in extending this invitation. Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

Now, what promptings have come to you from the Holy Ghost during this devotional? I invite you to return to your hale or to your home and to develop an action plan that will allow you to act well thy part. As you do so, the Holy Ghost will continue to provide you with the personal revelations you need in your life.

I bear my witness that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us. They send the Holy Ghost to us daily to confirm the value of our individual roles in the building of Zion. As I indicated earlier, when I think of Zion I think of wholeness and completeness. I think of living in a balanced way so that all aspects of life are aligned with Godly purposes. We cannot sit idly by assuming that when Zion is built we will just walk through the gate and enjoy life in that beautiful setting. We must be actively involved in balancing our own lives and contributing in positive ways to our community in establishing and building Zion. The Zion community that we are preparing for and building is in preparation for the return of our Savior Jesus Christ. He will rule and reign in Zion and we can be a part of that glorious community. Being worthy to live in Zion does not suggest that we are free from errors or weaknesses, but that we are consistently allowing the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to make us complete and whole. Because we are each acting well our individual parts, Zion can be established. May we each work toward that end, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen