During my childhood, family home evening was always a sporadic event that coincided with bursts of belief within my parents—not belief in the gospel, but belief in their own ability to actually establish some sort of household structure. During these optimistic times, they would schedule home teaching visits or family home evenings—fueled by the same hope that makes the rest of the world buy new day-planners or join a gym.
The first few minutes of every Family Home Evening would be spent with the manual, but invariably our lessons would wander onto the topic of the Second Coming. I relished thinking of most other people in Mapleton, Utah, dying while some of my family and I made our way back to Missouri “along the rusty rail.” This fixation is probably because in my post-apocalyptic vision, one of the other survivors was always the latest “new girl” in our class. I always got a crush on the new girl. In my daydreamed version of the apocalypse, the new girl and I would wander back to Missouri together, a little Adam and Eve with a commandment from God to have sex and loot whatever we wanted all along the way.
The Second Coming probably appealed to my mom because she was in charge of cleaning up after seven children. After the apocalypse, of course, all housework would stop. For her, the Millenium’s “promised land” meant no vacuuming, no dusting, no laundry. And if Jesus came within the year, she wouldn’t have to pack for an upcoming move to our new house across the street.
Fleeing to a new place for a do-over is a persistent and very attractive idea. Maybe it’s because so many of us want a do-over. But I wonder how many of us really need one? When the Israelites fled Egypt and spent forty years in the wilderness, they were in desperate need of a promised land. The parents, who had come out of slavery, wanted a place they could call their own. They had really needed to leave. In fleeing, they had actually given up their homes and—according to the definitions of many social activists of today—their “jobs.” After a few years of wandering, the children born in the wilderness wanted to settle down. Both old and young had a valid need for a promised land—a land of milk and honey. A place to call their own. A land where being unemployed could go from a blessing to a curse.
My Mormon ancestors were also separated from the herd—or maybe they separated themselves. But they weren’t running from slavery; they were running from the law. Their idea of a promised land had little to do with milk and honey, and everything to do with plural marriage and escaping legal jurisdiction.
In 2009, my wife was transferred to Germany, roughly six thousand miles from the promised land of my ancestors. I don’t know when I will return to their promised land—it seems like it will not be anytime soon. It’s not that I don’t think my ancestral home is a nice place; it’s just that lately I have grown to like wherever I am at the moment—as long as it’s a first-world country with modern dentistry and decent drinking water.
And frankly I’ve grown suspicious of first-world inhabitants who are too enraptured with the idea of a promised land. I have met too many people who want Jesus to come for all the wrong reasons. They pray for his swift return so that they can cancel their credit card debt, stop going to their awful jobs, or spice up their boring lives by making gloating phone calls to their unrepentant, unbelieving neighbors. The truth is, we first-world citizens have it great right where we stand. For this reason, yearning for a promised land has all the religious glow of praying over lottery ticket numbers. Sure, maybe God will still deliver people in their time of need, just maybe not in their time of want.