I am part of a Band of Brothers. Though nothing as dramatic and dangerous as the band of brothers that Stephen Ambrose writes about in his book on the men of Easy Company during World War II, it is nonetheless a group of men with a bond, with a trust and respect forged over several years.
We are men who meet regularly, friends whose shared connection is Mormonism. We are a diverse group, with our ranks ranging from strident atheists to fully active and believing LDS, and our ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-fifties.
Our monthly fellowship meetings consist of everything from spiritual and theological discussions to bawdy humor and angry confrontations. Mostly, though, we have spirited and candid discussions about our faith and about our lives. These candid discussions – and even the angry confrontations – are made possible because of the high level of trust and respect within the group. We have developed a real love for each other, a true brotherhood. We disagree, we fight, and we do so forcefully. But we have shared enough to maintain the love and respect within the group to come back again and again.
Our friendships move beyond the monthly meetings, sharing conversations regularly through our private email list, through attendance at movies and events, and through service. We are there to help a brother move, to spend weekend mornings canvassing neighborhoods for a fellow brother running for public office, to respond to needs and comfort those who face pressing struggles.
In the past year we have formalized our monthly meetings in order to focus on one individual. When assigned a month, the individual prepares a narrative of his faith journey, sharing the experiences that shaped him and the values and beliefs he holds most sacred. The experiences have striking similarities, even as they are incredibly diverse. Through this process we have come to understand our brothers in new and even intimate ways, increasing our bonds and cementing friendships.
Key to this is our ability to strip ourselves of pretense; to lay bare our faults, our doubts, and our struggles. It is a refreshing – and frightening – experience to be completely candid, to trust the others within the group to listen and respect our experiences, even as they candidly respond and criticize. It can be brutal at times, but behind that brutality is always a sense of love and friendship.
What I have found in this group is a level of trust and brotherhood unlike any other I have experienced. It is a brotherhood forged through shared struggles and grief, of shared humor and joy. It is the friendship and brotherhood I think Joseph Smith preached, that he at various times experienced, and that he valued dearly. He called friendship “one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’…”
Elder Wirthlin spoke last year about these bonds of friendship, about the need to have them in our quorums, about how difficult it can be to develop them. In his words:
Some of the choicest blessings of my life have been the close friendships I have experienced over the years. Often, these friendships have been forged in the fires of shared experience. I think back with fondness on the football teams I played on, the missionaries with whom I served in Austria and Switzerland, the bishoprics and stake presidencies with whom I served. I think about my family—the happiness and grief we have shared and how those moments of tenderness have amplified the love we have for each other. Most recently, I think about the indescribable bond of brotherhood I have felt within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Establishing a bond of brotherhood is critical. If those who serve with you feel this mutual love and trust, the work of the Lord will thrive and heaven will aid you in your efforts. Fail to establish this bond, however, and you may find your work tedious, toilsome, and unproductive.
My experience is outside of our local quorums, our wards. My band of brothers consists of men who travel long distances to be a part of our group, but who nonetheless are doing the work of the Lord through sacrifice and service, friendship and love.
Elder Wirthlin talks of establishing this within our assignments, within our quorums, but I struggle to find it. It requires honest engagement, shared struggles, personal sacrifice, and much more than a single scheduled hour each week, going through the motions.
Is it possible to develop such bonds within a quorum? Within the Relief Society? It certainly happens among those called to presidencies, those who wrestle together and serve together, but I am asking about the broader groups, those who attend weekly but long for real connection, for real friendship, for deep trust.
It has taken me a long time to really understand the value of such bonds. I am blessed to know of it, to experience it, and I wish that all could have these experiences. But I confess, I am at a loss to understand how it might be shared. How it might be created. Is such a bond organic, something that takes on a life of its own when the conditions are right? Or is it something we can develop? Something we can foster?