The Zion Zoo — Part I : Fail

There have been many extraordinary attempts to create Zion that have ended in abject failure, some very recent. I would like to add my own to the list. Joy and I have invited a number of individuals who had a variety of needs into our home over the last year. Each was a unique experience. The most recent exposed just how ill prepared we are to enter Zion. In this post, I will simply outline a bit of the experience. In subsequent posts, I will relate how these experiences have expanded our understanding. Nevertheless, lest you believe this is just a rant, venting, or an attempt to justify or rationalize our behavior consider please:

The experiences shared here are intended to underscore two principal points:

  1. Many of the things we found irritating are simply life-style choices and/or micro-cultural differences that have no right or wrong.
  2. We can’t help but think that if we were more socially, emotionally, and spiritually mature, that we could have more readily:
    • Discussed and resolved differences/issues
    • Loved and forgave
    • Became closer & more united

It is nearly a month since Marsha, Sarah, and Adam (** not their real names) moved out. During this time, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends and family to help me put this into perspective, which leads to…


I am biased. To pretend to write a fair and unbiased account is absurd. It is inherently one-sided. While attempting to outline representative, salient “facts,” and to not justify, excuse, or rationalize, personal bias cannot be fully expurgated.


Marsha experienced a number of recent life setbacks. Severe health issues resulting in loss of employment and divorce top the list. By removing all grain and grain products from her diet, Marsha has returned to health.

We met Marsha, her second husband Seth (**), and Sarah, her daughter from her first marriage, at the synagogue. G*d directed her (them?) to move from Seattle to Spokane so that she could go back to school and become a veterinarian. Seth sold his business and found a job here. They were very optimistic. Due to a “lack of passion” the G*d-directed-marriage was to end, but it was good, it was all part of G*d’s plan and what was needed for them to be where they needed to be.

When Joy heard of their separation early in the year, she offered our home if the need arose. The need came in July.

Prior to moving here, she asked if Adam, a 24 year old friend that had lived with them in Seattle and had recently taken an apprenticeship in Spokane, could join them. Joy had met Adam during a trip with Marsha to Seattle to visit some of her friends who lived in their home there. We didn’t see it as a problem, though were obviously taking a leap of faith on top of a leap of faith.


Things began to unravel pretty quickly. On one of the first nights, we attempted stir fry that met all the dietary requirements. The basics were okay, but the substitutes used in place of the normal seasonings that contained grain products (e.g., soy sauce) made the food less than stellar. As we sat for dinner, I said a prayer. It was cut short. There is no good language to describe the feeling in the room, but it wasn’t reverential, nor grateful, nor worshipful. In the four months that followed, it was to be the last meal we shared and last prayer we said together. This was tough. While we had some cultural differences with prior individuals who had stayed with us while recovering from life’s little disappointments, we had always been able to share meals and more importantly, we had enjoyed some marvelous experiences praying together.

After a couple of days, Marsha and Adam sat down with us to explain that G*d had told them that in His eyes they where married (even though the divorce was not final), and asked if it was any problem that they were in a relationship. Joy and I both independently prayed about this and were told that we were not to judge, that judgement belonged to Him. Marsha was pleased that they could both stay under a promise of sexual abstinence.

After several weeks of overhearing Marsha school Joy in points of doctrine while working around the house, I challenged the two of them regarding their relationship. Joy’s earnest desire to humbly learn was an unfortunate match for Marsha’s earnest desire to teach. Joy is one of the most well read people I know and the conversations didn’t need to be so one-directional, there was much that Marsha could learn from Joy. While it was a soft rebuke, that was to be the last religious conversation between them. Perhaps the idea of Joy having something of value to share was inconceivable.

There were many cultural disparities. We don’t eat anywhere in the house but the kitchen and dining area. They installed a coffee maker and toaster oven downstairs in the laundry room. We have no TV. The vast majority of their time (at least in the evenings and into the night) was spent watching shows. Our dogs are inside dogs. Her’s stayed outside.  They wanted to help pay for utilities. We just wanted them to close the doors (especially when the heat was on), and turn off lights that weren’t being used.

And the list goes on….

Marsha told us that once she had a couple of months income under the belt, she would be moving into a home, by getting funding from a government program. She never applied. Come September, she mentioned that they would be settling in for the winter and needed an alternative for her dog to keep warm, who couldn’t be allowed in the house, and went about marking everything in the garage. At about this same time we were informed that she and Adam were no longer in a relationship. I told her that with Joy being gone to Vermont for six months to a year, we didn’t feel it was appropriate for a single woman to be in the home with me. She asked if there was a problem with our marriage.

And then there is the kitchen. We had four people in the home preparing up to 12 separate meals a day (including advance preparations and Sarah fending for herself). If you don’t know, my use of the kitchen is seriously OCD. I like it clean. I hate to have to clean up before I can begin cooking. This was a huge disconnect. As a rather extreme example, on returning from the Boise conference, while still fasting (read that not cooking myself) I “had” to clean the stove (and kitchen) four times. Then there was the constant smell of burning meat and oil, particularly the turkey bacon. We eat very little meat. The smells drove us into our bedroom.

Bottom line

During an exit interview — so to speak — Marsha commented that “it is always difficult to merge households.” Opining that it is hard to combine multiple family cultures to create something new. What a difference in expectations. We never expected any kind of merging. Our home, our culture.

While this was a time of some incredible, personal, spiritual experiences, it was also a time when our home felt more like a prison, with a darkness and foreboding overshadowing our existence. When everyone had left for school and work during the day, her dog would bark incessantly as if to want to make it clear that freedom from feelings of oppression were futile.

During all of this Joy and I were thinking about Zion. Our guilt was constant. We hoped we could be more meek, more kind, more charitable/loving, and more forgiving, all things that we were constantly praying to learn with hopes to be more like Him. If we couldn’t do this in our own home with one other family, what hope could we have being able to be of one heart and one mind with an entire community.

Fail. Fail. Fail. This was worse than my first two years at the U of M (I failed almost every course I took).

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