Lessons from a Scottish Clan

Almost 25 years ago when I attended BYU, I took sign language classes.  Sadly, I didn’t stay with the language, and I have forgotten most of it.  But there is one sign that I will never forget as long as I live.  And that is the sign for Israelite.  Let me tell you why.

When I was taking my ASL grammar class, one of our assignments was to attend the Deaf Ward in Provo.  After Sacrament Meeting, a gentleman approached me and asked if I was an Israelite.  The strange thing was, I had just happened to learn that sign a few weeks before.  But I was baffled that a stranger would ask me at church if I was one.

Before I answered him, a debate began in my head.  I had also taken a religion class on the book of Isaiah by Dr. Ludlow.  We learned the difference between Gentiles, those born in the covenant and those adopted to the tribes of Israel.  I wondered if this man was somehow testing me.  I finally answered back, “I’m not sure.”

He looked surprised by my answer.  He asked it again only more slowly.  “Are you an Israelite?”

“Why do you want to know?” I asked.

“Because we have a Sunday School class for Israelites,” he answered.

Now I was really baffled.  Why does the Deaf Ward have a special Sunday School class for Israelites?  That seemed like a strange way to divide the members.  
My face must have revealed my confusion because he explained further.  “We have a class for those who are married and those who are Israelites.”  

It was at this point that I began to suspect that he wasn’t actually signing the word “Israelite.”  The sign for Israelite is used making the letter “I” with your pinky.   He was using his thumb, which is the sign for “single” as in unmarried.

I immediately replayed the conversation in my mind. 

“Are you single?” 

“I’m not sure. Why do you want to know?” 

This poor guy must have thought that I thought he was hitting on me.  I was mortified.  I quickly explained that yes I was single and I would be happy to attend the Sunday School class for singles.

Today, I’d like to ask you the same question that I thought this poor gentleman was asking me.  “Are you an Israelite?”

An Israelite is anyone who descended from one of the 12 sons of Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel.  These descendants were divided into separate family tribes.  Today we call them the 12 tribes of Israel.

Are we literal descendants of the tribes of Israel?  The answer most likely is yes.  As we learn in the scriptures and from modern-day prophets.  The Israelites were scattered on the earth and their blood was mixed with Gentiles.  Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said that “it is very possible that the majority, almost without exception, of those who come into the Church in this dispensation have the blood of two or more of the tribes of Israel as well as the blood of the Gentiles” (
Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:63.)

What about the minority?  Those few members who do not have the blood of Israel?  Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith explains, “Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:246.)

So while most of us are literally an Israelite by blood, the very few of us who are not, were adopted when we were baptized. 

So I’m happy to report, that yes, we are all Israelites, or of the house of Israel. 

And as Israelites we are all enlisted.  We are soldiers in God’s army.  Like the hymn says we are to “fight for our Savior.” 
As I’ve pondered what it means to be a soldier in God’s army, I’ve thought a lot about Scottish clans.

My maiden name is Buchanan.  It turns out my last name was made up by my great grandfather when he changed his identity.  But for 70 years our family thought we were Scottish. 

Back when I still thought I was a Buchanan, I learned that the first Scottish clan was the Buchanan clan.

Once a group of people are considered to be a clan they were assigned a tartan to identify the members of that group.  Typically the members of the clan would adopt the same last name as the leader of the clan.  They became sort of like an extended family.
You might be wondering, what was required to become a clan? This was the standard.  If the community could have 100 armed individuals within an hour ready to fight, they were a clan.

As I’ve pondered the implications of that requirement, I’ve come to realize that the community needed to have at least 4 systems in place. 

1--They needed to be large in number.  It took a lot of families to be able to spare 100 able-bodied men to leave to fight in a war. 

2--They needed to be prosperous.  If the community was starving, they wouldn’t be using their precious resources to build swords and shields.

3--They needed to have a communication network.  To notify 100 warriors within 60 minutes meant they needed to know where everybody was and how to contact them. 

4--They need to be united in a common cause.  It would be hard to convince 100 soldiers to fight for something that the community didn’t agree on. 

While we are not a Scottish clan, I think that we can learn from the Scots as to how we can prepare ourselves to fight for our Savior as soldiers in God’s army.  I believe we can follow their example in these same four ways. 

1--Numerous.  Our church has divided its members into congregations so that we can gather to worship together in larger numbers than just our immediate families.  In order for this to work.  We actually need to show up to church. Church is exactly where Satan doesn’t want us to be and he’ll try every trick to get us not to come.  Elder Holland’s talk titled Songs Sung and Unsung from the April 2017 General Conference, tells us,

Don’t demean your worth or denigrate your contribution. Above all, don’t abandon your role in the chorus. Why? Because you are unique; you are irreplaceable.” 

I just got back from spending a couple of months in a place where I didn’t speak the language.  I discovered that of all the activities I did each week, attending church was by far the hardest.  I felt out of place and uncomfortable.  I was living alone and it just felt like it didn’t matter if I even went or not.  One Sunday I did something I haven’t done in years, I just didn’t go.  I just couldn’t bring myself to walk into the building and feel ignored and lost.  So I stayed home and watched BYU scripture discussion videos.  The next Sunday I went back to church because I knew it was important to at least take the Sacrament.  When I arrived, I was greeted by several members who spoke English.  They said how much they had missed me and were grateful I was back.  I had no idea anyone even noticed that I came to church.  I have learned that even if all we can do is sit in the back and fold our arms for three hours, we add to the numbers.  We add to the group.  Our presence matters, even if we feel out of tune or like I did that we don’t have a voice at all.

Prosperous.  In D&C we read “It is my purpose to provide for my Saints” (D&C 104:15). 

Our Heavenly Father has provided ways for us to prosper, but it takes effort on our part as well.  As members of God’s army we need to be self-reliant to serve and preach.  This doesn’t mean we need to financially prosperous.  We can prosper in several ways.  We can be resourceful, like knowing how to garden, sew, or repurpose household items.  We can be educated, like knowing how to research solutions to problems, or where to go to find the sources that we need.  We can be spiritually strong, like knowing the basic principles of the gospel well enough that we can share them with others and bear testimony as to its truthfulness.  President Monson said, “[Self-reliance] is an essential element in our spiritual as well as our temporal well-being.” (“
Guiding Principles of Personal and Family Welfare,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 3)  When we are prosperous we then can focus our resources towards others.  Hopefully we won’t need to arm ourselves for war like a Scottish clan, but we can arm ourselves to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  
3--Networked.  One of the unique characteristics of our church is our ability to reach most of its members within 24 hours.  This is mainly achieved through a program known as ministering. 

Sister Jean B. Bingham, the current General Relief Society President, said this about ministering:

"The ultimate goal of our ministering is to help others become more deeply converted to the Savior Jesus christ and grow toward their divine potential." 

Another added benefit is it serves as a calling tree; we could easily reach 100+ members of our ward within 1 hour.  Ministering makes it possible for us to find the one.  The one who needs to be ministered to.  I would submit that no matter what our situation currently is, we all need to be reached out to, we all need to be shown love and to receive service.  Over the years I have learned that while we may not fully be aware of each other’s needs, the Lord is aware.  If we will pray to our Heavenly Father and ask Him “Who needs my service today?” The Spirit can lead us to those who need our love and our help.  We don’t need to decide who is or isn’t in need of help, all we need to do is follow the Spirit.

4--United.  It wouldn’t do much good to have 100 armed warriors if they didn’t agree with the purpose of the war.  As members of the same Church we too should be united towards a common cause.  But as we read in the Gospel Topics on lds.org, unity doesn’t mean we are all the same.  

“The diversity of the Church’s worldwide membership is a notable characteristic of Latter-day Saints because the gospel of Jesus Christ transcends every culture, race, nationality, and language. Cultures and peoples throughout the world gather together by geographical location to form local congregations that worship together. Because of the Savior’s invitation that all God’s children come unto Him (see Matthew 11:28D&C 10:67), no two congregations in the Church are the same.
Regardless of ethnicity or outward appearance, all Church members are united in the knowledge that they are children of a Heavenly Father. They know He loves each of His children equally. This knowledge builds a feeling of unity in every building and worship service around the world and ties all members of the Church together.”

So we may look differently, we may communicate differently, but in one thing we are the same.  We know that we are children of our Heavenly Father.  We know He loves us, and we love him.  We want to share this love with the world. 

As enlisted soldiers in God’s army we need to show up and be counted.  We need to learn how to be resourceful so that we can help ourselves and others.  We need to watch over and minister to each other.  We need to know where they are, how they are doing, and how to contact them.  We need to be united in our testimony of Jesus Christ while embracing our diversity.  We need to be willing to join together to act in His name.  I’m pretty sure that most of us are never going to be asked directly, “Are you an Israelite?” But in case that does happen for some reason, we can proudly answer, “Yes!  Yes, I am!”

Even though it has been almost 25 years since I have spoken in sign language, I spent many years performing musical numbers in sign language.  I am actually much more comfortable singing than speaking in ASL.  So if I hope it is okay that I share with you my testimony in sign language by sharing the words of my most favorite hymn when translated in ASL, I Stand All Amazed. 

 I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
 I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me
Enough to die for me!
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.