Thomas Spencer Monson passed away January 2, 2018

President Thomas S. Monson passed away of natural causes on January 2, 2018. He had celebrated his 90th birthday in August 2017.

Thomas Monson became an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1963 at the age of 36. He became President of the Church in February 2008. His ministry was characterized by love of people, a love which often broke down seemingly insurmountable barriers. For example, he was the driving force behind the agreement of East Germany to allow a LDS temple to be built behind the Iron Curtain, as so many Mormons from East Germany were seeking to travel to Europe to attend temples in non-Communist Europe.

As an apostle, Thomas Monson would often tell stories from his tenure as bishop in Salt Lake City, where his large Ward included many widows. His care for those relying on him as bishop gave us a window into what it meant to care for the widow and the fatherless, yet President Monson would tell the stories with self-deprecation, always amazed at the goodness of the people he served and often admitting his own failures to strictly heed every prompting.

As a senior apostle and Church president, Thomas Monson would often talk of his childhood, where he portrayed himself as an unruly and problematic child. His addresses were often centered around amusing stories of how he had been lovingly corrected in his youth.

One particularly memorable story was told in April 2013, of a time when he and a friend decided to clear a field by burning the grass, apparently thinking the flames would magically extinguish themselves once the task was complete. Though the story was amusing, the clear warning was that when we attempt to take shortcuts to get to a desired end, things can get out of control. It does not seem coincidental that the Ordain Women organization was founded the following month, eventually leading to the excommunication of its founder, Kate Kelly. Around the same time Kelly was excommunicated, long-time activist John Dehlin was also excommunicated. Dehlin had for years prior to 2013 been suggesting that Thomas Monson was not fit to preside due to increasing dementia associated with his advancing age. Dehlin had also been providing guidance to people on how to transition out of the Mormon faith.

After I learned of Dehlin’s comments, I watched for how President Monson comported himself. I was frankly amazed at how well an allegedly impaired man was able to carry out the public duties of his office. And I became extremely grateful that Joseph Smith appears to have created a leadership  structure prior to his death 1 whereby many individuals together hold the keys, in support of the one individual at the head of the Church who has the right to preside (see D&C 24). Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Precise details of the leadership structure were not made public at that time, which Wilford Woodruff’s journal suggests was marked by death threats against Joseph and his presumed successor, Hyrum Smith. Various individuals other than the senior apostle attempted to claim they were the proper successor. Hence my use of the term “appears.”

Death Cleaning: A Uniquely Mormon Issue

“To hunt for misplaced things is never an effective use of your time.” – Magnusson

In 2011 Marie Kondo gave us The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing as a bright young woman who had spent her short life being organized. At the time it is not clear she had to share a household with an uncooperative spouse. Children did not come into her life until years after she told us there was a magical way to be organized.

Where Marie Kondo speaks from idealistic youth, Margareta Magnusson talks to us from her age, “between eighty and one hundred,” a matriarch whose grandchildren are now adults.

In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Magnusson tells us that the Swedes have a word for dealing with the life possessions of a person when they are no longer around. And though the point is to be considerate of the burden others may bear upon your passing, it doesn’t hurt that your life is easier when everything has a place and you don’t retain things you no longer need.

Magnusson is an artist, and the book is illustrated with her delightful drawings such as a favorite dog, a treasured wok, a day skiing in a bikini, and a basket of blossoms like the ones her mother-in-law introduced to Sweden from Japan in her Mt. Fuji gift shop.

As Magnusson told of her three formative “death cleaning” instances, I realized I have experienced similar requirements to “death clean.” But in some circumstances, as a helpful member of my congregation, the time allotted to accomplish the task was hours rather than the weeks Magnusson had. Continue reading