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Monday, April 30, 2012

Embrace the weird

Weird, huh?
My mother taught her children about kindness. Kindness was the tolerance of the seventies–often preached and generally well thought of.

It was a time when smiley faces ruled.

When my younger brother Paul pointed at man in the neighborhood grocery store and asked who the weird guy was, my mother was quick to take advantage of a prime teaching moment.

“Which of all the unique people here could you be referring to, honey?” she asked, quickly closing his finger into her hand.

The teaching moment sailed over my little brother Paul's head like the plastic pterodactyl I had just chucked at him.

“That weird one,” he indicated with the same sticky finger, “The one that is different than us.” He continued to point and everyone looked directly at the man he was referring to.

I looked, too. I think my mother may have looked, though her glance was fleeting and not at all like my blatant stare. Today, it could have been me that my little brother was pointing to—the weird guy in the grocery store.

With each decision I have made, the more I define my likes and dislikes, and the more I lean to one system of values or another, I set myself apart--and mosey on over to the weird side.

Weird, by that same thought process, is my Mormon faith. With the norm established by the many, it is the very definition of not-the-same: odd, out of the ordinary, unusual, anomalous. Strange.

The actual moniker originally used was "peculiar," taken directly from holy writ , implying "special" or "exclusive. Set apart.”

It’s the secular definition, the modern use of the word “peculiar” the one that translates as “odd,” that has become a good fit as well for Latter-day Saints.

“The last part of (the bible explanation of followers of Christ) says that we are a peculiar people. I don’t know whether all young people would appreciate it if I were to say this might mean they are “oddballs.” said Elder William Grant Bangerter. (1972, Ensign Magazine) “That, of course, is not always a complimentary term; but the fact is that we are not just like other people, and because of this difference, some people would call us “square.”

In many ways, LDS seem to have adopted the word “peculiar” and its synonyms for use on name tags, or for proverbial banners to wave in the same manner that "don't tread on me" waved and became an instant symbol for shared national pride and collective self esteem.

If ever there was a vacancy for an atypical people, one who stood by what they believed without deference to public opinion, Latter-day Saints would want to fill it.

And while, in theory, we are that indifferent people, as a religion we are a bit too young to have our heart anywhere but on our modestly cut sleeve.

Whereas some established, read “old,” religions seem ambivalent to public opinion, Mormons on the whole retain an element of wanting to be liked. Today’s flag flown on a Mormon march, if Mormons were ever loutish as to march, might say, “Don’t tread on me, and have a lovely day.”

Or is that just me that wants to be odd and fit in at the same time—to have my green Jell-O and eat it too?

No, it seems, though it is a popular question. According to LDS church newsroom, members and representatives of the Church are frequently asked whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is trying to leave its former reputation in favor of a more “mainstream” status.

Something more normal, typical, conventional. Some recognized style to go along with the renowned substance.

Some Mormons in the news such as Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. presents a professional and more contemporary look that is getting noticed nationally –-a far cry from Mark Twain's observation in the Liberty Weekly Tribune of April 17, 1863 that Mormons “…were the worst looking crowd in every way I ever saw.”

Style points for Mormons—at least those Mormons keeping score.

“If the term “mainstream” means that Latter-day Saints are increasingly viewed as a contributing, relevant and significant part of society… then, of course, the answer is “yes.” states a release from Mormon.org, the church’s user friendly website--careful not to mention style or fashion or even popularity votes.

But, in a grocery store full of weirdo’s--people increasingly defined by making decisions and choosing experiences that stray from the norm--IS the norm, then who will we point at?

What women want (I know, what a stupid title)

Liam Neeson doing laundry: What every woman wants

The other day at the car wash, I was recently asked what I thought women really wanted.
I was there, you know, washing dog puke out of the nice living room rug, so I gave what I thought was a real no-brainier, the obvious answer at that moment: Women would like not to have dogs in the house, especially those prone to projectile vomiting with a sensitivity to sitcoms.

I have been watching my wife this past week, and I think I have been able to come up with a few specifics and a few general "no's" that I really feel would make her life easier.

OK, that is pretty unique and specific to my wife/dog situation. And as long as our dog, Meg, finds the living room rug the best place to enjoy a comedy and a good purge, then I can see where my wife is coming from.
But I have been watching my wife this past week, and I think I have been able to come up with a few specifics and a few general "no's" that I really feel would make her life easier — poor word choice, but I can think of no appropriate other.
To my children:
Mother would like you to call her when you are going to be late coming home. What she would really like is for you not to be late at all so she can stop taking that little blue pill for her ulcers, but if you are going to be late, please call.
If you plan on consistently being late even if you call, a thoughtful gift would be a spare bottle of those little blue pills. A bottle of prevention is worth a gut load of cure.
When you come home late, don’t think she was just kidding about wanting to be awakened at whatever hour to let her know you are home. Even if she is sleeping, she is not sleeping. Open the door and let her know so she doesn’t make me come after you — because at 1:30 in the morning, I will do whatever she asks, and I will hunt you down to appease her — I don’t care if I embarrass you in front of your friends.
She won't care if you need to blame something square on her, like “oh my mom is so old fashioned that I have to be home by 11:00. Let her look domineering and make yourself look like the perfect angel for pampering your slightly stingy mother. She is happy to take the blame as long as it gets you home on time and safely.

Sometimes letting it slip that your mom takes good care of you when she is pretending not to listen to your cell calls would make her proud and make the sacrifices you may not have noticed worth it for her.

Give her the "key word" when you call and she will be there in seconds if you ever get uncomfortable with any situation you think could turn south in a hurry. You know the word — we have practiced it enough. Remember to use it, and we will be there in the drop of a hat — and she will feel like her life is worth living.
Even a “hey, mom, use these earrings — they look so good on you!” goes such a long way to helping her remember that once upon a time, before the bills and the meal preparations, she was a girl like you.
Mothers like it when you do your chores and clean your room; and when you invite someone over to visit, help clean the house before they arrive. What a kind gesture that mother doesn’t forget. Sometimes letting it slip that your mom takes good care of you when she is pretending not to listen to your cell calls would make her proud and make the sacrifices you may not have noticed worth it for her.
I have found that when I compliment you, my sons and daughters, it makes my wife feel better about all three of us. Three dodo birds with one stone, as it were. I am sure that if you think about yourselves from her angle, you can come up with a few of your own. Her life is all about you, her child. Even just a small acknowledgement can bring back some lofty dividends, and maybe your children will continue the tradition.
Mothers want you to be yourself in the world and do your best — which is starting to sound like "world peace" and "doing good in every little endeavor." So I'll stick to what I know — plumbing. I know personally that women want good plumbing. In order for my wife to be happy today, I have some duct tape and a few washers to buy.