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?