We are Weird

August 6, 2004 | 31 comments
By

About a week ago I went to the wedding of one of my nieces. As I sat waiting for the wedding to begin and watching people arrive, I suddenly had a glimpse of how we look to many who either are not attending church with us or are completely outside our community. In short, we look weird.

Someone standing at the front of the hall where the wedding was performed could easily have picked out the LDS from everyone else: we in suits or sports coats and mostly white shirts; everyone else in much more casual clothing, such as shorts, levis, sandals, and Hawaiian shirts. The only one such a person would have been wrong about was the Presbyterian minister who performed the marriage. He looked LDS because he was dressed to conduct the wedding.

If you combine our patterns of dress with other cultural practices and then throw in doctrine, it isn’t difficult to see why people find us strange, even incomprehensible. Sometimes we congratulate ourselves on our weirdness, as if it were a mark of virtue. Other times we condemn ourselves for it, as if we could blend in. I suspect that our weirdness is inescapable, but it often isn’t a virtue.

I don’t know how to deal with that weirdness, but I imagine it is a significant factor in explaining why many people don’t understand us, won’t listen to our message, feel uncomfortable around us, . . . .

Tags: ,

31 Responses to We are Weird

  1. danithew on August 6, 2004 at 7:53 pm

    I saw a play called the Fantasticks years ago and one of the characters, named Luisa, states a line that stuck permanently in my head:

    “Please, God, don’t let me be normal.”

    Normalcy has its problems as well … but maybe a little normalcy (in our case) would be a good thing. It would be comforting to fit in a little more, to be able to put others at ease a little better.

    But I wonder too if anyone is really normal or what normal would be. Scratch beneath the surface and most people will have their idiosyncracies, their issues, weirdness… whatever it is. It’s like those perfect families you see at church or those individuals you meet who seem to be so exceptional in every way. But if you ever get to know them really well you often find out that reality doesn’t exactly match the outward image.

    Normalcy is probably sort of like happiness … if you pursue it too hard you’ll probably have trouble really finding it. So I’d rather fall in line with Luisa than even try.

  2. Derek on August 6, 2004 at 7:59 pm

    No, we’re not weird, we just happen to dress like Presbyterian ministers. Oh, now I see your point. :-)

    I would submit that something that might seem more weird than our dress (which I think is more of an American thing) is our abstainance from alcohol and the language we use (no swear words, no dirty jokes). And the fact that we don’t go to ball games on Sunday.

  3. Heidi on August 6, 2004 at 9:11 pm

    I’m confused. It’s normal to wear shorts and sandals to a wedding? No one at my wedding (to a non-Mormon) or any of the weddings of my non-Mormon friends that I have attended wore shorts.

    I actually noticed somewhat the opposite, at least at my own wedding, which included both Mormons and non. Mormons tended to wear “church clothes” to the wedding (including the ubiquitous white shirts and flowered dresses), while others wore dressy evening wear (cocktail dresses, suits with flashy ties or tuxes).

    Maybe I am making somewhat the same point as to Mormons’ “weird” clothing choices, but I am still curious about weddings where people wear shorts . . .

  4. Rusty on August 6, 2004 at 10:27 pm

    I must say that one of the great things about living in New York City is that the Mormons are the LEAST of the weird people.

  5. Susan on August 6, 2004 at 11:03 pm

    Jim: I think this is a very interesting point. We shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook too easily though. There are issues which for outsiders are very unimportant and for Mormons can be very important (did I wear a dress, a strapless dress, shorts–and I realize the spectrum gets tricky beyond those easy examples). Do we want to erect barriers on our sense of just how cute we are, how endearingly “weird.”

    To be honest, there are so many things I do that separate me from Mormons on the insider side of the line that just seem so unimportant to me in the emotional and spiritual place where I live and make my decisions. I do believe that I care very much about what is important, enduring. I worry. I meditate. I check those mysterious feelings within. I act with care and thought to the extent I can. You can judge me wanting. But I do try to act honorably and with care.

    So what’s my point. Not entirely sure. Just let’s make sure that our commitment to what makes us “weird” is important enough that we’re comfortable with excluding very good and honorable seekers.

  6. Kim Siever on August 7, 2004 at 12:10 am

    Reminds me of the time I attended a friend’s reception with my wife. I wore a pale blue shirt, a wide tie with brown stripes of varying widths, a pair of shorts that were originally brown houndstooth pants I had cut and hemmed, and a pair of leather sandals.

    I was very comfortable.

  7. Jim F. on August 7, 2004 at 12:13 am

    Susan, I hope I didn’t come off as suggesting that we should think of ourselves as “endearingly weird.” In fact, I wrote the post because I was quite uncomfortable being weird. I felt like I should be closer to my sister and my children and I realized that my weirdness was getting in the way. On the other hand, I felt much the same way I do when I try to get along in a country where I don’t speak any of the language, at sea. I knew it wouldn’t have worked for me to wear shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. My sister would have though I had lost my mind, at best, or was condescending, at worst.

    And I used dress as my example because it was the example at hand and because it is an obvious case. But I think there are a lot of things we do as a culture that are equally weird and equally off-putting for others.

    Heidi: If, as I do, you had come from a long line of red necks, you might have seen more shorts and Hawaiian shirts at your wedding. And before someone yells at me about rednecks, I should say that it is a heritage of which I am proud. Most of my ancestors have been at the lower end of the social scale. Heck, statistically that must be true of everyone, but I’m speaking of the last several generations of my immediate family. But being at the lower end of the social scale didn’t prevent them from being smart, interesting, hard-working, and otherwise virtuous (as well as sometimes not so virtuous).

  8. gunner on August 7, 2004 at 12:32 am

    The post brought forth an issue from the other side.
    “I don’t know how to deal with that weirdness, but I imagine it is a significant factor in explaining why many people don’t understand us, won’t listen to our message, feel uncomfortable around us, . .”
    Not knowing how to deal with the weirdness is two sided. How about the guy in church who dresses in khaki and a collered casual shirt? Maybe he even has a beard(((gasp))). He is the one who is weird to many in the church. He is the odd one in a world of members.
    I am that “weird one”.
    The way I look at it from the point of view of being the minority in the large group is that I am glad I am not like the rest. A world of white shirts, blue dress slacks 3.5 kids and FranklinCovey planners is a horror to me.
    Maybe it is simply a point of view issue.. Trying to look just like everyone else is hurtful to the things that make you an individual and free.

  9. Nate Cardon on August 7, 2004 at 12:33 am

    I have to agree with Heidi. Among Mormons in the middle class to upper middle class, Mormons tend toward the “Sunday wear” while others wear evening clothes. In other words, Mormons across the board are likely to consider their Sunday apparel as the kind of stuff to where to nice events. Frequently, they’re right. They’re also frequently conspicuous.

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone.

  10. Sheldon on August 7, 2004 at 12:45 am

    “I don’t know how to deal with that weirdness”

    I know what you mean. I try to deal with this everyday living in Montana, and with nonmember inlaws. I feel like I have to defend Mormon weirdness, or somehow account for it whenever they run into it.

    I think simply recongnizing the weirdness is a big part of dealing with it. Problems occur when one is so immersed in a culture that he doesn’t know he’s weird. Or worse still, when we think our weirdness is charming and then flaunt it before the world. I’ve seen LDS who become strangely Polyanna (particularly when traveling abroad) playing childish games and such, as if to say “look how cute and innocent we young Mormons are.”

  11. Sheldon on August 7, 2004 at 12:52 am

    One more thing. Speaking of Mormon weirdness and dress. Case and point: Jon Peter Lewis on American Idol. His response when Simon gave him crap for his “pen salesman” white shirt and tie? “They told me to dress for the occasion.”

  12. Heidi on August 7, 2004 at 1:16 am

    Jim,

    That is interesting. I really expected you to say that the wedding was on a beach or something and that you just forgot to mention it! Shorts and sandals at a non-beach wedding, now that is weird! : )

    I think this just goes to show that every social/cultural group is “weird” in its own way. Whether Mormons are more weird than others, I don’t know.

  13. Katherine on August 7, 2004 at 1:30 am

    The reason I always end up at weddings in Sunday dress instead of evening wear is that modest and affordable evening wear is not to be found anywhere I know to look.

    I’ve found the best remedy to my Mormon “weirdness”–I’m a weird Mormon and a weird person–is just to be me, to be kind, and not worry about it. So far I feel accepted both in and out of the church.

  14. Susan on August 7, 2004 at 2:27 am

    Jim: my term “endearing” certainly isn’t fair to the substance or tone of your original post. I didn’t mean to imply that. I’m probably reacting to myriad conversations over the years about Mormons as a “peculiar” people. I used the term “endearing” to try to get at the ways we sometimes forgive ourselves, wear as a badge behaviors which alienate us from others. I was just trying to push a little harder at the phenomenon of that alienation, thinking about how it feels on both sides of that weirdness. I admit that “endearing” was meant to be a bit provocative.

  15. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 4:35 am

    Folks, there’s no way around it. We are now officially weird in the eyes of the world. What can you expect when we make the weirdest movies on the planet? The world always suspected that there was something a little off-kilter about our faith. Now they’ve got the proof in the pudding.

  16. john fowles on August 7, 2004 at 11:52 am

    Gunner wrote: Trying to look just like everyone else is hurtful to the things that make you an individual and free.

    Interesting. So you consciously put yourself into a minority position by wearing khakis and a casual shirt at Church just for the sake of being in a self-created minority?

    One of the things that continues to amaze me about punk-rock culture is that even though everyone shares the attitude that I quoted from you above, they don’t seem to realize that they are merely conforming within their own chosen subculture. In other words, even though punks value being different and individuals over almost everything else, if you are a punk but dress like a preppy kid, you will be ostracized by punks because you aren’t conforming to their own version of uniformity.

    So are you really making some kind of personal statement by dressing in khakis and a casual shirt at Church? Maybe, but I am suspect: it seems that far from doing something that “make[s]you an individual and free,” you are merely conforming to some other kind of uniformity. In this case, it is the uniformity of those trying not to be “typical” Latter-day Saints (as judged by their dress).

    Someone who is truly an individual and free is someone who is not enslaved to a mentality that in order to be an individual and free he or she has to look different than the rest (but in looking different actually looks the same as all those who are trying to look different). The true individual doesn’t bother with such things. Thus, many of the people you see at Church who are dressed in the typical uniform are just as much “individuals” and “free” as you. It is just that they are not bogged down in trying to prove themselves different at every turn because they are fundamentally comfortable with themselves already.

  17. Heidi on August 7, 2004 at 12:32 pm

    John,
    I am not sure your example works as well in this context as it does in the “punk” context. There are many ways to fit into the category of someone trying not to be a typical latter-day saint. in other words, I don’t think there is uniformity within that particular subculture.

    In addition, I think that church pressure to look a certain way does have a corrosive effect on the attempts of some to protect their individuality. As someone who has watched my convert husband join the church and then move from an eclectic Manhattan ward to a homogenous Las Vegas ward, I can attest that he struggles between trying to be a good representative of the church on one hand and remaining true to his own uniqueness on the other. Before he joined the church, as far as I can tell, he never felt any pressure to be anything other than himself. Now (especially in Las Vegas) I sense that he feels some pressure to be something different–on the outside, not just the inside. I find that a bit unfortunate, maybe since I married the pre-Mormon him.

  18. john fowles on August 7, 2004 at 1:06 pm

    Heidi: The example of your husband evokes sympathy while gunner’s example evokes merely incredulity.

    Gunner’s example is more of a haughty “look at me, I’m more of an individual than you mindless Mormon robots because I wear khakis, a casual shirt, and have a beard. Thus, I can think for myself and am smart and free but the rest of you are all slaves to Gordon B. Hinkley.”

  19. Melissa on August 7, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    The weirdness need not be confined to whether or not someone is a member of the church.

    In keeping with Jim’s apparel motif—

    I distinctly remember being the only one at BYU who was still in Sunday dress at ward prayer. Never knew it was weird to stay dressed up on Sundays until I arrived in Provo.

  20. Silus Grok on August 7, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    You weren’t alone, Melissa… plenty of folks in my wards stayed dressed up on Sundays. Yeah: I think y’all are crazy. But at least you’re not alone.

    : )

  21. gunner on August 7, 2004 at 5:40 pm

    John said
    “Interesting. So you consciously put yourself into a minority position by wearing khakis and a casual shirt at Church just for the sake of being in a self-created minority?”
    Nope. The issue I have is not to be diferent for the sake of beinf diferent. My issue is being true. Most of you have at one point in your life said something close to this “she/he is so fake!”.
    Well whenever I dress up in the standard MK1 costume(White dress shirt, Dark dress slacks, dress shoes, leather scripture covers) I felt fake to me. I was always uncomfortable in church.
    It was one of the main reasons I went inative for years. So my wife and I talked it over. We agreed that for me to go back to church I should feel comfortable. I have a nice, respectful outfit that is not the standard MK1. I am not there to “punk” shock the members. But I am there for church. As for the beard. My face breaks out so instead of a big pimply looking guy you have a bearded guy.

    JOHN also said
    “So are you really making some kind of personal statement by dressing in khakis and a casual shirt at Church?”
    Nope. I dress nicely so I can go to church and get something from it, instead of sitting there feeling “costumed”. Not everyone in the world was made for one outfit.

    and
    “they are not bogged down in trying to prove themselves different at every turn because they are fundamentally comfortable with themselves already”
    I do not think I do. I am active in the lesson in EQ. I like gospel doctrine. I support my wife. I am enjoying church for the first time in decades. Prooning myself diferent is not the issue. Feeling good enough to get something from church is.

    The original post was about being a MK1 clad member in a gentile world and feeling weird. I just wanted to point out that it is possible to be in a member world, and be the weirdly dressed one. Just another POV.

  22. saul on August 7, 2004 at 7:13 pm

    do you guys use your real names here? Aren’t you explicitly admitting that you have (i) enough interest in these trivial topics to sit down and write about them and (ii) absolutely nothing more productive and socially redeeming to do? Read a book! Go to a ball game! Go for a run! Lift weights! Knit a sweater! Get a life! I stumbled across this site looking for information on the proposed new missionary discussions. Please don’t let too many people know you do this! If non-members found out there was a “sect” of self-engrossed navel ponderers like you guys, missionary work would grind to a halt and we’d end up like the RLDS!

  23. Jack on August 7, 2004 at 7:51 pm

    Saul: Perhaps, if you changed your name to Paul, you’d be less apt to crucify the Saints.

  24. Renee on August 7, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    While it’s perhaps a humble approach, it saddens me that you felt you were the weird one, Jim F. Why is what we do off-putting to others (aside from prideful or holier-than-thou type stuff)? Is it not a virtue to dress up for a sacred occaison? If someone felt uncomfortable seeing you dressed up, it is probably because they realized they were treating a sacred event umm, rather casually.

    Honestly, I’m surprised you were in a minority because most people I know (non lds) dress up for weddings and wear jeans and shorts to church (aka “I have more respect for my friends than my God” syndrome).

    That aside, what do we do that is weird that isn’t virtuous? I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we didn’t want to stand out or appear different. Who doesn’t want to fit in? But if we exercised a little introspection at those times, I suspect our alleged weirdness would be a good thing.

  25. Jim F. on August 8, 2004 at 1:51 am

    Gunner: it is interesting that you assume you know how I was dressed–“MK1 clad,” whatever that means. (My sartorial ignorance is showing.) The only thing I said specifically was that I was wearing either a suit or a sport coat.

    Renee: I didn’t feel like I was weird, I was weird: “curious in nature or appearance: of strange or extraordinary character: ODD, UNUSUAL” according to Meriam-Webster. I don’t think that, on seeing me, anyone felt like they were under-dressed. I’m not at all sure that they felt uncomfortable. But my dress did set me apart from them and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

    I certainly understand how much of what we do that sets us apart from the rest of the world is related to the virtues of the gospel. At the same time, the fact that it sets us apart can be a problem.

    Gunner didn’t feel comfortable in church and part of the problem was the most attending church dress. I’m almost certain that there are people in my ward who don’t feel comfortable coming to church because, when they do come, they feel like an outsider because everyone in the ward looks so much alike. A man without a tie may well feel conspicuous, and wearing a tie isn’t in itself a virtue. A woman in a pants suit may feel out of place, not because she hasn’t dressed in a respectful way, but merely because “we” don’t dress that way. A man with a beard may feel uncomfortable when he realizes that no one else, in a crowd of 150 men, has a beard.

    I’m not arguing that we should start wearing levi’s and shorts to church. I’m just wondering about something that I think is a real problem in our relations with others in and out of the Church.

  26. John Mansfield on August 8, 2004 at 5:27 pm

    There may be more significant causes for awkwardness between a philosophy professor and his redneck relatives than just the professor’s tie and sport coat.

    I had a taste of this a few months ago at my grandmother’s funeral. Interactions with my cousins were all enjoyable, but there are some that I have a lot more to talk about with than others.

    It also brings to mind a young man I knew in Baltimore ten years back. He was an electrician’s apprentice, recently out of the Navy, and a new convert. Like many tradesmen, he was comfortable putting on a tie for occasions that warrant it, such as church on Sunday. Finding himself among peers who were mostly Hopkins grad students and undergrads was a significant obstacle, though.

  27. john fowles on August 8, 2004 at 8:10 pm

    And let me guess: the Hopkins grad students and undergrads were criticized because this electrician didn’t have much to talk about with them?

  28. Jim F. on August 9, 2004 at 2:16 am

    John Mansfield: You’re right, there are occasions when that is true. But with these particular relatives and their friends (most of the crowd was friends rather than relatives), I don’t think my academic bent was the problem. It was my Mormonness.

  29. Nate Oman on August 9, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    “I knew it wouldn’t have worked for me to wear shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. My sister would have though I had lost my mind, at best, or was condescending, at worst.”

    Jim: I have to admitt that I am enjoying the image of you in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. If you do attempt it, you must promise to take a photograph ;->

  30. Jim F. on August 9, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Nate, it’s a promise, but don’t hold your breath.

  31. Renee on August 10, 2004 at 2:53 pm

    >But my dress did set me apart from them and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

    I’m missing the point. Why was that a bad thing? Is it always bad to be different from others? If not, why was it in this case? If it is always bad, that opens quite a can of worms and deems it neccessary to forsake anything that sets us apart from other.