Sunday, January 23, 2011

In defense of tardiness

I have this voice in my head that says, "Be nice to everyone."

Given my natural instincts toward meanness, this can lead to some inner-turmoil.  Mostly silent inner turmoil.

The turmoil is generally biggest at church.

Two Sundays ago I made the catastrophic mistake of being on time to Sunday School.  Why is that a problem, you ask?  Well, when you're in a singles ward full of wackadoodles, if you're on time, that means anyone--ANYONE--can plunk down next to you. 

The ideal tactic is to show up late, which is rude, but provides you the opportunity to scan the room, identify the open seat with the least proximity to the girl who brings sugar gliders in a bag to church*, and take it.

Unfortunately this was my last Sunday, and my friend the Sunday School teacher's last Sunday, so I had promised I'd be on time.

Within thirty seconds, I was surrounded.  On one side, the guy who was muttering Really Deep Thoughts to himself, and on the other, I had the guy who was making really lame jokes that even people at church weren't laughing at.  (And believe me ... Mormons will laugh at anything if it's said at church.)

The Sunday School teacher had brought cookies for everyone (Grasshoppers, since the lesson was on John the Baptist, which is pretty clever) and the Jokester (who had taken a stack of cookies so large he could barely clutch them between his thumb and pinkie) offered me one of his.  "Want a Thin Mint?" he asked, holding one of his 18 cookies out to me on his sweaty paw. 

I wanted to do so many things.  I wanted to correct him--Thin Mints are from the Girl Scouts, these are Keebler knockoffs.  I wanted to be mean--Did you not realize there a like a billion other people in this ward before you took 18 cookies?  I wanted to be disgusted--No, I don't want a cookie that you've held in your bare hand, did your mother not teach you any manners?  I wanted to point out the obvious--Can't you see I'm already holding one?  One, as in how many you should have taken?

And there was the voice chirping away--"Be nice to everyone!"  It sounds a little like a talking Barbie.

So I just smiled awkwardly and and shook my head.

Here's the thing, with my apologies to better Christians than me everywhere.  You can't be nice to everyone.  I have learned this the hard way, over and over again.  You can be nice to sad people or mean people or bitter people or angry people, but when you are nice to WEIRD people, you aren't actually being nice to them.  You are enabling their weirdness. 

Is it nice to buy an alcoholic a drink?  Only in the most twisted sense.

So when you meet a 30-something year old man who takes all the cookies and repeatedly makes jokes that no one is laughing at, you know it's because no one has ever been appropriately mean to him.  He has gained a false sense of normalcy despite his overwhelming oddness.  Who did he sit by, given the chance?  Not Sugar Glider Girl.  Not Pioneer Skirt.  Not Miss Dungeons and Dragons or Has-A-Copy-Of-Twilight-in-Her-Scripture-Tote.  (Yes, they were all there, and might have appreciated the proffered "Thin Mint.")

He sat next to me, Miss Relatively Normal with no pets on my lap, no floor length skirt, no raccoonish makeup, no copy of Twilight with a broken spine from re-reading the kissing scene.  He seeks out a normal girl every week, and then that unlucky girl has to sit there smiling awkwardly, enabling his weirdness as he talks about magic.  Because we all have chirpy voices in our heads saying, "Be nice!", we have unwittingly created someone for whom normal is now out of his league.

So no, I did not take his cookie, but nor could I bring myself to tell him it was uncool to have taken so many.  I just smiled awkwardly like I have every time I have encountered the Jokester, and told myself this was nice enough.

And on my other side, the Mutterer.

Everyone has that moment when they've been talking and suddenly realize no one is listening.  But regular people just smile awkwardly and shut up.  Weirdos get confrontational.  "Well, I guess I'll just stop talking since no one is listening," the Mutterer muttered bitterly every time I failed to respond to one of his deep spiritual thoughts, witty bon mots or criticisms of various LDS leaders.**

In any other context I would have looked him in the eye and said, "If no one is listening, then you should shut the hell up."  But it's church, so ... Be nice to everyone!

And there I sat, my eyes glued to the board for forty minutes.  If I looked even the tiniest bit in the direction of the Jokester, he held up a sweaty cookie with a depressingly hopeful look .  If I look towards the Mutterer, he gets encouraged about his muttering and goes into overdrive.  The Sunday School teacher, who clearly saw my predicament, just smirked at me.


My point is, now I've learned my lesson.  It's too tough to rebel against 26 years of social training to be nice.  I'm just going to go with being late all the time.

* She is a nice girl and they seem like nice pets, but I had to sit next to her once and I nearly passed out from the smell emanating from their ventilated bag.  Can you get up and change seats in the middle of a Sunday School lesson?  No, you cannot, no matter how sensitive your gag reflex is.  I love animals, but they do not belong at church. 

Feel free to judge me now.  Unlike many things on this blog, I stand by that opinion.

** I feel I have to throw out a caveat, since I have done my fair share of complaining about LDS church leaders, past and present.  It is A-OK in my book to have a respectful conversation about concerns, criticisms, curiosities, etc. about church if you're in an appropriate setting.

Church itself is almost certainly not an appropriate setting for certain comments, and here is why.  If you have a problem with something, sure, there are probably other people there who have the same problem.  But there are also people there who DON'T have a problem, and you have just made them very uncomfortable in a place they expected to feel comfortable.  (Is church sometimes supposed to make you uncomfortable?  Yeah yeah yeah ...)  Because of the "Be nice to everyone!" voices, no one likes to pipe up to confront possible hijacker of a Sunday School lesson, so your weird comment just hangs there in the universe, un-responded to.

So save it for a time and place where you won't have to get pissed off that no one commented about your pissed off comment, buddy.


  1. This was brilliantly written! I hope you don't mind, but I forwarded this on to just about every person I know subjected to the singles ward.

  2. Haha, no worries. We all have to band together sometimes :)

  3. I disagree. It's totally okay to move when you find out that someone has smuggled animals into church. It's also okay to tell them you're allergic even if you're not.

    Also, why are single's wards so uniformly insane? WHY?

  4. The lesson in EQ this week was on Packer's GC talk. I struggled to be nice for about 45 seconds before making comments that will ensure I never have to serve in leadership.

  5. It was a knowing and compassionate smirk. I am one of the few people in the world with compassionate smirks.

  6. I know, and it's such a gift. Use it well.