Proper etiquette nowadays fluctuates from person to person. There’s hardly a one-size-fits-all standard anymore. With blended families and other concerns, even the seating arrangement at weddings can be a maze of upset-the-fruit-basket. I’ve had some interesting weddings. There was the one when the bride’s veil caught on fire. Instead of snuffing her side of the Unity Candle in the holder, she blew and her veil went right into the flame. Things went up in smoke, literally, before our very eyes. However, the little glitches that happen at weddings are no big deal really. Weddings are like that, and the couple’s love for one another completely overshadows the snafus. Things happen. Indecorum occurs when people are either intentionally insensitive to others, or they just don’t know the proper etiquette.
We do want to do things right, don’t we? I want to know if a party requires casual dress or formal attire. There’s nothing as awkwardly obvious as a minister decked out in formal clerical garb at a casual garden party. It puts a damper on the festivities to be sure, and telegraphs a not-so-subtle assessment of the affair. For the most part, we want to fit in rather than stand out. We applaud those who know the rules, have discriminating taste, and are connoisseurs of acceptable standards of decorum.
But what if you don’t know the rules? What do you do when you aren’t sure what to do and the latest edition of Amy Vanderbilt doesn’t cover your etiquettical dilemma? It makes sense to me to enjoy the party and go with the flow. Sometimes good etiquette has spoiled an otherwise fine time. We can have such discriminating taste that we end up eating alone. What a bad idea. Is it better to be right, or to be included? An even bigger question is whether or not we value being inclusive over discrimination.
Wouldn’t you rather have your long-lost friend show up at your party with dungarees and dirt than not be there at all? Maybe they didn’t hear about it until the last minute. Maybe they were helping someone in an emergency. Nevertheless, my guess is that you would rather see them than what they were wearing. That’s the nature of friendship. Friendship looks past the outer trimmings and values the friend.
Don’t get me wrong. I like rules. I wouldn’t be our Conference’s Parliamentarian if I didn’t. I wouldn’t be teaching the Book of Discipline to seminary students at Emory if I was an antinomian. However, when worse comes to worse, and shove comes to shove, I say, “Let decorum move over if friendship is at stake.” Dress codes promote elitism as much as sexism promotes gender inequities, and racism falsely touts the inherent superiority of one group over another. Don’t let a buddy’s tee shirt attire cause you to bump him from the guest list. Jesus ate with all kinds of people and the ones who gave him the worst time weren’t the dressed-down but the dressed-up.
Our United Methodist motto is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors!” Let’s open our arms to everyone and practice a Jesus-like reverse discrimination. That’s an etiquette that will never go out of style.