Friday, March 28, 2008

Religious Rights and Responsibilities

Today I heard about two news stories involving the rights of the religious. Let's just say it's not a proud day for the faithful.

First, a pharmacist who believes birth control is sinful refused to fill a prescription, and then refused to transfer it to another pharmacy. This pharmacist was sanctioned by the Pharmacy Examining Board, and a court recently (and rightly, in my opinion) upheld the sanction.

Secondly, and tragically, a girl died as a result of untreated diabetes because her parents refused to take her to the doctor and instead relied on prayer alone.

The rational of the religious in both stories is that it was their religious right to do what they did. They were only following their conscience, and doing what they believed was right. We can't force people to do something they believe is morally wrong, can we?

No, we can't. In the United States, we have the right to practice our religion as we see fit, and part of that right is that we should not be forced to do things that we find morally objectionable.

However, some in the religious community, over-eager to solidify this right, seem to have forgotten that with rights come responsibilities. Although I think he was wrong, the pharmacist has the right to refuse to fill the prescription, and even refuse to transfer it if he truly had moral objections. However, in practicing his right, he also needs to be held responsible for his decision. He was responsible for making sure his employer understood his moral stand, and his employer should have had every right to terminate his employment as a result of it. If I take a job as a waiter, and then refuse to serve someone alcohol because I am a Mormon (and I don't think I would refuse, for the record), then I'd fully expect my employer to fire me, unless they were gracious enough to try to make other accommodations. It would be the responsible thing to do to tell my employer of my convictions before accepting the job, as the pharmacist should have done. I have the right to practice my religion as I see fit, but if my religious convictions conflict with my professional responsibilities, I should not have the right to remain employed.

The issue with the diabetic girl is a more sensitive topic. Did the parents have the right not to take this daughter to the hospital and pray instead? If I'm consistent with my previous argument, I'd say "Yes, and they are responsible for what happens as a result of that decision." But I just can't bring myself to say that a parent has the right to allow their child to die needlessly. Perhaps I could say: Yes, but they must be held responsible for their decision, which should have meant their legal custody over the girl should have been terminated, and social services should have taken her to the hospital.

Just as the pharmacist doesn't have the right to a job, these parents don't have the right to be parents if they make decisions that directly result in death for their child, whether those decisions are based on religious belief or not.

Religious people, including myself, should learn from these mistakes. Let us strive to learn true principles, live by them, and then take responsibility for them.

Matthew 26: 42. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Do We Worship?

Driving to church today I couldn't help but notice the packed parking lots of other churches as we drove by. It's nice not to feel like a weirdo for at least two Sundays a year. The signs outside of most of them announced, "Easter Worship Service."

That got me thinking: what exactly do we Mormons consider worship? Before my wife was my wife, and before she was baptized into the LDS Church, I attended her church one Sunday. We all stood to sing a contemporary worship song, and I tried to follow along with the words as they flashed on the screen. After the song, I went to sit down when I noticed everyone was still standing. The band started playing again and off we were singing another song. OK, I thought, they really like their songs--they sing 2 opening songs! Err.. make that 3... oh wait... 4... We stood for well over an hour singing songs before the sermon finally began.

It seems to me, in my limited experience, that other churches mean something very specific when they talk about "worship." A quick search at didn't yield much substantial in the way of what "worship" really is, other than the general "to give Him our love, reverence, service, and devotion". But if you were to ask the average member (by which I mean me) what the purpose of our church services is, he (I) would answer: "To bring me closer to God. To learn more about Him and Jesus. To help me learn the commandments and motivate me to keep them." None of that really comes close to what other churches mean by "worship." Worship focuses on God and us showing love towards him. But all of my responses seem to be about me and how church helps me. The only thing that resembles what others might see as "worship" is signing hymns, but that's only about 15 minutes total of the 3-hour block (maybe more if you're in relief society), and to be honest, the hymn signing usually is less than enthusiastic. The sacrament, which is the main purpose for our meeting, also comes close as sort of a personal worship, but even that also focuses on us remembering Jesus and repenting, rather than a simple expression of our love for Him (although no doubt that is a part of it).

I've quoted this before from Elder Hartman Rector, Jr.:

"You can tell what a man worships by what he does on Sunday—repent and start worshipping the true and living God, the maker of heaven and earth and all things that in them are."

So is this really all that we mean by worship: just spending time? Does worship, from an LDS perspective, include not only singing hymns but also reading scriptures, communing with others, learning and discussing the gospel, and spending time with our family?

Let me be clear that my intent is not to criticize the church's view of worship, just to contrast what seems to be our view with the rest of the Christian world. Such pondering no doubt will help in understanding the new investigator's experience attending our church. So do we worship enough in our services? Or do we just have another idea of what worship is?

Saturday, March 22, 2008


When I was a 12 and preparing to go to the temple for the first time, my bishop interviewed me. At first I was nervous, but as the questions came it seemed I was acing it. Just when I started getting confident, this question came up:

Bishop: "Do you pay your tithing?"

Me: "I don't make any money." Come on. Is that all you've got, Bishop?

Bishop: "Well, do you get an allowance?"

Me (sheepishly): "Yes"

Bishop: "How do you feel about paying tithing on that?"

Me: "Well, my parents pay their tithing, so the tithing has already been paid on that money."

As a 12 year old, this made a lot of sense to me. But the bishop patiently explained that if I get any money, regardless of who gives it to me, I should pay my tithing on it. After I promised I would start paying it, I got my recommend.

But leaving his office, the wheels in my head were still turning. So tithing is more than just 10%? After all, if my parents had not paid their tithing, they could have given me a whole 10% more. So, if I'm receiving 10% less because of tithing, and then I pay 10% of that to tithing, then that means tithing is really 19%! (Yes, I was/am a geek and could do that sort of math in my head as a 12 year old.)

Thus began my obsession with the economics of tithing. Let me be clear that I don't criticize the church for the principle of tithing, but this experience launched years of pondering on the subject that eventually has led me to this conclusion:

Tithing is not a "lesser law." It is just a form of the law of consecration, modified to conform with the free-market society.

To illustrate my point, let's assume hypothetically that everyone in the world is a tithe-paying member of the LDS church. You're probably either very excited or horrified at this possibility, but please get over it and stay with me for a moment. Now let's say you go to work one day at Widgets Inc. and your boss pays you $100 for your day's work. Of course you pay $10 to the church and you are left with $90. You use that $90 to hire a company to take care of your lawn. Of the $90 you pay the company, it uses $50 to pay an employee who pays $5 tithing. The owner of the company keeps the remaining $40 for himself and pays $4 tithing. The employee, now left with $45, uses it to buy a widget from Widgets Inc. Of that $45, the owner of Widgets Inc. takes $10 or himself, paying $1 to tithing, and the remaining $35 he puts toward your next day's pay, and the cycle starts over again. And I won't even go into what Widgets Inc. pays to it suppliers, who of course pay tithing as well.

In this scenario, out of the original $100, the church now owns $20. As the cycle continues, they will own more and more until they own almost all of the $100. But of course the church doesn't just sit on this money; they use it to buy supplies for the church, which gets that money back into the marketplace where it can again be traded before eventually ending up back at the church.

So basically, in my hypothetical world, all of the money ends up going through the church and redistributed (by means of purchasing good and services) to others. This is essentially how the law of consecration worked when it was attempted in the early days of the church, with the exception that the church did not purchase things in order to redistribute the money.

But of course we don't live in that hypothetical world. In our free-market society where not everyone is a member of the church, the law of consecration would not fit. It violates the rules that make the free-market work, so it would essentially destine the members of the church to be outsiders, like they were in the early days of the church. But the law of tithing can fit in with the free-market society, and at its root it still allows the church to redistribute the money, proportional to the percentage of the population that are tithe-paying church members.

So don't tell me the law of tithing is a "lesser law." I believe it is the law of consecration incognito. But I'm onto it. And next time you give your kids their allowance, be aware that you might be condemning them to years of internal tension as they try to figure out just what tithing really is, in which case I recommend professional therapy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Iraq War: Worth the Cost?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Now seems like an appropriate time to take a break from my typical LDS theme and make this very important political statement:

I'm sorry.

Don't get me wrong. I don't feel personally responsible for what has happened there. I didn't vote for Bush the first time (I was out of the country and my mind was far from politics), but I did mostly support his decision. Still, my personal responsibility is minimal when compared to those in charge of our intelligence, President Bush, and many others. But when I think of all the people who have died and the political mess that we have there, I wish we had not done it. I came to this realization gradually. Here's my conversion story:

In the beginning, it was all about WMDs (weapons of mass destruction, if you've been living in a cave). Our intelligence, as well as other countries said they had them, and Hussein's history made us think he might use them. If this were true, that would be good enough reason to invade, I believe. However, it turned out it wasn't true. In the beginning of the war, as each month went by with no evidence turned up, the administration's rhetoric gradually shifted away from WMDs and started focusing on the question, "Well, isn't it a good thing that we've ousted Saddam?" Well yes, but of course we must ask, "At what cost?" We have not historically, nor should we now, start using unilateral military action to get rid of leaders who do things we don't like, even criminal things.

Some still argue that Iraq might have had WMDs but moved them before the war to another country. That's possible, but speculation. If there were any credible evidence for that, the administration would still be using it and not talking about Saddam's crimes against his people.

The second argument, and the one I've held until recently, is that the war was justified, but we haven't handled it well. The execution was flawed, but the initial invasion was the right decision. I recently have come to the conclusion that we can't separate the two. If I bet a million dollars that I can kick a 30 yard field goal in a football game, and then I miss, can I then say, "Well, it was a good idea but the execution was bad." My point is that there is risk in anything that we do. The US did not judge the risk well, did not have a good plan for minimizing the risk, and did not have a good back-up plan for what to do if the worst-case scenario happened. Whether the motive was good going in or not, we should not have gone in if we could not manage the risk.

All of this, combined with the great human suffering caused by the invasion, has finally (some would say far too late), led me to the conclusion that we should not have done it. I say this knowing that for those who have served or lost family members and friends, such a statement is a hard thing. I don't wish to minimize their service and sacrifices, but I have to say what I believe is true. Now that we are there, what they are doing is very important.

With that said, I also don't support immediate withdrawal, nor do I think we have "lost". Words like "lose" and "win" don't make sense in modern warfare, in my opinion. We're there now, and we can't dwell on the mistakes of the past other than learning from them. Instead, we need to figure out what's the best thing to do now that we're there. The surge has brought some stability to Iraq and pulling out now would undermine that. In fact, my recent conversion changes very little on what I think should be done from here. We still have a chance to leave Iraq better than we found it, but again the question is: Will it be worth the cost?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wait, Who am I Sustaining Again?

Today was high council Sunday, and the high councilor stood up to take care of his stake business. Someone was called to be a high priest in a different ward. Yada yada, same old stuff. And then he said:

"Will all those who can sustain the stake president in this ordination, please manifest it."

Suddenly the monotony train went off the tracks and a torrent of questions came to my mind. Am I sustaining the stake president here, or is this just an interesting way to say that I'm sustaining the high priest? Do we always implicitly sustain the caller as well as the callee, or is this unique to the ordination of high priests? If I don't think the man is qualified and don't sustain him, am I not sustaining the stake president? Or does "in this ordination" sufficient to add specificity to how I'm sustaining the stake president in this instance?

All of these questions were left unanswered as I only had a split second before my vote would be required. So I put the questions on the back burner and "manifested it."

But now I'm left to wonder: who/what did I just sustain?

(Note: if you're not LDS you probably won't understand what I'm talking about. Sorry about that.)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

On Secrets and Lies: A Moral Dilemma

The following is a hypothetical situation inspired by true events. I apologize that it is purposefully vague--I don't want to get myself in trouble:

Let's say a friend comes to you and tells you a secret, and you promise not to divulge it. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that there is a good reason for the information remaining secret from others. It's not anything bad, but if the information were shared, it could be damaging to everyone's interests. Not only must you not tell anyone The Secret, but also you must also not let on that you know anything more on the matter than anyone else. In other words, you must keep it a secret that you know The Secret.

At first all is well. You simply put the information in the back of you mind and don't talk about it. But the trouble is: information doesn't exist in a vacuum. Every decision we make is based on what we know, so over time this information starts to become useful to you in making decisions. However, because of the information you have that others don't, your decisions start to look foolish and indefensible from the perspective of those that don't know The Secret.

In one pinnacle moment you find yourself making a decision that you must justify to others (at least those to whom you are accountable), but which makes no sense at all with a knowledge of The Secret. You choose to lie and conjure up a story that justifies your decision without having to break your word that you would keep the secret.

So what started as a justifiable secret has just caused you to be dishonest with those around you. Where did you go wrong?

1. When you agreed to keep the secret? Is keeping a secret is just another way of lying and we should avoid it?

2. When you lied in order to keep the secret? Should you just have just come clean then? Once you have to lie to keep a secret, is it then similar to a "secret combination?"

3. You didn't do anything wrong? Was it justifiable to lie in this case?

4. It depends on what The Secret was, and how important it is to keep it secret?

All of these answers have problems:

1. So it's always a sin to keep a secret? What about Bishops keeping their conversations with members confidential? Or doctors and patients? And in the workplace, there is often the need for secrecy to preserve business interests.

2. If you can only keep a secret up until you have to lie, then essentially you can't promise to keep a secret. Then, in fact, it really is a sin to promise to keep a secret (see #1), since you know you might not be able to keep that promise.

3. So sometimes it is OK to lie? As long as it's a justifiable lie? Isn't every lie justifiable by the liar? Otherwise, there would be no reason to lie.

4. Same problem as #3? If the secret is important enough, it's OK to lie? Isn't every lie motivated by the belief that it is important not to divulge the truth?

Something to ponder.

Faith vs. Evidence: A False Choice

On the way to work the other day, I was listening to a show on public radio that featured Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and Oxford professor, as its guest. His fundamental argument was this:

Since religious belief is not based on evidence, it is foolish to believe in it, and irresponsible to teach it to children.

I knew exactly how I would counter this argument, but I didn't call in because I was driving in icy conditions, and when I got to work, well... I was working (which are both excuses for the fact that challenging a very intelligent atheist in front of thousands of listeners is a bit intimidating), so instead I waited for someone to call in and raise the argument I thought was obvious.

But alas, no one did, at least while I was listening. Some people called in to challenge him, but frankly their arguments were weak:

"How can you argue religion is bad when atheists like Hitler have done such bad things?"

"How can you say religion is bad when our society was based on it?"

"Do you really have no beliefs?"

"Don't you know that religious people have been shown to be happier in scientific studies?"

As I would suspect, he swatted all of these arguments like injured flies. They are all softballs to the intellectual atheist. To my surprise, no one brought up the most obvious rebuttal.

My response to his argument is simple. His premise is false:

Religious belief is based on evidence.

I suppose some of you might be saying, "Of course!", while others might be saying, "That's heresy, don't the scripture say that faith is something that is 'hoped for and not seen?'" Yes, but just because something is not seen does not mean that there is no evidence. We do not believe in blind faith, last I heard. And I'm not talking about archaeological or historical evidence here--I'll leave that to FAIR.

At one point in the discussion, the host ask Dr. Dawkins, "So how would one prove the existence of God?"

His response: God himself could easily prove his own existence. He need only to speak from heaven and say, "I am here." Both guest and host chuckled.

So I would ask Dr. Dawkins: "So what if God, or an angelic messenger, appeared before you, and told you that God exists. Would that be enough evidence for you?"

Hypothetical Dr. Dawkins: "Of course."

Me: "So what if instead of appearing before you, he caused you to have a feeling in your heart that was so unprecedented that you knew it must come from some outside source. And at the the same time thoughts began entering your mind that you knew did not come from your own head. These feelings and thoughts worked together in such a way as to stimulate the same feelings and thoughts that you would have if God himself were standing in front of you. Would that be enough evidence for you?"

Mormons are familiar with this idea, as we believe that the Holy Ghost will teach us the "truth of all things." But an atheist would balk at it, since they normally counter such things by saying that these feelings are rooted in our own survival instinct--a desire to feel comfort--, not an external source. But I would argue that, even for an atheist, there must be some level of non-visual experience that would convince them to believe. After all, what is sight? It is only our brain telling us that something is in front of us. If our feelings can be deceived, then why not our eyes? If we can trust that our eyes are telling us the truth, then why not trust feelings that teach us truth also?

Me: "So let's suppose you had a feeling that was so strong that it was undeniable that it came from God. Would that be enough evidence?"

Dr. Dawkins: "Well, if I had such an undeniable experience, then by definition I would have to believe."

Me: "Would it then be irresponsible to teach it to your children?"

Dr. Dawkins: (silence)

Me: "Aha, so you see many who believe in religion do so because they have evidence, not in spite of it. But it is personal evidence. I can no more convince you that there is a God than I can convince you by words alone that the walls of my living room are green, but both are equally evident to me, whether it be by my physical eyes or those of my spirit."

It's fun to debate hypothetical intellectuals.

For more on how faith is based on personal evidence, see Elder Douglas L. Callister talk from the last General Conference entitled "Knowing That We Know." It's a good one.

And Doctrine and Covenants 6:23 "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"

But here's a follow-up question: Why did no one bring this up? Is Dr. Dawkins right that most religious people believe with no evidence, even personal evidence? Do they just believe because they were told to? This would be a surprise to me, but based on the evidence of that show, and it's lack of callers making my argument, I'd say he just might be correct.

Editor's Note: This was a repost, since the date on the original post was incorrect.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Our Allergy Story, Part II: Debunking the Food Allergy Myths

In Part I, I discussed how my son was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE) and discovered a little about what it's like to be abnormal.

What follows is either an important advocacy statement, or a personal rant, depending on your perspective.

Most people would consider living with a food allergy to be easy. After all, there are enough food regulations and labeling laws that it should be clear what foods are safe and which are not, right? Well, there are several myths surrounding this issue that even some people with allergies don't understand, and I guarantee that if you put yourself in the position of a person with severe food allergies, you will be angry by the end of this post. Yes, that's a money-back guarantee.

Myth #1: If a food contains a common allergen, it will clearly say so in the ingredient list.

The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) took effect in 2006. In theory, the act says that any food containing one of the eight most common food allergens must say so in plain English in the ingredient list or an allergy statement. This was a comfort to us when we first read about it.

But then we talked to some nurses at our allergy clinic and a nutritionist who told us that this is not the case. Apparently, companies can get around this law. The following is a list we were given of what could be in the ingredient list without needing to explicitly specify that it contains egg. All of the following indicate the presence of egg protein:

Cholesterol free processed eggs (egg beaters)
Egg whites or yolks
Egg white solids
Ovamucoid or Ovamucin
Powdered Eggs
Silici albuminate
Simplesse (fat substitute)

And all of the following could indicate the presence of egg protein:

Flavoring (natural or artificial)

Yes, that's right: flavoring is on the list, which is in almost any processed food. How can this be, considering the law says they have to say that it contains egg in plain language? This didn't make sense to us, and at first we were skeptical of what the nurses told us. And to be fair, other competent medical professionals were telling us otherwise. So we thought some were just being overly cautious, but to be on the safe side we did what they told us, which means that we had to call the food manufacturer of every product that contained flavoring.

Most of the response was comforting. They would typically tell us "Yes" or "No" on whether the product contained egg, and this information was consistent with what was on the label. We learned to ask also, "What is your companies policy regarding food allergy labeling?" And the answer was normally encouraging, "Our packaging will always say 'egg' if the product contains egg." Great. That's what we thought. That is the law, after all.

But then we came across a notable exception. One representative of a company seemed not as confident as others we had talked to.

Company: "Well if it contained egg, I would think the ingredient list would say egg." (Tip off that they don't know what they're talking about: they use the words "I would think" or "probably").

We pressed further, and they confirmed that the product does not contain egg. As always, we then asked what their general policy was.

Her: "We follow the law, so it will say egg if it contains egg."

Us: "Well actually we've been told that sometimes companies don't have to say egg."

Her: "Let me confirm our policy, please wait a moment"

Her: "Yes, you are right. We use the following words on our packages which may indicate that they contain egg..." She then listed ingredients similar to ones I listed above.

We were both shocked and horrified. It turns out the nurses were right. Companies can apparently get away with it. Which means that if you're allergic to egg, or pretty much anything for that matter, you have to call every company that lists "flavoring" on their product to confirm that it doesn't contain egg.

You'll be even more shocked to learn which company this was. It must be some mom-and-pop shop that doesn't know what they are doing, right? Surely any respectable food company would follow the spirit of the law and be clear on their labels. So which company was this?

My wife says I should say the name, but suffice it to say that if you think of the first large processed food company you can think of, you might have it. If you need to know, post a comment with your email address and I'll email it to you.

(Note: Since we had this experience, our allergy doctor--who is now telling us that his nurse was wrong and that labels do have to say "egg"--told us that the food company representative must have been mistaken. I hope he is right, but who do I believe? We'll probably be putting another call into company X to see if I can confirm their policy again. And this leads me to my next myth.)

(Updated 3/30: We sent another email to the company and they assured as that the product will say it contains egg if it contains egg. So we've received conflicting information on this, which supports my conclusion regarding the second myth.)

Myth #2: If you call the 1-800 number on the package, the customer service representative will be able to tell you whatever food allergy information you need.

I touched on this in describing Myth #1, but there are other examples too numerous to go into here, but I'll mention a few.

Most companies are good, but we've also been made to feel like idiots:

Us: "Hi, we have a son with an egg allergy, and we'd like to know if this product contains egg."

Company: "Well, sir, do you know what the top eight food allergens are?"

Us: "Yes I do, but..."

Company: "Well, are you aware that it is the law that the ingredient list must say in clear language if the product contains one of those ingredients?"

Us: "Yes I'm aware that's what the law says, but..."

Company: "Well let's review the ingredient list together and we'll see if it contains egg."

Arg. I can read, people.

But worse than that, some company representatives have no idea what they are talking about.

Us: "What is your companies policy on food allergy labeling?"

Company: "Well if it contains a food allergen, it will probably say so in the ingredient list."

Probably? Since when to company policies contain the word "probably?" If I play Russian roulette, I'll probably be OK, but sorry, that's not good enough.

Myth #3: If the food contains a food allergen, there will be a food allergy statement on the package, such as "CONTAINS: WHEAT".

This one is just plain wrong, but I have no idea why it can't be true. Why is it so hard for food companies to put this on their label?

But even worse than that is that some food company representatives don't even know that this is a myth.

Us: "What is your policy on food allergen labeling."

Company: "If our product contains one of the top eight food allergens, there will be a food allergy statement clearly stating so starting with the word CONTAINS."

Us: "Really? Because I'm looking at one of your products now and the ingredient list has wheat, but there is no food allergy statement."

Company: "Oh, well that must just be because it's one of the first ingredients listed."

What we wanted to say: "OK. So how many ingredients do we have to read before we can be confident that your product doesn't contain an allergen? Five? Seven? Eighteen? So what you told me isn't really your policy at all, is it?"

Who was this company? Chances are you probably ate some cereal they sell this morning.

Myth #4: If the product contains an allergy statement, such as "CONTAINS: WHEAT", then you don't have to read the ingredients because all of the major allergens will be listed.

This one is one that I think is supposed to be true. But it still isn't. Just today, I ran across this label (highlights added):

Notice that one of the ingredients is "Soybean oil", and it has an allergy statement, but the allergy statement doesn't say that it contains Soy, which is one of the most common allergens.

And this is one of the two companies I previously mentioned.

(Updated 3/30: After some more research online, we discovered that soybean oil doesn't actually contain soy protein, which is why they don't have to say it contains soy if it contains soybean oil. If you are allergic to soy, you may or may not also be allergic to soybean oil, so that's one more complication to add to the puzzle. Fortunately we're not in that boat.)


So why should you care? So what?

A law that is not enforced (or that has sufficient loopholes) is worse than no law at all, because it gives a false sense of security. If we had not done our research, we would have believed these myths.

If you have a food allergy, be aware of these myths and fight against them.

If you don't have a food allergy, be sensitive to those around you that do. It's harder than you think to live in a world that wasn't made for you, especially when you have to deal with competent medical professionals that are giving you conflicting information.

Thanks for reading my story. No, it doesn't have much to do with the main purpose of my blog, but I thought my experience was worth sharing.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Our Allergy Story, Part 1: Learning to Be Abnormal

Mormons like to think of themselves as abnormal. In general, we take pride in stepping away from the mainstream. In every other way, my family is pretty average. We're white; married with two kids; middle-class; paying off our 30-year fixed-rate mortgage; and have two legs, two arms, and two eyes for each person. Yet, I thought I knew what it meant to be abnormal because of my religion. I don't drink coffee or beer and don't swear. Wo is me, my poor persecuted soul! But in the last few months I've learned that I really had no idea what it means to be truly abnormal.

That was until my son was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EE for short), which is a somewhat rare chronic disease that manifests itself through inflammation of the esophagus. The symptoms are brought on because of exposure to allergens. Most people with EE are allergic to multiple foods and/or environmental allergens, so naturally we were concerned. Later we found out what he was allergic to: egg. Phew, what a relief. Just egg? We can handle that. Our life of normalcy lives on!

But who knew that egg is in a lot of foods, and many ingredients most people would not associate with egg are derived from it (see Part II). Our lives quickly changed as we became the "food police" to investigate every ingredient in every food that came even close to going into our son's mouth.

But of course there are worse things that could happen. Having a food allergy isn't the same as being blind, losing an appendage, or getting cancer. Yes, of course there are more difficult things. But this was our first glimpse of living life in a world not made for us.

So what? Our society looks out for the less fortunate, right? Every building is wheel chair accessible. Braille is everywhere, including drive-through ATMs (yes, drive-through). But what I've learned is that the things we do to help the less-normal are really just gestures to make everyone else feel better about being normal.

Stay tuned for Part II: Debunking the Food Allergy Myths.

No, it's not the hottest of topics, but I think after reading it you might be a little bit angrier, if that's what you're looking for.