Friday, August 19, 2011

Pride: Always Bad?

by CWK

Pride -- is it always bad? Is it, as Lewis argues in Mere Christianity, the great and quintessential sin? Or, is it sometimes good? Sometimes even healthy? Get ready -- cause I'm going to argue that what we sometimes consider pride can be healthy.

First, we need to get some idea of what pride actually is. Pride is a plastic term in our culture: much used, but mostly undefined. Pride is sometimes used in a positive sense. This version of pride refers to proper self-confidence, and even self-congratulation. It is a state of mind wherein we can, with reason, hold our heads high. Leaders as diverse as Margaret Thatcher and Bear Bryant have spoken positively of pride in this sense as a kind of informed and proper dignity which flows from virtuous action. This kind of pride comes from and leads to self-respect. This kind of pride is not a vice, and not really a virtue. It is our thoughts about ourselves which result from virtue.

Now, let's turn to the negative versions of pride: those version of pride which are certainly vices.

First, pride sometimes means: overly lofty thoughts about ourselves. This is a wrong opinion about ourselves --- wrong, in that it is too high.  Mary from Pride and Prejudice puts it well:

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.

Pride often concerns my opinion about me. This is the tendency to think too highly of ourselves, and our strengths, and thus, be overconfident. The word over is very important. Thus, pride comes before a fall. Thus, every season on American Idol, a slew of people arrive who cannot sing, and yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, think they can sing. This version of pride leads people to go where they should not go, and attempt things they should not attempt. This is bad, and this is a vice.

We can see now why it is so difficult to talk about pride. The same word sometimes refers to proper confidence, and sometimes overconfidence.

Moving on to second negative connotation with respect to pride -- pride sometimes means: preoccupation with ourselves. This version of pride is evidenced by a steady nauseating stream of "I." We've all been confronted with individuals who had only one subject of every sentence, "I." This is also bad.

The third negative connotation of pride involves irrational autonomy -- an overly independent mindset, "I'll do it on my own, without any help." This version of pride seeks independence from God and friend. This version of pride is the opposite of prayer, and a preview of Hell, "Away from me..." This is very bad.

Now, due to the three negative connotations of pride, some define pride as any confidence in ourselves, any thought about ourselves, or any concern about ourselves, or any autonomy. C.S. Lewis does -- or at least comes close -- in Mere Christianity, "It's best not to think about ourselves at all."

An aside -- Lewis' discussion of pride is one of the weaker sections of Mere Christianity. I hate to say it, because I love Lewis, and he saved my life as a college student -- but, that's not even the weakest section of that book. The section on the atonement is weaker. The approach to apologetics at the beginning of the book is also weak.

Back to pride -- it is important to remember that virtue consists in walking the fine line between extremes. In general, I agree with Aristotle's approach to virtue: virtue is the golden mean. Virtue is steering in the middle of the extremism of vice on either side. So, when it comes to pride, it's best not to think of it as an evil floating in space, i.e. an evil extreme on one side without an opposite evil on the other.

For example -- it's possible for a person to think too highly of themselves; it's also possible for a person to think too lowly of themselves. It's possible for a person to think too much about themselves; it's also possible of a person to think too little about themselves and their own health, future, and so on. It's possible to be so wary of pride that we rush to the other extreme of total self-renunciation. Pride is an evil, but it's not the only evil. Jesus called us to deny ourselves, but he also called us to take care of ourselves, "I send you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpent and innocent as doves."

So, the Christian antidote to overconfidence is not "no confidence." The Christian antidote to overconfidence (all those overly lofty opinions of ourselves) is "right estimation" of ourselves (Romans 12.3). This includes a sober, honest, sincere evaluation of ourselves: our strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and so on. There is a right and good confidence in our genuine -- not imaginary -- gifts and strengths. It's not virtuous for Lebron James to go around saying he stinks at basketball. Nor would it have been virtuous for Mozart to conceive of himself as a second rate musician. When pride appears as overconfidence, it must be resisted by seeking the golden mean of "right estimation."

We could say similar things about occupation with self and autonomy. Yes, these things can become vices, if followed to the extreme. Yet, they are not vices in themselves. There is a right and good occupation with our selves, "Keep close watch on yourselves and all the flock (Acts 20.28)." There is a right and good autonomy from, for instance, one's parents: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife (Genesis 2.24)."

So, is pride always bad? When it appears as extreme vices (and vices always appear as extremes) -- yes, indeed. However, these extremes are forms of things which are, in themselves, not bad. So, confidence, estimating our gifts, thinking about ourselves, and autonomy can be good. These things, kept in the golden mean, are right and healthy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

By An Ocean

by CK

Sometimes I drive just to drive,
and clear my heart of foolish notions.
I'm there -- barely there -- when I arrive,
but in my mind’s eye,
I’m still somewhere by an ocean.

And I remember what you said
about what I had to offer,
about being my own doctor,
and trying to get ahead,
and becoming my own man.
But I don't know if I can,
and even when I do my best --
I'm a mess -- still a mess.
I'm barely alive, barely coping,
but thank God: I know where I’m going.  I’m going.

My body’s getting older; my mind’s getting slower.
I wish I could start all over again.
Are you sure that I’m still family? Sure that I’m still in?
Is it me – or are the standards getting lower?
Are you sure after knowing
I was broke when I was broken?
And actually I don’t know – still don’t know -- where I’m going.

Yeah, I heard about her; she's bad news
in New York. Nevermind – in my mind,
I still adore her.
I remember her in '09
back before she had the blues,
and where she’s going – I’ve been there before her.
Yeah, I heard the whispers
about her fall from grace -- 
but how can you fall if you fall to the same place?
Seems to me she fell to -- not from -- grace;
and is it grace if you choose it?
Is it grace if, when you're lost, you can lose it?
I still believe in her,
and the grace that holds her.
She can start all over
all over again.
I know she’s still family, and will be to the end.
Is it her – or is mercy getting colder?

And I think of all my friends: where they’ve been,
and where they’re going.
Sometimes in my sleep, I swear,
I can feel them growing.
Did they get back together?
Did they have another child?
Did he ever write that letter?
Did she go – was it worthwhile?
Did he get married after all?
Will they ever take his calls?
Like I miss them -- do they miss me?
Did they miss the trees for the woods?
Can they see -- like they should --
everything is working for their good?

Sometimes I ride out to Hartwell,
and run beside the blue lake.
I run to the tune of Tillman's bell.
I run all by myself;
I run till my legs ache.
I run from the future, more or less to cope --
then the wind whips the water wide awake,
and I hold on. I hold on to a little hope.

Sometimes I drive just to drive.
In my mind’s eye, I’m somewhere by an ocean.
And I remember what else you said,
like the words had just been spoken.
You talked about being alive,
about breathing; about hoping.
And thank God: I know where I'm going. I’m going.

And the truth is that I'm faking
just to keep my heart from breaking.
I'm barely here; hear and barely coping.
Is it showing?
Actually, you know, I don't know --
I still don't know where I'm going.

So, I guess I'll start all over, all over again.
At least I’m still family. At least I'm still in.
How can I fall from grace --
when I land in the same place,
back in the same embrace? 
I was broke when I got here,
and I'm still broken.
And the truth is, that's where I've been,
and that's where I'm going. I'm going.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cedar Rapids and Seinfeld: Morality and Media

Cedar Rapids is a movie no one is talking about. Yet, as a cultural marker, I believe it has special significance.  It's Ed Helms attempt to reprise Steve Carrell's innocent everyman from 40 Year Old Virgin. It's writer Phil Johnston's attempt to rehash the themes in The Big Kahuna. It fails on both accounts.

Cedar Rapids is a poor man's version of The Big Kahuna. It's also a morality tale about the immorality of morality. Sound confusing? It is. As morality plays go, The Big Kahuna had the advantage of a sharper and more serious script -- it was easier to take it seriously. Cedar Rapids, on the other hand, is from the Judd Apatow school of comedy: slapstick raunchiness with a moral. At least, it tries to capitalize on the style Apatow made famous; it gets the raunchiness part pretty well. If you saw 40 Year Old Virgin and The Big Kahuna then you've already seen Cedar Rapids. Yet, where Cedar Rapids fails, 40 Year Old Virgin succeeds, and it all comes down to the moral of the story. The former is an immoral comedy which condemns morality; the latter is an immoral comedy which commends morality. The former stumbles, and stumbles, out into the darkness. The latter stumbles, and stumbles, out into the light.

The central problem with Cedar Rapids is that it's a morality tale about the immorality of morality. It calls out hypocrites, and takes numerous shots at Christians and their (supposedly) strict morality. There are a couple of scenes where even prayer is the butt of the joke. Never mind that true Christianity is not represented in the film. Remember the uproar over The Book Of Eli because it, maybe, almost, kinda was seen as a Christian fable? And, maybe, almost, kinda, cast Christianity as a good guy. Well, there wasn't an uproar over Cedar Rapids, even though it is definitely a Christian fable. Only, this time, Christians are the bad guys. Interesting. Methinks some critics protest too much, and then, don't protest at all.

As a morality tale, Cedar Rapids commends immorality. It does this by, first of all, pointing out that everyone -- even the uptight Christian leaders -- have traces of immorality. This vice is become a virtue in entertainment. Yawn. Why not try something really challenging? -- instead of showing that moral people are immoral, try demonstrating that immoral people are moral. That's way more challenging, and much more surprising.

So, moral people -- even the most moral -- are immoral: are hypocrites at points. That's an old song. Not very surprising. With every new fall of a politician, or global icon, or religious leader, we get this message anew. What no one points out, and what is much more startling, is the opposite truth: immoral people are moral. Cedar Rapids, for example, is chock full of morality.

Yes, Cedar Rapids has morals. It has a certain view of morality. It has its own morality. It commends virtues like friendship, integrity, and loyalty, and excuses vices like drug use, drunkenness, and adultery. It certainly has a morality; it may be the wrong one; it certainly is. As moralities go, it may offer a weaker, sicker, and paler morality than Christianity, but its morality is written in every scene. It's no good calling Christians hypocrites because they have a morality. Everyone has a morality. Even the most immoral person has a take on morality, and a code of ethics. This movie comes to the boring conclusion that moral people are immoral; it proves the startling conclusion that immoral people are moral. Cedar Rapids has a righteous indignation which rivals any Pharisee. All the while, it mocks righteousness: the righteousness of others. Thus, it ends up being an oddly self-righteous movie aimed against self-righteous people.

Seinfeld deserves honorable mention in any pantheon of "morality plays." For my money, it does a more honest days work than Cedar Rapids on the morality question. At least, it commends amorality instead of immorality. Seinfeld attempted to be a non-morality play: "No hugging. No learning." It attempted to offer no morals, no lessons, and no epigrams. It tried real hard to offer up laughs, and only laughs. Seinfeld was to entertainment what Nietzsche was to philosophy; what Skinner was to Sociology; what Freakonomics was to Economics. However, Seinfeld also failed. Seinfeld had a morality; it had a moral take on the universe. Even if it protested, "I have no take" -- it had a take. It moralized all the time. Maybe the moral is harder to find, but that's only because it's morality is weaker and translucent. The fact is, everyone possesses a morality and lives this out every day. You can't talk about life without morals just like you can't breathe without oxygen. It's nonsense. It's irrational.

by L.S.S

Monday, August 08, 2011

Boys To Men

Once upon a time, I lived in a magical trailer park kingdom beside a cursed pond, went on adventures with Huck Finn, was betrayed by a double-headed silver dragon, battled Moby Dick on the high seas, flew like Superman, met the real Superman, came face to face with a merciless bird of prey, feasted on ants and rotted pine, and dreamed of being a preacher like Jimmy Swaggart.

In those days, I was 5 years old. In those days, at least in my eyes, Jimmy Swaggart surpassed all orators. I much preferred him to Billy Graham, who was my father's favorite. According to my dad, in the course of religious education, watching Graham was mandatory: a core course. Swaggart was optional: an elective. Swaggart adorned our TV on occasion, but everything stopped for Graham. We watched Graham, religiously, every time he came on. This was, outside holidays, the number one tradition in our family. Still, I gravitated toward Swaggart. He was more fiery and passionate. His zealous emotional charisma enchanted me. I have a hunch that I wasn't alone and that, at least in 1979, every little boy liked Swaggart more than Graham. Swaggart was a flurry of sound and fury. One moment, crying; the next, pleading; the next; exhorting. Graham was decidedly more pedestrian in 1979. I preferred Swaggart for the same reason I liked fireworks more than fire.

In those days, I'd already made up my mind that I wanted to be a preacher. Maybe Swaggart had something to do with this, but I doubt it. I wanted to be a preacher because it felt like what I was, and what I was created to be. In the succeeding years, I changed my mind pretty often about calling and career. At one point, I flirted with making a career of out of superhero-ism. Then, for about 5 years, I wanted to be an Air Force pilot. When I got to college, my first major was Early Childhood Education. Then, I majored in a slew of other things: Criminal Justice, English, and finally Communications. After college, I thought about being a Lawyer, a Doctor, a Policeman, A Public Relations Specialist, a Real Estate Agent, an Ebay Sensation, and even a Writer. However, in the end, I opted to go to Seminary, and I ended up as a PCA teaching elder. It turns out, my first instinct was right. I wanted to be a preacher before I wanted to be anything. I wanted to be a preacher when most boys wanted to be firemen, and here is where Swaggart comes back in: not so much as my inspiration, but as my model. I wanted to be a preacher, and Swaggart was, in my 5 year old mind, the best preacher ever, ever, pinky swear.

Of course, it wasn't long before Swaggart had a tragic public downfall, and my model was broken to pieces. Graham, ever a tradition in our house, marched on in a blameless life and marked the passing years with various TV specials. My dad had been right all along. I never told him, but he certainly would have approved, when I switched my model to Graham. This was my first lesson in discernment.

In those days, my little brother Billy and I got in some death defying adventures. Mainly, it was my brother who got into the adventures. He was a 4 year old incarnation of Huck Finn: playfully rebellious, uncannily street smart, prone to befriend interesting strangers, and prone to get in innocent trouble that left my mom in tears, and my dad without a belt. My brother was smaller of stature than most other boys. He wore glasses. This didn't seem odd to me then. It didn't seem that important. It wasn't until a year later, when he was ridiculed as 4 eyes, I took note of his struggles. This little difference, being born with bad vision, cast him as an outsider when he got to school the next year, and he endured the fate of "Piggy" in Lord of the Flies.

A few years ago, I asked him what the single most important fact of his life was, and he responded, "Being born with bad vision. That has affected me every day." Yet, in 1979, he didn't seem to care that he had bad vision, and I never noticed. He had good enough vision for me. He stalked the earth fearlessly, restlessly, looking ardently for innocent mischief. I stalked the earth after him, trying to keep him out of mischief.

Billy and I looked like twins in those days -- but if he was Huck, then I was anti-Huck: responsible, cautious, and pensive. Looking back, I gravitated toward being anti-Huck because I was the older brother. I felt in my bones that I was my brother's keeper. It was my job to look out for him. This was my first lesson in responsibility.

In those days, Billy and I often played with two brothers in our neighborhood. They also looked like twins. They were age 5 and 7, but they seemed older, much older. They both had silvery blond hair, and -- at least in my memory -- perpetually wore sarcastic smirks. They were t-r-o-u-b-l-e. They were educated beyond their years in dastardly deeds, and they were intent on instructing me and Billy in all the forbidden knowledge they had acquired.

For example, they hatched a plot to sneak away for an all day fishing trip without telling our parents. Who ever heard of 4 kids under 7 going on an all day fishing trip by themselves without notifying any adults? Apparently, the evil twins had. I don't remember much about the fishing. I have a vague sense that it was a delightful boyous romp. I know for sure that we caught one fish -- the equivalent of Moby Dick to our little fishing crew.

After the fishing trip, the evils twins secreted Billy and I away to a tree house to teach us cuss words. The older kid revealed each word as if it was a profound secret, patiently explained its etymology and range of meaning, and then sat silent for a moment while my brother and I stared on in awe. Then, when each word had its effect, he'd burst into wicked giggles.

At last -- after an 8 hour excursion that left my parents thinking we were kidnapped -- we ventured home proudly, a posse of foulmouthed sailors who'd conquered the seas. That one day is littered with some of my strongest boyhood memories. I remember the joy of catching a fish. I remember the feel of the tree house: close, and cramped, like a hideout. I remember the smirk of the evil twins. As I marched over a hill and saw my father in the distance, I remember a sense of expectation: a certain expectation that we would be rewarded as expert fishermen. I even remember one of the cuss words. However, above every memory -- above all the fishing and all the cussing -- what I most remember from that day is the spanking I received. This was my first lesson on the need to choose friends wisely.

In those days, my greatest fear in the world was the pond which lay seductively close to our little trailer. This pond became a makeshift ice rink during the winter. The neighborhood kids played on it with abandon. Then, in 1979, tragedy struck. A boy fell through the ice and drowned. This legend dominated the trailer park kingdom; it was our Fall of Troy. I say it was a legend. It did really happen. It was in the newspapers, and everyone talked about it. Yet, as my parents told me the story, it never seemed to me strictly true. It was more than true. More than factual. It was a fable. It was a cautionary tale like something out of The Brothers Grimm. As my parents relayed the story of this tragedy, it spoke of bigger, greater truths.

"Life is frail." "There are dangerous spots in this world. Places you can fall through." "Children are not invulnerable." "Take every step with care."

I got all that, though my parents never said any of it. They just told the story. I got all that, and the real practical application for me was clear, "Don't go out on the pond when it's icy." This was my first lesson in wisdom.

In those days, my mom dressed my brother and I in the same clothes, and we didn't mind one bit. Her favorite outfit for us was brown slacks and a grey shirt. The grey shirt had a red V pattern around the collar. I loved that shirt. It looked like something a super hero would wear. My earliest memory from that time -- maybe the earliest memory of my life -- is running around our front yard in that shirt, pretending it was a super hero costume, and believing I was Superman. I jumped on, then off, then on, then off my dad's truck bed in a heroic -- and not entirely futile -- attempt to ascend in flight. I could do this for hours. And, I swear to you, this adventure was more satisfying and more fun than any video game you've ever played. This was my first lesson in masculine identity.

In those days, my 4 year old brother snuck into my dad's truck while we were all out in the front yard. Who knows what he planned to do? Was he planning on going somewhere? Probably. This was just the kind of thing I'd never do -- just the kind of thing my brother always did. Anyway, the truck slipped -- or he maneuvered it -- into drive. He swears it slipped. Then, the truck headed down the yard, past me, my mom, and my dad, and toward a small cliff. My dad sprung to action as I looked on in horror. He ran alongside the truck like some kind of stuntman -- like the real Superman -- opened the door, jumped into the driver's seat, and hit the brakes in the nick of time. For the rest of the day, we talked of what-ifs and whys. What if my dad hadn't been there? Why did the truck start rolling on its own? After many years of reflection, I don't know the answers to those questions -- but this I know; set this down: my dad is a hero. He jumped into a speeding truck to save his son. Funny, in 1979, I didn't think about it like that. I assumed he was just doing his job. I assumed that's what any father could and would do. This was my first lesson in fatherhood.

In those days, I had a mean kindergarten teacher. Her name escapes me, but I like to think of her as Ms. Eaglebeak. The one thing I remember about her is that she had a sharp, angular, face -- like an eagle. It may not have even been geometrically sharp, but that was the impression of her bearing: sharpness, uptightness, and even cruelty. Charles Spurgeon said children are a good judge of character because they know innately who their friend is. In 1979, I hadn't thought much about character, but I knew Ms. Eaglebeak was not my friend.

We had a kid in our class who always showed up late, dirty, and without lunch money. So, when the day of our big field trip came, it was no surprise that he didn't have the requisite $1.50 to pay his way. Ms. Eaglebeak decided to make this an object lesson. She refused to let him go on the field trip. It just so happened that I was standing nearby when her TA -- I remember her as being short with blond hair -- pleaded on behalf of my penniless classmate. I remember feeling terrible for my classmate, and hoping with all my might that the TA would save the day. Well, the TA did save the day with pity filled reasoning I still remember -- "It's only $1.50. This will crush him. It's not worth it." That made sense to me then. It makes sense to me now. No one knew that I was standing close by, overhearing everything said, silently pleading for my kindergarten colleague. I'm sure that TA has no idea how much she taught me that day. I doubt she remembers that day. Come to to think of it, I don't even remember where we went on our big field trip. No matter; that conversation was the big field trip for me, and that episode is one of the most powerful memories of my childhood. This was my first lesson in compassion.

In those days, I sang the ABC song on the way to school -- loudly, repeatedly, every morning, for 6 months. Mastering the ABC's was my soul educational goal in 1979. In the end, I learned my ABC's, but that's not why I was singing. Singing, and showing off as a good student, were my means of getting dad's attention, and making him proud of me.  Learning the ABC's was secondary: the result, and not the cause, of my singing. I was singing for my father. I sang every day, without fail. I know my dad got annoyed with this ritual on occasion, but he never said so. He always listened. This was my first lesson in pedagogy.

In those days, my favorite meal was "ants on a log." This 5 star boy's meal consisted of celery stalks coated with peanut butter and topped with raisins. The final product really did look like black ants marching across a brown log. It's genius -- just the kind of thing that appeals to a little boy. If I'd been served, "Non-fat, high-protein vegetable fruit medley," I would've protested, and perhaps forced my lunch down. Instead, I was served "ants on a log," and I devoured ants, log and all like a famished barbarian. Who can top this meal? I was making variations on this meal into college. It's simple, imaginative, healthy, and fun. I've always heard, "You eat with your eyes first." Well, in 1979, I ate with my imagination first. This was my first lesson in creativity.

These are my strongest memories from the fifth year of my life. In the year of our Lord, 1979, I learned some of the most important lessons a boy can learn. Yet, what impresses me now is reflecting on what I hadn't learned. I hadn't learned that, sans Nikes, I "didn't fit in" with the other kids. I learned that in 1982. I hadn't learned that my brother, also sans Nikes, plus poor vision, "didn't fit in" either. I learned that in 1986. I hadn't learned anything about the dog eat social structure of a public school. It took me a long time to learn that. I finally got the point in 1994 when, as a Senior in High School, I shamefully ignored a girl who was outside "our group."

1979 seems distant now -- almost a different lifetime. I look on the boy I was then as a different person. Yet, that's not an accurate perception. For one, I find that many of the lessons he learned, I need to learn again. I need to learn with him about discernment, friendship, wisdom, fatherhood, and creativity. This time, hopefully, with more depth. There's also a sense in which I need to learn from him. In his youthful naivete, there were many things he hadn't learned. I may be wiser than him, and I've surely learned a lot more since my fifth year: many more first lessons, with a few diplomas on the wall to prove it. I may be much wiser than him, and older, but I will never be younger. And there's one advantage the young always have: there are some things they haven't learned:

"The tender age of little children is distinguished by simplicity to such an extent that they are unacquainted with the degrees of honor, and with all the incentives to pride; so that they are properly and justly held out by Christ as an example (John Calvin)."

by CK

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Allergic, Emotionally Allergic

Onions and I have a long history. In my youth, I thought little of them. They were not an enemy, or friend. They were just a part of the world in which I existed. I bore no particular feeling toward onions except mild notice. I encountered them in many guises -- carmelized, dehydrated, freshly picked, even pickled -- but only nodded in passing. I was unmoved when I heard that ancient Egyptians worshiped onions. They worshiped a lot of things. I was impressed, but not surprised, by the many medicinal uses of onions. In brief, onions to me were like the neighbor who lives 3 doors down: too far away to be concerned about having over; too close not to wave at when you drive by. Once upon a time onions and I lived at peace, as casual acquaintances. Peace, I say.

Then, one day, when I was about 4, I got a load of slimy onions on a McDonald's cheeseburger. A sour crunchy slime filled my mouth, and poisoned my palate. Even now, in the space long years, I get queasy thinking about that sensation of crunchy slime. It was clear, in that moment, that onions and I would no longer be casual acquaintances. Onions had become the neighbor who lives 3 doors down and mows his lawn in a bathrobe with an extremely loud speaker system on his front porch blasting obnoxious x-rated rap music. From thenceforth, I'd peaceably -- but militantly -- avoid all onions. Onions and I developed a sort of truce of avoidance. At least, that was my understanding at the time. A frail peace, no more, existed between me and allium cepa, aka Mr. Vidalia, aka the onion. Frail peace, I say.

The next time I went to McDonald's (about a week later) I ordered a cheeseburger, and distinctly said, "No onions." In my innocence, I prognosticated an onion free cheeseburger in my future. I bit down into my cheeseburger, expecting only to be sated with ketchup, mustard, imitation pickles, soy-beef, and bun. How wrong I was. Overpowering everything, once again, was that slimy onion taste. Since that day, I have been "allergic" to onions. I can't stand the taste of onions, not even a little. I can't stand the thought, especially, of cooked onions. I had been, till then, resigned to co-exist peaceably in a world where onions lived 3 doors down. Onions and I had called a truce. The truce was now in jeopardy.

This truce ended once and for all when my mom joined the fray, as a spy, on the side of onions. My dad loves onions, and wanted them on everything. My mom, caught betwixt my hatred, and my dad's love, of onions decided to take the middle road. She would slyly chop up onions into very small, almost imperceptible, pieces, and "hide" them in dinner. This way, my dad got onions, and I -- seemingly --didn't. I lived in fear of onions from 5-15.

Of course, I caught onto my mom's ruse quickly, and developed an even stronger dislike of onions. I became the FBI of onion detectors. If my mom served me ice cream, I was scraping through it, sure an onion was in there somewhere. Onions became the neighbor who lives 3 doors down, sneaks into your house when your not there, bribes your own mom, and steals all your electronic equipment.

I've struggled over the years to describe my aversion to onions. I find myself explaining my aversion in restaurants, to friends, and to anyone who is having me for dinner. For a long while, I felt it was appropriate to say, simply, "I'm allergic to onions." It is true that the moment an onion touches my tongue I become nauseous. Lately, though, I've decided this in not entirely accurate. Thus, I now say, "I am allergic to onions, emotionally allergic."

I'm allergic to onions, emotionally. Yet, onions won't leave me alone. Even though I carefully read ingredient labels, onions still show up -- unannounced and uninvited -- in my frozen dinners when I take them from the microwave. I now have a roommate. Guess what? He keeps a fresh onion on top of the refrigerator at all times, "just in case." In case, what? In case a vampire comes over? In case the swine flu breaks out again? I was surfing the internet last week and came across this: a popular news site has emerged the last few years. Its name? "The Onion." Is all this coincidence? I don't think so.

Onions are now to me like the neighbor who lived 3 doors down, mowed his lawn with a flourish of obscenity, and then bribed my own mom to conspire against me, and then broke into my house and stole my stuff, and then got kicked out of his onion house, and then moved in with me uninvited, and hacked into my computer.

Yeah, you could say I'm allergic to onions, emotionally allergic.

-by CK