Friday, December 30, 2005
The ad featured a long series of questions to which they wanted answers. I found the job opening sufficiently interesting to respond to the ad. Among other things, the company required applicants to visit a website (http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp) and take the Myers Briggs quiz, which was designed to ascertain one's personality or "temperament" based on one's answers.
I took the test, and attempted to answer as honestly as I could. In a few cases, I thought that the questions were rather simplistic, since they seemed to lack adequate context. There were a few questions where my answer could conceivably been Yes or No, depending on the context in which the question was asked. But I wasn't given the option of qualifying my answers by appending them with text which would address the relevant nuances, so I pretty much based my answers to such questions on instinct (which may be the point of not giving more information when asking such questions).
The quiz seemed to be based on Jungian psychology. As a Christian, I tend to be suspicious of just about all systematized secular theories of the mind, whether they are Freudian or Jungian or any other theory. In many cases, I think that such psychological theories are based on premises which directly contradict Christian truths. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that non-Christians can sometimes have valid insights which are worthy of consideration, even if their overall belief systems are warped. In any event, I didn't have a whole lot of choice in this situation. If I wanted to be considered for the job, I pretty much had to take the test.
According to the test, I have an eNFj personality (Extroverted 22, Intuitive 62, Feeling 25, Judging 78). Keirsey.com (http://keirsey.com/personality/nfej.html) describes such a personality as the "Teacher Idealist", and it says that such people constitute no more than 2-3% of the population. It lists some well-known people with such personalities, and the list includes Billy Graham, Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King. (Thank God the list didn't include idiots like Howard Stern!) Overall, I had to agree that I shared many of the personality characteristics seen in the lives of those people.
The fact that my "judging" score was so high didn't bother me at all. On the contrary, I think that judgment has gotten an undeserved bad rap in our morally relativistic society.
It is impossible to be a person of integrity without making moral judgments. Without such judgments, our ideas and practices lack coherence, and our lives lack meaning.
True leadership requires the willingness to take a stand, even at the risk of offending people who have opposite views. This is particularly true in politics. No one really respects politicians who change their policies and positions based solely on expediency. (Whatever you think about the last major presidential election in our country, it's clear that constant charges to the effect that John Kerry was a "flip flopper" resonated among many voters.) People want leaders they can look up to, they want leaders they can be inspired by, and they want leaders they can believe in. If a person changes his position on a subject as the result of a genuine change of mind or heart, that's altogether different, of course. Consistency isn't about being resistant to change, it's about having the courage to stick with one's commitments unless and until one is presented with adequate reasons for doing otherwise.
Unfortunately, people aren't always looking for moral leadership and clarity. A person with the character traits of a leader such as Billy Graham or Martin Luther King may be unwelcome in a work environment or a social environment where conformity and "getting along with others" is valued more than the truth. Sadly, that pretty much describes most of America's businesses, and more than a few of its churches. In many cases, a person with such a personality is likely to have difficulty getting along with existing leaders, because they correctly regard such a person as potential competition.
I'm undoubtedly biased, but I would guess that Jesus would have been considered to be an eNFj. Certainly, he was willing to say things which offended conventional religious leaders, not because he was a "rebel without a cause" (which he was not), but because he valued the truth. In fact, he not only valued the truth, he WAS truth. (Specifically, "the way, the truth and the life".) Even those who refuse to recognize his divinity acknowledge that he was a teacher and an idealist.
Idealism and realism are sometimes presented as if they are antonyms. I don't agree with that assessment. To be an idealist is not to be unrealistic. One can recognize that perfection is not completely attainable in this life, without abandoning one's conviction that perfection is worth striving for.
When Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect," some might have accused him of naivete. But that would have been a complete misunderstanding. Jesus knew our flaws far better than most of us do. But he also knew that the best way to inspire people to do their very best is to raise the bar high.
No loving father says to his children, as they set out to school in the morning, "Be sure to bring home lots of B's and C's." No! He says, "I want you to make straight A's." Does he actually believe that they will do so? Well, he hopes that they will, of course, but he knows that they may fall short of his expectations and hopes. If he's a good father, he will love them anyway. But he would be a poor father indeed if he did not hold them to the highest of standards. That is what it means to be an idealist. There is nothing unrealistic about it.
Being willing to speak the truth at all costs can be costly. It was for Jesus. It was for Martin Luther King. But one is what one is. I could no more change my basic temperament than a leopard can change its spots. So those of you who read this blog may notice, from time to time, that I write things which have the potential to offend people --- particularly people who have bought into the liberal secular views so characteristic of the age in which we live, but also people who claim to share my Christian beliefs even though their actions and words are completely lacking in the traits one might expect from people who take Christ's teachings seriously.
Believe it or not, I don't really enjoy rubbing people the wrong way. But what's the point of having a blog if you can't be honest when you post entries to that blog? It's not my fault that some people can't handle the truth as I see it. (I would never arrogantly claim that my opinions are infallible, but I do believe that they are based on solid and defensible reasons.)
In this diverse world of ours, there are so many people with so many incompatible opinions that the only way to avoid occasionally offending someone is to abstain from discussing anything of real importance. And I don't have much interest in such "small talk". As I see it, a person has the moral responsibility to make a real difference in this world, and that, by definition, requires the willingness to take risks.
Friday, December 16, 2005
During my senior year in high school, prior to graduating in 1974, I often hitchhiked to school, usually after missing the school bus. Nevertheless, I sometimes got to school ahead of the bus! (I did have a car in high school, but there were times when it was in the shop, and I needed an affordable alternative to the bus, and to taxi cabs.)
The bus system in Springfield (a town of about 140,000 people) wasn't like it is in a big city like Chicago. Often, even on major routes, the bus would only run once an hour or so. You couldn't just step outside the house, walk to the bus stop and expect that a bus would be there soon. You had to call ahead to ask when a bus was scheduled to arrive at a particular corner, and then plan accordingly. Sometimes, that was just too much of a pain in the behind.
During those years, I sometimes rode my bicycle, but there were times when that wasn't fast enough, and there were other times when the distance I had to travel was too far to make bike travel feasible. Consequently, hitchhiking made it possible for me to lead something resembling a normal life even during times when I didn't have a functioning car of my own.
In 1974, after graduating from high school, I once hitchhiked from Boston, MA to Springfield, MO in 3 days' time. In other words, I averaged 500 miles a day, just by standing at the side of the road and sticking my thumb out. Not too shabby! I even met some really nice people along the way, including a young Christian guy (in East St. Louis, IL) who let me stay in his basement apartment overnight so I wouldn't have to pay for a motel. (It was a Sunday night, so we went to church together. The next morning, he went off to his gig as a door-to-door Bible salesman after dropping me off by the side of the road to resume my trip. It was kind of amusing to see how he prepared for his day of door-to-door sales, by doing a little cheerleader's routine, for lack of a better term, which was designed to "pump him up" for the day ahead.)
When I was in college at the College of the Ozarks (near Branson, Misouri), hitchhiking was just about the only way for me to visit my mother in Springfield (40 miles away), except for times when she drove down to visit me. Branson is O.K. as a tourist town, but it lacks a lot of things Springfield has, so I made that trip a number of times. I also hitchhiked to Kansas City for the annual convention of a group, now defunct, called the Fellowship of Contemporary Christian Ministries. That was a fun trip! I heard (and jammed with) some very talented Christian musicians at that event.
It was illegal to hitchhike on the Interstate highways, but not on the on-ramps, so that's where I stood, whenever possible, in order to catch a ride. Since I generally played by the rules, I was never arrested for hitchhiking, although I was questioned by police officers or highway patrol officers on a few occasions. Usually, they were very nice to me.
For quite a few years, hitchhiking was just what I did whenever I needed to get somewhere and didn't have the means with which to do so otherwise. When I could drive, of course, I drove my own car, but there were times when that wasn't an option. (For example, I had no car during the two years when I was at College of the Ozarks.) Even bus trips cost significant money, compared with the cost of hitching a ride; and in some cases, there were no available bus routes, anyway. (To this day, I don't think that one can travel from Springfield to Branson, or vice versa, via bus, unless it's part of an official "package tour" oriented around the music shows in Branson. That's ridiculous! You shouldn't have to have a car to travel between those two towns.)
Of course, I sometimes got discouraged when hitchhiking. Sometimes I'd have to wait an hour or two before someone would pick me up. (Extending one's thumb for long periods of time, when it's really cold outside, can be a recipe for pain.) But sooner or later, I would almost always get a ride in time to get to my destination on time. Usually, it took more than one ride to get where I was going, since the people with whom I rode would take me part of the way, and I'd then get another ride or two which took me the rest of the way. But there were even times when the people who gave rides to me would go out of their way to take me all the way to my destination!
I lived in Sioux City, IA for one-and-a-half years (1978-1979). During that time, I hitchhiked to Springfield, Missouri (and back again) on at least a couple of occasions to visit with my mother and brother. One of those trips took longer than I expected, and I ended up having to stay at a homeless shelter in Kansas City overnight, before resuming my trip the next day. But that was the only time I ever stayed in such a shelter. More often, I'd arrive in a town, look up several churches in the area, and find one where they were willing to let me sleep in the church overnight, in my sleeping bag.
While living in Sioux City, I also hitchhiked to Omaha, NE during a snow storm, to meet Calvin Miller, the author of "The Singer", "The Song" and "The Finale", as well as numerous other Christian books. (I'd become familiar with his books through The Shepherd Shop, a Christian bookstore in Sioux City.) During that trip, I also visited a local recording studio, where met Chip Davis, the producer and musician responsible for all the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums. I had a severe cold by the time I met with Calvin Miller, so he voluntarily gave me money with which to pay for a bus trip back to Sioux City, to keep me from having to hitchhike back to Sioux City in the snow. I was very grateful! (For information about Calvin Miller, visit this web page.)
One time, while hitching through northern Iowa with a fellow student at Western Iowa Tech Community College (where I studied piano tuning and rebuilding), I called a church, only to be told that they were having a youth event at the church that night. The pastor said that I couldn't stay in their church, on account of that event, but they'd be happy to pay for a motel room for the two of us! It was a pretty nice motel, too, complete with a color TV.
My friend on that trip, Jeff Smith, had wanted to keep hitchhiking that night, but I knew better than to try to do so. Even then, no one wanted to pick up hitchhikers after dark, so I'd found that it was best to travel as far as possible during daylight hours, then find a local place to stay before the sun went down. Amazingly, I never once had to sleep at the side of the road during all my hitchhiking adventures!
The trip I took with Jeff was on account of the fact that I'd heard that Francis Schaeffer, a favorite Christian writer of mine, was at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he was being treated for cancer. I really wanted to meet him. (I'd heard him speak at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, in Massachusetts, in 1974, and he was an impressive speaker. But I'd never actually spoken with him.) Jeff accompanied me, even though he was into eastern religion, not Christianity. (We often debated one another, in a spirit of friendship, regarding our respective beliefs.) As it turned out, the Mayo Clinic wasn't open during the weekends, when we arrived, but we went to a Christian coffeehouse, where I ended up playing some of my tunes on the guitar. We stayed in a motel in Rochester, MN, where we had frozen pizza for dinner, went to bed, and then hitchhiked back to Sioux City the next day.
Often, when I would tell people about my hitchhiking trips, those who had never traveled that way would react with horror. Wasn't I afraid of being molested or killed by a maniac on the side of some deserted road? Well, frankly, no. The vast majority of people who picked me up were just normal, decent people who wanted some companionship while driving. This was the mid-to-late seventies, of course, so I also got rides from a few people who tried to persuade me to do drugs with them, but I never encountered any real resistance when I declined to do so. I do seem to remember that one guy was so disappointed by my unwillingness to get high with him that he pulled over and told me to get out of the car, but that was an exception.
I've never liked being a passenger in a car which is being driven by a person who's drunk or high, because it's just plain dangerous, but fortunately, I don't recall ever getting a ride from anyone who was clearly impaired enough to pose a serious danger.
I did get picked up, once or twice, by people who made me nervous (such as one group of guys, not far from the College of the Ozarks, who thought it was funny to joke about how fun it would be to shoot me), but those rides ended happily nevertheless. Overall, I would say that such people were no more common, when hitchhiking, than they would be in other social settings. And really, when you think about it, there's not a huge difference between hitchhiking and asking a person you've just met at a party for a ride home because the person with whom you came left early, or wants to leave later than you need to leave.
Life is inherently risky, and at some point, you just have to trust God for your protection. I honestly believe that one reason I had so many trouble-free rides was that I always prayed for God's blessing and protection before I took such a trip.
Younger readers may never experience hitchhiking for themselves, so let me describe what it's like to be a hitchhiker:
Standing by the side of the road, waiting to get a ride, can be a meditative experience. You watch the sun traversing the sky, and you really observe your surroundings in a way that most drivers never experience. You hear the cars driving by, of course, and you get a chance to contemplate the "Doppler effect" which causes the pitch of that sound to change as cars approach you and then drive away. But you also hear the birds, the crickets, and the wind.
You may sing or talk to yourself, or pray to the Lord, in order to keep your spirits up. Sometimes, you may walk in the direction of your destination, just a little bit, to keep from getting bored. But you don't do that very often, because you know that it's pointless. If you're hitching, it's because the distance is far too great to travel on foot. And every second that you're facing forward is a second when you run the risk of missing a great ride. With very rare exceptions, people won't pick up a hitchhiker unless they can see his face. And that thumb has got to be extended!
When you do get a ride, you always approach that car with a big smile on your face and a willingness to talk about whatever the driver wants to talk about, because you know that he wouldn't be picking you up in the first place if he wasn't looking for at least a little bit of conversation. But you also approach that car with a bit of wariness, ready to turn down the ride if things "smell funny". Fortunately, that rarely happens.
Overall, the experience of hitchhiking is like no other, and it can be a source of rich memories.
One thing I found ironic was that when I was hitchhiking, it was almost always those people who had very little to give who were the most generous. Expensive cars which were obviously owned by rich men would almost always pass me by, even though I could see, as they did so, that they were occupied only by their drivers, and had plenty of room for me. But I got lots of rides from people who clearly didn't have much in the way of their own resources. Sometimes, I had to squeeze into cars which were already pretty full of passengers. Sometimes, I got rides in the back of pickup trucks, and I even got rides on the backs of motorcycles on a few occasions. (To this day, I've never learned to ride a motorcycle on my own, but I know how to ride on the back of one, although I'm not all that fond of the experience!)
Occasionally, a driver would ask me to contribute by buying gas, and I tried to oblige when I had the money with which to do so. But it was rarely required. One driver even offered to give me $20, in addition to the ride, and I'd be lying if I said that I turned the offer down! He said that all he asked in return was that I "pay it forward" (an expression which later became the title of a movie).
I sometimes met other hitchhikers during my travels (and also when I was driving my own car, since I would usually pick up hitchhikers when I saw them). The vast majority, in my experience, were just normal people who were trying to get from one place to another in spite of the fact that they didn't have much money. The myth of the psychopathic hitchhiker, promoted by paranoid people such as newspaper columnist Ann Landers, was just that. Undoubtedly, they got their ideas from occasional news stories about crimes committed by hitchhikers. But take almost any demographic group, and you'll probably find that crimes have occasionally been committed by members of that group. In Kansas, the BTK killer was a church deacon, as I recall. Should we now therefore be afraid of associating with church deacons? Of course not. But that was the kind of lame "reasoning" on which most fears related to hitchhiking were based.
But people are often irrational. The effects of a constant barrage of anti-hitchhiking publicity were to create an atmosphere in which a once-viable mode of transportation became increasingly unreliable. Things had already changed significantly by the time when I moved to Illinois in the early nineties. I once made the mistake of trying to hitchhike from a commuter train station in northern Illinois to the home of a person I was staying with at the time. Cars were whizzing by me constantly, but no one would pick me up. (It was hard for me not to feel angry at them for their indifference to my need.) Eventually, I managed to make it back, but not before walking so far that my feet and legs were in extreme pain. Eventually, I approached a nearby house and asked the occupants if they would drive me the rest of the way, because I couldn't afford a cab. Fortunately, they had mercy on me.
That, of course, was about ten years before Sept. 11, 2001. These days, if you hitchhike, you're suspected of being a terrorist, a sexual predator or any number of other scary things. It's still possible to hitchhike successfully in certain regions of the country, but by and large, it is no longer a viable source of transportation.
Or is it?
I just visited CraigsList.com (for the Chicago area), and found a "Rides" section where people seeking to give or receive rides could do so by placing free ads. That, it seems to me, is the wave of the future for people who can't afford to make trips they need to make, and for those who dislike the loneliness (and the wastefulness, in terms of gasoline) of driving long distances alone.
The ideal scenario would be a web-based service which would offer the option of pre-ride background checks, both for drivers and riders, so as to minimize the risk of such trips. Of course, that wouldn't be viable for spontaneous, unplanned trips, but at least it would make it possible to travel long distances, with sufficient planning, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of hitchhiking.
Back when I was a frequent hitchhiker, I sometimes found myself in the driver's seat of my own car as well. On those occasions, I almost always pulled over and gave rides to hitchhikers when I saw them. I knew what it was like to need a ride, and I felt that I had no right to expect others to stop for me unless I was willing to stop for other hitchhikers.
I would still do so today, if given the opportunity, but I haven't owned a car in more than a decade, and I've pretty much stayed in Chicago during that time, except for occasional trips I've taken to Missouri, on Greyhound buses and in airplanes. It's very unlikely that I'll ever hitchhike again, not because I've changed, but because the country has changed. But maybe, with web-based ride-sharing options such as the one offered by CraigsList.com, I'll get to see my mother a bit more in the future, even if I can't afford to travel in a more conventional manner.
UPDATE: Not long ago, I did a web search on my own name, and I found a link to this blog article at the following site: http://www.digihitch.com/link-19.html. That site led me to this site: http://rideboard.digihitch.com/. Apparently, the latter site is designed specifically for hooking up would-be riders with those willing to give rides to such people. A very good idea!
Friday, December 09, 2005
Dr. Phil: "You can't change what you don't acknowledge."
MP: That certainly seems applicable to people with problems of any kind. Living in "da' Nile" is good if you're a crocodile or a hippo. Living in denial is unwise. One could even argue that it's sinful, since lying is a sin, and "living in denial" is just another way of lying to yourself.
Dr. Phil: "People who have nothing to hide hide nothing."
MP: Well, usually that's true. Sometimes people are forced by circumstances to hide things for which they have no legitimate reason to be ashamed. To paraphrase Al Pacino, some people can't handle the truth.
For example, in the course of a job interview, most people say that it's unwise to say bad things about your former employer, even if that person deserves it. Hence, euphemisms abound in many job interviews.
A job applicant is often asked, "Why did you leave your last job?" In response, the applicant may say, "My boss and I had incompatible personalities," when what that person really wants to say is, "My boss was an egomaniacal jerk who treated me like garbage for no apparent reason."
It's sad, but nevertheless true, that survival in this world can sometimes be a matter of whether or not you're willing to play the game, even if that means being less than completely forthcoming in some situations.
Nevertheless, it's always better if you can find some way to tell the truth, even if it's just a partial truth. Some people call this "spinning the truth" or "focusing on the positive" or "diplomacy", but whatever you call it, it's sometimes necessary if you don't want to be forever handicapped by past circumstances over which you had no control.
Dr. Phil: "You teach people how to treat you."
MP: Here, Phil's saying that if you put up with all kinds of garbage from people, don't be surprised when they continue to unload their trash cans on your front lawn. Amen to that! I believe in the need for forgiveness, but unlike a lot of Christians, I also believe in holding people accountable for their actions. If you don't stand up for your right to be treated fairly, then you bear part of the blame for any subsequent abuse you may receive from that same person.
More importantly you may also bear part of the blame when such people go on to abuse others, as they almost certainly will if no one forces them to deal with the consequences of their actions. Even if you're a completely selfless person, that's something to take into consideration.
Dr. Phil: "Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior."
MP: This is related to the quote about teaching people how to treat you. Again, forgiveness is an important component in the life of every Christian, but I don't think God expects us to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that people who have proven through their acts that they aren't trustworthy can be trusted. Lying to yourself isn't any more admirable than any other kind of lying. People who genuinely want to turn over a new leaf should always be given the chance to do so, but those who refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing should understand that there will be consequences for their refusal to repent.
Dr. Phil: "You'd care less about what other people thought of you if you knew how seldom they do."
MP: That's supposed to make a person feel good? But, no, Phil's right. Besides, people think all kinds of things, and what may impress one person in a positive way may impress someone else with different values in a completely different way. One person may think that the fact that you're a virgin (as I am) is a testimony to your ability to resist the temptation to sin sexually. Another person with different values may think that all virgins are losers. No matter who you are, you'll never please everyone, so you need to worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what God thinks of you. Ultimately, his opinion trumps all other opinions anyway.
Dr. Phil: "Money problems can't be solved with money."
MP: That's pretty simplistic, I think. It depends on how one defines a money problem. Even the hardest-working person with the best money management skills sometimes comes up short due to circumstances beyond his or her control.
Consider the victims of Hurricane Katrina! Telling them that their money problems couldn't be solved by money would have sounded like a lame excuse to abstain from helping them to rebuild their lives in the wake of that crisis, for which most of them were not to blame.
Even in cases where people get into financial trouble on account of unwise personal choices, that's still no excuse for treating them with calloused indifference. We all make bad decisions sometimes, and since that's the case, we ought to treat others as we would want to be treated in similar circumstances.
Besides, even if it's true that a person with bad money management skills will eventually get into financial trouble again, a temporary solution is better than no solution at all, since it buys time in which the person may conceivably be able to assess past mistakes in order to learn from them.
So, O.K., Dr. Phil isn't perfect. Who is? Nevertheless, I think that the vast majority of the quotes listed above (and in the preceding blog post) are useful, particularly to people who are struggling with various issues and challenges in their lives.
Because I'm a big bald guy with a thick moustache, I've sometimes been told that I look a bit like Dr. Phil McGraw, the popular TV psychologist from Texas, or to "meathead" from All In The Family.
(When I have had a beard, I've been compared with Dr. Andrew Weill, the nutritional "guru", or to the guys from Z.Z. Top, depending on how long my beard is at the time. And let's not forget the comparisons to good 'ol St. Nick, whose beard, like Dr. Weill's, is noticeably whiter than mine has ever been.)
I'm not quite sure why people feel compelled to tell me who I remind them of. Maybe that kind of thing happens to everyone, I don't know. To me, I seems kind of rude for people to comment on my appearance in such a manner (especially when the person is comparing me to Santa Claus!), but maybe I'm just overly sensitive.
At any rate, I can think of worse people to be compared with than Dr. Phil, who sometimes offers pretty good advice on his show, even though he almost never really addresses underlying spiritual issues.
On 1/6/2003, Dr. Phil McGraw had what I considered to be a particularly good show, pertaining to New Year's Resolutions. So good, in fact, that I took notes. He offered the following tips and advice (which are paraphrased slightly), followed by my own comments (as indicated by the initials MP):
DR. PHIL: Be accountable to others, and be honest with them.
MP: This is the key behind the success of groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. But accountability to other human beings, who can be fooled if you really want to fool them badly enough, is less foolproof than accountability to God. If you're conscious of the fact that he knows everything about what you think and do, and if you understand that he will hold you accountable on Judgment Day, it tends to make self-discipline a lot easier.
DR. PHIL: Replace bad behaviors with new, good behaviors.
MP: Good advice. Many of our self-destructive behaviors are just our ways of killing time. Telling someone not to do something isn't much help if you don't tell him what he ought to be doing instead. But notice that judgment is required, inasmuch as one is required to decide what constitutes bad behavior and what constitutes good behavior. So the first step is to resist the nonsense of moral relativism, which says that all things are of equal value. The second step is to make sure that our definitions of bad and good are aligned with the values of our Creator, who alone can be trusted as a source of perfect knowledge about such things.
DR. PHIL: The difference between a goal and a dream is a timeline (which enables you to measure your progress). Set specific goals with measurable results and a timeline.
MP: Great advice, to a point, but it presumes that you always have the ability to project how long a particular task is going to take. Sometimes you're just guessing when you set up such a timeline, and the accuracy of your guess will depend a great deal on your level of knowledge and experience, as well as your ability to accurately foresee all of the complications which might arise. No one can be expected to do that perfectly. An event such as Hurricane Katrina can throw a monkey wrench into even the best of plans.
DR. PHIL: You can't always control results (e.g., how much you weigh), but you can control your actions, so set goals in terms of actions likely to bring you closer to your desired results, not in terms of results which can't be controlled. For example, say, "I will walk one mile each day," not "I will lose 20 lbs. by March 1".
MP: Recognition that one can't always control results is essential for people engaged in Christian ministry. We would like to be able to convert the whole world to Christ, but the reality is that the most we can be expected to do is to clearly communicate our beliefs with others. Beyond that, how they respond is ultimately their choice.)
DR. PHIL: To overcome temptation (e.g., to smoke, overeat, etc.), control your environment (e.g., by choosing not to buy cigarettes, fattening foods, etc.). Don't set yourself up for failure.
MP: Sometimes, controlling one's environment is easier said than done! But Dr. Phil has a valid point. It's a good idea to do so whenever possible. If you are an alcoholic, for example, it probably isn't very smart to go into bars and liquor stores.
DR. PHIL: Talk to yourself in ways which encourage and reinforce good behavior. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. If you keep telling yourself something is hopeless, then it is. Don't make excuses.
MP: "If you can believe it, you can achieve it" is one of those clever but overly simplistic things frequently said by motivational speakers and TV shrinks. All human beings have objective limitations. Believing that one can fly high above the clouds without the aid of mechanical devices of any kind doesn't make one a positive thinker, it makes one delusional!
However, it certainly is true that we can often accomplish more than we thought possible, and it certainly is true that approaching life with a spirit of optimism can substantially increase the probability that we will succeed, if for no other reason than the fact that pessimism saps us of the energy and motivation we need in order to do great things.
As a Christian, I might add that we can accomplish a lot more if we put our faith in God. Our success is no longer reliant solely on our own strength and our own efforts, because he is there to help and strengthen us. The Bible says that with faith, all things are possible. With faith, we can move mountains.
DR. PHIL: Will power is a myth.
MP: I don't completely agree with this one, but I do agree that for those who are struggling with serious addictions or negative habits, will power isn't always sufficient. "Will power," it seems to me, is just a phrase which means that sometimes we have to make tough choices, and stick with those tough choices even though it isn't easy to do so, in order to exercise conscious control over our own lives. Will power can also include planning our lives on the basis of the wise principles Dr. Phil teaches.
DR. PHIL: The power of an immediate reward is greater than the power of a longterm penalty.
MP: This may be one reason why people who don't meditate frequently on the possibility of Heaven and Hell tend to need more temporal rewards in order to be motivated to do the right thing. Those who meditate on such matters tend to find deferred gratification much easier, even though it still isn't easy by any means.
DR. PHIL: The difference between winners and losers is that winners do things (such as working out at the gym, studying for exams, working hard, etc.) which losers don't want to do.
MP: This raises big questions in my mind. What is a winner? What is a loser?
We all win (in the short term) from time to time, and we all lose (in the short term) from time to time. Winning in this life is sometimes more a matter of good luck than any significant achievement, and losing in this life is sometimes more a matter of bad luck than any personal failure. To call a person a "loser", therefore, isn't so much a statement about whether or not the person has recently lost anything of value. It's more of an insult with regard to that person's fundamental character.
Labeling certain people as "losers" is a common practice in our society, but I question whether or not such labels are consistent with a Christian worldview. There is a sense in which we are all losers, since we have all fallen short of God's plans for our lives. To single out certain individuals and to call them names seems to be contrary to the spirit of Christian love and humility.
Moreover, it seems to me that we won't really know for sure, until the day of final judgment, who the real winners and losers were. Jesus said, "What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?" Many people who are currently considered to be winners in this world will be seen as losers on Judgment Day. Conversely, many now considered to be losers will receive top honors. If you don't believe me, read the Beatitudes.
However, I understand that Phil is trying to distinguish between those who are successful in their attempts to achieve things and those who are not. He's essentially saying that self-discipline is an essential component in success, and he's right about that.
Self-discipline is not just a matter of doing things you don't want to do. It's also a matter of abstaining from doing things you ought not to do. Self-disciplined people resist the temptation to do things (such as taking recreational drugs, having sex outside of marriage, etc.) which are not in their best interests.
DR. PHIL: You don't have to resist temptations constantly, you just have to make it past "narrow impulse moments".
MP: I might add that the more success you experience in resisting temptations, the easier such resistance becomes, because it becomes harder for you to believe the tempter's lies about "irresistable temptations", since you've proved that they can in fact be resisted.
DR. PHIL: Your beliefs about your own identity can affect your ability to resist temptations. If you label yourself by saying such things as "I'm an addict" or "I'm a criminal" or "I'm a fat person" or "I'm a loser", then you're programming yourself to act in certain self-destructive ways. Don't confuse what you do (or, for that matter, what other people may say you are) with your intrinsic identity.
MP: As a Christian, I would add that we need to remind ourselves that people are fallible, both with regard to their assessments of others and their assessments of themselves. Only God possesses perfect insight into a person's identity, so our identity should be based on his word, not on our own fallible opinions or the fallible opinions of others. If we have met God's requirements in terms of the repentance which leads to salvation, then we are children of God, because he declares it to be so. Therefore, that is our identity, regardless of how much success we may or may not experience in this life.
DR. PHIL: Take small steps regularly, and you will achieve your larger goals, too.
MP: There's nothing wrong with having large goals. But it's hard to measure progress in relation to such goals than it is to measure progress in relation to smaller related tasks.
DR. PHIL: Failure is not a valid excuse for abandoning one's goals. Everyone fails sometimes, the difference between winners and losers is that winners never give up on valid goals.
MP: And of course, it helps to know that when we fail, God is there to forgive us, pick us up and set us on the right path again.
Overall, I'd say that Dr. Phil offers a lot of good (albeit incomplete) advice.
But it isn't the decor, the prices or the food which have been getting a lot of press. It's the fact that they have a rather unusual way of presenting their food. One web site I visited referred to the practice as "“nyotaimori”, which apparently is a fancy way of saying that they serve sushi on the body of a naked (or nearly naked) woman. As if sushi wasn't already raw enough!
Kizoku charges a steep price ($500 for a dinner for four) for the privilege of eating dinner in a manner which would have pleased Caligula.
Of course, you won't find any pictures of "naked sushi" on the restaurant's website. After all, it's a "classy" establishment. You'll have to search the web via Google or Yahoo in order to find photos of one of their human serving trays with raw fish perched precariously on her breasts and other body parts.
At www.wtmx.com, in a blog entry by Kathy of the Eric and Kathy Show, we read the following:
Kudos to Tabitha. She's done more than 50 dinners and has gotten to be quite the pro. She prepares by not eating or drinking much beforehand and other than the occasional itch she's unable to scratch, has no problems for the 60-90 minutes she is laying there nearly still.Yeah, she's quite a "pro". She's not only good at suppressing the urge to scratch when she itches, she's good at suppressing the urgings of her conscience as well. Kind of like a whore who learns to deal with the dehumanizing aspects of prostitution by living in denial about the depravity of her (or his) lifestyle.
Earlier, I wrote a blog in which I criticized the city of New Orleans on account of its well-earned reputation for carnality and the public celebration of the same. I even implied that the tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flood might have been an act of divine judgment. Well, all I can say is that it's a good thing for Chicago that our city isn't in the hurricane zone, because we seem to be headed in the same direction morally. We haven't reached rock bottom, yet, but we're headed in that direction.
No doubt, there are those who would call me "prudish" and "intolerant" for suggesting such a thing. There are those who would say that I'm "hung up" about sex. Well, folks, I've seen pictures of naked women, and I think they're pretty pleasant to behold. Sex is a wonderful thing. After all, God invented it, and when he did so, he called it good. There's not a person on the planet who doesn't owe his or her existence to an act of sexual intercourse.
Nevertheless, I've never experienced sexual intercourse for myself, since I believe in keeping God's commandments, which prohibit fornication and adultery.
Judging by the movie trailers I've seen, the "40 Year Old Virgin" of movie fame couldn't "get laid" even though he kept trying. Hence, he was rightfully regarded as a failure. But virginity isn't a failure if it's the result of a deliberate commitment to obey God.
In any event, regardless of whether or not you agree with the idea that people should wait until marriage before having sex, the "naked sushi" controversy is not about being ashamed of sex. It's about whether or not there are legitimate societal taboos pertaining to public acts, whether those taboos pertain to things of a sexual nature or to nonsexual things like farting or spitting on the carpet.
Inhibitions have gotten a bad rap. A society without inhibitions is a society in which people are indifferent to the effects of their actions on their fellow human beings, and that's just plain rude.
It seems to me that it's just a short step from serving raw fish on topless women to having sexual orgies in public. In fact, I read not long ago that there are actually bars, in Chicago, for people who go there specifically to have sexual orgies with one another. It's called "the lifestyle", thanks to the 1999 movie which celebrated what used to be called "swinging". So far, I've managed to avoid going into such an establishment, and I hope to keep it that way.
Now, some would argue that no one has to eat naked sushi, or visit a "swinger's bar", unless he or she chooses to do so. Therefore, they would argue, it's a "private" matter, and I should mind my own business.
That argument, it seems to me, is as ridiculous as saying that since most acts of prostitution only occur behind closed doors, society should exhibit an interest in such acts only if and when they spill out onto the streets. The trouble with both arguments is that they ignore the intrinsic social dimension of sex.
Acts of sex which take place in the context of the institution of marriage strengthen society (all other things being equal), because marriage affirms that sex is just one dimension of a rich, multifaceted relationship.
But there is an opposing dynamic, one which would weaken the family (thereby hurting children) by creating a mindset in which sex is just one more form of recreation, comparable to going to the movies or riding the rollercoaster at Six Flags. When sex becomes "just another business", it negatively affects the stability of families, which results in the need for a host of costly social programs which wouldn't have been necessary if people had just taken God's commands seriously. And that, my friend, is everyone's business.
Now, whether or not it is everyone's business to the extent that it should become a matter of law is debatable. I do recognize that we don't live in a theocracy, and I recognize that there are legitimate limits, in a pluralistic society, to the imposition of moral values on those who don't agree with those values. But even if this is a case where the law ought to "butt out", it seems to me, at the very least, that my civil liberties as a citizen include the right to speak out against what I consider to be harmful practices and trends.
Sex is wonderful precisely because it involves bonding with another human being to whom you are committed, and with whom you are willing to work hard in order to create a loving family. A committed relationship will endure long after the shortlived ecstasy of orgasm is a distant memory.
But we Americans tend to see things solely through the rose-colored glasses of consumerism, and we are increasingly oblivious to the necessity and wisdom of self-restraint. Hence, anything which stands to make a buck is tolerated, even encouraged. Who cares if those ignorant yahoos from the Bible belt are offended? For that matter, who cares if God is offended? Live for today, live for yourself, ignore little matters like morality and Judgment Day, and maybe, if you're lucky, they'll go away.
But they won't go away. God's laws are eternal. What's transient (and ultimately unsatisfying) is the pleasure which comes from disobedience to him.
How do I know? Because I have done my own thing more than once, and I've lived to regret it. Fortunately, I've discovered that the God who judges is also the God who forgives, provided that we are willing to humble ourselves and acknowledge that we need his forgiveness.
Many decades ago, in a culture in which some form of Christianity was generally taken for granted, it didn't take much courage to take a stand for Christ and for righteousness. But that is no longer the culture in which we live.
If you lack moral courage, and if you want to blend in with the crowd, then capitulate to the latest immoral fad, even if it means eating raw fish off the body of a naked woman. But there will come a time when you will pay a price for your self-indulgence and shortsightedness. Don't say I didn't tell you so.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
The trouble is that my enjoyment of writing long and highly detailed analyses of various issues can be a real distraction from tasks I need to accomplish in order to address my own material need for sustenance. This is particularly true when temptation is as close as my laptop computer, and when the interactive nature of the Web offers me far more opportunities to express myself than I would otherwise have.
About a month ago, I lost my job as an administrative assistant. I've mentioned that before in this blog. I've been seeking work since then, but so far, nothing. My finances are dwindling day by day. Even if I got hired today for a full-time job, which seems highly unlikely, I'd probably only have one paycheck in-between now and December 1 when the rent is due. That rent is a mere $404, but I still need to feed myself and pay other expenses, such as my CTA pass, food, laundry, my ISP bill (so that I can continue to send out resumes via e-mail) and so forth. So there's a big question in my mind regarding whether or not I'm going to be able to pay my rent on time in December. It seems highly unlikely at this point.
Whenever one goes without work long enough that it begins to pose a serious threat to one's ability to do such basic things as paying the rent on time, guilt becomes a factor. Questions begin to knaw through one's brain. Did I do enough today? Is the fact that I still haven't found work my fault? Does the fact that I keep going through these types of crises mean that I'm a total loser? Questions like that. It can begin to negatively affect one's emotional well-being in a serious way. Nerves become frayed, and phrases such as "fear factor" take on a whole new meaning. I went through a similar experience a couple of years ago, and now it seems that I'm going through it all over again.
My conscience tells me that nearly every waking second should be spent applying for jobs or working in some other capacity to alleviate this situation, but I sometimes get distracted by such things as responding to e-mail messages about matters which are of passionate interest to me. (When one loses a job, one doesn't just suddenly become a whole different person. It isn't easy for me to just turn my interests on and off like a light switch.)
But I just can't afford to keep doing that. I realized that after spending a long time last night writing a very long response to a comment on a blog I'd written about evolution. Before I knew it, it was 2:00 in the morning and I still hadn't gone to bed. The response I posted may or may not have been sufficiently lucid and intelligent, I don't know. Maybe it was good for me to do what I did by writing it. But I just can't do that anymore. My financial survival is currently in jeopardy, and that has to be my top priority.
Therefore, this blog is being written and posted in order to announce that for the time being, I am turning off the Comments feature in this blog, not because I want to censor anyone, but because responding to such comments is too much of a distraction from the many things I'm going to have to do in order to deal with this crisis in which I find myself.
If anyone reading this should feel so inclined to do so, I would appreciate it if you would pray for me. I could really use it. I could really use some tangible financial help, too. It seems unlikely, though, that I will get such material help from anyone. My experiences in the past have not been very positive in that regard. Getting anyone to do more than offer kind words of encouragement is like pulling teeth. Kind words of encouragement are appreciated, of course, but they won't pay the bills, so they won't really relieve the stress I'm feeling right now.
Well, God will take care of my somehow. I have to keep believing that. But there are times in my life, like right now, when such faith doesn't come easily to me.
Monday, November 14, 2005
I miss those days. Some of my best friendships were developed during that time of my life. People weren't perfect, of course, but the people who were part of that movement did seem to have a genuine love for God and for all people, saved or otherwise.
These days, it seems to me, the church could use a lot more Jesus freaks, and a lot fewer control freaks. Many of our pastors (some of whom, ironically, were once part of the Jesus movement, and some of whom think that they still are) have become bullies who believe that the fact that they're in charge entitles them to run roughshod over the feelings and needs of others in their congregations. They may give lip service to the idea that ministers of the gospel ought to emulate Christ by serving others, but their actions speak more loudly than their words.
This is particularly true when it comes to the way many pastors treat musicians. Even though it would be extremely difficult to find a really successful church which had no talented musicians on its worship team, there are still pastors who treat musicians as if they are expendable, and as if their needs, material and otherwise, are utterly unimportant.
Even in cases where there is no evidence to substantiate such accusations, musicians are often presumed to be immature people who need to be "humbled" (or, to be more accurate, repeatedly denigrated and humiliated) in the name of spiritual discipline, for no better reason than the fact that they are musicians! And then people wonder why they aren't constantly bubbling over with the "joy of the Lord".
Admittedly, there are some musicians, just as there are Christians in all other walks of life, who deserve to be accused of being self-centered and immature. If and when that is the case, then it is appropriate for Christian leaders to speak the truth about such matters, provided that they are guided by love and humility when they communicate such things. But musicians have no monopoly on immaturity.
My father, for example, was once considered a "pillar of the community". He was an optometrist, and he loved the prestige which came from being called "Dr. Pettigrew". He was head of the local PTA, a well-known figure at Rotary and Toastmaster meetings, the Chairman of the Mayor's Commission on Human Rights, and (at one time) the president of the Missouri Optometric Association. He even had a photo of himself shaking hands with the Governor of Missouri, in his official capacity as the president of the MOA.
He was also a part-time minister (or what was called a "lay minister") in the Methodist church. Every Sunday morning, the people would stream out of the small country churches he led, saying things such as "What a wonderful sermon, Dr. Pettigrew!" They were right. My father had "charisma", and he could preach a magnificent sermon.
At one time in my life, I was actually very proud of him, despite his propensity for beating the living daylights out of me with his thin leather belt for the most trivial of offenses. But there came a time when I could no longer feel proud of my father. By the time he died in 1999, he had:
- Violently thrown me up against the wall because I inadvertently left my football out in the front yard.
- Committed adultery.
- Denied that Christ had risen from the dead (during a conversation which I remember vividly, despite the passage of more than 30 years).
- Divorced my mother.
- Ridiculed both me and my mother for our growing Christian faith.
- ... and gone from being a "tee-totaller" to an alcoholic who, at one point, was so drunk that he couldn't even put his own pants on.
Gosh, I guess it's a good thing he wasn't a musician, too --- then he would have been really bad!
Pastors need to get their own houses in order before they start taking musicians to task. This, by the way, includes pastors who also happen to be talented musicians.
One such person, from the Chicago area, is Glenn Kaiser, the very talented singer and guitarist who once led the Resurrection Band, which I still consider to be one of the best bands in the history of rock music. (Notice that I didn't qualify that by saying, "one of the best Christian bands". They were that good.) Glenn, who is a pastor at Jesus People U.S.A. (where I lived for several months in 1991), recently stated the following (in his Blogger.com blog): "Talent doesn't EVER equal spiritual maturity. Never. Nada." He's right, it doesn't. And that's as applicable to his talent as it is to anyone else's.
By the same token, a position of authority in a local church or national ministry should never be automatically equated with spiritual maturity, either. From Jim Jones to Jim Bakker to Jimmy Swaggart to Jesse Jackson to the Catholic priests who have been convicted of the sexual abuse of minors, there are just too many examples of incompetent, self-centered, blatantly sinful pastors and priests for anyone but the most naive to think that authority in the church is equal to spiritual maturity.
Amazingly, despite many decades in which contemporary Christian music has had the opportunity to demonstrate its compatibility with the goals of the church, there are still pastors (usually theologically conservative pastors) who believe, despite the absence of any scriptures to support their views, that rock music is "of the Devil". When asked to cite the applicable scriptures, chapter and verse, they are unable to do so, of course, because no such scriptures exist in any known translation of the holy scriptures. Yet, rather than seeing Christian rock musicians as allies in the fight against the Devil's lies, they see such musicians as enemies to be opposed. Sometimes this opposition is very blatant, other times it's much more subtle, but in all instances, it can be a source of real spiritual stress for those who are doing their best to serve the Lord with the musical talents and extremely limited material resources given to them.
CCM, also known as Contemporary Christian Music, was a genre of music started by "Jesus freaks" who believed that it was irrational for Christians who claimed to be guided by the word of God to invent prohibitions (such as the prohibition against rock music) which had no basis in scripture. They saw no reason not to play or enjoy such music, and they saw it as a potent tool which could be used for evangelistic purposes.
Indeed, it was, as I saw firsthand when I promoted a Sweet Comfort Band concert when I was in college. Numerous people accepted Christ as Savior at that concert. That was hardly an isolated event. Many Christian rock concerts have led to conversions to the faith.
Yet, right from the start, Christian rock musicians faced an uphill battle. They were too Christian for the secular music market, and too radical for many of the older people who shared their Christian beliefs.
Eventually, after several decades of struggle, the vast majority of the church acknowledged that pop and rock music could be legitimate expressions of the faith. (Walk through any Bible bookstore today, if you don't believe me.) Unfortunately, it now seems legitimate to ask if it matters anymore. Somewhere along the way, people involved in the Christian music industry lost sight of why the pioneers (such as Larry Norman and Barry McGuire) had played and recorded contemporary Christian music in the first place.
The vision for changing the world with such music was lost. Instead of seeing CCM as a potent evangelistic tool, Christians started seeing such music as a "safe alternative" to worldly rock music. Instead of wanting to storm the gates of Hell, they wanted to retreat to a nice, warm castle which would protect them from the influence of the enemy.
I'm not completely unsympathetic. In any war, it's sometimes necessary to go on the defensive if you want to survive to see another day. But you'll never win any major wars if you stay on the defensive forever. To win wars, it's necessary to leave your comfort zone and take risks. These days, far too few Christians are willing to do that. There are a few Christian musicians who continue to try to bridge the gap between the church subculture and the larger culture which surrounds them, without compromising their faith or their commitment to musical excellence, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule.
As a result, American culture is on a downward path in terms of the collective moral values of our nation. While Christians hide behind stained glass doors and play church, people are dying outside.
Nostalgia can be a bad thing, of course. Even if we wanted to do so, it's highly doubtful that we could ever return to the glory days of the Jesus movement. But that doesn't mean that it's a bad idea to look at what we've lost, why we lost it, and what we could do and ought to do in order to recover that which was lost.
First of all, pastors need to stop selectively choosing to focus on only those scriptures which support their personal ambitions. They need to remind themselves that God is no respecter of persons. Every person in the Body of Christ is valuable. Therefore it is a disservice to the church and to Christ to run one's church in such a way that most people have no real voice with regard to the policies and practices within their own churches. In particular, Christians who seek to use the arts as a means of reconnecting the church to disenfranchised people ought to be encouraged and supported in those efforts.
Likewise, pastors need to recommit themselves to the principal that only the scriptures constitute God's word. Imposing their own personal preferences and prejudices on others, without any real scriptural justification for doing so, is simply unacceptable.
Second, Christians need to do some soul-searching with regard to their attitudes towards the lost. Do we really care about the masses of people who don't know the Lord? If so, why aren't we willing to reach out to them and communicate the gospel in a manner which will transcend the superficial cultural barriers which have prevented them from taking our message seriously? And why do we endlessly snipe at each other, when the only purpose that serves is to distract us from the task of fulfilling the Great Commission?
Ultimately, the Jesus Movement was not about superficial styles of clothing or music. It was about an attitude, one which transcends time and space, and that's the attitude that people matter. No one is expendable. Just because people dress differently or like different styles of music, that's no reason to treat them as if they are unimportant.
When the church becomes insular, when its focus is primarily on preserving the status quo rather than transforming it, it betrays the Lord, who came and died in order to seek and save all who were lost.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
This was my first blog entry, in which I established the foundational premise upon which future blog entries would be based:
This blog entry pertains to my musical talent and interests (including the development of my desire to serve the Lord with my music), and it contains some autobiographical information:
This very brief blog entry discusses my art and photos:
This contains some observations about the tragedy in New Orleans, including some observations about the general spiritual climate which was predominant in that city prior to Katrina, and the role that may have played in the tragedy:
This blog entry contains some observations about my frustrations in relation to my current career path:
This blog entry contains additional thoughts about New Orleans:
This blog entry contains information about the website I created (to showcase some of my flower & garden photos) in 2002:
This blog entry contains some generalized observations about bullies. It was inspired by a very unpleasant encounter with a co-worker, who could politely be described as psychotic:
This blog entry contains some thought-provoking ideas pertaining to how Christians ought to deal with the worldly influences which surround them:
This blog entry briefly describes my first visit to River North Baptist Church.
This blog entry discusses the benefits of blogging, compared with some of the drawbacks of using conventional bound paper journals for the purpose of recording one's thoughts:
This blog entry discusses some of my ideas about the benefits of Christian coffeehouses, what it takes to create an effective coffeehouse ministry, and how such a ministry might be part of a larger ministry pertaining to all facets of the arts:
This blog entry contains a thoughtful response to criticism I received in response to the first blog entry about Christian coffeehouses:
This blog entry should be of interest to Christians who believe, as I do, that our culture is exhibiting increasing hostility to Christian moral values:
This blog entry contains some of my thoughts about genealogy, in relation to issues of personal identity:
This blog entry contains lyrics to one of my more "confrontational" evangelistic Christian songs, inspired by a verse in the book of Proverbs:
This blog entry contains lyrics to a Christian love song I wrote recently:
This blog entry contains some ideas about how a Christian ought to live from day to day:
This blog entry contains my critique of evolutionary theory from a Christian perspective:
I've also written additional blogs since then, but they are still accessible via the main menu bar on the right side of this page, and likely will be for some time, so I have no need to list them in this way yet. But I very likely will do so later.
To live the contemplative life is something I desire.
To leave behind a legacy that points to something higher.
Yet, practical reality intrudes at every turn.
To balance in-between the two is something I must learn.
The dull, mundane realities I face from day to day
are merely temporary things which soon will pass away.
The thing which makes a life worthwhile is what one leaves behind.
And so I focus on the Truth, and discipline my mind.
Some men expire before they die; they’re merely marking time.
I pray my growth will never cease, for that would be a crime.
I soak up knowledge like a sponge, I thirst for even more.
I want to do a greater thing than what’s been done before.
And when I die, I pray that I will hear the words, “Well done.”
The only praise that really counts is praise from God’s own son.
Yet any praise I might receive is trivial indeed
compared with praise owed to the One who meets my every need.
No doubt, some people will think that the above poem is trite, or pretentious, or that it isn't sufficiently "hip" because it actually rhymes. (I personally think that "free verse" is just another term for "prose which is artfully arranged on the page by the typesetter".) Oh, well, you can't please everyone, but as the last few lines make plain, it isn't important to please everyone, anyway. Pleasing God is ultimately all that matters.
NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.
Friday, November 11, 2005
I begged to differ, and I still do.
I have no problem with the fact that there are certain prerogatives which come with being someone's boss, but I don't believe that bosses are exempt from the moral obligation to treat people decently, with kindness and respect. It's called the Golden Rule, and it applies to everyone without exception.
There is a verse in the Bible which says something to this effect: "To whom much is given, much will be required." Just as our domination of the earth's environment does not entitle us to abuse the environment, so also authority over other human beings does not entitle us to abuse them. Regardless of whether a person is a boss, a parent, a teacher or a political leader, God will hold that person accountable for how he or she has used (and, in some cases, abused) that position of authority.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
I went to public schools where I was indoctrinated with the view that evolution was a proven "fact", and where contrary views were generally dismissed or ignored. Nevertheless, I find evolutionary theory to be lacking in credibility.
Evolutionary theory is historically associated with the term "survival of the fittest". We are told that evolving from one species to another was nature's way of adapting to change which was so extreme that pre-evolutionary life forms could not have survived without evolving. That begs the following question: If apes needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, why is it that the apes seem to have survived even to the present day? If they were so "unfit" that they needed to evolve into human beings in order to survive, then shouldn't chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas logically be extinct? Clearly, evolution was not necessary for their survival.
We are told that the long neck of the modern giraffe was an evolutionary response to the fact that vegetation was increasingly scarce, and giraffes needed their long necks in order to be able to reach the branches of the tallest trees. That is ludicrous. Anyone who has observed the complex ecosystem present in modern Africa can see that there are plenty of other species there (such as various antelopes which subsist on low-lying vegetation) which have managed to survive quite nicely without the benefit of such long necks.
Moreover, even if a particular species proved to be truly unfit for its environment, one cannot help but be struck by the realization that genetic evolution is a mighty extreme response to a changing environment, given the fact that other responses, such as migration to more hospitable climates, would make much more sense. Unlike evolution, migration is a recurring natural phenomenon which can be easily observed, year in and year out.
Even if the Galapagos Islands where Darwin first conceived of evolution was so isolated that migration would have been impossible for the species living on that island, it does not follow that it wasn't an option for animal species living on larger continents. Yet Darwin and his followers essentially claimed that evolution occurred in all parts of the world, not just on that remote island.
No rational person would dispute the existence of the fossil evidence cited by proponents of evolutionary theory. But it does not follow from the fact that that evidence exists that a particular interpretation of its significance is correct. Were those scientists actually present, millions of years ago, to witness the evolution from one species to another? No. The most they can do is to engage in speculation about how and why the physical evidence came to be. It may be informed speculation, but it is speculation nevertheless; and while it may be considered plausible by some, it does not follow from the fact that something is plausible that it is indisputably true. It is seldom if ever the case that there is only one plausible explanation for a given piece of evidence.
If scientists were to discover the bones of an animal which looked as if it might be a “missing link” between ape and man, would it automatically follow that it was in fact a missing link? No. It might very well be a completely separate species --- created ex nihilo by God --- which subsequently became extinct.
Evolution cannot be replicated in a laboratory, and in fact, no scientist has ever produced conclusive proof that one species has ever evolved into another species. Genetic mutation, often cited by Darwin in connection with certain moths which mutated over a period of time, is not tantamount to evolution.
Ask yourself: Why is it so important for public school students to accept evolution as fact? How would a failure to do so handicap them in terms of their ability to accomplish things in life?
We know, of course, that certain sciences have numerous practical applications. For example, a person who refuses to accept existing knowledge about aerodynamics may very well be handicapped when attempting to design airplanes and rocket ships. Hence, it would make sense to insist that science teachers teach the science of aerodynamics to students wishing to pursue careers pertaining to aviation.
Likewise, a knowledge of molecular science and chemistry has numerous practical applications, including the discovery of various medicines and the invention of various household and industrial chemicals which can make life easier.
However, I fail to see the practical benefits of accepting evolutionary theory as fact. There is no product currently in use which could not have been designed by a believer in Intelligent Design. No scientist has ever managed to replicate evolution by designing a new species which started out as a different species. So why is acceptance of evolutionary theory so important to the mainstream scientific community? There must be some reason why so many scientists advocate such a questionable theory with such vigor!
My opinion is that evolutionary theory is the foundational premise for a new worldview or cosmology which has the principal unspoken objective of undermining belief in the reliability and primacy of divine revelation. While there are those who claim that Christianity and belief in evolution are compatible, it often turns out, on closer examination, that most of the people making such a claim believe that the authority of the scriptures is limited to moral issues, and that the scriptures are unreliable insofar as such things as miracles are concerned. Apparently, in their view, God can be trusted to tell the truth with regard to right and wrong, but he's hopelessly naive when it comes to scientific facts pertaining to the universe which he created!
This, of course, has the ultimate effect, intended or unintended, of causing people to wonder why God should be trusted to tell the truth about anything at all. After all, as the book of Job makes clear, God's authority to do things which humans sometimes find inexplicable rests on his infinite and vastly superior knowledge of the universe. If God’s knowledge of the universe and the scientific principles which hold that universe together is questionable, then his right to command obedience is also questionable.
Not coincidentally, that's exactly what the predominantly liberal people who currently control academic curricula tend to believe. In their view, God may exist, but his existence is irrelevant to modern life. Objective truth, in their view, is a myth, and morality is merely a matter of personal opinion. Their ultimate agenda is to promote a form of "morality" which could best be described as licentious social anarchy.
It would not be the first time the theory of evolution was used in order to advance a social agenda. Racists of all stripes have long argued that if "survival of the fittest" is nature's way, and if some species (and, by logical extension, some races) can be considered to be "unfit", then it is appropriate to engage in that primitive form of genetic engineering known as genocide in order to insure that "more advanced" races will prevail.
Such arguments have been described as "social Darwinism". From Margaret Sanger to Adolph Hitler, evolutionary theory has been used in order to justify policies which deny the intrinsic value of human life. If for no other reason than that, it seems to me that Christians ought to regard evolutionary theory with great suspicion.
The scientific method would seem to require that all plausible theories be examined and considered seriously. Yet, evolutionary "scientists" are threatened by anything standing in the way of their social agenda, so genuine dialogue is discouraged. They ostracize and stigmatize those who fail to adhere to the new orthodoxy, which is defined primarily by its rejection of the old orthodoxy based on Judeo-Christian traditions. Such people claim to highly value diversity and tolerance. Very few things could be further from the truth.
UPDATE (4/21/2008): "Expelled" is a new movie by Ben Stein. I haven't seen the movie yet, but from what I've read about the movie, it echoes the point which I made in the last paragraph of this blog post. Here's a link to one of my comments (posted in response to a Chicago Sun-Times review of the movie) which deals more with the subject.
I had heard (probably while watching a TV news show) that the tradition of making such resolutions started with the Babylonians. Those familiar with the Old Testament know what God thought of Babylon. The city was regarded as one which was built on evil and on a rejection of God's moral law. Historians tell us that the ancient land of Babylon is now Iraq, a nation with which Americans are now very familiar. In the light of history, it's hardly surprising that our attempt to bring the virtues of democracy to that land has met with such resistance.
As I contemplated the ungodly origins of the tradition of New Year's resolutions, I decided that it made more sense to make resolutions which would guide and direct me for the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted those resolutions to be based on my Christian beliefs.
Perhaps you will benefit by reading those resolutions, so I am presenting them here for your consideration.
TEN RESOLUTIONS FOR LIFE
© Mark Pettigrew
- I will begin and end every day by expressing gratitude to God for my life --- not only with respect to those things in my life which I deem good, but also with respect to the bad things which nevertheless help to shape my character and make me into the person He wants me to be.
- I will not derive my sense of personal identity from the flawed perceptions of other fallible human beings, or from my own fallible comparisons between myself and other human beings who may have life callings which differ from my own. Instead, I will seek to derive my sense of personal identity from my real identity in the eyes of God, who has created me in His image, and who loved me so much that He sent His son, Jesus, to die on the cross so that I might be saved.
- I will try every day to life a life which honors God, by obeying His commandments (even when doing so is costly to me), and by seeking the genuine welfare of others above my own temporary personal pleasures. I will seek to live according to the Golden Rule, by treating others as I would wish to be treated.
- I will seek to fully use the talents, skills and abilities God has given to me in order to make the world a better place. However, when temporary circumstances (including the unjust acts of others) prevent me from being able to fully utilize particular talents, I will remind myself that God sees and knows all, and that He is a just God who never expects us to exceed our own capabilities. I will make the most of the opportunities and resources which have been given to me, even when those opportunities and resources are more limited than I would prefer.
- I will remind myself daily that even though there is no guarantee that I will be protected from trials and tribulations, God can be trusted to take care of my fundamental material, emotional and spiritual needs. In times of stress, when fear threatens to overwhelm me, I will cry out to Him for help, rather than finding comfort in drugs and other forms of escapism which offer no real solution.
- I will try to develop and maintain a lifestyle which is conducive to good physical health, but I will place a higher priority on my spiritual health, since one's body dies, whereas one's spirit is eternal.
- I will stay in touch with my emotions, but I will seek to control my emotions rather than being controlled by those emotions.
- I will seek to grow and improve every day, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, in order to make the most of the limited time I have been given on this earth. I will seek to spend a minimal amount of time in activities which are frivolous and unproductive.
- I will treat my life with the seriousness it deserves, but I will also seek to maintain a sense of humor, and to keep things in their proper perspective by reminding myself that I am but one among billions of people, all of whom have needs and desires which are as legitimate as my own.
- When I fail --- and I very likely will, since I am a fallible human being --- I will not use that failure as an excuse for giving up or for beating up on myself. Instead, I will humbly acknowledge my failure, and I will ask forgiveness from God and from any people I may have wronged. Having done so, I will then resume my efforts to stay true to my original commitments.
The above list is far from perfect, but I think it's a pretty good starting point.
Perhaps it will be useful to you, too.
(I doubt that I'd be computer literate if I'd only read the Bible, which says nothing about Windows or the Internet, so far as I can tell. In fact, you'd have a hard time finding a more enthusiastic bookworm than myself.)
Obviously, it would be sinful to sing a song which promoted and condoned sin, just as it would be sinful to write such a song, but that still leaves a huge range of legitimate topics for believers.
Of course, the most popular category of secular song is the romantic love song. The Song of Solomon, a book of Bible, is in fact such a "song" (although one shudders to think how long the piece would be if it were to be set to music). Given the fact that God saw fit to include a romantic love song in the book which is regarded by Christians as God's holy word, why should anyone conclude that such songs are unsuitable for Christians? I have no idea, but I can make an educated guess: It's not about Christian discipleship, it's about marketing music to the Christian subculture in America. Fortunately, things are a little bit less restrictive in that respect than they were several decades ago, but we still have a long way to go.
One night not long ago, I awoke in the middle of the night, and for some reason, I experienced what might be described as a creative frenzy. Within a very short period of time, I had written the lyrics to an entire love song, written from the perspective of an older man who has finally been blessed with the godly wife he has sought for so long. (Perhaps it was a case of wishful thinking. At age 49, I still haven't found such a woman for myself. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, "Where there's life, there's hope." I'm sometimes tempted to give up hope, but the Bible reminds me: "With God, all things are possible.")
Here are the lyrics to the song I wrote that night:
I see Heaven in your eyes, and it's really no surprise
that I want to spend my lifetime by your side.
When I met you, I just knew that I always would love you.
It's a special love that cannot be denied.
I never thought that I could ever love again.
You know I really thought those days had come and gone.
I thought I'd never find the woman of my dreams,
but now you know it really looks like I was wrong!
You're a special kind of friend, and I won't even pretend
I deserve the love that you have shown to me.
You're an answer to my prayers, all my worries and my cares,
and I thank the Lord for you on bended knee.
I'm so happy every day that our love is here to stay;
to abandon love like this would be unwise.
So I promise to be true to this love I have for you,
for I love to see the Heaven in your eyes.
Yes, I love to see the Heaven in your eyes.
I attempted to write a song which would make reference to Biblical values pertaining to commitment (since I believe that God abhors divorce), without losing the feeling that the singer is really passionately in love with his wife. Who knows? Perhaps "Heaven In Your Eyes" will do for wedding anniversaries what Paul Stookey's "Wedding Song" did for weddings! That would be great.
Of course, no human spouse can love us the way that God loves us. Have you experienced that love? Ask him to be your Savior, and receive the fullness of his love for you!
There's a line in the song which says, "our children have nothing to eat". While it certainly refers in part to the needs of the poor, who literally go to bed hungry when they should not have to do so, it also refers to the spiritual hunger which has existed in cities ever since Adam and Eve committed the first sins. That hunger can only be satiated by Jesus, the Bread of Life.
The accompanying tune had a driving rock beat, in the key of E minor. I've always played it on the piano, but I'd really like to hear it performed by a hard rock band, since that was the feel I was trying to achieve.
(Incidentally, the lyrics to this song are copyrighted, as are all of the other materials on this blog site. If you wish to republish anything on this site for some purpose, send me a message at email@example.com to let me know specifically what you want to do with my creative work. Unless your utilization of my work stands to substantially cut into the money I might make from that work, I'll probably grant you limited permission to do so. Naturally, I have no problem with your linking to this blog entry, or others, on your own web page or in your e-mail messages.)
© Mark Pettigrew
Wisdom cries out, listen now, hear her voice in the street.
The city is dying, our children have nothing to eat.
Tell me, how long will you follow your own foolish plans?
How long will you be a slave to what Satan demands?
Turn your face towards Heaven.
Leave your past behind.
You can be forgiven;
given true peace of mind!
Jesus is calling and knocking at everyone's door.
Let him inside, and you won't be alone anymore.
Listen to wisdom, and not to your selfish desires.
Judgment is coming, and payment will be required.
As the above lyrics amply demonstrate, rock music doesn't necessarily have to glorify evil things, even though it's certainly been used for that purpose on occasions. In fact, I like to think that there's something vaguely prophetic about my lyrics for In The Street.
Speaking of good and evil, I recently posted some substantial updates to a blog entry I posted earlier. Even if you have already read the post entitled "When Bad Is Called Good," I invite you to check it out again. Its Web address is: http://markpettigrew.blogspot.com/2005/10/when-bad-is-called-good.html
Thursday, October 06, 2005
It's interesting to see what other Mark Pettigrews are doing in the world. Among my namesakes, there seem to be a lot of writers (one of whom specializes in religions of the Middle East, and another who has written a number of educational books about science) and professors. I also found at least one police officer (in Canada), and even a tattoo artist. I'd have to say that I identify most with the writers and educators, in terms of my own interests.
Growing up, I knew very little about the history of the Pettigrew name, but I've subsequently learned that we seem to originate primarily from Scotland (e.g., Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Kelso, etc.) and, to a lesser degree, from Ireland.
There's a Scottish company, Pettigrews of Kelso, which makes some excellent food products such as fruit cake, lemon curd, chutney, and so forth. (I confess. I actually like fruit cake! And their lemon curd tastes great on shortbread. And no, I don't have any business connections with the company.) Perhaps one day I'll get to travel to the U.K. and meet some of my distant relatives there.
A person could kill a lot of time by using the Web to search for information pertaining to the geneology of one's family name, and tracking down all of one's distant relatives, no matter how remote. But to what end? I admit that there's a certain narcissistic pleasure associated with seeing one's name in print or on the Web, even when it belongs to a person one has never met. Even so, I think that a person's identity ultimately has much less to do with one's family name, and much more to do with the type of legacy one leaves behind.
If you'll take the time to read a number of the articles I've posted on this blog site so far, I think that you'll see that I'm trying to be a person of substance. I'm trying to focus on things which matter in the light of eternity, not on the type of trivial matters (such as celebrity gossip) which seem to preoccupy so many people these days. That's not to say that everything in this blog will be deep and profound, but it is to say that I will try to keep the trivia to a minimum.
As important as it is to leave a lasting, positive legacy, even that is insufficient. Ultimately, the most important aspect of one's identity is one's relationship (or lack thereof) with God. So while I am by no means ashamed to say that my surname is Pettigrew, I take much more pleasure in identifying myself as a Child of the King. Earthly families are transient. My heavenly family is eternal. Sometimes, when I contemplate all of the ridiculous quarrels which take place in the Family of God, I wonder if that's such a good thing, but then I remind myself that such quarrels are just a reflection of the fact that the final fulfillment of God's plan has not yet occurred. I look forward to the day when all of God's children can fellowship together in perfect harmony, in God's eternal kingdom.