Friday, December 30, 2005

My eNFj Personality

Recently, during my ongoing job search, I responded to a CraigsList ad for a "virtual assistant" who would help the company market a variety of products designed to help "life coaches" to build their businesses.

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 ( 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). ( 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

Have Thumb, Will Travel

When I was in high school, I had a lot of Christian friends, many of whom I met at the New Wine Coffeehouse in Springfield, Missouri. One of them, a frizzy-haired hippie type named Steve Johnson, introduced me to the art of hitchhiking. I was reluctant at first, but when I discovered how ridiculously easy it was to catch a ride, I was hooked.

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 (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, 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: That site led me to this site: 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

Additional Thoughts
From (and About) Dr. Phil

In a prior blog entry, I quoted Dr. Phil McGraw (the popular TV shrink) on the subject of New Year's resolutions --- and, in a broader sense, on the topic of what it takes to be a success in life. I took notes during some of his other shows, too. Other noteworthy quotes from Dr. Phil, followed by my comments (as indicated by the initials MP):

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.

New Year's Advice
from Dr. Phil

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.

Fillet of Soul, Anyone?

Kizoku is a sushi restaurant and lounge in Chicago, not very far from where I live. (I could probably walk there in a half hour.) Judging from the photos on the restaurant's website (, they have a very upscale decor.

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, 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.