The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project is an attempt to shake loose the bonds of a consumer-driven, entitled life, and become a more thankful and centered person.  During the next 365 days I will be intentionally transforming myself (with lots of help) by finding new ways each day to be less self-centered and thankful.  Each month I am going to take on a bigger project to challenge myself.  I’ll be blogging about it the whole way.

Day 10

One thing about thankfulness: One might think that it would make you more aware of yourself than ever, and in a way it does.  But even more than that, it makes you more aware of others.  One quickly tires of thinking about the stuff there is to be thankful for, and then it isn’t a short hop until you’re thinking about the people in your life who matter a lot more than the “stuff.”  Once you are focused on being thankful for people, you start finding yourself trying on a whole lot of proverbial moccasins.  Sometimes, that gets sticky.  Some peoples moccasins are filled with stuff that hurts your feet.

I wrote a thank you card today to my manager at the store.  I feel really badly for her with the upcoming changes that are happening at our little business (I can’t say much more now).  It is pretty sad that for many of my co-workers there, that store is a gigantic part of their life, and now all of that is about to change.  In some ways I empathize with them.  But it is also sometimes a kick in the butt that we need in order to make changes that might be good for us in the long run.

I have found that one side effect of trying to be more thankful toward people is that I have more natural empathy toward them.  I am not really naturally that empathetic a person.  Although, I really debate back and forth on that.  On the one hand, I tend to be more of a “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” thinker.  I try not to be too much like that, but it is always in the background.  But on the other hand, if someone tells me that I have hurt them, or that they are upset about something (even if it has nothing to do with me) I will think about it continually in the back of my mind.

I know several of my teens are having sexual identity issues.  I hate that.  I hate that they are in a world that has made sexuality such an in-your-face issue, and yet more confusing than ever.  I also hate the fact that God has somehow been invited out of the dialogue.  It must seem like I am digressing, but after a conversation tonight with one of them, that is all I can think about.  I don’t know if “The Gratitude Project” has made me more empathetic this way, or just made me more aware of being this way.  I am confusing even myself now.

In other news, I’m really mulling over what to do about my monthly project for September.  I have an idea, but I don’t know if it will work, and I don’t want to jinx myself.

2009 Predictions

As events unfold throughout the year, I do my best to reflect how they have fulfilled my beginning of the year predictions.  That said, there are a few recent events that I found noteworthy.

First, there was the recent terror plans in New York City and Denver that seemed to have been foiled, at least for now.  I had predicted that this year there would probably be an attempt (not that wild a guess, really).  I also Twittered about the likelihood of one upcoming soon merely weeks ago.    There is a good article about the recent situation here.

Second, although I did not put this as one of my points in this year’s predictions, one of the things I have been discussing at great length is that the big social policy debate of the coming years will be on the issue of assisted suicide.  This will be less aimed at terminal disease pain relief, and more about the elderly.  Unfortunately, I haven’t written much about it on here.  Last week, Newsweek’s cover story, “The Case for Killing Granny,” advocates this position in a way that I could not have imagined (and still can’t believe).  As if on cue, the Brits are following right along, according to this Reuters report-Ryan

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The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project is an attempt to shake loose the bonds of a consumer-driven, entitled life, and become a more thankful and centered person.  During the next 365 days I will be intentionally transforming myself (with lots of help) by finding new ways each day to be less self-centered and thankful.  Each month I am going to take on a bigger project to challenge myself.  I’ll be blogging about it the whole way.

Day 6

I’ve been working hard at this most of the week, although I must admit I didn’t stay with the program really well most of Friday.  There have been a couple accomplishments that I’ve been pretty proud of.

First, I realized that I do a really bad job of writing letters and encouraging people.  I don’t want to be that way.  I’ve decided that I am going to write more thank-you cards and letters of encouragement.  I did one this week, and it made me feel really good, but that wasn’t the point.  I have also made a point to be extra thankful and appreciative to Peichi.  I think I do a really poor job of that.  It seems to me that sometimes the hardest people to be nice to are the people to whom I should be the nicest.

Second, I’ve tried to take What About Bob style baby steps.  Thanking every customer at work, and being extra nice to people has been a good start.  It is even kind of fun sometimes.  I play a little game lately when someone is being kind of rude.  I just try to be even more nice than usual.  I don’t know that it accomplishes much, but I get to have fun and be nice at the same time.

But I’ve also realized some things that are going to be challenges.  The biggest one is the matter of introspection.  In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the main character (a demon) urges his nephew to influence his charge in dealing with the issue of humility.  He instructs that if the man becomes very humble, make his humility a source of pride to him.  If he then tries to work on his pride in his own humility, get him so wrapped up in dealing with this that all he can think about is himself.

I find this could easily be a temptation in this whole project.  As I am trying to be less self-obsessed, am I becoming more so by dwelling on it?  This is even further complicated because I am writing the whole thing down in a blog for the world to see (or just the handful of people who ever read this).  I do worry about this, but at this point I don’t think it is too much of an issue.

I am sure that from the outside it seems like I am either bragging about my successes to the world, or airing my weaknesses as a catharsis.  Neither is actually my heart.  This is more a diary for myself.  But if someone else somehow benefits from what I’m dealing with, then great!  The same thing goes with my successes.

I think this will be more difficult when I do some bigger projects.  If I tell about it here, then someone could question my altruism.  Heck, I will question my altruism.  I’ll just have to console myself by knowing that no one actually reads this 😛

The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude ProjectThe Gratitude Project is an attempt to shake loose the bonds of a consumer-driven, entitled life, and become a more thankful and centered person.  During the next 365 days I will be intentionally transforming myself (with lots of help) by finding new ways each day to be less self-centered and thankful.  Each month I am going to take on a bigger project to challenge myself.  I’ll be blogging about it the whole way.

Day 2

Last night I heard my youth group singing the Matt Redman song, “Blessed Be Your Name.”  That song has always been powerful to me.  I have really been trying to take the words to heart and make them my prayer to God:

Blessed Be Your Name in the land that is plentiful 
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
Blessed Be Your name when I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back in praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name when the sun's shining down on me
When the world's 'all as it should be' blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering 
Though there's pain in the offering blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord still I will say

You give and take away, you give and take away
My heart will choose to say Lord, blessed be Your name

I love that this song tells a faith story of looking to God in thankfulness and praise no matter what the circumstance.  It is easy for me to be thankful to God when I have just won the lottery, but it seems unnatural and difficult when I am sick.  But God is still God in every circumstance.  It is my position that has changed, not God’s.  I need to learn to be thankful to Him because of who He is, not for how I feel.

I thought that as I Christian, I should start out this whole endeavor by looking into some of what the Bible says about thankfulness.  Here is a little of what I found:

“I will give thanks to the Lord for His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.” -Psalm 7:17
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His love endures forever.” -Psalm 118:1 & Psalm 136:1
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” -Phil 4:6

I am trying to think on these today.

The Fall and Rise of Barbarism Part 7

This is part 7 of a multi-part series.  Read part 1 here.

Barbarian
Barbarian

The Effect on Faith

Exactly what to expect for America itself in this future, is very difficult to say. Possibilities include a weakened America existing in its same form but having less world influence, to America’s basic destruction by both outside, and internal fighting, or America existing more as a pre-Civil War loose collection of states. There is no way to predict what the American future will look like at this time.

But that doesn’t really answer what will happen to the American and world Christian outlook. Christianity does not rely on Americanism, of course. But America does powerfully affect the world Christian community. While the growth of the Christian faith is epicentered in both African and Asia, with secularization and Islamification being more prevalent in the West, America is still the center of the financial, resource, and influence world of faith.

The loss of America’s influence will certainly have a huge affect on the Christian world. But how this will work itself out in time is not estimable at this time. Certainly, there will be destabilization in the Christian community. This will most like work itself out to mean that there will be no Capital for Christianity. It might also end in increased persecution around the world, as there will be no powerhouse to protect Christianity’s interests.

However, history tells us that persecution is good for Christianity, as it causes the Christian community to invest fully in their faith, to make Christianity less a culture, and ends in enormous numerical growth. As Christians, we don’t have to worry about the future of the Church. We know what happens in the end. We don’t know all that will happen between then and now, and we certainly know it won’t always be easy.

But that doesn’t really answer what will happen to the American and world Christian outlook.  Christianity does not rely on Americanism, of course.  But America does powerfully affect the world Christian community.  While the growth of the Christian faith is epicentered in both African and Asia, with secularization and Islamification being more prevalent in the West, America is still the center of the financial, resource, and influence world of faith.

The loss of America’s influence will certainly have a huge affect on the Christian world.  But how this will work itself out in time is not estimable at this time.  Certainly, there will be destabilization in the Christian community.  This will most like work itself out to mean that there will be no Capital for Christianity.  It might also end in increased persecution around the world, as there will be no powerhouse to protect Christianity’s interests.

However, history tells us that persecution is good for Christianity, as it causes the Christian community to invest fully in their faith, to make Christianity less a culture, and ends in enormous numerical growth.  As Christians, we don’t have to worry about the future of the Church.  We know what happens in the end.  We don’t know all that will happen between then and now, and we certainly know it won’t always be easy. -Ryan

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The Gratitude Project

The Gratitude Project

I have been thinking lately about the state of the world around me, a common issue that I ponder.  Specifically, I have noticed the growing sense of entitlement all around me.  A few months ago I saw a brief video from Conan O’Brien, where a comedian was saying that the problem with the world these days is that “everything’s amazing, and nobody’s happy.”  The more I think about it, the more I agree.

It seems that we have had so much, for so long that we have forgotten that we have all that we do because we are blessed and have started to believe that we have it all, because we deserve it.  I get bothered when the Internet in the café I am in right now takes more than 30 seconds to get to a page.  I am bothered when the traffic takes me 10 minutes longer than I think that it should.  But why am I really bothered by these things?  If I really get down to the heart of the issue, I am bothered because I think that I am supposed to have things go quickly and smoothly.  I deserve it.  When I really think about it, it is the most selfish, unhealthy attitude I could possibly have.

I’m also really bothered by a lack of humility that I see all around me.  People who quickly come up with a prescriptive answer for any problem I face, and even innocuous comments like “You need to read this book,” quickly touch a sore place in my psyche.  If I really examine it though, I am bothered because I do that too.  I am prescriptive and puffed up, maybe not more than anyone else, but more than I should be.

Lately, I’ve felt a sense that I need to do something big, some project that will have a lasting effect on me and the world around me.  Not just growing the American Dream, or career-wise, but something bigger, something A.J. Jacobs big…something Morgan Spurlock big.  It has to be something that will jolt me out of my everyday routine, but something that means something.  I think I’ve found it.

I’ve come up with an idea I’m calling “The Gratitude Project.”  It’s a challenge, just for myself.  I’m going to spend a year, the next 365 days trying to shake myself from an entitled, self-absorbed, consumerist mentality.  I’m going to take daily steps to challenge myself, and monthly projects that are a little bit bigger  and somehow costly, and I’m going to blog about it every step of the way.

I don’t know how it will all work itself out.  In reality, this project may look a lot different in month 3 than it does tomorrow, but I’m going to see where God leads it all.

The Fall and Rise of Barbarism Part 6

This is part six of a multi-part series.  Read part 1 here.  Read subsequent posts here.

Barbarian
Barbarian

The Fall of Giants

We have gone past a point in America where we can turn this clock back.  Many experts believe that the American century is over, and the next century most certainly won’t be a repeat.  I believe that the evidence backs this up, both historically and in terms of current events.  This doesn’t mean we will fall into the sea.  It does mean that things will be different.  A look at history should shed light on what may be to come.

When the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Britain, and The Soviet Union fell they left differing decrees of chaos in their wake.  The latter empires left lesser degrees of chaos, but their empires were also dovetailed with another stabilizing empire (in both cases the United States).  The Romans were unique in that there was no other competing empire to really challenge their existence, similar to the situation that the United States faces today, although certainly the European Union (itself a powder keg) Russia, and nations like Canada and Australia are stabilizing.

The Roman empire didn’t just end.  It fractured, as its fringes sought their own independence and regional power.  The competing states model that followed drained the regional competing countries of all internal resources, as they invested in war and outside competition.  Far more resources were expended in competing for resources than were ever gained by those resources.  The result was what we know call the “Dark Ages.”

During this time, the one rising competing empire was the Muslim Caliphate leading to the Ottoman Empire.  The rapid expansion of the Muslims into the carcass of the Roman Empire was almost without challenge.  When Europe finally realized that they needed to respond, it led to the Church controlled Middle Ages, and ridiculous Church corruption and pollution by the world.  It was hundreds of years before the Roman norms of indoor plumbing, rights for middle class, and secure resources where even imagined again.

As America loses its stature in the world, this does not have to echo the fall of the Roman Empire.  The European Union could provide stability in the absence of America’s influence.  Most other countries would likely lack the resources to be capable of this.  However, Europe has its own massive battles to fight.  Europe is in sharp decline, at least as the Europe that has existed for modern history.  They are facing another Muslim invasion, but this time it’s a more peaceful one.  Within 10 years several European countries will be majority Muslim, and almost all of Europe’s non-Muslim population in irreversible decline.

The religious issue in this regard is almost secondary.  The Muslim populations in these countries are not melding into society as other immigrants do.  They bring their own ideas of governance, Sharia law, etc.  This will certainly lead to serious conflict, as can be evidenced already beginning in France over the last 5 years.  Non-Muslim Europeans will either allow themselves to accept Dhimmi status under Muslim controlled governments, or they will rise up.  These conflicts will make it difficult for Europe to be much of a stabilizing force for the world. -Ryan

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The Fall and Rise of Barbarism Part 5

This is part 5 of a multi-part series.  Read part 1 here.  Read subsequent posts here.

Barbarian
Barbarian

The Emotional American Stanza

There is another cycle at work within America that we need to be aware of.  Just as revivals in the early 1900’s brought about the Pharisee-ism of the early 20’s, which led to crime in the 30’s, we are in a part of our own cycle now.  The Bush years seemed to be a revival without revival, and a triumph of moral legalism (at least as far as the mainstream media and far left would have us believe).  The public responded with a “Yes we can believe in change.”  But now crime is seriously on the rise and healthy society markers are on the decline.

Of course, forces completely outside of human control, or at least strategic planning, could change things in a heartbeat.  But today the decline is possibly spinning out of control.  This is also the first time in modern America where our moral compass has no North.

Think about it for a second: The state of California (and they are not alone in this) has increasingly been restricting any and all tobacco use.  This is not a bad thing, really.  But at the same time, the state has been rapidly relaxing marijuana laws.  There are now cities where it is legal to smoke pot on your porch, but a Marlboro will get you a hefty fine.

Our states are slowly allowing marriage between homosexual partners and whole denominations are allowing actively homosexual ministers, while calling the homosexual “lifestyle” immoral can get you publically censored and censured.  On television, “Oh, God” has become the most frequently used phrase, but “I love Jesus” is never used unless it is somehow a joke.  Cartoons of Mohamed are self-censored from newspapers…the same newspapers that write blistering articles pitting Christian leaders as being ignorant or even evil for their faith.  -Ryan

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Today’s Video Infection

I’ve always found this to be really funny. Sometimes I think there should be a real branch of psychology incorporating this. Watch till the end. The end is the funniest part.

The Fall and Rise of Barbarism Part 4

This is part four of a multi-part series.  Read part 1 here.  Read subsequent posts here.
Barbarian
Barbarian

Where We Go From Here

So what is next? Are we on the cusp of a new cycle, or are we coming to the poem’s bridge? Maybe we are finally poised to break out of this iambic pentameter, and start a new ee cummings Dadaist phase.

If historical reality is allowed to sink in, I fear that the forecast is pretty bleak for our little stanza. As history is somewhat-cyclical, then we need to have an understanding of 2 main issues in order to estimate where we are going. Essentially, it is the same as understanding getting anywhere. We need to have a basic understanding of where we are now, in relation to all that is around us including our momentum, and we need to have an understanding of where the path we are on is going.

So where are we in the historical pattern? What direction have we been going? Truth be told, we have been in an era of unprecedented blessing. My generation is really the first generation in America who has known no real hardship. Generation X was born after the debacle of Vietnam, and though there have been wars since, they have seemed no different to the average American than movie trailers being played during Prime Time TV. There has been no gas rationing, no Polio, and since the toppling of the Soviet Union there hasn’t even been a real threat to our way of life.

All of this created the circumstances that made 9/11 such a powerful moment for our time. We have been dwelling carelessly in the west, as if we were teenage boys, shielded from any possibility that our bones could break, our wallets could empty, and our lives could actually end someday. Our foreign and domestic policies nationally have been mere macrocosms of the average American family. With out of wedlock birth rates aroung 50% and our budget running in the red every year, our only answer to our problems was to go out and buy a nice present to make ourselves feel better.

We are responding to the current economic crisis by firmly placing our heads further in the sand. Just like an alcoholic responding to an intervention by drinking himself into a stupor, we have responded to astounding national debt by creating a CARS program designed to spend more money helping people to buy cars that neither the government, nor the consumer can actually afford.

No one of accredited education could believe that we could continue such ridiculousness, and it is almost beyond believing that we could even pull ourselves out of this mess without massive cultural and governmental overhaul. If we truly want to know our location, it is teetering on a cliff, and we have responded to the danger in typical lemming fashion.

Great Empires don’t usually succumb to sudden external attack. Sun Tzu was right in saying that an intelligent enemy would never attack in a way that plays to ones strength. Our civilization’s enemies would rather sign our death warrant in much more strategic and subtle ways. Great empires have usually been defeated at the hands of themselves more than their sworn enemies, anyway. As Lincoln said, if America was doomed, that its end would come by suicide.

Both the Greek and Roman civilizations fell apart as their societies descended into decadence, and then turned on themselves when they could no longer support their own lifestyles. Foreign invasions were just clearing the already rotten carcasses of these empires. The British empire ended because the small island had clearly overstretched herself, and exerted her influence far beyond what she could actually defend. There is no reason to believe that we are not in the same position.

This doesn’t mean that the United States will become a barren wasteland. Instead of fracturing into states and city-states, we might continue without nearly the influence we have wielded for the last hundred years. -Ryan

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