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January 6, 2016, 12:00 AM

Complaint Free World Challenge

The theme of God doing new things—is often repeated in the Bible.   “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” says John about his revelation.  Isaiah was writing around 500 years earlier.  God says, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth”  and “new things I now declare.”  God’s continuing creativity is a theme that runs through Isaiah’s prophecy: “See I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?”  “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…”  And the Psalms call upon us to “sing a new song to God.”   

These passages express a truth that everything changes-God is always doing a “new thing.” The only constant in life is change.  In nature, everything is either growing or decaying.   Those are the two choices.  There is no such thing as stasis. Constant change is bad news if we are attached to “the way things are” or “the way we’ve always done it.”  But God always doing a new thing is good news if things aren’t going well or we aren’t happy with something as it is. 

Another truth of these scripture passages is that we CAN change—that it is never too late to change what is.  We are never truly stuck with what is because God is always doing a new thing. 

When we are children, everything is possible to us; in our youth, we believe that we can do anything and we can change the world; and it seems that as we get older, the realm of what we believe to be possible for our lives seems to contract.  Growth and change seems to become more difficult.  We say things like, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or “that’s the way it’s always been and always will be,” or “that’s just the way I am.”  Some of us finally even give up making New Year’s resolutions figuring that we are stuck with things the way they are.  There is a sort of despair that sets in about things happening that we think we have no control over, and rather than making an effort to change things, we mostly just complain about them.

I have preached many sermons about how our thoughts create our reality… how learned beliefs and habitual attitudes can either empower us or attract into our lives the very disasters we are worrying about.  Well, our words are even more powerful than our thoughts.  The act of forming words focuses and clarifies our thoughts, which makes them even more powerful and convincing.  In the story of creation, God speaks things into being.  So do we.  In this New Year, I challenged the congregation to join me and support one another in making a change that can improve your life and improve the life of your community.

Almost 10 years ago, I gave out Complaint Free World purple silicone bracelets one Sunday.  I had read the book A Complaint Free World, by Rev. Will Bowen, who was a Unity Church pastor in Kansas City, Missouri.  Back in the summer of 2006, two weeks into a “summer book club” discussion series at the church, Reverend Bowen had a moment of inspiration.  The book the group was reading had reminded him that our thoughts create our experience; and that it’s important to focus on what we want in our lives rather than giving our attention to what we don’t want.  It occurred to him that complaining—talking about what we don’t want—strengthens the negative focus even more.  When we complain, we are using our words to focus on things that are not as we would like.  So he came up with this gimmick to help people stop focusing on the negative.

Rev. Bowen ordered purple silicone bracelets for his whole congregation; and he challenged everyone in the congregation to wear one.  Every time they caught themselves gossiping, criticizing, or complaining they had to move the bracelet to the other wrist.  He knew that it takes 21 days to break a habit or create a new one.  So the challenge is to go for 21 days without having to move the bracelet—to break the habit of focusing on unwanted things. 

As people heard about it, more and more people requested bracelets.  Will Bowen’s challenge became an international sensation. His church, Christ Church Unity had so many requests for bracelets that they started having their own manufactured for them, with the web address of the movement, “A Complaint Free World.org”, embossed on them. 

Back at the beginning of December, as I was thinking about my inner peace sermon series, I ordered another package of bracelets for our church.  I had noticed that I had fallen back into some old habits.  I caught myself complaining about my mother, criticizing presidential candidates, and even gossiping about a colleague. Since I put on a purple bracelet again, I have done pretty well – I have only had to move it every couple of days.  The first time I did it, I had to move it several times a day- which wasn’t so bad.  Some people have reported having to change wrists 20 times a day and have ordered a second bracelet when the first one finally broke.  The bracelets now come in packages of three.  The book includes testimonies from people who took five months or more to get to 21 days complaint free. 

One great thing is that you only have to move the bracelet when you voice a complaint—critical or dissatisfied thoughts are free.   One thing that the bracelet made me aware of was how often I berate myself out loud—even when no one else is around.  Many times I have forgotten something or made a mistake when I’m alone and said (out loud) “you dope.”  And catching a cold is tough, too.  How can you not complain to your spouse about your sore throat or your sinus headache?   The bracelet also made me aware of how often our casual conversation with coworkers or friends is gossip about other people – or other churches in my case. 

Let’s be clear about what is and what isn’t a complaint.  Webster defines a complaint as an expression of pain, grief, or discontent.  If you go directly to someone who has the power to help you, or fix the problem; then describing the problem to them does not count as a bracelet moving complaint.  Describing a symptom to your doctor is not a complaint, but grousing to your spouse about your head cold is.

I’ve known for a long time that keeping the focus on the positive creates a positive future, but Will Bowen’s book, and the purple bracelets offer us all a physical reminder that can help us change our habits of negativity.

The subtitle of the book is “How to Stop Complaining and Start enjoying the Life you Always Wanted.”  Those who have succeeded in making it to 21 days report wonderful improvements in their overall happiness and health.  The idea is to consistently think and talk about what you want rather than what you don’t want, so you will attract more of what you want into your life… rather than creating more of what you don’t want.  A complaint is talking about something you don’t like or don’t want.  Complaints include criticism and gossip.   Keep in mind that even when there is something wrong that needs to be fixed, you can ask for what you want rather than complaining about what is—which automatically requires that you speak only to the person who can fulfill your desire, rather than just grousing to someone who can’t fix the situation. 

I encouraged everyone to take the 21 day complaint-free challenge with me—partly because I want to share something that I believe will improve your life and the life of my congregation—and partly because I have realized that I need a support group to help me succeed with this.  I believe it will be easier with companions for support. 

In this New Year, we can invite God to do a new thing in our lives and in our church.  We can create a new world by speaking it into being. 


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