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A Way to Stop Complaining in the New Year


A COMPLAINT FREE WORLD: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted
A PERSISTENT PEACE: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World
MAKING THE CHURCH OUR OWN: How We Can Reform the Catholic Church From the Ground Up
A FAITH THAT FREES: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century
REEL PARABLES: Life Lessons From Popular Films
THE GIFT OF YEARS: Growing Older Gracefully
Fiction for Fun

A COMPLAINT FREE WORLD: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted, by Will Bowen. Doubleday. 176 pp. $16.95.

Reviewed by MARION AMBERG, a freelance journalist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has written for nearly 90 publications. Her first book is due out in 2009.

WANT TO CHANGE YOUR life? Your family? Your workplace? If so, this gem of a book is for you. The secret? A purple bracelet. Every time you complain, criticize or gossip, move the silicone bracelet (available at or a rubber band from one wrist to the other. That’s it. Go 21 consecutive days without moving the bracelet and you’ve tamed the little monster—your tongue!

It takes most people four to eight months to become complaint-free, says the author, the lead minister at Christ Church Unity in Kansas City, Missouri, who devised the program and confesses to once being a “complain-aholic.” He complained so much that his hands actually got tired moving the bracelet from one wrist to the other.

Not complaining isn’t as easy as you might think. We whine about the weather. We bellyache about prices. We complain about our spouses or the kids. And who doesn’t gripe at work? Here’s the good part. You’re allowed to complain in your head all you want—just don’t speak it. If you do, move the bracelet. If you see someone else complain without moving his or her bracelet, zip the lip. Or you’ll be complaining about someone else’s complaining!

While the author doesn’t address written complaints, I’m including them in my own attempts to become complaint-free. Kvetching by e-mail can be just as addictive and destructive as verbal complaints.

The idea behind a complaint-free world—if not the whole world, at least your own personal world—is simple. Rather than complain (focusing on what you don’t want), state what you do want. Complaining makes “them” responsible for your life; pausing to think and stating what you want makes you responsible. Our thoughts create our words and our words create our world—and ultimately, the world at large.

This easy-to-read and often humorous book explains what constitutes a complaint, why we complain, what benefits we think we receive from complaining, how complaining is destructive to our lives and how we can get others around us to stop complaining. Why people criticize and gossip is a jaw-dropper.

The book is loaded with anecdotes and pearls of wisdom, ranging from Benjamin Franklin’s “The best sermon is a good example” to Gandhi’s “We must live what we want others to learn.”

One chapter is devoted to 21-day champions, people who overcame complaining and tell their stories of healed relationships, improved careers and better health—all because they took responsibility for their thoughts and their words.

This book is more than self-help, however. Without thumping the Good Book, the author weaves in spiritual principles reminding us that murmuring is offensive to God (Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without complaining”) and gets us nowhere. The Israelites couldn’t stop complaining and went around the same mountain for 40 years (too bad Moses didn’t have a million purple bracelets).

What’s more, when the mind is transformed, it’s easier to find God in all things and to give thanks in all things.

Since it began in 2006, the Complaint Free program has become a worldwide phenomenon, with more than five million bracelets distributed. One Catholic diocese requested 2,000 purple bracelets for its churches and schools. There are purple bracelets at the Pentagon, and one business instituted “No-Moan Mondays.”

A Complaint Free World is a rare book: It appeals to people of all religions and all backgrounds. And everyone can do it—poor and rich, day laborers and CEOs, young and old, even writers and editors. It has the power to recreate us not only physically and emotionally but spiritually as well. And who doesn’t want more happiness?

Now if we can only get the politicians to quit complaining and criticizing each other. Don’t say it—I need to move my bracelet!

You can order A COMPLAINT FREE WORLD: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted from St. Francis Bookshop.


A PERSISTENT PEACE: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World, by John Dear, S.J. Loyola Press. 437 pp. $22.95.

Reviewed by CAROL ANN MORROW, a former assistant managing editor of this magazine, and author of Peace Therapy, a gift book from Abbey Press.

ONE HUNDRED PAGES into this thick autobiography, I still hadn’t underlined any passages or scribbled in the margins, as I am wont to do. But I, too, am persistent. John Dear’s struggle to fulfill his vow of nonviolence grew on me by dint of his dogged faithfulness. I persevered through the pages and found more to savor, even as I became convinced that John Dear is as formidable a prophet as his spiritual ancestor, John the Baptist.

The Jesuit’s 20th book serves as a retrospective as he approaches 50. Its early pages plod as he documents his Jesuit education and the choices that nearly caused his dismissal from the society and presaged his eviction from the province in which he began.

His story evidences that the Jesuits as a whole honor, sometimes grudgingly, his call within a call, to be an apostle of nonviolence. He wonders aloud whether he should have been a Franciscan. He would do them equal honor—and undoubtedly cause them equal trouble.

John Dear has been arrested more than 75 times! His longest stint in prison served to capture my heart. Arrested on Pearl Harbor Day 1993 for hammering on an F15 bomber with three other activists, Dear served eight months in prison. He writes of the “fragility of fidelity” and I felt it keenly as he described the pain of incarceration.

When the troublemaker is himself troubled yet is not dissuaded from his cause or resigned to defeat, he reveals both his feet of clay and his heart of courage. From Chapter 30 onward, I was ready to share the inevitable moments of revelation (which had felt a bit pretentious until I also felt his pain), as well as both pedestrian details and high drama.

And that’s what I think the activist himself wanted to communicate. Life as a peacemaker is not necessarily peaceful, but it is not always exciting, either. John Dear struggles to act out of conscience but rarely experiences a feeling that peace on earth is coming or is even desired by world leaders.

Dear’s writing style is uneven at times, with the occasional slangy expression or extraneous detail.

He also includes a lot of what I call fervorinos (pious exhortations), which sometimes feel obligatory. They dilute the power of his experience to speak for itself.

Desmond Tutu nominated John Dear for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008, saying, “I would hope that, were he to receive this honor, his teachings and activities might become more widely accepted and adopted. The world would undoubtedly become a better and more peaceful place if this were to happen.”

Dear’s teachings and activities narrated here in detail could inspire readers to adopt his virtue of persistence—a determination to work for peace, whatever the personal cost.

You can order A PERSISTENT PEACE: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World from St. Francis Bookshop.


INTERFAITH HEROES, by Daniel L. Buttry. Read the Spirit Books, an imprint of David Crumm Media, LLC. 134 pp. $11.95.

Reviewed by the REV. LAWRENCE M. VENTLINE, longtime religion writer for The Detroit News. On special assignment for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Father Ventline holds a doctor of ministry degree, is a nationally certified personal trainer, nutrition and wellness consultant, and is a board-certified professional counselor.

DANIEL L. BUTTRY has collected inspirational stories about leaders reaching out to unite people spiritually and build stronger communities.

“How shall we live together in our diversity?” asks David Crumm, a former religion writer for The Detroit Free Press, in the book’s Preface.

Michigan manifests a rich diversity, but also bears the scars of having had people like Henry Ford (the car maker) and Father Charles Coughlin (the Catholic radio priest of the 1930s), who both spewed out anti-Semitic rhetoric. But the state has also had Churchmen like Cardinal Adam Maida, who was among the first Catholic cardinals in the world to visit a mosque in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Now Michigan has North America’s largest Muslim center, the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

Michigan is also home to one of America’s oldest interfaith coalitions. “[H]ere in Michigan, we’ve worked on soothing our collective scars more than most—which has become part of our unique gift to the world: our ability to reflect and to heal through celebrating religious diversity,” writes Crumm.

American Baptist minister Buttry has collected the stories of 31 inspirational people who worked to bridge the religious divides, people such as St. Francis of Assisi and Al-Malik Al-Kamil in the time of the Crusades; Rabbi Moses Maimonides, whose scholastic philosophy influenced St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Duns Scotus; Jacques Maritain, a Protestant who became the major Catholic philosopher of the 20th century; Cardinal Aaron Jean-Marie Lustiger, who was born a Jew in France in 1926, became a Catholic in 1940 after sheltering with a Catholic family, and ended up the Catholic cardinal of Paris.

Each chapter concludes with questions for personal reflection on ways to help heal the world. An extensive list of resources and bibliography, along with further steps on the interfaith journey, is provided.

Last January, Michigan launched its first annual celebration of Interfaith Heroes Month. At, people can nominate their favorite interfaith heroes and learn more about what anyone can do to reach out across religious boundaries.

You can order INTERFAITH HEROES from St. Francis Bookshop.


MAKING THE CHURCH OUR OWN: How We Can Reform the Catholic Church From the Ground Up, by Dandi Daley Mackall, illustrated by John Walker. Concordia Publishing House. 32 pp. $12.99.

A FAITH THAT FREES: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, by Richard G. Malloy, S.J. Orbis Books. 226 pp. $18.

Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

TWO BOOKS by university professors who teach only six miles apart look at two closely related dimensions of Church renewal. The first, written by theologian Dr. Leonard Swidler of Temple University, focuses on how to change the structure of the institution. The second, by St. Joseph University sociology and anthropology professor Father Richard Malloy, S.J., looks at the content of our faith in light of today’s cultural context.

The first part of Swidler’s book is more academic than the rest. The author gives strong evidence that many of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council had their roots in European and North American movements of the 18th and 19th century.

For instance, he indicates that the German Enlightenment liturgical reform covered areas such as preaching, use of the vernacular, music, architecture, missal and Mass reforms. It was thought of as a “conservative” reform because it was to get at the heart of the essential practices of the Roman liturgy.

Swidler helps us realize that the changes brought about by the bishops of the Council were not just postwar ideas that came out of nowhere. Popes John XXIII and Paul VI allowed the bishops to work on topics that had been floating around the Western Church for over 100 years.

The Vatican II documents produced were not the end of the process but a beginning. Swidler wants to see a “constitution” that would eliminate any monarchical and authoritarian style of governing in the Church.

The way the sexual-abuse crisis was handled shows that authoritarianism lingers. Bishops involved in cover-ups were more concerned with protecting the institution from scandal than with protecting children and adolescents from further harm.

Malloy’s book places the practices of Roman Catholicism in a broader context. For him, our faith is meant to be fascinating and freeing. It should challenge us to relate the sacred to the secular, to be a leaven in society and to work toward a world of peace and justice.

For Malloy, faith is a process that transforms us so that we make the goal of our life discipleship in Christ and being one with God. Everything else is details.

What distinguishes this book is that the author stresses cultural anthropology as a tool for conversion. He looks at culture as the means by which our relationships, knowledge and understanding of the world and of others are shaped. Faith is always lived out in specific human cultures.

Malloy builds his argument with the prime components of cultural anthropology: language, notions of time and space, power and authority, gender and economic relationships, meaning and worldview, as well as religion, myths and meanings. The author’s overview in the third chapter is intriguing. The next five chapters give a more detailed analysis of leadership, equality, economic, demographic and justice issues. Malloy also identifies concrete practices that he thinks will reform each of these relationships into more positive and Christlike behavior.

The brief conclusion calls for a mindset that asks us to respond to God’s call to build the Kingdom rather than wait around for God simply to appear and do all the heavy lifting.

While Malloy provides a solid foundation for creating a Catholic culture, Swidler presents concrete ways to make the Church a fascinating and freeing institution that engages believers in their faith and in their practices.

My only reservation is whether the emphasis on democratic governance and a constitution for the Church is too Western or American. Numerous examples make it clear that the priorities of Catholics in the industrialized countries are not those of Catholics at the bottom of the economic ladder. For example, does creating just gender relations mandate eliminating dowries or ordaining women?

Taken together, these books say it all.

You can order MAKING THE CHURCH OUR OWN: How We Can Reform the Catholic Church From the Ground Up and A FAITH THAT FREES: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century from St. Francis Bookshop.


REEL PARABLES: Life Lessons From Popular Films, by James Hogan. Paulist Press. 196 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by JOAN McKAMEY, editor of Every Day Catholic, a monthly publication which invites readers to explore feature films related to each issue’s topic.

I BECAME WARY upon learning that James Hogan, author of Reel Parables: Life Lessons From Popular Films, teaches at St. Ignatius in Cleveland and has an M.A. from John Carroll University—both Jesuit schools. Jesuits are known for their intellects, and I feared that this book would be too heady for this reviewer. But readers will be pleased to find Hogan’s approach very readable and real, as I did.

I imagine Hogan is a gifted teacher who makes faith relevant to his students. I enjoyed every lesson. I had seen many of the 20 timeless classic films he covers—no oddball titles. For those movies I had seen, I gained new appreciation. I’ll store this book with my movie collection to be pulled out when re-watching these favorites.

He piqued my desire to delve into the richness of those films I haven’t yet seen. These include Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, films I have resisted watching because of their cult followings.

From the talents of Mozart in Amadeus to that of young basketball players in Hoosiers, from the powers of Superman to “the Force” in Star Wars, from the time warp in Groundhog Day to the artificial world in The Truman Show, from the promise of redemption in Field of Dreams to the sacrificial love in Life Is Beautiful, from the hope in freedom of the prince-turned-beast in Beauty and the Beast to that of the unjustly imprisoned man in The Shawshank Redemption, Hogan finds meaning in films that might surprise even their scriptwriters.

He focuses on the essential truths of life, love and God woven into story lines that on the surface seem to have little to do with matters of faith. He broadens his audience by avoiding overtly religious movies.

I have a few criticisms of this book. The “After-the-Movie Discussion Questions” are objective questions that fail to help viewers make the leap to what it means in their own lives—the very thing I expect Hogan does artfully with his students. These questions are grouped at the end of the book rather than after each lesson, which would have been a more practical place for them.

Also, he didn’t include two of my favorites: Big and Tootsie. Maybe they’re reserved for a later book!

I see many uses for Reel Parables. The most obvious, since Hogan teaches religion, is in high school and parish youth ministry. Uses for the book transcend the “teen set” to include young adult groups, small Christian communities, “faith and film” nights, families, friends and individuals.

Film is a great evangelization tool—and Hogan’s book is an excellent resource for engaging in this effort.

You can order REEL PARABLES: Life Lessons From Popular Films from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE GIFT OF YEARS: Growing Older Gracefully, by Joan Chittister. BlueBridge. 240 pp. $19.95.

Reviewed by BARBARA SONNENBERG, a librarian retired after 30 years of service in a large public library.

JOAN CHITTISTER, a Benedictine sister and best-selling author of religious books, turns to the subject of aging in her latest work. At the age of 72, she is what gerontologists describe as “young” old: between age 65 and 74. The “old” old are 75 to 84, the remaining being the “oldest.”

Citing the progress made in servicing the physical needs of an aging population, she is concerned with the spiritual dimension which increases with age. The author feels that “...the end-time of life is one of its best, one of its most important” and addresses 41 topics to illustrate this point.

Most of the essays are short, the longest being seven pages, and titles range through “Fear,” “Regret,” “Newness,” “Freedom,” “Sadness,” “Memories” and “Mystery.” All open with an appropriate quotation and end with a commentary summarizing the topic discussed as “A burden of these years” and “A blessing of these years.”

The essays stand independently, need not be read in order and, as the author advises, should not be read in one sitting. It is a book to browse, reread and perhaps share at an opportune moment.

Sister Joan’s unremittingly rosy picture of aging portrays physically active and mentally alert seniors who are called to share the wisdom they have garnered from living. They are urged to volunteer their expertise in business matters, act as surrogate grandparents, share educational activities and be politically active.

She quotes a 1990 report, accessed in 2007, that found only five percent of those over 65 live in special-care institutions, 80 percent of the remainder need no assistance with daily living, and most seniors retain normal mental abilities.

Additionally, the author presumes that the economic wherewithal, necessary mobility and transportation will be available, as well as some modicum of privacy in living accommodations. One wonders about seniors with physical limitations, those forced to continue working and those isolated for whatever reason.

Sister Joan has been a religious for over 50 years, has authored 35 titles and is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a center for research in contemporary spirituality. While not advocating a particular denomination or being overtly religious, there are essays entitled “Religion,” “Spirituality” and “Faith.”

The essay “Legacy” concludes with the following: “A burden of these years is to give in to the thought that personal spiritual growth is no longer an issue for us and so leave the world a legacy of incompleteness. A blessing of these years is to have the time to complete in ourselves what has been neglected all these years, so that the legacy we leave to others is equal to the full potential within us.”

It would be an obvious choice to recommend this title for mentally alert, physically able seniors in all the aging categories, as well as for libraries in institutions for the elderly. Sister Chittister, however, would appear to be more directly addressing the baby boomer generation now approaching the “old” threshold; they will need an early start to fulfill her criteria for entering this “gifted” period of life!

You can order THE GIFT OF YEARS: Growing Older Gracefully from St. Francis Bookshop.


MONKSBANE: A Novel, by Jack Frerker. Pax Publications (Olympia, Washington). 197 pp. $15.

Reviewed by BARBARA BECKWITH, book review editor of this publication and an avid reader of mysteries.

AT TIMES more theology text than mystery, this fourth book in the Wintermann series shows a diocesan priest interacting with Benedictines and coming to terms with the “injustice” of God.

The fictional “Detective” Father John Wintermann of the Belleville, Illinois, Diocese has chosen to go on retreat at the real Abbey of St. Martin in Olympia, Washington. He’s struggling to make sense of why the people in an earlier book, Conspiracy, “had to die,” one of them just after seeing the error of his ways. Father John’s retreatmaster sends him to look at nearby Mt. Ranier, also called Tahoma, “the mountain of God,” to gain some perspective, and adds Scripture assignments.

But the retreat begins badly the first morning with John stumbling across an unconscious monk on his way to Morning Prayer. Later, a chess piece is found in the eucharistic chapel. Father John studies the “evidence,” and this mystery is soon dispatched.

Later, an eccentric monk with Alzheimer’s and a severe allergy to peanuts dies, and Father John again assists in unraveling what happened. Through it all, he finds some answers.

The best parts of this book are the setting in Washington State and author Jack Frerker’s love for words. I enjoyed trying to find out about the place names like Puyallup (pronounced Pew-AH-lup).

Monksbane shows the many connections in the Catholic world, such as Benedictines educating other religious and diocesan priests at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey in Indiana. It turns out that Oblates of Mary Immaculate are responsible for both the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville and Priest Point Park in Washington State.

The author is a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Belleville who retired to Washington State. Father Frerker was a campus minister for three years at Saint Martin’s University, the school connected to the monastery in this novel.

By the way, the title is not a clue to the poisoning, but a contraction for wolfsbane and monkshood, both names for aconite. Monkshood was used in the third book in Ellis Peters’s series about medieval Brother Cadfael to make a liniment, which was later stolen from Cadfael and then used to poison someone. Perhaps Monksbane is what Father John calls himself for seeing foul play and murder wherever he goes and being the bane of the monks.

You can order MONKSBANE: A Novel from St. Francis Bookshop.

Fiction for Fun

Science fiction, historical novels and mysteries stretch our imaginations and provide a fun read on a wintry day.

SPACE VULTURE, by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers (A Tom Doherty Associates Book/Tor, 333 pp., hardcover $24.95, U.S./$27.95, Canada; paperback $7.99). A love of science fiction brought together boyhood friends from Earlville, Illinois—the creator of the Roger Rabbit character and the archbishop of Newark—to collaborate on an action/adventure story. Here, an interstellar hero and a cowardly con man join forces with a courageous widow and her two children to battle the most villainous marauder in the cosmos.

WAYFARERS OF FATE: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War, by John Steinbacher (Athena Press, 229 pp., $12.95, U.S./L7.99, U.K.). Opening in Spain in 1934, this is the story of two brothers—an active supporter of workers’ rights and a family man who gets unwillingly drawn into the country’s turmoil and ends up joining the Nationalists. It’s a story of courage and redemption relevant for today.

IT HAPPENED IN ST. LOUIS: A Murder Mystery, by Ann C. Rogers (, 162 pp., $13.95), starts with the murder of a prominent St. Louis doctor, who was actually a man of mystery. A hospital administrator tries to sort things out, and suddenly there’s another murder. This is a first novel for the Catholic Rogers, who identifies herself by her parish.

Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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