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Challenge for church: Curb that complaining



Published: Sat, October 14, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Hundreds of people have joined the effort to stop the criticism.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Thou shalt not whine.

This past summer, the Rev. Will Bowen challenged his Christ Church Unity congregation to go 21 days straight without complaining. Then he added sarcasm and gossip to the shalt nots.

To help everyone remember, he gave each a purple elastic wristband.

The rules were simple: If you complain, you have to switch the band to the other wrist and start over. This was on an honor system.

In late July, ushers handed out about 230 wristbands. Since then 300 more have been given out to the congregation's family, friends and co-workers.

The pastor's intent wasn't just to curb complaining. "The point of this is to change," said the Rev. Mr. Bowen, who had read it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

Now, more than two months later, only one person -- Mr. Bowen -- has met the challenge, but some other bracelet wearers say they've become slower to speak or less easy to anger.

Making an impact

Mr. Bowen said he believes it is possible to have a complaint-free congregation that will have an impact. "When I was a kid we had a lake house, and I liked to sit out and throw a rock, and the ripples from that rock would travel almost the entire cove, he said. "As one life becomes more positive, it can't help but affect all the lives around it.

Many people in this Kansas City, Mo., congregation didn't see themselves as complainers -- until they slipped on a wristband.

"I, like many others, felt that I was a positive person, definitely not a whiner," said Patricia Platt, an elementary school teacher. "This challenge has opened my eyes."

Eighteen-year-old Michael Martin said: "I was switching my bracelet 10 times a day, then seven times a day, and then it got less and less, and then I made it a whole day without complaining."

Anita Skehen, a Kansas City real estate agent, said society and culture make it easy to "buy into" whining. "Just watch any news program, sitcom, the weather channel, read the paper/magazines," she said. "It's everywhere. "I'd complain about my weight, my sleep, my family, my friends, my pets, my house, the laundry, co-workers, neighbors, other people's pets, the weather, money, work, etc., etc."

Mr. Bowen said even he was "demoralized ... when I realized how much I did it."

Giving it their effort

At Michael Martin's home his mother, Kim, said that "immediately we realized that our conversations centered around sarcasm and criticizing others as well as our own members."

"We didn't want to have to move our bracelets and start over, so we just quit talking for a day or two until we figured out ways to talk to each other that did not involve complaining."

So far only Mr. Bowen has made it 21 consecutive days without complaining. But it took him nearly two months.

The pastor has noticed that some people have stopped wearing the bands and thinks that about a third of those who received them have given up.

One dropout stated: "It didn't work; you can't change inborn human nature."

Other participants, however, are continuing.

Jan Ward, who has gotten close to the 21 days, said the complaints that made her move her band "were really petty and not worth it."

"My mouth was speaking before my mind was in action," said Ward, a hospital secretary. "I think now before speaking, and sometimes I just say nothing."

JoAnn Rennack, an elementary school teacher, said she used to get annoyed when she'd have to park a long distance from a door.

"Instead of complaining about no close parking spaces, I now look for the good," she said. "God has given me an opportunity to get some extra exercise."




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