A COMPLAINT FREE WORLD: How
to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying
the Life You Always Wanted, by
Will Bowen. Doubleday. 176 pp.
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
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 www.acomplaintfreeworld.org) 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
You can order A PERSISTENT PEACE: One Man’s
Struggle for a Nonviolent World from St.
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
“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
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
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
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,
Last January, Michigan
launched its first annual celebration
of Interfaith Heroes Month. At
can nominate their favorite interfaith
heroes and learn more about what anyone
can do to reach out across religious
You can order INTERFAITH HEROES from St.
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.
Reviewed by MARK M. WILKINS, a
teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati,
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
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
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
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,
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
Taken together, these books say it
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
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
and film” nights, families,
friends and individuals.
Film is a great evangelization
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
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
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
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
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
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
While not advocating a particular
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
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”
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
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
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
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.