January 31, 2016 James 3:1-12 (The Message)
Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life.
A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything - or destroy it!
It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony into chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.
This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue -- it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curst the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!
My friends, this can’t go on. A spring doesn’t gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don’t bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don’t bear apples, do they? You’re not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?
THE MESSAGE “A Complaint Free World”
I am so tired of drivers turning left in front of me when I’m half way through the intersection! Didn’t anyone teach them the rules of the road?!! And who designed these roads anyway?!! Didn’t anyone teach them about grids?!! Who in their right mind would build a road on a cow path?!! That’s for cows, not cars!!
And I am so sick of winter! I know, I know, it’s only the end of January and it’s not nearly as bad as last year, but it’s not over yet. You never know what might come. I don’t want to be cooped up inside.
And I’m so sick of politics I could scream! And how many months of that do we have left? I can’t turn my TV on without seeing “you know whose” face, and hearing all that whining and negativity and complaining.
And then there’s the news! I’m so tired of hearing the same bad news over and over again. It’s like a broken record. Don’t they have anything good to report? I guess nice things just don’t get the ratings. Why are people so negative all the time? You know, my grandmother always said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (hands over mouth)
I would imagine many of us have heard those very words from our grandmothers at one time or another. The writer of James was telling those early Christians to watch what was coming out of their mouths -- take a look at the effect their words had on others.
Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a Toltec Wisdom Book called “The Four Agreements”. “Be Impeccable with your Word: is the First Agreement. He says it’s the most important one, and also the most difficult to honor. “… like a sword with two edges, your word can created the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you.” It can create a living heaven or hell.
Complaining is a mis-use of the word.
Maya Angelou wrote a story about her grandmother’s advice to her on this very topic. She calls it “Complaining.”
"When my grandmother was raising me in Stamps, Arkansas, she had a particular routine when people who were known to be whiners entered
her store. Whenever she saw a known complainer coming, she would call me from whatever I was doing and say conspiratorially, “Sister, come inside. Come.” Of course I would obey. My grandmother would ask the customer, “How are you doing today, Brother Thomas?” And the person would reply, “Not so good.” There would be a distinct whine in the voice. “Not so good today, Sister Henderson. You see, it’s this summer. It’s this summer heat. I just hate it. Oh, I hate it so much. It just frazzles me up and frazzles me down. I just hate the heat. It’s almost killing me.” "
"Then my grandmother would stand stoically, her arms folded, and mumble, “Uh-huh, uh-huh.” And she would cut her eyes at me to make certain that I had heard the lamentation. …
As soon as the complainer was out of the store, my grandmother would call me to stand in front of her. And then she would say the same thing she had said at least a thousand times, it seemed to me. “Sister, did you hear
what Brother So-and-So or Sister Much to Do complained about? You heard that?” And I would nod. Mamma would continue, “Sister, there are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, poor and rich and white and black, but they will never wake again. Sister, those who expected to rise did not, their beds became their cooling boards and their blankets became their winding sheets. And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather…."
"So you watch yourself about complaining, Sister. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” It is said that persons have few teachable moments in their lives. Mamma seemed to have caught me at each one I had between the age of three and thirteen. Whining is not only graceless, but can be dangerous. It can alert a brute that a victim is in the neighborhood."
from Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now
Great Story! Great advice!
So what do you complain about? It’s truth telling time. (pass mic)
Complaining, criticizing, gossiping is an epidemic in this world. We all do it whether we realize it or not. And we do it a lot. Eckhart Tolle, in A New World, clarifies what complaining is and is not:
“Complaining is not to be confused with informing someone of a mistake or deficiency so that it can be put right. And to refrain from complaining doesn’t necessarily mean putting up with bad quality or behavior. There is no ego in telling the waiter your soup is cold and needs to be heated up -- if you stick to the facts, which are always neutral. “How dare you serve me cold soup!” That’s complaining.”
Years ago I was out to breakfast with a couple I knew. A waitress was walking by with her arms filled with plates. The woman I was with held up her empty coffee cup, pointed to it and yelled “Miss!” at the waitress. I was mortified. That’s complaining too.
When a person is complained to or criticized, what is their knee jerk reaction - usually? (become defensive - counter-attack - or to join in the complaining)
When you complain about something, you are opening yourself up to more complaints. It just feeds on itself. What would happen, if instead of complaining, you expressed gratitude when something positive happens?
The opposite of complaining is gratitude. What if you started each day by writing down five things you were grateful for? What kind of mindset would that create? The Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think.”
Several years ago I was led to a book called “A Complaint Free World” by Will Bowen. He’s a minister from Kansas City. I don’t watch daytime TV so I missed when he appeared on The Today Show and Oprah a number of years ago, with his ideas for achieving a complaint free world. Has anyone read the book or heard about him?
He challenged his congregation to stop complaining, criticizing and gossiping. And the way he did it was to give them purple wrist bands like the ones you received when you came in. They say, “A Complaint Free World.com.” I found this band years ago in a drawer in my closet and had no idea where I got it. Still can’t remember.
Is there anyone who didn’t get a bracelet? The greeters will give you one.
It takes 21 days for hens’ eggs to hatch. They say it takes 21 days for a new behavior to become a habit. So here’s what you do:
- Begin to wear the bracelet on either wrist. (Do you have them on?)
- When you catch yourself complaining, gossiping, or criticizing, move the bracelet to the other wrist and begin again. You’re goal is to go for 21 days.
- If you hear someone else who is wearing a purple bracelet complain, it’s OK to point out their need to switch the bracelet to the other wrist: BUT, you need to be careful how you do it so that you’re complaining about their complaining.
- Stay with it. It may take months to reach 21 consecutive days. The average is 4 to 8 months.
Bowen says the first day he tried it his hands got tired from shifting it from one wrist to the other. He wanted to call it quits. He caught himself complaining all the time - and he thought he was a positive person. During the second week, the best day he had, he only switched it five times - but the next day he reverted back to 12. After two weeks he made it up to six hours. After nearly a month he had a string of three days.
He eventually made his goal of 21 days. It took him several months to get there, but he did. During the process he discovered that he did better around some people than others. There were people he needed to avoid. Remember, complaining is like a disease. It’s contagious.
But when you become aware of what’s coming out of your mouth - and I mean words here - you change your thought process, and it changes your life, and can change the world. You become a happier person. Maybe the writer of James was wrong. Maybe our tongues can be tamed. Norman Vincent Peale once said: “Change your thoughts and you can change your world.”
I thought this would be a good time to try this. You could think of it as a New Years’ resolution, or a Lenten Spiritual Practice. Let’s come back next week and see how we’re doing.
Maya Angelou received the 6 millionth bracelet. They’ve been sent to 80 different counties. She has one more thing to say to us about a complaint free world. (watch video on youtube “One Percent” by Maya Angelou)