Flunking Sainthood
This wry memoir tackles twelve different spiritual practices in a quest to become more saintly, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the Jesus Prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. Although Riess begins with great plans for success (“Really, how hard could that be?” she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year), she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing—not just at some of the practices, but at every single one. What emerges is a funny yet vulnerable story of the quest for spiritual perfection and the reality of spiritual failure, which turns out to be a valuable practice in and of itself. 

Flunking Sainthood Details

TitleFlunking Sainthood
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 1st, 2011
PublisherParaclete Press
ISBN-139781557256607
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Spirituality, Religion

Flunking Sainthood Review

  • Ryan James
    January 1, 1970
    First I have to admit two things. This book was on a pile of books that may partner brought back from the US on the last trip. I thought it was a novel and grabbed it off of the pile. By the first page, I knew it was not a novel, but that it would be a fun read.The author decides to read religious classics and then follow one practice each month. This was a set-up for writing the book, but she could have titled it "Creating Sainthood". Just about each month she flunked out on her chosen month of First I have to admit two things. This book was on a pile of books that may partner brought back from the US on the last trip. I thought it was a novel and grabbed it off of the pile. By the first page, I knew it was not a novel, but that it would be a fun read.The author decides to read religious classics and then follow one practice each month. This was a set-up for writing the book, but she could have titled it "Creating Sainthood". Just about each month she flunked out on her chosen month of practice from fasting, praying the hours. However, she has shared her failings in the most humorous way, you have to laugh out loud. Now, if I were religious, I would say I have a confession to make. However, I am an atheist, so just let me lay this out. I loved the book. What it brought to mind is all of the extremess that people will go to to try to be closer to something that is intangible and no one is able to quantitatively prove exists. What still confounds me is when people honestly believe "When we are in despair about a child getting leukemia, God is right beside us feeling righteously pissed" (page 110). Come on! The sub-chapter "Would I friend Jesus on Facebook" is what i had read immediately after having been invited to lunch by a student. We had a lengthy discussion about Facebook and friendship. Was that God telling me something. Hell no, but it was fun to read. I am going to share this book with friends, especially the religious overachievers.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    In the prologue, Ms. Riess mentions how when she presented her editor with the result of her year of trying out a dozen spiritual practices, none of which she felt she successfully completed, she felt "dejected" because of her failures. Her editor encouraged her to view her experiences in a different light and shift the focus of the book to exploring the "wild acceptability of failure." Which I like. But after reading the book, I don't think she was a failure at all. Ms. Riess may not have perfe In the prologue, Ms. Riess mentions how when she presented her editor with the result of her year of trying out a dozen spiritual practices, none of which she felt she successfully completed, she felt "dejected" because of her failures. Her editor encouraged her to view her experiences in a different light and shift the focus of the book to exploring the "wild acceptability of failure." Which I like. But after reading the book, I don't think she was a failure at all. Ms. Riess may not have perfected any of the approaches she tested during the year, but in her own words, she refused to allow the "perfect" to be "the enemy of good." She points out that "numbers don't tell the whole story: I feel closer to God and to the communion of saints. That's got to count for something, because it feels like it means everything." Exactly! All of these practices she explores, whether fasting, generosity, Sabbath observance, or a specific type of prayer, are means to an end: growing closer to God. And if her sincere but imperfect attempts helped her creep even an inch or two closer to the Divine, I don't think it can count as a failure.I liked the varied sources from which she drew and I've added several of them to my reading list. The quotes from saints and others scattered throughout in sidebars were thought-provoking. And Ms. Riess added her own snarky, self-deprecating little asides on practically every page that were encouraging in their very recognition of the universality of imperfection, the desire for closeness with God and with others, and the human drive for personal improvement.I do wish that some of the chapters were expanded. 12 or 14 pages hardly seems enough to cover a month's worth of experiences, thoughts, and study of hospitality, mindfulness, or scripture reading. But on the whole, I found Ms. Riess's book enlightening, challenging, encouraging and insightful. It's one I'll read again.For more book reviews, come visit my blog, Build Enough Bookshelves.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I kept having fantasies about having lunch with Jana and A.J. Jacobs (author of, "Year of Living Biblically,") to hear more about their years of following various religious practices. Both of these books rank high in books that motivated me to be a better person and kept me laughing all the way through. This book was very conversational in nature. It truly felt like I just might be able to invite Jana Riess to lunch because she seems down to earth and is honest in a self-depricating fashion. It I kept having fantasies about having lunch with Jana and A.J. Jacobs (author of, "Year of Living Biblically,") to hear more about their years of following various religious practices. Both of these books rank high in books that motivated me to be a better person and kept me laughing all the way through. This book was very conversational in nature. It truly felt like I just might be able to invite Jana Riess to lunch because she seems down to earth and is honest in a self-depricating fashion. It seems important to me when I am reading a book that I like the author and this author is easy to like. I almost friended her on Facebook, but since she can't pick me out of a police lineup I refrained. (See Chapter 9 under the section, "Would I friend Jesus on Facebook?")While I read this book I kept having thoughts tug at me at how I can be more meaningful about aspects of my relationship with God. It made me want to try and be thoughtful about how I Fast, made me dig deeper in my prayers, made me reflect on what my Sabbath day worship looks like as well as some other religious practices that I haven't even thought of before. (Sorry, though I'm not giving up meat for any length of time.) I also loved that she picked different religions as a guide for her monthly spiritual practices. It was well written and had thoughtful poignant passages that were very moving. The best take home message for me was that we are all, "Flunking Sainthood," and the good news of that is that God's grace is extended to all the flunkies. The more I realize I'm flunking the more I want to try and humble myself to do better and become closer to Heavenly Father and his son. P.S. The quotes in this book are amazing!P.S.S. I loved the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner."
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  • James
    January 1, 1970
    I am giving it 4 stars because I like her humor, I like that as a Mormon she maintains a healthy critical perspective without being irreverent to her faith or to other faiths - and I like the concept of the book. I also like that she failed, (ergo the name), at most of her prescribed spiritual practices but not because I am cheering for such failure, or because misery likes company, but because I am at a place personally where spiritual practices can't be prescribed, IMHO, they must be learned a I am giving it 4 stars because I like her humor, I like that as a Mormon she maintains a healthy critical perspective without being irreverent to her faith or to other faiths - and I like the concept of the book. I also like that she failed, (ergo the name), at most of her prescribed spiritual practices but not because I am cheering for such failure, or because misery likes company, but because I am at a place personally where spiritual practices can't be prescribed, IMHO, they must be learned and tuned for the person. And she really ends up hitting on this throughout the book. She makes the point I have felt for some time now, that regardless of what has worked for others, regardless of the reverence you take into a practice, the only way a spiritual experience, (and I leave that definition WAY open, so don't read anything into my own views on spirituality or God into this), the only way a spiritual experience can manifest and have real meaning is when it becomes something personal. Religion can't dictate it. A book can't spell it out. A friend can't explain it. It's you and only you. Just one mans thoughts.
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  • Gina
    January 1, 1970
    I can't overstate how surprised and disappointed I was by this book. Having read a few things on Riess's blog and general love of her and this book around the internet, I fully expected to love it also. The idea of following various spiritual practices for a month to deepen one's relationship with God is an interesting idea. But from the outset I was already a bit concerned: spiritual practices are generally a form of discipline that slowly change people, not a magic trick with guaranteed result I can't overstate how surprised and disappointed I was by this book. Having read a few things on Riess's blog and general love of her and this book around the internet, I fully expected to love it also. The idea of following various spiritual practices for a month to deepen one's relationship with God is an interesting idea. But from the outset I was already a bit concerned: spiritual practices are generally a form of discipline that slowly change people, not a magic trick with guaranteed results, and a month seems like an awfully short period of time, and twelve in a year seem like an awful lot. But by her biography, Riess seems like a substantial and spiritually mature and engaged person, with advanced degrees and training in theology. So I was so taken aback by the half-hearted way she seemed to approach so many of the practices. It was almost like halfway through the year she decided to throw in the towel on any actual spiritual progress and embrace the "flunking" idea and threw in a lot of sass and humor to try and cover it up. It just took me over the edge when she didn't actually go an entire month without eating meat. I mean, one month! Come on! You're writing a book! Look, I'm no stranger to half-hearted attempts at interesting sounding self-improvement ideas, and even abandoning them out of laziness or when they don't seem very rewarding. I just don't write a book about my failed attempts, because they aren't very interesting and say more about me and my unremarkableness and frailty rather than the spiritual practice itself. The most interesting part of the book happens in the postscript, when a genuinely trying experience presents itself in Riess's life, and she finds that her year has actually prepared her to deal with it. But there is so little reflection and explanation of how, that it is even a bit hollow. We are all human and fail, and I even think there is a book in that. But it requires more meat and reflection and substance than Riess manages to muster here, unfortunately.
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  • Kathleen
    January 1, 1970
    Read this in January of 2012. Review from Journey with Jesus:We hear a lot today about the "spiritual disciplines," the effect of which, I suspect, is to make the Christian life feel like a very serious endeavor. Jana Riess's contribution to this burgeoning literature takes a different tack. She decided not only to read about the spiritual disciplines but also to practice them. So for a period of one year, each month she read a spiritual classic and practiced the corresponding discipline. Her wh Read this in January of 2012. Review from Journey with Jesus:We hear a lot today about the "spiritual disciplines," the effect of which, I suspect, is to make the Christian life feel like a very serious endeavor. Jana Riess's contribution to this burgeoning literature takes a different tack. She decided not only to read about the spiritual disciplines but also to practice them. So for a period of one year, each month she read a spiritual classic and practiced the corresponding discipline. Her whimsical memoir is predicated upon self-effacing humor at her abject failure in most everything she tried.After an initial chapter that explains how she took the first month to map her year of reading and practices, the remainder of the book devotes one chapter to each month and its discipline: fasting from sun up to sun down (cf. Ramadan), mindfulness of God's presence (Brother Lawrence), lectio divina (Eugene Peterson), simplicity and no shopping (Richard Foster), centering prayer (Charles Keating), Sabbath-keeping (Abraham Heschel), gratitude, hospitality (the Rule of St. Benedict), vegetarianism (St. Francis), fixed-time prayer (Phyllis Tickle), and generosity.Riess describes how she bombed at all these disciplines. At the end of the book she acknowledges how artificial and presumptuous it was to think she could learn a difficult practice in a single month, to practice these disciplines alone instead of in community, and to do them without the help of a guide. She also learned a lot about exterior practices and interior motivations, about the letter of the law and its spirit. She experienced discouragements, confusions and questions. But in a short concluding chapter about visiting her dying father who had abandoned the family long ago, she discovers that she had actually changed a little that year. In the end she embraces a spirituality of imperfection, or what she calls the "wild acceptability of failure itself."
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  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    This witty, wise, and wonderful book is my favorite faith-related title I read this year (and I read a lot of faith-related titles). I follow Jana Riess's blog and Mormon-related podcast appearances, so I knew going in that it was likely to resonate with me. I wasn't disappointed. Her tone is light and accessible, and her central message -- that there is value in establishing a habit of consistent spiritual practices, even when they're not performed perfectly -- is hopeful and encouraging. She s This witty, wise, and wonderful book is my favorite faith-related title I read this year (and I read a lot of faith-related titles). I follow Jana Riess's blog and Mormon-related podcast appearances, so I knew going in that it was likely to resonate with me. I wasn't disappointed. Her tone is light and accessible, and her central message -- that there is value in establishing a habit of consistent spiritual practices, even when they're not performed perfectly -- is hopeful and encouraging. She speaks as someone who has "flunked" sainthood, who needs a daily measure of grace, just as we all do; and yet who is a saint regardless, as all Christians are called to be.Though she is Mormon, she writes to a general Christian audience and does so credibly; Riess converted to Mormonism after attending Princeton Theological Seminary. I would feel comfortable sharing this book with Christian friends from a wide variety of traditions.After reading the book, I've decided to try my hand at one of the spiritual practices Riess attempted -- praying the hours sounded *amazing.* I'm excited to see how it goes. :-)
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    This was a fantastic book. I learned. I laughed. I want to do better. The author is the perfect Mormon in my opinion (although she never mentions her own religion). I call it S'mormonism. It means you are a Mormon, but also so much more: mother, friend, sister, wife, teacher, hoarder of Oreos, etc. The book doesn't focus on any one religion, but rather the author focuses on a specific religious practice each month of a year. I knew I'd be able to relate to her when she summed up her relationship This was a fantastic book. I learned. I laughed. I want to do better. The author is the perfect Mormon in my opinion (although she never mentions her own religion). I call it S'mormonism. It means you are a Mormon, but also so much more: mother, friend, sister, wife, teacher, hoarder of Oreos, etc. The book doesn't focus on any one religion, but rather the author focuses on a specific religious practice each month of a year. I knew I'd be able to relate to her when she summed up her relationship with God as "old marrieds". She nags a lot and he's emotionally distant. I highly recommend it. Thanks Lisa! The author has an interesting blog at blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    http://www.gerberadaisydiaries.com/20...If you had a plan to increase your spirituality over the course of a year what would you do? Jana Riess, in her book “Flunking Sainthood” decides to seek out reading ancient texts and embracing religious traditions – everything from a month of fasting to strict Sabbath day observance to rigorous daily prayer – a journey she expected to succeed at on a monthly basis.What she realizes is that each of her endeavors are much more difficult – and need a LOT mor http://www.gerberadaisydiaries.com/20...If you had a plan to increase your spirituality over the course of a year what would you do? Jana Riess, in her book “Flunking Sainthood” decides to seek out reading ancient texts and embracing religious traditions – everything from a month of fasting to strict Sabbath day observance to rigorous daily prayer – a journey she expected to succeed at on a monthly basis.What she realizes is that each of her endeavors are much more difficult – and need a LOT more time – to accomplish and master. At the end of her year, she feels like she has “flunked.” After the death of her father, she recognizes that even though she didn’t meet the expectation she set out for herself – she had indeed increased her spiritual strength and because of her year long journey, was able to put into practice many of the tenants she had learned, to cope with his death.I loved this book – it was witty, honest, revelatory, and full of failure. And considering I fail on an all too regular basis – it was refreshing.The most significant point the author makes is: to be a better Christian (or any other religious belief for that matter) takes PRACTICE. If you want to be generous – you need to practice generosity, if you want to forgive – you need to be more forgiving, if you want to be more prayerful in your everyday life – you need to pray! Duh?! And some of these goals take months, if not a lifetime, to achieve.One particular personal reaction I had to this book was found in her chapter on Fasting. For months now I've been struggling with my personal self worth -- without being able to pinpoint why. When I came across the following: "I'm craving community almost as much as food..." I thought I’d been sent a personal revelation. Nearly a year ago, I had a profound shift in my community, and have been in mourning ever since. In the mean time, I've been trying to fill that "craving" with food -- which has left me even more empty and community-less. I’m thankful to Ms. Riess for showing me (even though I know it wasn’t her intention!) that I can create a community without using food as a crutch – and over the next year – that is my goal.
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  • Megan
    January 1, 1970
    The second half of this book is better than the first, but overall this felt very surface-y to me. Riess discusses the motions of religious observance, without a lot of the content and depth--the why of religious observance. For me, it felt like she was reducing religion to a to-do list. She seems to say that she wants to go about knowing God better, but then she simply knows "of" Him. Or, that's all she chose to write about anyway. (For example, can one *really* study scripture while walking th The second half of this book is better than the first, but overall this felt very surface-y to me. Riess discusses the motions of religious observance, without a lot of the content and depth--the why of religious observance. For me, it felt like she was reducing religion to a to-do list. She seems to say that she wants to go about knowing God better, but then she simply knows "of" Him. Or, that's all she chose to write about anyway. (For example, can one *really* study scripture while walking the dog? I'd argue no.) The chapters I liked best were the ones on gratitude, hospitality, and tithing. Maybe fasting too. I didn't like "God in an Apron" because comments like "there's something deeply Christian" about menial chores and references to "the theology of housekeeping" just made me laugh; I disagreed. The advice on centering prayer seemed pointless to me, but maybe I'm just not understanding that particular practice. Overall, the short chapters were more geared toward pith and humor than content, to my mind.Much of the book reads like an extended book review, or is too reminiscent of A.J. Jacobs' style (as in The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically) to be new. It is a popular writing approach right now, in part through blogs, and I think that's because it's an easy writing approach: "I know, I'll try X for X amount of time, and then I'll write up my day-to-day experiences! It'll sell like hotcakes!" And it does.The Epilogue was wonderful. Reading it, I finally felt like she was talking about meaningful religion, not just rote form. But I thought it interesting and perhaps apropos that the most meaningful thing Riess wrote didn't come from her experiment, but from a real trial God saw fit to give her. I wouldn't have come away from this book very satisfied without that conclusion, so in some ways, it was a fortunate (from a writing perspective) occurrence.
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  • Alene
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed the premise of this book, the idea to try a new spiritual practice for each month for one year. I liked learning about the diversity of practices within Christianity and it helped me discover further that the methods I was trained in represent a tiny window of ways to worship. The author had a humorous approach too, but sometimes I was a little vague on exactly what she was trying to do each month, and also sometimes all this talk about other Saints or Christian writers on each I really enjoyed the premise of this book, the idea to try a new spiritual practice for each month for one year. I liked learning about the diversity of practices within Christianity and it helped me discover further that the methods I was trained in represent a tiny window of ways to worship. The author had a humorous approach too, but sometimes I was a little vague on exactly what she was trying to do each month, and also sometimes all this talk about other Saints or Christian writers on each subject was too much for me, I got lost in the discussion of who said what about each practice rather than just what was the point of each and where it comes from. The conclusion at the end says it all: "In a culture that stresses perfection, I"ve often heard the maxim that 'good is the enemy of perfect'; in other words, when people of faith aim for anything short of godliness we miss the mark. I"ve learned the reverse is true: perfect is the enemy of good. i may have spent a year flunking sainthood, but along the way I've had unexpected epiphanies and wild glimpses of the holy I would never have experienced without these crazy practices."I second that last thought because I fully believe it is better to try the even outrageous to get results than to do nothing, and sometimes we are too intimidated to try things because we think we won't be able to do them well enough. It did make me want to be better at being a Christian and helped me to realize that it doesn't just have to be in the ways I have known before, although to me being a Christian is first and foremost just about treating others kindly.
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  • Stephen
    January 1, 1970
    Many books on spirituality are serious to the point of being humourless and intimidating to the point of dissuading the seeker from every beginning. Few begin at the level of "Spirituality for Dummies." Jana Riess' memoir of her year of seeking saintliness succumbs to neither of those faults and seems a good place for dummies to begin. She contrived to create for herself a sort of Spiritual Practice of the Month Club. Despite coming from a low-church evangelical upbringing, she bravely looked at Many books on spirituality are serious to the point of being humourless and intimidating to the point of dissuading the seeker from every beginning. Few begin at the level of "Spirituality for Dummies." Jana Riess' memoir of her year of seeking saintliness succumbs to neither of those faults and seems a good place for dummies to begin. She contrived to create for herself a sort of Spiritual Practice of the Month Club. Despite coming from a low-church evangelical upbringing, she bravely looked at more catholic practices such as fasting, saying the daily office, lectio divina and (from the Eastern Church) the Jesus Prayer. Following Christian spirituality to its roots, she also spent a month attempting to keep the (somewhat) orthodox Jewish Sabbath. Mostly she failed but she doesn't feel too bad about that. She learned three good lessons in twelve months of striving toward sainthood: (1) not every spiritual practice is a perfect fit for everyone; individual differences are important in choosing the one that is most likely to "work" for you; (2) many spiritual practices are best adopted with at least one other person -- a mentor, a guide, a partner or a group; (3) many spiritual practices do not begin to yield fruit in the first month nor even the first year; some take many years of practice. Her observations along the road to enlightenment and union with God are very wry and very real and very human. Best of all, she finds something good in every one of her failures.
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  • Bonnie Jean
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. Riess chooses a different spiritual practice each month to explore along side reading various Christian classics. Some of the practices were a bit extreme (I don't know of any Christian religion that has a Ramadan-style fast from sunup to sundown, and even she admits that a fully orthodox observance of the Jewish Sabbath is not the norm among American Jews), and I'm still not sure I entirely buy the concept of vegetarianism as a spiritual practice, but it was an inter I really enjoyed this book. Riess chooses a different spiritual practice each month to explore along side reading various Christian classics. Some of the practices were a bit extreme (I don't know of any Christian religion that has a Ramadan-style fast from sunup to sundown, and even she admits that a fully orthodox observance of the Jewish Sabbath is not the norm among American Jews), and I'm still not sure I entirely buy the concept of vegetarianism as a spiritual practice, but it was an interesting chapter nonetheless. Riess claims to have flunked every single practice. I'm not quite sure I agree with her on how she qualified flunking- I'd argue more, that she discovered that it takes more than a month to actually start building the habit- but I love how everything came together for her at the end of the year. Either way, and even with the extreme examples, she really got me to think about why and how I participate in certain religious practices. What do I hope to gain from my monthly fast, for instance? How sincere are my prayers? Why is it that God has commanded us to keep the Sabbath, and could I do better at that? Lots to chew on here- I'd definitely recommend it.
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  • Debra Smouse
    January 1, 1970
    I really wanted to like this book. The author intended to read the works of great spiritual leaders and saints and implement some of their practices in hopes of strengthening her relationship with God. And I went into the book knowing upfront that she "failed" yet still learned spiritual lessons.And I get that concept. As a Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism and often understands New Age and Spiritual as beliefs, I know that trying on new spiritual practices can open your mind and hea I really wanted to like this book. The author intended to read the works of great spiritual leaders and saints and implement some of their practices in hopes of strengthening her relationship with God. And I went into the book knowing upfront that she "failed" yet still learned spiritual lessons.And I get that concept. As a Southern Baptist who converted to Catholicism and often understands New Age and Spiritual as beliefs, I know that trying on new spiritual practices can open your mind and heart to new possible ways to connect to God.But I just couldn't feel connected to this book. Riess complained about the beliefs and writings of almost everyone she read: St. Therese of Lisieux was called a "drama queen". Brother Lawrence who connected to God by cooking for fellow monks she called "sanctimonious". Father Keating is too "theoretical".I was seeking a nourishing (and spiritual) morning read, but the book just left me feeling irritated with the writer - and feeling as if she was just looking for reasons to not connect to the readings and practices she chose for her project.
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  • JennyB Wolfer
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book -- finished it in one sitting (it's fairly short).One of the things I loved was though it was written by an LDS (Mormon) writer, it doesn't have that feel. Often LDS writers use a language that is recognizable only to other Mormons, but Riess uses a much more universal tone to which all can relate. I would feel comfortable both using this book in an LDS book club, then passing it to my Baptist friend, then lending it to my Catholic neighbor. A great read and very inspiring.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoyed this book so much. The author's style was so honest and real that it made me want to go and friend her on Facebook. Though a little more whiny than i thought necessary, I thought she explained/resolved the reasons for that well and made some solid theological observations along the way. Definitely a fun memoir, surrounded by insights about the challenge of dabbling in spiritual practices that made me smile.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I can hear such a distinctive voice here in the efforts at practicing some disciplines. Her humor and authenticity and blend of scholarship with narrative really suited my reading preferences. I also resonated with Riess’ attempt to “put some zing back into the relationship” with God, even tho nothing magical happened. But the epilogue was so important—the disciplines do often benefit us most in the long run.
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  • Pastor2112
    January 1, 1970
    It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. If this is true, then I’ve left my fair share of parched pavement on Interstate 666 in my well-intended but poorly-executed interest in traditional Christian spiritual practices.For me, the spiritual disciplines always sound great in theory. It is the practice of these disciplines – moreover, the consistent practice – that I find difficult. I can talk well about the spiritual disciplines, but my execution is often, at best, sp It has been said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. If this is true, then I’ve left my fair share of parched pavement on Interstate 666 in my well-intended but poorly-executed interest in traditional Christian spiritual practices.For me, the spiritual disciplines always sound great in theory. It is the practice of these disciplines – moreover, the consistent practice – that I find difficult. I can talk well about the spiritual disciplines, but my execution is often, at best, spotty and uninspired. It is for this reason that I am a self-described "wannabe" mystic. I wannabe a mystic (it sounds like a great idea!) but I don’t necessarily consider myself one because of my poor performance.It is encouraging then to read that I am not alone in my frustrations.Jana Riess’ book, Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, is an encouraging word to those of us who have approached traditional spiritual disciplines with good intentions, only to end up frustrated by failure.Over the course of one year, Jana Riess committed to one new spiritual discipline a month, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, gratitude,Sabbath-keeping, the Jesus Prayer, and generosity. What initially seemed like a simple task quickly turned out to be quite a challenge: Fasting can make one cranky rather than compassionate; Sabbath-keeping can turn into just one more performance; Fixed-hour prayers can really disrupt one’s day; And the list goes on.Honestly seeking spiritual growth, Jana approached each discipline with good intentions. But she ended up failing at every one.However, she discovered that failing the disciplines brings its own lessons. For example, through her attempts at lectio divina (reading the scriptures slowly, reflectively, personally, and prayerfully) she discovered how easy it is to read the scriptures superficially. She writes, "lectio divina…has shown me how I tend to skim the surface, not only of the Bible but of the Christian faith itself… It is easy to believe that our lives are inspired by the Gospels if we keep the Gospels at a distance" (50).In spite of the difficulty of fixed-hour prayer, Jana learned that "Prayer should order my daily life, not by ordered around by it. Part of the problem I’ve had with a regular prayer routine in my years as a Christian is that I try to squash it in each day between all of those other 'important' things on my list, and of course half the time it doesn’t happen at all" (145).At the end of the year, Jana makes a few observations. She recognizes she made a few mistakes in her approach. She realizes the impossibility of mastering any spiritual practice in just thirty days. More time is needed. Also, she frankly admits "I was… an idiot for trying so much of this by myself rather than in community" (170).In spite of her repeated failures, Jana ends up more spiritual enriched by the end of her journey. She may be a failed saint but "A failed saint is still a saint" (171).Jana's style of writing is humorous and engaging. She is playfully self-deprecating and pulls no punches when it comes to the saints. My favorite line in the book is when she compares St. Therese of Lisieux (one of my favorite saints) to a drama queen. She’s not far-off in this assessment, but in my opinion, this is further evidence of how diverse and crazy God’s saints may be.
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  • Diane
    January 1, 1970
    partway through the book, I became annoyed at Jana Riess, wondering why she ever thought she could master a spiritual practice in a month, and what even gave her the impression that the idea was to master them? I even thought (for a moment) that she knew all along that she would be a failure. Her (mostly) self-deprecating humor, though disarming, also made me think that she had to have known that spiritual practices wouldn't be that easy. I also thought it was weird of her to try to take on a sp partway through the book, I became annoyed at Jana Riess, wondering why she ever thought she could master a spiritual practice in a month, and what even gave her the impression that the idea was to master them? I even thought (for a moment) that she knew all along that she would be a failure. Her (mostly) self-deprecating humor, though disarming, also made me think that she had to have known that spiritual practices wouldn't be that easy. I also thought it was weird of her to try to take on a spiritual practice alone, when they are really meant to be practiced (at least for the most part) in community.But a funny thing happened. I started to get to know her. And sympathize with her. And realize that even though she is ironic and sarcastic and funny, she took on these spiritual practices in all earnestness. She often makes the point that she is from a low-church tradition that doesn't have much experience with disciplined prayer and spiritual experiences. Whether she failed or not (and I actually think that she didn't) she learned a lot during the year, and I did too. Even the practices I knew something about (and I am a constantly failing practicer of 'fixed-hour prayer', for example) I learned something new about.And in the end, Jana made several of the points that I did: that she should have practiced spiritual disciplines in community more than in solitude, and that 'getting good' is not as important as learning to trust God. She finds that however much she considers herself a failure, the year of practicing prayer and fasting and generosity and gratitude (among other things) has prepared her and helped her mature as a Christian.As I reflect back on reading this book, I think think that one of the things that most churches are not good at is Adult Faith Formation. We teach Sunday School and try to run awesome confirmation programs, but for some reason Adult Christian Education Falls flat. It seems to me that Adult Faith formation is actually more important that Sunday School, and making Sunday School our priority gives the impression that the things of God are childish things. Actually, nothing could be further from the church. Faith, real faith, faith that goes the distance, is NOT for sissies. This book could be a good start of a conversation about how we nurture adult faith in congregations.
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  • Heidi
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted so badly to love this book. The premise sounds like exactly my kind of book. This is another one of those "set a goal every month for a year" sorts of books. (Is there a name for this sub-genre? Because if there's not, there should be.) In this particular book, the author challenges herself to try different religious practices every month (representing several different religions). It's a fascinating concept, and it made me wonder which practices I'd try if I were inclined to do the sam I wanted so badly to love this book. The premise sounds like exactly my kind of book. This is another one of those "set a goal every month for a year" sorts of books. (Is there a name for this sub-genre? Because if there's not, there should be.) In this particular book, the author challenges herself to try different religious practices every month (representing several different religions). It's a fascinating concept, and it made me wonder which practices I'd try if I were inclined to do the same thing.But the author's unenthusiastic approach to the project kind of ruined it for me. In describing the saints she's studying, she uses words like "first-class diva," "sycophant," "sanctimonious," and "insufferable." She has a lackluster approach to all of her goals and usually her enthusiasm peters out long before the end of the month. (During the month where she was supposed to meditate on the word "Peace" for 20 minutes/day, for example, she made it only five days before getting bored and giving up.) And her unwillingness to identify her own religion, though I'm sure she had her reasons, seemed like cowardice to me. She seemed so reluctant to try to complete any of her goals that it made me wonder why she continued to put herself and her family through this misery every month--she was obviously not getting anything out of it, besides a book contract. And it made me wonder how she managed to get the book published with her halfhearted efforts. The book eventually got better, but by that time she had already lost me.One thing I loved about the book, however, was the quotes dotted through each chapter, both from the saints the author so disliked and from other religious writers. The quotes were insightful and inspiring, and I gained perspective after perspective from them. My reading list grew as I learned about different religious practices.I think it's clear, reading these experiences, that it's not possible to temporarily experiment with a religious practice and expect great benefits. These practices would have been developed by committed religious leaders over a lifetime (saints' writings) or generations (religious traditions). But long-term commitment to a religious practice can yield great benefits.
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  • Julie Davis
    January 1, 1970
    The premise of this book is that the author was to try a different spiritual discipline every month. She failed at each, if I understand the back of the book (and the title) properly. However, it seemed an interesting read if for no other reason than to read her quotes from other sources and for her take on the various disciplines.I dipped into this a while back when I received it and found it an easy read but the author came off as really whiny (they call it wry, but whiny was my reaction, espe The premise of this book is that the author was to try a different spiritual discipline every month. She failed at each, if I understand the back of the book (and the title) properly. However, it seemed an interesting read if for no other reason than to read her quotes from other sources and for her take on the various disciplines.I dipped into this a while back when I received it and found it an easy read but the author came off as really whiny (they call it wry, but whiny was my reaction, especially in March where she really, really did not like Brother Lawrence -- who I've always found rather endearing).Picking it up again, I decided to skip to the end to see if there was a worthwhile result and any hope that the whininess would lessen (however amusingly the whining might be couched). Definitely there is a big payoff ... and one that I can relate to. Therefore, I picked it up from March and am going to see if the other disciplines sit a bit better on the author. Perhaps encountering Brother Lawrence so early in the process was simply unfortunate for both the author and the book.UPDATEIn a move I usually abhor, I skipped to the end and read the epilogue to see how all this experimentation wound up. I found the end result to be extremely true to real life (meaning my) experience so have gone back to my previous point to continue reading. The book is well written and I am enjoying the author's sources on different spiritual disciplines ... if only she could have had a little less snarkiness ... although that is lessening just a touch. I think it is meant to be endearing. I don't find it so. Final review to come soon...
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  • Linda Hart
    January 1, 1970
    The author shares her "failed" experiment at challenging herself to focus on a specific religious practice e.g. fasting, centering prayer, Sabbath keeping, charity, and generosity each month of a year. In reality, her experience resulted in increased spirituality so she only "failed" at perfection. Her keen sense of humor made the reading not only enjoyable, but easy for the reader relate. All of us have at sometime vowed to be better and not met our goal completely.Favorite quotes from the book The author shares her "failed" experiment at challenging herself to focus on a specific religious practice e.g. fasting, centering prayer, Sabbath keeping, charity, and generosity each month of a year. In reality, her experience resulted in increased spirituality so she only "failed" at perfection. Her keen sense of humor made the reading not only enjoyable, but easy for the reader relate. All of us have at sometime vowed to be better and not met our goal completely.Favorite quotes from the book:"...those attempts at sainthood that seemed like dismal failures at the time, actually took hold somehow. They helped to form me into the kind of person who could go to the bedside of someone who had harmed me and be able to say, "I forgive you, Dad, Go in peace." Although I didn't see it while I was doing the practices themselves or even while I was writing the chapters in the book, the power of spiritual practice is that it forges you stealthily, as you entertain angles unawares."“we need to take a long hard look at what we believe about God . God doesn't owe us anything, no matter how cheerful and uncomplaining we are. Period.”“The less comfortable we are with ourselves, the more we will look to things around us for comfort. The more assured we are of ourselves, the less assurance we will need from things outside”
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  • Christian
    January 1, 1970
    I always find it difficult to review memoirs seeing as how any review is, in some shape or form, an indictment of the memoirist's experience. Reviews just seem so much more personal.Fortunately, I found this to be an enjoyable memoir if perhaps a bit short. I feel that there was just so much more, particularly from Riess's personal experiences, that could have been included to truly flesh out and shape the reading experience. I will say that Riess has a pleasant voice and a touching sense of hum I always find it difficult to review memoirs seeing as how any review is, in some shape or form, an indictment of the memoirist's experience. Reviews just seem so much more personal.Fortunately, I found this to be an enjoyable memoir if perhaps a bit short. I feel that there was just so much more, particularly from Riess's personal experiences, that could have been included to truly flesh out and shape the reading experience. I will say that Riess has a pleasant voice and a touching sense of humor. And, after reading this, I do find myself inspired to seek out a richer sense of personal spirituality and community. My husband and I discussed a couple possibilities to pursue this year, such as preparing for and observing the Passover or participating in Ramadan. We'll see what we decide to do. I do find it unfortunate that as often as she refers to her personal congregation, she never identifies it as Mormon. To those who know Mormonism, these references are fairly obvious. In fact, there's only one outright reference to Mormons, and it's distanced from her. I understand the desire to broaden the audience, and her experiences in the book are more general Christian as opposed to Mormon, but even so, I found this to be a shortcoming of the book.
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  • Liz
    January 1, 1970
    Third Reading, August 2017 - Reading this again for book club, and I still just really like it. I like the way she approaches things and the realistic approaches she takes to a faith both believed and lived. Solid four stars. I'm also reading her Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A Daily Devotional for the Rest of Us on the daily, and I love the little pick-me-up it gives me every morning.Second Reading, May 2012: I'm upgrading to 4 stars, because of the way this book helps me reexamine my own faith Third Reading, August 2017 - Reading this again for book club, and I still just really like it. I like the way she approaches things and the realistic approaches she takes to a faith both believed and lived. Solid four stars. I'm also reading her Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A Daily Devotional for the Rest of Us on the daily, and I love the little pick-me-up it gives me every morning.Second Reading, May 2012: I'm upgrading to 4 stars, because of the way this book helps me reexamine my own faith practices and the purposes/goals thereof. And Jana Riess is my homegirl - I just like the way she thinks and expresses herself. It's fun to read, and particularly a good one to read on the Kindle.3.5 stars. I really liked her journey and thought it was laugh-out-loud funny in a few parts. It was a good reminder that we all fail, and is a testimony to the sanctifying influence of just making an effort. The epilogue was extremely powerful - had me in tears.
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  • Liaken
    January 1, 1970
    There ought to be a genre for this by now. "I'm going to do this for a year and write a book on it!" Only, this one is a bit worse. "I'm going to do one thing for each month that has to do with a religion and then move on to the next one each month for the whole year and write a book on it!" How the author expected to get anything substantial in one month is beyond me. Most of the book felt like her saying, "This is hard and I'm not good at it and I didn't do it right." Well, yeah. You only gave There ought to be a genre for this by now. "I'm going to do this for a year and write a book on it!" Only, this one is a bit worse. "I'm going to do one thing for each month that has to do with a religion and then move on to the next one each month for the whole year and write a book on it!" How the author expected to get anything substantial in one month is beyond me. Most of the book felt like her saying, "This is hard and I'm not good at it and I didn't do it right." Well, yeah. You only gave yourself a month to try it. Any practice takes actual time to create its effect. What did you expect? I don't know what she expected. Maybe she only expected to write a book and get it published. The funny thing is, I actually made a couple of notes while I read this book so I could give specific examples of why this book really flunked its own self, but somehow it's not worth my time to get the notes to write a longer review. Maybe if I come across them, I'll come add more to the review later.Basically, this would have been fine as a series of blog posts. As a book, it doesn't work so well.
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  • Julie
    January 1, 1970
    I thought this book was refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny. Some people might find it lacking in spiritual earnestness, but I deeply appreciated the author's growing understanding that being a super-saint is not attainable through human will or, frankly, even a desirable goal. She repeatedly fails at the spirtual program she designed for herself and learns some valuable lessons about her heart. For example in practicing gratitude (month 8), she learns that instead of feeling thankful f I thought this book was refreshingly honest and laugh-out-loud funny. Some people might find it lacking in spiritual earnestness, but I deeply appreciated the author's growing understanding that being a super-saint is not attainable through human will or, frankly, even a desirable goal. She repeatedly fails at the spirtual program she designed for herself and learns some valuable lessons about her heart. For example in practicing gratitude (month 8), she learns that instead of feeling thankful for her blessings she is honestly just relieved not be experiencing the trials and misery of some other person. (Try being thankful for good health, she suggests as a test.) The author didn't flunk out with every spirtual practice. She learned from almost every one she tried and found that praying the liturgy, setting aside time for sabbath rest and fasting brought her profound insights in difficult times to come.
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  • Roger
    January 1, 1970
    Reads more like a blog that's in love with it's own sardonic humor than a study of religious practices. The substance that other positive reviewers rate is largely self inferred. Two other readers I know couldn't make it thru and skipped to the end. However on the positive side, it is a refreshing look at what are often overly revered subjects. Some would-be saints are merely trapped by their own religion and traditions. The author provides a few insights that reminded me of what I already know Reads more like a blog that's in love with it's own sardonic humor than a study of religious practices. The substance that other positive reviewers rate is largely self inferred. Two other readers I know couldn't make it thru and skipped to the end. However on the positive side, it is a refreshing look at what are often overly revered subjects. Some would-be saints are merely trapped by their own religion and traditions. The author provides a few insights that reminded me of what I already know from my own experiences, that the value of some religious practices must be for good purpose, and not just to score points in the afterlife so the "god as Santa Clause" will reward thee openly.
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  • Sharman Wilson
    January 1, 1970
    I'm keeping this book around so I can refer back to it--there is so much great stuff in there. I love Jana's ability to make me laugh, even while she's making me think seriously and deeply about the things of the spirit. I've been trying to implement some of her practices--the Jesus prayer has been going through my head a lot, and I've been trying to figure out a way to fast. I have one kidney, so I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to go without water, and as for food, I'm on some meds that I've a I'm keeping this book around so I can refer back to it--there is so much great stuff in there. I love Jana's ability to make me laugh, even while she's making me think seriously and deeply about the things of the spirit. I've been trying to implement some of her practices--the Jesus prayer has been going through my head a lot, and I've been trying to figure out a way to fast. I have one kidney, so I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to go without water, and as for food, I'm on some meds that I've assumed preclude fasting, but I'm now determined to find out for sure. I would be happy if I am allowed to skip even one meal--it would give me more of a sense of communion, I think, in my church's monthly Fast meetings. Thanks, Jana, for giving me some good nudges.
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  • Connie
    January 1, 1970
    This was a fast read and a fun read with some serious points. Jana spends 12 months trying a new spiritual discipline each month, mostly without success. Of course, it takes more than a month for a discipline to soak into your being, and she recognized that at the end of her year. She tried Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Sabbath, etc. Each month she read a book to help her understand the discipline she was focusing on. In the end, they all had subtly shifted her soul. It has inspired me to tac This was a fast read and a fun read with some serious points. Jana spends 12 months trying a new spiritual discipline each month, mostly without success. Of course, it takes more than a month for a discipline to soak into your being, and she recognized that at the end of her year. She tried Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Sabbath, etc. Each month she read a book to help her understand the discipline she was focusing on. In the end, they all had subtly shifted her soul. It has inspired me to tackle some of the disciplines that she did. Not for just a month, but long enough to see how it "feels" for me.
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  • Erin
    January 1, 1970
    I picked this one up because she's a woman after my own heart: she makes up ridiculous goals for herself and inevitably fails at them. There are companion works of literature to every discipline she tries to master (in a month!) and there are many good quotes and selections out of them. I was going to give it three stars until I read the epilogue. After the writing of this book, she went through an incredibly emotional and trying ordeal and found that even though she failed at all the discipline I picked this one up because she's a woman after my own heart: she makes up ridiculous goals for herself and inevitably fails at them. There are companion works of literature to every discipline she tries to master (in a month!) and there are many good quotes and selections out of them. I was going to give it three stars until I read the epilogue. After the writing of this book, she went through an incredibly emotional and trying ordeal and found that even though she failed at all the disciplines she tried, there was enough there to help her get through. That part was particularly poignant. Though she did try a month of vegetarianism as a spiritual discipline...?..., I like her.
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