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Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbor [Kindle Edition]

Jana Riess
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

"It's clear from the start of this sparkling and very funny memoir that Riess means well. But as she readily admits, she's a spiritual failure. She intended to devote an entire year ("a year-long experiment") to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges, including praying at fixed times during the day, exhibiting gratitude, observing the Sabbath, practicing hospitality according to the rules set by St. Benedict, abstaining from eating meat, and amply demonstrating her generosity. But nothing turned out as planned. Rather than being moved by Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul, she instead dismisses the saint as a "drama queen." And Riess is unregenerately practical. The best month to fast, she reasons, is February, at the height of winter; conveniently, it's also the shortest month of the year. Furthermore, at best, she's a "lukewarm vegetarian." Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she can still proffer spiritual lessons. Anyone who has failed to live up to expectations, which means most everyone, will love this book." - Booklist, September 15, 2011

STARRED REVIEW - Publishers Weekly - "Punchy humor and unpretentious inquisitiveness combine in this absorbing memoir in which former PW editor Riess (What Would Buffy Do?) commits to both adopting and studying a new religious practice each month for a year, while simultaneously reflecting on her spiritual progress. Choosing such diverse disciplines as fasting “like a Muslim during Ramadan,” exploring lectio divina, observing an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, practicing Benedictine hospitality, and engaging in the Liturgy of the Hours, the author shares frustrations and insights in a manner likely to amuse and comfort readers, especially those who have attempted such exercises and also found them challenging. For example, Riess’s description of her internal dialogue during Centering Prayer, concludes, “ ‘Shut the hell up!’ yells Spiritual Mind,” while her experience of practicing mindfulness, with annoying help from the never sainted Brother Lawrence, leads to a sympathetic observation that he’s “an underappreciated housewife.” Supporting quotes from saints and writers (St. John Chrysostom, Dorothy Day, Thornton Wilder) pepper the text. The author’s declared “failures” make her a sympathetic witness, while such “successes” as her description of how “[g]ratitude practically tackles me,” prove genuinely moving. A witty, inspiring read."(Nov.)

"Jana Riess may have flunked at sainthood, but she's written a wonderful book. It's both reverent and irreverent, and it will make you want to become a better Christian -- or Jew, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian, or Jedi, or whatever you happen to be.” - AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically

"Warm, light-hearted, and laugh-out-loud funny, Jana Riess may indeed have flunked sainthood, but this memoir assures us that she is utterly and deeply human, and that is something even more wonderful. Honest and sincere, she will endear you from page one." -- Donna Freitas, author of The Possibilities of Sainthood


Editorial Reviews

Review

It's clear from the start of this sparkling and very funny memoir that Riess means well. But as she readily admits, she's a spiritual failure. She intended to devote an entire year ("a year-long experiment") to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges, including praying at fixed times during the day, exhibiting gratitude, observing the Sabbath, practicing hospitality according to the rules set by St. Benedict, abstaining from eating meat, and amply demonstrating her generosity. But nothing turned out as planned. Rather than being moved by Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul, she instead dismisses the saint as a "drama queen." And Reiss is unregenerately practical. The best month to fast, she reasons, is February, at the height of winter; conveniently, it's also the shortest month of the year. Furthermore, at best, she's a "lukewarm vegetarian." Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she can still proffer spiritual lessons. Anyone who has failed to live up to expectations, which means most everyone, will love this book.

Booklist, September 15, 2011



STARRED REVIEW - Publishers Weekly - Punchy humor and unpretentious inquisitiveness combine in this absorbing memoir in which former PW editor Riess (What Would Buffy Do?) commits to both adopting and studying a new religious practice each month for a year, while simultaneously reflecting on her spiritual progress. Choosing such diverse disciplines as fasting “like a Muslim during Ramadan,” exploring lectio divina, observing an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, practicing Benedictine hospitality, and engaging in the Liturgy of the Hours, the author shares frustrations and insights in a manner likely to amuse and comfort readers, especially those who have attempted such exercises and also found them challenging. For example, Riess’s description of her internal dialogue during Centering Prayer, concludes, “ ‘Shut the hell up!’ yells Spiritual Mind,” while her experience of practicing mindfulness, with annoying help from the never sainted Brother Lawrence, leads to a sympathetic observation that he’s “an underappreciated housewife.” Supporting quotes from saints and writers (St. John Chrysostom, Dorothy Day, Thornton Wilder) pepper the text. The author’s declared “failures” make her a sympathetic witness, while such “successes” as her description of how “[g]ratitude practically tackles me,” prove genuinely moving. A witty, inspiring read.(Nov.)

About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do? Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and teaches religion at Miami University. She blogs at http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/.


Product Details

  • File Size: 403 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (September 24, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005PFV1HG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,218 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saint Jana October 3, 2011
Format:Paperback
I first learned about this project from a Facebook update Jana had written, in which she alluded to a Muslim-style fast she was undertaking for a new book project. I was a little bit confused, because it was February, and Ramadan did not fall in February that year. She explained to me that she picked February to make the challenge of the fasting easier, since it is a short month with short days. (This is clearer in the book, where the inspiration for fasting was clearly the Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers, and she follows Muslim practices just because the practices of the Desert Saints were so very extreme.)

The original plan was for Jana to spend a year reading great spiritual classics, but overachiever that she is, Jana decided not only to read spiritual classics, but to actually try her hand at the spiritual disciplines they encouraged. So she spent one month coming up with the plan and the next 11 months trying to live the disciplines. Here is the timetable of her year immersed in these practices (from the Table of Contents):

Januwary: choosing practices
February: fasting in the desert
March: meeting Jesus in the kitchen...or not
April: lectio divination
May: nixing shoppertainment
June: centering prayer, er, The Jesus Prayer, Look! a squirrel!
July: unorthodox sabbath
August: thanksgiving every day
September: benedictine hospitality
October: what would Jesus eat?
November: seven five three times a day will I praise you [imagine the seven and five are struck through]
December: generosity

The original idea was for her to write about her experience accomplishing these various spiritual disciplines. But there was a problem: On some level, she failed at all of them.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Read for the Less-than-Saintly October 27, 2011
Format:Paperback
It's not often that a book makes me both laugh and cry, but the early chapters of this were so funny, and the ending so heartfelt, that "Flunking Sainthood" tickled my funny bone AND tugged at my heartstrings. The author takes on (and fails) lots of different spiritual practices including an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, a Ramadan fast, Benedictine hospitality, and a generosity project to raise money for charity.

Riess wants to push her limits but also not go too far, so she says she won't be plucking her eyes out for God (a la St. Lucia), living on top of a pole for 37 years (St. Simeon the Stylite) or parading naked in the town square (St. Francis).

I liked Riess' honesty and humor, and the quotations about spiritual growth in every chapter (from Billy Joel's "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints" to thoughts from Dorothy Day and the Desert Fathers). This is a good book for people who are interested in spirituality but also want to keep it real and not be all holier-than-thou.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes a great gift October 4, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I can't pick my favorite chapter. Reading about fasting, keeping the Sabbath, gratitude and other weighty matters, I don't know how Jana Riess makes it funny, but she just does! It doesn't matter if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist or whatever, this book will entertain you AND teach you a few lessons about yourself. This will make a great gift for your friends and family who have everything. Enjoy it and buy a copy for a friend while you're at it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Funny Year of Flunking Sainthood... October 20, 2011
By Scott
Format:Paperback
Memoir is a tricky genre. For me, it too often comes off as a contrived effort at saying something universal--something "deeply profound" and "moving"--all while quarantined within the tiny confines of hall-of-mirrors. I know this isn't always the case, but it often seems that way in a post-Eat, Pray, Love world.

So, up until a few days ago, I was unsure how I was going to take Jana Riess's Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking theSabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor (Paraclete Press, 2011). On the one hand, I have a lot of respect for Riess's scholarly work, which I first encountered while researching an essay on Mormonism and Twilight.[4] Also, Riess is from Cincinnati, my hometown, which doesn't hurt her Low-Tech cred.

(NOTE TO CINCINNATIANS: Skyline Chili reference on page 136)

But smart scholarship and the hometown advantage do not a winning memoir make. For me, a really good memoir needs to be a balance of readability, personality, and authenticity. If it's severely lacking in any of these areas, I make like the Joad family and move on.

Flunking Sainthood, by the way, is a chronicle of Riess's attempt at spending a year tackling obscure spiritual practices from a variety of religious traditions. Like other memoirs of this ilk, most notably A. J. Jacobs's hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, Riess devotes each month to a specific practice, often to the dismay of her family and friends. None of these practices, of course, are as zany as any Jacobs attempts--Riess never tries stoning anyone in Eden Park, for example--but they have their charm. She fasts, avoids shopping, tries lectio divina and Centering Prayer, talks to Jesus while cooking, keeps an extreme Sabbath Day holy, etc.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
A surprisingly good and rewarding read, and one quite needed in the field of spiritual disciplines. Almost all books on observing those disciplines are, well, so focused on "discipline" that they tend to be rather grim and foreboding to read. The results for me have most often been putting it down after a chapter or two combined with decided disincentive to observe the discipline(s). It is a blessing to have a book that achieves quite the opposite. It is filled with good humor and quality writing. It has the added bonus of containing a knowledgeable discussion of the particular disciplines discussed along with insight into the actual experiences and flawed results of one who has attempted to follow them. In the end, moreover, the book succeeds where other more serious and "successful" authors fail: Reiss reveals the blessings in the attempt. She ends with a surprise twist in her life that gave her further insight into the year and into her surprising growth over the year. The result for me, at least, is a renewed interest in hanging with some of these practices because it turns out that the blessing is in doing them and not in "succeeding" at them.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars This book provides a lot of nice ideas for those who may be looking...
This book provides a lot of nice ideas for those who may be looking for ways to increase their spirituality. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jeremy Pitt
1.0 out of 5 stars I have read she is a practicing Mormon which leads me to believe she...
As an avid reader of spiritual books I found this book to be quite lacking. For someone with a PhD in American Religious history, I find her observations and lack of discipline... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michele Bergeron
5.0 out of 5 stars Great spiritual guide for humans.
This was an entertaining and enlightening read. I loved her willingness to show her humanity, and the way she felt God teaching her even in her most human frailties of trying to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mike Jody
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad to be a flunker!
Well-paced, well-written, and real. While I didn't always agree with the author's positions, I thoroughly enjoyed reading her book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by ChesAlto
4.0 out of 5 stars Humor plus reality in trying to live the commandments
a Thoughtful, and real experiment in the difficulty of fulling living many of the commandments we are asked to live. Humorous as well.
Published 4 months ago by Linda S. Morse
5.0 out of 5 stars Flare and Verve
What you have here is an intellectual trying to make sense of the confusion that is Mormonism and doing it beautifully. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Michael Oborn
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book with fun and funny insights
I felt that the first 1/3 or so of the book dragged for me and i don't know why. but at the end it was fun and interesting and insightful and informative as well.
Published 7 months ago by Rosie
5.0 out of 5 stars great book!
I really enjoyed this author's humor. She was honest but I didn't agree with all of her decisions. A little too far out on some.
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars How Not to Be Perfect
Jana Riess is so like the rest of us that struggle with deepening our spirituality and relationship with God. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Rev. Ann
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm flunking too!
I've enjoyed reading this book, which is in a familiar format - like Eat, Pray, Love or The Happiness Project. Jana's style is broadly Christian, with few stereo types. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Laura L. Leseberg
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More About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of many books, the most recent being "The Twible," which has all the chapters in the Bible in 140 characters or less . . . now with 68% more humor! Her 2011 book "Flunking Sainthood" was selected as one of the top ten religion books of the year by "Publishers Weekly."

Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and works as an editor in the publishing industry. So she's not a total loser. She blogs for the Religion News Service at http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/jana-riess.



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