Note: Christianity Today women’s Blog Her-meneutics, had a blog post about this book on Feb 1, 2012. It seems that Reiss converted to Mormonism in 1993 and continues to be active in her Mormon church. While this does not change the overall review, I am a bit more wary of Paraclete Press, a small publishing house that I have enjoyed lately. I feel this book was marketed inappropriately.
Takeaway: Sainthood is hard, and more focused on a life time than month long experiments.
At some point we are going to tire of these year-long experiment books. There was Julie and Julia. Then AJ Jacobs books on reading the Encyclopedia and Living Biblically. Then the Christian knock-off by Edward Dobson and others. When I typed in “Living + year” into the Amazon search bar I came up with 147 books, most of which are memoir-y looks at trying to do something for a year (live generously, live in the country, live green, live without running water, listen to Oprah, read the church fathers, live shamelessly, live like my grandmother, live straight, live dangerously, not lie, travel, eat locally, etc–these are all real by the way.)
So even though I am looking forward to Rachel Held Evan’s book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I am getting tired of the meme. Because frankly, the biggest problem with it is that there is only so much you can learn by doing something for a year. You can do something you hate for a year. Many people do things they hate for far longer than a year.
So if there is a weakness in Flunking Sainthood it is in the fact that the author is trying out one spiritual practice (and usually reading one classic book on that spiritual practice) every month. As someone that has tried seriously to develop spiritual practices (while being incredibly undisciplined), it takes more than a month (which is her conclusion).
Riess is not pretending that she is a spiritual giant or that she was successful. Instead the whole point of this book is that she was not successful, at least in the way she thought she would be. Spiritual disciplines are both rewards of a lifetime, and something that is a result a mix of our participation and our makeup. Extroverts are rarely good monks, people that struggle with depression are often better at self-reflection than they are at honest humility.
There there really are a lot of good thoughts, good quotes and hints at what is really important about the twelve spiritual disciplines that she attempted. It takes a good writer and someone that really is interested at self-reflection and growth to make a book like this work, especially when the concept has been far overdone.
So if you are not tired of the concept, pick it up. But please, let’s agree to stop writing “A year of…” books.