Monday, October 28, 2013

Flunking Sainthood: A Review

How can you not like a book with a title like this?  That's what I thought when I first saw Jana Reiss' book in the seminary bookstore.  After all, if we're truthful, aren't we all sort-of sainthood flunkees?  And I was intrigued by her desire to master a different spiritual discipline every month, if not also a little skeptical.

Partway through this book, though, 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 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 truth. 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.

4 comments:

The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, M.Div/MSW said...

Adult Christian Formation is an area that, with the exception of my first parish where the people really LOVED coming to a short adult forum that meet between the 8 and 10am services, no one will take the time to come. Adult forums offered after the 10am service are like a death nail to coffee hour - people flee!

It seems to me then that my only real opportunity for faith formation for adults is in the Sunday morning sermon and worship time AND in leadership formation with annual retreats.

However I do also have a small group of older women who love and come to Bible Study...so, there is that - adult formation can begin again in one's 70's?....

Robin said...

My home church has an AWESOME adult faith formation program -- but it took 2.5 years to find the gifted pastor who leads it, and there are still plenty of folks who ignore it.

Many adults are (a) embarrassed by how little of faith they have learned since about age 10 (b) very much entrenched in "this is how we do it" (c) flummoxed when introduced to practices of which they have never heard. The most successful faith formation I have seen in Small Church has been through a Bible study with a teacher who takes very seriously the task of relating Scripture to real life experiences (and is much better at that than I am) and in a loss/grief group I have led -- in other words, it's been all about starting with people's own stories.

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Hot Cup Lutheran said...

oh Diane I think your assessment is spot on. I struggle as a pastoral leader in the area of adult faith formation too... but as the ELCA is fond of saying these days we are always being made new... that phrase has opened the space a bit to ask how and when we find ourselves being formed... shaped... growing etc.