Flunking Sainthood

Just a quick note to say that I’ll be interviewed live today on Michel Martin’s NPR show “Tell Me More” at 11:20 a.m. This is all thanks to Kelly Hughes, the best book publicist ever. (She even flies around in an invisible jet, but I am not supposed to reveal its location.)

We’ll be talking about spiritual practices, New Year’s resolutions, and finding the humor when we fail. Join us!

PW and Publishers Marketplace are both reporting that print book sales were down by about 9% in 2011, with the heaviest hits being in paperback fiction (-17.7%) and mass market paperbacks (23.4%). In almost every category, print sales were down in 2011 by about double the percentage they were down in 2010. Today’s Daily Lunch says:


With a particularly light week after Christmas (perhaps because of those post-holiday ebook downloads), unit sales of print books as measured by Nielsen Bookscan declined 9.25 percent for 2011. At 651 million units, the total was 66.3 million units lower than the total for 2010. (Remember our point from earlier in the week: BookStats counted trade ebook sales in 2011 of 76 million units. If that number doubled or more in 2011, the ebook gain could meet or exceed the decline in print units measured by Nielsen Bookscan.)

As you can see from that last line, it’s not all a tale of declension and woe. Ebooks are exploding. 2012 may see parity in sales of print and ebooks for the first time. And even in the realm of print books, Barnes & Noble reported a 4% holiday increase over last year, the first growth in five years.



I have a confession to make: even though I knew I had to wake up at 4:30 this morning to catch a flight, I stayed up well into the night for the nail-biting final results of the Iowa caucuses. I wanted to see if Mitt would pull it off.

“I don’t actually care about this,” I told my husband. It was a lie. He knew it, I knew it, and the American people knew it.

What is true is that I have no logical reason to care. If Romney wins the Republican nomination, I will not be voting for him in the general election. His politics are not my politics, not by a mile.

But part of me wants him to win the nomination — not just because I think Obama can beat him, and not just because I’m the co-organizer of a conference in New York in three weeks on Mormonism in American politics and the event will be more of a wake if Romney has fallen off the radar by then.

I want him to win the nomination for the same purely irrational reason that so many Republicans refuse on principle to vote for him: because he is a Mormon.

I know that religious affiliation is a perfectly stupid reason to support or oppose a political candidate. But let’s for a moment be honest with ourselves. For all our high-minded discussions of policy, studies have shown that at the end of the day most people vote on pure gut reaction. They either like someone or they don’t. They identify with someone or they don’t.

I’ve never met Mitt Romney, but I know five people who know him personally, two of them very well. Four of the five have only good things to say about him as a human being, and one of those four is politically quite liberal. He worked closely with Romney in LDS church callings in Boston and was impressed with his integrity and commitment to helping people, even though they did not see eye-to-eye on politics.

Part of the deal with being a member of a religious minority is that you cheer when members of your little tribe are successful in the world. I have major issues with Stephenie Meyer’s fiction, for example, but I’m proud of her accomplishments.

So to Mitt I say: Rock on. Celebrate your victory with a well-deserved glass of ice-cold Sprite today. I will also raise a Sprite in your honor.


Resolving once again to be more spiritual. We'll see.

Happy New Year, friends. This year on my blog (which, BTW, is moving locations! More on that soon), I’ll be talking at least once a week about spiritual practices and how/whether to implement them. Why do we pray, give to charity, or practice hospitality? What is supposed to happen in our lives?

And what if transformation is slow or not forthcoming?

Along the way we’ll meet lots of people who are wiser than I am, bona fide experts on spiritual formation. In my book “flunking” is a gerund — I am still at it, for better or for worse. So I’m still seeking help from those who have journeyed farther along the path.

On Christmas Day the Globe and Mail in Toronto ran an interview with me about all my failures with Flunking Sainthood. This was my take on why we attempt spiritual practice:

You mentioned some of the spiritual gurus you tried to follow were pretty tiresome. Is it possible to be saintly without being smug?

I think it’s imperative that we be real about who we are and the fact that we fail. Especially if we do achieve any success or enlightenment in certain practices, we need to hold that lightly and realize that the practices don’t exist simply for our benefit, but so that we can benefit others. Fasting, prayer, they’re all very well, but the point is to bless the world. The point is not just for you in your own little world to be enlightened or achieve some goal, but to help humanity.

So as we look toward a more spiritual 2012, let’s remember why we do spiritual practices at all, and not beat ourselves up for doing them imperfectly. (I wrote this post in Florida, where I was on vacation last week. I blissfully broke the Sabbath and prayed perfunctorily or not at all. But all week I experienced deep gratitude. Go figure.)

In January our focus will be on spiritual practices in general, and then each month after that we’ll look at specific ones in turn, in the order I undertake them in the memoir: February for fasting (hey, the days are short), March for spiritual housekeeping (as if), April for lectio divina and Bible reading, etc. I’ve heard that some brave readers are actually going to take up some or all of these practices throughout 2012 — more power to them! I hope to hear about those experiences.