Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints by Daneen Akers (Book Review)

What does it mean to be a “saint”?

Different church traditions may have slightly different definitions, but one common emphasis may be that saints are a sort of special or unique group of people. They are people set apart from the rest of us due to their holy or loving acts or perhaps, in a more spiritual way of putting it, the ways God used them. We tend to see saints as sort of otherworldly.

Of course, in reality we recognize saints are as broken and messed up as the rest of us. This is one emphasis Daneen Akers makes in her book Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints. In this book she tells stories of people who are “human, just like you and me, so they’re imperfect, and yet they help us see and honor the holy in each and every person” (1). Thus, while a book telling stories of saints might be expected to include Saint Patrick and Mother Theresa, this one tells the stories of Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman and Florence Nightingale (though Francis of Assis does make an appearance, representing traditional saints).

This book is intended for families. Akers writes from the perspective of someone who moved through a time of deconstructing her faith. On the other side of this, she found many of the faith-based materials created for children and families to be problematic. Writing this book is her own step in creating faith-based books for more progressive Christian parents.

From this more progressive perspective, Akers includes among her saints persons who are not Christians, such as the great Muslim poet Rumi. She also includes LGBTQ Christians. I am not sure which of those inclusions would upset more conservative parents more. But it is kind of a side note, as she did not write this book for such parents.

Overall, this is a beautiful book filled with engaging stories and pictures. If you are a more progressive or liberal Christian and are looking for stories and resources, this is certainly a book you would want to read, and share with your kids. These stories are inspiring.

As someone who has read plenty of books on spiritual disciplines and spiritual life, including many classics written by monks and nuns, I often wonder how these teachings and practices apply to regular normal people. It is one thing for monks living apart from the world to follow the Rule of St. Benedict and stop what they are doing to pray five or six times a day. How does that translate to life today for regular people getting kids on the school bus, working, going to the grocery store and so on?

This book is not a spiritual life or growth manual, of course. But it does tell stories of people living in our world living out the sort of spiritual life we can strive for.

At the risk of contradicting what I just wrote, I do think there could have been more traditional saints included without losing the purpose of the book. Having Francis of Assisi in there is nice, but what about Julian of Norwich or Theresa of Avila? Peter Abelard? Gregory of Nysa and his mother Macrina? I admit I write this as someone who loves history and finds so much beauty and life in the history of the church. This history is admittedly often overshadowed by the dark moments. But to place us in a larger context means finding those shining lights in our past.

As someone who wants to hear both the inspiring stories of today and our past, I think this book could have included more from the past. Of course, that’s a minor quibble. Perhaps it will be remedied in the promised volume 2.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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