Book Review: Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints

I’d heard of Daneen Akers’s new book, Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints in a Facebook Writer’s Group. So I was excited to get the chance to review the book through the Speakeasy network.

When I received the book in the mail, I was struck by how large it is. This is a beautiful 8 x 10 hardback storybook…with a red ribbon attached to mark your place! Clearly, this book project was born of love. The artwork is also beautiful and represents the diversity of God’s people.

In the preface, Akers reveals the need she seeks to meet with this book of unconventional saints:

Most faith-based books aimed at families and children are fundamentalist in their worldview without any room for questions or diversity of faith. For too long, many Christian children’s book publishers have printed books that only show a very narrow type of Christianity. These books often exclude the stories of women, LGBTQ people, people of color, disabled people, Indigenous people, and people from other faiths. This is especially true of books past the picture book stage of reading.

I’m slowly making my way through the book, but you can expect to read about some familiar people such as Francis of Assisi, Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman and Thich Nhat Hanh. But you’ll also read stories about Bayard Rustin, the lesser known civil rights leader who was one of Martin Luther King’s most trusted advisors, Alice Paul, a suffragette who led the protests that eventually won women the right to vote, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest and the father of liberation theology, Paula Stone Williams, who was raised in a conservative Christian church but came out as transgender late in life to found her own church and fight for gender equity and LGBTQ inclusion, Ani Zonneveld a progressive Muslim and female imam, and Valerie Kaur, a Sikh American activist calling for “Revolutionary Love” after her uncle was murdered in a hate crime.

In a book such as this, the choice of which unconventional saints to include would be incredibly difficult. That said, I questioned a few of the choices. But overall, this is a beautiful and much-needed book that I will encourage my children to read. We need more models of “Holy Troublemakers” in our world today and more books that reflect God’s inclusive love for all people.

 

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.

 

 

The Overstory: A Brief Book Review

I just finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. Let me tell you about it. Let me tell you how it helped.

I’d been reading a lot of non-fiction for a larger writing project; bell hooks on teaching and community building; Gloria Ansaldúa’s Borderlands; Martin Luther King’s Where Do We Go from Here?; Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. You get the drift. I was plowing through books—great books—learning and growing.

But when COVID-19 arrived on the scene, sending my college students home and shutting down my state, I got distracted. I couldn’t focus. All I could do watch the news and worry—about my family, about our college, about the men I have come to know at our local prison.  I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t keep my mind on the page. I decided I needed to lose myself in fiction.

The Overstory is a big book—500 pages big. And sometimes I struggle to make it through big books. But this one captured me right away. While perusing many great options, I decided to read this book because it had won a Pulitzer and because I it was about trees. I love trees.

The story follows a handful of people whose lives intersect as each gets involved in saving trees (and the planet) from destructive human greed and overconsumption. The way Richard Powers introduces each character and then follows them through their story reminded me of the structure of one of my all-time favorite books, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. The trees themselves are characters in The Overstory; planted on a newly settled farm in Iowa, a chestnut tree’s growth is recorded with a monthly photograph by generations of family farmers; Mimas, a giant redwood, serves as a host to activists who climb and take shifts living in its branches for months to save it from loggers. The trees, we learn in The Overstory, communicate with each other and with us. They care for and protect and continue in the face of threats. But humans are the trees greatest threat—and, as the story goes, the greatest threat to ourselves as well.

Reading this book in the midst of a global pandemic turned me towards the world, especially the natural world, with fresh eyes. When toilet paper and Clorox bleach and my kids favorite fizzy juice drinks can’t be found in the stores, I’m learning to make do with less and appreciating what I have more. I’ve been taking long walks and spending time in my own backyard. Our trees are beautiful. I’m learning their names: birch, pear, silver maple. I’m regaining my focus—not so much on what threatens us, but on what can save us. The answers to our problems are all around us. I hear them especially at night when I walk outside and listen to the prairie wind stir the crowns of the trees.