Can a saint be a “badass”? Can a saint be tough, sometimes abrasive, embodied, highly imperfect, and sensual? Can a saint be married, possibly divorced, but still God-centered? Author Maria Morera Johnson’s clear response in her new book is “Yes.” Or as Oscar Wilde asserted, “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
In My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, Johnson highlights women “saints” then and now. Oftentimes, our stereotypes of women saints resemble the “church lady” on Saturday Night Live or a prim and proper Catholic nun from high school. They don’t swear, drink, or have sex. In fact, they are perpetually virginal and take life as it is, without complaint. They passively obey “Father” and do whatever the church says without argument.
But Johnson shows us that nothing could be further from the truth! Her saints are audacious and bodacious, especially in the fight to bring God’s justice to earth. This is exactly what the world needs: saints who are willing to get in trouble for a higher cause. They pray, but they also picket, and we need people who both picket and pray in response to the injustices of our world. Saints are seldom complacent. They aren’t content with the status quo whether in the church, the community, or the nation. They break the church’s rules and incur the wrath of religious leaders to bring God’s reign to earth.Maria Johnson’s saints are also prophetic. In the words of Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Brueggeman, they present an alternative to the present unjust social structure. They don’t confront every evil – that’s humanly impossible – but they confront the evils of their communities that are covered up and condoned by the powers that be.
As I consider Johnson’s saints, I am challenged to think about whether I am called to be a badass for God. In terms of disposition, I am more of a pastor-teacher-healer than prophet. Yet, I need to remember that hospitality can be prophetic, healing can shake things up, and teaching can upset established truths. It starts where we live. Locally, on Cape Co, — “almost paradise,” — where I live, just a mile from million dollar homes, pricey bistros, and beautiful beaches are scores of homeless persons, 13 of whom died on the streets last winter. In my town of Barnstable, home to the Kennedy compound and at least one billionaire, with only about 40,000 residents, it is estimated that there are at least 400 homeless school children. Addiction to opioids is on the rise, and grandparents find themselves unexpectedly caring for their grandchildren. There is much to protest and much to heal.
As I walk the beach, just over a mile from my home, the realities of global climate change are occurring in real time, and yet, despite the Paris agreement, we have an amazing complacency regarding what President Obama calls the greatest threat to our nation. On the macro level, politicians spout anti-Muslim hate speech and immigrants are shunned and Syrian refugees barred from entry. They foment fear and anger, when rational and careful thinking is required.
Yes, there is a great need for badass saints in our world today. Johnson inspires us to put our faith into action, to love God and our neighbor, and to use our energy to transform the world.
Read an excerpt and watch an author interview from My Badass Book of Saints at the Patheos Book Club here!