(RNS) — There aren’t a whole lot of books focused on spirituality and faith that Daneen Akers can read with her two daughters.
In fact, there are five. She’s counted.
Akers, a California author and documentary filmmaker, has shifted away from the conservative Seventh-Day Adventist tradition she was raised in to a more progressive Christian faith over the past decade, she said.
“Once you’re in that place, you really can’t read your kids the books you had from Focus on the Family or LifeWay Christian Stores at one point in your life.”
The overall lack of resources for progressive Christian families is why Akers launched a Kickstarter campaign at the end of June to raise money to produce a children’s book of her own, titled “Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints.”
The project appears to have hit a nerve with Christian parents who identify as progressive or spiritual seekers. By the end of its first day on Kickstarter, Akers' campaign was already 20 percent funded, and Kickstarter had promoted it as one of the site’s Projects We Love. With days to go, it has surpassed Akers' $50,000 goal, which will go to pay for illustrations, printing and other costs. More than 1,000 people have supported it.
Akers said she was unsurprised that the book had resonated. “One of the things we tend to do is we turn to books to help share our values, our stories, our culture with children,” she said. “That’s what humans everywhere do — we tell our children stories.”
“Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints” will feature the stories of 50 “people of faith from different faith backgrounds who are doing the things you really would hope people of faith would be doing in the world — working for love and justice and kindness,” according to Akers.
They are the kinds of people she said she wants her children, ages 2 and 9, to have as models. Some are widely known historical figures, such as Francis of Assisi, the beloved Catholic saint who renounced his Italian family’s wealth to work on behalf of the poor.
Others are more contemporary and lesser known: Bayard Rustin, an American Quaker whose role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s often is downplayed because he was gay; Maryam Molkara, an Iranian Muslim trans rights advocate; and Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi ordained in Berlin, Germany.
Akers said her inspiration to write the book came from Rustin, who said, “Every community needs a group of angelic troublemakers."
The complete list of troublemakers and saints hasn’t been finalized, Akers said, because she plans to invite Kickstarter backers to suggest others. She also is commissioning different artists to create a portrait of each.
There are “tons” of books from conservative Christian publishers available to families who share their beliefs and worldview, Akers said, including some that she keeps on her family's bookshelf. She named "Children of God Storybook Bible" by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and "When God Made You" by Matthew Paul Turner, which celebrate the diversity of their characters and emphasize the love of God.
But as children grow out of picture books, Akers found, the selection gets slim. Besides, Akers said, there’s room for an “entire library’s worth of content to be created."
Simply finding books that celebrate diversity — for instance, by portraying Jesus as other than white — can be a challenge, according to Kaitlin Curtice, a Potawatomi Christian author who is featured as one of the book's modern-day "holy troublemakers." Curtice often seeks out books for her two sons that are written by indigenous and black authors, but not all are Christian.
“To have this particular kind of book will be really powerful,” Curtice said. “So far, the response from other parents on social media has been really positive, too: ‘Yes, we don’t have anything like this,’ or, ‘Yes, this is a really important thing for the future of the church and for our kids.’ We don’t want them growing up with the same thing we grew up with.”
Akers said books like hers also are likely to appeal to a generation of parents who increasingly are leaving organized religion. “Nones and dones aren’t leaving spirituality altogether," she said.
And not just parents. Akers said her 9-year-old daughter, Lily, has expressed concern about books they have read that only refer to God using male pronouns and in which all the angels are white and blonde and LGBT people don't exist. Their emphasis on sin, meanwhile, makes Lily “feel like I’m really awful on the inside,” Akers said.
“I really struggled in my late teens and early adulthood to reconcile what I was reading in Scripture with what I was being taught and what I was being told, and I wish there were more resources that didn’t have that disconnect,” said Eliel Cruz, an LGBT activist who grew up in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and also appears in the book.
His own spiritual awakening might have looked much different, he said, if a book like "Holy Troublemakers and Unconventional Saints" had been there.
“It really shows that faith can center the margins — it can uplift those who are most pushed aside by society. It’s radical and, for me, rooted in my own faith.”