Keeley Bruner is the mother of two daughters and a devoted, progressive member of the Disciples of Christ Church. In this three-part series, she writes of the challenge of handing on her faith in ways that mirror the best of her own religious upbringing while reflecting the ways in which her faith has matured and widened in adulthood.
Whenever someone begins a spiritual autobiography this way, the implication is often that something then happened, that some shift occurred to change the trajectory of the expected path. And while these things did happen, I can’t trace it to a single event or even period of time. Maybe it was meeting my husband the summer before my senior year in college, a deeply intelligent and thoughtful man whose own faith had undergone significant dissembling and reassembling in the months before we met. Maybe it was traveling to Uzbekistan on a cultural exchange with my college ministry buddies and experiencing the love and hospitality of people of different, or no faith, there. Maybe it was moving to Cambridge, MA after getting married right out of college, where we experienced a definite cultural shift from our suburban Bible-Belt environment. Maybe it was hanging out with Jesuits, Franciscans, Benedictines, and other Catholics at my husband’s graduate school there, or experiencing the social activism of our Baptist church home in Cambridge. Maybe it was moving to Princeton, NJ and finding our spiritual home at a United Church of Christ congregation in the middle of that small, idyllic town, and witnessing the fire of older saints’ faith which had been forged through decades of practicing progressive Christianity. Maybe it was Obama, and the way he engaged people of all faiths to see the possibility and necessity of using government to care for the least of these. Maybe it was the work of Jim Wallis, of reading issue after issue of Sojourners and seeing the ways that Christians are jumping in and doing the real work of caring for the poor without keeping cost, without needing numbers and conversions to bolster their faith. Maybe it was experiencing pregnancy and giving birth, and realizing the magic of growing a person inside my body and nourishing a baby with my own milk, with my own life, twice. Maybe it was moving to Tempe, AZ and being pulled as if with a magnet to our faith community here, the most ragtag, loving, beautiful bunch of misfits I ever saw, with our hearts open wide to whatever, and whomever, may come through our doors.
It’s possible that the shift had something to do with the guilt of never doing enough in my previous Christian tradition, of always falling short but never fully being able to count on God to still love me or the grace of Jesus to fill the gap between who I was and who I should be. It’s possible it had to do with the bean-counting I found here and there, of how many testimonies shared and how many souls converted when the work of Christ encompassed so much more in my mind. It’s possible it had to do with the boiling down of the broad, deep, wide, incomprehensibly beautiful work of the Spirit into 4 sentences, each illustrated by pertinent cartoons. And most recently, it’s possible the final shift slipped into place with the realization that 82% of my former cohorts used their rights, and privilege, to catapult the coarse, vulgar, greedy celebrity we know as the leader of our land into power.
The fact is that it’s done, that the trajectory has been different than it might have been. While I have faith in God, love for Christ, and a kinship with the Spirit that are true, deep, and meaningful to me on a daily basis, how these are manifested departs significantly from what I might have expected based on my early life. But as I expressed above, I like to think of that conversion as a moving towards something, rather than away from something. I think of it as embracing a much larger God than I had imagined, with a much more expansive love than I had been told and a closer knowledge and presence with us than I had ever envisioned.
While my faith surely remains simply a part of my identity, another reason it matters at this point in my life is my children. Having come from where I did (mark my husband’s beginning at roughly the same place on the spectrum) and having traveled to where I am now (repeat), how do I foster a life of faith in my family in a thoughtful, genuine way? The church we attend has a small and hardy children’s ministry but, as my own mother decided, I don’t want to depend on that alone to impart the beauty of Christian faith to my daughters. I may not want them to grow up in the cradle of Evangelicalism the way I did, but there are many facets of my upbringing I certainly wish to convey to them. So, what is a Progressive Christian to do?