'I Want to be Left Behind': Brenda Peterson's memoir embraces spiritual mission
In "I Want to be Left Behind," Seattle author Brenda Peterson tries to reconcile her religious Southern upbringing with her contemporary life among the "spiritually ambiguous" masses of the Pacific Northwest. Peterson reads Thursday at Bellingham's Village Books, and Feb. 21 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island.
Special to The Seattle Times
Brenda PetersonThe author of "I Want to be Left Behind" will discuss her book at these area locations: at 7 p.m. Thursday at Village Books in Bellingham's Fairhaven neighborhood (360-671-2626; www.villagebooks.com); and at 3 p.m. Feb. 21 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island (206-842-5332; www.eagleharborbooks.com).
'I Want to be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth'
by Brenda Peterson
Da Capo Press, 288 pp., $25
There's a quintessentially Seattle subplot in Brenda Peterson's memoir, "I Want to be Left Behind,"in which she and fellow Alki neighborhood "seal sitters" bond over newly born pups they've charged themselves with protecting.
In this most secular of cities, where matters of faith are kept largely private but environmental awareness is worn like a badge of honor, Peterson shows how the ritual of guarding baby seals on a beloved stretch of local coastline is itself an act of communion, not unlike worshipping with like-minded believers in a sanctuary.
It's hard to write a book about spirituality without either proselytizing or preaching to the choir.
Luckily, the Seattle novelist ("Duck and Cover") avoids both temptations and instead delivers a thoughtful, witty meditation on her own struggle to reconcile an end-times-obsessed Southern Baptist upbringing with her current situation among the Northwest's conscientious but spiritually ambiguous masses.
There's a natural tension between these poles on the political and religious spectrums, but also a weird similarity that Peterson ponders as she tries to make sense of it all.
Ultimately, what's the difference in tone between people who believe the absurdly literal Biblical interpretation of the rapture as laid out in the popular evangelical fiction series "Left Behind," and overheated environmentalists who believe "the fire next time" will come in the form of global warming and heedless consumption?
"Both belief systems are firmly rooted in the conviction that our paradise is forever lost," Peterson writes. "God banned us from Eden; humans have destroyed the earth."
Provocatively, she asks, "And what if environmentalists stopped portraying nature as crucified? What if both camps simply stopped all their fearmongering and found a new story?"
That new story, of course, is a hopeful vision for the future — one in which the world has a future.
From experiences in her rather nomadic childhood to time spent living in New York to invigorating forays in the great outdoors to a family cruise in the Caribbean orchestrated by her equal-parts evangelical and nature-loving dad, Peterson seems to encounter big spiritual questions at every turn. One wonders if she and her friends and relatives ever just engage in small talk.
The intense focus on faith and redemption feels a bit forced at times, but then again, this is a memoir on a mission.
Peterson has distilled her life experiences to create the sense of a woman on an idiosyncratic spiritual journey.
Her clever take on the "Left Behind" phenomenon in the book's title isn't just a gentle refutation of an escapist religious prophecy. It's an appeal for something more inclusive than the idea that true believers will one day be swept up midair and whisked off to an eternal paradise, leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.
Call her a Pollyanna, but Peterson thinks the more redeeming and less hysterical option is for all of us, evangelicals, environmentalists and all-around skeptics alike, to stay put and get swept up in our common role as stewards of an earthly paradise that is still very much in evidence.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.