I Want to be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth

A Memoir

i-want-to-be-left-behindTalk of the rapture—the ascent to heaven of true Christians before the end of the world—surrounds Peterson (Duck and Cover), and she engages this conversation with delicacy, humor, frustration, and, at times, a begrudging respect, in this memoir about growing up among Southern Baptists and not quite fitting in. Peterson’s story is told through what is really a series of vignettes, tied together by two themes, faith and the environment. She looks back at her childhood, college, and then adulthood, stopping here and there, selecting scenes from her life that show why she finds God outdoors, and why the rapture-obsessed family and community of her youth quickly loses its appeal. Her love for this world and everything in it is far greater than any promise of salvation apart from and above it. Readers interested in a story about leaving behind theologically conservative Christianity and other types of extremism will find Peterson’s collection of anecdotes and remembered conversations engaging. The chapters can be read on their own, and her prologue, The Trumpet Shall Sound, and chapter In the Garden are among the best.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “I Want to be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth

  1. Review

    I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here On Earth
    by Brenda Peterson
    De Capo Press: A Member of the Perseus Book Group, 2010

    I wasn’t even halfway down the first page of the Prologue and I was hooked.  Brenda Peterson’s memoir is written in such a delightful and entertaining style that the reader absorbs the wonderful mix of personal stories, family dynamics, theology, humor and social commentary, all the while enjoying and anticipating the next interesting episode.  From my career as both clergy and family therapist, I found it hard to put the book down to attend to normal daily tasks.   
    Having had a much less severe problem of speech block as a youth and young adult, my heart went out to her as I read of her extended self imposed period of silence brought on by her stuttering.  I wanted to reach out and hug her and say, “Oh Brenda, I know, I know!”  Again and again she tells stories that reach both our intellect and our heart, that presents something that might be merely philosophical and makes it instead very personal and, at times, touchingly funny.

    A continuing theme through the book is her endless struggle to retain her sense of independence in face of the continual pressure from her parents, but most especially from her mother who strove mightily to make sure her first daughter would be among those saved and swept up into heaven when the soon approaching “end time” arrived.  Though her father supported her mother in this, he also led her in ventures into the natural world around them.  In her childhood he was the US Forest Ranger in charge of a small station in the California Sierra mountains.  In her adulthood he eventually retired as the head of the entire Us Forest Service.  It was these childhood ventures into nature that became the framework of her sense of connection to the universe.

    Both parents were powerful personalities who loved her deeply and it was from this love that they kept hoping that their unusual and sometimes rather weird daughter would eventual revert to normalcy and be a happy and compliant member of the Southern Baptist Church.

    Attesting to the unusual level of spiritual and emotional wisdom acquired throughout her life, in the later chapters Brenda writes of her appreciation of the strong and constant love given her by not only her parents, but also by siblings and their offspring, who never turn on her because of her “far-out” ways.  And she comes to see how many among the “greens” have, like her parents, become rigid,  and, from their predictions of environmental catastrophes, come to sound like the “Rapture” fundamental Christians.   

    She closes her fascinating story by returning to the scene with which she began, at Alki Beach just west of her home in Seattle.  She and others have assumed the task of taking turns sitting on the beach, watching for any seal pups that come up on the beach which appear to be sick or injured.  They are trained to not interfere with those just resting there while their mothers are off getting food, but to get those needing care to available veterinary volunteers.   With these valued friends and colleagues there are no discussions of religious or philosophical beliefs, just a warm, deep and lasting bonding with those who share a powerful sense of connection with life in its non-human forms.

    And, not surprisingly, through their loving contact with Brenda and the cultural changes of the last few decades, her parents and family have become much more like Brenda in their intellectual and emotional responses to their world.
    I believe this book will have a wide and appreciative audience, including both those who are drawn to the stories of conflict over religion, but also to the much large group of those who simply appreciate a well written memoir by a talented writer and delightful person.

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