Arts and Entertainment

Seattle author Brenda Peterson's latest treads religious middle ground (humorously)

Seattle author Brenda Peterson will speak on her new book,
Seattle author Brenda Peterson will speak on her new book, 'I Want to be Left Behind,' at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Feb. 21.
— image credit: Charlotte Wright/Courtesy Photo

Religion – that never-ending pursuit of the purpose of the universe – has sparked countless wars and debates. It has turned father against son, country against country. Now, in the middle of that fray, is a peace offering; a middle ground between extremes.

It comes in the form of Seattle author Brenda Peterson's newest novel, and thankfully, unlike most things related to religion, it's funny.

In the comedic spiritual memoir, “I Want to be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth,” Peterson reveals two conflicting elements of her childhood: the wilderness in which she was raised, and the religious atmosphere in which she became an outcast.

“I wanted to track my own development,” Peterson said. “I found that when I decided to look at myself as a comic character, it became a lot more fun to write.”

“I Want to be Left Behind” debuted Feb. 3. Peterson will speak at 3 p.m. at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island on Feb. 21.

“I Want to be Left Behind” is a deeper, true-life version of “Duck and Cover,” Peterson's 1991 novel named a “Notable Book of the Year” by the New York Times.

It's an offering she expects may resound in those living in the Northwest, this traditionally unchurched place where environmentalism reigns.

“If your property rates ebb and flow with the tide, it's kind of hard to be fundamental about anything,” she said.

Peterson was born to a father in the Forest Service on a remote lookout station in the Plumas National Forest, amid millions of acres of untouched land. As she tells it, it was nature, not religion, that got to her first. Eventually, her father took a different job, and she “had to get shoes on and be part of civilization,” though nature remained a strong influence in her life.

“We always had this rapture on Earth,” she said of her early childhood days. “I think that saved me — if I had any salvation it was that: the forest, the waters, the animals. They were all very much a part of my upbringing.”

But the freedom of nature and rules of fundamentalism could not exist peacefully in her world view.

She chronicled her survival through a dogmatic church experience. During “sword drills,” she recounted, leaders would call out a Bible verse, and Sunday school students would be required to name it, having memorized “massive amounts of scripture.” She was once kicked out of Vacation Bible School after questioning a teacher who told her animals do not go to Heaven and God is not involved in the nuances of daily life, because he is “in this world but not of it.”

“How could a family that was so devoted to animals and to the natural world be so ready to leave it?” she asked, speaking to the belief in forthcoming rapture. “That called forth in me a kind of crisis of faith at a very early age.”

Now 59, Peterson has resolved that crisis, believing in the importance of questions and curiousity in all things spiritual. She believes in the divine in the day-to-day.

“Every spiritual tradition has this kind of tension between those who want to lay down the letter of the law and those who really want to see it as an embracing and open-hearted spiritual process,” she said. “I became aware that I was going down a middle path between all the warring factions. I really am meaning this as a kind of peace offering.”

A feature film adaptation is a possibility in the works, and Peterson will come out with a childrens book later this year. To learn more, visit

Read more from What's Up's interview with Peterson at The What's Up Blog.

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