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Like a 2:00 rainstorm on a Florida afternoon, an unexplained cloudburst of tears threatens as I close the book on Brenda Peterson's memoir, "I Want To Be Left Behind."
Its catchy, irreverent title--at least for someone who understands its connotation--indeed caught my eye as I passed by a library shelf weeks ago. Me and my curiosity couldn't resist.
I still don't get the tears, but I respond in the only way that seems natural to me. I write. Like Donny and Marie"s "little bit country, little bit rock and roll," it's a little bit book review, a little bit manifesto.
Someone recently reminded me that if my faith couldn't stand up to the life I really live, then it's too small. I would add, or to the thoughts I think. Apparently I think mine is appropriately sized because I chose to engage with this author around her bold declaration.
It is Dec. 21, 2012. The world as we know it is to end. Today. At least according to the Mayan calendar which NASA says is less accurate than recent doomsday prophets would have us believe. Certain theology makes it easy to parallel the occasion with a biblical rapture, or perhaps the beginning of a 7-year tribulation; at the least, some significant earth-shattering event. This is a correlation that Ms. Peterson has long since abandoned. Invited into her story, it's easy to see why.
She was raised Southern Baptist. I was raised Pentecostal. It's one of few differences set against a backdrop of myriad similarities. Like Ms. Peterson, my late childhood and early teen years, 1967-70, were spent in a hyper-vigilant state of mind. I was inundated with the awareness of political unrest and regaled with tales and teachings about the end of time. She was a young college student--probably one of the incendiary protesters condemned by my mostly-Republican parents as, horrified, we watched the evening news from the insulated safety of our rural living room. I dreamed bad dreams.
The hip new tune, I Wish We'd All Been Ready, was a staple of my repertoire as a youth group musician. A Thief in the Night was perhaps the first movie I was actually encouraged to see--just not in the theater. It was brought into our sanctuaries for special showings. Later, I worked in a Christian book store during the era the masses were clamoring for the next installment in the popular Left Behind series.
My father, like her own, loved the mystery and majesty of nature and was bound to the soil--mine as a farmer, hers as a conservationist. The chapter titles touch me in a slightly more tender spot. She named them after the hymns we both grew up singing--me stationed at the piano--on Sundays, Wednesdays and at summer camps.
This major difference, however, distinguishes us: Maturing, I complied; she didn't. I wasn't particularly comfortable with this view of things either, but I felt little need to look into it until well into my forties when the compliance I had invested didn't return the promised dividends of inner peace and outer prosperity I had come to expect. She, on the other hand, was compelled to question--early and much.
Fast-forwarding several years and assuming her views are unchanged (publishing date is 2010), for all our similarities, she and I are at different places in our exploration of what we believe--or don't. Same with friends and family. Some are over-stocking their pantries, packing pistols and pulling their funds from financial institutions--which in the wake of recent natural disasters, a shaky economy and increased homeland violence, may seem more reasonable than, for example, it might have in the relatively affluent mid-90's. Some point to the same texts and come to different conclusions. Others dismiss it all together.
As for me, I'm proceeding on a need-to-know basis. I've exposed my kids to enough biblical theology that I hope they retain spiritual readiness as a valued necessity and the catching away described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as a distinct possibility.
I am in sympathy with Ms. Peterson's deep-seated resistance to the heavy-handed and fear-filled interpretations of end-time prophecy we've endured coming up in environments thick with apocalyptic apprehension. Like her, I have no interest in holding to irrational panic or mob dynamics. Nor do I want to preserve escapist trappings of traditions that have in far too many cases come along with well-intentioned but ill-informed perspectives and practices. I am not for raping the earth, disregarding the needs of the poor or oppressing the voice-less.
My prayer is for
a) the humility to receive and fully appreciate the amazing place that is the world we've been given
b) the grace in which to live our present until it no longer is--whatever that looks like and whenever that might be and
c) the wisdom to discern what to keep and what to throw away of all that we've inherited.
While I can go a fair distance with Ms. Peterson with regard to the hope we share, as great as Planet Earth and life thereon is, IF there is a shred of hope this might end one day--and I think there may be, I must stop short of declaring that "I want to be left behind." I don't.