We were at a dinner during a family reunion and talk turned to global warming, which someone had just declared, “a liberal plot.” I glanced around the table at my Southern, conservative Christian family and considered my options. It didn’t escape me that everyone in my original family owns a gun. Everyone also attends church -- religiously.
As a mutinous mystic, I embrace all of creation as my sanctuary. My spirit is more at home among the old-growth trees of my High Sierra birthplace on a national forest or now, decades later on the shores of the Salish Sea. I live on the “Left Coast,” as some family members dismiss it. They are all still in the Southland.
I miss them, especially their dark humor and their fabulous food rituals -- homemade ice cream, bubbling lattice-work strawberry-rhubarb pies, black-walnut divinity, and moosemeat burgers. But most of all, I miss singing four-part harmony with my siblings. As one of the astonished spouses remarks, “Your family sings like angels, but you fight like devils.”
We have family feuds over politics -- “Is Sarah Palin really a remedial bushwacker or crazy smart like the fox she might shoot for her fur bikini?” And religion: “Are we all saved enough to get to heaven together? As if this earth of endless infighting is not bliss enough. And family inheritances: “Will somebody ever reveal Grandmother’s secret recipe for apple butter?” And we even squabble over singing: “Pu-leeeze stay off my alto part and just sing your own harmony!”
Having been Top Ten on the family prayer list most of my life, I anticipate that this most personal of all my books will not garner me many “stars in my crown,” as Southern Baptists describe their heavenly rewards for right-living.
But I’m hoping it may deepen the dialogue between us all. Not just the argument. I’m hoping for a bridge between those on opposite sides of things. All my life I’ve tried to build bridges between polarized extremes. And in this new book I’m trying to use humor to defuse fundamentalism of all kinds -- religious or environmental.
What is the difference between judging people who are “going to hell” as fundamentalist religions do and vegans who believe those of us who still eat meat are somehow evil or unenlightened? As a novelist and nature writer, a “backslid” girl from the family fold, I’ve navigated warring worlds for decades. I’ve listened to liberals decry conservatives as “backwards and stupid”; and winced when conservatives portray liberals as “baby killers” and hell-bent “sodomizers.”
I have tuned out Talk Radio and tried to tune into my “still, small voice.” And that voice doesn’t sound like Rush Limbaugh or even Bill Mahr. It sounds like the shush of waves off my neighborhood sea; it sounds like a community of elders singing in their assisted living choir; it sounds like the wind that makes a different song through each tree. Certainly humans can engage in what nature teaches us -- to listen.
Where is the quiet and deep dialogue that balances the tension between seeming opposites to find common ground -- or at least humanity? That is what my new book seeks most of all. As Rumi says:
Are you the “odd person out” in a family? How do we find common ground among true believers -- all of whom believe something different?
My book, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, will be published in February by DaCapo Press. I Want To Be Left Behind has already received a starred review from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Library Journal.
Looking forward to meeting you all “on the page.” Feel free to comment with questions or insight. Just bring your sense of humor. Finding common ground takes all of us.