Philip Yancey’s Memoir

Around a dozen years ago, I was invited to teach at the Point Loma Nazarene College annual writer’s symposium. One of my classes was non-fiction, by no means my specialty. When I learned Philip Yancey, a writer I much admire, would also be at the symposium, I was delighted. But when I learned Mr. Yancey planned to attend my non-fiction class, my delight morphed into mild terror.

About a hundred people attended, so I framed the class as lecture rather than discussion, which I would have preferred. I only broke up the lecture with a few exercises and asked those attending make some notes.

After the class, Mr. Yancey came forward. I imagined he would express his disdain for my meager knowledge about non-fiction. But instead, he praised one of the exercises and claimed it prompted him to find a focus, which he had been struggling to find, for a memoir he wanted to write. He said the focus he discovered was “recovering from toxic Christianity.”

I include all this to explain that my experience with Where the Light Fell is no doubt less than objective, and to preface my admission that first third of the book found me anxious for it to do justice to that “recovering from toxic Christianity” focus. Instead, it gave a rather common depiction of boyhood in Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s. But gradually, it became gripping and far more than a common memoir; it did what only truly wonderful stories can, radically changed my attitude about important things.

Where the Light Fell has left me not only angrier at the sort of churches it features but also far more understanding and therefore compassionate toward the people those churches put their mark on, no matter if they became people of good will or remained small-minded and mean. Whether or not they had, like Mr. Yancey, recovered.

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