First sentence: Not until college do I discover the secret of my father’s death. My girlfriend, who will later become my wife, is making her first visit to my home city of Atlanta, in early 1968. The two of us stop by my grandparents’ house with my mother, have a snack, and retire to the living room.
Where The Light Fell is Philip Yancey's memoir. After reading it, it clarifies why his books are almost always touching on two subjects: PAIN and GRACE. For the record, I don't think I've read any of his solo books. Yes, I know he's been around forever and ever--five decades. (His books include: What's So Amazing About Grace?, The Jesus I Never Knew, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Disappointment with God, Soul Survivor, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?, What Good is God?, The Bible Jesus Read, etc.)
What should you know?
It is a memoir. That sounds obvious. Yet, in skimming the reviews of it so far, I've stumbled across some comments like all this guy talks about is his life. Yes, it's a memoir. He's going to talk about his life.
Yancey is a Christian. But. His faith didn't come easy. He may have been raised in a Christian home, but that complicated matters whether than eased them. That's not me making assumptions. That is his reflection. The book doesn't sugarcoat his long, difficult, uncomfortable, uneasy journey from Christian-in-name-only to actual-Christian. He knew how to put on a show, put on a Christian face, talk Christian-ese, pass as a believer, etc. But he felt it was fake, knew it to be fake. This book spends a great deal of time in his squirming struggles to come to terms with who he is and who God is.
Yancey is human. Again obvious, I know. But his memoir is in many ways ABOUT dysfunctional families. As Tolstoy says, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The book is about the strained relationships certainly. Readers learn a lot about his mother and his brother.
I'll also add this one shines a light on issues like MENTAL HEALTH and RACISM.
Some might accuse Yancey of being "woke" or going "woke." But if he is, he made that journey decades ago. He was raised racist--and some of that racism was explicitly taught in his Independent Fundamental Baptist church. But also most of his schooling occurred BEFORE integration. He was coming of age during the Civil Rights Movement. And there was tension and conflict. He had to wrestle with ideas and beliefs. He determined for himself that it was wrong, wrong, super-wrong. And that he had to break away from what he'd been taught.
He was raised in an extreme. He grew up Independent Fundamental Baptist. And again he had to wrestle with himself--with ideas, beliefs, etc--to determine what he actually believed. Sometimes that meant departing from the super-strict sometimes arbitrary nature of the IFB. He did attend a Bible college. Rejecting the toxic elements of his past did not--for him--mean tossing God too. But it was a process of separating out what does the Bible actually say AND what do they say the Bible says.
This one might need a couple of trigger warnings. Especially in regards to verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual abuse. It is a heavy read in some places. And it clearly shows the long-term dangers of childhood trauma. Another additional trigger warning about suicidal thoughts and attempts.
It is blurring the lines--a bit--when it comes to comfort zones. At least for me. This book really GOES all the way when it comes to his troubled brother. These are real-life issues. I don't doubt it for a minute. But it's a LOT to take in. And I'm not sure I need to know all the sexual transgressions of his brother in the free love years.
- My father isn’t even a memory, only a scar.
- Certainly, no one could accuse our mother of “unspiritual” behavior. Unlike some women in our church, she has never worn a pair of slacks, nor does she wear nail polish or makeup, not even lipstick. She never fails to have lengthy personal devotions every morning, and she teaches the Bible for a living. What chance do two adolescent kids stand against such an authority? Mother claims she hasn’t sinned in twelve years—longer than I’ve been alive. She follows a branch of the holiness tradition that suggests Christians can reach a higher spiritual plane, a state of moral perfection. The pastor of her Philadelphia church uses a glove to illustrate the point. “The Holy Spirit lives inside you like my fingers in this glove,” he says. “It’s not you living now; it’s the Spirit of God in you.”
- Our three-person family isn’t working anymore. I have no way to put into words the changes going on, but something is tearing me inside. I want to run up to someone I recognize in church and say: “Please, please can you help us. I need someone to know what’s happening at home.” Then I remember my mother’s reputation and realize that no one will believe me. She’s a saint, the holiest woman in Atlanta.
- The church has clearly lied to me about race. And about what else? Jesus? The Bible?
- Slowly it sinks in that nothing that Marshall or I do will please Mother, that our lives are a stabbing reminder of her own failed dreams and especially the dream—the vow—she had for us. It dawns on me, that’s why she’s so insistent about the Bible college. She can feel us slipping away.
- Perhaps, the thought crosses my mind, I am resisting not God but people who speak for God. I’ve already learned to distrust my childhood churches’ views on race and politics. What else should I reject? A much harder question: What should I keep?
- Lenin once said that he refused to listen to Beethoven because the music made him want to pat children on the head. There are no small children on the college campus, but now I understand what he means.
- Those who appear the least lovable usually need the most love.
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible