The writer’s new memoir sheds light on an upbringing steeped in bigotry and a lifetime of “useful” pain.
Philip Yancey knew he would write a memoir the day he lay strapped to a backboard, not knowing if he would live or die. This was in 2007, after he had already written numerous books and won global acclaim as a journalist spotlighting issues of faith in the stories of other people. Yet it took a careening Jeep, five rolls down an embankment, and a broken neck to persuade him irrevocably to write the full truths of his own story.
I saw Yancey four years ago as he was writing it. We sat over lunch in an earthy café in Colorado sharing the challenges of writing memoir. How do we account for the span of our life? When do we break our silence? How much truth is enough?
Since then, I’ve been anxiously awaiting how Yancey would answer those questions for himself. Here’s my report: Where the Light Fell is in many ways a classic spiritual autobiography tracing one man’s conversion from cynic to believer. But it’s more. It’s a searing family story as revelatory as gothic Southern fiction. It’s an exposé. It’s a social critique. It’s a tragedy. It’s a tale of redemption. More than anything, though, it’s a story few could have imagined.
Unmaking and remaking
Not everything in this memoir will come as a surprise, especially for readers familiar with Yancey’s prolific writings on matters of grace, the problem of evil, and the author’s Southern fundamentalist background, particularly its role in justifying racism and segregation.
Although such themes are recognizable in Yancey’s memoir, the stories have a different feel. No longer do they serve mainly as anecdotal ramps onto larger explorations of doubt, grace, prejudice, and pain. Instead, we stay inside …