Hearing, Not Reading This Time
It was a Tuesday night, November 11, 2014. I was visiting Jenna in Auburn for a few days. While she was in class, I drove to Opelika, Alabama, to a small country church that was hosting one of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey.
Would Yancey be as impactful in person as he was in his books?
The night opened with moving worship music by Anthony Evans (brother of Priscilla Evans Shirer and son of megachurch pastor Tony Evans). He encouraged us to not stay in the huddle. Make an impact on the field.
And then Yancey took the microphone.
I was not disappointed. Yancey was as humble and endearing in person as in the written word.
He was a dispenser of grace that night.
Now, I hear from him again, but this time through another book, his memoir.
Where the Light Fell
If you had to choose two themes of your life that you think about, write about, live through, what would those two be?
My two themes might be love and family (both held together by the grace of God). Around these two themes, I’ve made many of my life choices—the occupation I worked, the person I married, the places I’ve lived, the way I raised kids, the churches I attended, the grandparent I try to be, etc.
I’ve made many, many missteps along the way with these two themes. And I’m certain I will continue to.
Philip Yancey writes in Where the Light Fell: A Memoir that the two themes that surface in his books are these: suffering and grace.
I need his two themes in my two themes.
Because I’ve had suffering and needed grace (that’s all of us, right?), I’ve often turned to Philip Yancey through the years when I’ve needed help with both, in the pages of his books:
- What’s So Amazing About Grace?
- The Jesus I Never Knew
- Disappointment with God
- Where Is God When It Hurts?
- Vanishing Grace
- The Question That Never Goes Away
It’s delightful now to hear Yancey’s backstory.
He takes us back to his father dying from polio when Philip was only three years old.
It changes the trajectory of his life. From then on, Philip and his brother Marshall will have scandalous ups and downs as they’re raised by their fundamentalist and mentally ill mother.
Yancey doesn’t hold back from the ugly parts of his life. He takes responsibility for things like this:
“As a true son of the South, I am born and bred a racist.”
“Secretly, I liked watching the way bluish smoke curled up from his nostrils. So that’s what sin looks like, I thought.”
But he shows us the redeeming parts too. We see the changes.
In true Yancey form, the writing is both glorious and haunting. Reading his story has the power to change our own story.
His conservative upbringing mirrored mine in some ways (no “mixed bathing” at church camp, for instance) yet he somehow arrives at the conclusion that, “Nothing, in the end, was wasted.”
I haven’t attained all the wisdom of Yancey, but I appreciate how he is lighting the way for my path. I want to come to the same conclusion that he has at the end of this “verbal selfie”:
“Above all else, grace is a gift, one I cannot stop writing about until my story ends.”
Yes, please keep writing, Philip Yancey.
I’ll keep reading.
Excerpts from Where the Light Fell
Here are more insights into Philip Yancey from Where the Light Fell.
“I spend my summers at a Bible camp and the rest of the year living on the grounds of a hard-line church. I breathe religion. Yet as I prepare to enter high school, I feel more anxious than holy.”
“In my time at the Bible college, I’ll end up hearing several hundred chapel talks. Only two speakers stand out to me: Mr. H. and Anthony Rossi, the only two to admit failure and weakness.”
“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?”
“I begin to view church, like family, as a dysfunctional cluster of needy people. Life is difficult, and we seek ways to cope.”
“I came to love God out of gratitude, not fear.”
Do you have a favorite Philip Yancey book? Share in the comments.
My thanks to NetGalley + Convergent
Books for the review copy of this book
- When the Sliver of Light Is Your Only Hope
- Let God Bring Out the Good in You