When was the last time you thought about LSD?
If you’re around my age, you thought about it a lot 50 years ago. LSD was an intriguing drug. Tripping out on LSD was described by many young adults, especially college students, as an incredible spiritual experience, filled with brilliant colors and electrifying images. It was an important part of the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s – the era of hippies, free love, drugs, and anti-war (Viet Nam) protests. Newspapers and magazines at the time often ran lengthy articles about the potential good that could be achieved through LSD, as well as the mental and physical destruction the drug could cause.
I never tried LSD. The closest personal impact of LSD on my life came during my first year after college when I was an English teacher for the 1970-1971 school year. One of my best students, Jaime, a junior in high school, had a really bad LSD trip over a winter weekend. The story I heard from his classmates was that he stood on top of a nearby snow-covered hill all night long, staring into the sky. His feet were badly frozen. He never came back to school.
What made me think about LSD again after all these years?
I just finished reading a new book, a memoir by Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors. Yancey is about my age, so I can easily identify with many of the tumultuous cultural changes he lived through. I lived through much of the same social turmoil. We both grew up in conservative Christian families, with lots of rules and expectations. But many of his experiences ended up being quite different from mine. Yancey is a great story-teller. Chapter after chapter I caught glimpses of a good little boy, trying his best to do what his mother and his church told him to do, and trying so hard to understand why he was failing so often. His big brother tried to help him, but he often failed, too. In his stories, Yancey considers what role his mother and his church played in his struggles.
Philip grew up in the segregated South. His father died from polio when Philip was only a couple years old. (In his case, faith healing didn’t work.) His mother did her best to raise her two sons, Philip and Marshall, to become Christian missionaries to Africa, which had been her original dream for herself.
The two brothers ended up going to a fundamentalist Bible college in the South, which presented them with even more rules and ultimatums. The college years were when the brothers started to move in different directions. Marshall joined the hippie subculture and had some bad LSD trips. Philip followed the path of becoming a mainstream evangelical writer and editor. Despite their different directions, they have always stayed close to each other emotionally. As of the date of the Memoir, both are still alive and in touch with each other. Their mother is still alive, too.
Personal thoughts on Philip Yancey
I met Philip Yancey when we both attended the same church in Chicago during the 1980s. LaSalle Street Church is a non-denominational church located a just few blocks from Cabrini Green, one of Chicago’s most notorious housing projects. A few blocks in another direction from the church is Sandburg Village, an exclusive condominium community, home to many of Chicago’s up-and-coming young professionals. Equal distance between these two neighborhoods, LaSalle Street Church tried to invent ways to minister to both populations. Some of its members, like Mim and me, also came from other neighborhoods of Chicago and the suburbs, eager to learn new ways to serve God in a city.
Mim and I never became more than passing acquaintances with Yancey, but we’ve always been curious to learn what he’s been thinking about by reading his books. My favorite among his 25 books is Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church. But his new book may become my new favorite. Reading the book has prompted me to think back on my own childhood, college years, and my last 50 years of adulthood, and to compare my experiences with my brother’s and with Yancey’s and his brother’s. A lot to think about.
The title of this book is Where the Light Fell: A Memoir.
Yancey’s website is https://philipyancey.com.
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