Sunday, March 6, 2011

Authors Who Have Influenced Me

It has become common to have a collage of photos playing at a visitation or funeral. I’ve often thought I’d like to assemble such a collage to be used at whatever event is held when I die. (I personally prefer a banquet, though it will be painful not to be able to enjoy it with the other revelers.) But instead of pictures portraying my life’s passages I’d like to display a picture of every person who had a positive influence on my life. It would keep the audience there far too long and the pictures would be mostly meaningless to them. But it would illustrate, better than anything else could, how many persons have contributed to my life and why I became the person I did.

To the right of this blog posting is a list of authors who have influenced me. It is by no means the complete list but those listed have made a significant and lasting impression upon my faith, my conduct, and my creative efforts. The influences exerted are not equal nor do they all work in the same direction. But each was important.

The Apostle Paul and the “Unknown” Author of Genesis are not the only Biblical writers I turn to but they serve, respectively, to reveal ethical and practical understandings of the issues related to daily Christian living, and portray the grand themes of creation, sin, and redemption. Interestingly, in both we see wart-infested humans being patiently tutored by a loving God who plans, against all odds, to bring them to perfection.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn inspires me with the courage he displayed through years of deprivation in the Soviet Gulag, and the massive mental feat he performed in preserving the memory of so many others who suffered with him there. Coming to faith in the midst of his ordeal, he became a prophetic voice that still speaks long after the Gulag has disappeared.

Madeline L’Engle and Dorothy Sayers provide examples of the creative Christian mind in action, describing and displaying the processes and sources from which their work derived. I often feel as though my mind and hand are assisted by these women and others who have inspired me to believe I could profitably put my thoughts in writing.

Mark Noll and Robert Alter give us examples of meticulous craftsmanship. Noll, an Evangelical Christian Historian creates works that are respected by his secular and religious colleagues alike.  Alter, a Jewish Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, has given us several model translations – with commentary – of Old Testament writings. His provocative guidance on the reading and interpretation of ancient Biblical literatures has opened up vistas I had never imagined were there.

Philip Yancey and Simone Weil, very different persons from vastly different backgrounds, nonetheless come together in their understanding of, and empathy for the afflicted in our world. Their writings make me grateful for the grace that has been bestowed upon my life and indignant at the stinginess our rich culture exhibits toward the afflicted in our midst.

Both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien have been instrumental in opening my mind to the power of myth, helping me to see that the best that man can hope to do is produce “myth” which dimly conveys truths too large to be contained in human vessels, too profound to be expressed with human tongues. But they also make clear that through those “myths” God conveys His message of redemption to fallen man.

I share with millions of other Christians a gratitude to Lewis for the marvelous way in which he made sense of difficult and/or disputed Christian doctrines. He, more than any other modern man, has been used by God to convert skeptics, establish doubters, and equip workers to perpetuate the faith.

Come to my final banquet. Enjoy the food and count the photos. Who knows, my kids may be giving away old copies of my favorite authors’ books.

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