"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

26 October 2011

Fifteen authors, for good or ill

There's this thing going around on Facebook... its been there for ages, where you are supposed to take no more than fifteen minutes to list the fifteen authors you find most influential. I thought I'd bring this over here, though, because I like the question and want to spend a little more time with the idea, not just making a list but thinking about why. So here's my list:

1. John the Evangelist-- I think it would be cheating to say "the Bible" or to list other biblical writers in the next fourteen spaces, so I'm boiling down the expected Bible entry to just this one. Why John? Well, because with John (who I firmly believe is the writer of not only the Gospel, but also the Epistles and Revelation, modern scholars can say what they like to the contrary, but I don't buy it) its not just about his content but about the way the mind is shaped to soar to new heights in theologically shaped devotion. The language of John is rich and lush and vibrant, just like the whole incarnation and resurrection, kingdom and creation that John spreads out at our feet.
2. Ephrem the Syrian-- his poem "On the Death of a Deacon" defines the order of deacons, a fourth century voice every deacon should hear. I know, that's the least of Ephrem's wonderous written works, but for me, its everything.
3. Victor Hugo-- unabridged, thank you. Les Miserables is almost cliche, but the full version of Hunchback of Notre Dame is hautning and deep and, well, miserable. I was so offended when Disney sank their claws into Hugo's work.
4. Thomas Hardy-- Similar reasons, only the Jude the Obscure, Mayor of Casterbridge... Hardy plumbs the depth of human desperation
5. Gustav Flaubert-- because Madame Bovary taught me, when I was only seventeen, that our own problems always seem huge in our own eyes and maybe it is a bad plan to idealize what we think other people have.
6. Elisabeth Fiorenza-- Because the overly verbose waste of time that is entitled In Memory of Her that so awed my classmates, taught me to question people with PhD's and that maybe, just maybe, the biggest windbag in the room wasn't the smartest and a twenty year old undergraduate might just be able to shoot holes in the writer's argument.
7. Thomas Aquinas-- Summa Theologica, nice and all, but for me its about the hymnody.
8. Linda Sue Park-- a peek into the history and people of Korea, in story and suitable for children.
9. Cranmer-- Book of Common Prayer... 'nuff said
10. Arthur Miller-- the Crucible. My first introduction, as a high school freshman, to the meaning of the word witch hunt, the importance of going against the tide, and the possibility of mass hysteria, and how the good guys are really never all good and the bad guys never all bad.
11. Douglas Wilson-- Angels in the Architecture and a lot of good stuff on homeschooling and culture and the tools of classical education. But he also makes me scream for his uberpresbyterianism. But the word is influential, not necessarily favorite. Althought Angels in the Architecture is definitely a favorite. Everyone should read that.
12. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise-- because I bought into the classical education model. And because I've used their stuff to teach my kids. And because I wonder how or if Bauer really does have the life I dream of or if she fakes it.
13. Allen Ross- Because exegesis is beautiful, like music or painting and literal doesn't mean closed minded or ignorant and serious scholarship can be joyful.
14. Abraham Joshua Heschel and Chaiam Potok-- they share this spot because, between the two of them, Hasidism captured my imagination. And suddenly Christianity didn't have to exist in a vacuum.
15. Jodi Picoult-- I disagree vehemently with her politics, with which she infuses every single book, but she's not afraid of controversy and she sure can weave a story. I read her when my brain wants to take a little vacation.

There you have it... I wonder what this says about me. I have a few honorable mentions too:
David Mills, Saints' Guide to Knowing the Real Jesus
Simon Winchester, Korea, a Walk through the Land of Miracles
Matthew Polly, American Shaolin
Sharon Shinn's Archangel series
Heilie Lee, Still Life with Rice
Simon Weisenthal, The Sunflower

These didn't change so much how I think, but they made me think a little bigger somehow. And isn't the mark of a good book the captivity of the imagination?


  1. Nice list. I'd have to think a while to make one. On number 14, I B Singer added the fun, for a trio. On Sharon Shinn, I wonder if she's related to Florence Scovel Shinn. Seems too young to be a daughter.

    Like the new color.

  2. I thought of you, Dave, when I posted Potok. And I couldn't decide between him and Heschel. Neither really stands alone for me though. I read them both at the same time when I was on a major exploration of Hasidism my junior year of college. I had this cool professor for Modern Jewish Thought that year, and he was a huge Heschel groupie, so I ended up reading Hasidism and Modern Man on a flight from Des Moines to Knoxville and Potok all through the winter break that followed. I've gone through a few intellectual "phases" where I just get in a tailspin over a historical people group/event: Salem Witch Trials, modern Hasidim, Tudor England, North Korea... those are the biggest ones.

  3. Heschel's The Prophets was the first real introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures I had, and Allen Ross is everything to me you say he is for you. Assuming I make it to the new heaven and the new earth, I look forward to a colloquy between Heschel and Ross on the Prophets. Thomas Aquinas taught me to love philosophy and theology; he is, unlike so many contemporary "theologians" a stellar example of an intellect informed and enriched by a passionate almost mystical faith: sed contra respondeo! Like David, I'd have to think a while about the other books: Crime and Punishment perhaps instead of Madame Bovary; Moby Dick certainly; most definitely Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death - a book that in many ways had a life changing effect on me. And I also enjoyed David Mills' Saints Guide - he writes so well.