15 Authors

Posted: October 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Book Reviews, Personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

I don’t often participate in the blogging lists in which you are tagged and tag others in turn. I guess it’s just not my thing. However, Fr. Christian Mathis (how cool a moniker for priest is Fr. Christian?) tagged me for this one and I have to confess the topic intrigues me.

15 Authors (meme)

Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

Those who know me know I’m something of a reader and have a small personal library. Moreover, I’ve read constantly virtually my whole life. I mean that literally. I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. More than fifteen authors sprang to mind in the first minute that I considered the meme and more have continued to come to flood my mind, so I’m going to be a little more selective in the ones I pick. I’m also going to pick authors who have really influenced me — whatever that influence might have been — rather than the best list. I couldn’t possibly put the authors in any sort of order, so I’m not even going to try. So here my top fifteen in no particular order.

1. Edith Hamilton. I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology the first time when I was in the fourth grade. I choose to list her because she was my gateway into a love for ancient history, the exploration of ancient beliefs, and a world of ancient literature. After I read her Mythology, I quickly moved on to read Bullfinch’s Mythology, the Illiad and the Odyssey by Homer, and many other works. I suppose it would make a loftier soundbite to say that Homer influenced me, but the truth is that if I hadn’t read Edith Hamilton, I’m not sure I would have read Homer at all. I certainly wouldn’t have read his works until I was much older.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien has influenced and still influences me deeply. I no longer have any idea how many times I have read his novels of Middle Earth and I still read them regularly. I’m not sure I knew he was a Christian or consciously saw the ways his faith influenced his writing until I was in my thirties, but they nevertheless helped shape me as a human being.

3. C.S Lewis. I can’t mention Tolkien without also mentioning C.S Lewis. I was pretty young when I received a boxed set of his Narnia novels and read them for the first time. As with most of the authors who have influenced me, I’ve read his books many times over. I’ve also shared Narnia with my children — even reading The Magician’s Nephew over the course of some weeks to my daughter’s second grade class at one time. I loved his Space Trilogy when I read it. And I’m certain the rest of his books shaped some of my perception and understanding of God.

4. Robert Heinlein. I was introduced to the twists and turns of Heinlein’s writing by A Stranger in a Strange Land (I believe I stumbled across it in my father’s library) when I was eleven or twelve. I was fascinated by his insights and perspectives — a fascination that would never wane. I thoroughly enjoyed the “children’s books” from his early career (Space Cadet and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel anyone?). I loved the ones more in the middle such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and I reveled in the rollicking fun of his later novels. Friday and The Number of the Beast are a blast. His writings could rarely be called conventional, but then I’ve only lately been a more conventional sort of person.

5. William Shakespeare. The Bard has a special place on my list and in my heart. I remember one of the first acting sorts of things I did publicly. I was in 4th grade and living (for a few months) in West Virginia and decided to do something in some sort of talent show. I had been reading Shakespeare (I had a volume of his complete works) and elected to do the scene from King Lear in which Cordelia and Kent are banished. Yes, I did all the parts. I loved it and that experience led me to take acting classes through the Alley Theater when we later lived in Houston. I’ve read most of his works, seen his plays, and performed in them more than once over the years. Most recently I had the pleasure of taking my youngest daughter to Shakespeare in the Park here in Austin to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream for the first time and watch her laugh as she fell under the Bard’s comedic spell.

6. Anne Rice. I was in 6th or 7th grade when An Interview with a Vampire came out in paperback. A friend of mine had it and lent it to me. I read it straight through, much of the time upside down in a recliner. I’ve read it and others of her books many times since. The history with which her stories have been interwoven has always appealed to me and her characters live and breathe. Her books are a part of me.

7. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His book, Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation, was the first in that vein I remember deeply reading and regularly practicing when I was twelve years old or so. Like Edith Hamilton, I would hardly classify him as the deepest or the best in this category. But if I had not read him, would I have read Lao Tzu, the Bhagavad Vita, or the story of the life of Prince Siddhartha? It’s hard to say, but he was certainly a significant part of my early spiritual formation.

8. Isaac Asimov. From psychohistory to the three laws of robotics to the caves of steel in which a crowded and insular earth population huddled, Asimov’s writings fascinated me. Even when robots were the central focus, he was always writing about what it meant to be human.

9. St. Athanasius. In his work, On the Incarnation of the Word, St. Athanasius describes a God in whom I not only could believe, but one in which I wanted to believed. More than any other single factor, I think it was his writing that snapped my resistance against and antipathy toward this thing called Christianity. People and events certainly contributed, but it was when I read his description of God that I truly let go of my anger and despite and decided this was actually a God whom I could worship. I’ll also let St. Athanasius stand in my list for all the ancient Fathers who have meant so much to my spiritual formation as a Christian. I think especially of St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Isaac the Syrian, and St. Maximos the Confessor, but a host of others have contributed as well. Without their works I’m not sure I could have bridged the gap from what I was to something more like a Christian. Even if I could have made that leap without them, I’m not sure I could have remained Christian all these years.

10. Mary Stewart. Another book I read at a pretty young age was a collected set of tales of King Arthur and his Knights. The book was somewhere around a thousand pages I think, but I no longer have it and have no idea which collection it was. But the Arthurian mythos has been a significant piece of who I am ever since. I also loved Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and was torn about which of these two to list at this point. But I finally had to go with Mary Stewart. I was around twenty years old when I was fascinated anew by her rendering of Arthur and Merlin.

11. N.T. Wright. I didn’t encounter Bishop Tom’s writings until five or six years ago. Nevertheless, he has been a huge influence on my understanding of Jesus and Christianity. I’ve read many of his books and listened to just about every lecture or sermon he’s done that can be found online. If you are unfamiliar with his body of work, I would recommend any of it.

12. Edgar Allen Poe. I know The Raven by heart and used to love watching Vincent Price read the poem each year. Lenore still pulls at my heart. The Pit and the Pendulum and The Telltale Heart are masterworks of horror while also peeling back the masks we all wear.

13. Scot McKnight. The Jesus Creed has been a part of my own (poor and sometimes barely present) rule of prayer for some years now. Oddly, it was also through his writing that I first came to see that the Orthodox were something other than an Eastern sort of Catholic. Somehow I had never made the mental leap from the ancient Fathers to the modern Orthodox Church.

14. Stephen R. Donaldson. I believe I was either twelve or thirteen when I first read Lord Foul’s Bane. I’ve followed the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever faithfully ever since. Stephen Donaldson introduced me to the idea of the deeply flawed anti-hero who, though he often does great damage to those around him, can also achieve great good. I think I’ve always been more of a Thomas Covenant or a Lestat than I’ve been an Aragorn, a Frodo, or a Gandalf.

15. Anne McCAffrey. I had a hard time deciding who to choose for the fifteenth slot in this list. From Killashandra Ree to Lessa her characters have spoken to me in their flaws and in their courage.

There are many other authors and books that have shaped who I am today. But these are fifteen who all hold a special place for one reason or another. I’m also lousy at following rules, so I’m not going to tag fifteen other people. The only person I’m going to tag is Tom Cottar. I want to see fifteen authors who have influenced him and why. (And I can harass him about it until I wear him down if needed.)


My Church History Perspective 1 – History & Me

Posted: December 11th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Church History | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on My Church History Perspective 1 – History & Me

Since I frequently discuss and engage aspects of Church history, I thought it might be helpful to do a series that explores how I interact with history. In order to do that, I think I need to begin with the way an interest in and exploration of history in general has intersected and shaped my life. That flows into a variety of different areas so the series will continue until I’ve explored some of those nuances.

I’m not sure there was ever a time when I was not interested in how things came to be what they now are. Some of the earliest things I remember exploring include the formation of planets (and earth in particular), development of life, dinosaurs (of course), and some of the basics of how things came to be. The earliest encounter I clearly recall with specifically human history involves a big, highly detailed and illustrated book (probably one of those Time Life books) on the US Civil War my grandfather got me as a gift. I spent hours poring over it and remember becoming fascinated trying to imagine different perspectives of the experience through the lens that a letter or a battle report offered.

Not too much later, when I was in the 4th grade, I encountered Edith Hamilton’s Mythology and fell in love with it. I quickly read the Illiad and the Odyssey next and was hooked by ancient Greece. I followed that up reading about the various city states, the culture, and, of course, their theater, which was always interwoven with their religions. That sparked an interest in ancient Greece that has continued over the course of my life.

In fact, my primary and enduring interests over the course of my life have been the ancient Greco-Roman world and cultures that are a part of my own heritage such as the Celts, the Angles, the Normans, the Gauls, and the Saxons. However, I’ve often wandered off on tangents for a period of time. For instance, I recall an interest in ancient Egyptian religious symbols and spiritual practices in my early preteen years that naturally veered into an exploration of the people and religion which led into the whole topic of Egyptology. Similarly, when I was exploring Shinto as a young adult I could only do so in the context of learning about Japan’s culture, art, and history. All these things are interwoven and cannot really be disentangled.

It also points to the manner in which I’ve often interacted with history. My interest in a specific culture or period has often been sparked by fiction, by literature and the arts, by my own heritage, and by religious and spiritual interests. It’s always been an interwoven tapestry for me. I’ve never studied some part of history for its own sake or somehow in isolation from the rest of my experience and life. I’m drawn into any study of history in order to understand or better understand that which has shaped me, is shaping me, or the experiences that call to me.

History is not a collection of “facts” (which is in itself a misleading term in this context) but a mosaic of culture, art, spirituality, conflict, and the practice of everyday life. When I use the word “history” that’s the interwoven tapestry of threads I have in mind.