A friend emailed me and asked me who inspired my writing. I thought it a very poignant and ‘blog-worthy’ question, so I’ll venture a response here.
First, I must give credit to two people who have shaped my view of Christianity more than any others–my father and C.S. Lewis. My dad is an expert writer/teacher, and his resolute-yet-rational conviction.
C. S. Lewis
I love Lewis because he takes some of the most complex issues that man can face and he presents them honestly (A Grief Observed) and rationally (Mere Christianity). He is master of the explosive understatement. Some Christians doubt his faith; yes, he was steeped in Anglican tradition and caught up with the Darwinism of the day (along with men like Warfield and Strong), but I have been strengthened immensely by his words. His clarity, depth and honesty never cease to amaze me.
J. Gresham Machen
I also have a great deal of respect for J. Gresham Machen, a man virtually unheard of in Christian circles, and unfortunately so. Machen was the president of Princeton Theological Seminary for years, but stepped down in the 30’s when the school abandoned the Scriptures as the foundation for their doctrine. He even chronicled this debate in his book Christianity and Liberalism, a must read for any orthodox Christian.
Modernists were doing something much greater, in Machen’s estimation, than denying the supernatural element of theology; they were forsaking core values of Christianity and still claiming to be Christians. They were, in a sense, hijaacking the name. To the Modernist, terms were no longer important and everything became a symbol of something larger, broader and more vague. It was against this that Machen flung his words, “This temper of mind is hostile to precise definitions. Indeed nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than an insistence upon definition of terms … Men discourse very eloquently today upon such subjects as God, religion, Christianity, atonement, redemption, faith; but are greatly incensed when they are asked to tell in simple language what they mean by these terms.” But I digress. I’ll save it for an extended entry devoted solely to Machen.
As for my writing skills, I’d have to point to several authors who have impacted me greatly. Ray Bradbury and E.B. White certainly appear at the top of the list. It’s an ironic duo, too, because Bradbury’s works are saturated with metaphor and White is the king of clarity.
Ever since my lime-vanilla ice encounter with Dandelion Wine my senior year of college, I have not been the same. With religious fervor, I find myself visiting and revisiting Green Town and living again my childhood vicariously through Doug Spaulding. I can recall several papers marked blood red with professors scolding me: “this is dripping with adjectives!” or “too much metaphor… I’m lost!” And I cannot help but smile and think of Mark Twain’s advice on figurative language: “When you catch and adjective, kill it.”
E. B. White
While Bradbury appeals to my imagination, White appeals to my sensibility. The powerful simplicity in his pen stroke is positively moving. He can describe something as rudimentary as the death of a pig with such humanity as to bring a butcher to tears.
Consider this excerpt from White’s essay (he’s a phenomenal essayist) On A Florida Key:
“Althought I am no archaeologist, I love Florida as much for the remains of her unfinished cities as for the bright cabanas on her beaches. I love to prowl the dead sidewalks that run off into the live jungle, under the broiling sun of noon, where the cabbage palms throw their spiny shade across the stillborn streets and the creepers bind old curbstones in a fierce, sensual embrace and the mocking birds dwell in song upon the remembered grandeur of real estate’s purple hour. A boulevard which has been reclaimed by Nature is an exciting avenue; it breathes a strange prophetic perfume, as of some century still to come, when the birds will remember, and the spiders, and the little quick lizards that toast themselves on the smooth hard surfaces that once held the impossible dreams on men. Here along these bristling walks is a decayed symmetry in a living forest–straight lines softened by a kindly and haphazard Nature, pavements nourishing life with the beginnings of topsoil, the cracks in the walks possessed by root structures, the brilliant blossoms of the domesticated vine run wild, and overhead the turkey buzzard in the clear sky, on quiet wings, awaiting new mammalian death among the hibiscus, the yucca, the Spanish bayonet, and the palm. I remember the wonderful days and the tall dream of rainbow’s end; the offices with the wall charts, the pins in the charts, the orchestras playing gently to prepare the soul of the wandere for the mysteries of subdivision, the free bus service to the rainbow’s beginning, the luncheon served on the little tables under the trees, the warm sweet air so full of the deadly contagion, the dotted line, the signature, and the premonitory qualms and the shadow of the buzzard in the wild wide Florida sky.”
There are many more. Thoreau, though rife with pantheism, awakens the awestruck boy in me running headlong through the woods. Muggeridge’s bravery impresses me. I’m also impressed with Piper’s level-headedness (fueled by his obvious devotion to Christ). I love Shakespeare’s vocabulary and characters. And of course, no list would be complete without Roald Dahl, a strange and clever man who has impressed me far more than Seuss ever could.
Of course, admiration is by no means attainment. I just write what I know. And my goal is something greater than fireworks.
In the words of Bradbury, scolding a panel of film makers once:
“You do fireworks. And I love fireworks. I love to be in Paris on Bastille night by the Eiffel Tower, with all the fireworks going off, celebrating the failed French revolution. But when the wind blows, the sky is empty. All that lovely fire, all those lovely cathedral patterns, blow away in the wind. That’s you. If I can write a short story about putting on the first tennis shoes of summer, and make you remember what it was like when you were a kid, when you could run away from all your enemies, and run to your friends calling you up ahead, when you could bounce over houses and trees, and even people and so on, if I could make you remember that, that’s better than fireworks.”