Reflecting On Your Influences

Every now and then it is a good idea to consider the influences you have in your life, maybe a “lull in grace??? as Patrick has called it, is a perfect time.  I  first thought I would make a top three list of four different categories; books, music, movies, and blogs; but later decided to just do literature and movies because I wanted to not make it a 2006 favorites list but a real reflection on my own influences.

I got this idea from Scot McKnight whose post on “Good Writers??? sparked my interest in this area.  I read a lot and listen to music just about as much, but often I’ve wondered if I am wasting my time with the people I’ve chosen to pay attention to. 

McKnight suggests we spend our time focused on “the best writers??? in the given areas, so we are spending quality time with quality influences.  You may feel it’s a bit relative to consider one person, or group, the best in an area, or maybe not; his definition works fine for my starting point.  If you like you can change it or disagree with his ideas and tell us why you think yours is better.  What McKnight says is;

By “best writers??? we mean who write with excellent prose, who keep your interest, who avoid getting bogged down in too much detail but still drive home profundity and insight, and who do not overdo it in footnotes, but at the end of the day you say “That is a great book and the prose makes it greater.???

Using this as a backdrop here are some of my people I have been and wish to be influenced by more.  Tell us who you think the best are in the fields you are most interested in.
(in no particular order)

  • Dylan Thomas‘ poetry has added new depth to my understanding of artistic creation, and human existence.
  • John Steinbeck – He has helped me love fiction and understand humanity in a way I’ve never known before.


  • John Howard Yoder – I like Yoder’s work because he spoke as one placed in a specific tradition, yet leading out of that tradition in ecumenical ways.  Yoder was for the whole church.
  • Mark Noll – Noll’s history has transformed the way I view everything the Church has to do with, I can’t barely think about the church without touching upon one of the ways he’s influenced my thinking.
  • Nancey Murphy – I love people like Nancey who think radically outside the box and challenge all accepted norms with grace, love and and Anabaptist brilliance.
  • Rufus Jones – If I could be any Quaker, and write with the clarity and spiritual insight of any person Rufus Jones might just be that guy. 
  • Stanley Hauerwas – Everything this guy says is directed at helping the church, and yet he does it in such a provocative way.  He is a postmodern day Karl Barth if Barth hung out with Quakers and Anabaptists.  I wish that everything I said was so provocative that it caused people to think the way he does.


  • Bob DylanBob Dylan lead me to Jesus, well kind of.
  • Smog – Listening to Smog is like reading literature, his lyrics remind me of both Steinbeck and Dylan Thomas; a simplicity with profundity.  He sings the way I want to write.
  • Pedro the Lion, which has recently retired, is David Bazen’s personal project that has a constant satyrical language, which has helped me to think critically about my faith and the world around it.

Well there’s enough of my list of influences how about you?
Feel free to be as brief or in-depth as you’d like and if you want to write it on your blog and ping
back to here go for it.

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7 responses to “Reflecting On Your Influences”

  1. Hey Wes~

    Just wanted to let you know about my latest post (talks about vegetarianism and world hunger).

    Thought you might be interested.

    b blessed

  2. Alright, I will do my best to try to provide some sort of glimpse of the influences in my life.

    Paul Simon–Especially the album “Graceland”. The tirbal sounds from Africa have provided a wonderfully rhytmic reflection for me. Plus, I used to listen to this album with my father as a child.

    Jack Johnson–What can I say? I love the acoustic sound of Jack and the reflections he makes on every day things. And he is a very nice guy (he was a customer at the bank I worked at)

    Death Cab for Cutie–Okay, as you can tell I like laid back rock.

    Hepcat, Toots and the Maytals, Skavoovie and the Epitones–Excellent Ska of all varieties


    Brian McLaren–I owe a lot of what McLaren has been writing to helping me beging the conversation of the Emerging Church.

    Orson Scott Card–one of the few sci-fi writers I love…check out the Enders Game series

    Anne Lamott–Her beautiul honesty has opened my eyes to a very different type of spirituality.

    Henri Nouwen–Need I say more?

  3. Music-

    Mark Heard – Not a very well known singer/songwriter, but an incredible lyric writer. I would venture to say that his lyrics are some of the best ever written. He had a heart-attack while playing at the Cornerstone music festival in 1992 and died just a few weeks after. I definitely would encourage anyone to check him out, especially his last three albums (Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand, and Satellite Sky).

    Elvis Costello – He is someone who is intensely passionate about music and someone who is always willing to take creative chances. That is not something that many musicians do, but he is constantly experimenting and evolving. Plus, he has a sharp wit and can turn a phrase with the best of them.

    The Band – These guys started off as Dylan’s backup band, but they record some of the finest tracks in music history on their own. Their principle songwriter, Robbie Robertson, had an uncanny ability to capture the American ethos in song. Simply put, he is a master storyteller.

    U2 – While they certainly have become overexposed, their music carries a prophetic sense of urgency that I have never been able to ignore. Their use of the Gospel message in subversive ways is a lesson for any christian attempting to impact culture by their art in a meaningful way.

    There are so many that I could list…..

    Books –

    Hans Kung (Anything by him) – While I certainly don’t agree with every point he makes (that’s not the goal anyway), he is always provacative and convicting. His valient attempts at promoting reform in the Catholic church and also promoting unity among all believers is a pursuit that we should all be invested in. Also, he is scary smart. His command of the subject matter of virtually any topic is astounding.

    The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene – This is one of the best novels ever written (in my opinion). The way it potrays the heart of humanity without hopelessness is a rare picture of beauty. The depth of this writing is overwhelming.

    Anything by Steinbeck

    Flannery O’Connor – Everything that Rises Must Converge (or anything else) – Her stories are never conventional and that is perhaps her finest trait. They present a clear tension between good and evil, Gospel and self, and do so in a way that is consistently alarming and yet inviting. It is like passing a gruesome roadside accident and being unable to turn away from the horror of it all.

    Again, there are so many others….this is just a few.

  4. @Kevin Lewis – I had considered putting Lamott my list, he candid yet insightful writing is moving and provocative. I haven’t read a ton by her, but I’ve loved everything I have read.

    @Bianchi – Which Costello album should I check out first, I know you’ve always liked him ever since you and I first met back at “cleanup day” for orientation but everytime I go to listen to something it seems like I am not starting at the right points.

    And I am really glad Steinbeck made your list too – have you read “In Dubious Battle?”

  5. Wess,

    I think I’ve read just about everything Steinbeck ever wrote. “In Dubious Battle” is one of my favorites. I first read it while I was still in High School (my Dad had quite a Steinbeck collection).

    Have you read the Graham Greene book I mentioned?

    As far as Costello, try checking out “King of America” first. That may be a good starting point for you.

  6. I really have enjoyed Nancy Murphy’s co-authored book with George Ellis (On the Moral Nature of the Universe. It’s dense, but it’s audience is other academics and scientists. I like Cornel West’s sermons and books. Rosemary Radford Reuter (a feminist Christian theologian) writes some great stuff.