Listen To Article
As a result of Western Theological Seminary’s massive building project, I am one of many people now happily ensconced in a new office with new furniture. My set up includes a large tack board, and because I simply don’t want to be that guy with chaos breaking loose on my tack board, I’ve recently created what I call my “wall of fame.” There are nine initial inductees to my wall of fame; over time I imagine more will join them.
Fred Rogers is on the top right. I was too old to appreciate him when he debuted and it wasn’t until I was a parent that I came to fully appreciate the goodness of his message. I look at him daily and try to live into his serene faith.
Vada Pinson is immediately below Mr. Rogers. I was a boy living in southern Ohio in the mid-1960s when Vada played centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds. He was incredibly fast, incredibly smooth, and incredibly good. Plus his name was Vada. The Reds had the best uniforms ever, and I’m Facebook friends with Vada’s son, who regularly posts ultra-cool vintage photos. The other day there was Vada in his uniform having a drink from a “colored” water fountain. It broke my heart.
Frederick Buechner is next to Vada, also wearing red. He looks wise in this picture. He is wise. No writer has had a bigger influence on me. Anyone who describes himself as a part-time novelist, part-time Christian, and part-time pig is my kind of guy.
Brian Doyle is next to Buechner, staring out with twinkling Irish eyes. We lost Brian Doyle recently, way too soon. If you haven’t read his poems, many of them are easy to find on the internet. If you haven’t read his A Book of Uncommon Prayer it’s going to be hard for us to stay friends. Get a copy. You’ll love it. Doyle loved the words “redolent,” “thrum,” “adamant,” and “wry,” and they show up enough to bring a wry smile to my face every time I read them.
Robert Louis Stevenson is above Brian Doyle, which is fitting because Doyle worships Stevenson. I have lived and worked among Dutch people so long most people think I’m Dutch, but Munro is Scottish, and RLS is my countryman. If you wonder what Romans 7:14-25 might look like as a novel, read The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde: “Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, then when I laboured in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge and relief of suffering . . . man is not truly one, but truly two.”
Above Stevenson is Gerard Manley Hopkins, the long-suffering and tortured Jesuit poet who did things with language no one before or since has done. “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn drawn Falcon” is the way The Windhover begins, and by the end of that sonnet when he says “sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine,” you begin to realize that the downward descent of the bird, along with the plow being burnished as it enters the ground, are both incarnational images of God’s self-emptying in Jesus Christ. The admiration Hopkins shows the falcon in the poem: “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!” applies to the poet himself and the wonder of his words.
Another poet is next to Hopkins, this time a postcard of Walt Whitman in his Gandalf-ish glory. I love this picture. If you’re a great poet with a great picture, you have a better than normal shot of making the wall.
Just to our left and Walt’s right is a picture of me talking to Barbara Brown Taylor, taken here two years ago. I loved hosting her for a few days then, and afterwards she wrote me the most beautiful thank you note I have ever received. I keep it handy and pull it out to read from time to time, especially when nothing seems to be going my way. “At least Barbara loves me,” I tell myself, “and Oprah loves Barbara, so that really ought to count for something.”
Below Barbara is one of my favorite pictures, “Satchel Paige in Harlem.” Satchel Paige is a hero, and here he is in 1941, sitting on the front bumper of a Packard, lighting a cigarette, looking like perhaps the coolest cat on earth, which me may well have been. “Don’t look back,” Satchel famously said, “something might be gaining on you.”
I have photos of John Wooden and Max DePree elsewhere in my office and they are formative influences too. There’s room on the wall of fame for others that belong there: Emily Dickinson, J.D. Salinger, J.R.R. Tolkien, George Plimpton, and the Beatles all come to mind. As does Mako Fujimura and Marilyn McEntyre. I just need to find the right picture of each. I’ll probably put Tom Boogaart up there after he retires in a couple of weeks, but it would embarrass him, so don’t tell him.
That’s my wall of fame. Who belongs on yours?