I list them in no particular order. About some I have much to say, others not so much. Don't read anything into that. Their influences are all too multi-dimensional to make direct comparisons between them.
I must confess to you that I worry about making this public. It is my own weakness that I worry about what you think. What if you hate them? What if you think they are trouble-makers, bigots, ivory-tower-ish, or self-righteous? What if you roll your eyes at my list? What if you think them pretentious and (gasp) me too by extension??? Well, so be it. These folks are awesome.
Francis Schaeffer's books - how can I say it? - finally made sense of the world. The first one I read was "How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture". It was a brief history of western thought, why it was great, where it went wrong, and where it is headed. In its few hundred pages, it transformed my understanding of philosophy, art, culture, politics, law, theology, and history. It put a big enough frame around them all that I could finally start making some sense of them all. He was a genius. I wanted to name my youngest son Schaeffer, but my wife was afraid he would be beaten up on account having a funny name. So we made Schaeffer his middle name!
Nothing I can say is adequate praise for the Saint of Calcutta, Mother Teresa. Her devotion to the poor and marginalized (sustained for 45 years!) is nothing less than inspirational. I love this picture of her.
Rich Mullins was a musician whose life and lyrics communicated great spiritual depth and yet sincere humility. His authenticity and simplicity inspired me and challenged my suburban middle class life. There was a longing in his music, a hunger for something else over the horizon: heaven.
And if I sing, let me sing with a joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
That is longing for his home
Bono is still alive, and therefore a potential threat to my hero list; he could still do something to embarrass me. My first real connection to his music and message came in 1987, the spring of my freshman year of college when U2 released "The Joshua Tree". My roommate and I played it countless times and even today hearing it will evoke good memories from that time of my life. Like MLK, Bono uses his voice both metaphorically and literally to "defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. [To] rescue the weak and the needy; [and] deliver them from the hand of the wicked" as Psalm 82:3-4 says. And like MLK, his motivation for this voice is born out of his grateful heart redeemed by his Creator.
I was born
I was born to sing for you
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to
I give you back my voice
From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise...
Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified till we die, you and I will magnify
Chuck Colson spent time in prison for his part in the Watergate scandal. In the midst of his arrest and sentencing he became a Christian. He founded Prison Fellowship to minister to the forgotten and the thrown away in prisons. His book "Loving God" changed the way I think about prisoners, human dignity, hope, and service. His radio commentaries on science, culture, and apologetics picked up where Schaeffer left off.
I was five months old when MLK was assassinated. His eloquent and peaceful fight for justice has as its anthem the Bible verse Amos 5:24 - "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream." Justice matters. People matter. Human dignity matters.
My favorite author, Clive Staples Lewis, died on the same day JFK was assassinated. During college his books showed me that being a Christian and an intellectual need not be mutually exclusive, and that the growing chasm between my faith and my intellect could be closed. This was, for me, a reconciliation marked by enormous relief. His influence on my life has been more than significant.
One of my favorite quotes of his, one that is not well-known I think, particularly inspires me. It reminds me of my father's struggles with Parkinson's disease:
"But if you are a poor creature--poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels--saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion--nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends--do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all - not least yourself."