How does one comprehend the serendipitous overlap of various threads of his life? I haven’t a clue. See if you can follow those weaving the portions of my life together.
1. Two years ago, my son announced that he wanted to be the next Einstein. (He is not short on ambitions.)
2. Recently, somewhat in keeping with the above, he has taken a deep interest in particle physics. Quarks, muons, and anti-matter pepper his conversation. It’s all a mystery to me.
3. Steve Jobs died. (The connection here is really tenuous.)
4. Walter Isaacson publishes a wildly popular bio of Jobs. I learn that Isaacson had previously published a well received bio of Albert Einstein. My brain takes note.
5. On Father’s Day, my son gives me, bless his heart, a gift certificate to Amazon. An hour later he has bought for me Isaacson’s Einstein biography. It seemed a perfect way to spend his Father’s Day gift.
6. A few weeks later, I am a hundred pages in, hanging around 1905 trying to comprehend special relativity, when suddenly particle physics is THE hot topic in the news. My son’s obscure interest is now in the headlines. I resolve to read more physics when I finish with Einstein.
7. Einstein is my fun, home, off-duty reading. Every fall, however, I line up a list of books needing to be read in direct support of my pastoral ministry. History and biography are a part of that reading plan, which dictated that I begin last week Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
8. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, 20-something years Einstein’s junior. Both were German. Both would encounter Germany’s rising anti-semitism. Only one would survive.
9. I found myself, therefore, reading two biographies at the same time dealing with the same period of European history. Unplanned, but intriguing.
10. And I found myself able to compare two biographers. Both biographers are dealing with fascinating men with lives of significant import.
11. I came to Metaxas’ bio with great anticipation since several friends had recommended it highly. My wife started to read it, but couldn’t finish. She wrote that off as a deficiency in her. It isn’t.
12. As a writer, Isaacson shines. His bio, even when dealing with complex scientific theory, flows and when dealing with the life of the man, reads with ease and pleasure.
13. Metaxas on the other hand could have used a good editor to cut detail, to trim (or eliminate) quotes, and to arrest his temptation to be clever, which easily becomes trite. (Someone should have stopped him before he had Bonhoeffer ‘bid adieu’ to Paris, for example.)
14. One gives a good report. The other tells a good story. I’m a sucker for the story every time.
But I’m thankful for the serendipity – I think we call it God’s ‘most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures’ – which has allowed these lines to intersect so fluidly in my life.
UPDATE: One more serendipitous note – Bonhoeffer grew up in the Grunewald district of Berlin and attended Grunewald High School.