It’s been almost four years since I first considered the idea of writing a spiritual biography of Charles A. Lindbergh, and three years since I signed the contract for that book with Eerdmans. And the calendar will have turned to 2021 before anyone can actually pick up a copy of that book. But yesterday I took a big step in that big project and sent my editors the first draft of my complete manuscript.
As you might expect, reaching this milestone in a book project carries a mix of emotions. Relief that it’s done, and amazement that I actually finished it more than a month before the deadline. Gratitude to my wife and kids, who allowed me literally or figuratively to disappear into Lindbergh work for hours and days at a time, and guilt that something this relatively unimportant took me away from them at all. Disappointment, as work that has preoccupied me for years — and distracted me when I needed to take my mind off other things — abruptly recedes in significance, and the uncertainty of not knowing for sure what the next project will be…
But mostly, a sense of accomplishment and anticipation. Counting the devotional that’s due out just before Christmas, the Lindbergh bio will be the fifth book I’ve published. But it’s the first one that I’ve written solo, something that I haven’t actually done since my doctoral dissertation. And while I know the editing process will improve this first draft, I’m proud of it. The manuscript features some of my best writing, grounded in extensive and sometimes creative historical research. Most importantly, getting this far affirms my initial instinct that there was a new story to be told about Charles Lindbergh — one that I think Christians and religious nones alike could benefit from reading.
I can’t wait to share The Famous Unknown (or whatever Eerdmans retitles it) with the world!
But while I’ve now got to fight every impatient bone in my body and wait for the publisher to do its share of the work, I did want to share a few tidbits from the manuscript.
Me being me, it’s all I can do not to go ahead and start work on an index. Given all the revisions and repagination yet to come, that would be a waste of time. But I did go through and take note of some of the other famous people who show up in my account of Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne.
• Apart from my digital history of Bethel with Fletcher Warren, this is also the first work of Minnesota history that I’ve finished. While we’ll follow Charles Lindbergh around the world, his home state plays a special role in a book that quotes or mentions several other Minnesotans: authors Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, senators Knute Nelson and Frank Kellogg (later the U.S. Secretary of State, at the time of Lindbergh’s most famous flight), Supreme Court justice Pierce Butler, eugenicist Charles Fremont Dight, timber baron Charles A. Weyerhaueser, and T. Willard Hunter, author of the only other spiritual biography of Charles Lindbergh.
• Though he barely graduated from high school and didn’t finish his sophomore year of college, Charles Lindbergh was a rather impressive autodidact. Anne did much to shape a reading list that included everyone from Plato, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy to the ill-fated Catholic pilot-poet Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (who spent a few days with the Lindbergh just before WWII). The death of “St.-Ex.” during that war was devastating for Anne, whose own spiritual journey — presented here as a running contrast to her husband’s — was significantly influenced by Christian writers like Blaise Pascal, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, and Pierre Teilhard du Chardin.
• Hopkins is the subject of the newest installment in the Library of Religious Biography that mine will soon join. Several others entries in that series are quoted or cited in the book: D.G. Hart on H.L. Mencken; Douglas Foster on Alexander Campbell; Allen Guelzo on Abraham Lincoln; and James Bratt and the late John Woolverton on Franklin D. Roosevelt.
(Not surprisingly, FDR shows up about a dozen times in a biography of one of his fiercest opponents, with Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry Truman lagging far behind in the race for second most mentioned president. Given that I’m about to teach the Cold War again, I was also tickled to include a dinner conversation between the Lindberghs and diplomat George Kennan, the primary architect of containment under Truman.)
• It’s a “spiritual, but not religious” biography, but religious figures are everywhere. The list of cameos includes three medieval mystics (Hildegard of Bingen, John of Ruysbroeck, and Joan of Arc), Methodist founder John Wesley, Adventist prophet Ellen G. White, Presbyterian pastor and Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas, Christian Century editor Charles Clayton Morrison, German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Pope Pius XII. And it’s not just Christians: the Lindberghs’ shared interest in Eastern religions means that the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Ramakrishna, and Mohandas Gandhi will appear twice each in the index.
• But a few notables from church history make repeated appearances: Augustine of Hippo, Francis of Assisi, Erasmus, Martin Luther, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Reinhold Niebuhr. And yes, I found three or four opportunities to allude to Pietism, in a book about one of the least pietistic people I’ve ever encountered.
• At various points, different pastors, journalists, and fans compared Charles Lindbergh to several men from the Old and New Testaments, including David, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. But in a spiritual biography of a non-religious pilot that one editor called “the new Christ,” it’s fascinating that the single most commonly quoted/mentioned person other than the Lindberghs and their Christian friends Alexis Carrel and Jim Newton is Jesus himself (about forty times, roughly counted).
So not surprisingly, about 40% of the nearly forty biblical quotations and allusions in the manuscript are from the four gospels — half of them from Matthew, the New Testament book Lindbergh clearly knew best. But the most quoted book is from the Old Testament: Psalms. Almost all of those instances come from Anne, but the last words of the manuscript do go to the psalmist whom Charles Lindbergh quoted on his gravestone: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea” (Ps 139:9, RSV).