The following are my reflections offered at the recent memorial service for Christian Anible. Christian was on staff with InterVarsity Graduate/ Faculty ministries, and a founding board member of Chesterton House.
My name is Karl Johnson. I am a campus minister at Cornell and an elder of New Life Presbyterian Church—two positions I shared in common with Christian.
Christian was to me not just a colleague and a friend; he was a kindred spirit. As much or perhaps more than anyone else I know, he was the one person who was regularly reading and listening to the same material that I was. From Eugene Petersen to Wendell Berry, we shared many favorite authors in common. One of the last times I visited Christian, he told me that he was listening to a great lecture he had downloaded from the internet by Henri Blocher. “This is someone new,” I said. “Tell me more.” As it turns out, I had actually just started reading a book by Blocher but didn’t recognize the correct pronunciation of his name. I mention our common interests not only to say that I will miss Christian sorely, though I will—and already do—but because this sharing of common interests and affections is the very gift of friendship. Christian was a gift to me, as I know he was to many of you.
Among the things I most appreciated about Christian is this: the virtues he made most vivid were ordinary virtues—virtues that you and I can reasonably seek to imitate. In contrast to celebrities, who are idolized for exceptional talents that leave most of us feeling like failures because we will never be as rich, or as famous, or as successful, Christian embodied the older notion of a hero—i.e., one who specializes in and makes the most of those faculties that are given equally to all persons in common. And so it is that we remember Christian not only for his talents—his clarity of thought, his skillful musicianship, and his ability to advise—but also for his virtues—his gentleness and generosity, his sincerity and sacrifice, his patience and his peace-making.
At a meeting of Cornell chaplains earlier this week, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim chaplains alike remembered Christian for conversing across faith traditions while remaining firmly grounded in his tradition. He would engage, listen, and learn without on the one hand being abrasively confrontational, or on the other hand ignoring meaningful differences among traditions. That is virtue, the stuff of heroes—the sort of thing that everyone one of us can learn from and seek to emulate.
But if there is one thing for which I admired Christian the most, it wasn’t actually anything about him as an individual. What I admired most about him was his marriage. Some time ago we were having lunch, and he confided in me that he was going through a very difficult time personally. And then I asked him point blank: “Christian,” I said, “these things can take a toll on your relationships. How’s your marriage?”
“My marriage,” he said, looking me in the eye, “is great. Adversity has only served to bring Barb and me closer.” Would that we could all say the same. Although I can think of many individuals who are worthy role models, I can think of far fewer marriages that I care to imitate. Christian and Barb’s was such a marriage. Barb: please know that we continue to pray with and for you, as we know you will miss Christian far more than any of us.
If Christian could hear what I have said so far, I fancy I know what he would say. He would say, in characteristic humility, “Enough about me. A memorial service should focus on the hope and promise of the resurrection that is offered to us in the person of Christ.”
“Yes,” I would respond, “but . . . what better way to make concrete that hope and promise than to call attention to a life well lived, a life transformed by the gospel, a life of one whom God himself has already said, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’? What better way to anticipate the eternal pleasures of heaven than to meditate on the proximate pleasures of friendship?” Then, in support of my argument, I would quote CS Lewis, another of our favorite authors, to the effect that friendship is a foretaste of heaven.
“Friendship,” Lewis wrote,
exhibits a glorious nearness by resemblance to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed, which no man can number, increase the fruition which each has of God for every soul in heaven seeing Him in her own way communicates the unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying out Holy, Holy, Holy, to one another.
“Touche,” I imagine Christian responding with a smile, acknowledging my point. Or, perhaps, he would push back on me again, with a clever counterargument—raising points I have not yet considered. I don’t know. And I will not know until we meet again. And that is what I will miss.
In any case, if it is true, as Lewis says, that we need friends in order to know God more fully, then what those of us who had the privilege of knowing Christian share in common is this: we have been immeasurably enriched not only by his friendship, but through his friendship, by having had the opportunity to know God, and even to partake of the very pleasures of paradise.