After a valiant two-year battle with cancer, waged with his characteristic energy and verve, author, scholar, Faith Angle Forum founder, and Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Michael Cromartie died earlier this week. He leaves behind his extraordinary wife Jenny, sons Ethan and Eric and daughter Heather, and a vast company whose lives, work, and thought were deeply influenced by his presence, conversation, care, and friendship.
Michael served for many years as a Trinity Forum Senior Fellow and frequent moderator, and as Vice-President at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. There, he authored or edited more than 15 books, and created the Faith Angle Forum, which hosted semi-annual retreats for journalists and columnists to learn about faith and theology from religious thought leaders, and which had a seismic – if largely unknown – impact on the way in which the most respected and influential journalists understand and cover religion.
In many ways, his creation of the Faith Angle Forum was both a reflection of his character and convictions, and an extension of his contagious love for both people and theology. At a time when many conservative Christians were sinking into curmudgeonly irritability, railing against bias and retreating to right-wing news outlets, Michael chose to instead create a program to educate journalists about the content and nature of faith, introducing journalists and columnists to such scholars and theologians as Father Richard John Neuhas and Bishop Chaput, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Revs. Tim Keller and Rick Warren, Profs. James Davison Hunter, Cornelius Platinga, and Bill McClay, and many others. And in doing so, he not only cultivated a greater understanding of faith among journalists, he befriended virtually every participant – most of whom lobbied to return for more.
Largely, it was that sense of love and the resulting enthusiasm and zest its overflow brought that so marked Michael as unusual – and endeared him even to the cynical. Mike was neither sappy nor sentimental, but he cared for those he met, even when he disagreed with them (which he was never shy about expressing). As Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic wrote, Michael “Loved journalists. Loved Jesus and Christopher Hitchens, simultaneously.”
Having traversed long spiritual, theological, and political distances himself over the course of his 67 years, he believed in intellectual and spiritual journeys – and was eager to serve as cheerleader, if not guide.
That sense of contagious love marked not only his public work, but also home life. He and Jenny consistently and seemingly unreservedly opened their home – whether to visiting scholars, teenagers in trouble, or twentysomethings in transition. His house always overflowed with both people and books.
Michael was not without quirks – there are few other sixtysomethings who regularly practice and take pride in moonwalking – but was so utterly devoid of pretense or guile, and so ardent in his interests and enthusiasms – that it was almost impossible to avoid being infected with the same sense of good humor and joy in any sustained conversation with him.
If, to quote St. Irenaeus, the glory of God is shown in a man fully alive, then Michael was a man who daily reflected His radiance, embracing each personal or professional encounter with eagerness and vitality. He lived his final days grateful to his Maker for his life, its challenges as well as graces, even as he would have been eager for its extension.
When I last saw Michael on Friday, two evenings before he died, he was in bed at home, surrounded by family, happily accepting a string of visitors despite being in pain and on pain medication. He wore a tee shirt announcing: “Aslan is on the Move.” And I thought of the final passage of The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan the Great Lion speaks to the children he has just jolted into Narnia from their life in England:
And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories... But for them it was only the beginning... All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
For Michael, the great story has begun. Requiescat in pace.