My friend Kim Fabricius has died. On the weekend I received an email from his family. He was at his local coffee shop when he died, suddenly and unexpectedly. I didn’t realise a person like that could die. I had assumed that a light as bright as Kim’s would never go out.
He used to sit at that coffee shop scribbling his prolific “doodlings” – jokes and aphorisms and insults – on the paper napkins, before sending them to me.
We became friends 12 years ago when Kim started writing with me on the Faith & Theology blog. I loved the guy. He was so funny, so sharp, so widely read, so cultured in an utterly irreverent and self-deprecating way, so over-the-top, so New York. He got his Christianity straight from Karl Barth and Dostoevsky and the Book of Job, which might explain why he didn’t have much patience for cultural Christianity or the platitudes of a feel-good therapeutic faith.
He had become a Christian while reading Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans: at the start of the book he was an unbeliever, and by the end of it he had decided to become a minister of the gospel. (Later, when he had a son, he named him Karl.)
Kim spent a long ministry in a little Reformed congregation in Swansea in the south of Wales. He was a pastor to those people, as you’ll know if you have read any of the innumerable sermons, hymns, and liturgies that he made available online. Not to mention his seemingly endless supply of down-to-earth wisdom about the ministry: “When I prepare couples for marriage and come to the vow ‘till death us do part’, I always tell them to cheer up – it could be longer.” Or this: “It may be easier to negotiate with a terrorist than with a church organist, but it is easier to negotiate with a church organist than with a cat.” Or this: “A minister is something of a jack-of-all-trades – without the skills.”
In some ways Kim was a pastor to me too. We wrote to each other hundreds (or was it thousands?) of times. When I suffered personal griefs and defeats, I would turn to him for counsel. He was a pastoral realist, he liked to face things squarely just as they are, and there was great understanding and great kindness in the way he could talk to you about the challenges of living with ordinary human brokenness. He was one of those people who makes you wonder if there might be a point to having Christian ministers around after all.
Kim was a person with few illusions and much love. “What’s the difference between optimism and hope?” he once asked, and answered: “Hope is for pessimists.”
He wrote once that “God invented the church to give atheists a fighting chance” – yet he devoted his life to serving the church. He railed against America – yet he was proud to be a New Yorker, and he was always contemplating the theological advantages of American sports. In a very characteristic remark, he wrote: “Karl Barth said that when he gets to heaven he will seek out Mozart before Calvin. Quite right – and presumably he spoke to Calvin only to compare errors. Me – I’ll be heading for the choir of angels, to find Sandy Koufax, to see how he made the baseball sing.” (But the pitcher has outlived the pastor. I hope Sandy Koufax will seek out Kim one day and bestow the longed-for benediction.)
Kim and I had formed a strong friendship over the internet before we ever met in person. We met one day in the United States – it was during one of his annual trips to New York to visit his mother – and I was stunned to realise that he was thirty years older than me. His heart and mind were so young, I had assumed that perhaps I was the elder brother. He was old enough to be my father, yet Kim Fabricius was one of the youngest people I have ever known. In his mind there was nothing stagnant or stale. He was still curious, still supple, still exploring the possibilities, still seeing life as an adventure of faith, hope, and love. At the age of 69 he died; and he was only getting started.