“Think What We Might Do”

by Matt Sitman

Brian Doyle, a Catholic writer, charmingly describes when, as a child, he first encountered a Protestant – at his uncle’s wedding reception, of all places. This exchange between Doyle’s father and the man he simply calls “the Protestant” stands out:

[M]y dad strode back into view and claimed me for family photographs, but before we left he put both hands on the Protestant’s shoulders and said, “I am deeply touched that you are here, that you made the effort and came all this way. It means a great deal to me. It’s the human moments like this that will bring us all back together as a common force for witness and justice, perhaps. It is only history that divides us, and that’s all in the past. Think what we might do if we all walk together again.”

The Protestant said he too was touched to be invited, and honored, and added, “You can count on me as a partner in the long work, Jim, and maybe the time will come, when Brian is our age, that the walls have crumbled among the Christian traditions, and we are joined in the work we were asked to do by the Founder—and him a Jewish man at that.”

My dad laughed and the Protestant laughed and we parted, but all these years later I remember the way my dad put his hands on that man’s shoulders, and the way they spoke to each other with real affection and respect and camaraderie.

I am older now than they were then and the walls among the Christian traditions have still not crumbled, for any number of silly reasons—mostly having to do with lethargy and money and paranoia—and no sensible man would have the slightest expectation that they will in my lifetime. But sometimes I still wonder what it would be like if they did crumble suddenly somehow, and the two billion Christians on earth stood hand in hand, for the first time ever, insisting on mercy and justice and humility and generosity as the real way of the world. You would think that two billion people insisting on something might actually make that thing happen, wouldn’t you?