I have a confession, which I will make now, and as publically as I can.
I acted, albeit briefly, like a bully this past weekend.
This past weekend, I attended the biennial Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College, where, following three days of wonderful literary events, a largish group of participants found ourselves gathering for a final dinner together at a big and loud (and actually pretty good) restaurant in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Sometime late in the evening, a young man at the table said something to which I responded too quickly, and with too much vehemence. He said that he recently had attended an Orthodox liturgy for the first time, and now, at dinner, was saying that he couldn't be a part of a group who thinks they know everything already. It is fair to say that I took offence.
I think my first words were that his was a "bullshit characterization of Orthodoxy."
The conversation took awhile to recover after that. And, for a regrettable 10 or so minutes, I didn't really help matters, but pressed on to make my point.
Only today, thinking over how I might have responded differently -- with humor, say, and some measure of compassion -- I realized something that I hadn't suspected before.
I actually love my Church.
My initial response -- it now occurs to me -- was accompanied by the same sort of visceral rage that would have accompanied my response to someone insulting my wife or my daughter or my son.
And then I realized something else.
The young man would have had no way of knowing that this is how his offhanded slight of Orthodoxy had felt to me.
This sense is, perhaps, one of the more significant losses that have accompanied the continuing splintering of the Western Church -- this sense that the Church is to be loved, as the Body of Christ, as the Bride of Christ.
When the Church appears to be nothing other than a discrete gathering of folks supporting similar propositions, when "denominations" flourish, selectively parsing this idea or that doctrine, when the faith itself becomes understood as little more than a list of opinions from which one might choose an amicable few, then the Church's beauty as Christ's beloved Bride is no longer part of the felt experience.
When the young man -- I think -- unduly and without sufficient experience with the Church and its beauties chose to dismiss Her, he probably thought he was more or less critiquing the club to which some of us belonged, or critiquing an idea, or simply offering his "worldview," as it were.
I did not occur to him -- and, to be honest, could not have occurred to him -- that he was saying something unkind about my Beloved.
Bottom line, in any case: I should have seen his heart and his intent. I should have been more loving.
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