Christianity & Culture, continued

Christ is risen!

“What is God teaching you through your time in Georgia?”

I’m not certain, but perhaps what He’s teaching me through my time spent typing, with my laptop on my host family’s couch, is that it would be well to be less neurotic about how I interpret strangers’ generalized suggestions on stuff like classroom procedures, culture shock, personal growth, and so on. Stop whining like the older brother in the parable, just because you never got to try out full blown rebellion, and get back to  working on stuff that actually matters. Like prayer, And relationships. Even to writing about stuff other than your own personal psychological reactions to hyperbolic claims. “God became man for our salvation” is not hyperbole, mysterious as that may be — go consider it. (In case you’re wondering, no I was not paraphrasing God there; that was just an informed guess)

If I weren’t reading the OCMC manuel in a neurotic fashion, I should, perhaps, have gotten out of it something more like: there’s the community you go off and serve, which is important, but there’s also the community you came from, and they’re also important — and it’s good if you try to use this opportunity to deepen their understanding of the universal Church as well. I mean, OK, that’s not what it said at all, but I think that’s the subtext. Unless I’m just making this up. I could just be making this up, but it makes sense to me in a way the other doesn’t, so I’d better think about the approach that makes sense instead of trying to figure out how I’m going to deal with an imaginary personal epiphany.

That question, however, is quite a difficult one, and not only because I move about too much to have a stable relationship with a home church. Well, actually, it’s probably an especially hard question for precisely that reason. When I’m in Tucson in August (I suffer from poor timing, I know. Tucson in August.), what do I say. Setting aside Moldova for a moment, because I don’t even know what we’re doing there yet. What do I say about Georgia? Really say? Or do I just make xinkali for the next International Festival and say “Kriste aghsdga” at Pascha? Do I put together a presentation, and ask to talk about it during coffee hour? Our international guests and immigrants don’t usually do that. Why don’t they? It would be very interesting, I suspect. But what would they talk about? What would I talk about, if I were giving a presentation in Georgia about American Orthodoxy? It’s just so vast, and then we forget to remind each other sometimes that it’s not all about culture anyway, but about being the body of Christ. America has so many people from these places; but we emphasize the experience of a week over an experience of 30 years? Would I write an essay and give it to whoever wants to see it? When I came back from Syria, mostly I wrote blog posts with lots of pictures. I didn’t do anything especially interesting from Alaska.

Well, ok, perhaps I could start here: I was surprised that in Georgia people don’t have a nice, cozy, social “church community” the way we do in America. They have a crazy complicated assortment of affiliations to godparents, godchildren, spiritual fathers, monasteries, bishops, childhood villages, ancient church/monuments, places to be visited upon particular feast days, and so on. The relationship of a religious Georgian to his church may be very dense, but it may also be quite spread out and difficult to follow. It certainly does not consist primarily on going to church and receiving Communion every sunday morning at the same church. It might involve lighting candles at various ancient monasteries, taking roosters to certain churches on certain days, boiling wheat on some occasions, writing out prayers to accompany little loaves of bread that are presented at the Liturgy, and a number of other things I don’t quite understand. And, ok, this is kind of hard to deal with as an outsider, especially one who doesn’t really “get” the blessing and blessedness of places, times, and things very well. American Orthodox people will usually affirm this to be the case, but it’s not a big emphasis of ours. We emphasize theology. And, truly, Orthodoxy does have beautiful theology. About which I’ve heard pretty much nothing since living in Georgia. The theology and prayer is this huge, interconnected mass, into which it’s difficult to find an entrance. Holidays might work for Americans, but not necessarily Georgians — if you don’t already know why the holiday is important, you’re probably not going to learn it from them, even if they speak excellent English.

So then I would say: I don’t automatically love this situation. And then I’m not sure what I would say after that. There’s something to be said after, but I don’t know it well enough to talk about yet. After eight months. Vymie!


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