One more thing. Clearly getting home early from school leaves me with too much time on my hands.
Two big conversations have happened recently in our small, hometown OCA parish.
The first conversation was an evening of discussion about a book called Kisses from Katie, wherein a privileged, WASP (with a capital P, )19 year old girl decides to spend a year serving in Africa before going to college. One thing leads to another, as it often does for people who are willing to obey God, and she is now the adoptive mother of 20 African children. In Africa. By herself. She's my age. I didn't finish the book because I couldn't really handle her style, and DANG I gotta lot of books to read. I did get the gist of it, though, enough that I said Amen when our parish's wry and dry Minnesotan said, "It's a pretty easy book to read--- wait, what am I saying? It'll wreck your life!" Well, it seems to have wrecked everybody's life in our parish. I didn't get to go to the conversation about the book, but the minutes were sent out and the bottom line is that everybody in our small parish is on fire about listening for God's whispers and responding in love to anyone God sends our way.
The second, seemingly unrelated conversation happened over email, and it hasn't really been explored too much. One of our families converted from the Episcopal church, and in fact the matriarch of the family is English. Her daughter sent out an email about the Western Rite, and offered it as fodder for the ongoing conversation about how to grow an Orthodox Church that is truly American, or at least Western. Most people sounded interested in talking about it, but we tabled it until after Lent.
Then, something happened. Somebody called our priest and said "We just moved here for a job that fell through. We have nothing. Can you help us?"
And we did. We collected money. We helped them stay in a motel until they could get into an apartment. Flurries of emails have been passed around, offering to furnish their new home. They have been coming to church regularly, even during the week, and enjoying the worship and fellowship. Everyone is ALL ABOUT helping them. It's exactly what we wanted.
Somehow I suspect that these people have never been in an Orthodox Church in their life. Why did they call our priest? What possessed them to look up an Orthodox Church? It's not the first one in the phone book, and I'm sure many of the nice Protestant churches around here would have responded to their pleas just as promptly if they had been called first. Why did they come back after they saw how weird our church was? I don't know everything that's going on. But I can't believe that it's a coincidence that these people called just when all our parishioners agreed that they were hungry to help someone.
What's the connection to the Western Rite email? Well, I think this is an answer to the question, "How do we worship as Orthodox Americans?" Rather than looking at our community or culture and trying to make our church reflect what we see there, we can look at our church and ask "What can we share with our town out of the abundance of what God has poured into our church? How can we pour this beauty and love out into our town?" I think we will find that this is how we sanctify the world around us, and reveal this small Midwestern town of farms and factories to be the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then we won't have to ask "What if a stranger walks in here and thinks we're weird?" There will be no such thing as a stranger. He'll walk through the door and see the same friendly faces who fed him, gave him water, visited him in prison, defended him against injustice, and comforted him when he was sick. There will be a complete continuity between the love we show him on the sidewalk and the love we sing about in church. I think the language, the icons, the music, the cassocks, and the head coverings will all make sense to the stranger if he recognizes the love.
Maybe our debates about Byzantine vs. Western aesthetics won't resolve themselves. But we'll be much better prepared to decide what is appropriate for Americans, and what is worthwhile in our culture, when we have sought and loved the good in America itself.