Saturday, May 12, 2012

Modernity is old fashioned...

I happened upon a discussion of the fruits of Vatican II (the implementation of the Council more so than the actual decisions of the Council) and was struck by a sentence in the discussion:  modernity is old fashioned to the younger generation...  The youth of today (those 30 and under) have lived with the fruits of the embraced of modernity by their parents and the subsequent upheaval in family, education, the institutions of society, the world, and life itself.  They see what their parents call "contemporary" as "old hat."  From the radical and stark architecture of a generation or two ago to the rebellious art that goes further and further to the extreme in pursuit of that which  is new (but is merely shocking and vulgar).

After ruminating on that thought, I can see the wisdom of it.  It is an obvious conclusion but one that has generally escaped such blunt description.  What was modern, fresh, and contemporary to boomers like me is old fashioned, antiquated, and not even quaint to the generation or two that has followed us.  This is especially true when it comes to how we conceive of church and worship. 

The boomers tend to think of church as the "Y" -- a place where you go to do something good for yourself.  So church has come to mean a thousand different activities all going on at the same time to fit the various wants and interests and desires of the people.  The bulk of these activities tend away from Scripture study and most are driven by interest.  When Ablaze came along we heard stories of churches with ballroom dancing groups and the like.  What ballroom dancing has to do with church is a good question.  But if you are a boomer who is looking for exercise, for doing something you always thought might be fun or interesting, and enjoy couples activities -- it was all the thing.  How this edified the church -- who knows?

In the same way, the boomers love their classic rock and define everything in terms of their own generation so when we go to church on Sunday morning we look for a sound with a beat and fun music.  We grew up with an ever increasing variety so we expect church to offer us the same choices for worship.  We grew up thinking everyone was entitled to our own opinion so we look for inspiration more than preaching and we like sermons that utilize the technology that our generation produced.

I am not so sure that this relates beyond us.  The millenials have by and large rejected a church so driven by this horizontal dimension.  They find new what is positively ancient and this is what seems to capture their interest more than soft rock played by an amateur praise band.  The sound of chant, the smell of incense, the mystic character of ritual, the mystery of sacramental piety, the intrusion of a little bit of heaven into the ordinariness of our earthly lives -- all of these are ancient yet these have become the new modern.  They don't want to establish a new political order but the are dying to hear the truth that transforms people and lives.  Amazingly, the boomers of my generation are still trying to sell the relics of our youthful and cultural past as that which is new, fresh, contemporary, and modern while the younger people around us reject it as irrelevant.

The point in this is not that the church should find out what each generation wants and refashion our identity and message to meet these wants.  That is exactly what many complain about and use to reject the church -- a church with no identity except what it reflects from the culture around it.  What the church needs to be is the church.  Period.  The Gospel is not relevant because we make it relevant.  It is relevant because it speaks to our need (felt or unfelt) -- sin that creates a captive and defeated life, darkness that claims to be light and cannot show you the way, despair over the failure of the world around us to live up to our hopes and our own failure to be the people we should be, and death that can be postponed for a while but never  overcome.  Into this comes the Church with power to unchain us from our failures and flaws, with light that overcomes all darkness, with hope to answer every despair and disappointment, and life stronger than death and eternity just a resurrection away.  If the world and people reject the church because it is faithful to this Gospel and the changeless Lord, so be it.  But the church dare not presume to be something different and then believe that when the world and young people are rejecting us, they are rejecting Christ.

Speaking personally, I grew up hearing and believing "better living through chemistry" and I found out it was a half truth at best and a lie at worst.  The better life I need chemistry cannot provide and the better life I want is not the improvement of the moment.  When kept me grounded was the faith taught to me by my parents and imparted to me by a church that boldly baptized, catechized, and liturgized so that the means of grace were the central focus of my life.  It is this that has kept me from becoming a victim of my own self-absorbed identity.  I credit nothing in me and everything in my family that brought me confidently to the font, that gave me no choice but Sunday school and catechism class, that showed me the highest value and respect for the church, the things of the church, and church workers, and, to be sure, a liturgical life that was centered in the pulpit and altar.  When the unchanging Gospel becomes the full focus of our identity, we will cease to worry about being modern anymore.  That cannot happen too soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm reading a book Old Errors New Labels by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which you might find of interest. Your post made me recall this quote.

He says this : "But she [the Church], with her memory, which is tradition, knows very well that what one generation calls modern the next generation will call Un-modern. She knows also that Modernism is no more logical than a sect called "Three O'Clockism," which would adapt our gods and our morals to our moods at three o'clock. The Church knows too that to marry the present age and its spirit is to become a widow in the next. Having constantly refused to espouse the passing, she has never become a widow, but ever remains a mother to guide her children....

The Theism of Atheism
Old Errors New Labels ( 1930 )
Archbishop Fulton Sheen