Saturday, July 10, 2010

Exponential Times - the Pace of Change in Our World and its Effect on Liturgy

The world as we know it is changing as you read this. It's actually moving much too fast for any of us to understand.  Is there a relationship between the speed of change in our world and the inability of people to connect to the Mass or any other traditional worship format?  Recently, I have been reflecting on why many find the Mass boring or unengaging - so much so that some presiders and liturgy committees feel compelled to add what Archbishop Chaput refers to as "novelty" - or even "fascination" (see my previous post) in their quest to engage themselves and others in the celebration of the liturgy.

I have found a related set of concepts in the video of a keynote at the recent ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Denver. Education technology futurists Lee Crockett and Ian Jukes detail the scale of change in our culture. They call what we are experiencing "disruptive innovation" - change that is the result of rapid technological innovation and has repercussions across the entire cultural landscape. (The first 25 minutes of this video will change how you look at what has happened in the last 50 years - well worth the time investment.)

Crockett and Jukes claim we are now living in "Exponential  Times" - "times that are literally beyond our ability to comprehend."  Disruptive, explosive change warps our social lives, "upends longstanding cultural tradition and messes with just about every aspect of our lives: the way we work, the way we play, the way we view our fellow citizens, and particularly how we view the world."   Change in our lifetimes, the presenters posit, has accelerated even more in the last 10 years. And, it's not just gadgets that are disruptive, but how they have affected the way we do things - how we communicate, travel, purchase items, access and use information... and...

"Disruptive innovations," Jukes says, "have repeatedly replaced the existing paradigm of life with something new." When that happens, he says, "the impact and value of what has gone on before has been reduced."  In many cases, that "previous paradigm has simply disappeared."  This means young people are growing up in a world that barely resembles the reality of their parents, which has repercussions for how they see the world, how they should be educated, and  more.

So, what does this have to do with liturgy? Several things, I believe - because of the ways people look at the world now:
  • Ritual and repetition can be perceived as foreign in a world where everything else is constantly "new" and there is no expectation of stability
  • If we now regularly conduct most entertainment,  business-world meetings and learning virtually, gathering with others in a physical space that we have to travel to may seem an increasingly irrelevant activity.
  • The habit of multi-tasking may make sitting in one place focusing and participating in one activity seem "boring" - leading some to the pursuit of "novelty" or "fascination" in liturgy (see my previous post for explanation)
  • We expect to control and customize all of our experiences, because in most venues, we can.
  • Some people may see the ritual nature of Mass as a refuge and an island of stability in a world that is uncomfortable to them because of the pace of change (primarily older people, but some younger ones as well)
What are the effects of this?
  • Parents and catechists, raised in a different paradigm, may have difficulty helping young people see the point of liturgy (note the rise in the acceptance of the use of technology for catechesis - but not liturgy)
  • Presiders and liturgy committees seek ever more exciting and innovative additions to the liturgy to try to keep themselves and others engaged and not bored.
  • The Church has become increasingly divided between those who want it to be modern, current and "relevant", and those who want to emphasize tradition and its unchanging nature to keep the Church as the one thing that remains stable in their lives - to keep it grounded in unchanging Truth.
  • Go boldly forward and embrace the new future.  Some few parishes are "reformatting" church - (visit this Australian parish for an example) - is their Catholic Worship and Teaching Service as an alternate to the traditional Mass the ultimate "gimmick" or is this a viable solution? (The Bishop of Perth approves, apparently)
  • Go back and renew and retrench.  Some, like Archbishop Chaput are calling for evangelization and renewal of understanding of the meaning of the liturgy - back to the core of its meaning and let it speak for itself by doing it well.
  • BOTH? Or something somewhere in-between? (What would that look like?)
Which way would you choose? Are there other options? I have a feeling if we remain in denial and do nothing, we will continue to see a rapid drop in the participation and engagement of young people in the Church.  I haven't got the answer - or at this point even a preference between these two - I am just naming the issues. Thoughts anyone?

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