culture chameleon

My friend Nathan posted his thoughts on "journeys that never cease", and I decided my response warrants a post of its own. In case you missed it, here's what he said:

Catholicism seems to cover two ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, there is (for example) papal infallibility. On the other hand, the catholic community I go to periodically hasn't been excommunicated en masse despite any number of open policies (on homosexuality, women giving homilies, etc.) that are not in line with church teaching. I don't know the Church well, but I suspect that many centuries have taught it how to value true seeking of God amid cultural transformation and even revolution... and all the difficulties those forces bring to a worldwide community that shares a single faith.

How the church responds to cultural change has been on my mind a lot lately. I've grown to actually appreciate how slow-moving Rome is to make sweeping changes like we saw with Vatican II, even how slow it is to move on gender and sexuality issues. In the Evangelical world, the growing concern with being culturally relevant has morphed in many places from simply making sure our expression of our faith is accessible and understandable to making the church in the world's image. This shows up in seemingly trivial ways like designing our foyers or welcome centers to be hardly distinguishable from the neighborhood Starbucks, complete with the Starbucks logo on display. The trend grows more disturbing as it creeps into our presentation (read: marketing) of the gospel, and pretty soon we've lost the experience of The Rock of All Ages as the Christ we're introduced to is now just a construct of the current age. This is a spirituality that quickly loses its authenticity, and our society's b.s. radar is too sophisticated to swallow it.

But as my friend points out, inside the slow-moving official doctrine of the Catholic church seems to be room for local parishes and members to venture outside official boundaries. (An example might be absolution for the use of birth control.) We had one such experience last Sunday night when we attended a contemporary mass at St. Francis Cabrini in Littleton. The service was so lovely, but there are many people--even in their own parish--who feel the introduction of more contemporary music is disrespectful. Many parishes wouldn't even allow such an expression.

I'm also intrigued by the approach of the Episcopalians, who distinguish between doctrine and theology. They've chosen to limit core doctrine to the Nicene Creed, and encourage a wide range of theological exploration by their members.

It's a fascinating dance. I'm longing for an element in my faith that transcends worldviews, cultures and mindsets. Our ideas about the world change so quickly now that I can't put my faith in their permanence--theologies included. But there's also a place for being gracious with one another, for doing what it takes to preserve unity on a worldwide scale. Those steps seem to be, by necessity, pure improvisation.