What Roller Coaster Renovation Can Tell Us About Church Reform
Lately, there has been a good bit of hype amongst roller coaster enthusiasts about the supposed removal of the wooden roller coaster, the Mean Streak, at Cedar Point Amusement Park. Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Ohio, and arguably one of the best amusement parks in the world, boasts an impressive lineup of coasters of which includes the Mean Streak. This wooden behemoth of a ride opened in 1991 as the tallest and fastest wooden coaster in the world and since then has given rides to over 26 million people. Luckily, as I had an obsession with coasters especially in my younger days, it was phenomenal having one of the best amusements parks only an hour away. Every year, people from all over the world flock to "America's Roller Coast" to ride the newest and best rides, including the Mean Steak, at least up until the past few years.
Undeniably, as has been the case for many wooden coasters around the country, the Mean Streak has grown much meaner over its lifetime. The ride's old wood tracking - what the trains ride on - has made for a pretty harsh ride, while the track layout has become a bit mundane compared to the newer, innovative, and more exciting steel coasters. However, despite the relatively low ride attendance in the past few years, some people are still sentimental about the wooden coaster's future in the park. Even though the park announced that the Mean Streak would "Get the Axe" at the end of this year, there are still some that speculate about the ride's future.
One of the theories of the Mean Streak's future involves renovation. Rocky Mountain Construction - the supposed renovation firm - is a company that takes old wooden coasters and converts them into new hybrid coasters using steel tracking. This kind of coaster renovation allows for a much smoother ride and also provides for the ability to change different elements of the ride for a whole new experience. The new steel tracking makes elements like inversions and steep turns possible on an old wooden coaster. One coaster enthusiast even took the time to create a model of what a renovation for the Mean Streak could look like. See the video here: (http://youtu.be/GhbJF3ZxPRQ)
Instead of completely bulldozing the previous structure, this company re-forms the coaster into something new, yet the engineers renovate the ride in a way that is true to coaster's past, a way that is true to its essential nature. Many times today, we want to just bulldoze. In order to make way for the future, we think that we must forget the past and completely start anew. Thanks to Rene Descartes and many others in modern philosophical thought, this way of bulldozing and forgetting the past is largely how the world views what has come before. However, I think it's always important to look and see what has come before and know why it was there before you start the bulldozing. Just because something is old doesn't mean it's obsolete, and furthermore it doesn't mean that what is old can't be re-formed into something new.
Today, there are many in the larger secular culture that see the Catholic faith as old and obsolete. We hear this in regards to Catholic liturgy, ethics (especially sexual ethics), sacraments, devotional life, etc. Many of these elements of Catholicism have been around for centuries - since the very conception of the Church. Yet, in a modern world that tends to question reality and forget the past, these ancient beliefs and practices that have been passed on are what truly grounds us in reality. Just because there elements of the Church that are old, doesn't mean they are useless. As the hymn goes, the Church is ever ancient and ever new.
John Allen Jr., in his book, The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, explains that a major factor in future Church reform will be that of Evangelical Catholicism. By "Evangelical" he means a youthful, vibrant Catholicism that is returning to a stronger, more external, more orthodox practice of the faith in regards to liturgy, sacraments, devotions, prayer, ethics, etc. However, this return to orthodoxy, ritual, and tradition, this looking back to what has come before rather than bulldozing, is not a return to the same Pre-Vatican II Church. This re-formation is a conversion to a new era of the Church, yet one that is true to its past.
On one hand, the modern Evangelical Church will take the traditional, orthodox practices that were good from the Pre-Vatican II Church. However, this modern ecclesial renovation also means that some parts of Church practice that were rough and had possibly detracted from the true mission and purpose of the Church are going to be left in the past. Like coaster renovation, what is going to make the ride unbearable, taking away from the true purpose of the ride, will be changed. Furthermore, while modern Church reform tends to return to the roots of orthodox practice, it also has a crucial awareness to the situation and needs of the modern world. This looking to the modern world, while bringing the tradition of the Church to it, was the true mission and purpose of Vatican II in the first place.
In order to renovate, one must look at what has come before, but must also see what is possible in the current conditions. Allen says that the Evangelical Church is a Church that not only wants to dialogue with the modern, secular world, but also wants to convert it. Living out such a mission means having your ear close to the ground, listening to what is happening in the culture and acknowledging how the Church can speak Her truths to the people of that culture.
Having an eye to what is ahead means that exciting, new elements of the Church will emerge, but also elements that are rooted in and consistent with the Church's foundation and tradition. Even though the Church has been fundamentally the same in every century, how exactly that Church has looked had been different.
I see this change happening is when a Mass with reverent praise and worship music also incorporating old Latin hymns into the congregation's prayer. I see it in parishes and youth groups that are centered around Eucharistic Adoration. I see it in women who wear traditional head coverings to Mass, not as a sign of submission, but of holy humility. I see it in the practice of traditional Catholic devotionals like the Rosary, Litanies, and Consecration to Mary amongst young and older people alike. I see it in websites like Word on Fire and Strange Notions, which bring the truth of humanity and Catholicism into dialogue on the Internet.
One way this change has happened in the Diocese of Cleveland is in the successful introduction of Theology on Tap. These are nights where young Catholics from around the diocese meet up at a bar, share conversation and fellowship, and listen to a guest speaker talk on some topic about the spiritual life or address some cultural issue from a Catholic perspective. This is the tradition of the Church reaching out into the modern world. This re-formation is like putting a new set of tracks onto an old coaster.
What we need to recover, especially as we think about reform in the Church, is the understanding that the Church is ever new because it is ever ancient. Instead of the bulldozing mentality, look to what is truly good and adapt that good to what is needed. As the Church is rooted in its foundation, which is Christ and His mission of conversion in the world, the Church can present itself in a way that is ever new, ever cutting edge, ever relevant to a world that proclaims its irrelevancy.