Lent begins today – and if you haven’t already – you’re probably scrambling to figure out what you’re going to “give up” for the next 40 days until Jesus is raised from the dead, and you can go back to your alcohol or chocolate. I never really gave anything up growing up – Lent didn’t seem to be that big of a deal – but when I started going to a Christian college, I started feeling the pressure to give things up for Lent.
When I was in seminary, the idea of taking something on, as opposed to giving something up, was introduced to me, and so a small group of friends decided to truly take on a Sabbath. 24 hours, no homework, nothing school related. It was good. We played. We relaxed. We quieted ourselves.
Since then – I’ve been more inclined to take something on, and this year our church is trying to encourage everyone to do a daily devotional, and so I’ll be taking on a daily devotional (even though I quit quiet times years ago).
Of course, today, all the rage is to give up Facebook or Twitter for Lent. Now, I should say that if someone feels that they need to give up social networking for Lent, that’s fine. It’s not up to me to decide for other people, and I have quite a few youth who have decided to give up social networking for Lent, and I give them props for that.
But it’s just not for me. There are three posts that I want to share with you that also address this issue:
- Bruce Reyes-Chow wrote a blog post last year called “Should you give up social networking or church for Lent?” In the post, he poses some intriguing questions about the nature of social networking, and it’s ability to create a community, much the way the church is trying to do. And so the question is – would you give up your community, your church, for Lent? Probably not – so why is the church so eager to say that we NEED to give up our technology that creates community for Lent?
- In her article “Turn Off, Slow Down, Drop In: The Digital Generation Reinvents the Sabbath,” Elizabeth Drescher challenges the assumption that unplugging is really what we need to be doing to experience community and sabbath, and pauses to think about the web of connectedness that exists even with the loose connections the internet and our social media tools have created. Definitely worth a read – and not just because she uses my wife and I as an example in the article.
- Finally, Seth Thomas posted basically the same post that I’m writing right now – although he beat me to it by a couple hours. His post, “Why I’m not giving up Facebook, Twitter, or blogging for Lent” comes from someone who is engaged in relational ministry with college students, and relies heavily on the benefits of these technologies to reach out and connect with these students. This is my favorite line from his article:
I engage with “followers” and “fans” in ways that build relationships, nurture friendships, and do something to create community and, dare I say – church – in the digital world. Source
So it’s not my place to judge anyone who is deciding to give up social networking for Lent. As Bruce writes in his article, for some people, there may be some serious addiction happening, and maybe some folks are using these tools in incredibly unhealthy ways. So, for some, it may be important to take a Lenten break.
And as others mentioned, some people may just see posts like these as excuses so that us tech geeks can continue to use our technology and gadgets as much as we want without remorse or guilt. And hey, maybe that’s part of it. But for me, it’s more about the community. It’s about the ways in which I am able to engage with folks as part of my ministry, and it’s about how I’m able to engage with friends and minister colleagues around the states. Let’s be honest – ministry can often be very lonely, and it’s a rare occasion that pastors find great support in their local communities. So for me, part of the importance of social networking is the vast web of connections with friends and colleagues for advice, rants and just knowing that they are “out there.”
If you’re giving up Facebook or Twitter for Lent, more power to you. I’ll see you in 40 days. But maybe we can be a bit more creative in the church than immediately turning to technology or social networking as the default things to give up for Lent. Because for many people, it would be asking them to give up their friends, or their community, or their church.