UPDATE: After posting this rant it was picked up by NPR. Here is the interview with Michel Martin.
Oh the dreaded question that comes around every year as we Jesus-types start that time in our church life known as Lent. Lent is that time – 40′ish days before Jesus begins his walk to the cross - that is to be a time of repentance, reflection and humility all in preparation for Holy Week and Jesus’ walk to the cross, his death and resurrection.
As part of the traditional Lenten experience, many people give something up, symbolically, mentally and/or physically sacrificing something that keep him/her separated from God. In this act of giving something up that in some ways has taken God’s place in our lives, we thus learn to fight temptation to forget God, we examine our own brokenness and we promise to God to chance our ways or “repent.”
One of the things that seems to be popular over the past few years is to give up social networking: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Yesterday, feeling a little snarky and willing to express my feelings as such, I posted this tweet:*
Adam Walker Cleaveland and Ryan Kemp-Pappan have blogged about their Lenten disciplines so here I go with my musings on the topic in case any of you are thinking about giving up social networking or church for Lent.
But first . . . before the all you self-proclaimed techno-peasant-luddites take this opportunity to gather the masses and beat me with your messenger pigeons, please hear me out.
Let’s unpack some of the assumptions that I have placed in these 140 characters.
First, the “community” to which I refer that is built upon social networking platforms can be positive and meaningful. I reject the notion that social networking is inherently narcissist, addictive and impersonal as so many charge.
SIDE NOTE: I once had someone say to me, “Social Networking IS addictive. We all know it is. It is addictive.” I wanted to respond, “Yes, and we all know that making sweeping generalization in order to support one’s own lack of understanding, unwillingness to be thoughtful and the discounting of people’s actual experience is also an addiction. We all know it is. It is additive.” But I didn’t say it . . . then.
In any case, suuuuuuuure . . . social networking CAN be any of those things, but as many will testify, the community found and nurtured via social networking can also be incredibly transforming, healing and holy.
The second assumption I make is that most churches hope to provide the same kind of experience for those who are engaged in its ministry. Now I know that this has NOT been the case for many who find such more meaningful community within some social media platforms, so in some ways I am being generous here. But, in the end, all of us engaged in church life all expect the church to be a place of meaningful transformation, hope and love.
So operating off of these two assumptions if you are considering giving up social networking or church for Lent, I have some questions that may be helpful in your discernment. Now mark this date down, because I am giving some answers here . . . take note, I must think this is important.
SCENARIO 1: If your social networking or your church life has become an addiction: destroying relationships, creating secrecy, forcing you into isolation and ultimately drawing you away from the person that you believe God intends you to become, please please please consider giving it up and surround yourself with people you trust to help you to see how you might develop better practices and disciplines.
SCENARIO 2: If your social networking or your church life keeps you away from God in ways that you think outweighs the ways in which it connects you, give it up for Lent and then develop better practices for the long-term. That way, like so many other things in our life, we learn to navigate the waters of community well and in ways that foster growth of the person and community.
SCENARIO 3: If you find that social networking and/or your church life brings you joy, feeds your soul and you deal well with all the other “stuff” that can clutter community, then email this post to the person who told you to give up social networking for Lent and then find something in your life that fits into either of the two scenarios above.
Now I know that some are going to say this this post is simply a rant to justify my own social networking patterns – and it may be – but at the same time, I will stand my ground to say that if the church does not take a more thoughtful approach to learning how to use such technologies well, then we are missing out on an amazing opportunity to live into the fullness of what the church can be in the world.