Yesterday was Ash Wednesday! Here I am, still getting used to the Kindle I got for Christmas, and Lent is here. Can the Fourth of July be far behind?
My question has to do with Lent — in a way. Last week, when we started our blog-alogue about using social media, you urged us to think conceptually about social media instead of worrying about technical details. Look at what we can do before talking about how to do it.
But I think there’s a conceptual issue right there at the beginning. Many people perceive social media as yet another source of busyness and distraction. It’s among the burdens of modern life. They report feeling so pressured to keep up with social media, that when Lent comes around, unplugging from the grid seems like a good idea. Give up Facebook. Stop reading all those tweets. Limit email. Stop texting so much. Think about God.
My question: is this a helpful way to think about social media–as something you might give up for Lent?
Simply and bluntly put: No, it’s not helpful to think of social media as something to renounce for Lent. I think it’s more helpful and more accurate to think of social media as means to:
- express faith and devotion
- participate in community
- receive support for spiritual practices
As people of faith, we’re called to do exactly this during Lent, and I’ve seen social media make this possible. Many examples of expressing faith, participating in community, and receiving support for spiritual practices can be found right here on dotMagis (Some Other Ideas for Lent), but you and faithful readers already know this.
When it comes to busyness and distraction during Lent, social media isn’t the problem. The problem is how some people will dive into any activity without much discipline or consciousness. Social media use is only one example. Free will is such a pesky gift, isn’t it?
Instead of unplugging from all social media, why not use it to focus on whatever will enhance Lent and block out everything else? It’s really quite easy to be selective about what shows up on the tiny silver screen. All social media platforms provide ways to block distractions. Spending too much time playing games on Facebook? Simply remove or block the apps for 40 days. Spending too much time reading news feeds or celebrity gossip on Twitter? Block those particular accounts for 40 days. (And then, consider keeping those distractions blocked for another 50 days during Easter.) Me? I’ll be pinning images on the Pinterest boards set up for #ChSocM (Church Social Media) enthusiasts.
To generate heightened consciousness, I recommend contemplating these critical questions: Is social media helping to enhance my relationship with God or is it distracting me from my relationship with God? Do social media platforms help me serve and support others?
I believe these are the questions we need to be asking ourselves on a regular basis, throughout the year – and not just relative to social media use during Lent. Over the years I’ve observed well-meaning people get so caught up in parish-based programs during Lent (e.g., parish missions, soup and scripture suppers, Stations of the Cross, community service projects) that they’re still dead from exhaustion long after Jesus is Risen Indeed.