Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Give Up Facebook for Lent

Facebook icon reflectionOK, I'll admit that the title is intentionally provocative.  It may well be that, for you, going for a few weeks without Facebook could be a good thing.  It's certainly becoming a popular thing for Lenten-observant Christians to do these days.  But, if it isn't already too late (today being Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent), I'd like to offer a reason to reconsider.

I've already been posting links to Bruce Reyes-Chow's excellent reflection on the matter (this is an archived version) when I've been in conversations elsewhere, and I certainly think he gets to some of the issues rather well.  But I heard a story yesterday that, while I'm going to go without names and places here, I think makes the point in another way.

In my duties at Fuller, I have a lot of interaction with professors, some of whom I've now known for many years.  One of these professors attends a church that my wife and I used to attend when we first got married.  He shared a story yesterday of a high school student in that church's community who was recently shot and killed in what sounds like gang-related violence.  Although the student was not a part of a family that attended that church, one of the church's members had a connection to the student, and so the church was invited to do the funeral service.  Although the church is predominately one particular ethnicity, and the student's community was another, the church saw this as an opportunity to build relationships with those who had been affected by the student's death.  The resulting funeral service included, as is not uncommon in Christian surroundings, an invitation to learn more about Christ (side note: these things must be done very gently, recognizing that people at funerals are in a very vulnerable state.  I trust the professor when he tells me that this invitation was very appropriate).  Apparently some 80 students filled out cards and gave their Facebook addresses.

That's the part that surprised me.  The contact information of choice for these young people was Facebook.  The professor didn't mention home addresses, telephone numbers, or e-mail.  Just Facebook addresses.  Here are people asking to start conversations with people who call themselves Christians, and they're asking to do so on Facebook.  If members of the church that held the funeral had decided to stop using Facebook for Lent, who would be left to engage these people in the conversations they're asking to have?

I often hear people talk about how Facebook (and other Internet venues) don't foster "real" relationships.  One person I read yesterday specifically advocated for giving up Facebook for Lent and using that time to engage someone in a "real" face-to-face conversation.  The idea that Facebook relationships are somehow less "real" is something I very much want to push against.  I certainly don't mean to say that one should use Facebook to the exclusion of face-to-face relationships.  That way lies madness.  There is no substitute for such "non-virtual" contact.  But nonetheless, Facebook communication is real communication.  There are live human beings on the other ends of those computer terminals reading what we have to say.  While face-to-face communication may well be better for certain needs, Facebook is better for others.  Many of the friends I have on Facebook are dear friends that I simply wouldn't currently be in contact with at all without it.  Others are people that I am able to learn more about because we can grab those snippets of time on Facebook when a more personal contact simply isn't available to us (say, when both of us are at work, not currently engaged in a task for our jobs, but able to take a couple of minutes to say "hi" before the next task comes in).  There is real communication that takes place here that wouldn't happen at any other time, and giving that communication up may not actually do anything that helps draw us closer to each other nor to God.  And if something being given up for Lent doesn't draw us closer, then it's missing the point of why people give things up for Lent in the first place.

So, by all means, you should make your own decision about how you should observe Lent.  If something's keeping you from a closer relationship with God or with other people, then by all means consider giving it up, at least for a few weeks.  But don't just do it because other people have been doing it.  Consider what you're giving up, and why.

3 comments:

  1. Sharing on Facebook ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Mark,

    I very much enjoyed and benefitted from this article and have shared it with some select friends and family. Also, I agree with your statement about contact you wouldn't have otherwise... like me finding you (and a couple hundred other Montreat alums). Finally, how fascinating the fact that youngsters are using Facebook as a primary means of communication. At a church here in Orlando, the interns from last suer actually giggled at a request to provide an email address. When asked they said, "Who emails anymore? Just DM me." They communicated solely thru Twitter.

    Kind Regards,
    -Cameron

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the kind words, Cameron.

    ReplyDelete

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