Wednesday, February 15, 2012

REPOST: Why You Shouldn't Give Up Facebook for Lent

Facebook icon reflectionI'm reposting an article I wrote last year. The main reason for this is that I didn't think to write and post it early enough at the time that anyone who didn't already agree with me could possibly have seen it, since they would actually have been in the middle of the lenten Facebook fast, and the whole point is get people thinking about these issues before making a decision. So I'm reposting the article again this year, a week before Ash Wednesday, in hopes that people can read it before then. Now, in spite of the intentionally provocative title, I understand that people will have different needs. It may well be that, for you, going for a few weeks without Facebook could be a good thing. But I do want to push back against what's become a popular thing for Lenten-observant Christians to do these days, and offer a reason not to just do what others are doing.

I've already been posting links to Bruce Reyes-Chow's excellent reflection on the matter (this is now an old, 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 some time back 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, which took place during Lent, of a high school student in that church's community who was 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've read 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.


  1. Great article! I agree. Facebook can be healing. I've been able to catch up with old friends I had long ago lost touch with some for silly tiffs and such. I've gained closer bonds with people I went to school from K-12 when we didn't really talk all those years in school but found we have lots in common now on fb. I'm, also, able to join groups of other like minded people in my area about parenting, religion, etc. I find it to be a valuable resource.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I'm reminded of a friend I first made back in 2nd grade, when my family spent a year in Northern California before moving away. Fast-forward 20-some years, after I had already finished my degree at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, but was now working there while my wife finished her degree (she has since started PhD studies, so I'm still here), and found that my 2nd-grade friend was now a student! She's since graduated, too, but we stay in touch via Facebook, and wouldn't be in touch at all otherwise. It's so strange to think I've known her longer as an adult than I had as a 2nd grader, and social media has made that possible.



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