Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Don't Give Up Facebook For Lent

For the past few years, I've spent the week or so before Ash Wednesday waging a battle against the rushing tide of Lenten Facebook sacrificing.  This is, of course, because for the past few years this particular sacrifice has become more and more popular.  In years past, I've primarily argued that people should carefully consider whether or not giving up Facebook would really benefit them or if its simply the "easy" or "trendy" decision, much as giving up chocolate or sweets so often is. 

However, this year I am going to come out and assert what I have felt more and more each year that this has gone on: giving up Facebook for Lent is more than simply too easy, it would actually a bad thing for many people - perhaps even for most of those who would be spiritually dedicated enough to consider doing it.  It may even be Satan appearing as an angel of light.

You can look through my previous year's article for the reasoning more in depth, but the main point was that it's an easy sacrifice to make, but its only truly meaningful for some.  The person who truly, literally can't stay away from Facebook for more than 5 minutes might really get something out of it, but the more common person who logs in a few times a day and/or spends most of his "Facebook time" reading articles that he found linked on the site is not only failing to get the same impact, there's a good chance that in giving up Facebook he failed to make some other sacrifice or commitment which would have been more meaningful to him. He's also missing out on all of the good that the social network provides (like those articles).

And good there is!  What do I get out of my daily time on Facebook?  I get inspired but the posts of other spiritual friends to live my faith more fully.  I get challenged by them to stick more closely to Christ than I would otherwise.  I get to see the joy of the Lord in their lives as they do everyday things like go to work, make dinner, or raise children.  I get to learn practical tips from them about how to best do everyday things like go to work, make dinner, and raise children.  I get an embarrassment of riches in dozens of wonderful articles to choose from to deepen my knowledge of the world and, in particular, my faith and spirituality.  

I get to see when friends are asking for prayers.  I get to see when friends need prayers, even when they don't actually go ahead and ask for them.  

I get all of this, and so much more.  Oh, and I get to provide all of this for my friends so that they will have it, too - even those I rarely get to actually see in life.

However, this is not why I would call this particular sacrifice a bad thing, at least not in and of itself.  I call it bad because it's a retreat.  This is ironic, because for many who give Facebook up its intended to be a retreat: a retreat like one spends in a weekend or a week at the monastery to get away from the world and closer to Christ.  Far from this, I'd suggest that giving up Facebook would be, for most, a retreat in the worst sense of the word.  It's a retreat from making Christ a part of our everyday lives in the way we're called to.  

Would anyone, a thousand years ago, have considered avoiding the village square during Lent?  Surely not.  It's there, in the presence of those people the Lord has put into our lives, that our faith is meant to be most on display.  10 years ago, Facebook was a small niche of the internet for a select few college students to goof around.  Today, its a universal forum for business, socialization, fellowship, event planning, outreach, and virtually everything else we do as human beings.  It's the one place where, in our busy world, everyone meets in some way on daily basis.  

It's the village square of our day.  It's a part of everyday life, and we are called at all times, and especially during Lent, to make Christ a part of that everyday life - not to quit parts of our lives because we can't get ourselves to bring Christ into them.  We're called to engage people with the gospel - not stay away from people because we can't get ourselves to engage them.  

If you truly need to get away from Facebook for your spiritual betterment, then by all means, do it.  If you can't help but waste 5 hours a day refreshing your newsfeed, playing Farmville (do people even do that anymore?), getting nothing useful done and ignoring your prayer life, then by all means make the sacrifice.  It would probably be good for you.

But if you're not addicted in this way, and if Facebook is for you, like most, a part of an otherwise healthy everyday life, then don't give up Facebook for Lent - no, work on properly ordering Facebook for Lent!  Do you use it to bring Christ to others?  Do you ever click on any of those spiritual articles that go up?  Do you stop and pray for friends you see having a rough day?  If so, keep at it.  If not, start doing so.  Don't just take my word for it.  Listen to the pope!

In his January 22nd radio address on World Communication Day, Pope Francis spoke about the internet and social media. He cautioned against some of its pitfalls (which are well known to anyone who cares enough to read this post), and then said:

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement.
As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts. 

Text from page
of the Vatican Radio website 

I will be quite blunt: Christ calls us to be in the world, to bring Him to it, and to make Him a part - indeed, the center! - of the everyday.  In 2014, Facebook is an incredible outlet to the world, and is certainly a part of the everyday.  Facebook does not need more Christians retreating from it, leaving it a more worldly place for some month and a half each year.  It needs more Christians being Christians for every day of the year.  Instead of making Christ a little bit more absent from the newsfeeds of your friends and family (something the Father or Lies would surely rejoice in), make Him more present this Lent, with the aim that He be more present after that first Alleluia rings out, too.

Text from page
of the Vatican Radio website 

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