The reason I first created an account is not why I still have one. The reason I started? My children. If they were going to have one, then I had to create my own account and require them to make their Dad a friend – sorry, that was just a parental non-negotiable for me (that was some years ago now!)
Why do I like FB and why do I keep a FB account?
Because it does allow me to see, reflect on, and sometimes be distracted by – the stream of online consciousness that constitutes my news stream from friends (incidentally, when the new FB changes came out, I quickly changed them back so I could see “all” in this stream and not just “favorites” or most highly interacted with). While some have blasted the world of the “tweet” and the “FB status” as TMI (“too much information” – does that date me or is that an acceptable abbreviation still? 😉 … I sometimes find that stream oddly helpful, oddly disturbing, and sometimes just plan odd – but most often, also interesting and informative if utilized in small doses.
For example, a quick scroll down the news feed today (as on most days), I am able to see and reflect on why it is a blessing to have a a wide, eclectic group of friends – most of whom are baptized sisters and brothers seeking to mix it up in the world on a daily basis:
- someone praying over world events and how it might influence and shape their approach to an Ash Wednesday sermon coming up next week
- someone angry at the Supreme Court decision over the Westboro church decision, but more angry at people like the Westboro Church folk and how other Christians might try to respond to their hate-filled speech
- the announcement and quick FB congratulations and shout-outs to a newly engaged couple
- a friend requesting prayer for a family member facing surgery
- a lament over killing of six women by Ivorian security forces in COTE D’IVOIRE on Thursday (completely missed that one in my news today until my FB scroll)
- thoughts about the possible NFL stalemate
- an invitation to a conference seeking to build a moral consensus against torture that I hope to attend
- and a few humorous posts from my own kids, who are always looking for the latest You-tube humor
- and yes …to go along with my original reason for joining the FB family – I saw what my kids were up to!
While such a news stream can easily become a distraction where one gets lost in a virtual world of endless statuses, viral vids, and the latest in free-flowing online musings, it can also – for good, bad, or ill – let you know some of what other people/friends are thinking about, writing about, or at the very least, what they are willing to share online. As a preacher, I feel like part of the preaching task is to mix it up in yes – of all places – the realm of the social network (places like FB, though I fault no one who has chosen to avoid it for reasons of conscience, convenience, or complaint).
Why am I giving up FB for Lent?
Given my rationale above, why am I choosing to give up FB for Lent? There are probably more reasons to give it up for good then just for 40 days, but I am guessing the very discipline itself, by Lent’s end, may shed some light on the ones I don’t see at present.
As for the ones I do see, let me name at least three:
- Because I tend to check it every day, even if briefly, and that is reason enough. Instead, I plan to spend more daily lost in praise and prayer rather than lost in an online FB news feed. As a UM pastor, I don’t think I can get away without email for 40 days (it tends to be the way our conference does most communication). FB, on the other hand, is different. I look forward to its absence and what it may reveal to me both about FB and about myself.
- 40 days of more intentional face to face. I am not just planning to give up FB, I am planning to spend more time, more intentional time, in face to face encounters with old friends and time trying to cultivate new friendships with people yet unmet. This morning is a good example. I had a wonderful face to face encounter with Ann Atwater, Durham civil rights activist, as I brought her to class for a morning lecture at Duke Divinity School. The exchange I experienced in her home, in our car ride to and from Duke, and in the class room setting with students is an exchange not possible in the virtual world. We all know this to be true, but the obvious does not often affect our 21st century screen-obsession. Furthermore, if I don’t travel to east Durham to meet and greet friends like Ann, I will never meet them in real time or virtual time – and such an absence impoverishes me and my discipleship. Forty days of more face to face – here I come.
- Seasons of Abstinence, from anything that is or can be overindulged, is a good thing. The practice of “giving up” has a long history, and I tend to always want to “take on” things in their place. My fast from FB is not going to replace my other regular Lenten disciplines that I personally have chosen to observe each year: abstinence from all alcohol, a Lenten text/book to read and reflect upon, and regular fast days each week (usually Wednesdays and Fridays until 3 PM). In truth, the only reason I started most of those disciplines was because of friends, REAL TIME friends who had the guts to challenge me, correct me, and invite me to let go of things – even if for only a season – so I might grab hold of better things.
Do I expect any great revelations from my FB abstinence? I don’t know, but that is not really the point – at least not for me. I have to admit, I am looking forward to not looking, not grabbing the laptop, and not logging in – if only to discover other things I can do with that time – which may or may not include returning to blogging for a brief stint (this post, which I first posted in a FB note was then re-posted here at on my Christian Conversations blog – as you can see, it is the first one in many months of blogging hiatus). So my FB fast is obviously not a fast from all things internet or digital, but I plan to specifically limit my use of social networking this time around. (For me, blogging is more of an online journal where others may read my theological reflections on the world, Scripture, the church, etc. That may not make sense to some, but it makes sense to me in an odd, “I don’t want to give up everything” kind of way!)
So … do I think that my abstinence from FB may lead me to leave it behind altogether come Easter?
I am not sure, but as with any spiritual discipline, I hope it does cause me to grow closer to God, closer to my neighbor, and more reliant on grace than what anything or in this case “any screen” can offer.
Anyone care to join me?