Lenten Requirements

Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday, is such an interesting thing in this era of social media and technology.

Back when I was young, Ash Wednesday was a big deal to us because, well, we are Catholic AND we went to Catholic school.  Other than McDonald’s offering fish sandwiches on the menu, the rest of the world didn’t seem too clued in to what we over in our Alabama 1% Catholic community were doing.

When we would show up places after school, we were looked at funny or asked what was on our head.  I don’t even really remember there being a lot of Ash Wednesday services at all the Protestant churches like there seem to be today.

Lent-pixBut, now, social media is exploding with reminders of the beginning of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  The hashtag #AshTag is trending on Twitter.  There’s blogs upon blogs upon blogs suggesting ways to make the most of your Lenten season.  There’s Instagrams left and right of people’s ashy foreheads (guilty!).  There are even a few new and very cool apps out there that are specifically for meditation and reminders to pray daily and not to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

It’s an incredibly interesting time to live.
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Social Media Can Foster Real, Meaningful Relationships

“Teenagers today don’t even know how to form a complete sentence because of technology.”

“People who use social media all the time don’t know how to engage in ‘real’ relationships.”

“He took his own life because of Facebook.”

“140 characters of evangelization? More like 140 characters of narcissism.”

I recently attended an in-service about using technology to pass on our faith and I was more shocked than I should have been at the vitriol (sorry, sometimes the English major in me really cannot pass up a great vocab word) that poured forth from my peers.

I shouldn’t have been shocked because I’m aware it’s out there – I hear it occasionally from parents, parish staff members and other adults I know. I was shocked partly because I’m so immersed into the culture of the inter-webs (as my grandmother still calls it) and social media that I can often be blind to its downfalls, but also partly because I just flat out disagree with so much of the criticism.

Authenticity

One critique I hear is that the anonymity of the Internet allows us to try on different personas and different attitudes in different places. This may have been true even 2 or 3 years ago, but today? Today, my Facebook and Twitter accounts are linked to my blog. My LinkedIn account talks to Google+ and any photo I take with Instagram gets posted on all my social networking sites. In other words, today it’s all connected.

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Social Media Activism…Does It Work?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my Facebook and Twitter blew up yesterday.  It hasn’t been since Steve Jobs died that so many of my friends and followers were all posting about the same thing.  If you’ve been living under a social media rock (particularly possible if you gave up Facebook for Lent), then here’s the basics:

A non-profit activist group called Invisible Children released a campaign called Kony 2012 which is designed to increase awareness and drum up popular US support for the continued presence of US military advisors in Uganda whose aim is assisting the Ugandan army in capturing a nasty, evil warlord named Joseph Kony.  The video IC released has had over 2.1 million hits – it went crazy viral.

Within a few hours of the video making its big hit, criticisms of the video, the Invisible Children organization, and all those who were supporting it went viral as well.  I don’t want to get into all those discussions here (mostly because I’m still educating myself on the issue and trying to figure out the complexities of what those people really need), but there is one criticism I want to talk about:

This meme sums up the criticism I want to deal with rather nicely...plus it has Willy Wonka.

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Why I’m Not Giving Up Facebook or Twitter for Lent

When I started out on Twitter a little over a year ago, I had one goal – to be witty. Just about everything I posted was hoping for a re-tweet, a reply, or at least a laugh.

Facebook was different because I’m a youth minister, and Facebook is my primary mode of communication with teens.  I have lots of teens and former teens who are friends on Facebook, so I am always careful to watch what I say and how I say it.

But Twitter, well, Twitter was my “adult” world.  I could be a little more snarky and sarcastic and push the envelope a little more because all my followers (at that time) were adults.  I didn’t even tell my teens that I had Twitter because I didn’t want them to follow me – I didn’t want to have to watch what I said all the time.  I wanted to be witty and funny and flirt with the line of appropriateness.

Tweets that make me laugh. Now, when you're done reading this blog, go read a book...

Last March, someone I look up to and admire greatly said to me, “I love following you on Twitter – you’re always so funny!” The euphoric pride I felt was quickly (and thankfully) smashed by a spiritual director who asked me how the Twitter persona I had so carefully crafted was leading me closer to God.

So, when Lent rolled around last year, I decided to give up Twitter and spend some time re-evaluating how I was using this particular social media tool. I was back full force after Easter (hopefully) still witty, but also much more conscious about how I was using this technology to bring glory to God rather than to myself.  It wasn’t hard to do, and the Lenten fast served it’s purpose – with unexpected benefits.  I found myself being much more open about my personal faith on both Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, the change also had some unexpected drawbacks.  I don’t get re-tweeted as much any more or get very many funny replies to my tweets – though those are relatively minor consequences and have become less important to me.  No, the biggest and most unexpected drawback has been the rejection I’ve experienced.

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Are your tweets boring? Probably, but so what?

So, I ran across this article  (130 million Tweets everyday are not worth reading, researchers find – Telegraph) today and it got me thinking about Twitter…

You and I both have been annoyed by Twitter at some point.  Those who don’t use Twitter are annoyed by the whole concept of Twitter.  Those who do use Twitter get annoyed by poor twit-equette (yep, I just made up that word).  You know, the Tweet with 7 hashtags, the “I got a +K from…” update every 5 minutes, or any of the other annoying behaviors the article articulates.

(If you don’t understand +K, click the link…but I’m warning, you’re about to have your self worth judged by numbers…and you’re going to like it.)

130 million Tweets everyday are not worth reading, researchers find - Telegraph

Having a PB & J today...just like old times. #childhood

So here’s my question:  Why do we still do it?  Why do we need to constantly be speaking out into the void and desperately hoping for a retweet or a mention? Are we self-absorbed? Insecure? Vain? Is there some sort of deeper fear that’s having an impact on our Twitter behavior?  Or are most of us just generally annoying people who don’t do much that is all that interesting?

I don’t have an answer for these questions…after all, that’s why I have a blog, so I can ask these questions without having to answer them.  Only…the fact that I even think my thoughts are worth blogging (and then Facebook posting, and Tweeting and re-Tweeting about) comes from the same place.

It’s a place that greets me in the shower each morning and where I think about what I might want to blog about today.  Or the place I find myself when I’m at a stoplight trying to craft the “perfect Tweet.”

I think it’s the place inside me that has an intense desire to have a positive impact on the world – even if it’s a small impact.  If I can throw a hashtag on a Tweet that makes someone laugh – even if that someone is just my best friend – then I’ve made the world just a little bit better.  If one of my random rambling thoughts – turned random rambling blog posts – helps someone else see themselves, their relationships, their job, their life, their God in a little different light…then I’ve made the world just a little bit better.

So, I guess I did answer my own question…the reason I Tweet and blog is because I want to make this world just one smile, one prayer, one self-reflection better than it would have been without me in it.

The challenge now is to remind myself of that every time I stare at that 140 character long blank line:

How will this Tweet (status update, blog post, etc) help make the world a little bit better?

130 million Tweets might be boring to most of us, but if those 130 million Tweets made the world a little bit better place for even one person…well, then our world is 130 million times better.  And I’m more than okay with that.

(P.S. Follow The Catholic Realiston Twitter and Facebook…Do it….Now…)