Our experience of the world is increasingly mediated through intricate matrices of Internet networks. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Ning punctuate our downtime; Blackberrys, text messages, and e-mails frame our workplace communications; and Blackboard, online journals, and digitally submitted course assignments often structure classroom experiences. Participating in Internet networks brings convenience to our keyboards and provides an avenue for strengthening old relationships and forging new ones. And yet, I want to suggest that "logging off" can enrich our Lenten experience.
Logging off signifies the interim period(s) between disengaging from a given Internet platform and returning to that platform. This period is so routinized that we rarely pause to reflect upon it when we log off. What would happen if we seized our interim periods as opportunities to examine our usage of e-networks? What if, instead of viewing the Internet as an evil Leviathan impinging on the solemnity and simplicity of Lent, we utilized our in-between time as moments to envision a more faithful witness to God in Christ? I am suggesting, then, that we use our interim periods as an occasion not to "log off" indefinitely, but to log on differently, with intentionality and discernment guiding our electronic engagements during this Lenten season. Consider the suggestive options below as a catalyst for imagining how you might engage the Internet anew.
Google. Google here represents research. Engaging the writings of church mothers, church fathers, and contemporary witnesses on spiritual disciplines can animate our understanding and practices during Lent. Teresa of Avila's The Interior Castle, for instance, is a particularly cleansing read. Moreover, researching relevant biblical passages can reintroduce us to the deep resonances of ministry, destination, and lament that mark Jesus' march toward Jerusalem from Luke 9:51 through 19:41.
Paypal. Paypal here symbolizes a discerning engagement of charitable causes. The disasters of Haiti and Chile impinge upon our observance of Lent. To riff on Dr. Martin Luther King, the Internet envelops us all in an inescapable network of mutuality, a global neighborhood in this respect. We can keep American paternalism at bay and still hold that as Christians, we ought to give as we are able when we determine that our giving will make a difference. We have observed the absurdities: our Haitian and Chilean neighbors are not simply in need on the side of the road -- the roads themselves are shattered, covered with rubble, power lines, and debris. Donating to organizations like CARE, Haiti Partners, and so forth might not exhaust all that we ought to do, but we should, if we are able, do no less.
In John 17, Jesus' prayers send us into the world to exercise our vocation. Perhaps we can conclude with this question: What does it mean for progressive Christians to be in the virtual world, but not of it?
Andrew Wilkes is a former Sojourners policy and organizing intern, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary.