In contemplating next weekend's National Day of Unplugging, I'm reminded of the Facebook Fast I embarked on back in 2008. As I reflected in The Jesus Manifesto (now merged with Jesus Radicals), I made that decision during a time when I was recovering from a very unfortunate "unfriending" that could have been avoided had we hashed things out over beers. The anonymity of the Internet coupled with the ease of social networking tools can easily create an environment where well-intentioned Christians (myself included) can engage in some unholy hijacks. In the heat of an unbiblical blog fight, we can shoot off tweets, Facebook postings, emails, and other un-missional missives that hopefully we wouldn't say if we were chatting with the person face to face.
Unfortunately, one of the difficulties I encountered in going totally off the social networking grid for 40 days was that I missed out on some messages and invites that warranted my attention. Even though I said I was offline, everyone assumed I was still logging on. So, I realize the interconnectedness of social media networks and that I need to stay more plugged in. This is especially true this year where much of my information about what's happening in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Northern Africa is coming to me via Twitter. Now is not the time for me to retreat into my own little private spiritual desert or else I will miss out on covering this surge of ordinary radicals rising together in the hopes of enacting real transformative change on a global scale.
However, this experiment taught me about the need to be in touch with what's happening offline, so that my reporting can reflect what's actually happening on the ground. In a virtual world like Facebook, some self-appointed authors and speakers strut their spiritual stuff as though they are the ultimate faith fashionistas. Hence, one can easily get the false impression that these holy hipsters have a far greater sphere of influence than they really do in the real world.
In Jesus Died for This? I reflected on the need for us to connect with each other, not only virtually, but also face-to-face. The televangelists might claim that they can cure for cash through the TV, but all throughout his ministry, Jesus healed people one touch at a time (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 9:41-56). No matter how plugged-in we get, I can't hug my laptop. And the ritual partaking of the Last Supper entails that we feed each other actual bread and wine.
I've lost track of the numbers of times I've had an intellectual tiff or a personal grudge that dissipated, at least for a bit, when we took Communion together. Sometimes we were ready to reconcile, but all too often, our petty problems returned shortly after the service was over. Still, there was that moment when I could at least see a glimpse of Christ in that person who was driving me crazy.
During this season of Lent, while I realize I can't unplug myself completely, I decided I would try to fast from social media on Saturdays and Sundays. This will give me a chance to disconnect from the virtual world and reconnect with the divine without missing any critical work related updates. Also, I have whittled down the various lists and so forth that I follow online -- a move that will allow me to focus my energies more effectively and keep me from getting diverted by the spiritual silliness that happens all too often in online settings. Hopefully this will be a Lenten discipline that I can take with me throughout the rest of the year to help keep me on target and a bit more Christ-centered.
Follow Becky Garrison's ongoing travels on Twitter @JesusDied4This.