For a Lenten fast: give up social media?

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From pinot grigio to Pinterest, the season of Lent is about sacrificing something you love.

For centuries, the 40 days leading to Easter have prompted -- in some denominations, demanded -- Christians observe a personal penance. Fasting, giving up sweets or alcohol, even watching television, were signs of a more modern take on Lent.

So it's no surprise that some are giving up social media. Posting the Instagram of a friend's dog wearing a popcorn bag over its head is just going to have to wait until March 31.

"I really tried to think about what could be really hard for me," said Crafton's Mary Stacy, a librarian for a Pittsburgh law firm. "When you give up something you eat, you can just find something else [to snack on]."

Mrs. Stacy, 57, typically checks Facebook daily for photos of her grandchildren. After she began abstaining from social media on Ash Wednesday, she had to learn about family goings-on the old-fashioned way.

"My cousin's daughter just had a baby, so my daughter had to [telephone] me about it," she said.

A local pastor, the Rev. William Curtis of Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer, recently made the national news when he asked his flock to give up using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

"It's going to be hard for me because I practically live on Twitter," he told KDKA-TV.

But he wasn't demanding anyone give up social media for the entire season of Lent, just a few days.

Mollie Relihan, 26, can't escape social media, but she's given up personal use for Lent.

"It took some creative improvising," said Miss Relihan of West View, who manages social media networks for the United Steelworkers.

She created a new Facebook profile "that's pretty much just my picture" and linked it to pages she knew she would have to reference for work.

But giving up Facebook isn't really a challenge, she said. Instagram is her personal catnip. "My account has over 420 pictures added, which maybe isn't much, but even if I wasn't posting every day, I was always checking it."

Miss Relihan said she decided at the last minute to see if she could quit social media. Tying it into Lent was further motivation.

Both she and Mrs. Stacy took time to post on their social media accounts that they would be going dark for the rest of the Easter season, lest anyone feel snubbed.

Of course, many people use social media for breaking news. In that regard, Maura Fay is not a happy woman. She is a researcher/reporter for the Newstalk Breakfast radio program in Dublin. "It's going terribly! Facebook I could live without, but I really miss Twitter because of breaking news. Following the Oscar Pistorius trial isn't the same!" she replied in an email.

There are few who would argue giving up chocolate or booze is a bad idea, but at least one clergyman is concerned that cutting off social media is akin to cutting off one's proverbial nose.

"Not being able to see what's going on in people's lives for 40 days of Lent, not being able to share what's going on in the parish ... would be a big loss, in terms of the way that I communicate, as well as for those who follow along," said the Rev. Keith Anderson.

The Lutheran minister has written a book, "Click2Save: The Digital Ministry Bible," designed for lay and ordained ministry leaders.

His embrace of a "digitally integrated faith" involves daily blog posts, "2-minute Bible study" on YouTube and the idea that a church connected through social media is a gift from God.

"Our thinking around social media has changed in how quickly it's become part of our lives. Earlier on, social media like Facebook, Twitter or YouTube was seen as sort of an entertainment, a diversion.

"Now that it's been around and become more pervasive in our culture, it's become more a part of people's daily lives, and the integral part of working with each other to connect," Rev. Anderson said.

He is pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, outside Philadelphia, and can be found online at www.pastorkeithanderson.net.

Instead of subtracting at Lent, church members are asked to add.

"One of my parishioners said, 'You know what? For Lent, I'm going to do a series on faith on my Facebook page.' It's been great to follow. If you're not a ministry professional but someone using social media to reflect and share her faith via social media, that's pretty cool."

lifestyle

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.


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