I was catching the fringes of the Vatican Lenten suggestion and subsequent internet discussion on giving up cell phones or text messaging or Facebook or things along those lines. At first, I didn’t think of anything substantial to say. But I’ve caught a portion of that discussion among a few students in the parish. I gave it some more thought, and now I have a few things to add.
If there is a perception that texting is something fun and frivolous, then I suppose Lent is a good enough time to set aside frivolity. One example comes to mind that might turn the tables, as it were. Not being a drinker beyond the occasional beer or glass of wine, I’ve never quite understood the attraction to hard booze. I know that many clergy of my generation and the one older have a fondness for good drink. I cannot say I’ve ever visited a rectory that didn’t have a liquor cabinet. Is it timely for me, for example, to suggest that clergy give up drinking alcohol for Lent? Do we do a deal: the hierarchy gives up booze in return for kids giving up text messaging. Seems like two social networking devices set aside, does it not?
The cell phone of today is perceived as marvelous and revolutionary as the automobile of ninety or a hundred years ago. Does it make as much sense to suggest people give up their cars for Lent? Does that depend on living in a city and having other means of transport? It would seem so.
Likewise, if one wanted to consider the printing press as a great technological innovation, one could refrain from reading all but handwritten materials during the Forty Days, as sort of a tribute to 1500.
Friends and acquaintances have given up all sorts of things for Lent: video games, reading books, smoking, drinking, chocolate, ice cream, milk, meat, a third daily meal, the car radio. One priest friend of my wife said giving up something for Lent shouldn’t be frivolous. Dont give something up, he advised, you aren’t prepared to give up for life. I always consider that, but I can’t recall ever doing it. I try, of course, to fill in the lack with something spiritual or religiously constructive, but taking time to pray is always a struggle for me, in Lent and without.
Offering unsolicited advice on matters spiritual usually, I find, misses the mark badly. I like text messaging with my daughter, my nephew, my wife, and the occasional student. It’s silent and less intrusive than chatting on the phone. Personally, I find the experience of driving with a near-adolescent messaging a friend or a cousin silently in the back seat to be rather calming. If I were asked, I might suggest my daughter, instead of giving up texting, might think about keeping a Great Silence after supper till waking up in the morning.
I think if the Church were prepared to offer an alternative to the usual lived life, like keeping a personal silence for even an hour before going to bed–including no media or anything that interrupts an inner stillness–that would be more helpful. Of course, just forming people in a stillness would take a bit more work and imagination than just suggesting to set aside the cell phone till after the Easter Vigil.
What do the readers here think? Anything good in the suggestion of giving up modern stuff?