I just found out that our own PCUSA moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow, has written an article on why not to give up social networking for Lent. Oops! Guilty as charged! Since I've been outed for going against the moderator's wishes I thought I should at least respond. He's got some thoughtful insights, as usual. I do feel that I 'know' Bruce even though we have never met because of his commitment to internet communication, and he is my friend on Facebook, for which I am grateful.
The big tag line in Bruce's article is this: "If the community one finds on social networking is something to give up for Lent, would it be OK for folks to give up going to church?" The assumption seems to be that internet social networking is comparable to church membership and he goes on to give three scenarios one should consider before giving up a network like Facebook. The first says if the networking/church has become destructive and an addiction, by all means give it up--possibly for good. The second says if the networking/church has kept one from God and that overshadows the good the connection brings, give it up and then return to it with "better practices for the long term." The third says if the social networking is life giving and positive, keep it and find something else to give up. (All my paraphrasing..apologies to Bruce).
I think that's all really good advice. I probably fall somewhere between categories 2 and 3. I do, for the most part, find my interactions on Facebook to be life-giving, affirming, and community-building. That said, I do think it can become addictive, and it does feed on narcissistic tendencies, and I recognize the need to watch those in myself.
But I disagree with Bruce on his assertion that giving up a social network for Lent is comparable to giving up church attendance. The church is first and foremost a center for humans to worship together. Part of the human experience is being rooted to earth inside a physical body. When we engage with people on the internet, much of our physicality is lost. We barely even move. I do not think it is possible to worship God without engaging our entire being, at least some of the time, during worship. Even if we post-modern folks consider church to be merely a social club with a God agenda, we still cannot be fully engaged in that community without fully engaging our bodies. There is an entire section in our Presbyterian Book of Order regarding Space and Time in worship. That is because physical space matters.
We are more than well-crafted sentences. We are flesh and blood, and full intimacy of faith depends on physical proximity to one another. While a social network like Facebook is a wonderful way to maintain contact with loved ones far away, share pictures of our kids on vacation, make new friends, and even promote good causes and extend the web of care, it is not a substitute for a home visit, a shared cup of coffee, or a good long hug, and it never will be.