Putting down the smart phone for Lent

CONYERS — On Wednesday, many Christians will give up chocolate, red meat or other indulgences as part of their observance of Lent. Nowadays, some are adding Facebook on their "things to do without" list during the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Greg Willits, co-host of "The Catholics Next Door" on Sirius XM radio, said he did it last year, but may do away with something else this year.

"I have been thinking about doing it again," said Willits in a Facebook message response to questions. "The problem is, I think I enjoyed it too much last year!"

Lent and Facebook would appear to be at odds with one another. Lent, which begins Wednesday, is a time many Christians use to look inward, while Facebook is used by millions to look outward.

Willits, who broadcasts his radio show with his wife from their Conyers home, said many listeners to his show said they were giving up Facebook. He said he will likely just try cutting back on Facebook.

Elizabeth M. Bounds, a professor of Christian ethics at Emory University, said she believes people giving up things like Facebook are using a form of self-denial to encourage contemplation.

"My guess is that folks who say something like that are seeing it as a way to reduce the busyness and stimulation to cultivate a more contemplative space," she said.

And that's all good, but Bounds said giving up something that you like for Lent is just one element. Following the spirit of Lent is a challenge for Christians in today's world of social media.

"The question is in the intention, which I think is pretty central these days in the ways we think about these things," Bounds said. "We live in a society with fewer set rules, set do's and don'ts, that sort of thing."

The question was posed on Facebook and those who responded gave different points of view on whether to give up social media for Lent.

Edward Tracey, a business consultant in Conyers, said in his post that he could not give up Facebook.

"(Facebook) has become the link to news for me in one place," he said. "Family news, local news, church, and every other including meeting missionaries in foreign lands, so it would be like giving up the telephone for me. It's also how I keep up with kids who live out of state or at college."

Caroline Ingle, a teacher at Heritage High School, said it was a great benefit to her when she gave up Facebook for Lent last year, but understands why some people will keep on clicking "Like" buttons and commenting on posts.

"It became quite the debate for some Christians because many people think that stepping out of (Facebook) is moving away from community, which is a core discipline to many," she said. "I, however, found much solitude, which is a core discipline as well."

Bounds said that a "visual preparation" is needed for many who observe Lent, particularly for those who do not attend a church that incorporates Lent in its service. She said in that way Facebook could help, but that it again goes back to intent of the individual. To give up something, you've got to have a goal.

"It's easy enough for someone to just pick something and kind of check it off the list and that's not the purpose of Lent," she said.