February 25, 2009
Looking for Lent in the News
Technology fasts, carbon fasts, and some of today's more striking Lenten practices.
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking for Western Christians the beginning of Lent, one of the oldest observances in the Christian calendar. Evoking Jesus' 40 days of temptation in the desert, the period that leads into Easter has traditionally been observed by fasting, prayer, and abstaining from certain habits in order to make room for God. While more traditional fasts include giving up meat and alcohol, nontraditional fasting trends have cropped up in the media this week.
The Wall Street Journal last Friday had an interesting story on parents giving up Facebook for Lent, including a 39-year-old dad in Philadelphia who described the social-networking site as "my candy," and a mom who confessed that her Facebook addiction kept her from playing with her children. (She joined an online quitting-Facebook support group to help - of course.) Responding to the WSJ article, Lindsey Turrentine at CNET News posted 5 tips on how to "quit Facebook cold turkey," Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune posted 10 humorous rules for "fighting the urge," and E. E. Evans at GetReligion aptly noted that the WSJ article failed to provide historical context for understanding Lent beyond a personal-improvement rationale.
In the U.K., evangelical aid agency Tearfund is partnering with Church of England leaders and Energy and Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband MP to kick off its second annual carbon fast. Tearfund vice president, the Rev. James Jones, told The Guardian he is putting a solar hot water system in his home and turning off electronics when not in use. Tearfund is using its RSS feed and Facebook to provide daily tips on how to save energy. According to Anglican Communion News Service, individual churches are passing out low-energy light bulbs and installing energy-efficient heating. Yet not everyone thinks Tearfund's initiative a worthy one: Sociologist Frank Furedi, writing for The Australian, calls it "a semi-conscious attempt to transform environmentalism into a caricature of a religion."
The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch all asked online readers to share what they are giving up for Lent. Responses ranged from thoughtful to silly to blasphemous. On a more serious note, leading religion writer Cathleen Falsani wrote on her blog about looking for "burning-bush moments" during Lent, and finding one involving a Malawian boy needing life-saving heart surgery. Popular Christian blogger Anne Jackson writes in her last post until April 13, the day after Easter, that she will also be off Facebook and Twitter during Lent. And, perhaps most exciting for the editors here at Christianity Today, international editor Susan Wunderink kicks off the CT Image blog, Imago Fidei, with photographs and Scripture verses with strong Lenten themes.