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[BLOGPOST] Social Media Fast for Lent? Not for me! for @themedianet

Read full blog post about why I am not a fan of giving up social media for Lent, or regarding it as a ‘waste of time’, when it’s a strong tool for building relationships.

<edit – November 2018 – the blog post appears to have been taken down, so content reproduced here):

I wrote a piece for Christian Today last week, which reflected that according to OpenBible, social networking is the number one thing that people tweeted that they were giving up for Lent! For many, this reflects the negative perception of social media that persists: that it causes us to disconnect from those around us, and that we have become ‘slaves to machines’. Some feel that they are simply reflecting upon habits that have become ‘all-consuming’, but this assumes that time online is time wasted. Abandoning social media feels less helpful than adjusting and experimenting with our interaction with it: our mobile devices and social media are embedded parts of our everyday lives, and places that we connect with ‘real people’. It is right to question if we are using them healthily, but disconnecting entirely can make life poorer both for those who give it up, and those who connect with them online.

There are so many possibilities for the church to engage online, to see it as a space with real potential for connection, especially in seeking to equip members of the church to speak out with confidence about their own faith experiences. There are many aspects of the digital in which it is easy to experiment, to try things that are low cost financially and reputationally, and for which the rewards in community engagement, local and international, are potentially powerful. We live in a culture which has become obsessed with efficiency, with getting things right, with wringing the last economic drop out of every penny, without regard for other costs.

How can the church be a leading light within our society, if we are seen as irrelevant, refusing to engage with the latest technology? Can we lead by example, and show that we are not afraid to experiment, not afraid to fail? If we’re not in the digital spaces, the latest ‘public square’, then we can’t offer an ‘example’ to influence the wider world. We need to be part of people’s everyday conversations, and not just arriving when we have a message to ‘sell’. Sharing our everyday lives, in which stories of humour and vulnerability are particularly powerful, allows us to connect – including with journalists, who find spaces such as Twitter a useful hunting ground for stories, and to build up trusted relationships with potential contributors to stories.

A number of platforms have offered a range of ways to get involved in Lent, from the Big Read that I ran 2010-2014, in which we sought to break ecumenical boundaries by encouraging ‘bigger Bible conversations’, to the multi-award winning 40 Acts, to the email series I am reading via Brain Draper, to options to share a picture each day from The Bible Society, to listen to 40 voices from the Diocese of Canterbury, whilst there are Facebook book reading groups, support groups for those decluttering for 40 days, and all kinds of other opportunities, the large majority small groups who have self-organised.

The digital age has brought with it a desire for personalisation, and a recognition that one size does not fit all. Whilst being wary of commercialisation, the digital gives us the ability to encounter the richness of many great theological minds which we would have had no access to before, allowing challenges from those of us who are ‘everyday theologians’ with a hunger for connection, for spiritual development, and for theological knowledge, as we learn that God loves us as we are.

The digital allows us to read on the move, we can access the Bible in many translations for free, use apps to manage our prayers, can move beyond our geographical limitations, whilst also enriching our communities through the ‘hyper-local’. Social media often brings small glimpses of theology into our everyday lives, through the people we connect with, and the content we encounter. Much of that content has become increasingly visual, particularly on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, both incredibly popular with teenagers. We need to be present to participate in conversations, demonstrating that we have something to say about the smaller aspects of life, means that we can demonstrate the relevancy of a faithful life, and may even be asked to comment on our lives, our faith, and the organisations we represent.


Twitter @ The MediaNet

Guest Post: Sam Pratt

“I upgraded my naff LG phone to a shiny new Samsung Android the other week and got very excited over the Twitter application. I wasn’t bothered about the actual phone bit of my new toy! As a Twitter lover, nothing pleased me more than being able to use the social media giant properly in all its glory, especially when I got accepted to attend the MediaNet academy at the Church and Media Conference in Swanwick. Being a media conference, the majority kept to their stereotype by bringing their netbooks, iPhones and other technical gadgets to keep the outside world and each other in touch of what they were doing. I think Twitter is a great way to interact and get the most out of a large event such as the Church and Media conference because you can share information, meet people and generally (to use an old phrase) ‘get the low down’ on everybody else.

I myself being utterly useless at remembering the basics of overnight travelling, looked in my luggage when I got there and realised I left my shampoo at home. Typical. Even though I’m a guy, having clean hair is quite important to me! So instead of feeling sorry for myself and since I didn’t have any time to do a recce of the local shops I did what my Scout leader always tells me in tough times “Buff up Sam!”- such a nice bloke. I Tweeted my dilemma using the conference hashtag #cmn10. Soon after I got a query from another delegate at the conference asking whether I had sorted out my #conferencecrisis as she had spare shampoo! Delighted at this tweet I arranged a time to meet in the bar to exchange business cards and mutual love for coconut fragrance (trust me, I’m straight)

In the academy we were filming outside in pouring rain when all the delegates came out for lunch and started to take pictures of us and then posted them on Twitter proclaiming our bravery for the world to see. Although this is very common for people to Tweet pictures of people or events they see, is it an invasion of our privacy? Probably, but we didn’t care, the thought of hard work being recognized on the World Wide Web was quite encouraging. The girls in my group didn’t know a thing about Twitter and found it all more interesting since they were broadcasted on the internet.

So all in all, my experiment on the power of social media has exceeded my expectations because I made new friends through unusual circumstances- social media still is very social.”

See what Sam & the MediaNet video crew produced: