In a curious coincidence Ash Wednesday this year coincides with Valentines Day. The message is clear enough. You might want to give something up but on no account should you give up love.
There is another thing not to give up. In recent years I have observed a trend in people saying they are giving up Social Media for Lent. It is a trend I fundamentally oppose. This is not because I believe that every post, image, video, meme, status update or piece of gossip that appears in our feeds is valuable. It is not because I believe that all the time many of us spend on social media is time well spent. However a digital wilderness is no place to continue a spiritual journey.
We may not love the tech giants who run social platforms with their algorithms and personally targeted advertising but they offer us a unique window on the world and potential source of joy, inspiration and conversation with each other. Just in the past couple of weeks I have seen Facebook get people together, to bring a seriously ill friend home when he was stranded in France. I have been reminded of a dear Chaplain at my school in the USA who, when asked how he was would reply ‘I am getting there’. We all knew where ‘there’ was and his gravestone should have borne the slogan ‘He Got There’. The post about him was shared and admired by a whole host of people I would not have regarded as believers in anything. Every day I read inspiring articles, blogs, poems and messages from people of faith I either know as friends or whose existence is merely digital to me.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem it was not to hide from the masses. He did not deliver the Sermon on the Mount to a private seminar. Our challenge is to occupy the spaces where people communicate and find a positive way to engage. So for Lent: find 10 new friends or things to look at, spot an interesting hashtag, share something inspiring and if this is all a foreign language find someone to translate it and demystify it. Take up the opportunity to tell our story and have some fun.