Thursday, March 10, 2011

Confessions of a Facebook Addict

Lent is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer — through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial — for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events linked to the Passion of Christ and culminates in Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I did not grow up in a religious household.  My father is a lapsed Catholic and my mother is a staunch atheist.  I did go to church occasionally, with friends or with my grandma, but it was not something expected or encouraged by my parents.  Growing up in the south, I was certainly exposed to a lot of religion.  Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network's headquarters is in my hometown, just about 15 miles from the house I grew up in.  I've even been in the studio audience of a filming of the 700 Club (with my grandma) and an episode of Big Brother Jake (a school field trip).

When I was younger, I liked going to church.  Mostly because I liked the feeling of belonging to something.  Being a Navy brat, we never lived near extended family. It was just my parents, my brother, and me.  But on Sundays, when you went to church, it felt like a big family reunion.  There were dozens upon dozens of wrinkled women who smelled like butterscotch hugging you and their gray-haired male companions flashing their big dentured smiles and calling you affectionate names.  To someone who lost three out of four grandparents before she was 10 years old, I gladly welcomed these friendly seniors as my surrogate grandparents.  Similarly, the Sunday School classes were teeming with the cousins I never knew.

But as I grew up, and began to think more about the real reasons why people go to church, I found myself coming to the realization that I was just not a "Christian."  I didn't believe all of the things I was told a Christian had to believe, and furthermore, I found myself not liking most of the self-proclaimed Christians that I met.  I found most of them to be judgmental of others (Christians and non-Christians), hypocritical, and lacking compassion.  Of course I still had Christian friends, but much like the bumper sticker says to "Love the sinner, hate the sin," I had chosen to "Love the person, hate the faith-group."  Okay, so hate is a strong word, more like dislike and seriously mistrust.

So, how did this person come to be the woman who brings her kids to church every Sunday, attends a Sunday school class, and is even practicing a sacrifice for Lent this season?  The answer is...I found a church that truly accepts me for who I am.  First United Church of Bloomington is unlike any other church I've ever attended.  It welcomes everyone.  Everyone.  All brand of Christianity...Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Quakers.  Muslims.  Jews.  Atheist.  Anyone and everyone interested in a spiritual discussion about faith, serving God, and caring for our fellow man.

Since we've been attending FUCB, I have learned a lot about pure compassion.  And about selflessly helping and giving to others.  And while I'm still not ready to be baptized or change my Facebook status to "Christian," I am truly enjoying being a part of this faith community and learning more about how to be a better person and more fully serve God and my fellow mankind.

Which brings me to Lent.  In our church, they don't mandate that you "give something up for Lent."  In fact, the message I got was more about the importance of using this time to think about your spirituality and meditate on God, whether you give something up in order to focus more on it or not is your own decision.  Superman, a Christian from way back, poked me in Sunday's service and whispered "I'm giving up self-denial," as he does every year.  But, I decided to take it a bit more seriously.

To me, who still sees herself as more of a deist than a Christian, God is the creator.  Someone or something that created the whole universe, and we are all God's children.  And I feel the best way I can honor and serve that creator is to focus on fostering positive relationships with the people in my life.  And while chocolate might not be good for my waist line, I don't feel like it hinders my relationship with others.  But because I still feel the need to "give something up," I chose to give up Facebook.  Okay, not completely give it up, but give up my addiction to it.

Facebook gets a bad rep.  There are an ever rising number of articles and blogs out there about the dangerous and negative effects of our current Facebook culture: 10 Ways Facebook Can Ruin Your Life

But Facebook itself is not a bad thing.  For someone like me who has moved a lot and lives hundreds of miles away from most of my friends and family, Facebook is a savior for helping me stay connected with people.  When planning my high school class's 10 year reunion, Facebook and Myspace (may it rest in peace) were instrumental in locating old classmates, and we had a great turnout because of that.  When a close friend of mine from high school passed away unexpectedly this past summer, the news spread quickly and many who might not have otherwise even heard of his passing were able to attend the funeral and pay their respects.  (In contrast, a few years earlier, when a friend of mine from college passed, it was nearly 4 months later before most of his college buddies even heard.)

The problem I've found is that #1 I spend too much time ON Facebook: browsing, reading, commenting, uploading...just wasting time.  And #2 It has become my main mode of communication. When I used to pick up the phone and talk to my friend, now I'll just leave her a short message on her Wall.  In one way Facebook helps us keep better connected with people, but in another way, it keeps us from having meaningful communication with them....

So for the next 39 days, I will be taking all the extra time I would normally spend browsing, reading, commenting, etc and put it towards being more productive and have more meaningful interactions with my family.  And when I need to contact someone, I will either type out an actual email (not an abbreviated wall posting) or pick up the phone and actually talk to them.

And for those who are wondering, I opted not to give it up completely, because there are people that I communicate with only through Facebook (I don't even have their phone number or email address), so I will allow myself 5 minutes every morning to check my account.

One day in, I would say that while it has been hard not to log in (I thought about asking Superman to change my password so I couldn't, but then I decided I had to use my own will power for it to really count), I have already seen a difference in my quality of communication.  Yes, I've had to use some investigative work to find some emails and phone numbers, but I was able to do it, and successfully communicate with people without my Facecrack!

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