Lent in 140 Characters

Clint Rainey: Stephen Smith, at Bible Gateway, has for three years made an annual top-100 list and snazzy tag cloud with what Twitterers say they’re giving up for Lent. This year, he wrangled up 85,000 messages tweeted between March 7 and March 10. (March 9 was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten calendar for Catholics and the one Americans popularly conceive of as Day 1 of the fast.) The top vote-getter, you ask? Twitter. Followed by Facebook, with chocolate third, soda seventh, and the teenage troika of transgression—swearing, alcohol and sex—landing fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Smith does not say how many I’m-not-tweeting tweets came once fasting was underway. But to compute it misses the point anyway. Hashtag searches cannot differentiate sarcasm from sincerity, so besides depriving themselves of “Lent” (eighth), “giving up things” (12th), “stuff” (25th), “Catholicism” (26th), and “religion” writ simple (14th), Twitterers on Smith’s list also helpfully sacrificed “nothing” (46th), “school” (13th), their virginity (37th) and sobriety (44th), as well as “me” (63rd) and “you” (16th)—perhaps “You”?

As it happens, jokester posters flooded the list. For Lent to be so thoroughgoingly Americanized that a quarter of his top-100 entries seem to mock it is itself telling. Even wisecracking tweets promising 40-day renunciations of Christianity still focus discourse on the idea of redemption through self-denial, sacrifice, commitment, self-discipline, however it is we define those terms. What Christian objects to publicizing that message at Easter?

This year’s forgo-social-media push returned Twitter and Facebook, last year’s top vote-getters, as champ and runner-up, and it was again the pastoral blogosphere’s Easter meme. But as tech-savvy pastors in particular avail themselves of social media as tools of evangelism, pastor-converts, like San Francisco pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow (who’s taken his protests to NPR, SFGate.com, The Huffington Post, and of course Twitter), will speak out against conscientiously swearing them off. Instead, Web 2.0 is seen as a demystifying force that portrays the Christian walk as self-denying and sacrificial, yes, but also as approachable, normal, everyday. In a word: tweetable. Continue Reading →