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Digital devotion: Christians get social media, other online tools to observe Lent

"The Crowning," left, a pastel on paper work by Bruce Herman, was part of a previous Lent Project at Biola University. Image courtesy of Barry Krammes. The colored photograph "Protest Song,” right, by Gor Chahal is featured in Biola University's 2017 Lent Project. Image courtesy by Barry Krammes

“The Crowning,” left, a pastel on paper work by Bruce Herman, was part of a previous Lent Project. Image courtesy of Barry Krammes. The colored photograph “Protest Song,” right, by Gor Chahal is featured in Biola University’s 2017 Lent Project. Image courtesy by Barry Krammes.

(RNS) For centuries during Lent, Christians have sought to grow closer to God through praying, fasting and giving to the poor.

Now they can also mark the 40-day period of penitence that precedes Easter by posting pictures to Instagram, reading a regular reflection in their email or watching a priest answer questions on Facebook Live.

This kind of effort “meets people where they are,” said Jen Sawyer, digital content manager at Busted Halo, a New York-based media ministry run by the Catholic Paulist Fathers that has Lent-related Instagram and Facebook projects. “It gives them a way to think about Lent that’s easier to grasp, a way to integrate faith in their daily life.”

Busted Halo is having an InstaLent challenge. Image courtesy of Jen Sawyer

In the past several years, more churches and Christian organizations have combined digital tools with Lent, which begins this year on March 1. Catholics and Protestants alike are using social media, email and websites to encourage people to pray and reflect in preparation for Easter, when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.

For the first time this year, congregants at Christ Lutheran Church in Topeka, Kan., will get a word for each day of Lent — including “cross,” “theology,” “forgiveness” and “salvation” — and be encouraged to post a picture inspired by the word to Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #hearingthegospel.

“I would probably say 30 to 40 people will participate” out of 180 to 200 regular attendees, said the Rev. Daniel Ross, the church’s pastor. He expects most of them to be teenagers. “I think some words will be more engaging than others.”

The project complements the church’s regular Wednesday night Lent services, Ross said, and fits with the overall purpose of the season: “to remember what Jesus did” in dying for sinners on the cross.

At the evangelical Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., the Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts’ online Lent Project is in its fourth year, with 10,000 daily subscribers last year.

“There are people in our community who say, ‘I don’t need a special emphasis or special focus.’ But other people say, ‘I desperately need this — I need to be encouraged and reminded and focused at this particular time,'” said Barry Krammes, planning coordinator for the CCCA. “I think attitudes in the evangelical community are changing about Lent.”

The Lent Project is a daily devotional, continuing through the week after Easter, with Scripture passages, written reflections, visual art, music and video.

“I think that combination has been what’s drawn people in,” Krammes said. “It helps the Scripture come alive.” He added, “We’re trying to draw from as many Christian traditions as we can. We’re trying to feature elements from different parts of the world as well.”

That desire for broad appeal also applies to Busted Halo’s efforts, according to Sawyer. For the fourth year in a row, the organization is doing an “InstaLent” challenge similar to the one at Christ Lutheran — starting with asking followers to “Show us your ash” on Ash Wednesday — and is also changing its regular “Daily Jolts” on Facebook and Twitter to encourage people to “fast, pray (and) give.” Its director, the Rev. Dave Dwyer, plans to answer questions about Lent during a Facebook Live event at 3 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday (Feb. 28).

“If somebody isn’t Catholic, they still connect with giving something up or letting something go,” Sawyer said. “We’re intentional about using really approachable language, using these general themes that people can grasp and think about in a deeper way.”

At a time of so much online rancor — political and otherwise — Lenten devotionals can also offer some much-needed breathing space, organizers say.

Catholic Extension’s Lenten Digital Immersion Trip is a weekly email devotional that highlights the organization’s work. Image courtesy of Matt Paolelli

Catholic Extension, a Chicago-based organization that raises funds for poorer dioceses, is doing a weekly email Lenten Digital Immersion Trip that highlights different communities it serves. So far, over 1,200 people have signed up.

“The Digital Immersion Trip can be viewed as a more productive use of your time on your smartphone or online,” said Matt Paolelli, manager of digital communications for Catholic Extension. “Rather than spending time reading divisive political news or watching another trivial video, participants will be spending time in prayer and reading truly inspiring stories of other American Catholics who are sharing the same faith journey and traditions, even if they are living in vastly different circumstances and another part of the country.”

Whether Christians use any or all of these tools at their disposal, the goal of Lent remains the same, according to Sawyer.

“No matter who we are and how well we try to live our lives, we’re all going to fall short — disappoint ourselves and disappoint God,” she said. “(Lent) is our chance to take stock and think about ways we can improve our relationship with God.”

(Catherine Guiles is a writer and editor in Arlington, Va.)

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Catherine Guiles

22 Comments

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  • “No matter who we are and how well we try to live our lives, we’re all going to fall short — disappoint ourselves and disappoint God,” she said.”
    That is why Christ chose to die for us, praise Him! His offer is open to all.

  • Sandi, there is no praise deserved at all for the Christ and the god of your Christian mythology. A truly omnipotent god would not have needed its son to die in order to perform saving as claimed. Your “offer” is purely a scam. Thousands of years since the crazy Christ tale was first set forth by its multiple human authors, with much of the tale stolen from prior myths, your sky fairy still has not delivered the promised goods.

    What is truly disappointing is that anyone still believes your silly Christian fairy tales.

  • Your interpretation of the facts of the founding of the system of the Church and its origins is wholly without evidentiary support. The so called “prior myths” to which you refer arguably do not antedate the narrative of Christ, and most likely trail it by a few decades.

  • It’s very telling that Sandi Luckins can’t put together an argument against what Marge L. said above. There really is no such valid argument, actually. Edward’s post is also entirely free of facts, and does not even address Marge’s great point about the supposedly omnipotent Christian “god” being.

    Christians, your gig is up and your beliefs do not stand up to examination. Put aside your ridiculous old myths and get with the modern world already.

  • Edward Fluff-Mouth, better think that through some more. Marge’s initial point re omnipotence is a strong rational argument not requiring “evidentiary support”. Your fluffy languange does not disguise your inability to argue against what Marge said.

  • “not requiring ‘evidentiary support.’ ” However rational, or irrational an argument may be, evidentiary support is absolutely required as any student or teacher of forensic argument would affirm. I will however accept your charge of “fluffy language” on my part; it is a personal preference that may reasonably characterized as a rhetorical weakness.

  • You are entitled to your opinion, but since I average about 50% upvotes as measured against my postings, I figure a .500 batting average among my peers whether opponents or allies says more than your single subjective opinion. Cheers.

  • Edward Fluff-Mouth, that’s false, and pure fluff on your part yet again. To paraphrase Kurt G., while logic is necessarily incomplete, where it works, it works. Again, Marge’s rational statement blows away your religious nonsense, no matter how much you fluff on about it.

    Stuff your fluff, you blabbering old fool.

  • No, Edward Fluff-Mouth. Google “ad populum fallacy”. Read about it. Read it again. Then read it all over again and rinse and repeat. Don’t post here again until you understand it, fluff-mouth.

  • Stop trying to change the subject, Sandi. That’s a wimpy attempt at hiding your inability to put together an argument against what Marge L. said above.

  • I will not be dictated to by you…be assured of that. You demonstrate your own limitations by resorting to name calling rather than framing a sound argument. No matter how sound your argument from your point of view, I and others are not bound to bow before it. We can marshal facts and resources and interpret them according to our point of view as well.

  • It is not false, your assertion is in itself a logical fallacy of the 1st order.

  • No, Edward Fluff-Mouth. Your own statements are false, not mine. You plainly have no understanding of logical fallacies (of any “order”). Please grow some courage for a change and retract your obviously false claim.

  • Again, Sandi, you plainly can’t put together an argument against what Marge L. said above. Your beliefs do not stand up to examination. Put aside your ridiculous
    old myths and get with the modern world already.

  • No, Edward Fluff-Mouth. your posts thus far have been remarkably fact-free. You have also been unable to counter what I said. So, I say again to you:

    Google “ad populum fallacy”. Read about it. Read it again. Then read it
    all over again and rinse and repeat. Don’t post here again until you
    understand it, fluff-mouth.

    Get on that task now, Edward Fluff-Mouth.

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