Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Giving up Tech for Lent

I don’t think that word "tech" means what you think it means.  However, I think you’re on to something nevertheless. Let me explain.

Every spring, a number of my friends and acquaintances announce something they are giving up for Lent (which runs from Ash Wednesday until Easter).  The possibilities of items for denial are almost endless.  Food seems to be a popular sacrifice.  Aside from the traditional and generic omission of meat for the season, others choose to deprive themselves of food, such as pizza, chocolate, or hamburgers; or beverages, such as coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol.   Certain activities or behaviors also commonly make the list, such as profanity, smoking, politics, gossiping, dating, or shopping. The one deprivation that catches my eye the most, however, is giving up technology for Lent.

Giving up technology is not as easy as one might imagine.  Technology is really any tool or device designed by people using natural and artificial materials to accomplish a practical goal. Are you ready to walk to work for Lent? Cars, busses, trains, and planes are all examples of technology. Are you ready to spend Lent in the buff? Clothing that is chemically engineered to be stain and wrinkle-resistant and color-fast is technology.  Shoes that are mechanically engineered to cushion your step (for hundreds of thousands of steps) and keep your feet warm and dry are technology.  It is everywhere, a ubiquitous fact of life, an engrained part of our culture and society.  Thus when my friends say they are giving up tech, I suspect they do not mean all technology, but rather some specific technologies.  It feels a little like when the pastor says he wants to keep tech out of the sermon and focus on the message.  What he means is limiting the use of PowerPoint.  I don’t think he means no longer using a microphone, electric lights, carpet, heating & air conditioning, piano, reinforced concrete foundations, … you get the idea.

If not all of technology, then what do they really mean to give up for Lent?  Sometimes the sacrifice is identified a bit more specifically.  I see people giving up Netflix, email, texting, Windows, Instagram, or Facebook.  (Wait a minute... I learned they were giving up Facebook by posting it on Facebook.  Does that still count?)  Regardless, at least these contrite souls are a bit more nuanced about the technology they will forego.  Like a foodie who gives up red velvet cake, a techie that gives up Xbox for Lent is sacrificing a certain aspect of their life, not because it is bad, but because it is good – and that good thing could distract from a more spiritual focus, introspection, and reflection as we approach Good Friday and Easter.  This approach recognizes that technology, like all of culture, is a good gift from our Creator.  Technology is part of who we are as humans, and creating culture is what we do.  We create music, legislation, novels, communities, delicious recipes, evolving languages, games, and yes, technology.

I suspect that a few folks really do mean all of technology, considering it inherently evil, putting it in the category of vices we can’t entirely shake, so we give up for a time in hopes of ultimately escaping, as they might for profanity, or gluttony.  I think this is a foundational mistake.  Granted, many societal and personal ills are associated with technology.  However, technology itself is not evil, but like other cultural aspects, it can be tainted and corrupted by sin.  Just as we, out of love, profess to hate the sin, but not the sinner, we can find the good in technology. We can work to recognize how our fallen nature has turned God’s good gift of technology into something warped that we idolize, that we use to our own selfish advantage, or that simply distracts us from our true calling.

With that understanding of technology, I can understand and respect giving up certain technologies for Lent.  Lent might be the opportunity to take a break from Facebook to reflect on how we can use it to glorify God and love our neighbor.  Perhaps you will give up email for a time to ponder on how communication with friends, family, and colleagues can be a blessing when used properly.  Perhaps you will give up texting to consider whether you are prone to spreading gossip via your phone.  Stepping back is sometimes the best way to get perspective.  Then jump back in and show us how it is done.  Demonstrate by example how to use technology appropriately and righteously.