“Nathaniel Van Denend is fasting from Facebook. See you when the Son comes up.”
I wrote that on Ash Wednesday, shortly after deciding to give up Facebook, the social networking site, for Lent. But then I thought to myself, “Facebook, well I only check that maybe 10 times or so a day—it won’t be much of a sacrifice.” So I decided to give up all news-related media for Lent.
For 40 days I did not watch any news on television, I did not listen to NPR, I did not read the news on the Internet. I tried my best to refrain from even talking to my friends about the news. That meant I basically gave up the Internet entirely, because I primarily use it to read the news and to read people who are commenting on the news and then to read the commentators on the commentators, and so on. So, no Internet, save school research and e-mail.
So what exactly did I give up? I began to reflect on a typical day in my life. Wake up to “NPR Morning Edition,” listen while eating breakfast and while driving to the seminary. Arrive at the seminary, check my e-mail accounts, check Facebook, check Reuters, DrudgeReport, Aldaily, First Things, Slate, CNN. Go to class. Finish class and repeat. At 5 p.m. turn on NPR and drive home. Do homework and check all the news sites again and again. At 11 p.m. go to bed, turn on BBC and fall asleep listening to “The World Service.” Wake up and repeat.
Giving all that up was more difficult than I thought. During Lent the U.S. banks and Congress were wrestling over executive compensation, and I had to tell my friends that I did not want to hear about it. My e-mail account mysteriously added a “news ticker” to my e-mail page, which I had to figure out how to remove. I did some traveling and had to stealthily avoid CNN pumped into the airport terminals. I went all the way to Prague, where there at least the news would be in Czech, which I do not understand—but President Obama followed me and I could hear his speech, presented in English, to the citizens of the Czech Republic.
The news media seemed like some fast-growing killer plant in a horror movie—cut off one branch and another one would come out to nab me!
During my fast a peculiar thing began to happen. I found myself better able to concentrate in church. This was something I did not expect.
I had previously noticed my lack of concentration. When my eyes closed during the congregational prayer, my mind would race, thinking about a million things at once. The same thing happened during the sermon. That can’t be good for a seminarian! I’d tried harder to concentrate, but it was like my mind had a mind of its own.
But then, about two weeks into Lent, I noticed that my mind had slowed down. I was able to concentrate. I was able to listen again. The Word of the Lord began to cut through the dense cloud of information that hung over my head wherever I went.
Lent is over now. The Son has risen. I have slowly begun to incorporate the news back into my life. I found many comments on Facebook to respond to and hundreds of unread articles online to read. But I hesitate now. How much do I really need to know?