A Different Kind of Fast

There are times when life seems to flash by in a whirlwind – particularly so when in the midst of holiday seasons. It feels like we just wrapped up our Christmas celebrations, and yet in just a few weeks we’ll be heading to church for Ash Wednesday services! This year, instead of blinking and finding out that it’s practically Easter, I’m attempting to be more mindful and actually experience Lent, rather than letting it flash by.

As part of a previous Lenten series on the Forward, Fr. Adam Trambley shared a two-part article about fasting. In it he mentions how the act of fasting can lead to self-control in other areas:

If we can deny ourselves food for a day, maybe we can also deepen our self-control in other aspects of our life. Maybe we can control our tongues when a piece of juicy gossip or a harsh word is on its tip.  Maybe we can turn off the TV or the Facebook feed when we should really be saying our prayers before bed.

That final line is definitely food for thought. If you are like me (or just the average American adult, according to Nielsen media analytics), you spend close to 11 hours a day immersed in media: web surfing, checking Facebook, binge watching shows on Netflix– we’re plugged in most of our waking hours. It’s difficult to concentrate, let alone engage in thoughtful self-examination or meditate on the word of God, when trying to keep up with the influx of information coming through the screen day in and day out. I’m definitely guilty of checking my Facebook feed before bed, and my husband will often start streaming an episode of Agents of Shield after he’s supposedly settled in for the evening. It’s not restful, and definitely not prayerful.

While I don’t plan to commit to a complete ‘digital fast’ this year (which would be a little difficult in my line of work!), I do want to take some steps to cut down on mindlessly surfing social media and reclaim some of that time for more God-centered activity. My current thought is to set aside one hour each evening before bed for prayer, reading, and journaling (or as I like to think of it, meditating on paper). No more Words with Friends after 11 pm!

If you too are interested in stepping back from the screen this Lenten season, near the beginning of February we’ll be posting an article with reading recommendations to give you a jump start on your journey. Do you already have a book in mind that speaks to your soul? Feel free to share the title in the comments section!

Megin Sewak is Assistant for Communications for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Searching for the digital savior

SALT LAKE CITY — God represents the biggest topic at the 78th General Convention, but Google is raising lots of questions as well.
Such as: “If Jesus Googled himself, what would he find?”google-485611_1280.jpg
 
The Rev. Jake Dell posed that query on Wednesday morning. He is the Episcopal Church’s manager of digital marketing. And he spoke as the key witness before the General Convention’s Committee on Evangelism and Communications, on which I serve and which the Rev. Dennis Blauser, also of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, co-chairs.
 
Dell was explaining details of the committee’s main resolution — a $3 million project that would test a digital communications initiative for the church over the next three years. One component would improve the Episcopal Church’s search-engine optimization ranking, or SEO, so that Google users who search for religious topics would be directed toward Episcopal resources. The Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John’s Sharon, is part of a group, Episcopal Resurrection, that drafted the resolution.
 
A favorable SEO for the Episcopal Church is all but absent now, which led Dell to ask the question about Jesus and Google. At the moment, Dell said, if Jesus Googled himself, he would find almost nothing related to how the Episcopal Church relates to him.
 
One of the religious denominations that best uses social media and that has boosted its SEO, Dell said, is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is, of course, synonymous with Utah and Salt Lake City.
 
In 2008, Dell said, a Google search for “Mormons” would yield “overwhelmingly negative articles,” such as those about “Mormon underwear.” The Mormons launched a digital initiative, Dell said, and by 2010 “the LDS had turned things around completely” on the Internet. A Google search for “Mormons” now directs users to positive articles about the faith in particular and its theology in general.
 
The Mormons have improved their image and broadened their reach.
 
Episcopalians have the potential to achieve the same results.
 
The Evangelism and Communications Committee will refine the $3 million proposal this week — it also includes strategies for social media — and General Convention will vote on the resolution. Passage would help bring the Episcopal Church further into the 21st century and aid evangelism over the Internet.
 
Passage of the resolution would also recognize a reality: That God is most powerful, but that Google is powerful, too.
 Ed Palattella, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is a reporter and editor for the Erie Times-News.