Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How to Conduct a Media Fast the Orthodox Way (Part 2): Consumer Digest

In the last post we talked about the purpose of fasting from food as the Church prescribes. Today, we’ll make some comparisons between our nutritional consumption and our media consumption.

Choices, Choices

Just like there are many different kinds of foods - not just the food groups, but the purposes for foods - there are many different kinds of media. Similarly, there are many ways for each to be used in life. One of the problems we face in our modern society, a first-world problem of the first magnitude, is the multiplicity of choices. There are even choices within choices, which is why we read ingredient lists. Your vegetable soup may have beef broth. Your salad may have eggs. Your meatless crumbles may have only God-knows-what.

But there is a common thread to these choices: We choose. We choose not to eat certain things, and we choose to eat others. We choose not to buy some things for ourselves that we will eat if offered to us in good will.

I’m not talking about free will vs fatalism vs predestination here. We’ll leave that to the armchair theologians with their stogies and IPA’s. I’m just talking about picking something from a set of options.


Depending on your age and immersion level, the word Media may mean different things to you. Those older among us may think of TV (and the really elderly, the radio :-) ). Those around my age who have the cable from the Matrix run into the backs of our necks immediately think Internet. Those much younger than me don’t know anything except the internet and electronic devices of various sorts. These streams of data carry to our itching sense organs everything from music to news to entertainment to stories to statuses to things we shouldn’t watch when it isn’t Lent.

Some read the Bible strictly via electronic device, or stream Christian “radio”. Some gather virtually on social networks, where all of their communication takes place - sometimes even between members of the same household! There are a variety of valid ways to use media, just like one can make dozens of different dishes using chick peas (just ask any Orthodox cook if you don’t believe me!).

Our problem tends to be, not that we make a choice, but that we gorge ourselves on all of them. (I’m talking to myself here - search “kempisosha” on Google and you’ll find me everywhere). Or, we land on one, and simply let it roll past our eyes with no mental stimulation (think Spongebob Squarepants or I Love Lucy marathon).  We avoid making a choice, and just go with a default. This is where we need to approach our media use with purpose, and bring them into line with the reasons we fast from food.

Beggars Learning to be Choosers

Obviously, they way to remedy the situation is to just cut the cord entirely, right? That’s probably not feasible for the majority of us, just like not eating at all during Lent probably wouldn’t be a good idea for most of us. So, we start where we start with our food choices. What is prescribed?

Well, nothing directly regarding media consumption, unless you read St John Chrysostom or others of the Church Fathers who would enjoin you to renounce worldly pleasures like the theater entirely. But with today’s media, we aren’t just talking about entertainment. So let’s start with what we are told to do. Let’s attend as many services as possible. Let’s spend time in familial and personal prayer. Let’s read at least the daily Bible readings. Then there’s work, school, eating, sleeping, and regular ablutions. If there’s still time after that, maybe there’s time for entertainment.

How do we pick what media to fill our “free” time with? What do we have to have to get by - email, instant (or delayed) messaging, possibly certain information sources (gotta get those Lenten recipes somewhere!). We may not think of these as media, but they use the same sources and appliances as our entertainment now. They are as necessary as that morning cup of coffee (every day except on Sunday morning before Liturgy, of course).

With the little entertainment time we may have left, or have reserved, what guidelines do we have to help us make a purposeful choice?

  • What helps us master our bodies? Most often, that will mean choosing to avoid media.
  • What helps us work together? We’ve mentioned email and messaging services. Perhaps your failing, as is mine, is regular communication with people. Choosing media use that encourages communication, like watching sporting events with a group or using Facebook rather than Tumblr, can help you connect. Maybe there’s a TV show that helps you have meaningful discussions with your family members or friends. Just like sharing over a food consumption, sharing over media consumption can be re-creational.
  • What helps us remember others? Maybe that time on Facebook or other social networking sites helps us know how to pray for others, or gives us opportunities to encourage others toward love and good works. Possibly, though, shutting off the screen will make us remember that there are other people living right there with us.

The other helpful source for deciding how we should fast from media is our spiritual director. Let him know your concerns, and give you advice, or even a directive. A friend explained her struggle with media use during Lent to her priest, and was told to limit her overall time online to two hours a day. She did her best to follow that advice, and had a fruitful Lent as a result.

Next Post: Turn Out, Tune Off, Drop In

I’ll let you mull over these ideas and evaluate your media usage. Then we’ll come back tomorrow and talk about some practical strategies for a media fast.

How to Conduct a Media Fast the Orthodox Way (Part 1): The Purpose-Driven Fast

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