On March 5, Billy Hallowell of The Blaze celebrated Ash Wednesday by giving an update about what people say they are giving up for Lent on Twitter according to a site created by an organization called OpenBibleinfo.
Wikipedia defines Lent as, "... the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.
"Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the tradition and events of the New Testament beginning on Friday of Sorrows, further climaxing on Jesus' crucifixion on Good Friday, which ultimately culminates in the joyful celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Lent is celebrated by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Lutherans, Methodists and observant Christians from other denominations around the world. Among the many customs associated with the approximately 40-day period is the tradition of giving up something that could be considered a vice, such as smoking or eating desserts, from Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before Easter.
Hallowell's article mostly focused on the top 15 things listed on OpenBible.info's 2014 Twitter Lent Tracker.
According to Hallowell, "So, what are the most cited habits, behaviors and vices that believers will give up this holy season in an effort to focus their hearts and minds on Jesus?
"While it’s impossible to know for certain each and every personal decision, the “2014 Twitter Lent Tracker” gives a lens into the top 100 most mentioned elements. And so far, 96,603 tweets have been analyzed during the week of March 2.
"... While many of the most mentioned items are serious, some most certainly are not. For instance, consider that giving up Lent itself comes in as the 15th most cited element so far. But [the] top five most prevalent appear more serious: chocolate, Twitter, school, alcohol and social networking."
People who were discussing Lent on Twitter this week showed a great deal of interest in using the traditional period of fasting and self-denial to improve their eating habits. Some of the other trending items in the top 15 on on the Lent Tracker list included chips, coffee, fast food, and soda. Looking at the Lent Tracker page reveals more answers along these lines such as pizza, bread, cheese, cookies and ice cream.
Others responded with answers that may be a little surprising. People are talking about giving up things that many would agree qualify as vices such as marijuana and pornography, but a significant number of responses had something to do with social media. Several people have been talking about giving up Instagram and the photo sharing social media network Snapchat. Almost twice as many people who want to give up marijuana want to stop using Facebook.
Additionally, many people must be feeling guilty about how much time they spend using their smart phones. Taking selfies came in at 42 with 669 responses and phones in general were 47th on the list.
In a recent Christianity Today article, Jeremy Weber and Melissa Steffan also discussed this year's Lent Tracker findings.
According to Weber and Steffan, " Launching this year's count on Monday, Stephen Smith of OpenBible.info wrote, 'With about 5,000 tweets analyzed, the new hot topics so far this year are: "Netflix," "Flappy Bird," and "Getting an Oscar." "Social Networking" is currently way out in front, with twice as many tweets as perennial favorites "Swearing" and "Alcohol." (Last year, Social Networking came in at number four.)'"
Before launching into a discussion of some of the survey results, Weber and Steffan cited some interesting statistics that reveal that a fairly small portion of Americans plan on giving up anything for Lent.
According to Weber and Steffan, "If you do give up something for Lent this year, you will join 17 percent of U.S. adults, according to a new survey by Barna Group. While many practicing Catholics (63 percent) are planning to fast, only 16 percent of practicing Protestants have similar plans. People born in 1945 or earlier are most likely to fast (26 percent), and people born between 1946 and 1964 are least likely (10 percent). About 20 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 say they will fast."
With several weeks and many important religious holidays such as the feast of Saint Patrick or Palm Sunday still to come, there is still plenty of time for people to give up selfies or stop watching "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix as ways of honoring this Christian tradition.