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Text and confess

October 02, 2012
By Lerone A. Martin

Pray. Write. Text. These were the instructions at a recent Rosh Hashanah service in Miami Beach, according to Lizette Alvarez of The New York Times. The reformed worship service celebrating the Jewish New Year at the Jewish Museum of Florida encouraged congregants to text their penitence. The worship service, called the “Experience,” was geared towards young adults, ages twenty to thirty.

For an hour and a half, 150 attendees anonymously texted “regrets, goals, musings, and blissful thoughts” for all to behold on a large projection screen behind Rabbi Amy L. Morrison. Rabbi Morrison, age 33, of the Reformed Temple Beth Sholom, told the group of college students and professionals, “Texting will give you a voice in the service.” Therefore, as the faithful gathered and customarily turned their mobile devices on silent or simply turned them off, the cutting-edge rabbi shocked everyone by declaring, “Take those phones out!”

New media is often accused of distracting persons from being mindful and fully present. However, the rabbi, perhaps ironically, encouraged participants to write about whatever they needed to let go of in order to be “fully present.” Morrison also used the new media spiritual practice as a way to get congregants to publicly declare prayer requests, particularly for the sick.

In accordance with Rosh Hashanah, Morrison encouraged attendees to use their phones to confess the error of their ways. “What is one thing,” she asked, “you wish you had done differently this past year?” The responses included: “Be a better friend,” “I wish I was less stressed,” “Procrastinate less,” “Listened to my gut feeling,” “Be a better listener,” “Worry less, enjoy life more,” and “Less materialistic,” to name a few.

The faithful described the new media spiritual practice as “refreshing” and “fun.” One person in attendance stated that the use of new media made the service feel “like a community, which is what it should be in the New Year.”

The “Experience” seems to insist that the appeal and utility of new media spiritual practices are not restricted to Protestant Christianity. Rather, weaving in aspects of everyday life into spirituality is seemingly an American practice, one that has continually attracted and invited seekers, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Lerone A. Martin, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is Assistant Professor of American Religious History and Culture at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, MO.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


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