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US believers going green, hold media fast for Lent
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  • WASHINGTON, April 4 (AFP) Apr 04, 2009
    From giving up their cars to abandoning their Facebook pages, many US Christians are being called on to help reduce global warming and turn their backs on Internet distractions over Lent.

    "It's an insult to God, it's a sin to spoil the environment, to hurt creation," said Episcopalian pastor Reverend Sally Bingham, who is coordinating "The Regeneration Project," an interfaith group of some 4,000 congregations looking for a religious response to global warming.

    During Lent, which began this year on February 25 and will end on April 11 the day before Easter, Christians are called to observe sacrifice and penance marking the time Jesus endured temptation when he wandered for 40 days in the desert.

    The idea of a "green" Lent was launched last year by two British Anglican bishops, who called for a "carbon fast," Bingham told AFP.

    "We sent an email to the 30,000 people on our mailing list and we suggested tips to try to be as environmentally friendly as you can be," she said.

    Among the tips: giving up your car, turning down the heat or buying local.

    "This year, I gave up meat. Last year, I turned off my heat. I had to wear a ski parka inside my house. My children would not visit, they thought I'd gone crazy," Bingham said.

    Another Catholic group, the St Paul Newman Center in Fresno, California, is organizing a "Lent program on global warming."

    "Lent is a time we focus on how we can really connect to God's presence in our life and do something that is sacrificial. For us, it's a look at how we care for the environment while sacrificing some comforts for ourselves," said Mary Hetherington, who helps teach the program.

    The courses promote a "low-carbon diet" to reduce carbon emissions by 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms) in 40 days.

    Among the lessons: dry your clothes on a clothesline instead of in a dryer, thus saving the equivalent of 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of carbon emissions.

    "Try a media fast," suggests The Regeneration Project. "It can be very rewarding to turn off TV, computers and radios a few nights a week and sit down to a board game with your family."

    An Italian bishop in Modena has called for giving up texting during Lent in order to "detoxify from the virtual world and become one again."

    Across American universities, students are also giving up social networking websites like Facebook.

    "The fundamental idea is to say if something is a distraction from prayer and fasting then to the extent possible, it should be given up," explained Paul Griffiths, a professor in Catholic theology at Duke Divinity School.

    "It's not a sin, it's a distraction," he told AFP, adding that cyber asceticism is part of the traditions of the Catholic church, even though the Vatican has a YouTube channel and a website in eight languages.

    The online discussion group "Give up Facebook for Lent" gives tips on how to avoid going online without missing virtual visits by "friends" on the 75 million-strong social networking website.

    Nola Bozeman, a 42-year-old housewife in Apex, North Carolina, used to log on to Facebook every morning.

    "It was becoming an obsession," she acknowledged. But she has now decided to deprive herself of the Internet.

    "I thought if I spent half the amount of time I spend on Facebook in prayer or service, it would draw me closer to God."

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