Monday, July 23, 2012

Redeeming Twitter Theology

Italian Alps from Anesi, France
Photo Credit: Mark Grace
I just got through reading a wonderful, thought-provoking essay (okay, okay, a “blog post”) from Ryan Reed entitled “ReconsideringTwitter Theology.”

Ryan's warning against trying to do theology on twitter is a marvelous example of what I think it means for Christians to engage the tools that technology has given us . . .

Rather than uncritically accepting the tools and someday finding that they have become just another idol, like the bronze serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness (Go here for that story) . . . the gospel demands that we take a more thoughtful approach.

So how can we bring the Gospel message to the world of twitter-speak without seeing it twisted out of true?

I achieved overload a couple of nights ago when someone I am following either drank too many 5 hour energy boosters or failed to correctly configure their auto twitter so that 25 tweets cascaded into twitter-land in less than an hour. That was a revelation. I stopped and prayed for the poor fellow because the more tweets I read the more I worried for this person. Bizarro Christianity.

That experience awakened me to the thing that disturbs me about so many of the religious tweets that appear on twitter. One by one they are harmless enough, though I have to tell you that I am sometimes completely dumbfounded by what I read. Daily exposure, however, to dozens, sometimes hundreds of aggressive platitudes is a little too much for me to take. And I love Jesus, really I do!

There is one thing that I know for sure; 140 characters doesn’t have to stifle effective communication.

I have dozens of documents in my computer files, and probably hundreds of scraps of paper that are filled with 140 character or less, notes that have inspired, uplifted and instructed me over and over.

For example, there is Dag Hammerskjold’s simple but powerful prayer,  "For all that has been-- Thanks.” To all that will be-- YES!"

And here is a wonderful quote adapted from St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, "'Thank God.' These are powerful words."

And I can spend hours listening to Robert Haas read Basho's haikus—

Now Ryan might disagree with me, but I see all of the quotes above as theological statements--- even, perhaps especially—the poems from Basho.

What sets them apart from the overwhelming, sometimes nauseating barrage of theological statements being flung into the twitterverse is simply that they do not pretend to be the whole answer. And they do not invite us to take them individually as THE answer.

Each statement is a brush-stroke. As such each one requires other brush-strokes. Each enjoys a perspective that is wider and deeper than 140 characters, so that each comes to us from a context that is thoughtfully and beautifully considered.

In short, twitter theology can be redeemed, I think, but it must be redeemed poetically, not propositionally. Poetry has every power to bring deep and meaningful theology to us. If you aren't persuaded by Basho, try some Gerard Manley Hopkins or John Milton.

Each statement points to a horizon that is as stunning as the photo of the Italian Alps at the head of this article. However, what we have here in the twitterverse at the present moment, y’all, is a failure to communicate. Billions and billions of brush strokes trying to be the mountain range and the snow and the sunlight all by themselves.

So the question is, how can we take our 140 characters and make one small gesture toward the near horizon, right there, where the glory of God beckons us?

I’d love to hear your ideas about how we Christians can tweet to the glory (the shining beauty!) of God. Leave a comment!

PS-- A tweet won't do to sum up my feelings about today, because it happens to be the birthday of one of the truest, loveliest, hardest working human beings I know-- Megan Grace, who turns 25 today.  

Bon Fete, Sweet Meg. 

Tu savez bien que nous t'aimons beaucoup!

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