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A casual case for Twitter (or why I like tweeting)

Since I joined Twitter—a micro-blogging and networking service that allows you “tweet” in up to 140 characters what you are thinking about or doing—I’ve read numerous articles and blog posts about the detriments and benefits of the phenomenon. It’s been heralded as everything from another reflection of our narcissistic tendencies to a revolution in connecting folks. Indeed, there are some legitimate concerns out there—recently, blogger and tweeter Ken Brown touched on some of these and added another insightful caution. But, as with most new technologies, while it does have it problems, it also presents some unique opportunities.

Personally, I’ve found that Twitter has allowed me to connect more frequently with old friends as well as new. It helps me keep in touch with what new features are coming up or being explored in magazines I read. I can follow the activities and thoughts of authors, thinkers and explorers in the faith like Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Doug Pagitt, Jim Henderson and Dan Kimball as well as link into groups and online communities (like Origins Project and Off the Map) working through what it means to be the church today. It helps me keep up with causes I support—like Invisible Children and ending human trafficking. And I’m also able to follow better what fellow bloggers are thinking and writing about.

In addition to the benefits of information and personal contact, I love the public nature of the conversation. Texting has traditionally been a more private mode of conversation, but Twitter allows our thoughts and conversations to be entirely public among a diverse population. It’s rather like bumping into a group of friends on the street or walking through a virtual coffee shop or riding a cyber Metro where you can overhear and join in conversations anytime.

But one of the biggest reasons I am enamored with Twitter goes back to something I read early on in my experience with the technology. Richard Clark, who started tweeting long before me, links his thoughts about Twitter to the early church, which lived their lives together throughout the week the way most of us don’t do today, due in part to the culture we live in. He notes that “one thing that has suffered in our age is relationships,” and how when we do get together, “we spend most of our time hanging out, trying to get to that point where we can find some frame of reference or connection.” He goes on to say:
Twitter offers one way among many that we can compensate for these cultural flaws. While we need to acknowledge that a virtual, internet relationship is really no relationship at all, we also need to be honest and acknowledge what can be the real world benefit of knowing, for instance, that I’ve been thinking of doing some freelancing work, playing PS3 a LOT lately, and meditating on the vanity of life. This sort of knowledge makes the conversation a heck of a lot more meaningful and challenging when we come together on the weekend. By knowing what’s happening in one another’s lives, we know how to speak truth to one another, how to pray for one another, and how to serve one another.
I love this approach because I think it gets at gets at something really important. One of my biggest laments about the way we “do” church today is that we aren’t spending the time together that we need to in order to live together the way we are enabled to in the Kingdom. We see each other for a scant hour or two and lose connection with each other during the week. Tools like Twitter might be able to make a dent in our struggle with that.

For example, in the group of believers we currently gather with, the pastor is starting a six week sermon series during which we are invited to gather in smaller groups of about 10 during the week for a couple of hours. Most of that time is structured to be spent on the subject matter related to the series, but we’ll also be talking a bit about what’s going on in our lives as well as sharing some of that as we discuss the material, I’m sure. But while you can learn some about and love each other in six weeks of two hour blocks, there are limits. We are spending most of our time focused on other subject matters and not connecting with each other during the rest of the week.

But what if we could already know a little about what we’ve each been thinking and doing during the week when we gather? What if we each agreed to “tweet” each day one thing we’re doing, something we’re thinking about, one place we saw God working or one of those significant little moments that come along each day? The ordinary events of our life are things we don’t usually think to share when we get together in a Bible study or fellowship group, usually because they either slip our minds or simply seem insignificant. But our lives are mostly made up of ordinary moments and it’s often in the everyday of our lives that we share our insights, thoughts and heart with others and by which we draw closer to each other. It makes sense that sharing little moments and thoughts of our lives throughout each day can help us get to know each other. And perhaps this would help as we greeted each other at the door, sipped our coffee and nibbled our snacks before we started the study. I wouldn’t be surprised if it also prompted a phone call or two or even a chance to meet at for coffee during the week. At the very least, it would allow us a way to be more connected with what is happening in our lives and hearts throughout the week.

And the public nature of Twitter adds an additional facet to it all. It’s as if we all briefly cross paths together for a moment—and not only that, but others are invited to overhear and join the conversation as well. Awhile back, I pondered the image of cul-de-sacs as a way of thinking about kingdom-living together, thinking of ourselves as open, smaller communities facing towards each other but also outward, connected to and facing towards the rest of the community around it—or interconnected collections of smaller groups who maximize our opportunities to form as-we-go and everyday intertwined relationships while allowing those connections to face outward, face towards and connect with the rest of our communities and neighborhoods, inviting others into and providing places where others can also live and grow, multiplying into other similar groups as we go and live within God’s Kingdom. Using technology like Twitter dove-tail nicely into this kind of image, where conversations between us are also inviting others in as well.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting that Twitter is the answer when comes to the challenge of finding ways to know and love each other the way we are called and enabled to in God’s kingdom. Yet I can’t help but wonder, like Clark, if it couldn’t be a tool to help us deepen our relationships—and thus learn to better live-together in the kingdom.

And, heh, perhaps we can even have fun along the way, too.