What 140 character tweet would you send to Jesus if you could? A selection from the people of Rochester Diocese offers an illuminating insight into Christian thinking.
The acclaimed American author Jonathan Franzen may have described Twitter as ‘unspeakably irritating’ because it is ‘hard to cite facts or create an argument in 140 characters’, but in the guest editing of the Rochester Diocesan newspaper in April 2012, I could not resist asking a random selection of people what one tweet they would send to Jesus if they were able to. In a way, it is simply a re-packaging of the ‘one prayer you would offer’ challenge we have all been set, but the imperative of brevity coupled with a fresh idiom compelled the respondents to express some edgy ideas for others to ponder. Here is the selection, followed by a commentary on the themes raised.
@Hey Jesus I would love to know what happened during your teenage years, how did you cope with all the teenage anxiety?
@Jesus Christ what do you think when you look at what churches do inside their walls and out? Are you proud they claim to be working for you? Would you rather they didn’t?
@Lord I really worry about non Christians and the life of the world to come. At the day of judgement please have mercy on them
@Jesus I believe only you have the right to take life but assisted dying seems to offer dignity to those who are suffering. Help – I’m confused!
@In a world of one-click virtual gratification, how do we connect with real communities, rediscover joy in humility and thanksgiving in servanthood?
@Embryonic stem cells helped me see again. Can that ever be wrong?
@I know we are not supposed to ask when you will return – but just a tiny clue perhaps?
@The Bible says ‘Can a mother forget her child?’ My mum forgot me so the answer’s yes, isn’t it?
@Are you continuing to reveal yourself to us or is it OK to water down your message to make it easier to follow you?
@Jesus, can you please show me how it all would have gone if I had done everything right and not screwed up so much?
@help us to learn to base our politics on reconciliation, not the delusion of security. Help us to repay our debt to the two-thirds world.
@Lord Jesus, do we – your Church – make you smile or weep? Maybe both? Thank you for still loving us.
@Dear Lord please can u guide us 2 truly learn how to preserve the Earth that God has created 4 us and in doing so 2 honour each other Amen@When you turned water into wine did you choose merlot, shiraz or something better? Is there
anything better than shiraz?
@How do I deal with those parts of my job that compromise my principles and my belief and to stand up for what I believe to be right?
@The Church, by its response to those who are homosexual, compounds the pain and anguish that they and those close to them suffer. Please advise.
@Lord Jesus, may those who exercise power in our community act wisely and sympathetically when making decisions that affect children and young people
@Jesus, show us, your living, active Church, how to reach out to the poor at this time in practical ways to show love and care as you would
@When I’ve felt cornered, numb with despair, and unsure of who I am and where I am meant to be is it OK to ‘speak my mind’ openly and honestly to you with all its rawness and uncertainty?
@Hey Jesus – I hear you’ve asked ‘Follow me’? Is ‘following’ you on Twitter enough, or what else would I need to do to be a committed follower? Please tell me.
@Are different religions doors to the same house?
@What is the answer to the most fundamental question I could ask you?
@Jesus, make my #tag – tweet others as you would be tweeted!
@redeemer: bring us through forty days to a deeper understanding of your will for our lives, amen.
@OMG, where r u? OMG, y don’t u act?
@Lord, I know that everything is in your perfect timing, but patience is not my strong point. Please tell me when you will come again.
MAKING SENSE OF ALL THE TWITTER
The question was disarmingly simple – what would you say to Jesus in 140 characters or less? – but those who participated confessed how difficult it was to frame their tweet. They had been promised anonymity and perhaps the freedom to express some of their deepest concerns in writing crossed a boundary from thought to print which caused some anxiety (after all, if no-one else knew, I would!). Yet the results demonstrate a refreshing degree of honesty, self-awareness and, crucially, beautiful evidence of living relationships with Jesus Christ.
Given the role of the Book of Psalms in Christian devotion, it is not surprising to see some questioning of the character of God. If he is all good and all powerful, why doesn’t he just do something where it patently needs to be done? This is coupled with the self-directed anger and questioning which many Christians have felt over the palpable failures of the Church to live up to its calling; an unconscious desire for Jesus to audit the Church to its face in the spirit of the early chapters of Revelation.
Christian ethics are a recurring theme: what are we to make of the bewildering developments in medical ethics, digital technology and climate change? How are we to interpret issues of sexual orientation? The request at the end of the latter tweet: ‘Please advise’ reveals a deep wish for incontrovertible guidance not just in this area but, one suspects, in the whole field of modern development.
There is disappointment and anguish, echoes of childhood pain and messed up lives. Behind the faith of many lie deep scars of regret, even as they resolutely aim to follow Christ’s calling. These wounds continue to describe personal identity even among those who know their lives are rooted in Christ; they become part of the story, echoing St. Paul’s testimony that we carry this treasure in jars of clay.
Questions of eschatology feature highly. What happens at the end to those who do not trust in Christ or who choose to trust in someone else? And when exactly is God planning to wrap it all up? ‘How long, O Lord?’ from the evidence collected here and anecdotally elsewhere, is a prayer which recurs like a pulse in the body corporate.
Amid the inherent seriousness of the responses lies a certain playfulness, without which faith perhaps becomes too rigid and incurious: what about those teenage years and the vintage of that wine? However, the dominant sense is of how people should live for Christ in the modern world, in the midst of so much choice and complexity. People want to express themselves as Christian but perceive they inhabit a culture whose transience and ambiguity call for the wisdom they feel they lack. The task of growing disciples is rooted in this dilemma, crying out for attention in all churches.
And finally, the answer to the most fundamental question we could ask God is…42, at least if the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is anything to go by. Thankfully it isn’t. But I wonder what is?
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