Do You Feel the Love?

I just started following the very wise and quotable author, Eugene Peterson, on Twitter. When I was a parish pastor, I found his words to be balm for my soul. He reminded me regularly to say no to distractions that kept the main thing from being the main thing. He spoke eloquently of the pastoral arts as arts – not sciences demanding fool-proof methods. Ministry means instinct and intuition formed by prayer more than data and its distractions. He called me again and again into community. I am happy to make his acquaintance, again.

I look forward to seeing how he makes use of Twitter. I use Twitter in a course I teach this semester. I have my students share experiences and information gleaned from a community service learning module that is a core component of the course. (If you are interested in finding out a bit about their experience, check out #gc102csl). Consequently, I have been observing the perils and possibilities of this mode of communication. Many scoff at the 140 character restriction, preferring the endless ream of characters available on other social media. But I think Twitter has possibility if you work with the idea that it serves to communicate aphorisms and such, or links for further reading. I tell my students that this assigned use of Twitter serves two purposes; first, it challenges them to think about how they might communicate for the sake of the agency where they work. Second, it charges them with the responsibility of intentionally communicating themselves into the social-media-sphere. Many people – especially young people – are unaware that potential employers search your social media self before considering you as an employee. In sum, those who turn to social media develop a public persona. We need to take responsibility for that. This brings me back to Peterson.

When I checked out Peterson’s home page on Twitter, I noticed that he has something like 10.4 K followers, and follows no one. I imagine the Pope and other notable figures have comparable statistics. But this leaves me asking: is this the real purpose of social media? To launch ideas in one direction alone? Of course, for all I know, Peterson may well have another handle wherein he engages others online, but the optics are odd, all the same. It is problematic to have “followers” while following no-one.

Having said that, I am also well aware of the burden of following people who tweet their every thought, meeting, encounter, and scratch. I find myself buried in posts that burden my brain. But I still feel some degree of responsibility for reciprocity. If you follow me, I need to think seriously about following you. Of course, that need not equate to a requirement to do this; but at least the thought should cross my mind – or, to but it differently, my mind should be crossed by thought of following you. I need to live into the yoke that is both a burden and a buoy by attending to concrete relationships. People mock social media, and I can appreciate that, but at the end of the day it is another way to communicate, and modes of communication always enable both love and its obverse possibility. I’m hoping you feel the love.

Don’t “Like” this Post without Reading It, Please

The other day I noted a new follower of my Twitter account. I’m not the most popular guy in T-world and so tend to scope out followers on those rare occasions when someone signs on. I was interested to find a little URL associated with my new friend and so thought I should see where it led me. Imagine my surprise to discover that at this very site I could get more followers overnight! And to think I thought I needed to write clever, or funny, or inspirational, or thought provoking Twitter tomes to coax folk to follow where I lead. It turns out all I need to do is fork out $20 (on sale!).

This rather reminds me of my otherwise wondrous experiences with blogging. Sometimes, I’ll post a blog, and within minutes will have some “likes.” “Cool,” I’ll think, “I should check out where my fans are from.” I then go to the handy-dandy tool for scouting out those scouting you out, and discover that no-one has visited my blog. They “liked” it from their blog reader, which means they (might have) read the first 50 words or so. I have since discovered that they don’t “like” my blog so much as they would “like” it if I “liked” theirs by returning the favour. All of this got me thinking (this doesn’t always end well).

Do I write for myself, for readers, or for the subject matter?

Maybe I can do all three. Probably I do. OK, I do. But it seems that one or the other takes priority. If my first priority in writing is myself (perhaps to boost my ego), then writing moves in one direction. If I write for readers (perhaps to boost sales), then writing moves in another direction. But if I write out of passion, or even vocation – because not writing seems to be a betrayal of deep longings or persistent proddings – then yet another realization emerges: the subject matter matters. It isn’t that the subject matter trumps writer or reader, but it makes a space for us to gather together. In other words, I want readers who don’t only like what I write, but read what I write because what I write about (writing in this specific post) is more important than my popularity or the reader’s enjoyment, inspiration, etc.

I suppose I have a certain luxury in not needing to make my buck with my luck at likes. Maybe I’m a romantic. Maybe that’s not so bad. At any rate, I am so happy for all who have made it this far in this rambling rant, and am quite content to find a small community of interested writers and readers to share in this journey that doesn’t end in with the full stop.