Today We’ve Disappeared by April Yamasaki

Today’s post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by April Yamasaki. April is a pastor and writer who blogs on spiritual practice, faith, and life at Her new book is Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal available from Menno Media/Herald Press, Amazon, and your local bookstore.

A year ago, I was pretty much a stranger to social media. Once upon a time, I had joined Facebook to see some pictures sent by a friend, then promptly hid my profile since I hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it in or find new friends. I had several invitations to LinkedIn that I had dutifully saved instead of deleting. Every so often, one of my sisters would send me an email signed from “your Facebook Liaison,” so I wouldn’t miss out on any family news.

But last May, I finally followed up on my LinkedIn invitations–and yes, they still worked even though they were a few years old. I signed up for my own Facebook, then Google+. I started blogging. By Christmas, I had signed up for Goodreads and Twitter too.

As Lent approached, I learned that one friend was planning to give up Facebook for his Lenten practice. “That’s not for me,” I said to myself. The world of social media was all still new to me. It was something I could dip into or out of at any time. I wasn’t immersed in it every day.

Then a Twitter friend said he was going to “disappear” for just one day on Feb. 27 in honor of the 27 million men, women, and children who’ve disappeared in slavery around the world. I decided to follow suit—no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Google+, no Goodreads, no blogs. I posted this on my own blog the night before:

Today We've Disappeared

I didn’t think anyone would miss me. After all, I don’t blog every day. I don’t post something on Facebook or Google+ every day. Even my daily Twitter activity was just a few tweets. Who would notice?

As it turned out, I noticed—much more than I thought I would. I thought about the millions of people who have disappeared. I wondered about the people they were missing and that were missing them. I held them all in my prayers: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. That was the reason I had “disappeared” from social media that day. But I also discovered that I felt more focused. I felt freer from distractions. I felt less pressed for time.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as I’ve been reading chapter 9 of Return to Our Senses on “Facebook, Blogging, and Go To Prayers.” Is social media “a wonderful tool, or a terrible distraction”? I can see the potential for both.

And so even as the end of Lent is in sight, I’m making a new commitment not just for Lent but for the future: for a once-a-week, social-media-free day, Saturday 6pm – Sunday 6pm, and I’m coupling that with a commitment not to look back endlessly through everything I’ve missed.

The truth is, a person is always missing something. It’s not humanly possible to know everything about everything. And that’s okay. God knows. God is sovereign. I’m resting in that thought.



Twitturgies by Gerard Kelly

This is the second post in the series Lord Teach Us To PrayIt was originally posted in 2009 as part of a series on What is a Spiritual Practice, but is is so good that I wanted to reblog it as part of this series on prayer.

Gerard Kelly and his wife Chrissie founded and co-lead The Bless Network, a growing family of talented and passionate young leaders working for the transformation of Europe. Bless uses short-term mission placements on mainland Europe as a learning tools, empower young adults to grow through ‘missional formation’: encountering the God of mission and finding purpose in the mission of God. The Kelly’s live in France, where bless are developing an intentional community and missional base on a former cider farm in Normandy.

Gerard prays on twitter at Gerard and Chrissie have co-authored ‘Intimate with the Ultimate’, a popular guide to the life of prayer published by Authentic in 2009. Gerard has published around 10 other titles, including ‘Twitturgies’ which is a collection of some of his Twitter prayers.


Gerard and Chrissie Kelly

Gerard and Chrissie Kelly

As reported in London’s Independent and around the world, Ireland’s top Catholic Cardinal Sean Bray has urged his flock to use Twitter as a means of prayer. In a speech in honour of the late Father Patrick Peyton, the Priest famous for coining the phrase “the family that prays together stays together,” Cardinal Bray insists that a new movement of prayer can arise using new technology and social networks.

Publicity-seeking hype, or a genuine call to prayer? Can social networks genuinely become part of spiritual discipline in the 21st Century?

My own experiment with prayer on Twitter would suggest that they well might. At the end of February this year, I was reflecting on what value Twitter might have in my own life. It was just days after the Amsterdam air incident, when a Turkish jet crash-landed in a field a few kilometers from my home. Many people from our church community were involved in the rescue efforts and in treating the victims as they were rushed to local hospitals. And many others were astounded by the speed at which Twitter users were able to inform others of the crash. This was a week in which Twitter, in more ways than one, got everybody talking. And it got me thinking. Two things happened to me as a result. The first was a prayer that rose in my heart: “This day, Lord, be born in me. This day teach. This day heal. This day win, in death, surprising prizes. This day rise, this day rise in me.”

The second was a word: Twitturgies. Why not use Twitter as a means of prayer, all the time accepting the constraints of communication in less than 140 characters? In essence I simply took the Twitter question “What are you doing?” and translated it as “What are you praying?” taking the prayers I was praying in any case and crafting them into personal liturgies.

Two hundred and twenty-four Twitturgies later, the result has been an unexpected change in my own life of prayer. Others have expressed appreciation for the prayers they have received on Twitter, but the real benefits have been in my own spirituality. By allowing my commitment to Twitturgies to force upon me the regular question, “What are you praying?” the practice of writing Twitturgies has blown a fresh breeze through my prayers.

There are three key ways in which this has really helped me: Firstly, it has empowered me to pray frequent, short prayers, peppering my day with snatched moments of prayer, rather than waiting for the rare occasions when I can spend focused hours praying. I still seek out those times when I can, but I am praying more overall by adding these shorter prayers. I don’t update Twitturgies at fixed times, but they are often early-morning or late-evening “tweets,” with whatever opportunities I can find in between to use my computer or phone to pray.

Secondly, the forced constraint of 140 characters brings incredible focus to my prayers. On many occasions I have been surprised by the clarity that emerges. Twitturgies are shared with others, so they have to be interesting, accessible, and easy to understand—criteria that should be perhaps applied to prayer more often. Twitter posts are the new Haiku, and as the Japanese have known for centuries, the constraints of form do not stifle creativity: they give it depth. The challenge of expressing heartfelt prayers in such short sentences has been a new discipline in itself.

Lastly, the practice has made me newly conscious of my own prayers and longings. My aim is that Twitturgies be authentic—that is, that they genuinely reflect something I am praying about. They are prayers, not poems as such. I have to ask myself, “What do I want to say to God right at this moment?” “What is on my heart today?” The questions become part of the discipline. The result of this is that I am both a reader and a writer of Twitturgies; the construction of these prayers speaks to my heart also. And because they are short and sharp, they capture very succinctly what is going on in my soul at a given moment. I archive all the prayers so they are also a kind of spiritual journal. I can look back over a day, or a series of days, and see a pattern in the prayers that have emerged. “Reading” this pattern against the events of that day or days helps me to reflect on my own spiritual journey more deeply.

Twitter has become, for me, a vital part of my prayer life. Because it is intended to be a mobile medium (I write as often from my phone as from my laptop), it is a go-anywhere prayerbook. I have prayed “twitturgically” in between appointments, walking home from the office, during a coffee break, in a worship service, and in the last moments before sleep. Perhaps Twitter can become a kind of technological breath-prayer, a “pray without ceasing” application for any of us.

On LIne Community – Does It Work?

Yesterday I posted statistics on how social media is shaping our lives .  It is interesting to see the response to this and recognize the different ways in which we grapple with deluge of social media in relation to our faith.  There are lots of resources emerging to help us maintain a strong and vibrant faith in the midst of this.  I wanted to highlight a couple that I have found very useful

This interview of Mennonite Pastor and author of “Flickering Pixels“, Shane Hipps by Rob Bell is a great place to start.

For a more in depth interview you may like to check out this post on the Mustard Seed Associates blog

Lynne Baab’s latest book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World is another great resource

Of course virtual communities are springing up all over too.  In light of that I thought that this post by Neal Locke was another interesting twist on the conversation:

Technology changes things.  But technology is a part of God’s Creation, and a gift:  We can use it for good, twist it to evil, or ignore it.  The last option, while always popular, has rarely been successful.  Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world, paving the way for the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution. Because it made possible the Reformation, it also brought drastic changes to the church, changing almost every visible aspect of Christian worship and theology in just a few generations.   In our generation, the internet and digital communication have already brought about drastic changes, and will continue to transform the church in sweeping and dramatic ways in a short span of time.

In the past few decades, church participation in our culture has been in steep decline.  And yet, as millions of people leave behind behind their communities of faith, millions more are finding community online, in places that a few years ago wouldn’t have even qualified as places.  Worshiping communities of Christians are also beginning to appear online, especially taking root in 3-dimensional synthetic interfaces known as Virtual Realities, or Virtual Worlds.  The writers of this confession are among them.  Read the entire post

And my question once again – What do you think?  Does social media and our interaction on the internet strengthen or weaken faith?  Are we deluding ourselves by thinking this is a God given medium or are we appropriately taking advantage of the cultural tools God has made available?


Does Social Media Shape Our Lives More Than God Does?

I just found this video – latest in the series on Social Media Revolution thanks to Rev Gene .  Yes that’s right I used social media to find it!!! and it made me wonder how much of our lives now is shaped by social media that pulls away from God rather than towards God.  Now I use social media as much as anyone – start my day with looking at facebook and twitter.  post prayers & blog daily but I still wonder sometimes is this really helping me and others draw closer to God and to the purposes of God for my life?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this.


What is Emerging in our Culture?

Yesterday I participated in a synchroblog on What is Emerging? referring to the emerging church movement and the changes we see happening in our churches and faith communities.  It was obvious that many of us continue to grapple with these issues.  For some they are never far from our thoughts.

This discussion raised other questions for me that I think most of us spend less time thinking about.  They are questions that are central to who we are and what we do at MSA – How is our culture is changing and how we as God’s people will continue to need to change in the future to be more effective followers of Christ.

Some of the changes coming at us are scary – especially the rapid changes in social media that we talked about in the last MSA Seed Sampler on technology and social media and its implications for the future.  And in light of that I wanted to share a recent MSA blog post by Matt Stone in Australia.  He blogs at Glocal Christianity

…do we as Christians see a role for ourselves in the emerging ethical conversations prompted by these new technologies and cultural shifts? Do we seek to have a leading role or a lagging role? Can we imagine some constructive applications, particularly with respect to this social networking technology? Or do we just follow the ways of the world? If we are as into relational community as we say, can we envisage how social networking technologies could be used for good? And can we anticipate some of the pitfalls before we fall into them? 2020 isn’t that far off.  Read the entire article

Matt is one of the most thoughtful and challenging bloggers I follow regularly.  He has also just posted another thought provoking article entitled What Can Google Trends Tell Us About Ourselves

I was scanning Google trends this week and I was noticing a curious trend across many keywords associated with religion.  Read the entire article

Technology & Social Networking – April Seed Sampler is Here

The MSA a Seed Sampler for April was published yesterday.  The topic is a hot one – Technology and Social Networking.

As Andrew Wade our Seed Sampler coordinator says in the introduction

It seems appropriate that I would be working on this edition of Seed Sampler in the same month that Facebook’s market share overtook Google’s and the Apple iPad is launched. “Technology & Social Networking” is a huge topic! We won’t even pretend to be covering this in detail in this issue, but we do want to touch on a few tech-trends, possible implications, and questions we, as Christians, might want to consider as we attempt to navigate the onslaught of technological advances hurtling toward us from the future. We also want to provide a few imaginative responses to the challenges before us.  Read the entire Seed Sampler here

There is a great line up of articles that you might enjoy and though I am probably biased I do think that this is the best Seed Sampler ever.

Seed Smile | Flutter
Seed Story | God’s Kingdom and the Coming Immersive Web – Jason Fowler
Liturgy | Rest For Your Souls – Andy Wade
Reflection | The 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics – Rosie Perera
Seed Share | Telling Stories with Technology – Mike Geertsen
Seed Share | Socialnomics – Erik Qualman
Seed Share | Computer Ministry Grows Like Mustard Seed – Susan Passi-Klaus
Seed Share | High Tech – High Touch – Pathways to Housing
Interview | Transforming Theology Interviews Steve Knight about ‘Theology After Google’
Author Interview | Grown Up Digital – Michael Vaughan of Better Management Today
PBS Reports| Digital Nation – PBS Frontline
Resources | Tech Resources

Social Media and the Church

Bosco Peters made me aware of these videos recently which are very sobering news for all of us who aspire to communicate our message to others and really does make me wonder how effective our social media communications are.  Is it just a way to connect to people or can we really develop meaningful relationships and help people move into a more intimate relationship with God in this way?  What do you think?

Part of what I struggle with is do we unquestioningly take on the tools of the culture without really thinking about their impact on us and our faith.

First the challenge: there are more and more competing voices out there.  How do we convey our message about Christ effectively so that we are actually reaching those that have never heard the message?  On the internet I often feel that I am only talking to the converted.  How relevant is what we say to those who are listening – are they indeed listening or just browsing and flitting quickly through?

Now as the techy in our family I am always the first to embrace new technologies but I still struggle with some of the tensions I see between them and my faith.  Is virtual church really church?

Networking as a Spiritual Practice

I have been a little slow with posting today because Tom and I are on the road again.  We are heading for a few days off in British Columbia with some friends but I wanted to make sure that I posted the last of the articles I have received for the What is a Spiritual Practice Series before I go off line for a feew days.

Today’s article is from Steve Knight who describ3s himself as a kingdom journalist. He is passionate about telling stories and “describing the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11)  He blogs at Tomorrow I will post one from Andy Wade who has recently returned from several years in Hong Kong.

At some point over the past 10 years, I began telling friends (and anyone else who would listen) that “networking” was one of my “spiritual gifts.” I realized, saying this, that networking was not one of the traditional gifts in a strictly biblical sense. But I found the joy and satisfaction I got from connecting personally with other people, as well as the thrill of connecting like-minded people to each other and people to things (e.g., job opportunities, good information, etc.), was really a lot like the serenity and fulfillment one might receive from a healthy, life-giving spiritual practice.  Read the entire article

Are We Twittering Our Lives Away?

Yesterday I reflected on my need to maintain a balanced rhythm of life based on my faith and my sense of what the rhythms of God’s kingdom culture will look like.  This morning I came across this interesting article in the UK Telegraph reflecting on the impact that twitter is having on our lives

As people become their own stalkers, paparazzi and gossip reporters, the greater philosophical question is: does immediately telling the world about the champagne make it taste better? Perhaps it might, but it also leaves rather less time in which to savour the taste  Read the entire article 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am a twitter fan and have found it a very useful tool for staying in touch with like minded people and for connecting me to news articles in areas of interest that I would otherwise have to wade through pages of google documents in order to find.  Though reading five tweets on the possibility of a tsunami that never eventuates really does not constitute news to me.  Probably best for me is that my spirits have often been lifted by a good quote or reflective prayer that is shared.  However I do wonder if we need to hear the blow by blow description of your delayed plane trip or enter into the intimate details of the delivery of your baby.  in fact that kind of twittering is likely to make me want to disconnect rather than connect.  It always makes me feel that my twitter friend sees themselves as the centre of everyone else’s attention, behaviour I expect of a 3 year old but not of an adult.  

My big concern is that we are becoming more and more voyeuristic gaining our gratification from watching the minutia of other people’s lives rather than engaging in life ourselves.  And as this article points out the more time we spend writing about life, even in bite sized pieces,  the less time we have to enjoy it.  

Regaining my balance this last week has meant examining this part of my life very carefully.  I describe myself as a contemplative activist but I find that I can become so focused on social media that there is no time for either contemplation or activism…. so now I am off to the garden for a time of reflection and then maybe I will feel inspired to write some liturgies.  

How do you manage your time?  What are the areas you struggle to keep in balance?  How has social media impacted the rhythm of your life?