The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
As the fall semester at VTS ramps up, and the demands of a new program year grip the church, I’ve noticed two distinct and competing truths about our digital lives. We are paddling hard and gripping the sides of our rafts, riding through white water rapids of words. The ability to post one’s thoughts and read the posts of others 24 hours a day has created a new and craving appetite for expressions and expressing, for knowing and being known.
Breaking news arrives in tweets sooner than columns can be written. Aggregator sites and apps let us funnel only our friends from the worldwide community and choose our news from favorite, trusted sources. We want to be our best creation of ourselves, we want to read a lot about our passions and yet it is tempting to scroll through rather than sit with ideas. Every screen is a potential water slide. At the speed of blinking, we like, share, re-tweet, or move on.
What are congregations to do? How do we respond to the new expectations for constant communication within our communities? How do we invite “friends” and not-yet friends to stop and linger, to slow down and notice deeply?
Research hints that not only are contemporary habits of urgency real, but also attention spans are shorter than ever. Sadly, many of us are offering more words to read to a culture with weaker focus to read them.
From my perspective, organizations that are succeeding in meaningful and transformative communication in the digital age are doing so something different than merely flooding our rafts with words. They have embraced a second truth of the current digital reality: a longing for micro-content that can be trusted.
Constant contact and micro-content. A pitch-perfect case in point would be the Society of St. John the Evangelist and their “Brother, Give Us a Word” project. As a subscriber, I receive a word or phrase each morning – meeting the constant contact expectation. The one or two sentences that accompany it are rich and inviting. Most days that is all I need to breathe in the heart of God and breathe out my growing anxiety about the day. When time and wonder stir, I click through to read the full sermon from which the pithy micro-content was gleaned. Some mornings I am inspired to share the monastic wisdom with my “friends” through social media, and on rarer occasions, I leave a comment for the Brothers.
I don’t need more words. I need the spaces between them. For me, the answer to the white water of voluminous words is a careful strategy of constant contact and micro-content – saying less but saying it consistently and carefully.
Voltaire famously apologized to friends that he was “sorry for writing a long letter because I did not have time to write a short one.” Let us be disciplined to use fewer, carefully chosen words for those few words have the best chance of being “nails firmly fixed.”
Dr. Lisa Kimball is Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership and Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at VTS.