Faith Works 6-14-14
Tweet, tweet, tweet go the birdies
What's a tweet?
If you reply that it's the sound a bird makes, you're probably over . . . a certain age.
If you answer that it's a message of 140 characters or less sent through a social media platform on a computer, smart phone, or other digital device, then you know Twitter.
For years, I've noted my Twitter handle in the closing of this column, @Knapsack, and used my own Twitter feed to share the web address, or "url" of the online version of this column @NewarkAdvocate (yep, the mothership has a Twitter feed, too).
In one format or another, I've been writing a "Notes from my Knapsack" since 1985, and pulling children's sermon object lessons out of an old knapsack in front of worshipers on Sundays since about the same time.
And I would say that, in a sense, I've been tweeting since about the same time.
Now if you know the history of Twitter.com, you may be aware that the now-powerful social media website only went online in 2006; technically, I started a Twitter account in 2008, so there's a bit of a gap in my chronology.
The version of tweeting I did before Twitter is called a church sign message board. It's a particular challenge of communications that makes 140 characters seem like a Russian novel.
I serve a congregation that put up a new sign last December; Newark Central sits right on Mt. Vernon Rd. and the traffic going by certainly justifies putting some resources and energy into the messages we put up there.
Since the new sign went in, plenty of people have passed along to me suggestions for what we could put up on it. They're all well-intentioned ideas, but they tend to all run into the same problem.
They're mostly over 70 characters.
Now, if you don't do Twitter, I should explain two things. One is that, if you text, you can tweet (or at least receive tweets), which makes Twitter a good communications tool if you have a group or audience that uses texting. A text can't be more than 160 characters; Twitter holds back 20 characters for the address, hence their limit of 140 for a tweet.
And a character is a letter, but a space is also a "character" since it uses up some of your allocated space in the text/tweet, ditto punctuation. With those two factors in mind, you run into some challenges.
Read this sentence: The problem is that, actually, you can't fit as much into a tweet as you might think, especially when you're new to this social media tool.
From the colon to the period was 139 characters. Boom.
So if you want to put "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car!" that's 44 characters; but "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. - Jeremiah 29:11" is 151. You can't put that in a tweet, let alone on a church sign.
You can put some abbreviations and such in, but it's amazing how quickly a simple short thought becomes incomprehensible that way.
Church signs, like Twitter, favor the punchy, the brisk, the short phrase. If you have a full sentence, odds are it won't work. And what makes it even tougher than Twitter, on top of having half the character count of a tweet, is that visually you have to break your lines and use spaces clearly . . . so you really don't often have the ability to use all 70.
So Twitter, when it came along, was very familiar to me. I've tried to figure out how to share news of events or make passers-by think in 50 to 100 characters for years, but I haven't been able to sit on my sofa to do it in the past. I had to stand in the rain sliding letters into place!
For some of the best sign messages in the area, let me tip the hat to two in Heath: Christ Lutheran's message board on Hebron Rd. is well-known and often thought provoking; some of the funniest messages week in and week out along with practical announcements is the Heath Fire Department station on Airport Road.
And their unsung scribe often has two different messages on each side! Both are always worth a look.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what sign made you think at email@example.com or, of course, follow @Knapsack on Twitter.