Hashtagging the Good News of Social Media

I thought about writing this piece the old fashioned way, with words forming sentences forming paragraphs and so on. But I realized that instead of writing an essay about hashtags, Twitter, and the good news of social media, the piece itself should embody its own content. As Marshall McLuhan reminded us in 1964, “the medium is the message.” The form of the medium embeds itself in the message. It’s one thing to write content about Twitter; it’s another thing to write content for Twitter.

So, ready for a #TwitterSermon? Here we go. (You can follow along on Twitter by clicking here.)

The Good News of Social Media is not followers or friends or likes or retweets.

The Good News of Social Media is context. Because context changes everything.

Take Jesus for example. There’s a story of him passing through an area when a Canaanite woman comes up to him. #Mark7 #Matthew15

This isn’t the “Jesus love me this I know” fellah we sing about.

This Jesus seems a bit grumpy. #SomebodyMissedTheirNap

The woman’s daughter is suffering and she knows Jesus can help.

But Jesus ignores her and says “Send her away.”

Kind of the opposite of “Come follow me.” #Ouch

The woman persisted. But Jesus insisted: “You’re a Canaanite, I’m an Israelite. I’m the bread of life & you’re a mangy dog.” #Paraphrase

This Jesus is a jerk face. But this woman isn’t afraid of #JesusTheJerkFace.

“Even the dogs get crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

The next line tells us Jesus flip-flops his position completely. #NiceGuyJesus is back and the woman’s daughter is healed. #HappilyEverAfter

This encounter could just be a glimpse of Jesus having a bad day. Everyone gets a little hungry and angry now and then. #Hangry

But when you zoom out and see where Mark’s Gospel goes from here, this brief encounter can be seen as a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.

From this point on we see Jesus leave the “us” and encounter the “them,” stepping further beyond the walls of his Jewish community.

This woman is responsible for the conversion of #JesusTheJerkFace. His ministry and our world is forever changed. #OriginalJesusFeminist

Because Jesus eventually sees her as more than the Canaanite cliché his culture stereotyped her to be. #StereotypesAreTheOppositeOfContext

Jesus sees her as a woman of faith, as a human being, as a subject rather than an object. Jesus has empathy with her and her situation.

What was once the encounter between a man and a dog becomes an encounter between two humans.

Jesus, the divine other, identifies with the otherness of this woman. And this empathy/context changes everything. #EmpathyMustBeContextual

This is the Good News of Social Media.

Social media is all about context. And context can change everything.

This is putting yourself in their shoes.

This is the empathetic “me too.”

This is the anti-subtweet.


We see this most clearly in the use of the hashtag, the small octothorpe made famous by @Twitter and now synonymous with social media.

The hashtag as we know it wasn’t invented by @Twitter but by the ppl who were using the platform in its earliest years. #HistoryOfTheHashtag

Hashtags emerged out of the world of productivity systems. A hashtag was used to denote the context of an action. #GTD

Eventually people started using hashtags to group people in different lists.

And now they are used at conferences and in classrooms, on subways and in sanctuaries. #SocialMediaSunday

They’re used anytime anyone wants to provide a bit more context to whatever they’re posting on whatever social platform is most popular.

Hashtags are like light bulbs. They are digital flashbulbs going off here and there and everywhere around the world wide web…

…providing the necessary luminescence so that we can truly see. Rather than reading a tweet in the dark, a hashtag is a burst of light…

…letting you see what’s really going on, from Arab Springs to whatever we’re Occupying next to the latest news to break in our world.

Jesus is the tweet and you are the hashtag.

In the beginning was the Tweet & the Tweet was with God & the Tweet was God. The Tweet became flesh & made its dwelling among us #Paraphrase

This divine spark, this life of all people is God with us, come to life in the human Jesus.

Jesus is the Word that will never stop becoming flesh. Jesus is the Word and we must be its context.

You are a hashtag, a burst of light for love and justice, showing the world around you what God looks wherever you find yourself.

The Word will always be made flesh, and that flesh looks like the skin that you’re wearing.

#TheGoodNewsOfSocialMedia is that the word can become fresh, present in whatever context we find ourselves in.

Let’s talk a bit more about twitter.

My first tweet was on July 29, 2008. There are only 15,654,867 people who have been using twitter longer than me. #YesIFiguredThatOut

That’s not too bad given the 974 million twitter accounts that exist. That’s 1 for every 8 ppl in the world. #ItsASmallWorldAfterAll

My first tweet said “I’m not sure if I’ll keep this. Thoughts?” Over 24k tweets later, I think I’ve answered my initial question.

But it is my third tweet that I think is one of my most profound. I wrote two words: “I’m tired.” #BlewYourMind

Chances are I was simply playing with this new technology when I should have been sleeping.

But given the white noise that surrounds our lives today I think this tweet speaks to more than just sleep deprivation. #Prophetweet

I’m tired of twitter being a shouting platform. Because it can also be a listening platform. #DONTUSEALLCAPS

I’m tired of twitter being the last word of an online troll. Bc it can also be the first word of lifelong friendship. #FriendsRFriends4Ever

I’m tired of people saying my friends on twitter aren’t real friends. #NotTrue

Virtual isn’t the opposite of real. It’s the opposite of physical. There are different ways to experience the same reality.

It is these virtual realities, these real virtualities, that we live and move and have our being. #WelcomeToTheMatrix

You see, social media wrenched the keys to the cultural kingdom away from the pundits & gatekeepers, giving ordinary ppl a voice.

There is nothing selfish about the selfie, nothing fake about Facebook.

Every interaction, both physical and digital, is a real encounter that shapes our sense of self.

Each encounter is an opportunity for empathy, to be present, to re-present “God with us” for whomever the “us” might be.

Don’t ignore the context around you. Jesus did once and it wasn’t his finest moment. #DontBeAJerkFace

You are the Word made fresh.

God has hands; they’re attached to your wrists. Use them to impact the world around you, to rehearse the reign of God every single day.

Live in your context, both physical and digital.

Because you are #TheGoodNewsOfSocialMedia


As the church dips her toe into the brave new world of digital and social media we must remember the symbiotic relationship between form and content. The internet is not simply a new broadcast mechanism. It is a Digital Cathedral, as Keith Anderson describes it, that invites us to engage with one another, blurring the line between consumer and creator. A tweet doesn’t have to lead me to another piece of content. It can be in and of itself the content to engage.

This means that we rethink both the way we use social media (shifting from broadcast to engagement) and the way we craft our content (don’t just copy and paste your sermon as a giant Facebook post). Create content specific to its container. Because how you do something is the foundation of what you are doing; the medium is the message.

In other words, don’t tweet about your ministry; the tweet itself can be the ministry. Don’t use social media to invite people to an event; see social media as the event that has already begun.

And remember that you are the good news of social media. So therefore go and engage in ministry to all the nations, tweeting them in the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit. Amen.

(HT: Josh Bishop for introducing me to Marshal McLuhan and Bethany Stolle for introducing me to a theology of empathy, context, and all things design thinking.)






Jim Keat

Rev. Jim Keat is the Associate Minister of Digital Strategy & Online Engagement at The Riverside Church in New York City and the Director of Online Learning at the Center for Progressive Renewal. He is a divergent thinker, an ideation specialist, and an aspiring minimalist. In his spare time, Jim enjoys solving a Rubik’s cube, going on a long run, playing with his cats, Whitman and Wendell. To find out more about Jim go to www.JimKeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @IdeasDoneDaily.

Cover photo: César Guadarrama Cantú “Sunset at Valle Bravo, Mexico.” Via Unspash. CC 2.0 license.