Friday, April 10, 2009

Twittering the Sacred

Wall Street's Trinity Church in New York tweeted the Passion play today. From the AP:
In a marriage of Christian tradition and digital technology, Wall Street's Trinity Church is using the micro-blogging service Twitter to perform the story of Jesus Christ.

The main characters will tweet the Passion play for three hours beginning at noon on Good Friday. The feed also can be delivered to mobile devices or e-mail addresses.

You can see the twitterfeed here. At the same time, one Huffington Post blogger contemplates boiling the Haggadah, the (lengthy) text that guides the Passover Seder, down to one tweet, 140 characters; for her, it has become a personal mission over the next year.

I do appreciate the challenge of creatively capturing the transcendent and divine into a concise, typed burst, seemingly a new spiritual art-form. I also do appreciate using cutting-edge technology to communicate your religious message and try to bring people into your religious community, however online. Church attendance is dwindling, and meeting people where they are at - on their computers, during work and play - is a perfectly legitimate strategy to develop and draw in the next generation of religious adherents.

On the other hand, I think you lose much here. You lose three important aspects to religion: sacredness, tradition, and worshipful experience. The sacredness of these rituals, the sense of the momentary in-breaking of the divine into our lives, in my opinion, is lost when you don't personally experience, or take part in, the religious ritual; it is hard for me to imagine that same experience of sacredness divorced from the ceremony by space and technology. Religion is formed and informed by tradition, and the understanding and appreciation of the centuries of history, wrapped into a ritual, practiced like our ancestors, is lost when you participate on-line in 140-character sentiments. And finally, worship is not just communing with the divine, but it is communing with your fellow believers. As such, can you have worship on a computer screen by yourself? Perhaps you can, but you lose the communal nature of worship.



Katie said...

Every Jewish family does it differently, but for ours at least (Reform, bordering on Reconstructionist/Humanist/Jon Stewart Jews), I don't think I've ever seen the same Haggadah two years running. Ours is usually an amalgamation of readings, songs, etc., from various other haggadot and Jewish-centric sources. The main structure of the seder is there, Four Questions, the business with the afikomen, various and sundry blessings of foodstuffs, etc. But lots of things change year to year.

Other families I'm certain do it differently, but that's part of what makes seder special: it is at once a personal and communal experience. Our family does it one way, and it's ours. We put an orange on the seder plate as a sign of inclusion and equality. One year, we forgot it was Passover altogether, and ended up using wet-naps for the hand-washing portion and the dog's chew-bone as a representation of the sacrificial pesach. It was non-traditional, surely, but it was still ours.

I agree that using Twitter probably does eliminate a great deal of the "effect." After all, it's hard to listen to your little cousins shriek as they run around the house looking for a broken afikomen. But an important part of the Jewish experience is seeking and finding new ways to discuss, express, and develop our own individual, and collective, cultural and/or religious experience. In that sense, I think that any way someone wants to celebrate it, as long as it is meaningful to them, that's worthwhile. Also, because Twitter is public, it opens up the possibility that more people are able to understand "the True Meaning of Passover."

A Faithful Reader said...

Rites on the small screen. How modern. If this becomes standard, I for one, will miss the sense of togetherness when I am in a gathered worship experience when I am with other people. That said, whatever it takes to get the message out, to experience the joy and wonder, cannot be overlooked.