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When pithy is profound

When the Bible Society in Australia translated the Bible into SMS back in 2005, there was much snickering in the press about such an enterprise. Worthy columnists delighted in quoting such verse as ‘ in da Bginnin God cre8d da heavens & da earth’, and no-one took it very seriously.

When @chatbible was launched on Twitter in May 2010, one of the ideas I had to defend in print and radio interviews was that anything worthwhile could be said about such a profound book within a 140 character limit.  My contention at the time was that the concentration required to condense your biblical insight or enquiry into 140 characters might enhance, rather than denude the quality of the exchange. Chatbible discussions on subjects such as the Sermon on the Mount and Ecclesiastes have proved that to be true.

Today, British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has said that texting, far from ruining the linguistic capacity of young people , could actually improve it. In an article in today’s Guardian newspaper she describe poetry as a form of texting, and goes on to say that :’it’s a perfecting of a feeling in language – it’s a way of saying more with less, just as texting is. ‘

The Australian SMS Bible is no longer available to download. However, I suspect that the reason for that is that it has been superseded by so many other initiatives. Today there are people sending out verses from the Bible in text messages, tweets and Facebook messages all over the world. Of course a 140 or 160 character limit does mean that you have to choose your verses carefully – but that’s no bad thing. With so many gems to choose from, lingering a little longer in the jeweller’s shop before making your selection can only be a pleasure.

Here’s a question to ponder on, though – if  William Tyndale were alive today, would he be disseminating the word by print or pixel, I wonder?

Can a conversation be too big?

So let me get this right. This Lent there will be people in their homegroups not only doing “homegroupy” type things, but also venturing out into the virtual world like astronauts leaving the mother ship?  In addition to the usual printed materials which we have come to expect from homegroup studies, there will be online videos and podcasts and discussion forums and internet chats and..?

The answer to all the above is “yes”.  This year the Big Read offers people the chance not just to interact within their homegroup, but to contribute to a wider conversation which can be accessed anywhere in the world by anyone with a computer. Instead of talking about encouraging an overseas missionary, for example, you could send them an email direct from your group. Maybe the following week they could skype you back by way of a thank you. The possibilities are enormous.

In addition to all this interactivity, there will be an ongoing Twitter chat about the issues raised by the Big Read on @chatbible . Each day throughout Lent there will be a pithy discussion based around the relevant sections of Matthew’s Gospel. The 140 characters should keep the comments short and sweet, but they can still pack a punch. Neil Armstrong’s famous lunar quote (13.mp3) was only 50 characters long , but no-one seems to feel it was lacking in value!

Some may feel this is one more step on the slippery slope to a kind of hyperinteractivity. However, the sobering fact is this. Although people are talking at length about the linguistic heritage of the Bible in the English language, there is a danger that it becomes little more than a piece of heritage – like a stately home or a love letter preserved behind glass. We cannot afford to do this – which is why we must embrace these Twenty-First Century media to encourage a wholehearted debate about a book whose pages we regard as sacred.

Join in the debate somewhere, somehow – on Twitter, on a forum, in a homegroup. Be part of a big Bible conversation – it will be poorer without you.

Gearing up

Coming up next week will be an exciting announcement about a new partnership between @chatbible and @bigbible. Together they will be contributing to the most media-rich, interactive and borderless homegroup bible study that most of us have ever seen.

In the meantime, here is an introduction from Rev Dr Tom Wright, just to whet your appetite…

Richard Littledale

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