Who do we Follow?

When I was a kid, I loved watching cartoons after school and on Saturday mornings. Sitting in front of the TV with a snack, life couldn’t seem to be any better than when entertained by a bunch of animated creatures.

One of my favorite programs to watch was The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show. Each of the characters had their own unique personality and I always enjoyed the various storylines, no matter who was featured.

Of course, for many people these days, any word similar to “tweet” can really only be associated with one thing: Twitter.

The social media juggernaut has built a worldwide presence and serves as a popular outlet for people to connect with one another or offer their opinions on virtually everything to anyone who will listen – or, rather, follow.

The subject of social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat invariably pops up in my Religious Education classes when discussing the influence of social media and secular society on our world today.

The vast majority of my students in any given class will have an account for at least one – if not more – of these networks.

Twitter 1After tracking their popularity online, we will then rummage through various celebrities’ accounts, curious to learn how many people follow the lives of the rich and famous.

For example, Oprah Winfrey, a Twitter user since January 2009, has 37.2 million followers of her account, which includes 12,000 messages, or tweets.

Donald Trump has built a following of 31.4 million users and has tweeted 35,000 times since joining Twitter in March 2009.

Miley Cyrus has held an account for less time, joining Twitter in March 2011. Since then, she’s created a legion of 32.9 million followers, keeping them engaged with over 8,500 tweets.

My personal favorite – and one I use in class activities as a discussion point – is Justin Bieber. A user of Twitter since March 2009, he has tweeted roughly 30,600 times, with a whopping 96 million people following him across the globe, seemingly hanging on to every word or thought shared.

To contrast these celebrities with another well-known figure, I share with my students the Twitter account of Pope Francis.

Yes, the pope is on Twitter.

Jesus’ chief earthly representative has held an account since February 2012.

Using the moniker @Pontifex, Pope Francis has put out a total of just over 1,200 tweets with a following of 10.8 million people tracking his message on Twitter.

Twitter 2Doing the math, one could see how the pontiff has tweeted noticeably less frequently than his fellow celebrities, posting just a single idea almost every day, on average. Not only that, the nature of his tweets is far different, too.

While many people use Twitter as a valuable information tool (news media, for instance), many others – famous or not – often post for self-promotion purposes. Their accounts appear to exist for bragging in order to gain attention to themselves, while sharing senseless, superficial or crude content in their 140-character musings.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, shares thoughts that strive for the benefit and well-being of the entire world – especially the poor. His are notes of encouragement, feeding hope and serving the greater good through wholesome words of substance and prayer, while being both meaningful and inspirational.

Truly, as evidenced by his Twitter user name (a Latin term for “pope”), Pope Francis strives to live up to the translation of his title as a “bridge builder,” bringing people closer to God.

Indeed, much like the children’s game “Follow the leader,” I suppose the notion of Twitter followers can cause us to reflect on our own focus in life.

Who do we follow?

Do we invest our time and attention in false idols such as movie stars, professional athletes or even our personal friends, or do we focus on the life of the true leader – He who is the way, the truth and the life? (John 14:6)

What’s interesting to note about Twitter is not only how many people follow a person’s account, but also how many accounts that user follows.

To return to our sample of subjects mentioned above, Oprah Winfrey follows 279 accounts; Donald Trump follows 45; Miley Cyrus tunes into 372 other Twitter users and Justin Bieber tracks over 303,000 other accounts on Twitter.

Pope Francis? He follows a mere eight. Oh, and it should be noted those eight are simply his own Twitter account in different languages, allowing people of non-English backgrounds to receive God’s gospel message of love and encouragement.

Twitter 3Imagining Jesus had a Twitter account, I figure He would have 2.2 billion followers, or disciples, checking into His tweets of wisdom and direction.

In terms of who He would follow, I would guess He’d only link into the life of His Father and our Father in Heaven.

Then again, wanting to intimately know and be with all of us, maybe He’d have seven billion Twitter accounts He’d be following.

In the ever-changing and demanding society we find ourselves today, as Jesus calls us to follow Him (Matthew 4:19), we need only to ask ourselves if and how devotedly we actually do this.

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