Why I Hashtag – a guest post by Jeff Fiet

[I met Jeff Fiet on Twitter and have enjoyed reading his wisdom and having fun with his word games there. In today’s guest post he gives wisdom about playing around on line.]

Paul & Barnabas’s Excellent Adventure #XianMovieMashup

This was my very first entry into the world of the hashtag game. Someone I followed on Twitter at the time had been engaging in this hashtag game and his tweets were funny, so I though perhaps I would try one myself. I typed it, hit TWEET, and then went about my day.

Paul & Barnabas’s Excellent Adventure #XianMovieMashup

The tweet received a few favorites and perhaps a retweet or two, but nothing significant. Then, about a week later, I was informed by the aforementioned Twitter user that my tweet had been referenced on a podcast. I was surprised and mildly intrigued. I decided to download the podcast and listen to it. The show is called The Moonshine Jesus Show and its hosts are Mark Sandlin and David Hensen. They talked theology as it related to current events and politics. Then, at the very end, they had a hashtag game. They would begin by listing their personal favorites from the previous week’s hashtag and then they would offer a new hashtag for their listeners to use. My hashtag about Paul and Barnabas was included in their favorites for that week. In that moment, I became hooked on hashtag games.

That was over a year ago and I have played countless hashtag games since, both ones suggested by The Moonshine Jesus Show, and others that I’ve discovered through connecting with other hashtag gamers and by scouring the trending hashes. I’ve come to consider myself pretty adept at them and have received compliments about some of my plays … things such as “Hashtag is your second language” or “You’re brilliant at hashtag games.” I don’t write this in order to boast or to lift myself up high. What I wish to communicate to you is how immersed in the hashtag gaming culture I’ve become. (Yes, there truly is an entire culture around hashtag gaming.) I was hooked. And every compliment, every fav, every retweet, drew me farther into the obsession, farther into the cult.

Now, I can hear some of you laughing. Perhaps you think I am making far too much out of something as mundane and trivial as hashtag games. And until recently, I would have totally agreed with you. Some days, I probably still do. But today, I am reeling from a significant reality check that I experienced. A few days ago, I decided to modify a hashtag that was trending and see if I could get others playing my adapted hashtag game. The trending hashtag was #MakeAMovieConfused. I changed it to #MakeAMovieTheological.

As a Christian pastor with many Christian followers on Twitter, I thought this new hashtag would be something I could get others to latch on to. At first, it seemed like it might just fizzle out, with little or no interaction. I even tweeted directly at some fellow Christian hashtaggers to encourage them to join in and received very little response immediately. I considered just cutting my losses and giving up. Then, finally, a couple of friends tweeted with that hashtag. Then a few more. Then a couple of more significant Twitter users (with many more followers than I) joined in the fray. Soon my little hashtag game was taking off. I had a hard time keeping up with reading all the ones that were coming up. It was exhilarating! And it inspired me to keep playing the game myself.

All in all, this would have been fine and perhaps even made for a great day. But therein lied the problem. It took up the entirety of my day. Sure, I accomplished a few small things along the way. But most of my day was focused, not on living my life and doing the work and ministry to which I’ve been called, but on playing a silly hashtag game on Twitter. It was fun. It was exciting. But it was also meaningless.

So, why did I do it then? Two reasons: affirmation and connection. Something inside me derives joy from seeing friends and strangers favorite a tweet on mine. I feel affirmed. I feel like I am funny or witty or appreciated. And maybe others actually feel those things about me when they read my tweets as well. But why am I seeking that sort of affirmation on Twitter? It’s because I don’t seem to be finding it in real life.

The same is true with my desire for connection. I love it when someone replies to one of my tweets or retweets it with a comment. I feel like I connected with that person in some way. But they are just a picture on a screen (maybe not even a real picture – might be a cartoon cat or a clipart tree or who knows what). Despite my feeling of connection, there is no real connecting happening. Again I find myself seeking something online that I am not finding in real life.

Don’t get me wrong. Hashtag games are not the problem. The problem is my lack of effort at building relationships in my real life. The problem is the lack of attention I devote to making myself a person worthy of being affirmed. The problem is me. If I can’t change me, the real life me, then I will never find the affirmation and connection that I so desire…no matter how many hashtag games I play.


Jeff FietJeff serves as co-pastor of a church in the panhandle of Nebraska alongside his wife April. He is a father of two kids, a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, an avid SPAM™ collector, and a fantasy fiction enthusiast. Jeff expresses his creativity through writing, hashtag games, and Christian parodies of pop songs.

Follow him on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/sidelinetheolog
Like his FB page at: http://www.facebook.com/sidelinetheology
E-mail him at: sidelinetheology@gmail.com


Tim here now: Jeff’s words remind me of passages from Ecclesiastes:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (Ecclesiastes 3:12.)

Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12.)

Those verses and Jeff’s post raise some questions to consider:

  1. Are you ever distracted by things you do on line? 
  2. What can you do to avoid those distractions while not rejecting being on line entirely?
  3. When have you found connection with people on line that has built you up and encouraged you in your faith?
  4. How can you use your on line presence to encourage others in their relationship with God and the people he’s put in their lives?


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16 Responses to Why I Hashtag – a guest post by Jeff Fiet

  1. Jeannie says:

    I’m really glad to see Jeff here at your blog, Tim. Jeff, as one of the people who participated avidly in that #MakeAMovieTheological game the other day, I know exactly what you’re saying. (It’s almost like an addiction: “Just one more, just one more!”) It’s fun and amusing and there’s certainly a place for doing fun and amusing things but yes, if it’s an escape or an attempt to seek connection where it’s not possible to find it, then that’s a problem. I like it best when the little brief connections on Twitter turn into more significant links: e.g. when I go and visit your wife’s blog and see what she’s musing about there, maybe leave a comment, etc. — of course that’s not true in-person connection either, but it starts to give more dimensions to the person who, up to that point, just consists of 140-character statements.

    But there is one sentence in your post I don’t agree with: “The problem is the lack of attention I devote to making myself a person worthy of being affirmed.” You are already worthy of being affirmed and you don’t have to make yourself better. The older I get, the more I believe that life is just about living in the love God has for us and coming to experience that more and more. God bless you and April today, Jeff — and thanks, Tim, for being such a great host as always.

    • Tim says:

      “You are already worthy of being affirmed and you don’t have to make yourself better.” Amen to that, Jeannie. God affirms his people and there is no other affirmation needed.

    • Jeff Fiet says:

      Jeannie, first off, thank you for your contributions to the #MakeAMovieTheological hashtag. And don’t misunderstand me, I love the people I’ve met through Twitter. And the depth of some of the conversations I experienced on Twitter has been wonderful and uplifting to me. That said, it becomes dangerous (for me, at least) when those interactions become the ONLY or BEST source of interaction that I have regularly in my life. As deep as the conversations can be and as connected as I may feel in those moments, there is still something about real, tangible interactions that cannot be duplicated on that medium.

      Secondly, thank you for your critique of that particular statement I made. I think what I was trying to get it is the way that I use my time and energy. Am I working to be the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person God wants me to be? Or am I just looking for others to affirm who I am? I don’t think my statement quite reflected those questions, so thank you for pointing that out. God bless you today as well.

  2. Lisa Deam says:

    Tim and Jeff, I appreciate this post and I resonate with some of the things Jeff has said. I spend so much time on Twitter partly b/c, as you (Jeff) put it, I am “seeking something online that I am not finding in real life.” I used to be an academic and now I’m out there on my own. Since I don’t have an office job or a university or any other institution to which to belong, I find myself turning to Twitter for a lot of my interactions.

    Partly I’m on Twitter b/c I’m an author and partly b/c I’m learning a ton from other people and genuinely enjoy interacting with them. That part is encouraging and faith building. But some of my desire to be on Twitter so much is definitely b/c I’m not finding meaningful interaction in my everyday life, and that is indeed a problem!

    I’m not sure how to solve this problem since I’m not part of a “real space” community that thinks and talks the way I want and need to. Do I change the “real life me” and become someone who doesn’t need that kind of talking/thinking? I’m not sure that I even can. It’s a question I just don’t know the answer to right now.

    • Laura Droege says:

      Your dilemma resonates with me. I don’t know people in my real life who are interested in my interests, think the way I do, etc. I’ve tried changing myself to fit in various groups and have met with defeat; true relationships didn’t develop, and I didn’t like myself. (I once read that conformity is when everyone likes you except yourself.) I’ve tried just being myself, expressing my opinions and interests, and I only met with arguments or glazed-over eyes. It’s only because I interact with people online that I know anyone else who is interested in writing and fiction and gender issues. I need that kind of interaction, and really, I’d prefer to have it in real life relationships. But I don’t know how that will ever happen.

      • Jeff Fiet says:

        I have tried to change myself to fit in before, too. And you are right. It never works. I wonder what those relationships would have looked like if we had not tried to change ourselves to fit in, but simply interacted with them as we are. It may have made things more uncomfortable at first, but I wonder if the end result would have been different. But I honestly don’t know.

        • Laura Droege says:

          Honestly, I was afraid that doing that would backfire. This particular group was a volunteer group of women from my daughters’ private school. Having been to a private school as a child, I know that how the mothers interact and whether or not that like the other moms can affect how their kids interact in and out of the classroom. It’s bad enough to be ostracized for being oneself, but for one’s children to be negatively affected because of adult social relationships is awful. At least that’s been my experience!

        • Jeff Fiet says:

          Laura, I totally understand that. I honestly cannot imagine a scenario in which being ourselves around those who are vastly different from us would be easy. And as a father, I can totally understand how in that sort of situation there would be concern not only for yourself but for your kids. That just adds a further wrinkle to the whole thing, doesn’t it? Life is so complicated.

      • Lisa Deam says:

        I know what you mean. God’s blessings on you–and me!–as we try to sort all this out online and in real life.

    • Jeff Fiet says:

      Lisa, thank you for your comments. I very much resonate with your sentiments. I’ve struggled to find others (particularly other males) in my real life who share my interests. But I will admit to being lazy in that search far too often and relying heavily on those online interactions because I am afraid to reach out in real life.

      Also, I’ve found at times that when I make real life relationships with people who are nothing like me, that sometimes amazing and unexpected things can come out of those relationships. It is good to be affirmed for who we are by others like us, but sometimes those who are not like us see who we are even better. So, their affirmation of those things can be quite meaningful. That, of course, is if we are able to interact with them without changing ourselves, which can be challenging. Especially for conflict avoiders like me. 🙂

  3. Kara says:

    This is definitely something I too struggle with! I often find myself swinging on the pendulum from spending way too much time on social media to becoming a Luddite and deactivating all my accounts. I tend to rationalize this action in a Matthew 18 “cut off your hand” kind of way ;-). Balance in this area is a constant battle but as Neil Postman once said, in one of my favorite books, Amusing Ourselves to Death, “No medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are…This is an instance in which the asking of the questions is sufficient. To ask is to break the spell.”
    I think that’s the first step right? Admitting there’s a problem?! It at least gets us going in the right direction and causes us to proceed with caution and check our motives as we go. While I am often built up through others (not necessarily through Twitter, but blogs, articles, or keeping in touch through Facebook), the sheer amount of information is daunting. It often seems too much for my brain to process and in the times where I have taken long breaks from social media, I can think more clearly and feel more engaged with those around me.
    Inevitably, I find my way back online again and seeking out that balance. I will admit though, I’m sometimes tempted to go back to an old Nokia just to remove the temptation of distraction in those moments during the day that used to be filled with quiet contemplation but are now replaced with “checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.”
    Sigh, the struggle is real!

    • Jeff Fiet says:

      Kara, I appreciate your comment. It’s funny that you mention the “cut off your hand” idea from Matthew as I happen to be preaching on the Markan version of that on Sunday. Balance in this area seems to be so difficult to come by and the idea of cutting it out all together looks very appealing. But then I see how integral the internet and social media has become to society and to my job as a pastor and it begins to look impossible. I can’t delete my Facebook account because I need to post to the church page every so often. I can’t just go completely off the grid because all of the denominational communications come through e-mail and half of my committee work is done via e-mail. It just seems like the one extreme is not plausible, the other extreme is not desirable, and a balance is not possible. So, what are we left with? A constant struggle. This is the life our society has constructed for us.

  4. Kenny Pierce says:

    Because I didn’t comment enough on FB, this stayed with me yesterday and reading through the comments is enlightening.

    About social media – I often think about television in the 70s. It went from Dad forbidding us from having a 2nd TV in the house (and yet he’d hog ours, addicted to sports as he was). Later, we were told not to stay up to late and watch too much TV (which I, of course, did – watching old movies until the wee hours that I circled in the TV Guide for the week). I was definitely addicted to that passion of mine, and I drop references to obscure bits from old films to this day because of it.

    My sister prohibits my nieces from doing the same, and also getting “off of electronics”, forbidding the girls from opening accounts on social media and such, or playing too many games. I hear the same “turning them into zombies” comments coming from her and always think back to when we were younger.

    Looking back, however, I learned so much from things like Electric Company, Schoolhouse Rock, Sesame Street, Zoom, etc. in those days (almost by osmosis). Now, I find fellowship, I learn that others struggle as I do, I’m better versed on theological and social perspective, and I found a safe path to a spiritual base from it all. And yes, I waste an infinite amount of time on social media. I find myself angrier and more outraged at the bytes flying by. I look up from a phone and am annoyed at everyone else doing the same as I walk down the street. I play too much Words with Friends or Hashtag games, and the Internet is fodder for my ADD and OCD tendencies. It’s like a giant library, open 24×7 (or like a TV guide in high school, with ready access to my beloved film noir), and my brain goes down every rabbit hold that it desires to follow. It’s a serious balancing act, as has been noted by others.

    Despite my self-proclaimed fascination (that you spoke to for yourself so well here), there are gold nuggets buried in the noise, and I’d not want to lose those for anything. I suppose it’s like making one’s way through everyday life, and seeking a healthy balance. Finding the music in all of the noise. Lifting your eyes to the right hill amidst the clamor and seeking that of God there (how was that for taking liberties with the Psalm of Ascents?). Yadda, yadda.

    For me, I’m always seeking out other quirky and kindred types along the way (who might be circling their own TV guides and staying up too late when you thought that you were alone). Hashtags are my 21st Century TV Guide.

    • Jeff Fiet says:

      Kenny, this comment reminds me that though much has changed over time, much has remained the same as well. This addiction to technology, while in many ways is new, is not all together removed from history. There have always been things for people to distract themselves with. Smartphones and tablets are just the new distraction of the day. It all comes down to the choices we make. Are we going to allow the technology to control us? Or are we going to control the technology (or our use of it)? The question becomes, “Are we diving into the noise to find the music or are we diving in to avoid the silence?

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