Dion's random ramblings

Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Apple among the thorns!

On our flight back from Johannesburg today we had a BIT of work to
do! So, out came the laptops (by the way you can use your 3G card on
private flights...). My little Apple is the only rose among the
thorns... Ah, the Macbook Air!

In this photo are (L to R) Graham Power, Peter Serokewa (Uganda),
Steve Johnstone & Lary Ailey (USA).

Freedom and struggle...

The notion of 'struggle' (i.e., political action, social intervention, destabilization of all oppressive structures in society) is a necessary precursor to social freedom.  I think that the same could be said for religious freedom - it takes energy, intervention, and of course a fair amount of courage to become who we are truly intended to be!

The converse reality is of course that there is always a resistance to such action.   Most of us seek to maintain the status quo - even when it is not good!  Have you ever heard the saying 'rather the devil you know than the one you don't?'  Yup, society and individuals resist change, particularly when it is costly and sacrificial.  This can be said of small things (like waking up at 4am to go cycling so that one can prepare for a race), and larger things (like choosing not to be part of the way in which society structures itself towards the enrichment of the few and impoverishment of the many).  I struggle with both of these on so many levels.  Of course there are many, many other areas in my life where action is necessary for me to grow towards freedom - I need to find more time to pray and read the scriptures, I need to create more opportunities to encounter broken people and places so that my heart remains compassionate, I need to find better resources that help me to shape and inform my prayer life, I need to travel less so that I can spend more time with my family, I need to be more deliberate about what I write, say, and do in order to influence greater change in the individuals and structures that surround me...  The list could go on and on!

What I realised in my prayer time on this first Saturday of Lent was that freedom is costly!  It requires intentional planning, and sacrificial action.  It is not comfortable, but it is necessary and the rewards are great.  Here is a verse from scripture that has touched me today:

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?

Jeremiah 8:21-22

For the past few weeks I have been doing quite a bit of work with our nation's politicians - Hellen Zille, Mosioua Lekota, Mvume Dandala, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, Andre Gaum and a few others.  I have also been working with close to 300 religious leaders from across Africa and Southern Africa this week.  The constant refrain has been the application of intentional effort and sacrifice in order to initiate change towards true freedom!  Most of these persons have been engaged towards the http://www.unashamedlyethical.com campaign.  PS, you can watch the video here with a few of these persons here: http://www.unashamedlyethical.com/video/video.html

Well, what has amazed me in this process has been the reaction that I have come up against from all quarters - people resist change!  I have encountered many who have been very critical of our attempts to address social and religious 'evil' in an attempt to work towards freedom.  People like the status quo!  We don't like challenge or change...

Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.

Frederick Douglass,
from his speech celebrating West India Emancipation Day (August, 1857)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Theological Buzzwords: 'Transformation', what is it? A theological explanation.

I was asked by a friend to give an overview of my understanding of the concept of transformation. Here is my attempt at expressing my understanding of the much used concept of transformation.

What is transformation?

The concept of Transformation is linked to a movement of change from one state of being to another.

In Christian terms the movement is always in the same direction, i.e., from a state of sin, brokenness, emptiness and Godlesness to a state of life, blessing, wholeness and adherence to God?s will. The New Testament uses a particular word for this process, it is the Greek word metamorphasou (from which we derive our English word for the transforming process of simple life forms such as a worm to a butterfly).

We are commanded in Romans 12:2 "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Here you can clearly see the movement of being transformed FROM the standards of this world (that lead ultimately to death and destruction ? whether these be physical death such as poverty, death as a result of sexual sin, abuse of alcohol etc., or spiritual death as a result of our separation from God, other persons and ourselves (e.g., like what one finds in a bad marriage, or in a nation where the political and social violence as a result of separation between different groups).

God?s fundamental desire is to transform us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ (Phil 2:5) - and because that is God?s mission, that should also be the mission of the Church and every member of the body of Christ, as it was Christ's mission (Lk 4:43). It should be our aim to transform both the structures of society to reflect the structures of God?s will (most often expressed in the Bible through the use of the term 'the Kingdom of God' he basiliea tou theou ? which literally means 'the place in which God reigns?, or ?the sphere in which in God is King'. So for some Christians mission means transforming structures in society (such as economic structures and political structures) to more closely represent the structures that are present in God?s Kingdom (i.e., they are more just, more loving, more gracious, they are structures that give life, that seek equality, that include people, that build them up, that display God?s image and beauty and recognize it in people and places).

The second approach to transformation (that goes hand in hand with the first) is the transformation of the individuals that make up society and populate the structures of society. The best way to transform individuals is not just to transform the social and physical things around them (e.g., giving them new clothes, building them new buildings and roads etc.) rather it is to change their very nature! A sinful, selfish nature (which is the natural way of this world) will always lead to destruction, greed and death (Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23), but when one can bring people into a relationship of Christian discipleship (i.e., help them to form the disciplines that 'transform' their minds and hearts to be the same as the mind and heart of Christ Jesus), then society changes from the inside out! Even poor people can bless others, even the powerless in a society can bring about loving, holy and God honoring change!

So, this is my understanding of transformation (or at least that which I can express at the moment). It is both spiritual and physical. It deals both with individuals and with groups and structures in society. For the individual there are two elements to transformation. First there is the nature of a transformed person.

What is the nature of a transformed person? It is the same gracious, loving, life giving nature as that of Christ Jesus.

Then there is the character of the transformed person (i.e., the tangible characteristics of the transformed nature) these characteristics are the same as those expressed in the Biblical understanding of God's Kingdom. You can see that a person is transformed because the people and structures around them begin to be transformed into the image of Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God.

2. How can we strengthen the Church for the ministry of transformation?

Before the Church can be God's agent of Transformation in society it will first need transformation itself.

I think there are two fundamental steps. First, I think the Church itself needs transformation! It needs to be transformed from a self centered institution to a God directed mission movement. When the individuals and structures of the Church are encountered by Christ and come to understand His will for their lives and surroundings the Church can be changed! People will see that they ARE the Church at work, at school, at the shops, in their political decisions, in the way they handle their money etc., Such Churches are powerful in transforming society.

Prayer is the first step in this process. The second step is connecting people with places and instances where they can discern the will of God! We will soon find that God does not truly worry about styles of worship, what people wear to Church or how much water we?re baptized in! God could care less about this petty issues when within walking distance of most Churches in South Africa there are children dying of malnutrition, people who are dying of HIV AIDS, relationships being destroyed by alcohol and drugs... The list could go on and on. Sadly I think very few Christians, and very few Christian Churches actually know what God?s will is for them and their surroundings!

So, we need to work for the renewal and conversion of both Christians and the Christian Church ? a transformation FROM our selfish will TO a rediscovery and obedience to God's perfect and loving will, and strengthening the body of Christ to be courageous enough to bring God's will to bear on society. When we have been saturated in prayer, fully connected with a loving God, and we walk into our world, ever person, every structure, every institution takes on a new meaning. We have a chance to bring transformation to bear in every action, every encounter, every decision...

In theological terms we have often spoken of this as a balance between personal holiness (i.e., complete devotion to God) and social holiness (complete devotion towards achieving the will of God in society). You cannot have personal holiness without social holiness (i.e., you cannot say you love God, yet not love those whom God loves. And, God?s love is tangible and real ? it is expressed in food, shelter, clothing, healing, acceptance...)

So, I hope that gives some idea of my understanding of the concepts of transformation?

I would love to hear your views on Transformation!

On that note, with regards to the relationship between Personal Holiness and Social holiness you can read this paper I presented at the Oxford Institute some years ago (it has since been revised, published in a journal and later in my book 'Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission')

Friday, February 20, 2009

Past Presiding Bishop could be South Africa's next President! Rev Mvume Dandala - new leader of COPE

I was greeted by this great news this morning when I got back from my cycle! I know Mvume very well, he is a man of impeccable integrity, with a heart for the poor and marginalized. He was my Bishop for many years, and has also served as the Patron for Transformation Africa (one of the organisations in which I serve) for some years now! This image was taken in Korea a few years ago, from left to right are myself (Dr Dion Forster), Rev Dr Mvume Dandala, and Rev Trevor Hudson.

Well, this surely bodes well for a good opposition in South Africa! Just over a week ago we had a chance to interview Mr Lekota, who himself is a formidable individual. But, Mvume is a man of such deep faith a integrity. I may just be changing my vote this year!

Here's the first story from 'The Times':

Now here?s a surprise. The SABC has reported that Cope?s election list is headed up not by Mosiuoa Lekota or Mbhazima Shilowa, but by the head of the Methodist Church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. It?s yet to be confirmed, but it hasn?t been denied.
It?s a bit of a shock given the high profile that Lekota and Shilowa enjoy within the party, but it could give Cope a totally fresh hand to play: Moral leadership. The Reverend vs the sexually deviant corruption accused. Might play well with middle South Africa.
As one caller to John Robbie?s Radio 702 talk show this morning put it: Does that mean that Mosiuoa Lekota will start another party?
From the SAPA story:

The head of the Methodist church of Southern Africa, Bishop Mvume
Dandala, has been nominated as the presidential candidate for the
Congress of the People (Cope), SABC news reported on Thursday.
In its Thursday evening news bulletin, the public broadcaster
announced that it had ?reliably learnt? that Dandala came out on top of
the party?s national list.
But party spokeswoman Palesa Morudu would not be drawn to verify
this on Thursday night, saying ?a formal announcement will probably be
made on Friday?.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

books... so elitist... use twitter instead!

"I stopped reading books. There's nowhere to add my avatar, I can't leave anonymous comments, and they NEVER add me back. Books are elitist."

Back to twitter I guess ;-) ... follow me!  http://www.twitter.com/digitaldion

Bad religion and good grace. Jesus needs new PR!

Over the years I have been party to my fair share of bad religion! I like to think (and hope) that my bad religion was motivated by naive passion and ignorance.

I've preached my fair share of sermons that have intended to 'convict' people of their guilt. I have participated in judging the behaviour (or lack thereof) among certain groups and in certain individuals - as if somehow I occupy a higher moral and religious ground than they do, and so have a right to pass judgment. I have labeled people (sometimes unknowingly, and in other situations out of anger or disgust). Bad religion... There is a lot of that around.

Thankfully it is not the whole picture of the Church! I think that Jesus needs new PR! (Public relations) I certainly haven't done much to help others to connect with the Christ whose love I experience. Neither have I helped them to understand the depths of his grace and the wonder of acceptance - not because of who you are, but in spite of who you are. This Jesus is wonderful, and I realise that Jesus needs new PR! Just look at this glorious sunset above! Wow, if only I could capture just one iota of God's beauty in my actions, words, and thoughts - just a tiny glimpse of something as magnificent as this display of God's creative beauty... But, sadly, I can witness it (this photo was taken near my home with my cellphone camera), but I cannot seem to share it as I would like to.

I recently read a comment on a blog where someone said "I don't mind Jesus, it's his wife I don't trust!" The bride of Christ - we can be pretty harsh!

As I mentioned in a previous post I have recently been reading Barbara Kingsolver's book "The poisonwood Bible" - it has affected me profoundly. I read a lot - perhaps two (or more) books a week. I have been sleeping a lot better in recent months because of increased exercise, but I still wake at 3.30 or 4am and spend some time reading. Well, this book has been my companion on those early mornings. It has caused me to weep - mainly it has reminded me of the need to confess my own propensity towards the 'bad religion'.

This book is wonderfully written - it offers a realistic and balanced view of individuals, families and communities that are influenced by the Christian faith. It is not shy to extol the virtues and unmeasurable value of having faith in Christ. Yet, it is realistic and balanced enough to be critical of the negative effects of our faith upon ourselves and others.

Indeed, as I read it I realise that the loving, servant, Christ needs new PR! He deserves it, and the whole world deserves to experience His love and grace! I am sadenned by my own inability to represent him well. I am discouraged by a Church (not any Church in particular, but many Churches on the whole) that are self obsessed, served by people who have lost their passion and love for Christ, and their passion and love for those whom Christ loves. I am sadened that we do not encounter the world with loving truth, the truth of Christ's love that welcomes every person that he has created!

A friend and I were recently talking about the narrative of the Church - I have a quote from a British humanist who said that "The narrative of the contemporary Church is either schism or decline". Within the Church we are quick to blame 'others' for this sad reality. Liberals blame conservatives for keeping people out of the Church. Conservatice blame liberals for making entry so easy that it bears no value. I have come to realise that as a 'liberal evangelical' (sometimes called an 'emergent' Christian) my perspective may be different from that of my conservative sisters and brothers, but my convictions are pretty much the same. I am also a fundamentalist! My fundamentals are just slightly different. I too believe in the supremacy of scripture, but somehow that 'supremacy' (like with other 'fundamentalists') is so closely tied to my own views and perspectives on reality that it becomes exclusive). Sure, I'm 'inclusive', but I do tend to be more 'inclusive' of those who share my views and more condemnatory of those who don't. We're not all that different, my conservative family and my liberal family...

Thankfully Jesus is not like me - although I do wish that I could be more like him! Thankfully the ways of Jesus are not like mine - although I do pray that my wise would become more like his!

So, Jesus needs better PR! What do you think?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sunrise ove Table Mountain

Twice a week I meet at 5.15am with a few friends from our Church to pray for the many schools in our area (the teachers, pupils, parents and management). Straight from there I go for a cycle. This morning we did 50 kms - from Somerset West to Stellenbosch, then to Blackheath, and from there back to Somerset West.

This photo shows the sun rising onto Table Mountain from Polka draai. Isn't it lovely? I live in a great place!
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Lest we forget... I guess it's about rediscovering faith!

For a while now the following verses have been resonating in my mind and spirit:

"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom." (Isa 40:28).

We tend to concentrate on:

"He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."

Not a bad thing to concentrate on! But somehow I think we miss the 'key' to this passage - it is much less about us and much more about God! I have frequently encouraged Christians to remember that the Christian faith is 'theocentric' (i.e., it is focused primarily on the person of God who loves God's creation) rather than 'anthropocentric' (i.e., like much of the contemporary 'popular' Christian thought that places humanity at the center of God's universe. As if God is our slave and servant, existing to do our bidding...)

Lest we forget (in good times and in bad) God does truly love us, and this is God's gracious and loving will! It is undeserved and unearned.

Here's the little video that explains my thoughts on the matter.

What do you think?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A constant little reminder! Links to directly download copies of my books for FREE!

Every now and then I repost this message - Here are the links to download copies of three of my books for free!

As I've said elsewhere a few times, I would much rather have you read my books than pay me to own them! So, please, go ahead, download a copy of each and use them as you would.




Please may I request two favours in return?

1. Please could you drop me a line to let me know that you've downloaded one or all of the books and whether you have any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback to share? You can email me at digitaldion@gmail.com

2. Please could I ask that you spread the links to my books as widely as you possibly can! Please try to drive as much traffic to these books as possible. Thank you so much for your interest!

If you would like to own copies of the books simply go to my blog http://www.spirituality.org.za/blogger.html and you can order paper copies of each of the books, plus three more, using the links on the right hand side of the page.

May you be richly blessed in Christ,


Saturday, February 14, 2009

It's 4.30am and we're going on a 110km ride!

Yikes! This morning we left Somerset West at 4.30 am to ride from Klapmuts to Malmesbury, then Wellington, Paarl and back to Klapmuts - a total of 110kms (not 107kms as I said in my twitter post before leaving)! It was a great ride! A bit windy, but lots of fun! We did the ride in 3h56mins, an average of around 28km/h. This is not bad. After the first 25 kms I started to cramp in my left leg... At that stage I couldn't imagine how I would do the full 110kms, but with a bit of help from my friend Poens Venter (who did the WHOLE ride on his mountain bike with Nobbly tires - sure it is a R40 000 mountain bike, and sure, he does do the kind of offroad riding that most of us only watch on TV) - he gave me some cramp stop, half a banana and told me to stick in his slip stream for about 20km's. I stopped cramping, recovered nicely and got back up to pace! I think the problem is that I fast on a Friday - not eating on the day before a long ride like this is not good news. But, spiritual discipline is more important than physical discipline. All ini all I am feeling that a good Argus seems to be on the cards!

On another note, can you believe that 1 year ago (15 February 2008) I broke my leg in multiple places and ended up with pins, screws and plates in it (see this link for an x-ray of the metal bits)- this came as a result of a motorcycle accident. Well, I am thankful to say that here I am a year later; still not walking perfectly, but fitter than I've been in years and riding this kind of distance!! I am so thankful! God has been good to is in the Cape!

Happy valentines day everyeone! May you find love that transforms you, and experience the love of The One who can truly transform!

In Christ,


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Helderberg mountain on fire

Monday, February 09, 2009

Life, love and everything else

I am currently reading a remarkable book entitled 'The poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver (see the wiki article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Poisonwood_Bible ).

It is such a challenging and moving story of missiological endeavor in Africa - it is brutally honest.  It reminds me of the good intentions of the missionaries, but also just how destructive inappropriate and contextually irrelevant models of sharing Christ's grace can be...  I am constantly challenged by this!

This last week I spoke on a local radio station about the book 'the shack' (see the post a few below this one on my blog).  I have been somewhat surprised by the passionate reaction I've received to my comments and input.  Some folks have been passionately positive.  I've had emails expressing an appreciation for the 'space' that I opened up for thought, fresh images of faith, and the new vocabulary I've encouraged persons to develop for their belief.  But, I have had equally passionate condemnation from persons who seem to care much more about their doctrinal position than they do about a fellow follower of the Prince of Peace!  I had one particular person who assured me that I was going to burn in the fires of hell...  I tried to contact him to ask if we could meet one another (I do care more about relationships than religion - when I read the New Testament I can see this was the 'way of Jesus').  I recognise two things about myself.  First, I certainly don't have all the answers (and I have a great deal to learn from other persons).  Second, I love people (because God loves people).  And so, I am always happy to engage with people - even those who don't like what I profess.  Somehow I feel more secure in asking questions than in giving answers.  

St Anselm was the one who characterised theology as 'fides quaerens intellectum' (faith seeking understanding) - somehow I feel that when we stop seeking we loose our way!

Anyway, I was inspired by this little quote:

Watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your sisters and brothers will ever read.

Dom Helder Camara,
former Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil.

May you be blessed, may you find blessing, and may Christ strengthen you to bless others!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Another tough day in Africa! A broken bed is a sign of a good marriage!

We've had such an amazing weekend! The weather has been great, I haven't been too busy, and so we've been spending some time doing what we like most - having fun as a family (they say a broken bed is a sign of a good marriage... Megie and I had to replace our bed yesterday... Ha ha! Although the bed broke as I sat on it to tie my shoe (a split in one of the supports finally gave way). Still, we're blessed!

This morning I decided not to cycle - it was too hot, I had done 43km's yesterday, and I wanted to go to Church http://www.coronation.org.za I'm glad I made this choice! The service was wonderful. Now, we're having a quick swim and then we're off to lunch with our new friend Rob and Tracey Katz (Rob is the former CEO of Microsoft Africa... I'm trying to convince him to get a Mac!)

Life is good and I am thankful!

Friday, February 06, 2009

It is HOT today!

It was almost 45 degrees C at 16.30 this afternoon (this was in Stellenbosch). Yikes! Thank goodness for airconditioningi in my car!
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A theological reflection on William P Young's book - The Shack (and theodicy)

I'm not sure if you've read William P Young's book The Shack yet? This week I was asked to offer some theological commentary on this book for a Radio program on our local radio station 'Radio Helderberg'. I am always quite astounded by how quickly conservative persons (and particularly conservative Christians) are to condemn anything that doesn't fit the mould of the mainstream... Many people have objected to the metaphorical language that Young employs in picturing God (who ultimately is a mystery that transcends ALL language, symbols and metaphors... You can read about that in my book 'An uncommon Spiritual path' that you can download by following the link below). For example, no Christian would find the statement 'God is my rock' offensive or heretical - yet it is clearly not a FACTUAL statement from a purely etymological sense (the word 'rock' refers to heavy stone that has no faculties, or even life...) Rather, we can understand that the metaphor conveys the best of what we hope for in God (i.e., that God is solid, strong, trustworthy, a shelter etc.) So, why do we find it so difficult when other (more contemporary) metaphors are applied to the Person of God? Perhaps it is our socialisation (and our lack of imagination) that causes us to be stunted in this regard. Just imagine what beauty and blessing we miss out on because we cannot allow the images of this book to enliven our imagination...

Well, in this video I discuss Young's approach to metaphors, the notion of 'genre' in relation to Young's text (and the Biblical text). Oh, and I also take a stab at explaining St Augustine of Hippo's 'Augustinian free-will defence' as a theological explanation of suffering (theodicy).

I would love to hear your comments on 'The Shack', and of course on my take on the book, my view on metaphors, Biblical interpretation and of course 'suffering' and theodicy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Purpose and peace... A reflection

One of the very common questions that I am presented with (and particularly more so since my office is now located in a corporate office block and no longer on a Church campus) is the question of purpose.

So many people struggle to find the reason for their being! I think that part of the answer to this question is in the asking of it (and perhaps not so much in the answers that people like myself try to give)... However, that being said, I do feel that there is a certain measure of blessing and satisfaction in finding what it is that you're well suited to. Some would suggest that this is a matter of temperament, others would say that it is the influence of socialisation... I would agree with both of those statements up to a point. However, I would add the notion that the God who lovingly and carefully created every aspect of the created universe has placed within each one of us certain abilities and desires - when these find their fit, we are able to bless God who so carefully formed us, and of course in doing so we share in God's joy and so discover blessing.

Here's a video that I recorded a few days ago in which I explore a few of these concepts. In it I weave together a few insights from two narratives in the Bible (one from Paul and one from a parable of Jesus). And, as always, I thought of my Pastor (Rev Steven Lottering) as I filmed this... He worries about me driving and filming at the same time! Thanks Steve! It is great to be loved ;-)

I would love to hear your feedback, wisdom and insights.

The rising power of twitter - get on board soon!

I have been a twitter user for about a year now. It is a wonderfully simple 'microblogging' tool that fits in somewhere between a full fledged blog (which has no real limit on the length) and a facebook status update. A tweet is normally 140 characters long, and what makes it so great is that it is easy to post from almost any platform... I most frequently post my status updates from my Nokia E90 or my iPhone... On my Mac I use tweetdeck...

What makes it particularly useful is that it updates my facebook status automatically. I seldom log into facebook (probably once a week or less)... But, using this simple web tool I can post ideas, share videos, draw attention to causes, and just share what I'm thinking and doing. I follow quote a few people (some well known, and some lesser known). I have watched my followers grow from 1 to just short of a hundred in the last few months!

For a good critique of twitter (and those who use it) please read Steve Hayes' post on conservatives dominating twitter. I hope that I don't fit into that category! But, I do trust Steve's insights immensely! I shall have to look through my previous tweets, and also think a bit more carefully about my tweets going forward. I enjoy Steve's tweets by the way. You can follow @stevehayes here.

So, please follow me - simply go here to follow me @digitaldion! Let me know when you join twitter and I will gladly follow you in return!

Anyway, here's a very interesting story about the rising power of twitter...

Yesterday a Twitter post (a tweet) by Mashable?s Pete Cashmore became so popular that traffic from Twitter crashed a blog. This sounds very similar to a common social media phenomenon originally known as the Slashdot effect (and later also the Digg effect), where a post on a popular social media site pushes more traffic than the target site can handle.

An interesting thing here is the mechanics of Twitter, which is fundamentally different from Digg and Slashdot. It?s not a social news site, with a front page that all visitors go to. We won?t go into the details of how Twitter works, that?s better covered elsewhere, but it?s worth noting that it?s a very different beast. It will be interesting times if Twitter is about to join the ranks of Slashdot and Digg as a potential ?site crasher?.

For lack of a better word we will call the phenomenon of sites crashing as a result of traffic from Twitter, ?the Twitter Effect?. (Or perhaps ?the Tweet effect? would be catchier??)

But now on to the big question?

How could a single tweet generate that much traffic?

First of all, of course it was a big factor that Pete Cashmore is one of the people on Twitter with the most followers (people who have subscribed to his tweets). According to Twitterholic, he has more than 50,000 followers.

But the key here may not be just the number of followers of the initial tweeter, but the retweets. A retweet is when a Twitter user resends a message so that his/her own followers can share it. Pete Cashmore was the most retweeted Twitter user during the period when the affected blog went down (according to Retweetist).

The interesting thing about retweets is that they have the potential to increase the spread of a tweet exponentially, especially if some of the retweeters also have many followers.

It might be worth pointing out that the blog that crashed was on a shared hosting account (at Dreamhost). A blog on a dedicated server or a cluster would have handled the amount of traffic better, but what happened is still very relevant. There are a LOT of blogs on shared hosting accounts, and as Twitter keeps growing, who knows what kind of traffic generation it will be capable of?

The Twitter Effect formula

If we take a stab at formulating how a single tweet can garner so much traffic, it would be something like this (which essentially describes the reach of a tweet on Twitter):

The Twitter Effect formula = (Original tweet * followers) + (retweets * followers of retweeters) + (retweets of retweets * followers of those), and so on.

This way, tweets can spread out like the branches of a tree or a root system and reach a very large number of Twitter users. The spread is basically only limited by the size of Twitter?s user base. If the tweet contains a link to a site, this site is bound to get a significant amount of traffic as the tweet spreads.

Note that there may also be more than one original tweet pointing to the same target, and the general discussion around a post on other parts of the Web is also bound to create its share of activity on Twitter (and elsewhere too, of course).

Think of it as ?the great echo chamber? and you get the gist of it. It?s similar to how much of the blogosphere works, which is a good analogy since Twitter is, after all, usually called a microblogging service.

What do you think?

As Twitter?s user base grows, will traffic from Twitter soon be a common reason for site outages? Please share your thoughts (and experiences?) in the comments.

Credits to Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge for catching this in the first place.

Roots image from Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, February 02, 2009

God's solution for a lonely world.

Have you ever been lonely? I'm pretty sure that most of us have had to face loneliness at some time or another in life. As a child when a parent went away and you missed them, then you were lonely. Perhaps when a husband, wife, friend, brother or sister was not around? Maybe when you were traveling somewhere and didn?t know a soul!

There?s a little book called the All better book in which primary school children try to solve some of the world?s greatest problems. One of the problems that was posed to them (along with war and peace, poverty and global warming ? go figure?) was this:

"With billions of people in the world, someone should be able to figure out a system where no one is lonely. What do you suggest?"

Here are some of their suggestions:

? "People should find lonely people and ask them their name and address. Then ask people who aren?t lonely their name and address. When you have an even amount of each, assign lonely and not lonely people together in the newspaper" Kalani, 8 (who obviously has a gift for Administration!)
? "Make food that talks to you when you eat it. For instance, it would say, 'How are you doing??, and ?What happened to you today?'." Max, 9 (who will come to discover that even though food doesn?t talk to you, when you get to a certain age food starts to talk back!)
? "We could get people a pet or a husband or a wife and take them places" Matt, 8 (this kind of makes one wonder about Matt's understanding of marriage).

But one of the most touching responses, one that could break your heart, was this one from Brian, 8:

? "Sing a song. Stomp your feet. Read a book. (Sometimes I think no one loves me, so I do one of these)."

How incredibly sad that a child of 8 should already feel unloved, alone and uncared for! It makes the question even more pertinent:

"With billions of people in the world, someone should be able to figure out a system where no one is lonely"! What do you think?

If loneliness is common in women, it is an epidemic among men! A recent America survey, quoted in John Ortberg?s book, suggests that 90% of American men lack a true friend. I would venture that South Africa is not far off. I was at a children's birthday party recently when I observed the conversation of the men who were there. It was silent, stunted, shallow. Edwad Hallowell's sociological research indicates that for modern people two of the most desired and significant experiences in finding happiness in life are achievement and truly connecting.

Connecting obviously has to do with our relational world. Our sense of belonging, falling in love, forming loving, trusting, nurturing and secure relationships, being cared for when we are sick, being affirmed when we are insecure.

Achieving obviously has to do with our accomplishments. It has to do with the things that we do, winning contests, driving nice cars, having a big title, pursuing a career, realizing a difficult goal. He notes that our society has become obsessed with achieving, we are devoted to success and enslaved by our need to accomplish. Not one of the guys I was with were willing to speak of their relationships with wives or children... In fact quite the opposite, some of them were rude and dismissive as they sang their own praises about conquests in work, sport and personal wealth.

My dad had a serious stroke two years ago. He was paralysed. It?s amazing how suddenly when something like this happens one comes to realise that the greatest achievements in life are those things that relate to significance, not just success, those things that enrich life, not just those that make us rich. As I pointed out last week, we all long to truly connect, because it is hard-wired into us!

Mother Theresa once commented that "Loneliness is the leprosy of modern society." Not only do we avoid loneliness, but we also isolate and avoid the lonely. Much like lepers we keep our distance in the fear that we may be infected and overcome. I sometimes wonder how God must feel, seeing so many lonely people, and so many believers (like you and me) just around the corner, living on the same street? How do you think God feels about your loneliness, and the lonely people around you? It brings us back to our question:

"With billions of people in the world, someone should be able to figure out a system where no one is lonely"! Well, just maybe some has....

Here's the MP3 - perhaps it will offer some inspiration. (5.7MB MP3 file)

This was recorded for Radio Pulpit for my bi-weekly radio show 'The Ministry and Me'