Updated: Sep 23, 2020
I have long had a love-hate relationship with technology. I was willingly the only child in my family with a flip phone until my sophomore year in college. As I watched my peers fall one by one into a world that was always at their fingertips, I found that I was perfectly satisfied with living most of life with my head up. If I needed the internet, I could always use my laptop and then leave it behind when I was done. I was able to keep some semblance of boundaries this way and I was proud of it.
Then my parents presented me with my first smart phone over Christmas break. I admit that it opened a lot of new doors for me. As I started to seriously pursue youth ministry, I discovered that relating to today’s teens demanded a familiarity with the digital world. A lot of my work week consisted in crafting social media pages, making playlists, and even sharing memes. So I decided to view the media as a necessary evil, while still refraining from throwing myself wholeheartedly into everything it had to offer. My favorite weeks out of the year were when I went away by myself to some foreign mission field, where I had no Wi-Fi and could spend time with young people who had never owned a phone in their life. My ultimate dream was to get back to this mission field full time.
Then came the 2020 quarantine and its surge of online activity. My scales tipped at first toward a renewed appreciation for technology. Indeed, it saved my job during a time when it could have easily been taken away. As ministry meetings shifted online, we even expanded our outreach to members who otherwise would have had a hard time participating because of distance. I was also able to maintain contact with my loved ones. I saw a few of my dear friends get married over live video, and participated in a couple of virtual bridal showers and graduation parties.
A few long months later, though, and the scales tipped back and I got a serious case of screen fatigue and news overload. The worst sides of humanity came out in heated posts and comment boxes. Censorship and promotion seemed to be happening in all of the wrong places. Virtual meetings waned, too, along with my closest sign of hope in a divided world. I longed for the tech-free life I had experienced in the foreign mission field. I wanted to boast about the limits that the human heart was finding in its overindulgence of digital content. I wanted to point out the ironic drop-off of teens from virtual activities with a victorious, “I told you so.” I got so burnt out over all of this that I finally decided to take some time off of work just to unplug.
As I logged off of my accounts before starting vacation, I got really excited about the idea of going on strike from digital media and resisted the urge to physically toss my phone across the room. In the space that my usual online activity left behind, I did find some much needed room to breathe. I slept more. I prayed. I wrestled with God over the big questions plaguing the world. And then I felt that pit in my stomach welling up with a strong creative urge. For so long I had been consuming content without taking the time to let my heart make an authentic connection. So I began to write, with pen and paper, for the first time in a long time. But the urge was not satisfied in keeping the writing to myself. Thus I eventually found myself logging back online.
At first I struggled over the irony of what I was doing. Yet that urge was still there, pressing against my rib-cage. It was like the tiniest glimpse into what God’s creative heart must feel like when He still desires for His love to spill over into a chaotic world, knowing very well it could be rejected. Our God is a God who delights in “taming the wilds,” not from a distance, but by entering into them. And what wilder place is there right now than the internet? But this wild, dangerous place is made so not by lifeless wires, but by wild human hearts. And where wild human hearts go, so goes the Church.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, likewise his predecessor and successor, pleaded repeatedly with Christians about their “special responsibility” to “post themselves on the web.” The dangers of the digital world have been acknowledged, but like everything, it is a territory that the Church wants to reclaim and sanctify rather than abandon to the secular world. These words from Pope Benedict especially struck my heart: “Let us set sail on the digital sea fearlessly, confronting open navigation with the same enthusiasm that has steered the barque of the Church for 2,000 years. Rather than for technical resources, although these are necessary, let us also qualify ourselves by dwelling in this world with a believing heart that helps to give a soul to the ceaseless flow of communications that makes up the web.”
It is with encouragement like this that I now commit to the digital mission field. Not like some holier-than-thou keyboard warrior, but as a fellow wild and wounded heart offering company for the long journey ahead.
Kendel Jordan is a Florida native with degrees in Theology and Psychology. She serves as a parish director of youth and young adult ministry and is currently learning how to navigate this role at a new parish and in a new town during the time of COVID. As if this wasn't exciting enough, she is also planning a wedding and rediscovering her love for writing. She always finds that God is writing a way more exciting adventure for her life than she could have ever written for herself. She is choosing to hope that this will all make for a cool saint bio one day.