Almost twenty years ago, some friends of my wife’s said that they had received a calling to be missionaries to supermodels, and were pursuing it. Yeah, that was a thing. And this is a thing too:
I have now been working as a tech chaplain at Union Theological Seminary for over a year. I started my ministry when students asked me to share my organized Google Drive folders or documents and Google calendars; soon, I was holding workshops on how to get one’s inbox down to zero (and how to keep it clean) and on other Google apps that few were taking full advantage of. It took a year for me to find the right title for my vocation. The “tech” part refers to how I have ministered to students, faculty, and staff to empower themselves in the use of their technology. “Chaplain” evolved from the way I have approached my passion. Instead of being a technician who merely (and seemingly magically) charges in to fix a problem, I meet you wherever your skills are and teach you how to get where you would like to be. I practice a ministry of presence and provide a safe space for conquering spiritual crises presented by today’s ever-advancing technologies.
To understand what a “ministry of presence” means, consider the friend or loved one who takes care of you when you are sick. You want someone who is present in moment, mind, and heart, who feeds, bathes, and turns you while helping you keep a smile in your heart, if not on your face. I was a certified nursing assistant when I lived in Illinois and was challenged by every call to provide care to each person without treating them like “sick people”; I have carried that spirit into how I operate as a tech chaplain. I do not see “non-techies.” Instead, I see fellow human beings who are reaching out with questions, and I see that I have an opportunity to give them answers in a way that is respectful, disarming, affirming, and fun.
And Social Justice Warring. Don’t forget the Social Justice Warring:
All that I do is rooted in my spirituality and faith, which emphasize the responsibility to be good stewards of the world around us. Graduate research has also helped me develop a more theoretical side of tech chaplaincy. My thesis proposes the concept of techno-womanism to guide discussion around what happens when social justice issues get digitalized. I inherit the womanist methodology, grounded in the experience of black women, to critically analyze digital life. How does “brogrammer” culture affect the women and people of color who use technologies developed in low-diversity settings? How can the vitriol and gendered harassment found online be dealt with? Who suffers the consequences of a device cycle that generates “the electronic waste basket of the world” in China and the largest e-waste site in the world in Ghana? As a tech chaplain, empowering others in the digital space means more than helping them set up their Chrome browsers or learn how to find hidden commands on their Apple products.
My story is rather unique, not just because of the novelty of my work, but also because I am a black woman positioning myself to serve in both the technology industry and the Christian community. The recent statistics about diversity in tech companies, as well as the ongoing Gamergate debate (which highlights the gendered harassment women face, whether they’re video-game characters or CEOs), only strengthen my will to serve.
What this country needs are more chaplains who inherit the womanist ideology, grounded in the experience of black women (like the author of this essay), who busy themselves critically analyzing digital life.
All this just goes to show that you don’t have to be white to be a SWPL.
UPDATE: Many of you commenters can’t understand why I have a problem with any of this. The first half of what she says sounds great. It’s when she chose to wrap just helping people out with SJW jargon and framing that caused my eyes to roll. “Techno-womanism”? “Womanist methodology”? As opposed to techno-masculinism (techno-manism? and “masculinist (manist?) methodology”? She loses me right there. It’s like the diversocrats who can’t help themselves avoid framing mandates and exhortations to be basically a decent human being in all sorts of silly ideology and SJW rhetoric. The SWPL-ness of the whole thing lies precisely in the rhetoric, as applied to a ministry embedded within the tech field.