24 Mar 2018

Welcome Home! A post-UNCSW reflection

            I've been receiving a number of heartfelt greetings since my return from New York. It's lovely to be home, and it's amazing the things I missed. They're not the fancy things: it's having breakfast in my PJs (not in a hotel restaurant), making a full pot of coffee or tea, having proper cutlery (single-use plastics are a scourge on society), a bathtub, my own pillow, and of course an abundance of happy-puppy dog snuggles (with resultant paw prints and fur).
            Home. It's good to be home.
            But - and we discussed this as delegates - home feels a little bit smaller, a little bit different after the UN experience. It's all the same, but it's also not the same.
            The reality is that the change is in us: we have changed, and we have been changed. We have been engaging with people from around the world as we commit to one another and to God to work even more passionately towards gender equality and justice. We have become friends and sisters with people from places we couldn't even find on a map 2 weeks ago. We have heard stories of challenges in those places, stories of good ministry in those places, stories of God's power prevailing over all evil in those places. We have shared laughter, and tears, and hugs, and love. We have prayed, and praised, and worshiped.
            We did not have a vacation; we grappled with some of the most difficult challenges the world is facing: we discussed them openly and bravely (even when our voices trembled). We connected with one another with great trust and love and faith; we held one another up as we were held; we opened ourselves up to new joys and new possibilities as we live into the body of Christ.
            We were offered a bigger, broader perspective - not in a way that is meant to keep us segregated from our small home lives, but rather to enhance it, to enrich it, to help us see and celebrate the astonishing in the ordinary. For that is where we see our God: in the everyday realities where dignity is upheld, where justice is sought, where peace is shared.
            Our worlds have gotten a little bit bigger. Our networks have extended. Our knowledge has increased. So coming home feels a little different.
            Because coming home does not mean going back to who we were before this experience. Instead, it means bringing home the amazing truth of the bigger world. It means opening the eyes and ears and hearts of those around us, and sharing the energy around making the world a better place.

            So I am grateful for every "welcome home!" I receive. It means that I am cared for and appreciated in the here and the now. It also means that those who are caring for and with me are aware that I have come home well - well-inspired, well-enthused, well-committed. I have come home well ready to continue to strive for the kingdom of God.

Gifts On the Altar - UNCSW blog 15

                  The formalities of the 62nd session of the UNCSW concluded late Friday. After much negotiation and much prayer, the commission produced agreed conclusions. (The Conclusions necessitate unanimous agreement; this was especially important at this session as the last session addressing challenges faced by women and girls in rural settings, despite 2 weeks of work and advocacy, did not produce agreed conclusions.)
                  The NGO community also completed its formal gatherings on Friday. The final side events were held, the last parallel sessions were run. Many delegates and participants had already left, many were in the process of packing and departing.
                  And for those of us in the faith community, we prayed; we worshipped; we were sent forth to return to our various homes. This piece of our work was done, and also just beginning. As we all return home, we carry with us a renewed passion for peace, and new ideas and initiatives for gender justice.
                  But before we left, we recognised what we were leaving in that sacred space. We had gifts that we were leaving on the altar. In one sense, literally: the Ecumenical Women coordinated worship at the Church Centre for the United Nations saw a daily addition to the focal point. As each day a different biblical woman was celebrated, a new symbol of their voices was contributed (a baby blanket for Hannah, a tambourine for Miriam). These women's gifts were placed on the altar, amid our own gifts (prayers from the orientation day, written on colourful fabric).
                  Additionally, the Episcopal and Anglican Delegations celebrated a mid-day Eucharist, recognising the closing of the CSW. Gifts were left on the altar: the bread to sustain us, the wine to nourish us, the living water from whence we draw strength and inspiration. These gifts were, of course, shared with us.
                  In a less formal manner, the Anglican Communion delegation has left other gifts to lay before our Creator. In the name of God, and gathered together at his omnipresent table, we have coordinated a statement to the Anglican Consultative Council, celebrating this unifying experience and it's positive impact in and on the Communion. While we come from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and carry a large number of views and perspectives, we committed to one statement. We acknowledge some differences, but we hold up the power and gift of being the body of Christ. It is a gift we receive, and a gift that we share.
                  And so we now carry these gifts: as we each start the journeys homeward, some much longer than others, we carry that gift of unity. We carry the gift of the strength of the Communion. We carry the peace of knowing that the world is paying attention to the challenges of rural women and girls. We carry the torch of finding new ways to live in to the ministry of caring for one another. We carry the passion for engaging with the work of advocacy, education, and peace-building that our time together has bolstered.
                  So with grateful hearts we laid a gift at the altar; with humble hearts we received a gift at the altar, and with inspired souls we carry new gifts to new tables.

                  It's been a truly blessed and gifted experience; and the gifts are just beginning. Thank God for the altars of the world to host and share these gifts.

23 Mar 2018

Plan B. Or C. Or... UNCSW62 blog 14

            This morning, while the city woke up to find most of yesterday's snow was gone, commuters woke to find some 10-15" still on the roads. It was a light day for midtown traffic.
            The worship team for this morning included some of those commuters. They did not trudge in; they stayed safe and sound at home. So morning worship went into Plan B.
            Plan B included focusing on the story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi was the primary focus. We heard her challenges; as she found herself suddenly without husband or sons, without property or inheritance rights, with 2 dependent daughters-in-law. Plan A was long gone; Plan B needed to happen.
            Plan B for Naomi involved taking action, despite her justifiable grief and bitterness. It meant returning to that space where the impossible is faced directly; it's where attempts and ideas are tried until something works It's determination and commitment and refusing to give up.
            We were asked: What do we do when bitterness falls in our lives, as we struggle for justice and equality? What do we do when we are faced with failure, setbacks, and regressive practices?
            Do we sit in the bitterness? Do we struggle with depression? Do we lash out? Do we hide under the blankets?
            Or do we suck it up, create a plan B, and find a way to forge forward in faith?
            Naomi did just that, choosing to reject the very bitterness that would seem appropriate to her circumstance.
            Thus inspired, our day continued. The Anglican Communion delegates gathered all morning to continue sharing our country reports. We heard stories of injustice that naturally leads to bitterness: of gender-based violence and female genital mutilation, of early forced marriage and denial of education, of environmental degradation and disrupted food systems, of human trafficking and modern slavery.
            And then we heard the realities of Plan B. We heard of Anglicans from all over the globe who have refused to be denied their human dignity and rights; we heard of women's centres and education opportunities, of economic self-determination and entrepreneurial training, of strengthening communities and capacity-building, of successes and attempts at success, of women's ordinations and decreasing wage gaps, of women in positions of authority and active ministry opportunities, and most importantly of never giving up, of trying new things over and over until a just outcome is achieved.
            The consistent theme throughout all of these stories was the dependence on prayer and trust in God. It was a celebration of collaborative efforts, of leaning on one another as sisters in Christ, to learn from one another and to uphold one another. "We are living in the same pain," as one of our sisters said, but we are also working for the same justice.
            And so we celebrate our connections here at CSW: those moments where justice is upheld, and those issues that are identified as unacceptable. We uphold one another as we share the burden of the journey, creating concrete responses to strive for gender equality. We are honest with our situations, but by the grace of God and in solidarity with one another we refuse to let the negative win.
            We live in the Plan B, or Plan C, or whatever Plan we need to get to until we all know what it means to be made in the full image of God. We live and pray and work in the hope of the world to come, in the confidence of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the trust (as another sister declared" that "the Lord is in me, and is using me as she wants!"
            Overcoming bitterness and engaging in action is easy when, like Naomi, we see the joy of loving service as we live into Plan B.

22 Mar 2018

Butterfly Wings - UNCSW62 blog 13

            New York had a snow day - a state of emergency was called due to snow (NYC does not have the history or resources of coping with the forecasted 15" of snow). As a result of this, a number of activities shifted. Some shifted location, others have been shifted to future days. Fortunately, our delegation as not impacted by the nearly 4,000 flights cancelled by the weather (and who knows how many delays!)
            The first shift was simply location: The Anglican Communion delegates gathered to present country reports: each of us, prior to coming to CSW, had prepared a document identifying data of our home country - a one-page brief with some basic introductory and statistical information, key concerns, government response, and the Anglican provincial response.
            The second shift was on agenda. As events were being cancelled, my afternoon plans moved. This ended up being a good thing for me, as it afforded the opportunity to catch up on some paperwork. There was a team starting to draft our delegation statement to the Anglican Consultative Council, there was another collaboration writing the overview or executive summary of the Anglican presence here at UNCSW62.
            Part of the fun of working in these teams was the light-hearted commentary about word choices. The documents are important parts of the recorded history of these two weeks, and so they need to be representative and carefully written. English is not the first language of everyone who is here, so we need to ensure that the intention is carefully articulated. Words matter.
            One of the conversations about words had little to do with the issues of CSW; we deviated briefly from the differences and intricacies between gender equality vs. gender equity; of human trafficking vs. modern slavery; or rural woman and girls vs. women and girls who live in rural areas.
            Instead, we talked about the snow. At that point, there were large flakes dancing through the sky. One non-Anglophone thought that snow flakes of various sizes should have different names: she suggested that those large flakes be "butterfly wings" or something equally delicate and delightful.
            What a beautiful reminder that beauty is everywhere: the snowflakes were the cause of the day's delays and changes, but they were beautiful. They were to be appreciated, admired, and enjoyed. So the words we use to describe them should reflect that.

            As such, reflecting on how meaningful and empowering and divine the time at CSW has been, we are considering now what words we will use to share the experience once we return home. There are challenges, to be sure; there will be struggles as we continue to strive for gender justice. But we can describe the unity and collaboration as a beautiful thing; with positivity and encouragement and sacred intentions.  Imagine if everything we saw, as an act of justice, was as beautiful as butterfly wings - and it will be.

20 Mar 2018

Asking Difficult Questions - UNCSW62 blog 12

            In reading the Gospels, one of the consistencies is how Jesus has no hesitation in asking difficult questions. "Who touched me?" and "Who do you say that I am?" and "Who are my brothers?" and "Why are you sleeping?" - they are abundant, and are intended to start conversations.
            Events I attended on Tuesday were equally full of difficult questions. One side event addressed empowering women across the humanitarian development nexus, and challenged several high-level officials in intersectional areas of gender/rural/humanitarian response. The key messages included accountability, partnership, multi-year and flexible funding, disaggregate data, and capacity building. The moderator held nothing back as she pressed for commitments beyond easy abstract statements. It was a delightfully honest and refreshing conversation, with an inspiring message to all agencies (governmental and NGOs) to break down silos and work collaboratively in meaningful ways. UN Women ED Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka encouraged us further when she concluded: "My biggest wish is that we take this conversation to the people who are not in this room, who have power." While progress is possible, how we will accomplish these intentions are difficult questions.
            A parallel event examined the challenges of making gender-friendly cities for rural and/or indigenous migrants following the PPPS model (identify the Problem, develop useful Policy, create effective Program, and formulate Services to deliver the best response.) We were asked to consider how we might implement such a model in our own contexts - a difficult question.
            Another side event embraced the newly articulated overlap of rights to information and gender equality, identifying difficult questions such as how NGOs might collaborate to reduce the disparity of women and men accessing internet (250 million), the risks and possible backlashes of political, social, and economic perspective, the reality of biased information (fake news), the importance of data and transparency, and the reality of NGO involvement in the regulation of information (not the previous focus on universal access).
            In the midst of these difficult questions, we (as NGOs) continue to track developments in the CSW negotiations, and advocate for positive change in the draft. Tracking changes to consider implications in such areas as water, transportation, political agency all raise many difficult questions; they inspire many engaging conversation.
            And as the Anglican Communion Delegation, we are raising our own difficult questions. As we begin preparations for our statement to the Anglican Consultative Council, we are asking ourselves what issues raised in our time together are most meaningful, and how our faith plays a role in our understanding of those issues, and how these issues impact our faith and actions. They are difficult questions that anyone could ask themselves at any time, as they journey forward in faith.
            Difficult questions are not something we should shy away from; just as Jesus' disciples did not shy away from them. Instead, we can see them as the opportunity to engage more deeply in the matters of the day, in the issues that impact our lives. They provide us the beginning of meaningful conversation, and they encourage us to intentionally reflect on how our faith is a big part of those conversations. I hope we are never so intimidated by difficult questions that we fail to recognise the gift that we are given to deepen our faith. Jesus never asked more than could be pondered; this remains our truth today.