If there is a way to convey the magnitude of the 58th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, I don’t know it. I am no stranger to the brokenness and trauma of our world; neither am I stranger to the resiliency of the human spirit. But never have I been among 5,000 people from around the world addressing sweeping global concerns that challenge the human community so profoundly.
Now home again, I am left in deafening silence to process the chaotic days in New York. From which stance do I begin?
As a woman, I feel both heartbroken and profoundly inspired, and I see these feelings reflected in my Young Adult peers in this cohort. When confronted with the truly ugly, horrible things of the world – especially when they are intentionally targeted at a demographic of which you are part – one’s soul trembles with grief. While I certainly have my own pain, I am privileged in my daily life as a white, middle-class, United States citizen who identifies with my “appropriate” gender and is married to someone of “the opposite” sex. I am sheltered from vast swaths of pain and oppression reserved for those more made vulnerable by their circumstances than me. When I am confronted with it, my mettle is truly tested.
However, encountering so many powerful people and organizations with a burning passion and commitment to gender justice and equity for all coaxes my wounded soul back into engagement. I met people who unrelentingly give words to the truths no one else will speak and demand justice for the oppressed. I have heard from those working on the front lines of violence against women, poverty, hunger, conflict, HIV/AIDS, and denial of sexual and reproductive safety and rights.
As a pastoral counselor, I experienced a powerful affirmation of vocation and call to action. The individuals, couples, and families who come to me are change agents. For many of them, they are as-yet unaware of this, but I know it to be true. When we are blighted by anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, difficulty coping with trauma, inability to regulate our emotional experiences, or self-medicating through harmful substances, our lives are often very small, dark places. But I have been graced with the trust to be there with people in the midst of these places. With women and girls whose hearts rail against a world that exploits and objectifies them, with men and boys whose gentle and sensitive hearts are calcified by (a learned, but false) aggressive, static maleness – I walk with them. Every one of these people – every one of us – can change the world if nurtured into our healthiest potential.
As a person of faith – a candidate with the ELCA Deaconess Community and a taskforce member for the ELCA social statement on Women & Justice – I saw and heard incredible ambivalence about religious and faith-based organizations’ role in this great work. My hope for the Christian community is that we do two things: 1) Take public accountability for the ways in which we have been part of the problem in the world, both historically and presently, and 2) Lift our hands and lift our voices as part of the solution, as we have been both historically and presently.
As a young adult in the ELCA, I believe the upcoming social statement on Women & Justice must deliver a strong, prophetic, counter-cultural message to people of all genders. I know in my heart that we are a people of radical love and hospitality and that God’s grace through Christ frees us to love and serve our neighbor. I also know many, many people whose experience of Christians demonstrates none of those things.
I am twenty-six years old. I offer my conviction in Christ, my heart for service, my authentic self, my gifts and treasures. Each person in this Young Adult Cohort brings just such fruits to the table. But the sum of our parts is so much greater than anything I or we offer in isolation. We are here to be in conversation. We are here to listen as well as speak. Engage us. Let us engage you.
There is far too much to say than can be said here. I am brimming with gratitude for this experience, this cohort, and this Church. For this particular moment, that is enough.
Clare Josef-Maier, LMHCA, Deaconess Candidate