response: September/October 2020 Issue

Responsively Yours: Bend With Me

Responsively Yours: Bend With Me

Recently I saw a new staging of Fiddler on the Roof, performed in Yiddish, that really drove home the ethnic/religious tension faced by the people of the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905. Tevye, the protagonist and father of five daughters, must confront change and his own rootedness in tradition. He says, “If I have to bend that far I’ll break!” I suspect many of us have felt this way during this time of twin pandemics—COVID-19 and racism.

Currently we’re dealing with change on a large scale. We’ve missed family events. We cannot be present at bedsides or funerals in the ways we long to be. We cannot receive communion and sing together inside our church buildings. We have had to bend from our traditions. We’re worshiping in new ways and finding online learning and connecting opportunities. Many United Methodist Women meetings have been canceled or moved online, and we have had to find alternative ways to serve, give, advocate and connect.

Adjusting to a novel virus has also meant receiving reams of data before doctors and scientists can analyze and explain the numbers, leaving us with too much data and too little understanding. I had that feeling when, just as the July/August issue of response was going to press, more analysis of the racial disparities in COVID cases and deaths was published. This new analysis pointed to the disproportionate infection and death rates among Hispanic/Latinx people in addition to the Black and Indigenous people I had focused on in my column. I want to highlight that learning here, inviting us to stand with all who are disproportionately affected and demonstrate that we need to keep learning and keep updating.

Ending racism has been a priority for United Methodist Women for a long time. Even with all I’ve learned, during this time I’ve realized that there is still so much I don’t know or that I need to relearn about the history of the United States and the ways that I and other white people are co-opted into a racist system and benefit from it, even without our conscious assent. Some of you may have a similar sense of needing to shift and change very quickly. How can there be so much to learn? How can there still be so much I didn’t see? How can all our efforts at change (in ourselves, our organization, the church and the nation) have fallen so woefully short?

The good news is that what Tevye feared did not come to pass. He was able to bend without breaking—and so can we. Just as his love for his daughters drew him, we are impelled by our love of God and of one another and our commitment to women, children and youth. After all, our efforts to connect digitally are not about our comfort. We are focused on the urgent work of supporting women, children and youth in this time of rising hunger, health risks, racial injustice and economic uncertainty. We are concerned about the isolating effects of physical distancing and need to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood and faith. And, now more than ever, we need to listen, learn and love as our board of directors has said, going deeper in the work of racial justice that United Methodist Women has made plain for the whole church through the Charter for Racial Justice.

Listen with me. Learn with me. Love with me. Bend with me. We need one another and the world needs us to continue to put faith, hope and love into action.

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women

Posted or updated: 9/12/2020 12:00:00 AM