Monday, March 5, 2018

Agitation as Public Witness and Mark of Discipleship

This is the fourth time in our second home. You would think we would have learned by now. 

Whenever the self-proclaimed "Maytag Man” comes over, I watch and learn as though his apprentice. I now am at least slightly above amateur status when it comes to the disassembly and reassembly of a washing machine; yet I still do not know how to keep tiny socks from clogging the drain system. 

In between the generational rants about how they "don’t make appliances like they used to in the olden days," I pick up a few things that just may make it so I do not have to call the Maytag Man every time the machine stalls mid-cycle. 

This time around, I learned some new terminology: the agitator. 

This tall stem in the center of the drum of washing machines rotates and spins, occasionally gets tangled with an old t-shirt or sweater, and is vital to the wash cycle. The agitator's movement, which may appear abrasive, dislodges the grime and creates the right amount of soap suds to get the clothing clean, soft, and free of that late-night-run-and-sweat smell. If there is no agitator or agitation, there is no change to the condition of the clothing. The dirty clothes merely sit in standing water and the detergent remains at the bottom of the drum. 

As our Maytag Man described this central component to the spin cycle, I began to think of all those modern-day agitators who refuse to allow our social fabrics to remain undisturbed in the standing waters of injustice and despair. 

I also thought about how I was paying by the hour as I entertained this mental sidebar. 

I thought of those who protest in the middle of major intersections, arms in tubes linked with immigrants, as they agitate as advocates alongside those in pursuit of a better and safer life for themselves and their children. I thought of others who put up t-shirt memorials on the front lawns of churches to agitate and draw attention to victims of local gun violence. I imagined the faces of friends around the country who form human shields in communities like Charlottesville to agitate the plans of white supremacists with torches in hands as they chant racist and anti-Semitic phrases. I thought of those who join the New Poor People’s Campaign and cry out for economic and racial justice to agitate systems bent towards the rich and privileged. I thought of all who post their #metoo stories as a way of agitating silence about the vile realities of sexual harassment and abuse that continues to perpetuate a culture not-yet-free of misogyny. I thought of artists whose works agitate our social conscience as we consider how the prison industrial complex feeds off systemic racism, the ghettoization of America, and neglected public education in our urban centers. 

This week, I also thought of the young people who have said #enough, #neveragain, and #marchforourlives in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that took the lives of 17 young people. Their youthful agitation just may be what finally, albeit abrasively, removes the filth of broken gun legislation that makes it all-too-easy for mass shootings to occur in schools and at concerts, shopping malls and move theaters. 

In each of these movements, and many others, there are people of faith who join the efforts to ensure the cries and concerns of our most vulnerable neighbors are rallied behind as the very cries and concerns of God. Their discipleship, manifested through public demonstrations, agitate the powers that be so to remove the filth of oppression and stench of injustice that makes the human condition unbearable. In many ways, this is what Jesus, the greatest agitator of both political and religious dysfunction, meant when he called those to follow and carry cross. 

I also believe this is akin to what Karl Barth wrote:
"This is our hope and our need both as Christians and as members of society. But do not expect me to provide a solution! None of us may boast a solution. There is only one solution, and that is in God himself. Our task is only the candid, absolutely thorough, and- I should like to venture the expression- priestly agitation of this hope and this need, by means of which the way to the solution, which is in God, may be made clearer to us” (The Word of God & the Word of Man). 
This Lent, as I make my way through the 40-day pilgrimage, I am leaning in to how the Spirit is calling me to holy agitation. I am pondering, aware of such freedom to wonder being yet another sign of my privilege, the ways I am being dared to carry cross and follow Christ through advocacy and solidarity alongside my neighbors. 

I am even opening myself to be agitated, confronting my own entanglement in systems and cultural narratives, some propped up by religious institutions and traditions, that stray from God’s dreams for the world Go so loves. 

After all, agitation is the holy, reformed, and redemptive work that disturbs the standing waters of despair just enough to lead us to restorative and resurrected hope. 

A sermon delivered at The First Presbyterian Church of Norristown on March 11, 2018.