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KEEPING THE FAITH | Change, like a washing machine, requires agitation

The sacred writings are replete with profiles of men and women, both named and nameless, who used the gift of agitation to righteously challenge unjust practices.  
The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin

As a child, I quickly learned when my mom said "Lewis William!" that was an alert to come quickly. 

My mind would race just as fast: “What did I do?” or “What did I NOT do?” Usually, that clarion call meant she was not happy about a discovery of something which I had done. 

Did she find my serving of green peas from dinner conveniently dropped from the table onto the floor? Perhaps I have to explain why she is fishing one of my Hot Wheel cars out of the toilet!  

I was also very inquisitive and full of probing questions that seemed endless, as each answer only generated another question. Although always respectful, my intellectual curiosity would often create a relentless series of questioning comprised of the who, what, where, why, and how variety. 

After her patience was thoroughly tested, my mother would say, “Lewis William, please don’t agitate me!”  

The word “agitation” once invoked a negative position to be avoided at all costs. However, I have come to understand that agitation is not a necessarily bad thing when applied in the context of stirring the waters of change. Agitation is the artful process, often situationally, which inspires a person to be true to themself and to act upon self-interest. 

The sacred writings are replete with profiles of men and women, both named and nameless, who used the gift of agitation to righteously challenge unjust practices.  

Our nation pauses to honor the enduring legacy of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was dubbed the “Conscience of Congress.” Throughout his life, Lewis used the disarming techniques of nonviolent protest to evoke change in our country. Despite battling terminal cancer, he remained an ardent warrior for human rights. 

He returned to Selma, Alabama earlier this year, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It was at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where, as a young man, he nearly lost his life after being savagely beaten for advocating for voting rights. 

In truth, Lewis spent his entire life agitating for a righteous cause. An ordained Baptist minister, he preached his initial sermon at the age of 15, became a Freedom Rider at age 21 and was the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at age 23. He is regarded as one of the “Big Six” leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, sharing the platform as the youngest speaking participant at the historic 1963 March on Washington with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Offering remarks at the commemoration, he agitated America to “make good trouble, necessary trouble!” At first glance, the few words together seem incongruent. We have a concept of what “good” means. We also know the meaning of “trouble.” But what is “good trouble?” What is “necessary trouble?” 

He recounted in past interviews that his mother would admonish him to stay out of trouble. He assured her that any trouble he created was for a good and noble purpose. Leaving seminary to pursue his call to advancing civil rights for all, he believed the opportunity to agitate while adhering to his faith were complements. He recalled, “I think my pulpit today is a much larger pulpit. If I had stayed in a traditional church, I would have been limited to four walls and probably in some place in Alabama or in Nashville. I preach every day. Every day, I’m preaching a sermon, telling people to get off their butts and do something!”

Bonnie Burdman, who serves as the director of Community Relations/Government Affairs of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, seized the opportunity to agitate the assembly at the candlelight memorial held for the venerated leader. In her public reflections, she noted the ideals of Lewis remain a work in progress. 

Burdman shared, “Just as Moses and just as Dr. Martin Luther King both saw but did not themselves reach the promised land, the same is true for Congressman Lewis who witnessed the beginning of our national reckoning taking place today in the battle against racial inequality and injustice.  Sadly, he did not live to get over the mountaintop to see this fight through to its necessary and just conclusion. Now it is our jobs to get us over the mountaintop!”

I find peace in completing the laundry in our home. I have my own regimen which is a precise operation. Something about the process is sheer comfort to me. In the midst of the pandemic, our family completed a planned purchase of an energy-efficient top-loading washing machine. My wife convinced me to upgrade the appliance. It was definitely was a reset of my traditional thinking about its function. 

The old washer allowed me to see the tub fill with water as I added laundry and cleaning agents. The upgraded washer requires that I add everything and shut the lid BEFORE it even starts! My unfounded concern, what if I change my mind? Did I provide enough laundry agents?   

I was accustomed to hearing the clicking of the dial to set options such as water level, 1 or 2 rinses, heavy, delicate, now I simply tap my options. In my mind, the clicking was part of the cleaning process. It did not feel right to me. The instructions direct me to push the start button. That’s it! Now I’m free to walk away. However, I don't. Why? I'm not wired that way! The machine needs my oversight!

The machine is virtually quiet and makes very little sound. The noise from the old unit gave me a false sense that "good washing" was occurring. I am still at the washing machine because I don't hear the water filling the tub! I hear some light buzzing that my wife explained was the "sensors reading the load" What?? Where are these sensors? I don't see them! Apparently they must be waterproof!

As the machine does its magic, I am still skeptical Especially since I can't visually or audibly discern what's happening on the inside. My wife had to assure me that the appliance was doing its job and I had to chill. How can I chill when this new process is unsettling? 

In the past, I would periodically open the lid during the procedure to investigate progress or readjust load if needed. Not this new contraption: It locks you out! That's RUDE! If I want to stop the process, I have to press another button and WAIT until it determines it's ready to stop within 5 seconds.

Succumbing to the pressure, I leave the area. About 20 minutes later, I still don't hear anything!! In the past, whether agitating or spin cycling, you would hear the old machine taking care of business. I am convinced the new unit hasn't even started.

I am prepared to fuss about this investment not living up to its hype. I lament that I can't even figure out how long before it's done. Remember, I skillfully completed the laundry! That's code for, "I release my inner control freak" doing the laundry. The sounds of the old machine connected with my nature. I was longing for the return of the former process. I continued to wait, I still didn't hear the violent sounds of this machine shifting and thrashing itself along with its contents while spinning, simply a hum! What's with that? I’m really beginning to work out a plan to retrieve and repair our old unit.

After 25 minutes, I hear a soft chime. I quickly proceed to the unit, prepared to fuss that the effort was a bust. A green light indicates that the laundry is complete and that I could finish my process. Once locked out, the lid now easily opens. The system was so effective that the water was thoroughly removed from the clothing reducing the drying time significantly. In fact, I had to sniff them to make sure they were washed because they seemed almost dry. Yeah, yeah: That saves energy usage of the dryer too.

Now for the inspection: The clothing was … wait for it ... cleaner than ever! Apparently it really does use less water and less cleaning product while saving resources like my time and energy. 

Like the task of completing the laundry, agitation is a critical task of getting the sediment out of the fabric of society when applied appropriately. We do not need to have trepidation but should embrace new energy and ideals that affirm our mutual goals and core values. We must provide the opportunity for meaningful civic engagement within our community which produces new ideas, talents and resources. A young John Lewis continued to mirror these intentional opportunities even in his mature years. He often said, “Stand up, speak out, be bold. When you see something that is not right, that is not fair, you have an obligation to say something, do something and not be quiet.”

The 2020 Census is being promoted this weekend in the faith community. The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census of the entire population be conducted every 10 years. The census statistics are used to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and guide how state, local, and federal lawmakers will allocate billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities annually for the next 10 years.

We can shape the future of our congregations, neighborhoods, and the community by ensuring everyone is included in the 2020 Census count. The data collected will also impact the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds each year that support education, health care, emergency services, housing and food assistance, and so much more.  

I am convinced that the late Congressman would encourage each of us to fulfill our obligation to complete our census, as well as register and vote. His life, even in his passing, serves as a visible testament that despite the circumstances, don’t give up and keep the faith.   

— The Rev. Lewis W. Macklin II is the lead pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, chaplain for the Youngstown Police Department and local coordinator for the African American Male Wellness Walk of the Mahoning Valley. He resides in Youngstown with Dorothy, his partner in marriage and ministry. They share the love and joy of 5 children and 6 grandchildren.