15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace
I’ve always been out of step when it comes to shoes. When I was little, I had to wear these heavy orthopaedic shoes that only came in one style: black and white oxfords. Those buggers made my feet registered weapons. Kicking was a felony. I longed for the pretty patent leathers other girls wore on Sunday. When I was in second grade, my mother bought a pair of patent leathers–only for Sunday. I felt like a million bucks click click clicking around church in them, and didn’t care who noticed. Many years later, I understood that the “clicky” shoes served another purpose as my mother’s secret echolocation device.
I coveted my older cousin’s white Go-Go boots. All the hip people were wearing Go-Go boots, and I loved singing with Nancy Sinatra “These boots are made for walking” with my attitude turned way up. Wearing those black and white orthopaedic oxfords was monotonous. I don’t think I understood at the time that after my parents paid for those Humvees, they couldn’t afford Go-Go boots. On one of our pilgrimages to Memphis, my cousin allowed me to try on her white Go-Go boots. I remember the adults laughing and teasing me. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that placed those boots in the back of the car with me. Somewhere on the outskirts of Memphis, they caught my mother’s eye. My dad turned the car around.
Once I started high school, my relationship with shoes became….let’s say “Complicated.” I realize this is probably true of every female of a certain age. (Guys too, don’t misunderstand.) The number of shoes in the typical middle-class adolescent closet starts to multiply like rabbits. In the middle of the night, I am persuaded they interbreed to produce an endless variety of genetic permutations. Crocs, Flip-flops, heels, and innumerable variations of the shoes we used to call “Tennis Shoes.”
We wore uniforms in my high school. The code was particular. My daughter doesn’t understand how I could like wearing a uniform, much less wear it in an all-girl school. It all came down to sleep. With a uniform hanging in the closet (or buried in the laundry basket, at times) I knew exactly what to wear and could be out the door in fifteen minutes, with breakfast. Uniforms leveled the playing field and limited distractions to a certain degree. Some girls in the school were considerably wealthy. Some girls had parents who worked two and three jobs and sacrificed mightily for their kids to get a Catholic education. Every girl had to pass Sr. Charlene’s sharp eye to meet the same uniform standard. She was the one nun Uniform Fashion Police Department. (I adored her, by the way.)
Leave it to the wiles of adolescent girls. If clothing could not be the leading economic indicator, something else would have to be. Of course, it would be shoes. Oxblood red Bass Weejun Penny Loafers. My other-branded loafers failed muster. I yearned for the real thing. I knew that my parents were of the second kind, so no amount of pleading for such extravagance would be meet, right and salutary. I saved my baby-sitting money. Two dollars a week as long as the little guy’s parents went bowling. Then a windfall! Twenty dollars for spending the night and babysitting through New Year’s Eve! I started the new semester with a pair of authentic oxblood red Bass Weejun Penny Loafers. I saved every penny to buy them. They hurt my feet like crazy until they were half worn out. I wore them anyway. It wasn’t about the shoes.
My feet have never conformed to the cookie-cutter forms of shoe manufacturers. When I find a well-fitting and comfortable pair, I will buy them in two colors if I can afford it and wear them well past prime. My mother used to lament that it would be easier to lace on “boxes without topses” than fit my feet. My favorite brand of shoes is still None.
I was precocious learning what many women learn late in life: Life is too short to spend in miserable shoes. It’s hard to be pleasant to unpleasant people if your feet hurt. It’s hard to be pleasant to anyone. Value one thing well made that serves its purpose honorably over ten things that give fleeting joy and lasting misery. I can still sing “These boots are made for walking…” by heart (especially that awesome bass between verses). The difference is that now my shoes/boots/feet ARE made for walking, lots of it, and I send them walking if they make me miserable.
That is from a slave spiritual. You won’t get it if you don’t understand that the folks who sang it often DIDN’T have shoes. A captive people declaring that God will have shoes (comfortable ones too, I imagine!) waiting for them in heaven is another way to sing “These boots are made for walking” and bring it in church. It’s attitude. It’s certainty that the present shoeless state of being (and all that “means”) is not God’s idea. If we set ourselves to working out God’s purposes, we understand that all God’s children get shoes. We get a glimpse of what shoes are for. Shoes are made for walking gloriously, all over Heaven, to school, to freedom, to connect to neighbors and family, to bring the estranged home, to speed help to those in need.
As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15
Having shoes on makes us ready. It’s the last thing I ask my barefoot loving children when it’s time to go somewhere. “Do you have your shoes on?” On less happy occasions, it is not a benign inquiry. “WHERE DID YOU PUT YOUR SHOES?!@#!” It makes me crazy to discover one shoe upstairs and the other downstairs. Paul stirs the troops, citing a checklist of equipment before lining us up to do battle against the principalities of evil. Helmets, shields, breastplates oh my! All of these things would be carefully designed and marked in order to make oneself distinguished from the enemy and according to one’s role on the battlefield. A foot soldier would create mass confusion by planting the field commander’s helmet on his head. Ready to wage war! I bet Paul never had to look for his kid’s shoes.
Then this sneaks in. So humble it’s ridiculous. It’s like being told to get your underwear straight before you charge into the ranks of the enemy. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Wear your team colors, the right equipment for the sport, get your gear right. Then when it comes to shoes, this: “Whatever.”
Whatever. It makes my blood boil when someone gives me a dismissive shrug and says “Whatever” in answer to my carefully thought out and clearly articulated reasons for doing something. If accompanied by that certain roll of the eyes perfected in adolescents, the last thing I will be thinking of in my response is any gospel of peace. I also get a little dicey when people say “Whatever” you believe is good enough, that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe in something. As though beliefs are so benign and wimpy that no real harm can be done by them. But I wander. (Though not necessarily lost!)
This is not that kind of “whatever.” This is about “whatever it takes.” It’s about having the good sense and wisdom to use whatever suits the purpose, to make use of whatever resources are available, to innovate and leverage in order to carry through with God’s purpose. The right brand and color of oxblood red Bass Weejun’s was important to this young teenager once upon a time because it helped her not feel so weirdly different. Feeling weirdly different can make a young teen far removed from any gospel of peace. Now I’m more concerned that my feet don’t hurt while greeting people after the second service. Miserable feet get in the way of the gospel. So does hunger, and poverty, and injustice and racism and sexism and classism and……and…… and……. Paul’s “Whatever” gives us permission–nay, a mandate–to do what it takes to be ready to do the things that make for peace and announce what God has done to accomplish peace both for those who are near to God’s heart and far away. Gasp. Is it possible? Can it be? Paul’s “Whatever” frees us to walk away our captivities, even our captivity to the Law. I know what Leviticus says. I know what Romans 1 says. I know what Ephesians 14 says. I know the scripture that restrains and constrains. Then there’s this. “Whatever.” Wear whatever suits The Purpose. This is far from any casual relativism. This “whatever” is a mandate that requires courage, strength, and grace to carry through with it. It requires us to live in such intimate relationship to Christ, and the scripture that reveals Christ, that we know in every generation how to bind and loose the requirements of the Law–When to hold ’em, when to fold’em. That we know in every generation the things that make for peace. Know which shoes make you up to the task, and wear them.
All God’s children got shoes. Got yours on?