Tuesday, November 23, 2010

3 stories about shoes and church

When the new pastor came to our church, he wore boots several times with his suit on Sunday morning. In San Antonio, and in Texas in general, this is not such an odd thing. The boots weren't beat-up old work boots; they were dress boots, the kind you'd wear with a suit. But more than a few people raised a huge stink about it. They just couldn't get over the fact that the pastor was wearing boots — boots! — in the service. Perfect example of the metonymy of loathing here: the previous pastor occasionally wore boots with his suit on Sunday morning, and nary a complaint. The problem wasn't the boot: the problem was that these people just didn't like the new pastor, so they complained about everything they could possibly think of to complain about. (He cheerfully continued wearing boots.)

The interim music minister at our church, a gentle PhD from Mexico City, caught on to the casual unstuffy atmosphere that had been our church's tradition for decades, and took it a bit further by wearing sandals. After not too many Sundays of that, one man went into the pastor's office and said, "You tell that Mexican to put some shoes on." Yep. Listen to that: the easy stereotyping, the toxic assumption about how church works. You, the pastor, will do as I say now. Unbelievably and believably, the people who care what shoes you wear on holy ground won the day. The music minister voluntarily moved to black oxfords. Then he moved to another church.

My niece Hannah sang a solo one Sunday morning. Even as a teenager, she had a big rich voice, and on top of that the musicianship to wield it well, and on top of that the x-factor that makes a performer able to bring a crowd to a different place. She sang beautifully. Afterward, a family friend, someone her dad's age, early 40s, came up and said the song was nice and everything but Hannah's shoes took away from it. (Hannah was wearing clean, bright, new-ish Chuck Taylors.) This friend, a fine singer herself, said that a lot of people probably couldn't think about the song or anything else because the shoes were so "distracting." Seeing as this sort of crapped on Hannah's day, I often wonder if this lady, in many ways a perfectly fine person, knows that Hannah's lasting impression of her is the ugly pettiness of this one interaction. Fitting, no?

It turns out that shoes are not a distraction at all. They can be a beacon, an arrow that points straight to the heart of a person's spiritual life.


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