Tuesday, April 24, 2012


[This was written c. 1997, for a talk/homily/meditation presented at a youth event at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Orlando, Florida. The photo is of one of the boots that are the subject of this piece. My editor's fingers were twitching almost uncontrollably, but I have left the text exactly as written at the time. It represents where I was at that time and I think that needs to remain, including the "stage directions" to myself as speaker. I think the message still has value, especially in light of the Trayvon Martin case.]
These boots ended up being a little more than shoes for me {untie and remove shoes, placing them where everyone can see them}
Throughout history and, specifically, the history of God relating to humankind, shoes have been symbols, and sometimes sacramental symbols. For example, Moses took off his sandals when he approached the burning bush, and walked on the holy ground where you don't need any shoes because you are clothed in the presence of God. John the Baptist declared that there was a Messiah coming whose sandals he was not fit to untie. On Maundy Thursday, we take off our shoes and wash each other's feet to symbolize our attitude of servanthood toward one another. The Native Americans have a saying that you don't really understand a person until you've walked a mile in their moccasins.
It's actually this last image--that of walking in another person's moccasins--that I want to talk about tonight and tell you a personal story that really brought home that message to me.
As some of you remember from the Parish Retreat, Janet Wolf had us read passages from the Gospel and then spend some time imagining ourselves as one of the players in the stories. It was an especially interesting exercise for me, because I had the opportunity to put myself in the position of the religious authorities, and speak on their behalf, which is not a viewpoint I had often thought about.
Anyway, the retreat was May 17 & 18, and the very next day, May 19, I decided to go buy these shoes, these work boots you're looking at. I wanted some work boots to wear while working at the Habitat House, and they were on sale at Family Dollar for $11.99, so I couldn't pass that up. I looked at the sales flyer for the different locations of the store, and decided that the closest one to my house was in the 1300 block of West Gore Street. So, I get in the car and go west on Gore, and park my car in the parking lot, and...
...the second I walked into the store, something was a little different about this store. Mine was the only white face in the store. As I looked down each aisle, searching for the shoe section, my African American brothers and sisters looked up at me with some mixture of surprise and discomfort, and (I'm speculating) wondering what this white woman was doing at this store.
Well, that's when it happened.
The thought came to me at that moment, "What must it be like to wake up each morning and know that, when you go out in public,--whether it's to Family Dollar, or Publix, or the doctor's office or to church--you're going to be stared at or treated differently in some way just because of your skin color?"
I know. It's a simple thought. It's not like I couldn't have had it sooner. But, when I walked into that store, I didn't just think about it, I lived it. For the few minutes that I was in Family Dollar, I walked in someone else's shoes. I walked into that store to buy a pair of shoes; I walked out having worn someone else's moccasins.
So, every time I put these boots on, I can't help thinking about that moment. I can't help thinking that, in order to walk in someone else's moccasins, you have to take off your own shoes, and that maybe that's a time when you're walking on holy ground when you're walking from your space toward another human being. And I can't help thinking about how God put on human skin and knows how it feels to walk in our moccasins--thanks be to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment