New Shoes

Madelyn Campbell

New Shoes a sermon by Madelyn Campbell delivered to the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church on 27 July, 2014   

    I invite you to look down at your feet. Look at your feet and at the feet around you. What are you wearing on your feet today? It’s July in northern Virginia, and we have all sorts of footwear choices for summer, and for church, and there’s a variety here today.
    Is anyone wearing flip-flops? Yes? I have my favorite flip-flops. There’s almost nothing else for the beach or the pool, and some folks like to wear them all the time, even in winter.  How about dress shoes – any dress shoes today? Dress shoes can just make you feel all put-together, can’t they?  How about sneakers of any variety? Sometimes they are just the only shoes for the job. I mean, can you imagine trying to play basketball or tennis without sneakers? Whether you are wearing flip-flops or dress shoes, Sandals or sneakers, Jimmy Choos or chewed up old loafters, Christian Louboutins or Payless specials, you are welcome here.
    I think about shoes more than some people I suppose. This might be because I’ve had a lot of trouble with my feet. I have had some surgeries, and many shoes hurt my feet. So I get pretty excited about new shoes that don’t hurt my feet and especially new shoes that are actually comfortable. I got some new shoes recently and I’m very excited about them. They’ve changed my life. Want to see them? They’re beautiful. I’ll show you. Here they are.
    These are my new running shoes – Brooks Transcend running shoes, and they have changed my life. I have nothing against New Balance, Nike, Saucony, or any of the other shoe companies, but they aren’t mine. These are my shoes. I even love the color. You can’t pick your running shoes by color, but these shoes actually come in three different color combinations, so I even had a choice. These shoes have changed the way I think about myself. Have shoes ever changed your life? These shoes changed my life.
    I’m a very slow runner. Very slow. In the 2003 Disney World Marathon I finished…dead last. Yes, I did finish, and on the same day that I started. But a marathon is an all-day commitment for me. I once got passed by a glacier.
    Now, I’ve mentioned that I’ve had a few foot surgeries and a lot of foot problems. I have been running in another Brooks shoe called The Ariel. That means “Lion of God” so I kind of like that. It’s the most motion-control shoe there is. It keeps me from hyper-pronating – from turning my feet way in and thus messing up my ankles, knees, and hips in the process.  Of course, there are trade-offs. In order to do what it does, this shoe has to be very heavy. 
    I’ve been running in that shoe for about 14 years. I’ve had coaches, and I’ve worked on my running style, and I know my style isn’t great, but it’s ok. You see, I’ve never had a kick. When you run, you want to have a kick – you want to kick your leg back as you pick it up off the ground – this helps to propel you forward. I’ve never had this. I just was unable to do it.
    Well, I needed a new pair of running shoes, and I’d heard about this new shoe – the Transcend, also made by the Brooks, and I decided to give it a try. It has some new technology in it, so it’s MUCH lighter. WAY lighter. Like, compared to my old shoes, this shoe feels like almost barefoot. And it still controls the motion in my foot!  I bought it!  New running shoes!
    Then I went running in my new shoes. The most amazing thing happened. My feet weighed less. I could kick! I had a kick! I was going faster! I thought that I was just naturally slower than continental drift, and it turns out that some of that was the shoes I was wearing.  Wow.
    And then I started to wonder – how many people have I judged without walking in their shoes?  How many times have I decided that I knew what all the facts were when I didn’t really know what was weighing down their feet?
    Our shoes are tools, and we need the right tools for the job. It’s great if we can all have the right tools all the time, but that’s not always the case.
    I just returned from the Far East. In Cambodia, I saw many people who didn’t have the right tools. I saw construction workers wearing flip-flops, or sometimes wearing no shoes at all.  I met many people who worked as tour guides at the temples, leading people over slick rocks and steep stairs, and many of these men were also wearing flip-flops. Flip-flops are cheap. Most people can afford them. Some people don’t even have flip-flops, though.
    I saw many children who were at the temples – some playing, many working. Most had flip-flops, but some had no shoes.
    It is polite to take off one’s shoes upon entering a Buddhist temple. Your shoes carry the dust of the world on them, and you keep the space clean and sacred in this way. But what of the people who have no shoes to take off?
    I wonder what the Khmer people I met thought of me when they saw the shoes I was wearing. I wonder how they were weighed down by their shoes, or how they were set free?
     I can remember being in a rest stop somewhere in southern Virginia many years ago. We’d stopped to use a gas station bathroom. On the way back to the car, I saw a station wagon pull in, and a whole family tumbled out to use the bathrooms. The children were all barefoot, and I judged them. I thought to myself, “How disgusting! How can they let their children walk barefoot into that nasty bathroom?”  I am ashamed of myself. I have not walked in their shoes. Or their bare feet. I have no idea if they could afford shoes for their children or not. I have no idea what was or wasn’t weighing them down. And it was and is none of my business.
    What if Israelis and Palestinians stopped assuming things about each other and spent some time in the others’ shoes? Do you suppose that would make a difference? I live in hope, but conflict in this region goes back throughout history. Today’s reading, though a fiction, takes place during a conflict in the same area.
    People judge Judith, you know. She was a wealthy widow. She had means. You might not be familiar with the whole story, because Judith belongs to the Apocrypha, the Jewish books written in Greek that Jews and Protestants don’t include in the cannon.  Judith saves her people from a siege by seducing and killing the General Holofernes. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Judith lived apart from much of her community. She was a widow of means, and she was pious. She fasted on most days, except for the Sabbath and feast days. She dressed in mourning clothes, and when her city was placed under siege by the General Holofornes, she wore sackcloth and ashes along with the rest of her people. There was much distress in the city, and, as most of the people had to go beyond the city gates for water, most of the city lacked enough water. But Judith had water to bathe.
When her people were threatened, Judith saw what needed to be done. She prayed to God, and then she devised a plan to save her people. She prepared herself, in the passage that we read this morning, and then she got herself captured and brought before Holofernes, and she succeeded in seducing him and getting him drunk so that she could kill him.
Many modern scholars judge her. “Well,” they tell us, “she could afford to do the things she did. Her people had no water but she had water to bathe.” She is often compared with Esther or Deborah. But isn’t it just as bad to judge a rich woman for what she has as it is to judge a poor woman for what she doesn’t have? We say that rich people are well-heeled. We are judging people by the shoes they’re wearing. What gives us that right?
    Judith used the tools she has at her disposal. She was a wealthy widow. Good for her. She was doing all right, and she could have continued to live well. Judith bathes and anoints herself, and then she chooses the right shoes for the job. She puts on her jewelry and she straps on her sandals. She knows what she needs. She has what she needs, and she’s not shy about using it. I wonder if it changed how she thought about herself.
    I have the right tools for running now. I have these spiffy new shoes.  [put shoes on now]
    I had the means to get these. Some people are weighed down by circumstances that prevent them from acquiring the proper tools.  So, should I throw all my tools away? These shoes, these tools have changed my life.
    I will use my shoes, just as Judith used her shoes, and the other tools at her disposal. These shoes have already changed the way I think about myself, and they’ve helped me to change the way I think about the world. And now that I can run faster, who knows what I can do?
    Remember Wendy Davis and her 11-hour filibuster? She wore Mizuno Wave Riders for her historic monologue. There was a boost in sales for Mizuno afterwards. I haven’t walked – or run – in Wendy Davis’ shoes, but from my vantage point, it seems to me that she did, at least, have the right shoes for the job. She used those shoes for doing the work she believed to be right. She used her shoes to help other people. I wonder if those shoes made her feel differently about herself? I’m willing to bet that they made her feet feel different, anyway, standing there for 11 hours.
    So take a look again at your shoes. Are they helping you today? Are they hurting your feet? Are your shoes empowering you? Are they holding you back?
    Now that I’m wearing my running shoes, I have no idea how far I can go. I can surely go faster and farther when I’m not weighed down by making assumptions about others. I have a new kick in my step and I can imagine myself in a whole new way. There are all sorts of possibilities ahead.
    What possibilities are your shoes giving you? Do you have the right shoes for the job today, or are you ready for some new shoes?

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