“Walk a mile in my shoes . . . .” How many times have we heard that expression or said it ourselves? “The earliest traces of that proverb date back to the Cherokee tribe of Native Americans, who said ‘Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes’” (quote source here). In other words, it’s developing the ability to show compassion and empathy for others, especially toward those less fortunate then ourselves. The Bible has much to say about having compassion and empathy for others and takes it a step further. Here’s just one example from Matthew 5:43-48 (MSG) which is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I have a good friend that I dialogue with via email and sometimes we see things differently when it comes to different topics we discuss regarding the Church in America (e.g., those churches, organizations, and individuals who consider themselves to be Christian). No shock there as many great discussions come from friends who have different views from our own and it’s what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron” (Prov. 27:17). Anyway, I tend to view some of the topics we discuss on a more “individual” basis whereas his responses come from a more “corporate” view of the church as a whole and not so much “individual” specific. Case in point came by way of my last blog post written three days ago titled, “Another Year Bites the Dust.” He was quite complementary about the post and loved the story about the homeless man but had a different view of the church from mine because he’s a part of a church that feeds the homeless, ministers to people who have needs and reaches out to hurting people in the church and outside. He also mentioned that he was well aware that there are churches out there as I described in my blog post.
He’s right, of course, that there are a lot of churches doing a lot of good things in our society, and it would be a very bleak world without all that Christianity (real Christianity and not all the fake counterparts out there) has given to this world of ours. However, I got to thinking about our differing views as a whole because of my own experiences in being a part of several churches over my lifetime (and some of those churches were exactly as he described regarding the church he now attends) . . .
. . . And it all came down to the shoes we wear as individuals. Our views on life often have to do with our status in society and depending on our particular status, we are often treated accordingly by others. I like to call our status “the shoes we wear.”
I mostly wear black flats–simple, attractive in a basic sort of way, uncomplicated, not particularly sexy, but they look nice and serve the purpose. It’s not that I don’t like stilettos–I do, and I wore them when I was younger but they aren’t comfortable for the long haul and if any woman out there tells you they are, she’s lying. And, I do like simple black “wedgies” (2 1/2″ heels, max) as the heels make them a bit classier than black flats. And, once in a while I’ll break out my new sexy, red heels with straps that I bought a month ago on sale with some Christmas money a friend gave me to boost my morale after almost four years of unemployment. At the moment, though, I have no place to wear them and it might look a bit peculiar if I wore them to Walmart when I shop for groceries. However, for the most part I don’t wear shoes to make a fashion statement. I wear them for comfort. And designers would go broke if most of their customers were like me.
Black flats are functional, very comfortable, and don’t call attention to themselves. That’s me in a nutshell. Not that I don’t break out in song when I dance around my apartment in the red heels on occasion. (Where else can I wear them at the moment???) But mostly I’m a “behind the scenes” type of person. I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and you can depend on me to get any job done accurately, quickly, and without any fanfare or drama. You don’t even have to pat me on the back or throw me a bone; however, a paycheck would be nice (especially after almost four years of unemployment).
Our status in life, or, as I like to say, “the shoes we wear,” is usually how other people tend to perceive and judge us. And, while our outward status can change due to circumstances (e.g, unemployment, homelessness, divorce, health complications, financial ruin, etc.), who we are at our core stays the same. I wore black flats when I was working, and I still wear them now after almost four years of unemployment.
Getting back to the discussion I was having with my friend and our different views regarding the Church in America, I mentioned that we (he and I) wear different shoes (e.g., our status in life is very different from each other). The implication is that depending on the shoes we wear (our status) most folks in churches have a tendency to judge us accordingly. The “celebrity” types and those folks who are well known or who are influential and/or affluent usually get priority treatment. And if nothing else, people are careful not to “ruffle their feathers” due to their status. That is no surprise even though the Bible has a lot to say about showing favoritism, and none of it is good. Favoritism is a problem we all deal with and is widespread in churches, workplaces, and our society at large. And it separates the “haves” from the “have nots.” It also differentiates us in how we are treated overall. And, “favoritism and partiality are not from God . . . . As humans, we tend to form judgments based on selfish, personal criteria rather than seeing others as God sees them” (quote source here).
I grew up attending a church back in the 60′s when divorce was a rarity (and highly frowned upon). Unfortunately, my parents divorced back then when I was a just a kid. My mom was born and raised in that church and my parents were married there when she was 19 and my dad was 24. It’s the only church my mother ever knew in her lifetime. My mom was very active in the church as a “deaconness” and “circle leader” and in a variety of other roles as well as raising us three kids (me and my two brothers). But the divorce shattered her life in her mid-30s. Once she married, she never worked outside of the home (women rarely did back then) and suddenly, due to the divorce, she was thrust out into the world to find employment–mostly minimum wage jobs. She raised me and my younger brother on those wages, and my older brother went to live with my dad. However, this is not a post about her story per se.
When she was divorced, the only church that she had ever attended in her life told her she could no longer hold any of the positions she held in that church since she was now divorced. Mind you, nothing else changed about my mother except she was now divorced (and not by choice on her part). These folks knew my mother and knew her well and yet they refused to let her continue in the roles she had performed so well in and loved doing over the years. I also remember at the time that one of the girls I played with as a child (her parents were prominent church members) was no longer allowed to play with me since my mother was divorced. As I look back at that experience (I was only a kid at the time it happened) what they did to my mother was cruel–petty and cruel. And she had personally done nothing to cause it. It was modern day “Scarlet Letter” experience for her–only in her case it was divorce and not adultery that caused it. And for reasons I will never know, other then the fact that she had no other church experience, she stayed in that church until she died at 54 from complications caused by adult-onset diabetes which she acquired after the divorce. Mind you, the church atmosphere did change a few years later when new pastors came in and took over, but her status never changed.
Church folks can be unbelievably cruel. If you’ve been in the church any length of time or know folks who have been, it seems that almost everybody has a similar story to tell. Cruelty leaves nobody unscathed. Does the church as a whole do great things for society as my friend said? Absolutely! And thank God the Church as a corporate body does that, but the church is made up of individuals, and many of those individuals look out for themselves and harshly judge and demean others. And as you know if you’ve read my previous blog posts, one of the biggest obstacles hindering the church today is wide spread gossip which is a huge problem everywhere. Gossip destroys people and reputations and sometimes I think there are folks who delight in spreading that kind of garbage–most of it embellished and untrue.
One of the things I said to my friend was this, “Do you wonder why I’m still a Christian after all the crap I’ve experienced (I mentioned some other stuff to him that I didn’t include in this post)?” I told him it was because my mother taught me about the real Jesus, the Biblical Jesus, and not a whole lot of the stuff we see and hear in many churches today. And I also told him that there were some good people who did help my mother–not very many, but a few–the “nobodies” in church who remain faithful without all the fanfare and promotion. And I said to him, “Thank God for the nobodies.”
Yes, thank God for the “nobodies” who take the time to walk in other’s shoes and lend a helping hand and actually know and show what compassion is without having to look it up in the dictionary. Many people today are far too concerned with themselves and impressed by the “status” of those they deem to be important. Even Jesus’ own disciples had that problem among themselves and Jesus addressed the issue in Luke 9:46-48, “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.’” The Message Bible states it like this, “They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. ‘Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,’ he said. ‘And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.’”
Accepting, not asserting . . . “he who is the least among you all–he is the greatest.” It seems as if very few people in today’s church environments are interested in being in “the least” category . . .
And therein lies the problem . . . .
YouTube Video: “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” sung by Elvis Presley: