Shoes

Posted on December 3, 2010

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In first grade I thought boys’ and girls’ shoes were the same, and got busted wearing my sister’s Ronald McDonald high tops on the bus.

I say this only so you’ll believe me when I tell you that I have never owned a cool pair of shoes.  Not once in my life.  When I was a toddler my feet were too wide, so it was Stride Rite for my first pairs.  While I was coveting the British Knights I saw on ‘Double Dare’, I was wearing all-white Tretorns.  When I wanted the L.A. Gear’s that lit up when you walked, I had plain black cross trainers.  In high school I wore a pair of Airwalks a year after they stopped being cool, and even though I didn’t skateboard.  Right now my main pair of shoes are some Samba’s, which were last cool  when I was 12.  I’ll never win.

Every part of life’s shoe adventure has disappointed me, even shoe stores.  Growing up, I thought that there was no way the Shoe Carnival DJ made less than six figures.  He’s the Shoe Carnival DJ!  He wears a headset microphone, spins cool music and gives away prizes.  If there was ever a nuclear holocaust, the Shoe Carnival DJ would be one of the people the government uses to repopulate the earth- or so I thought.  I was shocked when I discovered that the Shoe Carnival DJ doesn’t drive a Bentley.  It turns out, if ‘Shoe Carnival DJ’ is your only job, your parents tell everyone you’re on welfare.

It’s a big deal that I couldn’t get the shoe thing right.  There isn’t a much more important relationship in a little boy’s life than the one between him and his shoes.  I don’t say this to slam on fathers, or best friends, or those boys that grew up with pets so beloved that they made Lassie look like Cujo.  What I am saying is that the bond between boy and shoe is one of the deepest of his life.  If the family dog is floating in a lake alongside the boy’s prized pair of sneakers, and that boy can only save one of them, he will bank on the possibility that the dog can swim and go for the shoes.

This is, I think, because God made man from the dust.  Boys are Antaean in nature; like Hercules’ mythological foe, they draw their strength and confidence from contact with the Earth, and their shoes are the primary conduit for it.  The more awesome the shoe, the greater the energy that flows up towards the boy.  The lamer the shoe, the less reliable that child is for kickball.  Or so little boys believe.

My friend Ben’s son, Preston, is a perfect example of this.  Ben tells the story of the time when he and Preston were in a sporting goods store together, and Preston’s shoe radar went off.  As a seven year old, Preston still believed everything in shoe marketing was one hundred percent true.  Ignoring rack after rack of sensibly priced footwear, Preston lasered in on an $85 pair, which, as Ben noted later, “is totally ridiculous for children’s shoes.”  That fact eluded Preston, however, and he looked Ben in the eyes, stony faced and serious, and said:

“Dad, I need these shoes.  These are Nikes.  They make you run faster, jump higher, and punch harder.  I have to have them.”

I’ve been down that road before.  In the early 1990’s Reebok released a basketball shoe called the Pump, which was a high-top shoe with an inflatable air bladder around the foot and a pump in the tongue.  Further proving that the most brilliant people alive design marketing campaigns for sneakers**, Reebok convinced people that a shoe built using the same blueprints as the Titanic would help you run faster and jump higher.  This was in stark contrast to reality, in which playing basketball in Pumps was like strapping two aquariums to your feet.  Needless to say, I lobbied my parents for these shoes like a politician.  And got them.  And regretted it.  Thank you, Reebok.

**- This is sad.

My point is, shoes are important to guys.  And I think Ben’s son Preston was on to something when he tried to convince Ben to get him the Nikes.  He was on to the same thing that convinced me to buy Pumps:  I thought that they would instantly make me better at everything.  I thought they were an athletic silver bullet, that they would provide an immediate boost in my peak performance like the advertising suggested.  If that was possible, it was worth any price.

As Christians, we’re spiritually impatient people.  We don’t want to be like Jesus later.  We don’t want to be more spiritually mature tomorrow.  We don’t want to wait on Christian growth.  We want it to happen TODAY.  Like, now.  And if we’re not improving as quickly as we think we should, we’re going to make it happen.  We’ll buy any book, do any Bible study, try any worship fad, go to any hip new church in search of that silver bullet that’s going to get us there.

Suddenly, Preston sounds pretty wise.  We’ve allowed Reebok to direct our spiritual lives- we want new shoes.

One of my favorite word pictures for the relationship between God and people is that of pottery.  The Bible is rich with such imagery.  Isaiah 64:8 says “…yet you, Lord, are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  In Jeremiah 18, the prophet Jeremiah is told by God to go to the potter’s house, where God shows him a potter working a piece of clay upon the wheel- the same metaphor.  In Romans 9, the apostle Paul chastises those who would take issue with God’s direction for their lives, asking “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?”

I like the image of God as a potter because it contradicts our instincts about the sanctification process.  The potter has just two shaping mechanisms at his disposal as he molds the clay: his hand, and the wheel the clay spins on.  The hand is God’s touch, the one He promised when Paul said, “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.”  Do you know what the wheel is?

Time.

You can’t microwave pottery.  It’s not like one of those capsules you drop in hot water and it becomes a foam dinosaur.  Pottery takes time.  And we take time.  God sanctifies us by putting His hand on our hearts, and letting the wheel do the work.  Time washes over us, spinning our clay lives through the fingers of the Lord, which gradually mold us into the shapes He wants.  This is what the Bible means when it talks about ‘sanctification’.

But shoe-shopping is deeply ingrained in our spiritual mindset. We think these changes should happen quickly.  The Bible tells us that it happens slowly.  Peter didn’t lie when he said that a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.  Paul wasn’t just musing when he asked, “Who can know the mind of God?  Who has become his counselor?”  Translation:  God does what He wants, and on his time.

There is no speeding up the shaping process.  The wheel moves at its own steady pace, and God’s touch never leaves our lives throughout it.  Because of this, we can have confidence that where we are at spiritually at any point in our lives is still a part of God’s process.  We can stop our quest for those new spiritual shoes-programs, books, small groups, whatever- which will make us better Christians, as if God loved us more as we began to struggle less.  Yield instead to the motion of the pottery wheel, and settle down and let God do the making. 

The only other pair of cool shoes I’ve owned in my life were a pair of Converse Reacts, the ones Larry Johnson endorsed in his ‘Grandmama’ ad campaign.  I loved those shoes, and at the time I thought they made all the difference in the world in my basketball game.  They were even a little bit holy- I wrote ‘Jesus’ on the left one, and ‘Christ’ on the other in black marker, in emulation of a Louisville player I grew up watching.

But truthfully, the shoes I wore didn’t make a difference.  I played the same in Reacts as I did in any other shoe.  My crossover did not become more killer, nor my rebounding more tenacious.  And the truth of my spiritual life is the same:  I’m still the same follower of Jesus, regardless of whichever spiritual get-rich-quick scheme I’ve bought into at the time.  Meanwhile, God’s process, though slow and trying to my patience, works 100% of the time.  I don’t need new shoes at all.

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