I love looking at people’s feet – in particular, their shoes. I suppose this has me looking down more than looking up, which is problematic in itself. I probably miss some interesting faces and exchanges as an observer of people. I’ve discovered that airport sitting as well as hotel lobbies and train platforms offer a variety of perspectives. I believe shoes tell a lot about who we are, who we yearn to be, or how we try to fit in and relay a persona.
The past few days I’ve been in Minneapolis attending Why Christian?, a conference organized by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans. It was a conference featuring some of the most promising voices of women in the Church in the United States. Some of the names were familiar to me, others I had never heard of. I didn’t know what to expect, except that the women on the marquis were at the leading edge of what the Church could and should be all about. The publicity leading up to this event hinted at what a watershed moment this might be. The venue had to be changed when 1,000 people registered months ago, causing the planners to have to turn away folks. While not a conference “about” and “for” women, the majority of people who filled the pews, aisles, and balcony to SRO were women.
Which brings me back to shoes. I stayed at the Hyatt, about half a mile from St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral where the event was held. It would seem that while Why Christian? was going on, another conference featuring women (as speakers and participants) was happening at the Hyatt. Waiting in line at Starbucks at 7:30 a.m. found me in a queue of strappy stilettos, well-manicured fingers, and coiffed hair. But it was the shoes that captured my gaze – clicking across the slate lobby floor, gracefully climbing the steps to the conference room areas, waiting for a double-espresso latte or tall macchiato. Long legs and short legs, each moved with confidence, having learned that balancing act, or at least exhibiting the power of control in walking tall perched on 6″ heels. I was wearing my black Aerosole flats.
Soon after, walking through Loring Park to St. Mark’s with my chai in hand, I passed someone asleep on a bench, fully covered with a blanket from head to toe. Arriving at the cathedral I was greeted with a long line of folks slowly winding their way through the halls of the church to a registration table. A buzz of anticipation filled the air. Joining in, I again lowered my gaze to the floor around me. Sandals, sneakers, boots, flip flops, and plenty of flats – just like mine. (With the exception of a gorgeous pair of glittery, azure blue heels worn proudly by one of the speakers, Tiffany Thomas.) Looking up, there were coiffed hairstyles (of all kinds), only also in hues of red, blue, green, and purple along with the blonde, brunette, and grey.
All through that day, I was humbled to hear the voices of countless women from around the United States share what it meant for them to answer the question, “Why Christian?” (I’ll be sharing more of their mind-blowing words in another post.) Just a few blocks apart, women (mostly) were gathering for their “businesses.” And they dressed the part. Each powerful in their own way. All made in the image of God.
I’m not sure what kind of stories were shared around the ballrooms of the Hyatt, but I know the nave of St. Mark’s was filled with the voices of women claiming who they were and whose they were. Stories of class and caste, acceptance and rejection, trombones and flutes. Humanity in its fullest form in the Imago Dei. Open, vulnerable, and exposed under the sun beams streaming through the stained glass onto the Minnesota stone pillars.
From where I sat throughout the day, I couldn’t see what each speaker had on their feet. And I didn’t try. I could see their faces – filled with emotion, honesty, tears, and laughter. It didn’t occur to me notice what they were wearing, let alone seek out what kind of shoes graced their feet.
Entering the elevator my first evening back to the hotel with the voices of defiant women proclaiming their truth in my mind, the “Hyatt women” exited off to go to what was probably their evening gala. All were dressed in black, with new heels on to match the glitter of their earrings and bangles. Theirs was an air of celebration of a job well done. A gathering of cohorts who perhaps met their sales goal or other professional achievements. The next morning they again would be lined up at Starbucks, again in heels, but this time rolling their designer luggage at their side, ready to go back to the real world they called home and work. And perhaps their worshipping community on Sunday morning.
For me, a contrast to the day before, the day ahead.
I’ve spent the summer in open-toed shoes. My feet are getting old, although I am not.(Ha!) I have a closet full of heels – not stilettos, but some 3″ pumps. Jamming my once cute, but now crooked, toes into a narrow, pointed passage only crosses my mind fleetingly. At some point during the two days (I’ve lost track of time at this point) Nadia spoke of bodies wearing out, parts sagging that were once firm. By body, and my feet, can certainly relate.
As time marches on I’m sagging in parts where I once was lean; my body deceives who I am in my mind as the world around us tells us what we should be – svelt, botoxed, and looking like the cover of Cosmo (or at least Good Housekeeping). And my feet are tired.
Why do we wear the shoes we wear? Is it the context we find ourselves? Trying to gain a few inches of height? Accentuating (or hiding) our well-muscled calves? These days, for me it’s for comfort. And I’ve realized I don’t need to show off my legs, nor gain any height, or have my shoes make me look “professional.”
This is not meant to be an indictment of women who choose to wear Jimmie Choo’s or any other type of shoe. Or the superficiality of judging someone by what they wear on their feet. But it’s a recognition of who I am, and perhaps how I might begin to unpack the question, “Why Christian?”
Am I willing to put myself and my beliefs out there – in the middle of 1,000 strangers I’ve ‘met’ for the first time? Am I willing to share my struggles, doubts, frustrations, and sorrow about how my faith and my church lets me down one day and strengthens me the next? Only to repeat the same mantra again? I can’t do that wearing shoes that hurt my feet.
So I will continue to watch the shoes that pass me by. And I’ll continue to wear my various colors of flats.
They keep me grounded. Which is my first answer to, “Why Christian?”