Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing


If you’ve been following my blog you know that I’m a Christian as well as a barefooter. I’m presently engaged in an email conversation with a young Christian man who wants to go barefoot to church but is facing intense social pressure from the congregation and church leaders. This mystifies me on so many levels.

There is nothing anti-Christian about going barefoot. Indeed, strong biblical arguments can be made that it’s more Christian to go barefoot than wear shoes (Exodus 3:5, Joshua 5:10, Matthew 10:10, for example). There are no dress codes proscribed in the New Testament and, in fact, such rules and regulations are discouraged in the Scriptures and were shunned by the early church. Judging others who come to worship is forbidden in no uncertain terms (James 2).

Okay, we all know that religious people can be nutty and inexplicable. They often embrace weird beliefs for no good reason. But what about everyone else? Even in the secular world bare feet remain a volatile subject.

Bob Neinast recently wrote a captivating blog (as usual) about a librarian who was fired for refusing to post a NO BARE FEET sign at her library. This happened in 1972, but sadly, things have not improved since then. Indeed, things have gotten worse; Bob has himself lost several court cases for simply wanting to use his public library sans shoes. Anyway, the fired librarian, Joan Ford, captured the lunacy of this dispute so exquisitely that I have not been able to shake her words from my head since I first read them:

“There’s something explosive about the issue I don’t understand. It arouses intense passions – especially among the no-bare-feet partisans – as inexplicable to me as was to Gulliver the deadly political strife in Lilliput over whether to break the big or small end of a breakfast egg.”

What is it about bare feet that ignites people so? Mrs. Ford went on to speculate, “Maybe some sexual nuance that escapes me?” I don’t know if that’s the answer (because it escapes me, too), but clearly there’s something. If most of the world has a secret foot fetish it might at least explain the fear religious folks have for baring them. Perhaps passions are aroused because the feet are so sensitive to touch, but then so are the fingers and lips but we have no qualms about exposing those. One might think that bare feet are taboo because they’ve been locked out-of-view in shoes for so long, but sandals and flip flops reveal the feet and are socially acceptable, so that can’t be it either.

The war between Big-Endians and Little-Endians.

A mountain out of a mole hill.

Much ado about nothing.

Can some foot-hater out there explain to us why bare feet are such a big deal to you?

9 comments:

  1. In the Catholic Church you will often hear a religious order referred to as 'discalced.' Although they generally wear sandals now, they originally went barefoot. They are not allowed to wear shoes unless absolutely necessary.

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  2. I completely agree, Daniel. Nevertheless, after much soul-searching, I have arrived at a compromise that is comfortable for me, my wife, and other church-goers. I wear my VFFs into the auditorium and take them off under my chair during the worship time, then wear them back to the car. In the same way that being barefoot should be no big deal, wearing my VFFs for the five-minute walk to and from the car is no big deal for me. It's my personal little sacrifice under I Cor 10:32. I know that causing another to go barefoot doesn't qualify as causing him to stumble spiritually! But giving him cause to judge—or fume—during the worship might. I'm blessed because my church is pretty laid back. One of my pastors has toyed with the idea of preaching in VFFs...

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  3. There is a woman pastor in a Methodist church near my home who never wears shoes indoors. She is always barefoot...what about the verse..??? Exodus 3:5 where God is talking to Moses.... "Do not come any closer, " God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is Holy Ground"

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  4. Whenever I read something about bare feet in church, it always reminds me of my wife's and my visit to Fiji a few years ago.

    Almost all the indigenous Fijians are Christian as a result of European missionaries coming to their islands almost 200 years ago. About 3/4 of them are Methodists and the remainder mainly Roman Catholic. Generally, they take Christianity much more seriously than many in the Western world. Fijians dress modestly, not just for church, but in their everyday life. The women, forexample, never show their shoulders and always wear skirts almost to the ground. Men never wear tank tops and rarely remove their shirts, even if swimming. But being barefoot is pretty standard. To them, dressing modestly has nothing whatsoever to do with wearing shoes.

    Which brings me to the churches. Even though some Fijians do wear flip-flops sometimes, and even more rarely some sneakers are seen, wearing footwear inside a church - any church - is absolutely not done. We, along with a few other tourists, had the opportunity to attend a church one Sunday while we were there, which incidentally was a Methodist church, and it was made clear to us that we must remove our shoes (no problem for me, because I was already barefoot) before entering the church. The most "dressed up" people there were the minister and church officials. They wore dress coats, with shirt and ties, sulus (a skirt like garment men generally wear instead of pants), and bare feet. In a way it looked a little strange, so dressed up but no shoes or footwear on.

    It would appear that not only are bare feet a fairly normal thing in everyday life in Fiji, especially away from the big cities, apparently Fijians consider footwear as somehow unholy, perhaps disrespectful, when in a house of God. And this is the same God that all Christians in this country and other parts of the world worship as well.

    So I wonder, can a church truly be "Christian" and not accept someone who chooses to walk as God has created us to do?

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  5. This enigma has always mystified me. I have come to the conclusion that the so called "civilized" people also have taboos. The sight of the foot itself is not taboo (any more). Touching the ground with a bare sole still is.

    As for the origins of the taboo, I am at a loss. Frazer in "The Golden Bough" wrote that "it will be well to begin by noticing two of those rules or taboos by which, as we have seen, the life of divine kings or priests is regulated. The first of the rules to which I would call the reader’s attention is that the divine personage may not touch the ground with his foot. This rule was observed by the supreme pontiff of the Zapotecs in Mexico; he profaned his sanctity if he so much as touched the ground with his foot. Montezuma, emperor of Mexico, never set foot on the ground; he was always carried on the shoulders of noblemen, and if he lighted anywhere they laid rich tapestry for him to walk upon. For the Mikado of Japan to touch the ground with his foot was a shameful degradation; indeed, in the sixteenth century, it was enough to deprive him of his office. " (please read on, the passage is relatively long) [...]Apparently holiness, magical virtue, taboo, or whatever we may call that mysterious quality which is supposed to pervade sacred or tabooed persons, is conceived by the primitive philosopher as a physical substance or fluid, with which the sacred man is charged just as a Leyden jar is charged with electricity; and exactly as the electricity in the jar can be discharged by contact with a good conductor, so the holiness or magical virtue in the man can be discharged and drained away by contact with the earth..."

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  6. Sorry, but I think the Joshua 5:10 reference is wrong. Could you post what you were trying to say there? I am very interested, and I agree with the rest of your point, I would just like to have another reference for myself.

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  7. I suspect the big deal is over informality. Where do most people go barefoot? --at home, while bathing, at the pool or beach -- in other words, very informal settings. While some churches are informal, many still have a code of dressing your best for worship. I recall when flip-flops became popular and at first, there were disapproving glances when worn to church; now, they are mostly considered acceptable. Perhaps as the barefoot movement grows, it won't be any more noticed at church than the wearing of flip-flops.

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  8. I also think the reason is formality. Even though I have been barefooting a while, I still struggle with the deeply ingrained perception that bare feet are casual.

    Even before the specific issue of barefooting came up, I have wondered how we call ourselves Christians when we act like Pharisees. "Come as you are" seems to apply only to Jesus, not to Church.


    @davidthefourth: I believe he meant Joshua 5:15

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  9. I am a Presbyterian (PCA) deacon in Virginia, and I attend all non worship meetings (choir practice, deacon's meetings, monthly prayer breakfasts, and small group Bible studies) barefoot. I once attended a worship service barefoot because I left my shoes in my other car. I taught a 3rd & 4th grade Sunday School class yesterday barefoot, but slipped on my moccasins afterward.

    The reason that I wear shoes to Sunday services is because there are often visitors there and I do not want them or anyone else to feel uncomfortable. The other meetings I mentioned before are comprised by folks I know, and who know me very well. Our relationships transcend superficial stuff like shoes, and I am accepted as an equal.

    A few weeks ago a visitor, the adult son of an elderly couple in our church, got up in front of the congregation and thanked us for payers and support during his wife's recent illness. He apologized for his attire (he was on a motorcycle trip out from Colorado and packed light). After he spoke, our senior pastor told him that we care less about what people wear than we do about their spiritual condition, and joked about himself being born in a three piece suit.

    It is great to be a part of a church family that is so accepting, and that truly loves one another. My anxiety at going barefoot in worship may pass, for now I will continue as is. I may break the ice a little this Spring and gradually get folks used to me being un-shod. Who knows, it may not turn out to be such a big deal at all.

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