Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Gospels

I had the opportunity to speak at my church the other day. How did a barefoot professor get invited to speak at church on a Sunday morning?

My church (Blue Ridge Community Church) is rather large – we hold three services on Sunday morning and greet 2,500 people each week.  At BRCC, we often teach on themes, or series, that span several weeks or months.  We started a new series recently called The Body which examines the analogy God makes in Scripture that his people – the church – constitute his body (Jesus being the head). To kick off the series they wanted an expert on the human body to come “Wow!” people on the wonders of the human body machine. For some reason they chose me. J So I gave a 20-minute crash course on how the ear achieves hearing with some flashy 3D animation and I guess they liked it because they’ve asked me to come back and speak again.

So why is this on the barefoot professor’s blog? Does this have anything to do with foot health or the barefooting movement? Of course; here it is.

I always go to church barefoot. Always. The regular attendees at BRCC know me well and they accept me barefoot.* However, our church is a seeker church; with concert-style worship (including a smoke machine) and preachers in blue jeans, we are good at drawing in unbelievers and then getting them hooked (or “saved”). Indeed, we have well over 100 people baptized every year at BRCC! So, on any given Sunday we will have a mixture of regulars and newbies in attendance.

Despite the casual atmosphere at BRCC, the church officially bans bare feet on the stage; speakers, singers and musicians must wear at least flip flops. In observance of this rule I wore a pair of flip flops to give my dashing talk on the human ear, but then an interesting thing happened. After the first service many people commented on my shoes and felt it was too unusual for me. In fact, so many people commented that I was told I could teach barefoot for the second and third services. Wow! That is a major departure from the norm and I was truly “feeling the love” from both the congregation and the leaders of Blue Ridge.

 But I wore my flip flops on stage for both remaining services. Why?

Gospel = good news.

The word gospel means good news. I have two gospels in my life; I call them my ‘greater gospel’ and my ‘lesser gospel’. The lesser gospel is that you can live barefoot and that living barefoot is more natural and healthier than living with shoes. My greater gospel is that Jesus is the Messiah, the hero who came in and saved the day, the one who reconciles evil humanity to a Holy God.

So why did I wear shoes on stage when I was told I could teach barefoot? Because nothing trumps the greater the gospel, not even the lesser gospel of barefooting. The apostle Paul encouraged us to become all things to all people so that we might win some to Christ. The fact is that I live in a shoe-wearing society and being barefoot on stage might be a distraction to some people; I will not let my love for my lesser gospel deter people from the greater gospel.

Now for a point of clarification: I DID take off my shoes in both the second and third services and teach barefoot, but only after I took the stage and started teaching shod. I gave the newbies in the audience a few minutes to get to know me before I casually slipped off the flip flops in the middle of my talk. In this way, I hope I gave them a taste of both my gospels!
* In fact, bare feet are perfectly okay at BRCC; dozens of people can be seen barefoot there on Sunday mornings in the summer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stepping on Nails

Feet from the Barefoot Hikers of VA
A wonderful article on barefoot living entitled Living Without Shoes appeared on today. Overall, I thought the writer (Meg Wagner) did a fantastic job of finding the right people to interview (myself excluded) and presenting an accurate picture of why many of us choose to go barefoot. Reporters, however, seem to have a genetic need to balance every position with a counter-position (I'm not neccessarily opposed to that) and so Wagner interviewed a podiatrist to give the standard barefoot-is-dangerous warning from the medical community. Unfortunately, the podiatrist Wagner interviewed didn't even provide scientifically sound reasons for keeping your shoes on.

Podiatrist Dennis Frisch says that he is not anti-barefoot and that barefooting has its place, but "outside isn't that place." He says that "a blister or corn caused by wearing an uncomfortable shoe will take a couple of days to heal on its own. But a cut caused by stepping on undesirable material while barefoot could potentially become infected and be a severe medical problem."

Okay, here is where I have my problem.

Any cut has the potential to become infected and be a severe medical situation, but which is better... cutting a shod foot or a bare one? Is it better to step on a nail barefoot or wearing a sneaker?

A number of scientific studies have been published on the subject (references below). In all of them the conclusion is definitive: shoes increase the risk of infection, particularly infection by pseudomonas bacteria.

Pseudomonas does not live on human skin, but it thrives in shoes (indeed, pseudomonas is the cause of that notorious stench). It's thus not surprising that in one study it was found that roughly 50% of children wearing shoes acquired a pseudomonas infection but zero barefoot children did. It should be noted that a pseudomonas infection can be seriously dangerous, even fatal, especially when delivered deep into the body in a hard-to-clean puncture wound. In addition, I've had more than one doctor tell me that it's not uncommon for a millimeter-sized piece of shoe sole to get embedded in a puncture wound when wearing shoes. Having a foreign object buried a half-inch into your body is rarely a good thing.

So, based on the scientific evidence, Dr. Frisch should be warning us that 'stepping on undesirable material [while shod] could potentially become infected and be a severe medical problem.'

Oh, well.

1.Fisher MC, Goldsmith kJF, Gilligan PH. Sneakers as a source of pseudomonas aeruginosa in children with osteomyelitis following puncture wounds. J Pediatr 1985; 106: 607-09.
2.Green NE, Bruno j. Pseudomonas infection of the foot after puncture wounds. South Med J 1980; 73( 146-49).
3.Jacobs RF, McCarthy RE, Elser JM. Pseudomonas osteochondritis complication puncture wounds of the foot in children. A 10 year evaluation. J Infect Dis 1989; 160: 657-61.
4.Jarvis JG, Skipper J. Psedomonas osteochondritis complicating puncture wounds in children. J Pediatr Orthop 1994; 14: 755-9.
5.Johanson PH. Pseudomonas infections of the foot following puncture wounds. JAMA 1968; 204: 170-72.
6.Laughlin TJ, Armstrong DG, Caporusso J, Lavery LA. Soft tissue and bone infections from puncture wounds in children. Western Journal of Medicine 1997; 166( 2): 126-8.
7.Niall DM, Murphy PG, Fogarty EE, Dowling FE, Moore DP. Puncture wound related pseudomonas infections of the foot in children. Irish Journal of Medical Science 1997; 166( 2): 98-101.
8.Verdile VP, Freed H, Gerard J. Puncture wounds to the foot. J Emerg Med 1989; 7: 193-99.