Walking In My Shoes

I’m going to attempt to translate to words something that has long been coalescing in my heart and mind. As such I’ll probably express aspects of it poorly or in ways that are unintentionally difficult for anyone but me to grasp the intended meaning. My thoughts will probably also meander a bit, which I’m sure will be no surprise to those who know me.

Since I often find that my thoughts are spurred by music, I’m going to weave these thoughts around a fairly old Depeche Mode song, Walking In My Shoes, that at least to me relates to the thoughts revolving around and through my mind. Take a moment to watch the video. If you aren’t familiar with the song, I’ve also included the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

We all have a story and no two stories are the same.

That may seem obvious, but we often act as though it were not true. We recast those we meet into roles in our drama. We see them through the lens of our own narrative. We make them more like us than is often true. And when people fail to act according to the roles in which we have subconsciously place them, we tend to become angry and judge them accordingly. Less often do we recognize what we have actually done and the pain we have inflicted as a result.

That is one theme I hear resonating in this song. It’s the cry of one judged by others for failing to live out their assigned role. We all do that to people at times, even when we strive for something different. We are bound more tightly than we think by the lens of our experience. On the one hand, we can claim little right to judge unless we truly ‘walk in the shoes’ of the we are judging. And on the other, we are never able to truly do that. We are the product of our journey, not that of the other, and we can never escape that reality.

Would you have made better choices if you had lived my life?

Would you be a better person than me if you had experienced all that I have experienced?

Who are you to judge me?

These questions echo in the song and to one degree or another in the hearts of us all. These and the others like them are perfectly valid questions. And when raised, they must be answered. It seems to me that they are too often dismissed, instead.

I know that in many of my interactions with Christians over the course of my life, those questions formed at least a part of my reaction. I may not have expressed them verbally, but they were certainly in my heart. And there were times when those questions were twisted in knots of anger, especially when I would hear stories (whether real or not) of what seemed by my standards idyllic and peaceful lives from people who then condemned those who did not rise to their standards of (untried) “moral” excellence.

I’m hardly immune from our tendency to judge, though. For instance, to use just one prominent example, I hear John Piper’s public statements on things ranging from the I-35 bridge collapse to thoughts on divorce and abusive relationships and I am appalled. While I automatically reject such things and have no problem seeing the evil in them, there is always a part of me that thanks God that I was not shaped by my life and experience into someone like Piper.

It’s true that I don’t make the mistake of assuming I would have somehow turned out “better” if I had lived his life instead of mine. Nevertheless, when I do that, I know as I do it that in some way I am standing in the place of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, who thanked God that the circumstances of his birth and life were not those of people he judged to be in a worse state than his. As I am truly grateful that I did not experience whatever it was that made people like that who and what they are, I am left with no option but the prayer of the publican, “Lord have mercy!”

God, however, did offer a response to those cries of our soul. It’s one of the most beautiful facets of the gem of Christianity. In the Incarnation, the only begotten Son of God walked in our shoes. He kept the same appointments we keep, even the appointment with death. He experienced the pain we’ve been subjected to. He experienced the temptations of the apparent “feasts” laid before us. And through it all, he remained the faithful Man, the faithful Israel, the Man of Thanksgiving, the eucharistic Man.

Yet, from the vantage of his faithfulness where we are unfaithful, Jesus did not judge or condemn us. He ate with sinners. He offered love. He sought those who were discarded and lost. He made himself the least and the servant of all.

And Jesus commanded us to do that same.

That’s an uncomfortable place to be. We prefer to denounce and to distance ourselves from those we reject. We prefer to focus on things like the prophetic woes Jesus proclaimed on the scribes and pharisees. And yet, even here, if you dig below the surface things become a little harder to fit into a particular compartment. For instance, while it seems that Jesus used ‘hypocrite’ as an epithet, it did not commonly have that meaning at the time. Rather, a ‘hypocrite’ was one who spoke or acted in order to affect a crisis of decision in the audience. And neither actor nor speaker should be understood in modern terms. Both were connected to religious activities and rituals. The pharisees were attempting to live and speak in such a way that they provoked a crisis in Israel and bring the people to return to faithful adherence to the Law of Moses. In practice, they were doing something not dissimilar from what the pagan hypocrites of their era did. And that was not considered  a bad thing or an insult. It was noble. Dwell on that the next time you read the prophetic woes and see if you can find any modern parallels.

Having walked in our shoes, Jesus invites us to walk with him in his. He tells us that as we walk with him, love with him, consume him, we too can become faithful. We too can still participate in the life of God. He doesn’t try to make us good. He gives us life and offers us an opportunity to become truly human.

And that brings us to the last theme in the song I’ll explore. It’s something I think much of modern evangelicalism gets wrong. It’s the theme of repentance and absolution. The song says it well. “i’m not looking for absolution, forgiveness for the things I do.” Modern evangelicalism seems largely to assume that most people are looking for forgiveness or have some understanding of their need of repentance. Everything seems focused on the attempt to make people feel bad about themselves, provoke a crisis in their audience, and thus bring them forward toward proffered absolution.

I suppose that’s fine for those shaped in such a way that they do feel shame or guilt and a need for forgiveness. But that simply does not describe as many people today as it perhaps once did in a culture predominantly shaped by Christianity. But now? Even today, I echo the somewhat defiant words, “Before we talk of any repentance, try walking in my shoes.” Of course, Jesus did walk in our shoes. When he calls us to repentance, he is not trying to make us feel bad about who or what we are. He is trying to get us to release our burdens. “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” I heard that call. I hear it still today.

Once I began to try to follow Jesus, once I was captured in his embrace, I began to understand repentance. I began slowly to see places I did not walk with him, places I was burdened and heavy laden, and I began (very, very slowly) to turn from one destination toward a destination of life in Christ. That’s repentance, not some passing feeling of sorrow or remorse. Of course, when we do cry out for mercy and forgiveness, God is overflowing with all the mercy and forgiveness and embracing love we could ever need. Unlike us, God has no forgiveness problem.

“i’m not looking for absolution…” And yet, absolution is all that so many churches seem prepared to offer. I would never say there’s no place for that. There is. But if someone’s not looking  for forgiveness, then such churches have nothing at all to offer. The questions today more often revolve around the nature of reality and what it means to be a human being. Christianity has the most wonderful answers to those questions, but you almost never hear them.

When you interpret repentance as remorse and expect it as some sort of precondition, you also begin to enter some twisted territory. For instance, when I became a teen parent, I remember there were people who thought I should be remorseful about my choices. And I never was nor ever expect to be. Why? The answer lies in the face of that infant girl I held in my arms for the first time one night in a hospital almost twenty-eight years ago. That memory has never faded. I believe to my core that the world is a richer and better place with my daughter in it than it could possibly be without her.

Do I recommend teen parenthood? Of course not. It’s a hard and often painful path to walk. But I have never and will never regret my daughter’s existence. I even got thrown out of a Christian worship service because I refused to hide her away. They correctly felt that I was in no way ashamed about my daughter and the circumstances of her birth. I’ve recently seen that the same sort of attitudes persist among some Christians today.

Like a moth to a flame, I’m drawn to life in Christ even if the fire consumes me. But I’m still not sure I’m looking for forgiveness for the things I’ve done. Some I regret, especially where I have hurt other people. And if God is truly who we see in Jesus of Nazareth, then I do believe I regret worshiping other gods. But I don’t regret my life. I don’t regret my children. And I can’t honestly say I regret the choices that helped make me who I am.

I do, however, want to be fully and truly human.

Depeche Mode
Songs Of Faith & Devotion
Walking In My Shoes

I would tell you about the things
They put me through
The pain i’ve been subjected to
But the lord himself would blush
The countless feasts laid at my feet
Forbidden fruits for me to eat
But i think your pulse would start to rush

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes

Morality would frown upon
Decency look down upon
The scapegoat fate’s made of me
But i promise now, my judge and jurors
My intentions couldn’t have been purer
My case is easy to see

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what i’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

Now i’m not looking for absolution
Forgiveness for the things i do
But before you come to any conclusions
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes

You’ll stumble in my footsteps
Keep the same appointments i kept
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes
If you try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

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One Comment

  1. Grant
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant….. Thanks

One Trackback

  • By Jesus Creed 22 – Restoring in Jesus on October 6, 2010 at 5:42 am

    […] I think it’s important to emphasize that point, because I think salvation is often confused as many other things. Sometimes it seems to me that some Christians confuse salvation with forgiveness. Thus, once they have been forgiven, they sometimes believe they are saved. Forgiveness is certainly a part of the whole journey of salvation, but it is not in and of itself salvation. Nor does our journey toward salvation begin when we recognize our need for forgiveness. I tried to express some of that from my personal perspective in my post, Walking in my Shoes. […]

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