Shoeless Joseph’s favourite customer interaction of the week.
“So why do you do it?” the Chinese cobbler’s customer asked of me.
“A couple of reasons,” I began, as usual when asked about my barefoot existence. “Firstly, it’s a protest against our relentless exploitation of the labour of people who live under tyranny for the sake of our consumer benefit. You know, like in his home country,” I said, pointing to the Chinese cobbler. “We are free to oppose it, but we don’t. I believe we should, and this is how I do it.”
“That makes sense,” she said back to me. “What’s the other reason?”
Now, I always lead with the political reason, because it is the one everyone agrees with 100% of the time (so far, at least; no one’s disagreed with me on the principle yet), and it’s the one that’s guaranteed to keep the police from dragging you off to the Homewood.
If the conversation continues, I will follow up with the spiritual reason. This middle aged white lady getting her pretty heels fixed up didn’t strike me as police, and seemed genuinely interested in the second reason, so I did my best to explain it succinctly.
“Secondly, it’s because of my belief in evolution as the work of God. I believe it is our duty to use our incredible gifts to engage our evolutionary design in the best possible way. Footwear is terrible for the health of your feet, because they’re designed to make them work the opposite way of how they were designed, whether you believe that design was intentional, or the result of evolutionary chance. Any doctor worth their salt will admit it, go ask. By going barefoot, I am showing faith in God’s design, and doing it for His glory.”
Once you start talking God with people, it can go a few different ways. In this case, I was speaking to a fellow true believer.
“I totally believe in God,” she proudly informed me. “But don’t you think God intends for us to use our gifts to protect ourselves against our environment?”
“Certainly, we are to use our gifts to that end. However, we are also fully capable of using our gifts to craft a world where we and our children can go about in safety and confidence without protection. The world doesn’t have to be what it is. We are fully capable of creating whatever we envision. We could put ourselves to the task of creating that world, but we don’t. We create that,” I said, pointing out the window to the frozen asphalt jungle outside. “I think we are capable of so much more, if only we apply ourselves. How can I bring my own children into such a world and feel like I’m doing the right thing?”
“You know what?” she said. “I totally believe God is not happy with the things we’re doing, and that He’s going to step in and deal with it soon.”
I got the impression from this statement that she was person of prophecy. Not being one myself, but wanting to show respect to someone’s differing beliefs, I spoke my next words carefully.
“Well, I don’t know enough about all that to speak with much intelligence,” I prefaced my next point, “I only know that there’s people all over the world who believe in God, or in some form of spiritual enlightenment and higher plane of being. Spirituality seems to be a critical aspect of our species, and I can’t help but notice, in all the major spiritual belief systems we’ve developed, every single one makes a connection between being barefoot and being in the presence of God, or closer to enlightenment, or whatever the point of it all is.”
She stood there without offering a thought, but with a look in her eyes showing that she was indeed thinking, so I continued along my train to finish my point.
“I don’t know enough about any belief system to be able to say I know it’s the truth. And for all I know, they may all contain pieces of the truth. But I’ve always believed that it’s important to focus on things that are common between them all. This connection is present with all of them.”
She continued to listen silently, so I decided to give her the examples, starting with the Muslims and Sikhs.
“I don’t know if you’re familiar with Muslims and Sikhs, but they both have a requirement for removing your footwear before entering their temples. And they are very different religions, don’t get them mixed up. Muslims come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition, whereas Sikhs are a whole other thing completely separate from that stuff. Yet, they both agree on this one thing.
“Then there’s the Buddhists. The most devout monks live their lives barefoot as part of their journey on the path to enlightenment. There is a similar tradition among Hindus, which isn’t surprising, given that Buddhism was founded by an Indian prince.”
She took me at my word at those examples. Then I answered her inevitable question about her own faith.
“Then there’s the Judeo-Christian connection, which may be the oldest of them all. In all of the literature, be it Jewish, Christian, or even Islamic, there is only one example of a human being actually being invited to enter into the presence of God. In all other situations it was angels talking, or some voice from the heavens, or some shit like that. But as far as I understand it, only one time in all of it, did God allow a human into his physical presence. Do you know the story?”
“Moses and the burning bush,” she said without hesitation, feeling where I was going with this.
“Exactly!” I said. “And there was only one thing that God demanded of Moses to be in his presence. Remember what that was?”
“Take off your shoes, for where you are is holy ground,” she said without missing a beat.
I smiled and nodded. “So that’s why I don’t wear anything on my feet. Maybe, when we build that beautiful world for our children, with the fruits of labour who live in freedom, I will feel like I can put something on my feet and still be in God’s presence. Until then, this is the only reasonable option I see left.”
She seemed stunned, but not too much to speak. “I’ve never heard someone connect those things before.”
“Well, maybe no one has. Perhaps that’s what makes me a real philosopher.”
“And you fix computers?”
“Yup. And I work with the best cobbler in town. He’s gonna do a great job on those heels.”
“Oh yeah,” she said, turning to the Chinese cobbler. “Great!”
“That’s going to be $20” he said, unfazed by the preceding discussion. “Be done, next week.”
Thanks for reading!