My neighbor and I walked slowly side-by-side down our street to her house. She opened the front door and motioned with her hand to a rack neatly lined with shoes.
“Please,” she said in a heavy accent I have grown to understand. I slipped my shoes off, acutely aware of my need for a pedicure.
This was the first time I had been invited inside my neighbor’s home. We usually meet in the front yard at the Turquoise Table or at neighborhood gatherings. Barefoot, I followed my host into the kitchen for a delightful morning of conversation while savoring homemade chai.
Tradition of Removing Shoes
Taking your shoes off before entering someone’s home is one of the world’s most universal customs. To put off the shoes, or sandals, has long been an act of respect in many cultures and religions. In ancient times, it was forbidden to enter a temple or holy place with shoes on. Jews removed their shoes whenever they entered a house as a sign of civility and reverence. The priests of Israel wore no shoes while ministering. Moses and Joshua were commanded to take off their shoes when on holy ground.
To this day, Arabs and Turks never enter a mosque without putting off the shoes. Hindus leave their shoes at the door, too. The custom of leaving shoes at the door is not just faith based. Throughout Asia being barefoot is associated with good health and forgetting to leave your shoes at the door is the ultimate faux-pas.
Holland, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Korea, Africa, India, Russia, Brazil, The Philippines . . . around the world, going barefoot is a symbol of humility, simplicity, and respect.
Yet it feels like we are all walking around in shoes with pinchy toes and wobbly, narrow heels. Tension is palpable — the Presidential election, systemic racism, acts of terrorism at home and abroad, Syrian refugees seeking safety.
Micah 6:8 isn’t your typical hospitality verse. But, since love and hospitality always go together, I think it’s worth reviewing, even committing to memory:
But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.
Micah 6:8 (The Message)
Broken High Heels
We’re all imperfect — squeezing into shoes that constrict, conform, even falsely elevate for as long as we can tolerate. I love a good pair of stilettos, but it’s no way to live.
What if there was a way to be the change we want to see in the world? What if it’s as simple as heeding the Word of God instead of the sound bites of man?
Community & Connection
We don’t know each other any more. We live in the most connected era in all of history — the Digital Age — but we are lonelier than ever. We’ve forgotten that we belong to one another. Community and connection are ours for the making, but it has to start with a position of humility and openness.
Since going naked would be awkward, what if we just started going barefoot?
Go into someone’s home, be a guest. Listen and get to know a neighbor. Not for the sake of conversion, but for the sake of conversation. What if we quit trying to get people to subscribe to our way of thinking, our religion, our beliefs, and just openly loved?
My neighbor and I do not share the same faith. We don’t share the same political views. We aren’t even from the same generation. My neighbor and I are from opposite ends of the world; yet, we live on the same side of the street. You know what else? She makes the best damned chai I’ve ever tasted and sitting barefoot and cross-legged at her kitchen table felt right and good.
As neighbors, we all have a choice. We can drive into the garage, and disappear as the door slowly lowers, keeping us safe inside. Or we can take a chance, seek to know each other better, invite someone to join us at the Turquoise Table, begin looking out for each other.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Kick off your shoes, open up your heart, and remember we are Front Yard People.