Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reflections on Red Shoes

Recently a friend and colleague, Christy Thomas, wrote a very thoughtful post entitled “Red High Heels and Annual Conference.”  She offered both practical and theological reasons why she would not be joining other clergywomen in wearing red shoes on the first Monday of Annual Conference.  While I have great respect for Christy and her reasons, I would like to offer the reasons I will  be wearing my new red shoes. 

Now I will say, practically speaking, I am not terribly good at wearing high heels.  These are about 5-inches; the highest I have ever had.  I have been practicing walking in them. I can’t wear such shoes all the time, or I would indeed wind up in the orthopedic ward.  However, I can still manage it for a day or two at a time. But why go to the trouble, the expense and (let’s be honest) the pain?


When I was a child in elementary school, I had to wear orthopedic shoes.  I hated them! Large and ugly, they only came in the colors of gray, brown and black, and provided lots of opportunities for being teased. Even when I was older and could wear shoes that were somewhat more normal, my feet were so narrow that the really cute, fashionable shoes never fit.  Not until after I had children and my feet widened was I able to wear shoes in colors other than black, white, brown and navy.  Now, call me shallow, but I have fun wearing cute shoes.  I don’t have many pairs of them; most of my shoes are still black (goes with the robe) and sensible.  But occasionally, I like to splurge and wear something fashionable and fun.  These new red shoes are fashionable and fun and I am still young and healthy enough to wear them. So I will.

But I would not do this just because it is fun, if I was theologically opposed to what the red shoes represent.  So I have my theological reasons as well.


I actually agree to some extent with Christy, that one way to understand our role in the pulpit is that the pastor should try to disappear behind the glory of God.  But there is another piece to being a pastor who is a woman: invisible is particularly difficult for me.  My voice is different; and I mean that both literally and metaphorically.  I have a higher pitched voice than most men; I have had some people tell me that their children paid more attention (at least at first) because of the novelty of the way my voice sounds.  But I also have a different voice as a preacher who is a woman.   I see things from a slightly different point of view.  I use examples that come out of my experience as a woman.  I talk about giving birth and mothering children.  And frankly, I can’t get away from the fact that people see me as a woman who preaches, even though I would prefer to be seen as a preacher who happens to be a woman.  And maybe that is not as bad as I think.  I want girls to know that a woman is just as capable of being a preacher as a man.  I can’t do that by being an “invisible pastor.”   


I always feel like I am going to fall when I wear these shoes.  Every step is a “step in faith” that I won’t fall and break my ankle.  So, like Jeremiah, I am going to wear these red shoes as a sign-act. Because God did not call me to be silent and safe.  God called me to speak with my woman’s voice. Sometimes God calls me to speak an unpopular word, take precarious stands, and step out in faith. I stand with my clergywomen colleagues because we are different. I continue to walk beside my clergywomen friends because we may need to hold each other up and pick each other up. And I am willing to stand out in the crowd because we have not come as far as we had hoped as women in ministry.  The Bishop made that abundantly clear at the meeting we had of lead women pastors. 
So, someone needs to say that women don’t need protection, we need support.  Someone needs to say that we really can fight our own battles, but we can’t fight alone.  We need to remind others and one another that the best way to convince people that women can be pastors is to preach Jesus and be an effective leader.  Competence convinces.  If we make disciples of Jesus Christ, those disciples will not care that we are female.  In my experience, when people are hurting because their mom has just died of cancer or their child was drowned in a neighbor’s pool or their teenager has just tried to commit suicide, they really don’t care that I am female.  They just want a pastor.  

If we are stepping out in faith, we are always going to feel like we are balancing on 5-inch heels; like we might fall if we take a false step. But that is our reality. 


Will we lose members because people are opposed to women in the pulpit? Oh, yes. Will we lose big givers for the same reason? Most definitely.  Does the church, does the conference, have the guts to see it through?  Don’t know.

I do know this, however.  The truly “unchurched” couldn’t care less that the pastor is a female or what kind of shoes she is wearing.  People who don’t consider the bible the “Word of God” are not going to be influenced by I Timothy 2:11-14.  (Does this even need to be said?) If our goal is to keep our good members from being stolen by nondenominational churches, then, okay, we may have a problem in putting a woman in a church.  But if our goal really is to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ, to build the kingdom, then we all may have to make some sacrifices.  We may have to step out in faith – conference cabinets and bishops included and appoint someone besides perfect young, white male pastors with lovely wives and 2.5 kids.  (For the NTCUM’s among you, check out how many of these appointments have been made to large churches recently.) We need all the people we can get – people of color, and women in red heels included – to preach the gospel and share the love of God. And if that causes a drop in giving at a church, if a pastor is threatened with losing salary or not paying apportionments because of gender or race or whatever, then other pastors need to step up to the plate and make sure that salary gets paid, even if it is out of their own 6 figure salary.  Now that’s a radical idea! If we are all committed to the kingdom, we need to make sure the kingdom doesn’t get cheated out of servants.

This is a lot to get from red shoes.  But for me the red shoes represent all of this.  However, I do have one more comment to make.  Christy is right that many women don’t even have shoes.  I can’t solve all the problems of shoes in the world and not buying/wearing my shoes because some don’t have them is a little like being told to eat all the food on my plate because of all the “starving children in China.”  But I can do this: in honor of clergywomen and my red shoes, I will donate a pair of professional shoes in my size to an organization such as Dress for Success (which helps women dress professionally for job interviews).  And I will wear my red shoes to Annual Conference, even though (or maybe because) every step I take in them is a step in faith.

Thoughts, comments, shoe stories?


  1. Martha,

    I agree with you, I am joining you with my red shoes on the first day of Annual Conference because I am not afraid to use my voice and be a woman of faith and courage and step into uncharted waters. God is always with us and without Moses being willing to go into Egypt and face the opposition, the children of Israel might have remained in slavery.

    As a woman of faith, I have found that there are not many friends who understand the struggle, until they have had to face it. And the struggle is different for so many. The challenges are different for each of us. But most of all, it is my desire to put God in first place at all times and the God whom I serve and whose word I read is a liberator. During liberation work causes individuals to willing to stand in places of opposition.

    Dr. Ouida Lee

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