By David Williamson.
Being “house bound” or “grounded” by Covid-19, I started cleaning out old files and came across two newspaper articles that I had been saving, about shoes. The two articles had two very different vantage points: one, a manufacturer; the second, a shoeshine provider. This led me to remember a familiar old spiritual about shoes, and how all God’s children have got ‘em (or should).
Red Wing shoes has manufactured work shoes or boots for 115 years. Red Wing Shoes was led until 2015 by David Murphy, a man of conscious Christian faith who made thoughtful connections, making decisions based on how his faith influenced his life, including his work; the quality of his product; and the working environment for the workers. Red Wing Shoes experienced considerable growth as the 2008 recession gave way to an upturned economy that included construction workers and oil field workers, both needing a very high-quality work shoe.
More recently, high-quality work shoes have become a fashion item for affluent young adults. A headline in a local newspaper referred to Red Wing Shoes as “Sole Survivor.” Most of these work shoes and high-fashion boots and shoes are made in the original town, with supplies and the descendants of the original workers coming from the same town.
A few years later, another newspaper contained a lead story entitled, “A Shining Star.” The article begins: “For half of her life, Lisa has helped people put their best foot forward.” She had been shining shoes for 65 years! “This is my calling,” Lisa said in the interview. “I’m honored to have found this job…and I bring honor to the business.” She often finds herself as an impromptu counselor, therapist and pastor. “It provides instant gratification….This work saved me.”
Lisa is highly skilled in a supposedly low-skill business. She not only adequately cares for herself and her family, she helps downtown business people ”look good” – look professional. Her shoeshine stand is a platform for her to care for her family and aspiring professionals, and to people who need the ear and gracious voice of affirmation.
Two ends of the shoe business: manufacturing high quality, expensive work boots and shoes; and shining other boots and shoes, renewing their appearance. Both workers know that their work helps others to be more effective and successful. Both see their work as a calling, in terms of what it provides for the people they serve and for the local economies. Work reflections, newspaper headlines on shoes or boots.
A third reference to shoes is the reminder, association of a wonderful spiritual: “I got shoes, you got shoes, all God’s children got shoes/When I get to heaven I’m gonna put on my shoes and walk all over God’s heaven.” The song of course came out of the experience of enslaved persons in America who worked hard, toiling shoeless in the fields. They dreamed of and sang about their hope that someday they would have their own shoes, even “dancin’ shoes.” It’s a vision of well-being and hope, including basic needs like shoes being available for protection and comfort.
So as I slip on or lace up my shoes (I counted nearly a dozen of my own shoes – various kinds, each for a particular function), I can remember and give thanks both for the quality and specialized variety of my shoes, give thanks for Red Wing shoes that protect hundreds of workers, and the freshly polished shoes that look good and enhance others’ work. And, more importantly I can work eagerly to make “heaven’s dream” a present reality for “all of God’s children” We got shoes!