I am no Imelda Marcos. I stumble in stilettos and wobble in wedges. Flats are my friends. Gravity is kinder to me when I am low to the ground. I am not what you would call graceful, much more of a klutz. I took ballet briefly as a teenager but never managed to dance on my toes. Jealous of my classmates in tap shoes, I lacked Shirley Temple’s “je ne sais quoi”. And on top of all that my feet were fat — at least so my mom told me!
(Note: If you are too young to know who Imelda Marcos and Shirley Temple are, you can google them!)
My closet as a kid looked like the inside of a men’s shoe store: Hushpuppies, Keds, Weejuns, saddle shoes, oxfords. I might as well have been a boy. I lusted after shoes of a more exotic kind: red patent leather, sexy black velvet, shiny white, sparkly sequined and even those with little heels — but it was not to be. My fat little feet did not fit into them. I wore a double-D width, a size not often kept in stock at the local Stride Rite store.
Shoe shopping with my mom along with all six kids was a bit of a nightmare. The salesman would line us all up to measure our feet with that shiny metal foot gauge thing. Then he would disappear behind the magic curtain at the back of the store. Then Abracadabra!, he’d return, arms filled with boxes, which he dealt out like a deck of cards. Each of my brothers and sisters would get at least two or three pairs to try on. I would invariably get one and only one. I did not even have to lift the lid to know what was inside my shoebox — a sturdy pair of red oxfords with matching red shoelaces.
“Don’t cry” my mom would tell me. “I told you not to cry.” Shoe shopping day was definitely not my dancing day.
As you can imagine, the Peacock family shoe budget was astronomical. There were new shoes for school, new boots for winter, new tennis shoes for gym, new dress shoes for Easter, new sandals for summer and new shoes simply because you grew out of the old shoes. It did not stop there. Both of my parents had quite an appetite for shoes. My mother’s were all stacked and color-coded in plastic boxes piled high in her closet. My dad’s wing-tips and tasseled loafers were all lined up like soldiers, shoe-trees in each and every pair.
Lucky for me as I grew older, my feet grew thinner. My foot ware became more fashionable — stacked heels, platforms, espadrilles, Chinese canvas Mary-Jane’s, Herache sandals. desert boots, and my first pair of Birkenstocks. Charged on the parental credit card, I bought shoes for my every mood: practical and pretty; trendy and traditional. With shoes, I could make a statement. With my shoes, I could stand my holy ground.
Now all grown up, my go-to shoes are Chucks and TOMS. I have seven pairs of Chucks: black, purple, red, pink, gray, turquoise and champagne– and just as many TOMS: red polka dotted, lilac & off-white lace, star studded black, burlap canvas, casual gray, and faded denim.
And my manic mind justifies the expense. I spend because it’s all for a good cause. At least for the TOMS. For every pair I purchase here at home, TOMS gives a pair to a needy child in places faraway. What better reason is there to get out my debit card and shop away on my Mac into the wee hours of the morning?
Bipolar brains like shiny things and we like them right away. So why have one pair of Top Siders when you can have two? Why have one pair of rainboots when you can have three? And of course, four pairs of black flats are certainly better than one.
Manic me is no good with money – much like my mom. Well not exactly like my mom. My mom’s spending sprees made no sense. She bought the craziest things out of catalogs. She would spend as much money in the drug store as she would in a jewelry store. She often bought the same thing again and again simply because she forgot she bought it.
I on the other hand, clothe my spending in virtue. I am generous to a fault when it comes to my children, breaking the bank for their every endeavor — even when they don’t ask for it and even though they are grown. I am no philanthropist, but there is nary a charity dear to my heart that does not get an electronic check. But I really should check first just how much my checking account can bear.
And then there are TOMS where I believe myself to be standing in the holy of holies — and on the holiest of ground.
Shopping and religion are not all that far apart, you know.
Shopping has had quasi-religious overtones for much longer than most of us realize. In medieval England, markets sprang up in churchyards on Sundays. By the 1500’s, the deans of Saint Paul’s in London were irritated by tailors, scriveners and souvenir hawkers cluttering up the nave itself…
Spectacle plus publicity equals crowds. And few institutions have been better able to manufacture spectacle than religion – with its artworks, music, monuments and rituals – merchants learned from the masters…
Some observers believe shopping has become a substitute for belief itself. As British philosopher Juian Baggani writes, “Preachers seduce us with the promise of a better life to come, advertisers seduce us with the promise of a better life to come right now. Both offer an escape from the mundane reality and endless striving that real life is made of.”
As a bipolar Episcopal priest, this is a bit of a conundrum. In my bones, I have felt deeply the impulse of both. Personally, and professionally, I am uniquely equipped to discern the difference, right? Well, at least, when both my feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Just how many books, how many dresses, how many pairs of shoes does it take to fill up that God shaped hole in my soul?
Well, I will not preach poverty for I never took such a vow. Life is too short to wear boring clothes and my living space is a sacred place. And every book is holy, right?
But I will confess that I have acquired far more than I need. Probably enough stuff for the rest of my lifetime.
I am not about to convert to KonMari (God forbid!) – much of my clutter brings me joy! But on balance my consumer soul could use a cleanse. Press the pause button, exit out of that website, put that debit card down.
And my conscience also compels me to consider: Who made all these things? Under what conditions do they work? How much are they paid? Does it come from a sweatshop or is it labeled Fair Trade?
(And here is a little book, if you would like to explore more about that: “Shopping” by Michellle Gonzales – a Christian Exploration of Daily Living.)
So, let me end with this. A made up prayer, that you might also want to pray.
Good God, bless me, please, with a bit of sales resistance. Teach me to better live within my means. Make me ever grateful for my daily bread. Shield me from a shopper’s gluttony, my favorite of the deadly sins. Keep my heart light and soul generous. Remind me always that it is better to give than to receive. And that the most important things in life cannot be bought.
And as Saints John & Paul of the Beatles so wisely said, “Money can’t buy you love.”