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Leading the Laity: Let’s walk a mile in each other’s shoes

Posted: October 23 2023 at 04:15 AM
Author: Eugene Williams, Conference Co-Lay Leader


I recently had an opportunity to do some sincere reflection and soul searching. I looked at the past and present of who we are in the Northern Illinois Conference and The United Methodist Church as a whole. Then I pondered where we might be a year from now.  

I took stock of the violence on the streets of Chicago and across the nation, especially as it pertains to gun violence. I considered the plight of migrants pouring into our sanctuary cities. I see the actions of our political system at the local, state, and federal level. I thought of the unprecedented allegations in the upcoming presidential race and unprecedented actions taken in the House of Representatives. Then I thought of the bloody carnage of terrorism and wars that intentionally and specifically targeted innocent civilians. As children of God, what are we doing and where are we trying to get to?  

As I reflected, it took me back to 2007 and the song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” written by Joe South (©1969) and recorded by Grammy-nominated R&B singer Otis Clay, who was good friend of mine. Otis (may he rest in peace) performed at my church (South Shore United Methodist in Chicago) for our Men’s Day Musical in 2007. One of the songs he performed was “Walk A Mile in My Shoes.” When singing this song, he reminded us of the more than 1,800 lives lost as Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.   

But that song speaks to so much more. Sixteen years later, I believe it offers us, the siblings of the NIC, an opportunity to do a reset as we consider the mission that God has placed before us. So, I ask that we sincerely reflect upon the words of this song as we discern the kin-dom building work ahead of us. Please allow some of the words from this song to marinate in your soul. In part, they are as follows:  

If I could be you and you could
    be me for just one hour;  
If we could find a way to get
    into each other’s mind.  
If you could see you through my eyes,     
    instead of your ego,  
you would be surprised to see
    that you’ve been blind.  

Walk a mile in my shoes,
    walk a mile in my shoes.  
Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse,
    just walk a mile in my shoes.

And we spend our days
    throwing stones at one another,  
just because I don’t think or
    wear my hair the same as you do.  
Though I may be common people,
    I’m still your brother  
and when you strike out and
    try to hurt me, it’s hurting you!  

Then there are people in Mississippi,
     and Louisiana and Alabama,  
and brothers and sisters,
     but by the grace of God  
there go you and I.  

If I had the wings of a little angel,  
  don’t you know I would climb to the top
   of a mountain to look down,  
and don’t you know
    it would be enough to make you cry.  

My siblings, let us take stock of all that is going on around us and what the Lord asks of us. As the book of James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19); or as Stephen Covey has said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, 2013).

Before we abuse, criticize, or accuse, let’s try to walk a mile in each other’s shoes! I pray that the Lord will watch between me and thee whenever we are absent one from another, in Jesus’s name. Amen! 

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