“As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
This week, GQ dropped an article called “The Late, Great Stephen Colbert.” Did anybody read it? (I’m serious-if you read, it raise your hands.) This article gobsmacked me. I don’t usually read GQ, but this article was so stunningly different from what I expected that I was surprised to see it in mainstream media.
You see, this article was technically about Colbert’s transition to late night from “The Colbert Report”, but really, this article was about the relationship between tragedy and joy. This article was about real, existential pain and suffering, and what any one human chooses to do with that suffering. And how that suffering relates us humans to God. I have no idea what that article was doing in GQ, but somehow, instead of a standard celebrity interview, this article was an exercise in lived theology by a none other than a comedian.
You see, Stephen Colbert’s background isn’t very funny at all. The Colberts were a deeply Catholic and intellectual family. When Colbert was ten years old, he was the youngest child of eleven kids and was living with just his mother and his father, and his two older brothers, because everyone else had already moved out of the house. And then, one day, Stephen’s father and two older brothers were killed in a plane crash. Stephen describes the grief as “breaking” his mother. And of course Stephen too was utterly devastated.
I need to quote the article here, because it’s too good not to quote:
“I was left alone a lot after Dad and the boys died…. And it was just me and Mom for a long time,” he said. “And by her example am I not bitter. By her example. She was not. Broken, yes. Bitter, no.” Maybe, he said, she had to be that for him. He has said this before—that even in those days of unremitting grief, she drew on her faith that the only way to not be swallowed by sorrow, to in fact recognize that our sorrow is inseparable from our joy, is to always understand our suffering, ourselves, in the light of eternity. What is this in the light of eternity? Imagine being a parent so filled with your own pain, and yet still being able to pass that on to your son. “It was a very healthy reciprocal acceptance of suffering,” he said. “Which does not mean being defeated by suffering. Acceptance is not defeat. Acceptance is just awareness.”…He lifted his arms as if to take in the office, the people working and laughing outside his door, the city and the sky, all of it. “And the world,” he said. “It’s so…lovely. I’m very grateful to be alive, even though I know a lot of dead people.” The urge to be grateful, he said, is not a function of his faith. It’s not “the Gospel tells us” and therefore we give thanks. It is what he has always felt: grateful to be alive. “And so that act, that impulse to be grateful, wants an object. That object I call God. Now, that could be many things. I was raised in a Catholic tradition. I’ll start there. That’s my context for my existence, is that I am here to know God, love God, serve God, that we might be happy with each other in this world and with Him in the next-the catechism. That makes a lot of sense to me. I got that from my mom. And my dad. And my siblings.” (http://www.gq.com/story/stephen-colbert-gq-cover-story)
Woah. What on earth is this testament to faith doing in the pages of GQ magazine? There’s even more, too, but you’ll have to read that for yourself, and you should. This isn’t the first time that Colbert’s deep abiding faith has shown through in interviews, either. In Colbert’s public life, he wears his faith-the faith that sustained him through his own version of hell , experienced as a child-he wears this faith on his sleeve. This faith that he experiences as a profound gratefulness is professed for all the world to see.
The reading from Ephesians this morning is an extended metaphor about how to live in the world as a Christian. The author of Ephesians uses the metaphor of the armor of God as a way to talk about standing firm in the Christian life. The author of Ephesians is quite specific about the metaphors he uses. The belt of truth is cinched around the waist, making the soldier nimble an unencumbered. The breastplate of righteousness is worn, as righteousness in the ways of God protects the heart and soul. The shield of faith is raised, a shield which if like the shield of the Romans, would have been big enough to protect not only one soldier, but a full third of the soldier next to him. The helmet of salvation is worn like the cross marked on your forehead during baptism. And the sword of the Spirit, the sword which defends and cuts away what we don’t need, is the word of God.
But there’s one more piece of this extended metaphor that is not actually specific at all. The author says, “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” Whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We proclaim peace, but how we are made ready to proclaim peace is up to the individual. Different individuals will need different types of shoes.
Think of the sheer variety of shoes in existence. To do a task well, the shoe needs to be the right shoe for the right task, and there are all kinds of shoes for all kinds of tasks. Think of the difference between golf cleats and snow boots, Jimmy Choo pumps and fishing waders, snowshoes and ballet slippers. We put on our feet what will help us best complete our task. Likewise, we are called to put on our feet whatever will help us to proclaim the gospel of peace.
It’s clear that Stephen Colbert’s metaphorical shoe is the profound sense of gratefulness that has imbued his life with meaning. That gratefulness has allowed him to reach inside and be able to preach the Gospel in his words and his actions. But each of us has our own shoe, waiting to be discovered. What is that event in your life, or gift, or story, or person, or truth that enables you-specifically you, not anyone else, but you as irreplaceable you, you who is beloved just for being you-what is this thing enables you to proclaim the gospel of peace? For some, this thing might be the experience of the sacraments, of Eucharist, or the experience of joy, or worship, or the knowledge of God’s love, or the meaning one finds in serving others, or the peace that radiates from within.
Whatever that thing is for you, it’s yours uniquely. No one can claim whatever will make you ready to declare the gospel of peace except for you. So think about that piece of you so are ready. Own that piece of you. Get to know it deeper, down to your bones. And when you know what it is, lace that shoe on tight.