From the Rev: Beautiful are the Feet
A Wall Street Journal editorial written in 2009 by Steven H. Webb Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College proclaimed “Soccer is Ruining America.” Webb’s claim? That “American energy, drive, and competitiveness are being undermined to the point of no return” by the global sport that “is a foreign invasion.” Amongst the arguments against the deprivation of soccer in America, was one that I find curious enough to comment on as it was listed as the first point of argument in his article and also included references to God and the Christian faith. I have included the paragraph for context below:
Now, admittedly there is a degree of sarcasm and perhaps some dry, academic humor from which the author is speaking. The relevancy of this article and its recent resurgence in the public square – it was originally published three years ago, but has comments (albeit few) that are as recent as minutes ago – might be debated since soccer in the United States has grown exponentially since then; however, I want to address some theological deficiency within Mr. Webb’s opening point (or cheap shot as some have suggested). Essentially, Webb’s deprecation of the feet is not quite the biblical response as Webb might want one to expect or believe.
First, the apostle Paul wisely points out the importance of unity in the body and names the feet specifically in his example. From I Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV, 1984) –
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase version, The Message frames it this way –
There is value, honor for the feet as opposed to Webb’s supposition that the feet are some what “lesser” of a body part. In fact, Webb’s oversimplification of hands vs. feet might lend plausibility to the argument that soccer (or football as it is also known by) is a more demanding sport because of the difficulty and limitation that players use (primarily) their feet. Soccer aficionados also are quick to point out that American Football (or the NFL) rarely uses the feet and might better be called ‘handball.’ But, I digress.
A second point to add, Webb has failed to mention the blessedness or beauty of the feet, especially as it is found in the Bible. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah writes:
7 How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
The feet of the herald are declared beautiful (נָאָה). Isaiah isn’t the only one declaring the beauty of the feet – Nahum gives an anticipatory word of hope for the feet of the messenger (Nahum 1:15); Paul echos the words of Isaiah in Romans 10:15 using the Greek word ὡραῖος (hōraios) which speaks of a beauty that may only lasts in this world, but has an inherent timeliness in its beauty.
Finally, we see that the feet are the direct contact point for one’s stability – Christian believers are urged to ‘stand firm’ (Ephesians 6) and Paul’s words suggest battle. The implications being that the feet represent the staying and foundational power against an onslaught of foes. What does this have to do with soccer? Well, perhaps few games other than soccer have the ability to remind us that we cannot live life on our own – we need community and others around us who are supporting us, working alongside of us. Too, the fluidity of the game of soccer is much more like life – there are movements forward and backward, positive and negative, but the game continues to go (like life) there are few pauses or breaks – time continues to tick down to the inevitable end.
For those rankled by Webb’s comments – on God or soccer – don’t suffer him too much grief or attention – for he exists within a shrinking minority who do not realize that the Beautiful Game is played, watched, and adored by those of whom it might be said “beautiful are the feet.”
Rev. Brad Kenney