Somebody else’s shoes

The Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Oxford, preached last Sunday at our Patronal Festival. Martyn referred to the meaning of Michael’s name, “who is like God,” but he turned this around and, through the telling of two personal stories, the question changed to a statement, “I am like God.” This turnaround was both revealing and arresting. Those whom God has created, the ones who share this human project might actually say, “I am like God.” But such likeness comes with a cost, to be like God is to share the things of God – sacrifice, servanthood, solidarity…  The saints in our sanctorale celebrate some of these features but there are many un-named saints who have also offered similar divine virtues.

The best of art art can also be revealing and sometimes arresting. Art is a form of expression that can make sense of a complicated and often troubled world. Art can turn us around. The latest public exhibition at St Michael & All Angel’s was an installation, better described as a ‘social sculpture.’ The artist, Katrin Hattenhauer, has a fascinating story to tell about herself which has prompted a simple question which seems to get to the heart of any society, “Do I know you?” Katrin is an artist as well as a civil rights activist. She organised demonstrations in East Germany and was imprisoned for her campaigning before the Berlin Wall fell. She believes, deeply, in the human project in which people might live together in freedom and in compassion with one another.

Some of the shoes which featured in Katrin's installation, a social documentary recording the ways in which we walk through life.
Some of the shoes which featured in Katrin’s installation, a social documentary recording the ways in which we walk through life.

The social sculpture that I was privileged to see in church was an incredibly simple arrangement of peoples shoes. They were arranged in a round with the questions placed on the floor, “Do I know you?” and “Do you know me?” “What kind of world do we want to create together?” I was struck by the beauty of this installation, the shoes became objects of intrigue. I wondered who owned them? Where they had travelled? Had they been treated well? The shoes become less anonymous, in fact they become celebrated, as we see and hear via YouTube clips the story of their owners talking candidly to camera! I would not thought it was possible to present pairs of shoes in a sculptural fashion and create such a fascinating social documentary. Katrin has photographed the shoes which you can see on her website. I don’t know how but the shoes – which have been so beautifully photographed – come to life, they become living things.

But if we could truly step into someone else’s shoes, we would have more understanding, express more empathy and ultimately our world would be a warmer and fairer place for all of us. In this spirit my sculpture asks: Do I know you? Do you know me? What kind of world do we want to create together? (Katrin Hattenhauer)

Whoever’s shoes we step into, however we may relate with others, we all have lives to live and stories to tell. The greater story reveals our common task of journeying together. What shoes will you step into to create a better world?


Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.