The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Even my dirty feet

It’s the dry season (la saison sèche) across the Sahel, an area of West Africa that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean through the middle of the continent, just south of the great Sahara Desert. There hasn’t been rain here for months—and won’t be for many more. The streets are dry and dusty, plants have withered and turned brown (from lack of rain and because they are coated with dust), and the harmattan (a hot, dry wind) looms above and beside us, covering the entire area with a fine red dust.

We are in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, learning to speak French and about the West African culture and traditions. We’re also learning how people cope with la saison sèche. When we walk, we often see people using teakettles filled with water to wash their feet. It isn’t any wonder. Even the shortest walk these days dirties the feet. Closed shoes and socks help some, but getting the fine dust out of socks is a laundering nightmare. Most of us just continue to wear sandals.

After we returned from a short trip to the supermarket, I realized my feet were dark red and in need of cleaning. As I ran cool water over them, I was struck by how horrible they looked. The bottoms barely come clean even with a brush, my heels are cracked and ugly, and my toenails may never recover from this time in the dust. And then I remembered. I remembered that Jesus lived in a dry, dusty place. I remembered Bible stories about how people offered basins of water when someone visited. I remembered how Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. What an act of servitude. What an act of kindness. What an act of humility. What an act of love.

No one washes my feet here in Ouagadougou. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to touch them in the condition they are in now. But if they did, I’m certain that it would feel so good and that I would see it as an act of kindness and love. Jesus kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet is an act I now understand as one of sacrifice. Foot-washing in a ritual sense in our churches hasn’t been overwhelmingly received as a sacred act. But it is. It’s an act of servanthood, sacrifice and humility. Walking the streets of Ouagadougou in la saison sèche reminded me once more that Jesus, servant and savior, would wash even my dirty, dry, cracked, ugly feet. And I would let him.

This week's front page features:

The April issue of The Lutheran magazine is now available on-line. This week's featured articles from the April issue include:

Giving our best: Lutherans continue to send funds, workers and hope to the Gulf Coast. (Photo at right.)

‘Dun Cow’ goes to New York: Musical based on Walt Wangerin's book plays off-Broadway.

It’s not easy being green ... but some congregations try.

In praise of doubt: What we see as a stumbling block can be a step toward deeper faith.

Also: AFP sales up; deficit at $400,000.

Also: Nestingen retires from Luther Seminary.

Also: The end isn’t near.

Breaking news: Community, congregation rally around conjoined twins.

Read these articles at our front page > > >

This week's discussion forum host:

Join Melody Beckman Eastman (right), a pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, Ill., and author of "In praise of doubt" to discuss the role of doubt in our faith lives.

Eastman has posted this starter question for readers: "Is doubt harmful to our witness to those who are unsure or cynical about Christianity?  Does it dilute our witness in a world where there are so many competing ideas, or does it make faith more approachable?"

Readers are invited to join the discussion today through March 21. If you haven't yet read the article, check out "In praise of doubt."

Join the discussion > > >

This week on our blog:

Sonia Solomonson writes about how congregations' Web
sites are their face to the world.

Andrea Pohlmann blogs about using our God-given talents to make connections with others.

After the recent Midwest tornadoes and storms, Elizabeth Hunter (right) checked in with the Oaks Indian Center, an ELCA residential and educational community for children in Oklahoma. She shares how they're doing with blog readers.

Amber Leberman blogs about Islam's portrayal in American culture.

Kathleen Kastilahn writes about new fiction and an Easter poem by Lutheran writer John Updike.

Check out our blog > > >

Tell us! Why you stay, or why you’ve left …

Are you someone who has deep disagreements with the church and remain connected to it anyway? Tell us why. Or are you someone whose sharp disagreements with the church caused you to leave? Tell us why. This can be why you as an individual or family stay or left, or written from a congregational perspective.

Please send your 300- to 400-word responses to Julie Sevig by May 1.

Or respond on-line > > >

Subscribe to The Lutheran magazine:

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For only $15.95 you'll receive 12 issues of The Lutheran magazine in your mailbox. You'll also receive access to back issues' articles since 1996 and unlimited study guide downloads (regularly $3.50 each) at www.thelutheran.org.

(Congregational subscriptions begin at $7.95 and include Web Standard memberships. Call Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, for details about our congregational plans. 1-800-328-4648.)

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February issue


Embracing diversity