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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

Trainers as subversive

Like a child with a new toy, I’m excited by a Christmas present, delayed by the pandemic, which Hermes delivered only yesterday. Yes, I'm referring to my Adidas SL20’s trainers, which I will be wearing for my 8k run as soon as I send this blog. Adidas and I go back a long way, well over 50 years. You will be surprised to learn that for a few wonderful months in the late 1960’s they provided me with free shoes, a precursor of today’s ‘influencers.’ Which was just as well as in those days Adidas trainers were prohibitedly expensive, a niche product worn only by serious (and wealthy) runners – and by no-one else. In those days we called them flats and Jack Sharpe’s was the only shop in Liverpool which sold them, from a range of just three or four styles. It’s strange to recall those bygone times and especially that morning in January 1970 when I decided to wear my Adidas Mexicana’s to walk to my lectures. The pavements were very icy and I needed firm footing. At this point I had better explain that Adidas Mexicana shoes with their very think cushioning represented a major breakthrough in flats. Made with a vibrant goldens suede with the Adidas stripes in black, they could be seen a mile away. And as I walked along Silver Street people stopped and gaped in amazement. This was an era in which everyone wore leather shoes, black or brown. At least the men. Students with scruffy trainers were still in the future. Fast forward today – and everyone wears trainers, very much a fashion item to be worn by anyone anywhere, enabled by the massive shift in manufacturing to Asia. You may remember how at the Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey ten years ago, Sister Annaliese, a 52-year-old nun on the Abbey staff, sat next to Prince William and Kate Middleton wearing a pair of black Reebok classics. Her father later explained: "She wore the trainers for comfort and always has." And that’s why trainers are so popular, To do their job they are designed to be incredibly comfortable. As actress Cara Delevingne explains: “I love comfort. Comfort is very key to me because I spend most of my time in very uncomfortable things, so it's all about trainers and flats.” Certainly women today refuse to wear shoes which are designed sole-ly for appearance. Why should fashion cripple your feet? To quote another actress, Sarah Silverman: “It fills me with a weird rage to wear shoes that make me not able to walk easily or run if I had to. It feeds into this whole 'war on women' thing in my head.” Trainers have become a powerful symbol in the feminist movement, “away from high-octane glamour towards a more androgynous cool” to quote the Stylist in 2018. In fact – and I’m not sure if anyone has done this – you can correlate the rise of trainers with the growth of feminism, not least in the refusal to conform to the male gaze. Trainers here are more than just a fashion statement: they are a mark of rebellion, even by gentle solessouls like Sister Annaliese. And this is a lesson for all of us. To quote the apostle Paul in the memorable JB Phillips translation “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” (Romans 12:1). The challenge for disciples of Jesus to see the equivalents in our lives, the pressure to conform to the world’s fashions and fads, not always that subtle. Such is the allure of materialism, even with trainers. In fact, especially with trainers: I’m tempted to say that I wouldn’t been seen dead in a pair of Hi-Tech’s. For our need to impress is so easily an impediment in our discipleship. It’s a battle, not least as we challenge the values of this world. Certainly, we will draw attention to ourselves as we refuse to conform, as I discovered in Silver Street. It’s case of allowing the Holy Spirit to challenge and change the way we think, to show us his priorities, his purposes. For as the apostle continues “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The good news is that Jesus has taken us on, anyone. He is committed to our development as disciples, to move as he moves. However, this means conflict. The world is jealous for its sovereignty; it is only too aware of its fragility. It knows that it cannot deliver what it promises. Just by buying a pair of expensive running shoes does not make you an Olympic champion. “Get fitter, be healthier, feel better, look amazing” just by buying our shoes, claims one manufacturer! We need firm footing as the apostle Paul prepares us for the inevitable spiritual conflict. Writing from a Roman gaol he uses his legionary guard as a visual prompt: “So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace.” (Ephesians 6: 14f GNT). No doubt the apostle would value trainers for their agility, to move quickly and securely through the mud of Aughton, which I hope to be doing now in a few minutes. SL20’s are designed for trail running and as such help me keep my footing. But above all, as another New Testament writer would employ the imagery of running: “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.” (Hebrews 12:2) #training #HolySpirit #temptation

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