Category Archives for "Harlem Meets Mayberry"

Conduct Unbecoming

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Few things are more frustrating than to have our sincere apology judged as insufficient.  “Sorry isn’t good enough,” we’re told.  Then we’re told that our apology is but the first step on the long road to redemption–if there even is a road to redemption.  Often as not, we find that the road to redemption is permanently closed upon the first, minor transgression.

This exasperating scenario plays out thousands of times each day, even in the Christian world, in spite of the fact that Jesus could not have been clearer when he explained that judging apologies is a no-no:  “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”  (LK 17:4)

In the Basic Christian world–the genuine Christian world–an apology concludes the matter.  It is much more than the “ante” that must be thrown in before starting the punishment phase.  In Basic Christianity, forgiveness follows repentance, whereupon victim and offender roll merrily along, hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart, even stronger and more connected than they were before the transgression.  Everybody wins, God is glorified and it’s a beautiful thing.

This is not to say that an apology should “fix” major offenses such as violent crime or serious injury or infidelity.  But honestly, haven’t we all fallen into the enemy’s trap of holding major grudges over minor offenses?  We have, as a society, been sucked into the devil’s trap of “straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Mt. 23:24).”  We go bonkers over the slightest personal insults–the gnats–yet we ignore major social “camels” such as racial dissonance.

In the Basic Christian world such majoring in minors cannot be.  To withhold mercy and demand punishment is, to paraphrase a military term, “conduct unbecoming a Christian.”

I love the term “conduct unbecoming” because it’s such a gracious way to call attention to a shortcoming.  It does not accuse anyone of evil intent, it merely points out that certain conduct falls short of a lofty standard. Continue reading

Juggling the Snake and Dove

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Some parts of this book are more practical for blacks and some are more practical for whites.  This chapter hits the bullseye no matter what color you are, and here’s a fascinating nugget to kick things off:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Mt. 10:16).”

If you are unusually street smart–that is, shrewd as a snake–you almost certainly lack innocence, but that imbalance does not disqualify you from effective Christian living.  If you are unusually harmless–that is, innocent as a dove–you almost certainly lack street smarts, but that imbalance does not make you an effective Christian.  The key to becoming an effective fighter in the War on Racial Dissonance is to retain your strength in one area and strengthen your weakness in the other.

Jesus never, ever said, “I’m shocked!” He had enough dove in him that he was never  shocked by light, and he had enough snake in him that he was never not shocked by darkness.  And so should it be with us–we should be shock-proof.

Whatever your strength, it probably chose you rather than vice-versa.  Whatever your weakness, you will probably have to strengthen it by deliberate effort.

In my case, for instance, innocence chose me.  My childhood reality was Mayberry Reality.  I grew up surrounded by love, feeling secure and protected.  My whole town, it seemed, was on its way to heaven in a nice little rowboat.  That dove life was just golly-gee swell, but it did not prepare me for life in the snakepit, and it surely did not prepare me to minister to snakes.

Your reality growing up may have been different.  Black or white, your reality may have been Harlem Reality.  You may have grown up fatherless, surrounded by indifference, feeling insecure and unprotected.  Your whole environment may have seemed as if it was on its way to hell in a submarine.  Somehow you survived that snakepit upbringing, but it did not prepare you for life in the dove’s nest and it surely did not equip you to minister to doves.

Jesus talked balance and walked balance.  He was street smart but had nothing up his sleeve.  He was innocent, always looking for the best in people, but hardly an easy mark for the con man or the snake.  I know it gets old when any author rambles on about how cool Jesus is and how uncool we are, but this balance thing is really worth a look because it’s so dad-gum practical.  Besides, balancing out the snake and dove is a red-word command.

In the chapter entitled “The Foxworthy Device,” I introduced a Cocoonianity Checklist.  If you were to back up and look at that checklist now (PP. 76-77), you might view it as a sort of snake-dove balance sheet.

We tend to see snakes as evil and doves as good, but Jesus says we need a good bit of both: “Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  While the desirability of innocence is self-evident, the desirability of shrewdness is less so.  Why in the world would Jesus command–yes, command!–us to be shrewd as well as innocent?  Because life takes place in the real world, in real time.  Jesus knows that if we just sit in our Christian dove nests cooing all the time, sooner or later we’ll get blindsided and devoured by the snake.  Here, then, are just a few of the benefits of being a shrewd Christian: Continue reading

Gratitude Sells

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Many of the battles that must be won in order to win the War on Racial Dissonance can be won more easily with money than without money, and those battles can be won more easily with private money than with government money.  Now, what is the best way to round up private money for use in a noble cause?  It is the way of gratitude.

People who are in a position to be generous tend to respond to gratitude rather than attitude.  Yet it seems that those in need of help tend to pursue help with an attitude of entitlement rather than thanksgiving.  The sense of entitlement seems always to be on display, while gratitude seems to be in short supply.

After Jesus healed 10 people of an awful disease, only one of his beneficiaries had the good sense–and class–to come back to him and say, “Thank you.”  At this, Jesus took the trouble to express his disappointment with the ungrateful.

“Were not all 10 cleansed?” he asked.  “Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give thanks except this foreigner (Lk. 17:17)?”

If God himself desires gratitude, how much more likely are we mere humans to not only desire it but to require it?  Let’s face it:  Gratitude sells!

While we’re facing the fact that gratitude sells, let’s also face a related fact:  Mayberry reality is that Harlem rarely says, “Thank you.”  Every white person in America has heard the black community say, “It’s about time,” but few whites have ever heard Harlem say, “Thank you.”

Let’s never mind whether or not Mayberry reality is accurate on this point because, after all, Mayberry Reality is reality as far as Mayberry is concerned.  Instead, let’s strive for wisdom.

Wisdom says that Mayberry will pay its taxes because it must, and some of those taxes will be used to help certain blacks.  But Mayberry’s generosity beyond taxation is a matter of the heart, and any heart–including the Mayberry heart–is more receptive to gratitude than to attitude.

As I was praying over this chapter, pop culture just happened to serve up a near-perfect example of Mayberry shunning Harlem not because Harlem is black but because Harlem often exudes an offensive air of entitlement.

First the media reported that hip-hop artist and recording industry mogul Kanye West was in financial trouble and “needed” $50 million.  This of course raised the question around Mayberry, “Why on earth would anyone “need” $50 million?”

Next, on Valentine’s Day of 2016, Mr. West took to the social media vehicle Twitter to appeal to Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook:  “Mark Zuckerberg invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas.” Continue reading

Just One Look

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Sometimes silly becomes sensible and foolish becomes wise.  Take the case I’ve come to regard as, “The Smiling Church Lady.”

It was 2009 and I was trying to raise money to help a substance recovery ministry.  To that end I had mailed a letter to each of the 3,000 or so people on my customer list.  The money had been trickling in at a discouraging rate, with about $1 coming back for every $3 I spent on stamps.  Uh-oh!

Then one day I got a letter from the Smiling Church Lady, who at that time had not yet been given her nickname.  Hoping the envelope contained a fat check I tore it open, only to find that there was no check at all, just a brief note on a small card.  It read as follows:

Dear Mr. Scribbins,

“All the ladies in my church group here at St. John Neuman are excited about your fundraiser.  We hope to get involved as soon as we complete our current project.  Blessings to you and the drugs.”


After reading the note, curiosity compelled me to look up Sonya’s phone number and give her a call.  I thanked her for the note and her interest, and I explained that the money was not for drugs, it was to fight drug addiction.  Then I asked her about the nature of her “current project.”

“Oh, we’re so thrilled about it!” she explained.  “There are 12 of us gals–she pronounced it “gells” with a hard g–in a Friday morning Coffee with Christ, and what we’re doing is, all during Lent for one day a week, we’re smiling at everybody we meet!”  The way Sonya said it, it would take about 50 exclamation points to convey her enthusiasm.  I wanted to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, me,” but I kept quiet.

“You know, Mr. Scribbins,” she continued, I never knew how much power I had in this old face of mine until I started smiling at people.  It’s really something.  You should try it!”  For the rest of that day and the next few days I shook my head at the futility of the Smiling Church Lady’s “smiling project.”  How silly it was.  How foolish it was.  And it was during those few days, as the Holy Spirit gave me a good talking-to, that silly became sensible and foolishness became wisdom—at least to me.

Of all the people with whom we make eye contact, we will never see many of them again.  There’s the card dealer, the cabby and the cashier in Las Vegas.  There’s the beggar, the bellhop and the bartender in New Orleans.  There’s the vagrant, the vendor and the vocal fan at the ballpark.  There’s the face in the crowd, the guy beside you at the stoplight and the TSA agent who scans your boarding pass.  Chances are you’ll never lay eyes on any of them again until you get to heaven. Continue reading

The Poo Diet

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Poo Pie doesn’t sound very good, does it?  In fact, it sounds suspicious. As younger folks might put it, Poo Pie sounds just a bit sketchy.  Yet Jesus, with his knack for turning things upside down, has a recipe for Poo Pie that will knock your socks off.  In fact, the way Jesus makes Poo Pie, it’s one of the most delicious and nutritious of all spiritual foods.

A Poo Pie per day can literally keep racial dissonance away.  Let’s watch Jesus as he uses Poo Pie to fuel his confidence, which in turn fuels his all-inclusive love, which in turn is a key to winning the War on RD.

Jesus knew that he came from God and was returning to God (Jn. 13:3).  He knew that heaven was his place of origin (his P.O.O.), and he also knew that heaven was his place in eternity (his P.I.E.).  This knowledge, this Poo Pie, was Jesus’ secret power food.  When Jesus said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about (Jn. 4:32),” Poo Pie may well have been one of the items on the menu in his mind.

Similarly, our place of origin is heaven and our place in eternity–if we choose it–is heaven.  This is what it means to be born again.  Jesus explains this by saying, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit give birth to spirit (Jn. 3:6).”  Our spiritual place of origin–our re-birth through Jesus–is heaven, and our place in eternity–again through Jesus–is heaven.  Thus we have access to the same Poo Pie recipe that gave Jesus confidence and dictated all that he thought, said and did!

When we know where we come from and keep in mind where we are going, we “metabolize” our place of origin and our place in eternity.  We live and flourish on the Poo Pie diet!

Like any diet, the Poo Pie diet takes a little practice and a little getting used to, but it’s not all that tough.  Making the Poo Pie diet a part of our lifestyle allows us to achieve the inclusive perfection Jesus calls for, and it takes just a few simple steps: Continue reading

How to Be Perfect

Theatre III – Code Red Christianity

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

It’s been said that the most unnecessary part of an apology is, “I’m not perfect.”  Well, duh!  I’m not perfect and neither are you, and nobody has ever suspected that either of us is.  None of us is perfect and none of us ever can be.  Or can we?

Surprisingly, Jesus insists that we not only can but that we should be perfect.  Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)  Now, when Jesus says, “…as your heavenly Father,” he is being specific.  He means we should be perfect in one particular way.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Be perfect in every way” but rather, “Be perfect like God in this one, specific way.”  And what is that one way?  It is the way of inclusion.

Many preachers have advised that whenever we see the word, “therefore,” we should back up and figure out what “therefore” is there for!  Since Mt. 5:48 says, “Be perfect, therefore…” let’s back up a nugget or two and see what’s going on.  Then we should see clearly, and once we see clearly it will change the complexion of the War on RD.

Starting in Matthew 5:46 Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

Jesus says that if you love only those who love you, you’re doing about as well as a conniving thief.  Then he says that if you love only your family or inner circle or those the same color as you, you’re doing about as well as someone whose god is money or fame or who knows what. (Mt. 5:46-47)  Congratulations…not!

We can’t be perfect in every way but we can be perfect in one way, and to God it is the only way that matters:  We can love everyone!

Does your “god” dislike the same people you dislike?  If so, your god is not God.  If your god likes some people and dislikes others, your god is not the Heavenly Father but the god of flaming hypocrisy, the god of selective love and– get this!–the god of racial dissonance.  But of course your god is not that God!                                                                                                                                                           Just as we can’t be perfect in every way but must be perfect in the way of inclusion, we cannot root all hypocrisy out of our Christian walk but we must root out one particular strain.  That strain is the hypocrisy of selective love.  We can’t choose to love some people and not love others.  Why?  Because we are all beggars, and everyone knows that beggars can’t be choosers.  We gotta love everybody.

The hypocrisy of selective love is the most pervasive and most destructive of all “Christian” pretenses.  Selective love is conduct unbecoming an authentic Christian.  And until and unless we become intentional about purging this particular form of hypocrisy, every racial discussion and every racial initiative is doomed to be a colossal waste of breath, time and money.

Maybe you’re thinking, as I did for many years, “This perfection bit sounds good but I know I’ll come up short.  And even if by some miracle I don’t come up short, many others will.  So what’s the use?  How can we possibly, as a community, pull off the lofty goal of all-inclusive love? Continue reading

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