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:

  • Shrewdness enables us to read motives and agendas. Several times the Bible states that Jesus knew what people were thinking, and we tend to attribute his insight to the all-knowing nature of divinity.  But shrewdness also enables we mere mortals to discern what people–especially those who oppose us–are up to.  And when we know what people are up to, we can deal with them more effectively.
  • Shrewdness lets us reach people whom overly-innocent people just can’t reach. You don’t have to be a drunk or a glutton or a tax collector or a drug addict or a con man to deal with such folks, but if you want to befriend and inspire them you’ve at least got to have a clue as to what makes them tick.  You must know how to relate to them in order to reach them.
  • Shrewdness makes us bold.
  • Shrewdness makes us creative.
  • Shrewdness lights a competitive fire in our bellies. We do not want to lose to the enemy.
  • Shrewdness makes us proactive instead of reactive. We become the hunters rather than the hunted.  And if our shrewdness is coupled with innocence, what we hunt for is harmony.

If shrewdness has chosen you, none of what you just read is news to you.  What might be news is that if you’re shrewd as a snake, you’ll do well to balance out your shrewdness with some innocence.  Here are a few “innocence” nuggets to help you do just that:

  • Truly I tell you, unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3).
  • Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of Living Water will flow from within them (Jn. 7:38).
  • I tell you, forgive not seven times but seventy-seven times (Mt. 18:22).
  • So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you (Lk. 6:31).

Every chapter of this book ends with the words, “Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace.”

That’s just another way of reminding us of one of the most practical orders Jesus ever issued:  “Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

As you ponder your personal balance of shrewdness and innocence, bear in mind that among sincere Christians balance is not optional.  It is not suggested by Jesus; it is commanded.  So whatever you’ve got–shrewdness or innocence–keep it.  And whatever you haven’t got–shrewdness or innocence–get it!

Red Racial Nugget #8:  “Be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace.

Tommy Libre

Thomas P. Scribbins, a.k.a. Tommy Libré, is an inspirational writer and businessman living in what Mayberry calls “Hotlanta” and Harlem calls “The A.T.L.” A former engineer and roofing contractor who has worked his way down the ladder, he is married to Kathy—his “Trophy Babe” for the past 37 years—and has three grown sons. Harlem Meets Mayberry will be published around Christmas by Xulon Press. After that, Tommy will turn some of his attention to his next book—“Code Red Christianity”—and some to his lifetime dream, which is to open a substance-conquest ministry called Ugly Orphans. At Ugly Orphans, the cool softball T-shirts will be just the beginning of the fun. WooHoo!