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Monday, June 05, 2006

Snakes and Doves

One of the hardest gospel verses for me to live daily is Matthew 10:16: we are the sheep and there are, undeniably, a plethora of wolves around. Therefore, in perfectly impossible (therefore grace) gospel form, we have to be wise and innocent at the same time. Life is a balancing act.

The thing is, I just can't handle snakes at all. Maybe in some old mediterranean metaphor they're wise, but to me they're just slimy and creepy. The snake as a type of human (in my mind) is self-righteous, sarcastic, cynical, using seeming talent or insight for abusive gain. On the other hand, I'm not sure I get the innocence of doves - since when I think of the bird I mainly picture the mess (this morning one bird actually splatted its business right on the window screen of my bedroom, yecch! and another one ubiquitously screeched its three note morning "song" at 4:30 a.m. until I thought my ears would bleed). I know the bird is supposed to be graceful - effortless as it flies; and maybe the snake is super-smart because... well, I don't really know, and it's making the skin on the bottom of my feet crawl trying to figure it out.

Obviously the animal references aren't working for me. So, how do I find examples to help me be wise and innocent at once?

I recently read a sort of op-ed-type essay by a woman advocating anonymity ("random acts of kindness") and the thing that struck me most was not the call to doing good and generous things, but to expecting and thinking them. To actively look for the bright, the redeemed, redeeming or redeemable, instead of going through life in a suffocating cloud of suspicion, hatred, judgment.

Which reminds me that a few days ago (I can be a little slow in learning some things) I think I discovered that thing I'm quickest and harshest to judge people of/for is judging people.

What's wise about giving one's shirt, turning one's cheek or thinking/saying of someone who has been hurtful or dishonest in the past, "this time they may have good motives or a genuine need/hurt"? Where does the gospel of wise-innocence come down on the unfortunately mangled popular proverb "fool me once..."?

The closing phrase of the essay on anonymity and kindness, doing the unexpected as a means of living the gospel, says that this "disseminates around the gift like a fragrance that sweetens the polluted air we breathe." This I do believe - that our spiritual atmosphere is polluted, and that cynicism (unwise absence or rejection of innocence) is part of what poisons. But it doesn't exactly help me avoid erring on the side of innocence over wisdom (mercy over justice), or is there some way in which the one defines/fulfills, rather than opposes, the other?


karin said...

I haven't got a fully worked out response or practical application, but I don't see wisdom and innocence (as freedom from sin/guilt) as the slightest bit opposed. In fact I think the opening chapters of Proverbs are meant to show just this--the necessity of the former for the latter.

Rini said...

Thanks. I'm sure that's the right answer. I guess I usually read "innocence" more broadly than freedom sin/guilt - to encompass more of the concept of "guileless," with "guile" being like the evil version of wisdom/cunning. They're prob still related, and that's the mystery-need-for-grace: to be wise/clever (without dishonesty or selfishness); to be innocent/clean (without ignorance, apathy or laziness). To have cunning without cutting. To be "like new" without (and here's the problem) being naive?