Ray Stevens sang once of the "Mississippi Squirrel Revival". He told of sneaking a squirrel into a church service. Said squirrel got away from him and ran up a man's pant leg. When the man said, "Something's got a hold on me!", the church goers mis-interpreted his statement for a visitation of the Spirit, and the result was a great revival in which seven deacons and the pastor got saved, twenty-five thousand dollars was raised, fifty people volunteered for the Congo mission field, at least 500 rededicated their lives, and everybody got baptized whether they needed it or not. Or so says Mr. Stevens.
On Saturday evening Riverside Baptist Church had an outdoor gospel music concert, complete with a cookout and games for the kids. Riverside sits in one of the most peacefully pastoral places I have ever seen. On the banks of the South Fork of the Holston River, the church is surrounded by tall trees, fragrant flowers, and usually more than a few fishermen casting their lines in the river.
The people at Riverside are a welcoming, happy bunch. On Saturday evening they were dishing out the hot dogs and hamburgers in the picnic shelter at the rear of the church. Many of us were lined up out in the grassy area beside the river, just enjoying each other's company and the soothing ripple of the river.
That's where the snake revival comes in. Nothing turns people to God like a creeping, slithering black snake. It's much more effective than a squirrel up a man's pant leg. Intellectually I knew it was a black snake, and that it was not an immediate danger to anyone. It was more afraid of us than we were of it. Well, that was true of some of us.
Even though I knew it was a black snake, I still didn't want it crawling across my foot, so I jumped from the grass onto the concrete floor of the picnic shelter, pushing up against the woman in front of me. When I said there was a snake, the woman disappeared. I never did find out where she went, but her husband said she was mortally afraid of snakes. He went on to say that if snakes were shown on television, she left the room.
That's when the bravest woman I have ever known said, "It's only a black snake. It's not going to hurt anybody," and reached down and picked up the snake by the back of its neck. The last I saw of the snake, it was wriggling in her tight grip as she carried it back down to the river. I thought, "That would make a great picture," but the camera never made it out of my pocket. In my panic I could only respond, "Camera? What's a camera?" The photo op of the year passed, and I missed it.