A Script for Self-Hatred
Repetitio est mater studiorum, goes the old Latin proverb.
Since repetition is the mother of study, I begin this
book with a story previously cited in my 1994 work, Abba's
If repression was the predominant defense mechanism of
the past century, projection takes pride of place today. And so
we turn to Flannery O'Connor's short story "The Turkey."
The anti-hero and principal protagonist is a little boy named
Ruller. He has a poor self-image because nothing he turns his
hand to ever seems to work.
One night in bed Ruller overhears his parents analyzing
him. "Ruller's an unusual one," his father says. "Why does he
always play by himself?" His mother answers, "How am I to
One day in the woods Ruller spots a wild and wounded
turkey and sets off in hot pursuit. "Oh, if only I can catch it,"
he cries. He will catch it, even if he has to run it out of state.
He sees himself triumphantly marching through the front door of his house with the turkey slung over his shoulder and
the whole family screaming, "Look at Ruller with that wild
turkey! Ruller, where did you get that turkey?"
"Oh, I caught it in the woods. Maybe you would like me to
catch you one sometime."
But then a troubling thought flashes across his mind: "God
will probably make me chase that damn turkey all afternoon
for nothing." Hmmn, shouldn't think that way about God
though; yet that was the way he felt. If that was the way he
felt, could he help it? He wondered if he was unusual.
Ruller finally captures the turkey when it rolls over dead from
a previous gunshot wound. He hoists it on his shoulders and
begins his messianic march back through the center of town. He
remembers the things he had thought before he got the bird.
They were pretty bad, he guesses. He figures God had stopped
him before it was too late. He should be very thankful.
"Thank you, God," he says. "Much obliged to you. This
turkey must weigh ten pounds. You were mighty generous."
Maybe getting the turkey was a sign, he thinks. Maybe
God wanted him to be a preacher. He thinks of Bing Crosby
and Spencer Tracy.
Ruller enters town with the turkey slung over his shoulder.
He wants to do something for God, but he doesn't know what
to do. If anybody was playing the accordion on the street
today, he would give that musician his dime. It was the only
dime he had, but he would give it to them anyway.
Two men approach and whistle at the turkey. They yell at
some other men on the corner to look. "How much do you
think it weighs?" they ask.
"At least ten pounds," Ruller answers.
"How long did you chase it?"
"About an hour," says Ruller.
"That's really amazing. You must be very tired."
"No, but I have to go," Ruller replies. "I'm in a hurry." He
can't wait to get home.
He begins to wish that he would see somebody begging.
Suddenly he prays, "Lord, send me a beggar. Send me one
before I get home." God had put the turkey there. Surely
God will send him a beggar. He knows for a fact that God
will send him one. God is interested in him because he is an
"Please, one right now" -- and the minute he says it, an old
beggar woman heads straight at him. His heart is stomping up
and down in his chest. As they near each other, Ruller springs
at the woman, shouting, "Here, here," thrusts the dime into
her hand, and dashes on without looking back.
Slowly his heart calms and he begins to feel full of a new
feeling -- like being happy and embarrassed at the same time.
Maybe, he thinks, he will give all his money to her. He feels
as if the ground doesn't need to be under him any longer.
Ruller notices a group of country boys shuffling behind
him. He turns round and asks generously, "Y'all wanna see this
They stare at him. "Where did ya git that turkey?"
"I found it in the woods. I chased it dead. See, it's been shot
under the wing."
"Lemme see it," one boy says. Ruller hands him the turkey.
The turkey's head flies into Ruller's face as the country boy slings it up in the air and over his own shoulder and turns.
The others turn with him and saunter away.
They are a quarter-mile away before Ruller moves. Finally
he realizes that he can't even see the boys anymore, they were
so far away. Then he turns toward home, almost creeping.
He walks for a bit and then, noticing it is dark, suddenly
begins to run. O'Connor's exquisite tale ends with the words:
"He ran faster and faster, and as he turned up the road to his
house, his heart was running as fast as his legs and he was certain
that Something Awful was tearing behind him with its
arms rigid and its fingers ready to clutch."
The story hardly needs any commentary, for in little Ruller
many of us Christians stand revealed, naked, exposed. Our
God is the One who benevolently gives turkeys and then
capriciously takes them away. When he gives them, they are a
sign of his interest, favor, and good pleasure with us. We feel
comfortably close to God and are spurred to the heights of
generosity. When he takes them away, it is a sign of his displeasure,
rejection, and vengeance. We feel cast off by God.
He is fickle, unpredictable, and whimsical. He builds us up
only to let us down. He relentlessly remembers our past sins
and vindictively retaliates by snatching the turkeys of good
health, wealth, inner peace, empire, success, and joy .Continues.