Nov. 9, 2016: More and More Grace

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I am grateful to Brennan Manning for uncovering a peculiar, quirky little story that pokes at our understanding of the love and grace of God. In Flannery O’Conner’s short story “The Turkey,” the protagonist is an 11-year-old boy called Ruller who has a very low opinion of himself because, in his estimation, everything he turns his hand to ends in disaster. Here are excerpts from Manning’s retelling of the story:

At night in bed he overheard his parents analyzing him.
“Ruller’s an unusual one,” his father said. “Why does the kid always play by himself?”
“How am I to know? He’s just unusual!” snapped his mother, weary in her defense.

The next day, all by himself and in the woods, Ruller spotted a wild and wounded turkey and set after him in hot pursuit. “Oh, if only I could catch it!” he sighed. He sees himself triumphantly marching through the front door 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!” he says. But then the thought flashes across his mind. “God will probably make me chase that wild turkey all afternoon for nothing!” He knows he shouldn’t think that way about God – yet that is the way he feels about God!

Ruller finally captures the turkey when it rolls over dead from a previous gunshot wound. He hoists it on his shoulders and begins his triumphant march back through the center of town. He remembers the things he had thought before he caught the bird. They were pretty bad, he guesses. He figures God must have stopped him before he said worse! He should be thankful! “Thank you, God!” he says, “Much obliged to you. This turkey must weigh ten pounds. You are mighty generous!” Maybe getting this turkey was a sign, he thinks. Maybe God wants him to be a preacher? He enters the town with the turkey slung over his shoulder. He wants to do something for God but he doesn’t know what to do. Suddenly he prays, “Lord, send me a beggar. Send me a beggar before I get home today!” God has put the turkey here. Surely God will send him a beggar. He knows for a fact God will send him one. He is, after all, an unusual child! “Please, one beggar right now!” And the minute he says it, an old beggar woman heads straight to him. His heart stomps up and down in his chest. He springs at the woman shouting, “Here, here!” as he thrusts his only dime into her hand, and dashes on without looking back. Slowly his heart calms and he begins to feel a new feeling – like being happy and embarrassed at the same time.

Ruller notices a group of boys shuffling behind him. He turns around and asks generously, “Y’all wanna see this turkey?” They stare at him. “Where did ya get that turkey?” “I found it in the woods. I chased it dead. See it’s been shot under the wing.” “Lemme see it!” one of the boys says. Ruller hands him the turkey. The turkey’s head flies into his face as the country boy slings it up in the air and over his own shoulder, turns and runs. The others turn with him and they all run away. They are a quarter of a mile away before Ruller moves. Finally, they are so far away he can’t see them anymore. Then he creeps toward home. He walks for a bit and then, noticing it is dark, suddenly begins to run. He runs faster and faster and as he turns up the road to his house, his heart is running as fast as his legs and he is certain that something awful is tearing behind him with its arms rigid and its fingers ready to clutch.

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Have we, like Ruller, constructed a God who benevolently gives turkeys and then capriciously takes them away? Have we made the presence or absence of the “turkeys” of health, wealth, inner peace, success and joy a barometer of how God feels about us on a given day? When God “giveth turkeys” it signals His interest and pleasure in us. We feel close to God and we might even feel spurred to generosity. When God “taketh away our turkeys” we imagine His displeasure and His rejection of us. We feel cast off by God. He remembers our past sins and retaliates by snatching our “turkeys” from us.

But who wants to live like that? The relationship of love and grace that Jesus holds out to us drives out fear, mistrust, anxiety and guilt. What if, as Brennan Manning wrote, the deepest awareness of ourselves is that we are deeply loved by God and have done nothing to earn or deserve such a love? The Apostle John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are … Beloved, we are God's children now.” (1 John 3:1a, 2a).

What would our lives look like if our identity truly rested upon Jesus’ relentless, tender, compassionate love for us? What if we truly believed that nothing could separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39)? 

Brennan Manning concluded, “God created us for union with Himself: this is the original purpose of our lives. And as God is defined as love, living in awareness of our belovedness is the axis around which our lives were designed to revolve. Being the beloved is our identity, the core of our existence. It is the name by which God knows us and the way He relates to us.” And the same Spirit that causes us to say, “Abba – Father” turns us outward to a hurting world where we extend His love, mercy and compassion to each little boy and girl desperately chasing down wild and wounded turkeys and living in fear.

For every Ruller that crosses our paths (turkey in hand or no turkey in hand) there is within us more and more of His grace.