Saturday, January 26, 2008

Beyond Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, Running With Scissors is gripping, a heart-wrenching page-turner. In Scissors, Burroughs’ keenly-observant writing style reveals his life with a demented mother who pawns him off on her psychiatrist’s family, the Finches. Teetering between Mommie Dearest and the Finch madhouse, young Augusten learns what it is like to be tossed from the frying pan directly into the fire. Although the bulk of the book presents a ghastly life well beyond the majority of most human comprehension, there are moments of brilliant universality. Immediately upon finishing the book, however, I promptly threw it in the trash.

Running With Scissors left me disgusted, disturbed and angry. Did my disgust stem from the accounts of a family friend turned predator or from the slovenly way the Finches ran their household? Was I disturbed that a psychiatrist, a doctor, drew so many victims into his own emotional madness without ever being questioned? Or, was I angry that all of Dr. Finch’s twisted actions were explained away as, “Biblical?” No. The horrors committed in the book did not anger me as much as they greatly saddened me. We cannot forget that Augusten Burroughs’ story, reminiscent of A Child Called It, is absolutely true, and as a mother, the very thought of young Augusten’s life makes me shudder.

Instead, my distaste stems from the sheer popularity of the book. Make no mistake, I believe that the recording of reality is essential in preventing repetition of abusive cycles. Awareness is key in shaking complacent bystanders out of their sleepy stupor and into much-needed action. But if these were the true purposes of this book, they have been quickly forgotten. Instead, the book (now a motion picture) is quite frankly, a freak show. I wanted to shake people who might be reading or watching Running With Scissors and say, “Hey! Don’t you get it? This is not an author’s twisted concoction! This really happened, and it continues to happen…probably right there in your own neighborhood.” Instead of getting a voyeuristic thrill, much like a rubber-necker slows to catch a glimpse of twisted wreckage on the highway, the reader should alternately be sickened and spurned to action.

Reading Burroughs’ book has obviously motivated me. While I can marvel at his geniously-perceptive writing style, I only learned one thing from his memoir: reality-based writing without the inclusion of hope is absolutely fruitless, even irresponsible. This isn’t an attack on Burroughs himself. My heart utterly breaks for him. The events that he witnessed and the horrors exacted upon him will probably never leave him. Just reading about his experiences will most likely never leave me! What will more importantly never escape me, however, is the hope that life itself, the good as well as the bad, provides.

My friends, we all find ourselves running with scissors at times, but what happens when we actually fall?

There isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t once experienced hurt or pain. The effects of those traumas, however major or minor, don’t just disappear. Neither should they be swept under the rug, thrust into a dark corner or reduced to whispers. The ultimate question isn't whether these things happen, or even why they happen, although initially these inquiries are absolutely legitimate. The final question is, "What will you or I actually do with them?"

The Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that while life is full of such injustices and seasons of despair, we are not built to be consumed by them. “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed!” -2 Corinthians 4:8-10

The human spirit is truly indomitable. Why? I believe it is because we are created in God’s image. Courage, strength, and hope aren’t taught from the outside in; rather, they are coaxed from the inside out.

So, if you are in need of some encouragement, some reminder that there’s more, that life is not solely about suffering, allow me…or rather, allow Him:

For those who find themselves fearful today, let 2 Timothy 1:7 nudge you, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

For friends who are worn out by life’s demands, take God’s advice in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

For ones who are discouraged by an unexpected path, take refuge in God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11, “'For I know the plans I have for you,'" declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

For those who ask God, “Where are You?” Or, “What's the point of pain?” hear the answer in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

Finally, for those who are stuck, for those who are frantically treading water just to stay afloat, for those who just can't reach beyond the anguish, let me assure you of something. God is not a distant, hands-off entity, and He never, ever wastes a hurt. It is up to each one of us individually, however, to ask Him those tough questions... “How?”, “Why?” and then, “What Now?” Believe me, He will answer! Consider Paul's response to the Romans, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
-Romans 35, 37.

As you enter into another week of reality, of peace for some, of anxiousness and drudgery for others, I pray that you will be more than a conqueror, that you not only endure but that your true path will be made clear, that you not just find contentment but that you are consumed by it. Dear brothers and sisters, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
-Romans 15:13


Jennifer Johnson said...

For my dear friend who suggested that I read, "Running With Scissors," You KNOW I love you, girl! Thanks for giving me a book that taught me such a huge lesson.

squeeze said...

Hey there! Just another point of view but why do autobiographies have to give hope? What if the author doesn't have any hope- should he/she not write their story?

I read Jeanette Walls "A Glass Castle: A Memoir". She grew up in a horrible horrible situation and offers up hope throughout. But I really hated that book. My view, just my view now, is that some memoirs just don't need to be published. Hope or not, I believe that just because we can, doesn't mean we should. Her family story involved her whole family, who had no say in whether or not she wrote it. I struggled with whether there was a point to publishing her memoir(not writing it- anyone can write whatever they want) - was there some greater good or was it strictly vanity? I believe that many a vanity is veiled in "greater good".

Love you sister. Keep on Bloggin'~

Jennifer Johnson said...

Hi, sissy! Actually, I think we have the same point. Writing something for personal use, even therapeutic, is totally different than making it known to the world, especially when the world can take something and make it into something it isn't...even USE it to its own advantage. I don't know what the intentions of Burroughs are, and I should never assume that. There is even implied hope in the book when he says, when he gets to NYC to try his hand at being a writer, that even though he didn't have any formal education, he had a PhD in survival. What a great point!

He sure does have a flourishing career as a writer, too...but at what cost? One of my favorite verses is, "And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?" Matthew 16:26. In fact, that's exactly it...the book was brilliantly written, but it was soul-less. As someone who loves to write, I came away thinking...what a waste of talent!

We are absolutely entitled to our own styles and preferences, and it looks like there are two memoirs out there that just didn't cut it for us. In fact, if we exchanged them with each other, it may turn out that I love "A Glass Castle" and you may think "Scissors" is poignant and even hilarious. Maybe not.

Personally, I think I just have no tolerance for pessimism and voyeurism when there is so much opportunity to give hope. That's why the next blog is about another newly-discovered hero of mine, John Wood, who wrote, "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World." A multi-millionaire Microsoft exec has an idyllic life and leaves it all because he sees a glaring need for world literacy. Love it!

Love you, too!

Jennifer Johnson said...

Hey, ya'll! Someone asked me why I was up at 4 in the morning writing...not that it wouldn't happen, but I'm not that "inspired" yet:! Anyway, the times posted for blog postings and comments are West Coast time...add three hours.