Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Monday, September 22, 2014

The End of the Stories

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©

Today I threw three thousand 4x6 note cards into the recycling box, and another thousand 3x5 cards I used for indexing the 4x6s.

I made them, one by one, over 50 years of preaching. On each was an “illustration,” a story, for use in preaching or writing, about the time “the Lord called the rat home,” and Will McLaughlin at the great Iroquois Theater Fire, and grandson Joe learning to tie his shoes during a worship service.

For years I have known this day would come. I was sure it would be one of the hardest things I ever did. It wasn’t. The time had come to let go.

I assumed it would be hard because the stories on those cards are, at least in some ways, the story of my life. But my life is no longer preaching and writing.

I thought about giving the cards to some young preacher, but young people don’t use things that are written by hand on cardboard. They certainly don’t tell stories about one-horse farms, and World War II, and going into the stacks at the library to look up a reference, and my children and grandchildren. Those are the stories told by a man who preached in a different way, in a different time.

I remember well the first of those cards. It was just before my junior year at IU. I attended “The School of the Prophets” at Depauw U, in Greencastle, IN, lectures and workshops for Methodist ministers in Indiana, long before seminaries provided continuing education for ministers. For me, though, it was not continuing education, it was first education. I had been preaching for a year, at three little hamlet churches, Solsberry, Koleen, and Mineral. I was out of material. I needed all the help I could get.

I got it especially from Webb Garrison, who led a workshop on preaching, and told about how he wrote down on 4x6 cards each thing he heard or came across that might be a sermon illustration, and put them in a shoe box, since it was the right size and didn’t cost anything. He said that if you cut something from a magazine, you should put it onto a card with rubber cement instead of tape or library paste. I had a shoe box. I bought rubber cement and 4x6 cards. On the way to Depauw I had seen a road sign for a combination service station-café that proclaimed, “Eat At Salty’s and Get Gas.” I thought that would be a marvelous illustration. I wrote it down on a 4x6 card and put it in the shoe box. I was in business. I was a preacher with a box of stories.

Sooner or later you have to let go of even the most important of your artifacts. But that card was the last one that went into the recycling box this morning.

John Robert McFarland

The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers, a word in the new Merriam-Webster dictionary, and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]

I tweet as yooper1721.

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