Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Saturday, September 7, 2019


I don’t read much anymore, which surprises me. I’ve always loved to read. Oh, I still do read some, in all the genres I’ve always read: Bible, theology, church stuff, novels—adventure, Western, mystery, etc—biography, history, science… Just not nearly as much.

I’ve pondered on that. Why, since I have always loved to read, do I do so little of it now? Some reasons have to do with the ability to see and the ability to sit and the ability to focus—more inabilities than abilities--but mostly it’s because there are so few retell books.

Actually, of course, there are as many retell books as always, but I have few opportunities for the retelling. So books stop for me now at “The End,” instead of going on in a retelling.

All through school and college and professional school, and later, again, through doctoral work, I did a lot of reading, but almost all of it was required for my courses. A lot of it was good, and fun, but it wasn’t my choice.

When I graduated from seminary, I began to read in a genre that went across all other genres—the Retell Books. Lin Yutang’s A Leaf in the Storm, Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, Loren Eiseley’s The Immense Journey, Elmore Leonard’s Hombre, Ross MacDonald’s [Kenneth Millar] The Drowning Pool, Alistair Maclean’s Where Eagles Dare, Conrad Richter’s A Simple, Honorable Man, Ronald Glasser’s Ward 402…

As time went on, new authors were added to the stack of Retell Books: Marcus Borg, Jane Smiley, Malcolm Gladwell, Oliver Sacks, Will Campbell, Marilynne Robinson, Kent Haruf…

There was something in each of those books, often several somethings, that I could retell in preaching or writing or simply conversation. I was always so excited when I came across a retell incident or story. I wasn’t reading for the purpose of finding such somethings. I was reading for enjoyment, and simply to be an educated, literate person. So it was all the more exhilarating when I came across a nugget I could retell.

I wrote those retell fortuities down on 4x6 cards, so that I would have them always. Eventually I had two thousand such cards. All from reading Retell Books. [1]

One of my favorites is from Ward 402, Glasser’s story of the pediatric ward in the U of MN Hospital, especially meaningful to me because of my grandson’s experiences in the U of IA Children’s Hospital.

There was a four-year-old boy, Kerry, who had undergone so many terrible experiences in the hospital, in an effort to get him well, that he closed his eyes and kept them closed. He never opened them. He operated like a blind child, reaching around on his bed for a toy or piece of candy. The doctors debated how to get him to open his eyes, for if he did not, he would go hysterically blind and not be able to see even when his eyes were open.

They got nowhere, until one day the resident came into the ward with a kitten. He said nothing, just put it down on Kerry’s bed. The kitten mewed. It crawled around. It sniffed Kerry’s hand. Finally, the little boy just couldn’t stand not seeing it. He opened his eyes.

You can retell that story in almost any circumstance and not say a thing more. People know how to apply it to family or church or school or life in general. The story of Kerry is such a good one. It’s too bad I don’t write anymore; I’d like to retell it.

John Robert McFarland

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Garrison Keillor

1] When I realized I had no retell opportunities anymore, I put those cards into the recycling bin. Helen tells me that when daughter Katie, the author, heard that, she came and pulled them out of the bin. There may still be some retell life in those cards.

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