COLUMN: Ed Olfert — Dec. 26, 2013

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Ed Olfert
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The classic Biblical Christmas story is told in Luke 2. It includes a vista of angels, announcing “good news.”

It matters little if you see this story as containing literal truth, mythical truth, or whether you assume it’s just a fanciful tale. Bear with me as we ponder a little what that manger full of “good news” might include.

I’ll posit that what the world needs to take it in the direction of good news, is good stories. As an example, I offer master storyteller, Stuart McLean.

If you’re a CBC listener, you’ll know Stuart well. Stuart spins his yarns a number of times on the CBC schedule under his “Vinyl Café” header, but I hear him most regularly on Sundays, shortly after noon, usually as I’m driving home from church. Of course, that depends on how much visiting happens after the morning service, after all, the church folk are all good friends, and this is prime time to catch up on happenings, to laugh together or shed a tear. Possibly the most important work of the church is done after 12.

But, if I catch Stuart McLean, the time of worship is extended.

Stuart’s stories are not overtly religious, or even spiritual. I have no idea if Stuart is a person of faith. Nor do I care. But I have never yet listened to one of Stuart’s yarns without coming away hopeful, cleansed.

Stuart’s stories on “The Vinyl Café” center on the family of Dave and Morley. Their children are Stephanie and Sam. They have a dog and a cast of friends and neigbours just eclectic enough that they could pass for my friends and neighbours. There’s nothing earth shattering about Dave and Morley’s life, they simply go about that life in the best way they know how. I’ve heard stand up comics mock the Vinyl Café stories because nothing really ever happens.

How is this “good news?” How do Dave and Morley belong in the holiness of the manger?

Stuart McLean loves the characters he creates. He respects them. His stories are filled with delight, with whimsy, with longing, with laughter. You can open your spirit as you listen, you can let the walls down, because the stories are always filled with hope. McLean doesn’t skip over difficult topics, but you know that McLean’s stories will be love stories. There are no bad eggs, no unworthy rascals in the shadows poised to pounce on vulnerable innocence. Stuart McLean assumes the best.

By now you might be hiking up a corner of your lip, hinting at a sneer. “I could tell him a thing or two! It’s called reality, man! The world just isn’t that sweet!”

The premise of this column, for 143 offerings, has been to point out the holy connections in lives around us. Every life around us. McLean does exactly that with his respect, with his warmth. Another point that has frequently been made in this space is that every one of us goes through life doing the best we can. That premise goes back to the holiness of each person, to being created in the holy image. Again, make that as literal or mystical as you want.

Make no mistake, the world will insist on telling its difficult stories, stories where whimsy and laughter simply can’t find a character to express them. These too need to be honoured, heard, considered. Sad and harsh stories come from people whose emotions are tied up in sad and harsh. Sit with them. Hear them. Empathize.

If your own stories contain weariness, anger, fear, bleakness, accept that realization for the gift that it is. You have work to do, healing work to do. Call the support around you that you need, and get to it.

A friend, “Jim,” was released on parole with some rather tight conditions. His years of incarceration numbered about 20, and in the early dark years, he had lost touch with his family. Prince Albert was not a familiar place without a wall around him, and he struggled to live well. But Jim was connected with several supportive folks. Somehow, through the magic of the Internet, his family discovered that he was in Prince Albert. Recently, a parent and two siblings made the trip from another province, and, in the home of his supportive folks, shared a meal with Jim. When I coffee with Jim today, he is lighter. His sense of humour is closer to the surface. He meets my gaze. “I got permission from my PO to go spend Christmas with my family!”

Hopeful stories will change the world. Hopeful stories are changing the world. For this reason, I suggest that the manger in Bethlehem represents hopeful stories, good news of great joy for all people.

Be not afraid!

Organizations: CBC, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Bethlehem

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