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Have you heard the one about….?

Laurie Lee in reflecting on the depiction of his childhood in his book ‘Cider with Rosie’, explains that his aim was, “A celebration of living and an attempt to hoard its sensations. To praise the life I’d had and so preserve it, and to live again both the good and the bad.”

I know something of how that feels. Looking back over the articles I have shared with you during the past decade many of them have been about people I have met whose lives I wanted to celebrate. There was Smiley George, Moorland Meggie and the family who lived on Millers farm.

People I knew from over forty years ago, who you caught a glimpse of through my sketchy introduction.

Most of what we know about the life of Jesus of Nazareth followed a similar path. After his execution, the handful of people who knew him best would, for the next forty odd years, talk about him to people who had never known him.

There were far more people during this period however, who never met any of the eyewitnesses either, but heard at second hand, stories that had been passed on by word of mouth. Much like the story told to me by my friend Joe, the Moorland Miner, forty years ago, about a man he knew from his childhood who was long gone.

Joe described him as a prim, dapper, serious man, he was the local carrier and money lender, he ran a Sunday School for a handful of children who lived in a remote moorland hamlet. The children would gather in the tiny terraced chapel with its bare wooden pews and central carpeted aisle, waiting for the dignified entrance of their rather austere teacher. On one occasion some of the more mischievous boys planned a surprise. They unrolled the central carpet, which at one point covered an iron grill concealing a shallow pit containing central heating pipes. They removed the grill, rolled the carpet back along the aisle, covering the hole and awaited the entrance of their unsuspecting teacher. He marched in and duly stumbled into the concealed pit. Much to the amazement of the giggling, apprehensive onlookers, he emerged, to his credit, tutting, “Oh Dear, Oh Dear.”

An eighty-year old story that I heard forty years ago and pass on to you. I had never met Joe’s Sunday school teacher and you have never met Joe. You heard the story from me. You’re reading it. In the forty years after the death of Jesus his stories were passed on by word of mouth.

In the main his friends seem to have swopped stories when they gathered in their small ‘supper groups’, each adding to the pool of stories within and between the groups in any locality. In this they were continuing the legacy of Jesus, whose favourite times for sharing with his friends was over the supper table.

In these informal gatherings not only were the stories told, they would be discussed, questions asked, new understandings developed. The stories were likely adjusted to make them, clearer, more memorable, easier to retell.

Just think, Joe’s story to me was told in a Northumbrian dialect, the early Jesus stories were first carried by Jewish voices, rough dialects of the countryside, smooth cadences of city folk. Later voices from Syria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Egypt, North Africa, all adding their nuances long before the first collection of stories were written down.

During that time the telling of a story could well have been prefaced by, “Have you heard the one about…?”

Len Karn