A story worth repeating

Dec. 7, 2022

“You know,” announced the gentleman on the television screen, “if someone tells you something everyday for 12 years, you may actually begin to believe it.”


Friday afternoon. The UrbanPromise team huddled around the television monitor, eager to hear the words of our invited guest—even if he sat 2800 miles away in Palo Alto, California. Anticipation….palpable.

At 91 years of age this little known civil rights hero had fought the good fight, and witnessed—first hand—more of our country’s racial struggles than anyone currently alive. Living history, in real time, sat in front of our team.


He had a geographical connection to southern NJ, growing up a few miles from our ministry headquarters in a town called Riverton. His parents served as domestics for the wealthy Lippincott family. “We lived in a small room off the main house,” he confessed. “We were poor.”


“Because of our economic situation, I was  raised as a foster child,” continued the man.  “This meant I could attend the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament boarding School in New England during the school year, spending summers with my parents. I recall a sign on the entrance to the school reading: “For Negro Boys & Indigents.”


“Now remember,” he chuckled, “This was the 1940’s. Pre-civil rights. Pre-voting rights act. Pre-Brown versus Topeka Board of Education. There weren’t too many options for poor kids like me.”


“Yet there were these Irish Catholic nuns,” he mused. “They smothered me with love. Everyday they told me that I was special, that God loved me and that God had something important for me to do with my life. “


Our guest’s voice quivered slightly, pausing in deep reflection. “You know, if someone tells you something everyday for 12 years, you actually begin to believe it.”


Despite the cultural and economic forces stacked against our guest, Clarence Jones believed the words of those Irish nuns.  After graduating high school as the only African American in his class, Clarence cobbled together enough money to attend Columbia University. He followed with a law degree from Boston University.


But it was a serendipitous meeting with Martin Luther King Jr., causing Clarence to reevaluate his life, give up a career as an entertainment lawyer and travel for seven years with King as legal counsel, advisor and speech writer. Clarence is credited with drafting the first portion of the famous “I have a Dream Speech” and smuggling out King’s original letters from a Birmingham jail. 


But that Friday afternoon, Clarence reminded our team of the power of stories—their ability to communicate information, recall history, and convey deeper truths. These kind of stories need retelling. Not forgotten.


So we arrive at Advent to hear the Christmas story…again.  It’s an influential story, isn’t it—a story that changed our world. Like past years, there’s an opportunity to hear it one more time. Is it necessary? I think so. For every time we hear a story it impacts us a different way—if we’re paying attention. 


At the heart of Christmas, after all, is a story of God leaving the realm of idea, ethereal, doctrinal and finding expression in the form of a human being—infant, child, adolescent, adult. An unusual birth, surrounded by mystery and wonder. Yet in the Jesus child lives a concrete vision of how God feels, thinks, prioritizes and performs on a human stage. In this child is a lesson for our living. Jesus offers an alternative vision of how—as 21st century humans—we can live a life reflecting God’s heart in our daily lives. For some, the story offers a necessary yearly reminder. For others, the story too miraculous and radical to be taken seriously.


“I would have to say that if Jesus didn’t actually exist,” writes Brian McLaren for those struggling with this story’s authenticity. “Those who invented him as a fictional character were the most brilliant literary and moral minds, I’ve ever encountered.”


Speaking with advanced degrees in literature from both college and graduate school, McLaren concludes, “I have encountered no fictional character with even a sliver of the density and moral brilliance that I find coming through Jesus.”


So for the believer, the skeptic, the indifferent, and the seeker there’s something to be learned by hearing this story…one more time.


If we listen with an open and receptive heart, we may actually begin to believe it in ways that both transform our lives and our world. 


Bruce Main
President & Founder