November 2013

mandela movie nov2013

Tomorrow, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the Weinstein’s film based on Nelson Mandela’s authorized autobiography opens. For the first time, I along with a few hundred others – including a handful of Redeemer leaders – had the opportunity to attend the film’s premiere on Monday night. Among those who made an appearance on the stage before the start of the film included Bono and the other members of U2 (they’re on the soundtrack), one of Mandela’s daughters, Zindzi – who looked and sounded so much like her mother, and the actors who play Nelson and Winnie, Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

I’d seen the trailer of the film earlier in the year and frankly hadn’t planned to see the movie when it came out. (I don’t favor films being made of someone who’s still alive – it feels like such a tall order for the actors to pull off convincingly) – but I’m so glad I got an opportunity to see it. This is a Mandela film that’s well worth watching.

Mandela has lived such a fantastic, difficult, sacrificial, and heroic life – it bears being reminded of over and over again. The film is very fast paced, especially in the beginning building up to Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island. From the start, we’re plunged into apartheid in the townships, we’re introduced to Mandela’s ancestral home where his mother lives, we witness his circumcision ceremony ushering him into manhood, we see him representing clients in his Jo’burg law practice with Oliver Tambo, we’re exposed to the marriage to his first wife Evelyn which crumbles,  we see his increasing politicization, and we’re brought face to face with his willingness to sacrifice his family and marriage to Winnie for the freedom struggle.  What’s so striking while watching this, especially the scenes of him on Robben Island is that he – and his ANC comrades – were serving life sentences. They didn’t know they would get out alive and the costs were high.  They broke rocks in a quarry day in and day out, enduring manual labor and the taunting of prison guards. In terms of family, Mandela didn’t see one his daughters from the age of 3 until she was 16 (!) and he wasn’t able to have a conjugal visit with his wife for more than 20 years. In his absence Winnie takes on the struggle for her self, raising their 4 children as a single parent, and, among other things, serves over a year (16 months) in solitary confinement.

The most powerful scene in the movie for me occurs sometime after Mandela’s release. I remember watching him walk out of prison in Feb 1990 on a small TV in London where I was living at the time.  After he comes out, the country continues to deteriorate, the townships  are on the verge of erupting. So De Klerk appeals to him to stop the violence as only he can. Mandela’s response is to appear on South African television to remind his nation of what he’s been through – 27 years in prison. He pleads with them to forgive as he has and exhorts them to channel their frustration into a vote. Months later, they do and he is subsequently elected the first black President of his nation. It’s a powerful reminder of the leader that we’ve come to know Mandela to be. (And 4 years after that, he gives up the most powerful office in the land – peacefully, standing down so Mbeki could be elected. How I wish other African leaders would follow Mandela’s example.)

This Thanksgiving as we gather with family and friends, we can be so, so thankful for a life well lived and for a man’s willingness to not just walk toward freedom but in the process to lead his nation toward that goal.

Amandla Awethu!


This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Center for Faith and Work’s annual conference, this year entitled ‘Humanizing Work’: The idea was to spend 2 evenings and a full day in between reflecting on the idea of work not as the source of our humanity but as an expression of it. The event was packed full of provocative talks and videos, and music, and worship, and workshops, and even excursions which took conference goers out of the halls of the Salvation Army and into the beauty and humanity that is New York City.

There were many teachable moments over those 2 days but the quotes I’ll remember were from 3 women:
Katy McNolte of The Pixie and the Scout, a Brooklyn-based pop-up food business that wraps catering into hospitality, reminded us: “You alone can’t restore [the perfection of] creation but you can offer a picture of if through your labor.”
Lourine Clark, an executive coach, challenged us to re-think prayer. “Prayer is the main event; prayer is the work… It’s not what you do before you work.”
Nancy Ortberg, a California-based nurse-turned-leadership consultant exhorted us to: “Look in small places for very, very important things.” In other words, don’t ignore colleagues or folks in your organization that don’t seem – on the surface at least –  significant or important. They are all crucial.

My favorite aspect of the conference was the Saturday night glimpse. I had a chance to join a tour of the New York Times led by Mike Luo, an investigative journalist who’s been there 10 years, and Eugene Wang, a digital whiz who joined the Times 4 months ago – both of whom attend Redeemer.  It was humbling to get an inside view of this hallowed NY institution. We walked around the main news floor, quiet at this hour, with only a handful of copy editors typing away. We went up to another floor and breezed past the glass fronted offices of some of the storied editors: Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor, Nicholas Kristof, who I like to think of as the international conscience of the paper (he also manages to keep New Yorkers reading about Africa from time to time); Frank Bruni, former food editor; Brent Staples and others. We went into the board room where meetings are held to hammer out what will make it onto the front page each day. We even got a glimpse of the executive board room where those who are endorsed for an office make an appearance and leave behind a signed photograph as evidence. These photos included all the Presidents the Times has endorsed, and other world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Anwar Sadat, the Shah of Iran,  Kofi Annan, and Nelson Mandela.

The highlight for me was a hallway celebrating each correspondent who has won a Pulitzer. On the wall was their photo and the article for which they received the reward. Mike told the story of how in 2012, 3 stories were put forward by the paper, the maximum they can nominate in a given year. Jeffrey Gettleman, their East Africa Bureau Chief,  was not nominated but he decided to nominate himself. He ended up winning the Pulitzer for international reporting, for coverage of the famine in the horn of Africa!

As much as I enjoyed this tour of the Times and it really was a treat, I was left with one main impression at the end our 90 minutes together: a twinge of disappointment because the personalities, correspondents, editors, and journalists were largely absent! I’d love to visit again, this time to experience the New York Times fully humanized!

Next year’s conference will be on Nov 7 & 8. Registration is already open.

alicia 1In a church with an average age of 33, it’s rare to attend a memorial service for someone who was her early 30s. Yet I recently found myself in the sanctuary of 150 W83rd – I’m yet to attend a wedding there – remembering Alicia, along with her friends and family.

Less than a year ago, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor in her brain. Despite surgery and aggressive treatment, it moved into her spine and then took her life. I was affected by Alicia’s passing in ways that were unexpected. I followed her disease progression on the Caring Bridge website and had prayed with and for friends that were walking beside her in the valley of the shadow of death. They were bewildered, already grieving the beautiful, vibrant, marathon-running, Deaconate-serving, orphan-loving person Alicia once was. I found myself tearing up during the service even though it was a celebration of stories of a full (though abbreviated) life well lived.

I wasn’t a close friend of Alicia’s but 4 years ago I interviewed her for a video we were making on ‘Sex, Singleness, and Marriage.’ During that hour, she shared personal stories of her dating woes in New York. Like most young, attractive women, she dreamed of meeting ‘the one’, marrying him and having children. When we spoke, it hadn’t happened for her yet, but she remained hopeful. At the same time, she was faithful to God’s call on her life and sought to marry a man who loved Jesus as she did. Because she was so transparent about her dreams and her struggles –  I recently watched the interview all over again – I felt an unusual closeness to her.

Even now when I look at the photo on the program for her memorial service, its hard to believe Alicia’s not here. But the separation is only temporary. As DP reminded us, we can still experience Alicia with us because of her friendship with Jesus. It’s a friendship that will take us where we don’t expect to go: Alicia’s life and death illustrate that. It’s a friendship that endures through our past (failures and blunders), our present (grief at her passing), and our future (he’ll never leave nor forsake us). And it’s a friendship that will endure forever.

Alicia’s relationship with Christ changed her life. To continue experiencing our friendship with her, since she’s with him now, that friendship can continue as we spend time with him. A comforting prospect in the face of an inexplicable loss.