Uncategorized


Anticipating the transfer of power about to occur in the US, I tuned into events there these last 10 days or so more than I usually do, now that I live in London. While I, like many, was grieving the loss of the Obamas before they even left the White House, one thing that really struck me was the myriad of ways they found to say goodbye. Regardless of your political views and whether or not you are/were a fan of Barack or Michelle, it was a window into strong leadership and what it looks like to finish well.

Here are just a few honorable mentions:

-Returning to where it all began in Chicago for one final speech where Obama thanked his supporters, his staff, his wife and daughters, and his #2, Joe Biden, making it OK for many there and those us of us watching at home, to let the tears fall.

-Receiving the Chicago Cubs in the White House as his last public event on none other than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Day, prior to volunteering for the last time as President.

-The final razzle dazzle party at the White House with a spread of celebrities

-Obama’s final press conference

-Awarding Joe Biden with the  Medal of Freedom in a meeting in which Biden had no idea this honor was coming. And thanking him profusely and in so many different ways as he gave that gift that Biden broke down and wept openly.

-The party he hosted in his private residence for 30 of his closest aides on the eve of the Inauguration

-The final goodbye with 300 staffers with tears and hugs all around at Andrews Air Force base after Trump had been sworn in

Not to talk of the final TV interviews, the last interviews for the press, Michelle’s final public appearance, the article in the Harvard Law Review describing the need for criminal justice reform, commuting the sentences of 300 people (over 1700 during his presidency), and all the private goodbyes to the White House staff as well. And then there were all the ‘Thank you’ tweets, now archived under @POTUS44 & @FLOTUS44. (Pretty incredible; check them out!)

Probably as much for them as for all of us who are sad to see them move on, the Obamas created many, many, many opportunities to express their appreciation to the American people, to those who worked alongside them, and to show their gratitude for the extraordinary privilege it was to serve the US for the past 8 years.

They’ve made saying goodbye a little easier, a little better, and a lot healthier.

For those of us in any positions of leadership or influence, or even when we are making far smaller transitions in our own lives, we might do well to consider the value of the long goodbye and the gift of finishing well.

Advertisements

dry-bush-jan2017

Today, Jan 6, is the Feast of Epiphany.

In our household growing up, it marked the day when my mother thought it time to take down the Christmas decorations. It felt like an appropriate day. Christmas, after all, had occurred almost two weeks before. It had long come and gone, or so it seemed. Besides, the initial excitement of putting up the tree was beginning to feel old.  We’d read through all the cards two or three times and were ready to toss them into the recycling bin. It wasn’t until years later when I thought to ask Mum why we shut down Christmas on the 6th that she explained that’s when the Magi were supposed to have reached Bethlehem.

As I was re-reading that familiar story this morning, I was struck by the image of these wise men journeying from distant lands, mapping their movements to a place they weren’t sure of, by following a star. I was struck by the fact that they had been on the lookout for that star; otherwise they might not have seen it. In fact, if they hadn’t been on alert, the star would have appeared and they would have missed it. That would have ultimately meant they would have missed the defining event of history up to that time. They would have not seen Jesus, and Mary and Joseph. They would have forfeited the joy and worship this experience brought them. They would have not had the opportunity to travel home by a different route, guided this time by wisdom given through a dream. Their lives would not have been transformed as surely they must’ve been.

As this new year begins, I’m contemplating what the stars in my life might be and where they are to be found. Am I on alert? Am I looking for them? Am I looking in the “right” places? Am I willing to wait until they are revealed? Am I anticipating finding them? And am I ready to act once I recognize them? Am I ready to leave what feels safe and known to take risks to unfamiliar places in the hopes of being changed?

The story of the Magi suggests that signs and wonders do appear, but in the least likely of and places, and probably in ways we don’t expect.

An epiphany (or two) awaits.

I pray I’ll recognize the signs, in amongst the ordinary, and have the courage to venture into the unknown –with joy and expectation.

So I arrived in London 3 weeks ago now and though I’ve been here many times before, it’s been over 25 years since I spent 21 or more days here in a row. You encounter a place very differently when you live there than if you are here on a short visit. You are more on alert, paying keener attention to street names, bus routes and train stations, where the doctor’s & dental practices are, the different ways you can top-up your travel card, what events the local library is hosting, who the families are that live along your street beyond the neighbors down below and on either side, what day the rubbish gets picked up, how late the corner shop stays open, the list could go on and on. Yes, the ordinary aspects of every day life — many not germane to someone on holiday — become very relevant to a new resident.

When I lived in New York, I frequently heard that it was the “greatest” city in the world. I’m not going to take that on here, but from my observation alone, London seems far more multicultural than my experience of NYC. Though there isn’t a significant Latino presence here, I’ve been struck by the wide variety of southeast Asians, many different kinds of both Western and Eastern Europeans, and a greater variety of Caribbeans & Africans. The Nigerian presence is very high, from hearing Yoruba (one of the 3 main languages) spoken at the airport, to meeting a young Buddhist Londoner at church. When she heard I was part Nigerian, she didn’t hesitate in trying to guess which tribe I was from! In all my years in New York City, many Americans barely knew where Nigeria was located– even some close friends had trouble locating it on a map of Africa — and hardly any could name it’s 3 largest ethnic groups. The reach of the British Empire accounts for much of London’s heterogeneity but so does the UK’s proximity to the refugee crisis that has gripped the middle east but spills across Africa and western Europe. As both mainstream political parties consolidate their leadership here, there is much talk of how to curb immigration which is not unrelated to concerns about what it means to welcome ” the other.”

Living in a new country is exposing my heart in new ways too: It’s surfacing grief at leaving the life I had come to love — especially the many rich and varied friendships — along with generating deep gratitude for what that was. And there’s some sadness lurking because I didn’t fully appreciate that community while I was a part of it.

The experience of being new here is also extremely humbling:

  1. There is far more that I don’t know about how things work than I’m used to and that’s not a very comfortable place for me. I, like most of us, feel more myself when things are familiar.
  2. I know few people and have fewer friends (2 @ this point!) –though am v grateful for those precious few and the wonderful network of people they’ve brought me into contact with already.
  3. I don’t have a job. And I’m not sure what that will be or look like here. Or when it will materialize but I’m OK with that so far.                                                                                                                                                                                  In being humbled, I find myself having greater compassion: for those who are lonely and without any family or friends; for those without a job, unable to work, or those who’ve been looking without success for what feels like a long time; for those uprooted from their homeland due to war or famine or some other crisis and forced to navigate a new culture in a country that has welcomed them with reluctance.

My current situation requires patience and perseverance but it’s stretching me in ways that are healthy and good, and for that I give thanks. It also gives me a small sense of what I share with the millions of displaced people across the globe and helps me to see many glimpses of just how fortunate I am.

 

 

IMG_1203

I flew into JFK 26 years ago this month from London with 2 suitcases. Tonight I fly out of JFK and back to London. I take another 2 suitcases (+ 22 boxes that are on a ship somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic).

I leave behind a varied and rich tapestry of friends and neighbors. Incredibly, some of these dear people I’ve known for practically all of my time here, others for a decade or more, and then others I’ve only known a few months. Many friendships were formed and deepened through my tenure at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, first as a timid church goer 18 years ago, and more recently as a staff member for the past 8 years. Others developed in the different tennis leagues I played hard in and those folks generally didn’t know anything about the work I did and it didn’t matter. And with others, relationships developed at Uptown Writers and in the writing groups I joined as we critiqued each others’ pieces and encouraged one another with our craft.

I will deeply miss this web of extraordinary people who I’ve had the honor and privilege of knowing & walking beside.( But am so grateful for the world-wide web and the wonders of technology that will allow many connections to continue, albeit in new forms.)

There are other significant losses too.

I’m grieving having to leave my apartment – though grateful for new friends who will be moving in here. I’ll miss living in my building with the 24 hour security guards, a crew of hard-working folks who don’t make a whole lot of money but who always made me feel welcome especially at the end of weary days. I’ll miss the neighbors on my floor, particularly 90-year-old P. She and I wept together last night as we said goodbye and she articulated what I didn’t have the courage to say: “I’m sad because may not see you again.” Perhaps not in this life, I reminded her, but in the next one, where God is waiting for us both. I’m sad that daily walks in the spectacular Ft Tryon Park won’t be possible anymore. And I’m already missing Redeemer’s worship services, and the incredible classical concerts we’d hear following the benediction every Sunday morning with some of the most accomplished musicians this city has to offer.

Yes I’ve been extraordinarily blessed here in this city that never sleeps. I have found places and spaces of deep rest here over the last quarter century and for that I am eternally grateful. As I result, I leave this city a little wiser (and with a head of grey hair to show for it!), but more humble, more joyful, more hopeful, and more courageous. And with a deep sense of how Loved I am.

I’m moving to live with my mother for the final stages of her life to show her how loved she is. She is hugely excited –a confirmation that this time has fully come.

So long New York. A new adventure across the sea beckons.

May God be with you ’til we meet again.

On this day in the US that this nation celebrates it’s independence, my home country of Nigeria is suffering from an environmental crisis which is often ignored or overlooked. Nowhere to Run is an award-winning documentary which tells that story. Check out the trailer at the end of this post and if you can get to a showing in Abuja, DC or NJ this week, please go and spread the word!

A Tunanina...

Nowhere to Run, the documentary shot, directed, and edited by my brother Dan McCain at Core Productions, Lagos, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and featuring Nigeria’s leading environmentalist Nnimo Bassey of Mother Earth Foundation,  (with a script written by Louis Rheeder and myself) just won the award for best short documentary at The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas. It had been nominated for three awards, Best Short Documentary, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. So I got up this morning and searched twitter for it. Amara Nwankpa, representing the ‘Yar Adua Centre (which produced the film) at the festival, tweeted the news.

It has been gratifying to see the film get so much attention. Back in April, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Green Me film festival

View original post 1,076 more words

In my last post, I wrote about Bryan Stevenson and the incredible work of the Equal Justice Initiative. Six weeks later, on May 20, Grace & Race, the Center for Faith & Work, and Hope for New York – all of which are connected to Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City – collaborated to host Bryan Stevenson who appeared on stage along with our Senior Pastor, Tim Keller for the very first time. Prior to meeting backstage before the event, these two heavy hitters had never met. In the first half of the evening, each of these powerful speakers gave a rousing talk, available below in the first video. Following that, I moderated a question and answer time, including questions texted in by the audience, available on the second video.

Both are New York Times best selling authors and are now nationally and internationally known for the work they do. In the case of Stevenson, his life’s work has been dedicated to providing legal representation for those on death row, successfully advocating for relief for children tried and convicted as adults, and more recently, leading the charge to mark the sites of every location where a person was lynched in this country. Known for his gifted preaching, Keller, is also the founding president of City to City which has started 300 churches flung across six continents.

Interestingly, both men began their respective organizations 27 years ago with humble beginnings: Keller moved to New York City, which had more crime and far less wealth than it currently does, from the suburbs of Philadelphia to start a church with the least churched demographic: young urban professionals. Stevenson started his organization in Alabama, thinking he would be there for a few years and then relocate to Atlanta but has ended up making Montgomery his home, despite the sacrifices that decision has entailed. This common thread of being committed to the same vision for 25 plus years, signifying a long obedience in the same direction, is how I opened my conversation with both of them: what has sustained their hope over these long years? Stevenson has seen tangible successes in his work and when that fails him, he remembers those whose shoulders he stands on and that keeps him going. For Keller, he’s expected God to bring change through his life’s work because of his belief in the power of the gospel and even when he has doubts, he’s confident that justice will win in the end.

We covered a wide range of topics that evening. Among them: the role of the church when it comes to issues of justice specifically as they relate to mass incarceration and race, the importance of truth and reconciliation in creating a new narrative about the treatment of people of color in this country, and why we need to have a sense of urgency around these issues. For coverage of the whole evening, take a look at these videos, and be prepared, at moments, to be moved, outraged, challenged, and convicted.

eji benefit 6apr2016 cropped

On Tuesday night, I had the honor of attending the annual benefit in New York for the Equal Justice Initiative, EJI.org  with friends from work. Based in Montgomery, AL with offices that occupy a former warehouse for slaves, EJI exists to fight for people wrongly accused and serving life sentences (including those convicted as minors). EJI also seeks to broaden the conversation about race and injustice in this country. Among other projects, EJI has done extensive research to document the 4,000+ names of all those lynched in 12 southern states between 1877 (the end of Reconstruction) and 1950. Their vision is to help the US remember these terrible acts of violence as a way of bringing about healing, truth and ultimately reconciliation. They have begun to place markers at a few of the sites where lynchings occurred with a goal of placing one at every site. They are also in the early stages of creating a national memorial in Montgomery to honor these victims of racial terror.

EJI was founded 27 years ago by public interest attorney and MacArthur award recipient, Bryan Stevenson. Since the publication of Stevenson’s book,  Just Mercy, in 2014, the work of EJI, the untold stories of terror, and the connection of this legacy to contemporary manifestations of racism has been catapulted to a national stage.

To describe the event on April 5 as moving would be a huge understatement. Multiple times I found myself choking up, overwhelmed by the stories we heard, humbled by the vision and efforts of one man who has committed his life to seeking justice for those who’ve been unjustly treated and condemned. (It’s a tangible example of seeing that which is more than one could ask or imagine….) To kick off the evening, Kathleen Battle gave a stirring performance singing several spirituals, followed by Serena and Juliana Wong who thrilled us with a violin and piano duet. Throughout the night, there were numerous short videos show casing EJI’s work and vision.  At the end, Stevenson gave a short talk thanking us for already contributing to the work of EJI and encouraging us to give further so as to make the national memorial a reality. His deep humility and repeated words of appreciation were striking.

The highlight for me was hearing from Anthony Ray Hinton who spent 30 years on death row – most of it in a 5′ x 7′ cell – for a crime he didn’t commit. (Let that sink in for a moment: that’s 3 years longer than Nelson Mandela served…) During those years, he watched 53 men walk past his cell to be executed. Hinton has just celebrated his first year of freedom which came after more than 12 years of litigation. Not bitter or angry, he exuded a deep sense of peace and joy. Explaining his rationale for forgiveness, he said: “I’ve not forgiven them for them, but I’ve forgiven them for me.” Hinton has now committed his life to sharing his story and doing what he to can to confront the injustice of wrongful incarceration.

As if Hinton’s story and posture weren’t convicting enough, Stevenson followed that by explaining to us that Lester Bailey, Hinton’s best friend, had visited him in prison every week for all of those 30 years…. (That would be over 1560 weeks in a row!) If that isn’t a picture of a long obedience in the same direction, I don’t know what is. I’m convinced that this friend’s faithfulness, besides the dogged persistence of Stevenson and his legal team, is a key reason why Hinton survived that terrible ordeal as well as he seems to have. And that support emboldened him to come out determined to make his remaining years count for the sake of others.

Bailey’s exemplary commitment to his incarcerated friend reminds us that there’s no underestimating the power of community, friendship, and taking the long view… It’s a visual demonstration of clinging to hope and living by the conviction of things not seen.

The other honoree that evening was 107  (!) year old, Mrs. Maimie Kirkland, a lynching survivor born in Ellisville, Mississippi and now living in Buffalo,  NY. Last year, 100 years after her father fled for his life with his wife and children, she returned to the house where she grew up, after vowing she would never go back there. The other man, John Harfield, targeted for lynching along with her father, also fled in 1915, but when he returned to Ellisville, he was subsequently lynched in full view of a large crowd. The work of EJI ensures his death won’t be forgotten and a marker will be placed where he was murdered. By God’s grace, Mrs. Kirkland’s family includes children, grand-children, great grand-children and great, great grand-children. Another take on a long view. Another (very) long life well lived.

***

On a related note, I’m involved with the Grace & Race group at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and we’re hosting Bryan Stevenson & Tim Keller on Friday, May 20 @ 7.30pm. If you live in New York City, I would urge you to get your tickets soon. We expect it to be a sold out event. Register here. It promises to be an engaging and convicting evening; it may even alter your life’s calling!

Next Page »