today, face to face


I’ve spent a good bit of time today thinking about someone else’s words and actions that have nothing to do with me directly and everything to do with me – no, us – in ways that run deeper than we know. My friend Gordon Atkinson is in the Dominican Republic working with a group called EDGE Outreach and their Pure Water Pure Life program. They train people to go into parts of the world where the people don’t have access to potable water and install water purifiers. Even better, they do this by putting together teams of volunteers who go through training and then travel around the world (and pay for it, too) so people don’t get killed by the stuff that’s in their drinking water.

Here’s the EDGE promotional video:

They may not have clean water in Santo Domingo, but they do have Internet access, so Gordon has been blogging. There are two posts so far: here and here. The first post is the one that kept me thinking all day because of the raw honesty of his words.

There is no way I can describe the hour and a half journey through the heart of Santo Domingo. This is the stuff you don’t see in the tourist areas. The streets were packed with vehicles and bicycles of every kind. The entire center of the city looks poverty stricken, from my point of view. But my point of view is meaningless here. There were so many people. There seem to be almost no traffic laws; cars and buses and bikes and pedestrians weave in and out following some set of rules that they understand but I do not. I wish I could have taken pictures, but it was already dark.

“But my point of view is meaningless here.” How very wonderfully un-American. Yes, he is going to help and he is going to install water purifiers (in a hospital, for one thing), yet he doesn’t sound like the answer guy or the self-appointed savior of Santo Domingo, or the superhero white guy who has taken a week off to help those poor little people in the Dominican Republic. At the close of his post he says:

Okay, I’m not proud of what follows, but it is the truth. It’s important for me to admit it because, well, it’s the truth. I don’t really know how I’m going to sleep here tonight. I have a top bunk with one sheet and no covers. I won’t get to shower until tomorrow, maybe. Tonight I’ll brush my teeth with a cup of bottled water. Windows are open to the outside, so I don’t know what kind of bugs I’ll encounter during the night. And to be honest, I had a hard time eating that hot dog. I could only finish about half of it. I have no idea where it was purchased and how long it was on that table. So I’m hungry, and I really don’t know when I’ll eat next. I hear they are serving us breakfast in the morning, and I’m afraid to see what it will be.

And I’m ashamed of myself because this is as good as it gets here. Our hosts welcomed us and were so delighted that we have come. They’ve given us their best.

And to think when I arrived at the airport I took this picture because I thought it was going to be a struggle dealing with the fact that you can’t get real Diet Coke here. You get Coke Light, which tastes like straight Coke. At the airport, that actually seemed like an issue to me.

As we move from Advent to Lent, part of the journey is coming to terms with the messiness of the Incarnation. Being human is messy business. Gordon’s words and feelings speak to the heart of what it means to be human, to be a bundle full of consecrated contradictions. His words and actions take me to words familiar and powerful:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

(1 Corinthians 13, The Message)

When Paul wrote we were squinting in a fog (“we see through a glass darkly”) but one day we would see clearly (“face to face”), I’ve always taken it to mean a time beyond our time. Gordon’s words make me think there are days in this life when the fog lifts and the amazing power of love bursts through the contradictions and the cloud cover to let us see how connected we are because of how some in our midst have incarnated God’s love and grace.

Thanks; Gordon, for the clear view.



Leave a Reply