There is this concept that I’ve been playing with for about a year. It’s blowing my mind.
Have you ever heard of an ecotone?
An ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent ecological communities. Where ocean meets sand. Where forest meets meadow. Where republican meets democrat. Where I meet you. Along the ecotone, new life springs up at the point where two cultures come together. It comes from the greek word tonos, which means tension. Something new is born out of tension which would not exist without it.
An ecotone is the space where I am neither at home nor on your turf. Where we are neither insiders nor outsiders. Where new possibilities exist. Where tension is allowed.
Terry Tempest Williams describes what she loves about the ecotone:
“As a naturalist, my favorite places to be are along the ecotone. It’s where it’s most alive, usually the edge of a forest and meadow, the ocean and the sand. It’s that interface between peace and chaos. It’s that creative edge that we find most instructive. It’s also the most frightening, because it’s completely uncertain and unpredictable and that’s again where I choose to live.”
I was with a small group of people recently, men and women ranging from mid twenties to early sixties. Fighting tears, a man in his fifties vulnerably opened up about a deep longing. It was breathtaking. He moved towards us. And then a woman in her thirties spoke a powerful word of affirmation and redemptive truth to him. It was risky. She moved towards him. And something utterly new was created in that moment.
Choosing to live in the transition areas of life is difficult. Choosing to resist the extremes and occupy the place where new life might spring up is unpredictable and risky. To live in that place, you must learn to live with tension. You must learn to live in wide open spaces and you must learn to say “I don’t know.”
When Jesus sat down at that well with the Samaritan woman, that place became an ecotone.
When Rosa Parks sat down on that bus, that place became an ecotone.
When my friend Cornell sits down with an 8th grader who has fetal alcohol syndrome and doesn’t know where he’ll get his next meal, that place becomes an ecotone.
And when my exhausted wife Mary sits down and loves one of my sons who has not listened to her, that place becomes an ecotone.
For an ecotone to begin to burst with new life, two people must choose to sit in the tension of and instead of or. Two people must leave their home and bring who they are to a new place where they listen, learn, engage and contribute.
Can I get an amen?
Tomorrow I’ll post a sermon I did at Open Door last summer on ecotones. We’re in this together.