I recently had the chance to hear to environmental activist and teacher Starhawk speak to a standing-room-only crowd at St. David of Wales Episcopal Church in Portland. Her topic was “visions of hope in times of chaos.” As I listened to her I wondered: when have we not lived in times of chaos? When are we not in need of visions of hope?
Around Ascension, the first disciples might have been experiencing some chaos of their own. As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. There is a prolific tradition of Renaissance paintings of Jesus being lifted up in the air and the disciples all looking up.
The disciples lived, as we live, in an already-not yet time in history. God has already raised Jesus from the dead as a sign of the power of love over death, the power of community over separation, the power of hope over despair. And yet, the world has not yet been transformed into the Kingdom of God that Jesus kept talking about. People are still hungry, we’re still building prisons, young children are still being kidnapped and enslaved all over the world, and people everywhere who are sick and poor are pushed to the margins. Jesus has already proclaimed the Kingdom of God, told us to go ahead and preach the Good News, and yet it looks like the Kingdom is not yet here. Chaos.
Starhawk introduced us to the concept of “edge species.” These are plants or animals that evolve where two different ecosystems meet, for example, the sea and the shore, or the forest and the meadow. Ecosystems on these borderlands are often the most interesting, creative, and diverse ecosystems, and the edge species that thrive there are ones that thrive in chaos.
I would like to suggest that we who are engaged in the work of transformation think of ourselves as edge species.
This is true if we are transforming neighborhoods from sterile blocks of individuals into places where people gather and build community. If our calling is to transform the lives of people whom others have neglected or cast out, we are edge species. If our work is transforming hearts and minds of a consumerist, throw-away nation into communities of people caring for the earth both now and in the future, we are edge species.
We live in a world where most people, even if they believe in God, don’t go to church, because the church of their childhood either betrayed them or bored them, or because their whole understanding of church is shaped by a small, unrepresentative sample of loud voices. Churches faithful to the calling to be ecclesia, gatherings of the people of God for holy food and drink, for healing and transformation, have one foot in thealready of ancient, sacred tradition, and one foot in the not yet of a world transformed by love. Edge species.
The theme for this year’s Village Building Convergence is urban alchemy: transforming spaces into places. A quick google of “Urban Alchemy” yields a treasure trove of transformation.
Urban Alchemy is the name of a psychic healer and tarot card reader in lower Manhattan with the tag line: “Transformation from the inside out.” Urban Alchemy was the title of a 2010 show by an architect-turned-artist and social activist based in St. Louis who uses pieces of abandoned buildings as vehicles for light and transformation. Urban Alchemist is a design collective for local artists in Brooklyn, creating outrageously beautiful mixed media housewares and clothing. Urban Alchemy is a series of work by artist Kuros Zahedi, who lives in Bellingham, Washington, where he gathers communities to clean up neglected urban spaces and then turns collected garbage into art, transforming ugliness into beauty. Urban Alchemy was a 2006 exhibit of work by twenty-eight Detroit artists using found objects to create life-giving expressions of how they understood their city.
The work of transformation is the work of edge species that live on the edge between space, and place, between the past and the future, between looking inward and looking outward, between anxiety and hope, between already and not yet. Join us on the edge.