The Road Not Taken
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It has become quite fashionable to write posts these days waving good-by to the emerging conversation, drawing a line in the sand and staking a claim to a new path into a new future. I don’t quite know what to do with that. I struggle with it.
On one hand I see these posts as asking valid questions and see the people writing them as having legitimate concerns with the direction that the conversation is headed and how things are currently going. I have to say … I am in agreement with Sarah at Emerging Mummy who is uncomfortable with how commodified the conversation is becoming; more and more blog posts and comments seem to be platforms for someone to hawk their books, conferences, magazines, etc., etc. But thankfully, no bobblehead dolls … yet. I am really looking forward to Jeremy Bouma’s series that he has introduced here – Goodbye Emergent – Why I’m Taking the Theology of the Emerging Church To Task. He’s asking some key questions about stands that leaders in the conversation have taken on original sin, whether or not the Gospel is important, how we view the Cross and the heresy of Pelagius. You’ll have to read Jeremy’s post to see how he’s framed the questions and what (exactly) has grabbed people’s goats along the way. I see it as an introduction, a broad brush and we’ll see the details in the weeks to come. I’m sure I’m not going to agree with everything that Jeremy writes … that’s alright. I’ve become accustomed to not agreeing 100% with anyone, not even my dearly beloved husband. The only one who agrees with me all the time is my dog and his brain is the size of an orange (with a miniscule frontal lobe) … think about that for a while.
Mainly, I think we’ll disagree over Pelagius. I tend to think that P-man got a lot right. I think he’s often taken out of context and forced into the Greco-Roman context of Augustine where he makes very little sense. We forget that, indeed, the fight between the two started over something quite small … the date that Easter would be celebrated. And it escalated until Augustine finally won the battle to get Pelagius declared a heretic. Augustine was a recovering alcoholic and Pelagius was a party boy, some even say a glutton. They were diametrical opposites in every way. That they came to (theological) blows is no surprise. What if we return Pelagius to his homeland of 5th century Ireland and read him in that context? I’ve never done this, but my guess is that his “heresy” might not be so glaring. He was converting/pastoring Druids and Celts … not Romans, Egyptians and Greeks and that might be an entirely different thing.
So, on the other hand, I remember when I wandered all wobbly on to this road about 4 or 5 years ago. I’d just started blogging. I’d read a few books (Blue Like Jazz among them) and was asking a lot of questions. A LOT! I was going to a small church where some questions were encouraged and I started looking around the internet to see if there were more women like me. I’d found some men bloggers, but I wanted to find women. And in my search, I started to find more people who were asking some of the same questions I was asking. I found women too. Women like Julie Clawson, Makeesha Fisher, Linda (the blogger formerly known as Grace), Molly Aley and Christy Lambertson (both no longer blog). The list of women grew and grew and so did the men. Sometimes it kind of felt like the Old West in ways both good and bad out there. But the wonderful thing was anyone could participate. It was like my grampy’s old saying, “If you can read, you can do anything.” If you could read and write, you could participate. There were (and are) defined tiers of participation. There are definite leaders who’s blogs get a bazillion hits a day (and some people can dismiss that, but … well … fine. The rest of us know you’re being silly). I’m about the 7th tier down … maybe further (in case you were wondering) and I like it that way.
Over the last year or so things have begun to change. For a variety of reasons, some personal and some not, I don’t feel so comfortable in the greater conversation anymore. I don’t know quite what has changed. In some ways, yes, the conversation has changed. I felt (at the time and continue to feel) that creating an organization around Emergent Village was a terrible idea. I know it created efficiencies and abilities that were not available without the umbrella of an institutional organization. However, that’s just exactly the problem. Once an institution is created, then somehow that institution needs to be fed and maintained. Someone needs to guard the gate. Others need to dust the furniture. Still others need to buy food and prepare meals. And don’t even talk about the laundry! Gradually, when all those people are doing all that work together to feed and maintain that institution a couple of things happen. One is that they get to know one another and usually become friends. Another is that they start get a sense of ownership in that institution; pride in what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it. All of these are really good things for the most part and I’m glad for the folks who are involved in Emergent Village that they have that place. But (you knew that was coming) there is a flip side to all of that chummy joy. Eventually, other people come along who want to come into that institution, but they have muddy shoes and dusty pants and they leave their drink glasses on the table without using a coaster. In short, they do not have the same respect, love and care for the institution that those who feed and maintain it do and pretty much, these outsiders are not very thoughtful of the help either. Even when the newcomers stumble in and are appreciative, there is no possible way for them to appreciate the help (oldtimers) nearly to the degree which they deserve. This is mostly because those on the outside really have no possible way of knowing what is going on on the inside. It’s just the way institutions roll.
So, we’ve come to a place where there are a goodly number of people who are comfortable with the way things are (or are headed) in the emerging conversation. But there are also a goodly number of people who (for a variety of reasons) are no longer comfortable with it. Me, I feel like Robert Frost standing at the two roads diverging in the woods. Do we really have to choose?
Because honestly, the response to the questions and concerns of the people who are no longer comfortable has not been entirely welcoming. And I know (believe me, I know) how it feels to be under constant attack from the heresy hunters. There have been one or two here that love to drop by and call names, engage in straw man silliness and all kinds of hurtful evil in the name of Truth. I understand the frustration of hearing the questions all the time (I have two teenagers) … but. But. I’m just not sure that choosing camps, engaging in hyperbole, and generally dumping the frustration of a thousand other blogs onto friends and fellow conversants who are now choosing a road less traveled is the wisest, or indeed the most Jesus-y, choice we can make right now.
So I’m wondering what will happen now. Will emerging devolve into Augustians and Pelagians? Will the institution that is Emergent Village become more important to protect and preserve than the individual people that are under it’s umbrella? Will a “conversation” begun based on the tenet that it must be acceptable to question the faith of one’s elders, be able to survive the questioning of those who are now part of it?