And I — I Took the One Less Traveled By …
February 10th, 2010 by Sonja

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.
Robert Frost

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?

26 Responses  
  • Bill Kinnon writes:
    February 10th, 201011:48 amat

    You may not blog as often as you once did, but when you do, watch out!

    This is an important post that needs to be read by all of us engaged in both the conversation and the missional life of the Kingdom.

    I think the thing I’ve been most shocked by, with many folk who identify with EV, is the ease with which they attack EV questioners and critics rather than engage with their arguments. They use the very ad hominem attacks they are so quick to expose from any EV critic.

    One EV leader went after Jeremy Bouma by saying “it all seems to boil down to interpersonal issues.” Never once actually engaging with his argument.

    It’s a sad but important discussion.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20102:19 pmat

      Yeah, Bill … but I’m just sad.

  • Rick Meigs writes:
    February 10th, 201012:48 pmat

    Well said Bill.

    Sonja, great post. Your point that “the response to the questions and concerns of the people who are no longer comfortable has not been entirely welcoming” is important in a movement build on uncomfortable people with a system asking questions and expressing concerns.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20102:19 pmat

      Thanks, Rick … that is exactly what I’m trying to get at in the midst of all this whirlwind.

  • Peggy writes:
    February 10th, 201012:52 pmat

    …what Bill said.

    You go, girlfriend!

    Frost’s poem gave birth to Scott Peck’s series of books … and his “and Beyond” book is worth the price just to read the chapter on “Thinking”.

    …I sense a number of posts percolating out there in the blogosphere.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20102:20 pmat

      And I’ve read at least the first book in that series by Peck. I guess there are a few more books to add to my ever towering list 😉

  • Blake Huggins writes:
    February 10th, 20101:31 pmat

    I disagree theologically with many of the critiques that are coming out right now. But I am seriously puzzled (and a little disturbed) by the dogmatism — I daresay fundamentalism — that comes out in some of the reactions and the criticisms of the critiques.

    I guess I just don’t get why we can’t have charitable theological argument/discussion/debate. Some of these reactions seem to utilize the same sort of tactics that Emergent was originally emerging from. Feels like some of us have taken two steps back…

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20102:21 pmat

      Exactly, Blake … that’s where I’m at. And I’m sort of bewildered.

  • Patrick Oden writes:
    February 10th, 20101:40 pmat

    I’m someone who is definitely interested in continuing the conversation, not as it was five years ago, but as it presses on. Maybe it helped that I did step away for a while, putting most of my reading and effort in decidedly non-emerging directions.

    Maybe it helps most of my reading is still that direction, with my emerging connections being more personal conversations and blogs. I never really bought into the marketing aspect, never thought it was the heart, never went to any emerging conventions or festivals or whatever until late last year. And that was more because of the aged German academic theologian who was being featured.

    Maybe there’s also the fact that my participation was never about the show, or the stars, or the new thing. I became involved, and keep up my involvement, because I’m thinking a certain way on a lot of topics, and it just so happens that it’s in the emerging conversation that others are thinking this way too. So, I happily dialogue and critique, without feeling like I’m risking my own identity in the process.

    My goal and purpose in pressing on comes with a growing interest in focusing on those core aspects of the emerging movement. Distractions and distortions abound, on both sides of the theological fence, but there’s still a lot to be said for a life lived oriented towards Jesus in non-authoritarian communities that seek out broad participation embedded in holistic contexts.

    You and I disagree on some pretty big, and many small, issues but there’s a continued conversation and friendship because even with these differences we share a common hope.

    That’s why I’m still excited about the emerging conversations, and why I think that if there are people who don’t let themselves fall off to the right or the left, there’s a significant amount of emerging church theology and practice still to be worked out.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20102:23 pmat

      Patrick, once again … I love it when you comment on my posts. I love your perspective (even if we don’t agree) because I always learn something from you and because you are always gracious in the telling.

  • Patrick Oden writes:
    February 10th, 20101:43 pmat

    My succinct version (I’m trying to learn!): there’s a conversation still to be continued, but we have to be diligent about keeping focused on the core principles that makes emerging emerging.

    Blake, my suspicion is a lot of critique of the critiques comes out of a reactionary response because of so much uninformed and malicious attacks in the past. Everyone is, no doubt, a fair bit shell-shocked.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20103:47 pmat

      Patrick … I like your long replies!! 😀

  • Julie Clawson writes:
    February 10th, 20102:01 pmat

    Do you really think the discomfort is about theology? There were great conversations, and yes, while it was uncomfortable when the Origins group and your Missional Tribe group created your own conversation, many of us tried to participate and maintain relationships. Just because our theology is different doesn’t mean that we can’t converse. But what I am seeing is not that emergents are insisting that others agree with one theology or another, just them asking that they not be rejected for their theology. But apparently people are not okay with that. Of course emergents are screwed up and have done stupid things, but I am truly sick of this recent trend of separation and drawing lines. Question theology all you want – but please don’t make this about emergents rejecting “you” because you don’t agree with us because that just isn’t true. And when I hear the real stories and know that the breaks come from personal fights, pressure from employers to distance themselves from emergent, or financial/contract issues it makes the betrayal and backstabbing of friends all the worse.

    So I want to make it very clear that it is not Jeremy’s (or anyone’s) questioning of theology that is disturbing. No one disputes asking questions. What is at issue here are broken friendships – and the public rejection that these posts are creating. In the discussion to define what is truly Christian I am seeing nothing of Christian love being displayed and that is what I am finding deeply disturbing.

    • Sonja writes:
      February 10th, 20103:31 pmat

      Hey Julie … I don’t feel as though anyone rejected me and I hope you don’t see this post as being a rejection of anyone. Because it was not intended as such. This post is me … really, honestly struggling with the debates that I’m witnessing. I’m in a very weird place where I’m neither here nor there, so I can be a little bit more objective. Or so I thought.

      But maybe there is a lot of backstory to all these posts that most of us do not know about. And so maybe I am stepping into the middle of a pile of something. I don’t know. This is the second place that you’ve alluded to fights, personal issues, betrayals, pressure from employers … most of which I (and many others) know nothing about. It makes me sad to know these things are going on behind the scenes. For several reasons … but the primary one is … I thought those of us in the emerging conversation were going to do things differently. I thought we were going to live with open hands and open lives. But now … wow. I guess not so much, huh?

      I get the sense from your comment that you saw the creation of Origins and Missional Tribe as a rejection. I can’t speak for those who started Origins, but as one of the instigators for Missional Tribe, I can because I was there. It was not. The people behind MT have a passion for things missional, which is a sibling to emerging but they are not identical twins. There are substantive DNA differences. Brad Sargent is about to post on that, so I won’t take away from his discussion. I know I can say that MT did not and does not want to take anything away from the emerging conversation, or from EV. This about both/and … there is room in this world for both of us. It’s no longer zero-sum and when someone does well, someone else loses. I think everyone can win here.

      And people critiquing emerging theologically or for personal reasons are asking the same hard questions you and I asked of our fundy churches back in the day. Sometimes it was personal (e.g. my pastor is a hypocrite and I want to expose that) and sometimes it was theological (e.g. the 4 whatevers for salvation are bunk). But through all of that, they are not attacking you, Julie, or whomever. And the only thing you can control is how you respond.

  • Rick Meigs writes:
    February 10th, 20104:36 pmat

    Julie, thanks for getting involved here on this topic. I value your contribution.

    As another one of the instigators for Missional Tribe, I can confirm what Sonja says. MT was never a rejection of the emerging conversation. On the contrary, it was a way to foster MORE conversation and storytelling about the missional paradigm across a broader speculum of Jesus followers, many who may not relate to emerging or be involved in that conversation.


  • kathyescobar writes:
    February 11th, 201012:04 amat

    hey sonja, really appreciate your thoughts & the dilemma feeling of the whole weird whatever-we-want-to-call-it that’s going on right now with all of the “shifts” & “conversations” & “movements.” i am mulling over a post right now that addresses this for me, too, and who knows if i’ll get it up but the part i really am most sad about is the mudslinging and separated-ness that i see emerging (no pun intended) these days between “missional” and “emergent”–to be honest, it seems like most of all it is getting slung the “emergent” way and i think it kind of stinks. i consider myself a friend of both & many others, too, and i have found myself in the past few months just sort of feel like “if i hang out with these guys too much, uh oh, and if i hang out with these guys too much, uh oh” and frankly that just irritates me because it’s everything i’ve been trying to get away from. i have been wondering what it would look like if everyone, and i do mean everyone, took book publishing & making money off their ministry projects off the table. if they refused to succomb to the madness and the marketing and just did their thing online for free, speaking their heart, carrying their banners, living out their passion–and took $ and influence and genres-for-publishing-houses off the table. oh, what a different landscape we’d have and i bet some seriously beautiful things would happen in the midst. i’m not dismissing the need for platforms & places/venues for people to grow and develop and gather, but think these “movements” have all become jaded/corrupted/weird-somenhow because eventually it moves toward–what makes $, what gets gigs, what sells and how can people use social networking to pitch books. i know that sounds harsh, but i think i’m just getting a little weary of the whole thing. i love what i do, i’m thankful for my little niche & my community & i like contributing to the convo for this season through my blog but i think sometimes i feel kind of lonely & sad that it always sort of “comes to this” – the need to define, the need to re-group, the need to clarify who’s right & who’s wrong, who’s pushed too far & who’s not pushed far enough, and it just leaves those of us who mostly care about the people & living out these ideas in a really tangible way a little lonely & lost. okay just my ramble this eve. even writing this starts to feel like a risk, who am i going to piss off, and that really stinks but that’s a little what the www is feeling like these days. thanks, as always, for your voice & for everyone’s comments here so far, i always appreciate reading them.

  • Steve K. writes:
    February 11th, 201012:27 amat


    I feel sorry that we’ve never met before. That we’ve never interacted before, chatted or emailed before. I’m sorry because I feel your heart coming through your words so strongly, and I feel your sense of bewilderment – and it’s really throwing me for a loop too.

    When you wrote about the people dusting the furniture and doing the laundry for Emergent Village (metaphorically speaking, of course), I know you’re talking about me. I’m one of those people. I’m not a “thought leader” in Emergent. I’m just a lowly dishboy, slaving away in the kitchen. But you know what? I do feel like Emergent is “home” for me, but rather than protect that or “guard the gate,” I want anyone who wants to come in to come in! And when I hear stories like yours, I feel sad that you would feel unwelcome in any way.

    I’m also one of those people that Julie alluded to who had to walk away from a good job working for a conservative evangelical organization because my theological views and Emergent affiliation was no longer kosher. But not many people really know about that, because it hasn’t been communicated much (at all) – and if/when it has, it hasn’t been communicated very well. And that’s, I think, a big part of the problem right now.

    The “organization” called Emergent Village has lost momentum, there hasn’t been much communication, the transparency we truly do value hasn’t been the greatest, etc. etc. etc. And so it’s understandable when people, like yourself, voice frustration and disappointment.

    I guess that’s all I wanted to say, really. Just “hello, I’m really glad to meet you. You seem like an incredibly sweet, genuine person that I’d like to get to know. And I’m sorry. Sorry that we haven’t met before now. Sorry if you felt unwelcome. Sorry that you might feel let down in any way by Emergent Village.”

    And …

    I still think there’s a lot of life and friendship and hope to be find in the EV community, but, at the same time, I know it’s never going to be for everyone. Whichever way you go or where you choose to spend your time and energy, I wish you well.

    Steve K.

  • Mike Morrell writes:
    February 11th, 201012:32 amat

    I appreciate your words here, sister. In the midst of a lot of polarizing posts venting on these matters, you write with honesty and grace.

  • Julie Clawson writes:
    February 11th, 201010:22 amat

    I know when you guys created Missional Tribe, I was really excited that there was a space to really bring those sorts of issues to the forefront of the discussion. But as others have mentioned, there has become this weird split between emergent and missional – which just seems crazy to me. These places have become more about drawing lines than promoting conversation – perhaps not by intent, but in practice anyway.

    EV has lost momentum, mostly because there are so few people wanting to do the boring work while everyone wants to be part of the party. But I think we all need to be having these conversations together, sharing resources and idea – cause we’re really all working for the same goals anyway. How that can happen when people are instead writing posts saying “I don’t like you guys anymore, so I’m taking my ball and playing over here instead” is beyond me. If someone doesn’t want to (or isn’t allowed) have a beer with me because I’m not on the Calvin/Barth bandwagon, it’s a sad forecast for the future of the church imho. I guess I just want to know what is so wrong with continuing to be in conversation?

  • Patrick Oden writes:
    February 11th, 201011:19 amat

    Lets start a new organization for those of us who want to continue the conversation!!

    Just kidding.

    But, I do feel encouraged after the post and comments, because it shows that there is still a strong interesting in pressing on in talk and in practice.

    I’ve been thinking about this the last few days and think I’ve come up with a few reasons there’s been a recent surge of discontent.

    1) People have a hard time distancing without separating. This is a psychological reality seen in all kinds of life situations. We’re not as close as we used to be, but I have an on/off relational ability, so have to attack in order to separate. Relationships break up all the time like this. It’s not terribly mature, but it is quite common.

    2) Theological awakening. People who began their participation in one place of theological/spiritual maturity have since read a lot and come to terms with deeper questions. In their awakening they become combative, as though their realizations are something new for everyone, not just themselves. Mostly, though, their realizing similarities between past issues and present, making these similarities into equivalent problems. Anytime someone drags out an old heresy, this is generally the issue.

    3) Not wanting to answer for someone else’s attempts to push the envelope. I suspect this at the core of the Origins shift (which also, I think, gives a West Coast role to emerging/missional). Dan Kimball et al., don’t fall in line on many issues with Tony Jones or McLaren, but they were continually pressed to answer for them. Kimball, I think, has been enormously gracious in how he has moved onwards, without needing to attack anyone.

    Personally, even as I don’t think any new organization is needed, I am excited to keep involved with those who still want to keep talking.

    It reminds me a bit of a sitcom plot. Two groups of cool kids are fighting, and wanting people to choose sides. We’re all being stared at, asked to leave one direction or the other. From what I can tell, there’s a big group who doesn’t care what the cool kids are doing. We’ll just stay where we’re at and enjoy the music.

    And that’s pretty much the core attitude that enlivened emerging to begin with.

  • ron cole writes:
    February 11th, 201012:43 pmat

    Old guy aka Weary Pilgrim, I’m a first time visitor, and I sense this is a welcoming space. You words are like a pulling up a chair at an open table. And that was my first memory of the ” emerging conversation ” It was an open table of humility and hospitality. We encouraged each other, stretched one another…we celebrated difference, diversity. It made us better. Maybe we’ve grown old, maybe with withering imagination, grace also evaporated. In terms of being ” in ” the conversation, not really I’m the kid standing on a box looking over shoulders listening. And there are others, it seems I have coffee with new people every week asking the same questions that were whispers from the fringe 14 years ago. People have questions, deep questions…some deeper than even what Brian proposes. Some how we have to find that open table again where deep thinking seminary types can sit down with ADD daydreamers, where the articulate can talk with illiterate. I wonder if fear captivates us. Are we afraid to discover how gracious, and how loving God is. Can one really error on the side of Love. Jesus errored on the side of love and it got him killed. Maybe we “all” need to die a little in love…maybe then we can really begin to reimagine.

  • Ravens writes:
    February 11th, 201010:25 pmat

    […] a special friend to the DualRavens blog world, contributed another one, and one that I think is especially worth reading, especially as in the comments there are other important voices adding their thoughts, with a tone […]

  • Sarah@EmergingMummy writes:
    February 11th, 201010:36 pmat

    Hi Sonja:

    My only “meeting” of you prior to this was on the Missional Tribe when it launched. It’s been nice to be reintroduced.

    You expressed so much of what i was trying to do (but so much more grace and gentleness…I have much to learn).

    Ron’s comment above really resonates with me. I relate to much of that – including desire for this type of dialogue. Gentle, open, hospitable, full of love. I miss that. I don’t msis the ‘sexy revolution’ but the tone of community.

    Also, just so I can make myself feel better by clarifying, I am more tired/letting go of the Official Americanized Emerging Church (capital letters) than the emerging church as it’s occurring right now. Does that make sense? Probably not but thanks for the link and for taking me seriously. I appreciate it.


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    February 12th, 201010:08 amat

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  • why i’m a postevangelical-missional-emerging-ancient future-social justice-progressive-conservative-12 stepping-bible enjoying-”christian”mutt « the carnival in my head writes:
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    […] i was almost done writing this post when i read this piece from my blog friend sonja.  thanks sonja for putting to word some of my thoughts related […]

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