Speculations on the Development of Doctrine on Gay Unions
Yesterday’s piece was relatively easy to write since it was automatically organized for me by the CDF, to which I was responding.
Today’s piece will likely be messier, because it is a jumble of speculations about what may be possible in future, based on my own admittedly inadequate understanding of gay relationships, gay persons, the Church’s pastoral practice, and a bunch of other bits and bobs. That and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee.
I am writing, as I said yesterday, in an effort to understand, not to advise or tell other people–especially LGBTQ people–how they should feel or respond about all this. In my experience, LGBTQ people feel and respond in ways all over the map and part of my not trying to give advice to people about things outside my experience is to not try to control their responses to what I write. These pieces are primarily about me trying to work through the implications of the Church’s teaching about the nature of the sacraments (which was the focus of yesterday’s piece) and the Church’s even more foundational teaching about the Dignity of the Human Person (which is the focus of today’s piece).
So, in no particular order, let me mention a few things.
Throughout the Church’s entire history, there has existed the reality of the Paradigm Shift: of God surprising the Church with the realization that cubes that all seemed to face one way may suddenly be seen to all face the other way–or even both ways:
One of the first gigantic paradigm shifts in the Church’s history was the revelation of the Cross. It was axiomatic in first century Judaism to read crucifixion as proof positive that the condemned was accursed by God because there was one and only one way to read Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.
But then a paradigm shift occurred in the early Christian community. Their entire Jewish tradition faced them with a conclusion that made no sense when Jesus was not only crucified, but raised by God from the dead. When they met that formerly dead man on the road to Emmaus and expressed that confusion, he offered the first Christian Bible study in history and “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).
In other words, the Risen Christ taught the early Church to read the Old Testament in light of Himself and if that meant that previous rabbinic interpretations were inadequate or wrong, then they had to be corrected in light of his revelation. That’s what he is getting at when he says, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Mt 13:52). The gospel is neither about mindless Traditionalism nor about mindless Progressivism. It tests everything and holds fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And it has the capacity to see old things in sometimes shocking new ways in light of Christ.
One of the things it saw in a stunning new way was the nature of the curse Christ bore as he was hanged on the tree. Because Isaiah, in light of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus was read in a stunning new way:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Is 53:3–6)
What was, under the old paradigm, prima facie proof that the crucified Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah blessed by God suddenly became, like cubes facing the other direction, the shattering demonstration that he was. As Paul put it, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Co 5:21).
Other paradigm shifts can be seen as well. For instance, the stunning realization that Gentile converts to faith in the Jewish Messiah are not bound by the ceremonial laws of Moses in Acts 15. Again, the matter seemed simple. Jesus himself said that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. To the ordinary Jewish Christian in Jerusalem this seemed obvious, to be a disciple of the Jewish Messiah you must first be a Jew. So when Gentiles in Antioch wanted to join the Church the answer seemed obvious: become observant Jews, including circumcision, kosher regs and all the rest. But this prompted both a pastoral and theological debate in the culture that gave us the proverb “Two Jews, three opinions”.
First, the obvious issue was pastoral: Gentiles weren’t super-eager to be circumcised (though there were Gentile converts to Judaism willing to endure it). But there was also a theological issue: What’s the point of being a Christian at all if keeping the law is all it takes to be saved? What had Jesus done exactly?
The paradigm shift which occurred in the synod described in Acts 15 was the Church’s realization that the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were (as Jesus had pointed out on the Emmaus Road) again pointers to him. He was what they pointed to. They were signs pointing to our need for grace, not things that could supply grace themselves. They were like road maps pointing to the destination. Christ was the destination. And once you arrive at your destination, you don’t need the map anymore. Consequently, though Jews might still observe the customs of Israel (and the apostles certainly did) it was not necessary for Gentiles to do so in order to receive the grace of Christ to which those customs pointed.
Something worth noting here is that this paradigm shift (like most) was not instantly and universally grasped. The early Church had to grapple with arch-conservatives then as now: people who said, “But we’ve always done it this way!” Paul’s letters spend a lot of time on the relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians and the superstitious belief that Jewish Christians were superior to Gentile ones merely by virtue of their ethnicity and observance of Jewish custom. Sometimes this could harden into a conviction that if you were not circumcised you simply were not a “real” Christian at all. Paul’s reply to this is nothing less than a curse (see Galatians). But typically, Paul tries to accommodate both cultures and say, “If you are trying to honor Jesus then that’s good. Don’t judge others who are trying to honor him in their own way” (essentially the whole point of Romans 14). Paul is naturally multicultural.
One other point: Peter demonstrates something crucial here about paradigm shifts and the development of doctrine: namely, that the Church’s shepherds can articulate, sometimes brilliantly, a real insight and then not understand or even forget what they themselves teach.
Recall that it was none other than Peter who, under the inspiration and guidance of the Spirit as holy Church met in council, offered the first major development of doctrine in the Church’s history:
Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Ac 15:7–11).
That was the key idea that forever freed Gentiles from any demand that they keep the customs of Israel in order to qualify for baptism and membership in the Church and it was the absolute foundation stone of the idea there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter was the first Christian to articulate this crucial, foundational, idea of the Christian faith.
And yet, as Paul tells us, Peter wimped out on his own preaching later on, at Antioch:
But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Ga 2:11–12).
Nothing about doctrine changed. Indeed, Paul rebuked Peter not with some new doctrine, but with the teaching Peter himself had articulated. Peter had simply chickened out. The Jewish Christians from Jerusalem had put good old peer pressure on him with their cultural conviction that eating with Gentiles would give Peter unclean Gentile cooties and Peter simply wussed out and capitulated. Paul had to straighten him out, not with some new claim of a revelation vouchsafed to him personally, but with the teaching that Peter himself had articulated and to which the Church in council had given assent.
The reason this matters is that shepherds can often do this. A Council is, in the Church’s understanding, a unique and supernatural event, guided by the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that every word a council speaks is straight from God. A lot of conciliar actions and teachings are prudential judgments with the bishops trying to figure out a reasonable way forward as the Barque of Peter careers down the rapids of history. So when Trent decides to paint clothes on Catherine of Alexandria in Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment, it is not an infallible and inspired act. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
But when a Council offers a dogmatic teaching, or summarizes the ancient teaching of the Church into a theological formulation (as Peter did at Jerusalem), then we need to pay close attention because now Holy Church is speaking in a unique way with the help of the Holy Spirit and is, as Peter was, speaking beyond his merely human knowledge and understanding. This is the Spirit himself speaking. That is why the Council of Jerusalem prefaces its instructions to the Church with “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
The Church can only have this confidence because Jesus told them it was okay to do so when he assured them that the Spirit would “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13) and when he promised them (and us) “He who hears you hears to me” (Luke 10:16).
But here’s the thing: Once the Council adjourns bishops go back to being ordinary slobs trying to figure out how to get stuff done, subject to ordinary human frailty, and liable to be dumb and sinful just like anybody else. That’s what Peter did. That’s what lots of bishops do. And that, among many other reasons, is why it takes decades and even centuries to implement the Church’s teaching after a council. That’s why Paul will spend the remainder of his apostolate after the Council of Jerusalem laboring to get church after church to see that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but rather new creation in Christ, and that it does not matter what you eat. Paradigm shifts take a long time to get kneaded into the Church once they happen.
One more point and then we move on. It’s this: not everything that every person with a bright idea wants to think or do is a paradigm shift from the Holy Spirit. There is a lot more dumb heresy in the history of the Church than there is genuine development of doctrine. The Church’s past is absolutely littered with ideas by people who thought they were anointed prophets and visionaries sent by God to drag the Church into the future and rid her of backward notions we no longer need. From Marcion putting the entire Old Testament on the chopping block to Docetism teaching that Jesus was only God and not human to Modernists teaching that Jesus is only human and not God to Sabellius teaching Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just God in three different hats to Arius simplifying God to just the Father to Oneness Pentecostals simplifying God to just Jesus to Pelagius simplifying salvation to just working real hard to a thousand other wrong ways of reading the revelation, people have, with an odd uncanny innocence, been amazingly easy to convince themselves that they are the first people in history to truly understand Jesus and that all before them were wrong till they arrived on the scene to set the Church straight.
With all that said, I want to just mull over a few things.
The first is that there are and always have been a number of dynamics at work in the life of the Church: things held in tension that are both essential. The great mark of the Church’s teaching is that it holds things in tension. The great mark that you are probably on the wrong track is when your “solution” to some ancient feature of the Church’s teaching you don’t like is to simply cancel it in favor of some other aspect of the Church’s teaching you like better.
Some of these tensions are obvious and touched on above: God is one, yet God is three. Jesus is fully God and Jesus is fully man. The Father and the Son are one and the Father is greater than the Son. We are saved by grace through faith and we are saved by good works. God is sovereign and we have free will. Etc. Those involved in apologetics generally see these paradoxes because objections to them formed the basis for many Protestant objections to the Faith.
What is less noticed in that subculture–due to its understandable focus on defending Magisterial teaching–is that Magisterial teaching is often in conversation–and in dynamic tension with–the pastoral and contemplative traditions of the Church, especially in the mission field. In short, it’s one thing to have an ideal. It’s another thing to implement that ideal in a world of average people with runny noses, superstitions, folly, diseases, customs, and blank ignorance of a million things.
Case in point: Jesus and the Centurion. Jesus knows perfectly well that slavery is an evil. He knows this not only because he is God and the creator of the human person who desires us to live in beatitude and not slavery, but because the Jewish tradition is founded on liberation from slavery in the Exodus (“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2)).
And yet, when the Centurion comes to Jesus and asks him to heal his slave, Jesus does not confront him about owning slaves. Instead he heals the slave and commends the Centurion for his faith in him. Why?
Because God, like any good shepherd and teacher, meets people where they are, not where He is. It’s the same reason a kindergarten teacher does not berate a child for his ignorance of integral calculus. The Centurion lived in a universe where slavery was normative across the entire human race and had been for time immemorial. So Jesus meets him where he is and commends him for seeing and doing what he can, not what he can’t.
This is how the Church’s pastoral tradition has always operated and it is what drives a huge amount of what happens, particularly in the confessional. Confessors are (at least in my experience and, from what I have gathered from the good confessors I talked with) actively trained not to ask more of their penitents than they can bear. Indeed, in my experience, most priests are highly reluctant to place penitential burdens on me that I might actually think would be a good idea. Gentleness and mercy, not pitiless Puritanism, are the watchwords in the pastoral practice of the Church. The goal is nearly always to ask those striving for holiness to take a small simple step toward God. Something achievable, not Seven Herculean Feats.
And here’s the thing: that is typically worlds away from the Dogmatic and Diagrammattic Systems of the Righteous who inhabit comboxes and who are forever demanding perfection of everybody around them in the belief that salvation=Perfect Rulekeeping. This is one of the many reasons the Righteous hate Pope Francis so much. He is, very obviously, a pastor much more than he cares about Rulekeeping. For the Righteous, man was made for the law, not the law for man. So things like the CDF reply to the dubium about gay unions are, in their view, the sum total of everything the Catholic tradition has to say to LGBTQ persons. As far as the Righteous are concerned, now that the CDF has spoken it’s simply a matter of Keep the Rules or Get the Hell Out of the Church.
But the entire pastoral Tradition of the Church makes very clear that the response of the CDF is only, at best, half the story. There remains the Church’s deep desire that every human person be met wherever they are in whatever circumstance they are with an encounter with the living Christ who loves them and who is the ultimate fulfillment of our being. Because every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and is “the only creature on earth whom God has willed for its own sake.”
Accordingly, I bear in mind the actual pastoral practice of the Church when it comes to gay persons, which accompanies them wherever they are and does not demand they be where they are not. I have known confessors, very good confessors, who have told me that they have counseled people in gay relationships to remain in those relationships because to turn their back on their partner would be a grave evil and an unjustice. In short, such pastors begin with the person and with the law of love, not with mere Rulekeeping as combox bishops do. That seems sound to me as a layman with admittedly no pastoral responsibilities, but as somebody with gay friends and relatives. The relationship, far more than a theological theory, seems to me to come first and this appears to be the natural instinct of nearly every normal person, Catholic or not, looking at the situation of LGBTQ people in their lives. The healthy place to start with persons is with the fact that they are persons, not with the adjective describing what kind of person they are. Our dignity comes simply and solely from the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are ones for whom Christ died and rose.
So the tension the Church faces is, on the one hand, between that absolutely fundamental fact of our anthropology and soteriology and, on the other hand, her genuine need to preserve (as we discussed yesterday) her Tradition with regard to the sacraments, including the sacrament of Marriage. Heresy always lies in the attempt to simply cancel one pole of tension in favor of the other. We cannot, as Catholics, listen either to the voice that wants to just “get rid of all the sacramental rigamarole”, nor to the voice that says the whole “Dignity of the Human Person” stuff is just touchy-feely Vatican II garbage we need to ignore as we get back to Obeying the Rules, dammit! We have to hold both the Dignity of the Human Person and the integrity of the Sacraments as essential features of the Faith.
So what might be possible going forward? Well, one useful thing to do is try listening to the people actually affected by all this, particularly if, like me, you are not directly affected and have no experience of what they experience. One reader wrote me:
Christ wants me to be in union with him, yet he created me gay even though his Church he tells me that I’m defective and don’t deserve to enjoy the same pleasures of life that everyone else does, with no trade-off like the respect and station and mission that celibate religious and clergy get.
The choices I had were given were a life of involuntary celibacy, hiding in the priesthood, suicide, or leaving the Church. The priesthood wouldn’t take me, I’m too afraid of death to kill myself, never experiencing the joy of love and companionship is worse that death, so I left.
That is the voice of a person, made in the image and likeness of God, not a threat or an enemy. Contrary to many amateur dogmatists, there is not a thing in the Church’s teaching to contradict his belief that he was created the way he is. The Church is simply agnostic about the origins of homosexual orientation. We don’t know and may never know why people experience it. But we do know that telling people, “No! You’re wrong! Such orientation is bad and you are bad for being this way” is a massive dick move. Rather, we are to accompany people where they are, not where our deep insecurity about some theological system we have demands they be.
Notably, my reader remains a believer in the context of another communion. He even remains somebody open to communion in the Catholic Church, if he could figure out a way to do it honestly and without having to pretend he is not who and what he is. But he can’t, so he doesn’t. I respect that. But I also wonder if there is some sort of paradigm shift I’m missing that could heal this. I don’t know that there is. But I also don’t know that there isn’t.
My reader adds:
One of the greatest weaknesses of the Roman Church is its insistence on making the perfect the enemy of the good.
I understand their teaching on sexuality and there is some wisdom in the notion that the fullness of perfection of human sexuality is a committed male and female couple conceiving and raising children in the faith. I’d be willing for the sake of argument to concede that as the ideal that checks all the boxes. However, sexual pleasure is good. Human affection and bonding are good. Love and commitment are good. Caring for children is good. Rome insists that unless ALL the boxes are checked, the situation is inferior and unacceptable – and thus ignores and devalues the good in relationships they deem sinful and wrong.
A better, more realistic, and I would say more catholic approach would be to focus on the good that exists, celebrate it, and cultivate it. If a person’s situation falls short of the Church’s perfection, it would be better to meet him where he is. Why not bless a same-sex union? They are two people who love each other and are committed to supporting each other. It doesn’t check all the boxes of the Church’s ideal, but it checks some and something is better than nothing. The Church would of course continue to preach its ideal and encourage people to upgrade their situations to check more boxes – but as a goal to strive toward and not a standard to use as a weapon for condemnation.
This would still of course require LGBT people to accept a second-class status and give up the idea of equality but it would still be a more charitable, more pastoral, and more authentically Christian way to organize a Church.
I won’t comment on everything here but I am struck, particularly in light of the tension between the doctrinal and pastoral traditions in the Church, by his comment about making the perfect the enemy of the good and the fact that gay relationships, while not checking every box, nonetheless do contain many goods that are compatible with the Faith. Indeed. I have known at least one gay man who I would regard as saintly–and that is not a term I use lightly. I wrote about him over on my Patheos blog back in 2012. He was a fine human being and a fine Catholic, a passionate witness to the Faith. He chose to live in a chaste relationship with a man. This is not, of course, the norm in relationships, gay or straight. But it illustrates something all the same: namely that the only thing the CDF’s response to the dubium was considering was the matter of sexual gay relationships, not other sorts of gay relationships. At least one of my gay readers pointed that out and asked why that was the sole focus.
It’s a reasonable question. And it points to the same thing the reader above does: the fact that there are lots of aspects to the love between persons–gay and otherwise–that are good and compatible with Catholic life and have nothing to do with sex.
I suspect that this will be a way forward for the Church as it ponders how best to accompany its LGBTQ members. For accompany them it must. And accompany them in a way that does not simply offer “involuntary celibacy, hiding in the priesthood, suicide, or leaving the Church” as the sole alternatives it must as well, much less the mockery, contempt, sneers, and bullying that remain, all too often, the ugly face that the Greatest Catholics of All Time present their LGBTQ brethren:
I conclude these wholly inadequate ponderings with an observation about a couple of recent things that have happened in the Church’s theological community. A Dominican priest I know, Fr. Michael Sweeney (who is no slouch as a theologian, being as how he was once the President of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Oakland) once remarked on the dynamic tension between the Magisterium and the theologian. It is the task of the Magisterium to weigh and evaluate and conserve. It is the task of the theologian to contemplate and think in new ways and ask, “What if?”
This can get the theologian in trouble sometimes, but it can also lead to creative breakthroughs in the Church’s thinking. Most moderns are unaware of this, but there was a time when Thomas Aquinas himself (or at least his writings) was under scrutiny as a flaky, nouveau weirdo what with his dabbling in that new stuff from Aristotle coming in from the Muslim world (not to mention his unseemly use of Muslim commenters like Averroes and Avicenna) instead of relying on nice, safe, traditional Plato like real Catholics did. It took about 50 years for the Ents of Rome to process the complaints from the Augustinian Reactionaries of the time, but eventually they worked it out and it turned out Thomas had some real contributions to the Body of Christ.
Likewise, the Church of the 16th century had one paradigm when it came to religious liberty: Error Has No Rights. It was true as far as it went–and you believe it too. That’s why you don’t shout “Hear them out!” when some flat earther or anti-vax weirdo starts spouting conspiracy theories about Bill Gates’ 5G mind control nanobots or a KKK nut starts demanding to know why Twitter won’t platform his yammering about exterminating inferior races. We all believe error has no rights when the error really matters to us.
But we also believe (as nobody in the 16th century did) something more: Though error has no rights, persons in error do have rights. That too was a real development of doctrine–a paradigm shift. And it was the dynamic interplay of the contemplative and missionary traditions of the Church with the Magisterium that brought the Church to enshrine that development in the Decree on Religious Liberty at Vatican II.
My suspicion–and it is only that at present–is that the contemplative and pastoral tradition of the Church is going to move more and more in the direction of emphasizing the question of dignity of the human person–including LGBTQ persons–and away from the real, but ultimately secondary, question of sacramentals that the CDF is currently taking pains to protect. It will not, and indeed cannot, simply cancel sacramentals–much less sacraments–as disposable and unimportant matters. It is heresy, not orthodoxy, that resolves tensions in the Faith by simply cancelling one truth in favor of another. But sacramentals and the sacraments themselves ultimately exist for man, not man for the sacraments. There will come a day when all the sacraments–even the Eucharist itself–will pass away. But there will never come a day when the human person will pass away. We are eternal creatures and the only creatures on earth whom God has willed for our own sake. The implications of that have barely begun to be explored and I cannot escape the conviction that the Church going forward will have to reckon with the implications of that, not only with respect to LGBTQ people, but with all persons.
John tells the story (also related by Luke) that John and Peter raced to the tomb on Easter morning. John curiously notes that he got there first, looked in, “saw and believed” while at the same time not yet understanding from the Scriptures that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Then Peter caught up with him and they both left, wondering what was going on. One allegorical reading of Scripture is that John represents the Church of Contemplation, intuiting before Peter what is going on while still awaiting Peter’s judgment of the situation before proceeding. Interestingly, it is John, the most mystical and contemplative of the apostles, who offers a rare warning against racing ahead of the development of the Tradition in union with the Church. I say “rare” because most of the burden of the New Testament involves the struggle to get conservatives to catch up with the shocking developments surrounding the proposition that Jesus is God, that Gentiles do not have to be Jews to be baptized, and so forth. But for a certain group, the big challenge to faith was the proposition that Jesus is man: that the Word became flesh. John links this to what today would be called a “progressive”, not a Reactionary” mindset and warns that it is just as dangerous to “go ahead” (as he once did) as it is to doggedly refuse to keep up, as Reactionaries do.
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowledge the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. Any one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doctrine has both the Father and the Son. (2 Jn 7–9)
The Progressives of John’s day argued that the body was unimportant and that Jesus did not need one. Progressives these days also make arguments that sound, particularly to the Magisterium, remarkably similar about the irrelevance of the body as the matter of the sacrament of Matrimony. I, for one, find that troubling, just as I find the contempt for LGBTQ persons troubling. I don’t know how to resolve that, so I do the Catholic thing and hold the matter in tension rather than just breezily dispensing with one pole of the tension and declaring the matter fixed. I await light.
And that is, at any rate, where I leave the question, awaiting light from the Spirit. One thing I may do is take a look the work of the man most intensely hated by the Greatest Catholics of All Time and therefore likely to have some valuable insights given the nearly infallible talent for wrongness they have display so many times for so long that only a fool would trust their judgment.
I mean, of course, Fr. James Martin, who seems to me to obviously be attempting to shepherd LGBTQ Catholics with integrity while upholding the Church’s Tradition with integrity at the same time. Unsurprisingly, he seems to me to resemble St. Paul’s attempt to be all things to all and, like St. Paul, to draw fire from all sides as he did. As Chesterton remarked, “If you hear a thing being accused of being too tall and too short, too red and too green, too bad in one way and too bad also in the opposite way, then you may be sure that it is very good.” On the whole, Martin seems to me to receive this criticism, so I am inclined to think he may be a useful resource going forward. And the unanimity with which he is hated and calumnied by the wrongest people in the world–MAGA Catholics–only persuades me to check him out all the more.
As I warned, this piece is more a jumble than a coherent thought. I offer it not as guidance but more as a kind of work in progress as I try to assemble my thoughts. If it or parts of it are useful, good. If not, drop it.