Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Anfechtungen: Notes on the "Gay Debate"

Having inspired no one to touch the hot potato of why homosexuality is such a hot-button issue for religion and politics, let me try a new tack. A chat group I’m involved in has been asked by one of its members to think together about the issues of the Church’s blessing same-sex unions (whether called marriage or not) and, ultimately I suppose, ordaining non-celibate gay persons to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Here I try to set out, with the greatest timidity, a witness about that question. In a nutshell, I ask, “Why may not my – and, I am confident, millions of people’s – positive experience with gay and lesbian couples be legitimately considered – alongside all the other data, including (pre-eminently) the scriptural record – in determining whether the Holy Spirit may be calling the Church to a new understanding of its traditional teaching?”

Unaccustomed as I am to wide-flung statements of truth (!), it seems to me that there are two poles which constitute the “heretical” boundaries of theological thinking. The first, and most natural I suppose to those of the so-called “liberal” persuasion (I must sometime think through the inaccuracy of that label), is to begin with our own situation and reason backward to what revelation has to say about it. We, in a sense, predetermine the Scriptural interpretation we seek to divine by running the Scriptures through a series of filters (our experience, our political agenda, certain of our key “values”) which will eliminate any chance that our already-arrived-at conclusions are questionable. The chief problem with this approach, as though I need say it, is that it sets the “thinker” in God’s place and uses the Scripture only as a tool to enforce the agenda, which agenda may in fact be exactly counter to the will of God. (This is by no means a sin limited to left-leaning do-gooders; you find this in all camps – perhaps even more so among the so-called “fundamentalists,” despite their denials, or “conservative Christians.”)

At the other pole is a strict text-based process. Read the Bible and weep; read carefully and analytically, of course, but “what is written is written,” each word means what it says. Forget any “hermeneutical” lens or circle; forget about any supposed inner logic to the Scriptural record; forget the cultural milieu in which the text(s) were written to make sense. When texts contradict, harmonize them, but beware trying to “trump” any passage with another. While I generally hold to that latter line (and won’t my friends be surprised to see that!), I also contend that there is a kind of nonsense to it. It may be my Lutheran upbringing showing through (I should be so lucky), but I buy the notion that there is a kind of “canon within the canon” of Scripture, a core proclamation around which all the rest makes sense only when seen in light of that core proclamation. So, for example, as Luther said (well, sort of said), it’s clear from a complete reading of scripture that God justifies the sinner purely for gracious reasons, quite apart from the sinner’s doing anything (even religious) to earn that gracious justification; all of Scripture can be shown to expound, elucidate, or complement that basic pronouncement. This canon-within-the-canon becomes a kind of lens for reading the entirety of scripture. (Of course, the “canon within the canon” school has its own problems, some of which align with those of the first school, but this is a blog, not a thesis.)

Let’s move forward to the area of homosexuality.

On the one hand, I am human and my humanity colors the way I read and think about issues theologically: To get personal, it seems that most – though by no means all – of my closest personal friends are gay or lesbian. (For clarification and to keep the record clear, lest their Bishops and/or vocations committees be concerned, neither of the “holy friendships” I have extolled on this blog involves a gay man,) Furthermore, most of my gay friends are “partnered”, some in relationships of more than twenty years. One of my longest-term and closest friends, six years ago joined his life with another man’s. I have never seen my friend better – more stable, secure, settled, and creative. The couple’s sense of love, commitment, compassion, care, and respect for each other are almost palpable – something we’d hope for for every marriage (i.e., a Church-blessed union in love and commitment of a man and a woman). Those facts most certainly color my view of the issue of how the Church ought to teach about homosexuality.

I place my personal experience in the context of the increasing acceptance of gayness in the secular society and even in the Church. (Yes, I know all about the recent elections. I challenge anyone convincingly to demonstrate to me that the votes on “gay marriage amendments” resulted from reasoned, discerning, carefully considered judgments.) The APA has removed homosexuality from its list of “disorders”; legislatures are passing equal protection statutes for gay people (I won’t even discuss Massachusetts’ Supreme Court); there are sit coms featuring gay people (if it’s in a sit com, it’s considered so acceptable as to be almost trivial – but of course, it may just be that it involves sex, which is the most trivial subject of all for TVAmerica). Even the United States Supreme Court (that bastion of liberal thought) is increasingly sympathetic to gay people’s concerns, well-being, and legal status. In addition, many Christian denominations are unsettled about the place of homosexuality in the faith (with most, admittedly, holding a so-called “conservative” ground -- which is as it should be, absent serious study and discernment about sexuality in general), but none that I know of has rejected gays for membership in the denomination. These are examples, voices, and movements that I find difficult to ignore (if for no other reason that I commune with gay brothers and sisters every Sunday – and sometimes during the week!). So the cultural picture is at least more ambivalent than it used to be.

On the other hand, I am a Christian, and that imposes certain restraints on my liberty to “be me” when reading and thinking theologically: In my case, I was once ordained into the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and while I am no longer a pastor, I still feel bound by my ordination vow to teach (and, now rarely) preach in strict accordance with the Word of God. As a Lutheran, I confess that a primary (but not the only, I think) on-going source of the revelation of the Word of God is Holy Scripture. As a catholic evangelical, I understand that Word of God is brought down through time to the current age by means of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church and that any effort to come to terms with what the Word of God “means” in our time must be cognizant of what that Word of God has “meant” for and to the Church in the times before. Of course, that process of saying in the current milieu what has been said “in all times and in all places” involves an active involvement with the texts of the past – and that requires consideration of setting, history, culture, and the like of those relevant texts over against similar and dissimilar issues in the present. (I think that this is what Douglas John Hall - no raving liberal, I think – calls “contextualizing” the witness of Scripture.)

I am, therefore, on the issue of whether the Church ought to bless or otherwise sanction and support among its membership same-gender relationships (whether we call it marriage or not) in tension. On the one hand, my experience and instincts – instincts, not incidentally, formed by lifelong involvement in the Church, training in her colleges and seminaries, and enthusiastic on-going intellectual engagement with theological argument by her scholars and teachers – lead me primarily in one direction, namely, to offer nothing less than full sacramental recognition of same-gender relationships. On the other hand, a hand I may not and cannot ignore, the virtually univocal witness of the catholic (note the lower-case “c”) tradition is to deny any such recognition and, indeed, to sanction in other sense of the word, namely to denounce them as contrary to intention of God for the order of the world.

I regret, frankly, that I cannot willingly, guiltlessly, enthusiastically, and in good faith subscribe the “traditional” teaching of the Church on this matter. I can and must, of course, describe the teaching, explain it to some extent, and affirm that it is the Church’s teaching and is, consequently, binding on my conduct and on that of all Christians,

Please note: I am not willing – and I will oppose anyone who seeks – to defy the Church’s teaching, and for that reason I oppose any “civil disobedience” by pastors and parishes – such as that involved in the recent “irregular ordination” of a non-celibate Lutheran pastor in Minneapolis. The way to change the Church is through prayer and mutual discernment of a new way; it is not to overthrow the structure irrespective of any consensus. In the Church, the way of discipleship is “bearing the cross”; and that leaves no room for “civil disobedience” of the Church’s structures and leadership. In that regard, we Lutherans have much to unlearn about the glories of the Reformation’s approach!

As a Christian, I am rightly distrustful of my personal experience as a guide to God’s truth. We know that from the time of Eden that that approach has been trouble. But as a Christian, I know, too, that experience plays a part in the interpretation of Scripture. Else why would the Church’s teaching on slavery have changed? Or why would women now be ordained in certain quarters of the Church? Was it not new experience that opened the door to new understanding? Was it not such for Peter, who originally balked at the inclusion of Gentiles among the Christian flock? He was a Jew – as were all the original Christians – who thought that The Way (as Christian faith was called) required that one first become a Jew to be a Christian. Following his experience with Cornelius, however, (and I suspect with numerous other Gentiles) he realized what God had been telling him for some time – namely, that Gentiles, too, should be included in The Way, without first becoming Jews. (Acts 10)

My reading of that passage is that Peter’s experience was a factor in his discerning the Spirit’s guidance. It has seemed that throughout history, the Church has been called to clarify or modify its teaching as a result of changed conditions in the world. Such change was in no way a denunciation of the past; it was a “contextualizing” (Hall), a coming to terms with the Tradition in changed circumstances. Such change has often been accompanied by great turmoil (the Reformation springs to mind: sorry “conservative” Roman brothers and sister, but I really do see the Reformation as a reform movement within the Church) and by bombast on both (or all) sides arguing the “I have the truth and you seek to destroy the Church.”

If any of this is near true, then let me set out (with his permission) a portion of a letter I sent to one of my “holy friends.”

Might the all-Holy Spirit be summoning the Church to a new teaching? Might the current upset be God’s way of urging us to move out of a mistaken position (or even the right position at the time) to a new openness, a new attitude, a new teaching? [Note: I’m not saying that such is the case, merely that it is not faithlessness to raise the possibility.]

A recasting of my issue is this: What is the appropriate place of [one’s own] experience in the integration, affirmation, or questioning of Church teaching? I do not assert my [own, sole, personal] experience as a kind of ultimate test – of course not! But what am I to do when the Church’s teaching is being far from univocally supported – questioned even by those of good faith. (I do not claim that all who question the Church’s teaching as a part of the ELCA’s sexuality study have the best interests of the Church at heart. But many who are in turmoil around this issue do seek diligently to be faithful and to promote the Church’s well-being. After all, such questioning is occurring within a discernment process within the Church, is it not?)

None of this proposes even the beginning of an answer to where the Church ought to go. I know that there are many whose minds are made up already, and I envy them. It’s difficult for me to be in this “in between” land. But at this point I am as concerned about the process as I am about the outcome. So here I propose one subject of conversation about the process, to be addressed in advance of answering the ultimate question.


Jim said...

Dwight, you don't support ecclesiastical disobedience [my words] but you highlight three men who were about as disobedient to their respective religious authorities as possible: Luther, of course; Peter, by freely associating with Gentile persons and other irreligious acts; and unmentioned, but at the top of the list, Jesus.

The church gets fat despite Jesus' injunction to take no purse and stay but a few days when preaching. And men who are not hungry have no particular desire to change things or to endorse change when it looks as if it's needed.

Now in my Anglican communion, we've got women[!] who, having been held under the heel of these fat old men for so long, now find committed same-sex relationships unworthy of the Church. So much for feminist group-think....

You almost had it (in my opinion) when you made the connection with the Holy Spirit moving through humans, but then you seemed to leave that thought. I see HS continually trying to move the Church through humans, but being blocked by fat old men who are the new Sadducees.

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, YHWH reminds us again and again that the odor of our sacrifices is displeasing to him; He wants our hearts, not our young bullocks. Jesus spoke to the Church about church buildings before there was a Church. "Not one block" would be left standing, but He could build a new Temple in three days.

While I do not love the Episcopal Church, I must say that I am in love with her. There is a rich tradition like Lutherans' that takes us back to Jesus telling rock-head Peter that even on Petras could He build His Church. With our edifice complex and our complex of rules and regulations and who can and can't, we've woven that tangled web and tried to deceive ourselves that church=Church. And it doesn't.

So while the Canon Theologian of South Carolina (how's THAT for an oxymoron?) continues to tear down my Episcopal Church over "the gay issue" and Gene Robinson, I have to watch and wonder which of us will be chosen by the Spirit to get us out of *this* mess *this* time.

Thank you for such a stimulating piece, Father Dwight.

Dwight P. said...

Thank you, Brother Jim (if you prefer another title, please let me know), for a thought-provoking and eloquent response. I share many -- if not most -- of your thoughts, I admit.

But the Lutheran in me sees everything in terms of tensions. (I have to figure out some of that Hegelian stuff -- thesis, antithesis, synthesis -- to see whether it relates.) So while I have to take seriously the business of the Holy Spirit's working through human beings (individuals, groups, even institutions at times), I must also take seriously that the Church has been designated as the certain locus of the Holy Spirit's enterprise -- not the exclusive realm, by any means, but also not irrelevant, either.

The Church is visible and invisible (it's in the tension between those two, I think); she is "chaste whore"; she is synchronic and diachronic. She is capable of horrendous evil (witness only the State Church in Nazi Germany or the Roman Catholics in Rwanda), but also phenomenal witness (remember the Confessing Church of Germany or, eventually, the Church in Chile or Archbishop Romero). We must take both the traditions ("human" though they be) and the Great Tradition of the Church through history seriously. That's why, I think, so many otherwise "radical" types give pause on the issue of "gay ordination" (what a lousy way to put it) and "gay marriage" (ibid.). When the Church seems to have articulated only one message so clearly throughout its history (to the extent that it has addressed the issue at all) and when so many good and faithful teachers of the Church hold such strong views, it is hard simply to say "Well, it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to me."

That's why the process of discerning the Word of the Holy Spirit is so important. And that's why I'm so upset that the process is going so poorly. We've begun from polarized positions and have done nothing to improve our discernment. Neither side seems to listen very carefully to the other, leaving little room for the Spirit's promptings.

As a Lutheran, I envy you your Episcopalian/Anglican tradition's experience with discernment. (I think we Lutherans have nothing similar.) And my envy is in no way diminished by what I apologize for considering your tradition's often doing the right thing the wrong way -- e.g., your experience with women's ordination. (On that, I think the Lutherans followed a much more responsible route -- and as a result we have far fewer problems with the issue, I think, than does the Episcopal Church.) I don't want to see my Church body (this wizened limb of the Body of Christ) experience such turmoil. But I'm increasingly sure that not only must we experience it (it may, in fact be God's call to experience it), but I expect that schism will result.

That's a mighty long way of saying "thank you for your contribution."

And by the way, please keep coming back. But, when you do, please drop the "Father Dwight." I am no longer serving the Church as an ordained pastor (I am no longer "rostered"), so "Dwight" or "Brother Dwight" (as yet another holy friend has dubbed me) will do nicely.


Jim said...

OK. I'll be Jim, you be Dwight.

Let me posit that institutional (little-c) church as repository has been somewhat more successful than church as actor. For every Romero, there are a hundred Pius XII's. And for every Luther, there are a hundred Leo X's. Even as a repository, Church didn't get off the ground very well. Thankfully, there was Josephus to write down a few things.

For my Education for Ministry seminar tonight, I have the task of "summarizing Mark in 15 minutes." In trying to be non-apologetic about it, I've discovered that the thickness of a human hair is a little less than 0.1 mm, and I am 1829 mm tall. For every thickness of a human hair in my height, there was about an hour of Jesus' life in His ministry. Yet I can read aloud the Gospel of Mark in a little over an hour, even adding some dramatic inflection every once in awhile to cover my poor diction.

Maybe my theory about "repository" isn't so good, after all. As the Body of Christ, Church could exert His will far more effectively; but when Church is divided by church, we lose effectiveness.

I am grateful to church for keeping the tools fairly rust-free in the theological toolbox, however little they are used by non-church-employees.

And you write damned well!

Pax tuum.

Camassia said...

I wouldn't really agree that Jesus, Peter and Luther were 'about as disobedient to their respective religious authorities as possible,' and therefore set a model for Christians today to do the same. Peter was the main religious authority in the church at the time, so designated by Jesus himself, so even though he met some friction over including Gentiles his authority was part of what made it work. Luther was perhaps more of a model, but as was pointed out in the last post, he left a mixed legacy. Ultimately he failed in his quest to reform Catholicism and left us with the highly factionalized Christendom that we know today.

As for Jesus, well, I'm pretty well convinced by Yoder's case that he presented a model of subordination as well as dissent. Although he debated the religious authorities he ultimately submitted to their judgments, even when it cost him his life. That's a different model of dissent than we are accustomed to. Also, if you take seriously the idea of the church as Body of Christ and yourself as fallible human, it's a little tough to blithely cast the bishops as the Pharisees and yourself as Jesus. (I think Telford outlined a pretty good practical plan for Christian dissent here.)

Anyway, all this is a long way of saying that I sympathize with you, Brother Dwight. I wish the answer to this were as simple and obvious as it seems to be to a lot of people, but it isn't.

Jim said...

I'm spending my life here today.

If we consider Peter to be a Jew who became Christian Serial Number ONE, then I offer that he was deeply insubordinate to the Jewish authorities, while he made the rules for the new organization he led. Jesus did not submit to the Jewish authorities, but to the Roman occupiers, who supervised his murder. That he held the temple religious elite in the deepest contempt is patent.

As long as we're splitting hairs here, Jesus had no issue with the Pharushim, just some individual Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes. There's a big difference.

And if you could point me at some of those people with simple answers, I'd sure like to hear a few, myself.

Anonymous said...

I may be one of those for whom the answer is simpler. I do not have a loyalty to a theological education that complicates my grasp of this problem with an anxiety for the history, integrity, tradition or purpose of the church, C or c.

Brother Dwight, I completely respect your struggle. You know so much more than I, and you grapple with integrity for that which you highly value. I know you as a person who is loyal to your gay brothers and lesbian sisters, but who struggles deeply with what you see as a threat to the unity of the church. I, too, am sorry to see that unity threatened. But I guess I am far more concerned about justice than about keeping the church intact as is. I think that if we concentrate on justice for our sisters and brothers, God will help us change the church. Some may call that simplistic, or foolhardy, or poor stewardship, but that's where I'm at. (Probably a good thing that I'm not in charge of it, then, eh?)

Basically, though I am straight as a pin, I never internalized our society's bigotry toward homosexual people. Although I did not fully understand homosexuality until I was in my late teens, that late-acquired understanding was founded in loving (non-sexual) friendships with gay friends. I have never quavered on the conviction that my friends are just as God made them; that they are an intentional and beautiful part of God's creation; that their relationships are just as loving, committed and valid as straight people's; and that these relationships are gifts to them from a loving God. (In fact, I am proud of myself for being the matchmaker for two very dear friends--I claim extra brownie points for realizing and acting upon the purposeful role I had in bringing them together.)

The pieces of scripture that some people abuse to condemn my friends are indeed challenging; but I see them as faulty, human writings, products of human culture. I don't see anything divine in such texts. In this, I guess I am in agreement with Marcus Borg.

The scriptures have been abused throughout the centuries to justify human evils such as war, slavery and sexism. The scriptures are being abused still, to justify continued bigotry toward homosexual people. Frankly, I don't give much thought toward the church in this. I'm thinking about the injustice of taking a few lines of text and systematically making miserable the lives of millions of normal, ordinary people, who happen to make up an estimated 10% of the human population.

Supporting this bigotry by denying the humanity of gay and lesbian people, of gay and lesbian pastors, is a sin. I say it is a sin of the human church. This is not of God. There is nothing divine in it. It is created and perpetuated by human institutions, and I believe it grieves God no end that it is ascribed to God's church. (C or c?) This sin is fueled by human fear, by xenophobia, by threats of hellfire and damnation. These awful fears are the consequences of our failure to enact the call of the gospel, the call to love all of God's people.

A few years ago in our synod an ordained pastor struggled with her identity, struggled with years of hurt and repression, and came to understand that she was a lesbian. But she was not at all conflicted about her calling to serve God as a pastor of the church. She knew full well that she was called to ordained ministry. With honesty, she ended her marriage. She formed a committed relationship with another woman. She was offered, and took, an opportunity to serve another congregation. That congregation defied the synod by installing her as their pastor. I did not attend that installation, but my pastor did.

The Sunday following that installation my pastor did a courageous thing: He spoke from the pulpit in support of what that congregation had done. (I was so proud of him that I bragged about it to my friends for days afterward.) The line from the sermon that stays with me was, "The ELCA said, 'Don't do it.' The gospel said, "Go ahead!'" (If I didn't get that quote right, I apologize, but that's how I remember it.)

In effect, he told us that the church says one thing, but the gospel says another!

Which one are you going to go with, I mean, c'mon! I'm putting my bet on the gospel of grace, compassion, acceptance, reconciliation, redemption and love of my creator. I'm not going with the history, venerable tradition and fearful befuddlement of the human manifestation of the church.

Man, Dwight, I can just hear you screaming at me. I know I'm making you unhappy, here. Plus I have rudely blog-clogged your post. You're going to crank open a serious can of Brother Dwight Whuppass at me come Sunday, I know it. Okay. I will listen.

I guess I don't see the church as all sainted and inviolable. I see it as flawed, which it must be, because it's run by humans. The community of the church is, indeed, a gift of God, but it is a gift which we have royally screwed up. I think the church, as we have made it, is a distortion of what God gave us. I think it is our calling to fix it, to keep trying to make it what it was intended to be. And I don't have a problem with the use of disobedience as a tool to do that.

I support the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors who have partners. I support a blessing of homosexual relationships. And I don't think that these Christians should have to wait and wait and wait until the church gets around to it. I don't think they should have to subjugate their God-given nature, just because it makes some fearful people uncomfortable. I can't image the agony of having to choose between your calling to serve God, and the love of your life. Were I in the position of that lesbian pastor, serving a congregation full of people who understand the justice of disobedience to the synod, I'd do exactly as she did.

Dwight P. said...

Oh, Sister, you should give me a little more credit than this. But since it's late, I'll make two quick points -- and perhaps have to fill them out later.

First as to the Church: We Lutherans are disadvantaged whenever there arises a discussion of what the "Church teaches," of whether there is a difference between "Church" and "church," of conflicts between "what the Church teaches" and "what the Gospel teaches." Without meaning to sound patronizing (a losing cause in my case), I must note that it is here that Lutherans have a whole lot of learning to do. (More evidence for my case to drop Reformation Sunday.)

The Gospel means "nothing" ouside the Church. It is the Church that hands on the Gospel; it is the Church that interprets the Gospel new to every age; it is the Church that is the locus for discerning what the Gospel is; and it is the Church that regularly screws up understanding what the Gospel is. For that reason, reformations, new teachings, re-articulations, and the rest are required.

We need prophets -- regardless of what the established lectionary seems to suggest (by paying short shrift to the real prophets). But the minute we set ourselves up over against the church, contending or believing that we know better, that is the minute we sin against the Holy Spirit.

I am increasingly convinced (and this is my second point) that there are two fundamental understandings of the Gospel and the Church and salvation and all the rest that are at odds with each other. And proponents of the two views do not know how to speak to each other. We have such differing "fundaments" (we take such radically different things for granted) that we don't even know how to approach one another. Call them worldviews, call them ideologies, call them theologies, call them whatsits -- until we can learn to speak to one another, the Church will be at war.

"You say tomaeto; I say tomahto; you say ... . Let's call the whole thing off." I fear that's what's approaching in church life. Yet we are not free to do so. We may not sin against one another with impunity -- even though both sides do. Neither may we politicize the Gospel -- even though both sides do. (Yes, conservative and "orthodox" brethren: You do, too.)

A sense of justice -- as central as that may be to the Gospel -- is not the only criterion for decisionmaking. We may not freely and cavalierly and simply dismiss even relatively arcane bits of scripture and two thousand years of history in the Church. Yet neither are we lock-step bound to obey some verses of some isolated chapters while freely discarding neighboring verses that now seem clearly not to bind even though they seem to bind (regardless of the rationale).

You, Sister, are certainly no more "guilty" than anyone else who has responded or to whom I have addressed remarks. You, more than most I know, listen, do not grow hostile, show respect. For that I commend you. Even though the matter is a simple one for you to resolve, I am not going to Whupass ya'. I only urge you to remain sensitive to the good faith of those who oppose. Not all are bigots. Some, indeed most, are seriously committed to obeying God as they understand him to command. If they are benighted, that will become clear.

You have correctly identified my turmoil. But my greatest concern is for what this deal is doing to the Body of Christ. Mass amputation and self-mutilation seem at hand. (Sorry for the metaphor. I just finished watching CSI, my favorite -- and almost only -- TV show.)

My love and best wishes to you and to all who respond here. I'm loving this conversation -- regardless of the pain.

And so much for "quick points."

Anonymous said...

You have correctly identified one of my many "growing edges." I do tend to get a bit hot sometimes. (Further evidence that I would make a lousy pastor!) Perhaps bigot is too harsh a word. I take it back, but can't think of a replacement that expresses my frustration with people who can't see what I see...exactly a fault that I frequently fault other people for! Gads! Pray for me!

Sr. Dash

Anonymous said...

But seriously, brother, say more about this:

"We may not freely and cavalierly and simply dismiss even relatively arcane bits of scripture and two thousand years of history in the Church. Yet neither are we lock-step bound to obey some verses of some isolated chapters while freely discarding neighboring verses that now seem clearly not to bind even though they seem to bind (regardless of the rationale)."

I'm thinking that challenging arcane rules is just what the doctor ordered. Why may we not dismiss arcane bits of scripture? How do the consequences you forsee actually play out?

Sr. Dash

Dwight P. said...

St. Dash (I think I'll leave that typo), I intend to formulate my thinking a little bit and address your question/challenge. It's been a chaotic time, and I am not ignoring you; I'm just allowing myself to be distracted by such things as work and child-care!

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