[So, here’s a funny thing… I was recently called as a gospel principles teacher in my ward, so I’m going to skip ahead to where I probably would have been if I had been a consistent blogger and to the lesson that I am preparing for this Sunday]
Why did our Heavenly Father send us to earth as members of families?
That’s a funny question. I don’t really buy the premise. It fits too nicely into the “Saturday’s Warrior” kind of mythology that has been less than helpful in my own life. To ask the above question is to assume that God is in Control, as if every detail were meticulously laid out from the beginning. I’m more and more convinced that life is a great deal more untidy.
At the risk of becoming too personal, perhaps a little background will clarify my confusion on this point. My wife and I recently became foster parents. For a variety of reasons we have been unable to have children the “natural” way, and the foster care program seemed like a good fit for us. We have been extraordinarily fortunate to be placed with two beautiful kids who fill our lives with joy, frustration, sorrow, hope, and all the rest.
By almost any measure these kids are getting a raw deal out of this mortal probation. They have dealt with hardships before their first birthdays that, I suspect, most people reading this blog will never have to confront. They will both be dealing with the consequences of their biological parents’ decisions for their entire lives.
We sing to them before they go to bed each night. On one occasion, my wife suggested that we sing, “I am a Child of God.” As we sang the first verse, we were both struck by how little the words seemed to apply to them.
I am a child of God,
And He has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear
I refuse to believe that God is micromanaging the assignment of spirits into families. If God is responsible for the composition of earthly families, my kids (and the hundreds of thousands of others in similar situations) deserve an explanation — and it better not even smell like one of the treacly platitudes we are given too often.
This strikes at the center of a lot of things I’ve been wrestling with recently. If God exists, He/She/They/It/whatever owe us something more than what we’ve been given.
For the last few days and for whatever reason–and God knows she has reasons–our little girl has been having trouble sleeping without one of us holding her. As I sit rocking her and trying my best to comfort her, I can’t help but think of the cliches we are given about God. “Wrapped in the arms of His love,” “Enfolded by His mercy.” She could use some sliver of that compassion we are frequently assured that God has for us. Is it too much to ask the Omnipotent Lord of the Universe to comfort a little frightened girl? But instead she is left to the (much) less-than-perfect comforts that we try to offer.
The problem of evil
Everything I’ve said so far is just a specific case of the more general “problem of evil.” It’s just that I’ve rarely had occasion to stare it so closely in the face. It is a thorny problem indeed, and giving it a fancy name sure doesn’t help.
We are sometimes warned against blaming God for the evil in the world.
I’ve never understood this. From what I’ve been told, God is big enough to take a little blame.
But wait, the apologist for God might respond, we don’t see the whole picture! We’re thrust in the middle of this three-act play without knowing the beginning or seeing the grand conclusion! Have faith and patience, things will work out in the end! (in my mind this kind of apologia always comes with a lot of exclamation points. Indeed, the fact that God needs so many apologists is increasingly odd to me).
That’s not going to work for me. Until God or someone speaking on God’s behalf sees fit to explain it to me, I think I’ll risk a little wrongful attribution of blame. A god who is worth the title had better be able to forgive my inability to understand, and it feels like the bigger sin to just accept it as all “part of the plan.”
Doubt as an enemy of faith
I searched for “doubt is” in the BYU General Conference Corpus, and this is what I came up with:
- a negative emotion related to fear (2009)
- not a principle of the gospel (2009)
- perhaps the beginning of his apostacy [sic] from the Church (1876)
- removed by obedience to the doctrines of the Church (1943)
- set at rest by the revelations (1953)
- sometimes the very opposite of faith (1925)
- spiritual poison that stunts eternal growth (1979)
- swallowed up in knowledge and certainty (1924)
- the spirit of the evil one (1873)
- where doubt is, there faith has no power (1995)
Across the General Conference pulpit, for more than 100 years, doubt has been marginalized. As John Dehlin reminded us recently, doubt has often been connected with personal unrighteousness or some kind of desire to sin on the part of the doubter. As the snippets from conference talks above make clear, doubt and faith are often pitted against each other. We have to overcome our doubts (ideally, supplanting them with a ‘sure knowledge’ or even ‘certainty’) in order to truly exercise faith.
That is all pretty discouraging… I’ve written a lot about doubt, and I feel like my doubts are sincere–the product of honest searching and trying to reconcile my own limited experience with the things that I am taught and have learned at Church.
Problems with vilifying doubt and doubters
The overwhelmingly negative messages we receive about doubt from the institution had the effect of exacerbating the ‘crisis’ part of my faith transition. At first, I was afraid to entertain any doubt, so I ‘shelved’ a lot of issues. This probably had the effect of making the inevitable confrontation with doubt much more difficult and frightening than it might have been otherwise.
Further, the compartmentalizing of religious propositions that didn’t fit the world as I experienced it bifurcated my life into religious and secular spheres. There was the fantasy world of religion where miracles happen and divine manifestations are commonplace (which seemed entirely foreign to me), and the ‘real world’ where the normal laws of nature apply and doing ‘church stuff’ was a chore. I felt alienated and alone among a people that professed to live in a different world that seemed inaccessible to me.
I think I’ve mentioned it before, but so much institutional vilification of doubt has the effect of silencing any dissenting voices (the spiral of silence). Mormons are given models of testimony (“I know X, Y, and Z”), and while it is a powerful glue for those for whom it works, it also builds tall walls against those for whom it doesn’t.
All of this is not to say that doubt is an unalloyed good. We can become consumed by doubt. T.S. Eliot says it best in his masterful reflection on doubt, Ash Wednesday:
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us (emphasis mine)
To the extent that doubt paralyzes us — locks us into ‘too much’ internal discussion and explanation — and prevents us from rebuilding ‘something upon which to rejoice,’ it is a negative force. But it is not necessarily so.
Doubt is what led Joseph to the grove. Doubt motivated the rescinding of the temple/priesthood ban. The Gospels tell us that Jesus doubted: All things are possible to thee — remove this cup — why hast thou forsaken me? Doubt leads us to reevaluate and grow.
Certainty as an enemy of faith
As I’ve reflected on this topic, I’ve come to feel that certainty is at least as big a threat to faith as doubt might be.
Dieter Uchtdorf put this well when he said,
How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?
To the extent that certainty closes off questioning, it should be abandoned.
If I were to die tomorrow and find myself in some kind of afterlife, I would be surprised. But I would be shocked to discover if any of it was even approximately close to what I believe about it now.
Scientists have an expression, “All models are wrong, but some are useful (and some are more useful than others).” This is surely true of our knowledge of the divine. We can do our best to formulate a mental model of divinity and the eternal realms, but it will always be only a model.
I love the way that Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi poet, says this (quoted in Phyllis Barber’s beautiful 2001 Sunstone article):
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
How are you?
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
What is God?
If you think that the Truth can be known
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening
Called the mouth,
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing–
The question, ‘how are you doing?’ — even when asked sincerely and not just out of habit or social obligation — can only be answered with a ‘brilliant lie.’ Given hours or days or weeks, we could not hope to really convey everything that is happening internally at any given moment. How much more so with something infinite and so far outside our experience?
Faith as something different altogether
I have come to a place where I am realizing that faith is something qualitatively different than intellectual assent to a set of particular propositions. Faith, as Joseph taught, is a principle of action. It is a confidence that helps us to move forward.
Perhaps I am alone in making the mistake of seeing faith as requiring cramming my model of the world into something that can conform to the Sunday School curriculum (any observations to the contrary be damned). One of the reasons that faith was so difficult for me was that I had my definitions all mixed up. As another blogger has helpfully pointed out, the secular and sacred meanings of terms like belief have become muddled in our post-enlightenment world.
With this new perspective, faith is on a separate plain from things like doubt, skepticism, certainty, and knowledge. Actually, the manual does a pretty good job in its discussion of faith. There is no mention of doubt, and it sticks to an action oriented definition.
An unrepentant doubter
And so I remain a doubter, but a doubter that is trying to exercise faith. Realizing that the two — faith and doubt — can (and must) coexist has made all the difference for me.
A Tale of Two Translations
The Pearl of Great Price is composed of the Book of Moses (which is actually Joseph Smith’s version of the first several chapters of Genesis), the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith’s version of Matthew 24, excerpts from the History of the Church, and the Articles of Faith.
The Book of Moses
We have in the Book of Moses something quite remarkable. It does not claim to be a translation of an ancient text, but it is more than mere commentary. It is actually a selection from the Joseph Smith Translation — sometimes (and more appropriately, in my opinion) called the “Inspired Version” — of the bible. The word ‘translation’ in Joseph Smith Translation is misleading. As I said, Joseph was not working from a source text (other than his own KJV bible).
The text itself has actually undergone quite a few changes (see this discussion), the most significant and substantial of which occurred early on. From what I gather (and I am no specialist), Joseph began work on the JST almost immediately after the organization of the Church. The earliest MS we have dates back to June 1830 — two months after the founding. About 9 or 10 months later, Joseph returned to the project and substantially revised his original revelation. Kent Jackson (see the link above) writes,
Some of those [revisions to the text of the Book of Moses] are editorial in nature and clarify and smooth out the words of the dictated text. But others are inspired additions and corrections that provide new insights or even change the meaning of what had been written before.
So, this was not a case of the windows of heaven being opened and Joseph simply dictating what he saw. It was an unfolding–a gradual accretion of inspiration–that occurred over months and years.
The Book of Moses contains some of the most beautiful passages in Mormon scripture. In addition to the wonderful teachings on the page, the process of how we came to have them should teach us something about the nature of revelation.
The Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham is perhaps the most problematic of Joseph’s scriptural productions, and it tops the list of historical issues that shake people’s faith in the truth claims of the Church (at least according to John Dehlin’s survey of doubters). Learning more about the Book of Abraham certainly caused me to reexamine my own views on revelation and and the nature of scripture. From the evidence, it is hard for me to believe that the scripture we have was translated in any straightforward sense of the word from the actual papyri in Joseph’s possession at the time.
Why would he claim to have translated the papyrus? During his translation, Joseph went so far as to create a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphs to aid the work of translation. It seems apparent that he believed (or wanted people to believe) that he was actually translating the papyri in the usual sense of the word.
Beyond its origins, the text itself is considerably stranger and (to my mind) more problematic than most anything else we have canonized of Smith’s writings. Among other gems, we have references that seem to corroborate the dubious ‘curse of Ham’ theology (1:24), Kolob and other bizarre astrological references (3:4), and it all seems to end rather abruptly (before we even get to the Fall).
The best of times… the worst of times…
So, where can we go from here? One possibility is to just throw it all out. I can respect this decision. At times the weight of the evidence against the divinity of Joseph’s calling seems to far outweigh any supporting evidence.
Another possibility is to uncritically accept it all. If you’ve read anything else that I have written so far, you know that I don’t think this is very defensible (and if you are still reading, you probably agree).
As with so many things in life, I think the correct answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. Having an open canon is a wonderful blessing, but it is also a weighty responsibility. It calls us to critically evaluate scripture. We should be ready to accept the good, but we also need to be willing to let go of the bad.
I’ll return to the rest of the standard works shortly, but doing these last few posts on scripture has gotten me thinking.
In my discussion of the Gospels (and now that I mention it, I had intended to do a post on the Pauline epistles as well, but I skipped straight to the Book of Mormon… maybe later), I talked about how I am not so interested in the particulars of Jesus’ life and ministry. I think it is just too difficult to separate out what he may have actually said from what others have put into his mouth over the centuries (for all of its flaws, Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus has a great title).
What is interesting to me is how Jesus is re-imagined over time. This morning, I was reading a really interesting post on the “war on Christmas” nonsense that pops up every year around this time. To quote the post,
You see, the baby we remember this time of year was not part of the dominant culture the way the religion he started now is. The religious stories that were told in those days were told under the shadow of the dominant culture. They were stories of oppression and hardships, stories of overcoming unthinkable odds, stories of hope for a people living in times and cultural positions that, quite frankly felt hopeless.
But today, our stories are told from places and positions of power. Today, Christianity is the dominant culture. So, instead of story of a olive skinned middle-eastern, unwed, pregnant mother, who was seen as little more than property, giving birth to what the world would surely see as an illegitimate child who was wrapped in what rags they could find and placed in a smelly, flea-infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky smelling animal stall, we end up with a clean, white-skinned European woman giving birth to a glowing baby wrapped in impossibly white swaddling clothes and laid to rest in a manger that looks more like a crib than a trough in the midst of a barn that is more kept and clean than many of our houses.
The way that we tell the story changes over time, and the Jesus that we imagine for ourselves is–in all probability–quite different from the one that we claim to worship.
It is a scary thing to give ourselves over to the idea that the only way Christ exists in the world is in our collective imagining, but I can’t help but think that is a more healthy position than believing that we have some special access to his true reality. Too much confidence in an idea as powerful as Jesus can lead to dangerous places. When we acknowledge our own limited capacity for imagination, we acknowledge the possibility that we have him wrong (a type of religious humility that is too often lacking in Mormon thought).
This is exactly why I believe that dialog is so important. When we acknowledge that we cannot see the whole picture, we are ready to listen. An imagining of Christ that happens alone — never exposed to the contrary opinions of others who are similarly striving — will always be incomplete.
In recent years, Church leaders seem to have placed a tremendous burden of proof on the Book of Mormon. Gordon Hinckley said repeatedly that the Book of Mormon is “either true or false.” In an interview, he continues (see the full quote, here),
If it’s false, we’re engaged in a great fraud. If it’s true, it’s the most important thing in the world. Now, that’s the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true.
If you’ve read anything that I’ve written on this blog over the last few weeks, you might guess that I don’t find this kind of black-and-white approach helpful.
All Mormons are familiar with Joseph’s description of the Book of Mormon as the “keystone of our religion” and the “most correct” book. It is easy to see how one could get from Joseph’s quotes about the book to Hinckley’s position, but I think we risk turning faith into something rigid and fragile by not admitting some of the obvious shortcomings of the book.
Racism in the Book of Mormon: A case study
The question of race in the Book of Mormon is a fraught one, and the way that we cope with it (and I believe it can be a traumatizing experience) reveals a lot about what we believe about scripture.
Mormons have a problem with race. We should admit it, apologize for it, and move forward. Certain readings of the Book of Mormon do not help us in this collective repentance process. While it is not as straightforwardly racist as some have portrayed it, the intimate connection between the skin color of the Lamanites (the on-again, off-again villains of the narrative) and their righteousness, feeds into age old stereotypes.
As I see it, there are a few possibilities.
1) God is a racist
After reading the Book of Mormon’s descriptions of the “skin of blackness” and people becoming “white and delightsome,” we might conclude that God uses skin color as a marker of obedience and faithfulness. Nevermind that this view is contradicted by other parts of the book:
he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
The Mormon view of God at least opens up the possibility that he can “cease to be God.” We aren’t forced into the position that just because an act was committed by God it is definitionally good. By any standard of morality that I can endorse, the kind of racism that seems to be in the Book of Mormon would cross the line.
Since a racist god would thereby disqualify himself from being worthy of our worship, we can safely dismiss this possibility.
2) Nephi was a racist
Assuming for the moment that the scriptural Nephi corresponds to a (an?) historical person, it is possible that in writing the narrative, he inserted his own racist ideas. Dan Wotherspoon develops this idea in a recent discussion of racism in the Book of Mormon. (The Wotherspoon podcast helped me work through some of the more troublesome racial passages in the book, and a lot of what I will say below is derived from it.) For Wotherspoon, this explanation depends on at least three factors:
First, we have to assume that the people discussed in the text were not alone when they got here. The church has softened its position on this in recent years. Notably, they changed the wording of the introduction of the Book of Mormon to say that the Nephites and Lamanites described in the text are among the ancestors of the Native Americans rather than their principal ancestors. (This seems to ignore some of the discussion in the book about “this land” — presumably the Americas — being reserved for a righteous people and the fact that almost all modern prophets refer to Native Americans, Mexicans, South Americans, and Polynesians as ‘Lamanites,’ but it is what it is).
Second, we have to assume that the Lamanites — having abandoned the faith — began intermixing with the native population and adopting their customs.
Finally, if we take for granted the various allusions to dates in the book of Nephi, he seems to be writing it many years after the separation of the people into two warring factions. Given that Nephi had been socialized as an Israelite, he would have had strong ideas about ‘marrying outside of the covenant,’ and may have had ethnocentric stereotypes about the native people. Wotherspoon’s position is that Nephi may have seen the effects of the Lamanites’ intermarriage with the perhaps darker skinned native people and concluded that the natural changes in skin color were a curse from God.
I had not considered this, but it is at least possible. This explanation is interesting as it factors in the fallibility of the authors of the Book of Mormon, and it takes them seriously as three-dimensional people rather than the shallow caricatures we are sometimes told they are. As I’ve mentioned before, Latter-day Saints should be in a good position to accept limitations in ancient prophets given our experience with modern ones.
3) Joseph Smith was a racist
A more plausible explanation, in my mind, is to consider the ways Joseph might have inserted racism into the Book of Mormon. One theory of Book of Mormon origins (the expansion theory), holds that the process of translation was much closer to inspiration than what we typically think of translation (converting from one language to another). Expansion theorists (Blake Ostler and others) remind us that Joseph rarely used the plates in the translation, and received most of the book by looking into his ‘peep stone.’ The idea that the native Americans had their origins in Israel was floating around in Joseph’s time, and it is possible that a lot of Joseph’s own assumptions about how the world works made their way into the text.
Where are we now?
The Book of Mormon is a remarkable work. I am not completely sold on its historicity, but it seems to contain something deep and beautiful. I find myself unable to write it off as a hoax, but its origins are obviously more complicated (and in my mind, so much more interesting) than we teach our primary children.
Through Sunday School, early-morning youth seminary, institute and personal study, I had always had the impression that the gospels were penned by eye witnesses of Christ’s ministry. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — in my mind — must have been following Christ around and taking notes.
It turns out I was wrong.
While there appears to be some debate as to the actual timing of the four canonical gospels, the consensus seems to be that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest. The earliest credible date for Mark’s gospel is around 60-70 CE, and the earliest complete manuscript we have dates to 360 or so (older fragments exist, but none much older than 200 CE).
So the earliest account of Jesus’ life was not written down until 35-40 years after his death, and we don’t even have the original!
Even access to the original texts probably wouldn’t really settle anything. The gospels were essentially early missionary tracts. These were not intended to be accurate histories. Rather, they were used to win converts to the burgeoning Christian movement. As one who has spent two years of his life distributing religious propaganda, I have learned to be a little wary of the historical accuracy of this kind of literature.
None of this is to suggest that I don’t find value in the Gospels. To the contrary, I find them quite beautiful. As I’ve said before, it is difficult to separate that beauty from ancillary associations that build up over time, but I think there is a reason these texts have persisted in human memory that goes beyond the geopolitical position of Christianity in the ancient and modern world.
When it comes down to it, I’m just not that interested in the historical truth of the bible. From what I understand, there is fairly good evidence that there was a man who lived in ancient Judea that fits the description of the Jesus in the gospels. Whether that man actually was born of a virgin, or turned water into wine, or healed the sick, or cast out devils, or walked on water, or raised the dead, or even was raised himself from the dead seems of fairly little consequence.
What I love about the gospels is the idea of Jesus. Dostoyevsky famously said, “If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with the truth.” This reminds me of Joseph Smith’s famous line about evicting the devil from hell and building a heaven there with the Saints — the idea of Jesus is so beautiful and right that it transcends the question of his historicity.
William Blake talked about “Christ the Imagination” — I won’t pretend to know exactly what Blake might have meant (I never realized how wonderfully strange Blake’s prose is) — but his construction prompts me to consider the ways in which Christian cultures and communities are in a continual process of re-imagining Christ. We certainly can only “see through a glass, darkly.” Our own humble ruminations are built from copies of copies of memories and reflections from a handful of poor fishermen that lived 2,000 years ago in an obscure corner of the Roman empire.
The fact that these dim memories live on in the human imagination (admittedly, to lesser and greater effect) gives me hope in humanity.
Chapter 1 of the manual concludes with the tricky business of how we can come to know God.
Helpfully, the anonymous producers of Church curricula have summed it up in four easy steps. Let’s examine them individually.
1) Believe that He exists and that He loves us
I’m still not sure how much I believe that belief is really just an act of will. I think we have room in our doctrine for the idea that there are individual differences in propensity to believe (e.g. this discussion of spiritual gifts). Some people will find it much easier to make the leap from (for example) the observation that the universe exists to the reality of a supreme being who is in charge of it all (see my discussion here).
One part of me is drawn to the idea that faith is an active choice. This fits well with the traditional Mormon teachings about agency. I think Terryl Givens puts this argument best. He says,
[F]aith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, for only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is my heart truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness.
On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to people who, after examining the evidence, do not find the case for belief credible (to paraphrase John Dehlin), and I am worried that, in subscribing too fully to Givens’s volitional view of faith, there is a temptation to pass judgment upon those who choose a different path. You can see this in the way that he frames the choice — between “belief” and “cynicism” — not entirely helpful. The self-congratulatory tone of talks like this one seem unbecoming.
I am committed to the idea that the human family (to extend Paul’s metaphor perhaps further than he intended) is like a single body with a diversity of members, and we all come closer to the truth when we engage in meaningful dialog. The idea of conversation presupposes a deep respect for the beliefs and experiences of both sides, and it is difficult to promote when one or both ends are too confident in their own convictions.
2) Study the scriptures
I will have an opportunity to explore the nature of scripture later on (Chapter 10) in more depth. For now, let me just say that I think there is real value to cultivating a common set of stories and creating a shared reservoir of symbols and imagery that can bind together a community of believers (or even devoted secularists, see this for example).
However, uncritical readings of scripture often lead us down strange paths.
I think Mormons are in a unique position to read scripture in a healthy way, but I don’t think we take full enough advantage of our singular perspective on prophets and the nature of revelation. Given that we have actual experience with modern-day prophets and are privileged to see them in all of their humanness, we of all people should understand that scripture is of perhaps inspired but definitely earthly character. It is impossible to separate it from its context and the culture that generated it. Unfortunately, we too often want to cram the words we read into the official narrative or take a single verse out of context to “prove” some point. When I think back to the mental contortions I had to go through to try to torture some kind of moral out of the strange stories of the Old Testament… let’s come back to scripture later.
3) Pray to Him
Again, prayer will be the subject of later posts. I fully support a healthy dose of contemplation and meditation (although, once again the male pronouns that run throughout this section are increasingly troubling to me). Taking some quiet time with our thoughts (regardless of whether Anyone is listening in) is a wise practice for those of us who are privileged to live in this world fully saturated with information and noise.
4) Obey all His commandments as best we can
Obedience also gets its own chapter in the manual, and it deserves a much deeper discussion than I care to give it right now.
Final Thoughts on Chapter 1
This has been an interesting exercise for me. If anyone is reading this, I would encourage you to do the same. What do you really believe about god? Not, “what does the Church tell you to believe about god?” or “what do you want to believe about god?” What do you believe?
In the “crisis” stage of my faith transition, I was a little nervous about poking too hard at the assumptions that surrounded fundamental gospel principles (and does it get any more fundamental than the g-word?) for fear they would collapse totally under their own weight, and so I retreated from the question altogether.
I think I am settling into a more stable place.