December 2015

  • Intention

    Steve Garguilo writes about the value of intention:

    One of my guiding principles in life is being intentional where others are often unintentional.

    This is one of the core principles of experience design. Not enough people are truly thoughtful and intentional about everything they do, so if you are, it really makes you stand out. Want to surprise and delight someone? Think of all the ways you might be able to do that. Want to create a feeling of euphoria? Think of all the ways you might be able to do that. Want to create a sense of gravity? Think of all the ways you might be able to do that. Intention intention intention.

    … if you constantly live with intention and lead with intention and design with intention, you really can’t even make mistakes anymore. People treat all your outcomes and deliverables with that respect.

    I think Steve hits the nail on its head here. Executing a mission is too often an experience (both internally and externally) of seeing what sticks against a wall. The problem with that is that it can become the mission: seeing what sticks, rather than making an impact.

  • Guiding Star

    I’ve written about the Culture of Life, and I’ve written on the need for there to be a true spectrum of choice for men and women who find themselves pregnant with no options other than abortion. If choice means anything, there needs to be more than one viable choice in the face of a pregnancy.

    Guiding Star in North Philadelphia has been providing alternative choices to abortion for women since 1992. The Christian Science Monitor explained Guiding Star’s mission in 1998 as “making motherhood an option,” and that remains a great way to describe it. Temple’s College of Public Health once highlighted the fact that “volunteers are paramount” to Guiding Star.

    In a culture where Planned Parenthood is seen as the only authentic voice for family planning, Guiding Star represents a radically more authentic approach for women looking for affirmation and support.

    But because the single-outcome politics of Planned Parenthood often starves authentic alternatives like Guiding Star from receiving public support, places like Guiding Star have always struggled to survive. The Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia has supported Guiding Star for many years, and we’ve always endorsed their vision, which is why their board of directors decided to merge their organization into ours to ensure not only survival, but growth. From the announcement earlier this year:

    Guiding Star provides housing for expectant mothers and their children, as an alternative to abortion. This program is unique in the Philadelphia region in that it welcomes both pregnant women and their children. We are proud of our decades-long partnership and grateful for this opportunity to create an even stronger continuum of care for women and families in our city.

    The Pro-Life Union regularly encounters abortion-vulnerable women through our sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, and Pregnancy Hotline. With this change, we are already working to expand Guiding Star in several key ways:

    • Increase the number of women and children served with safe housing annually
    • Create a Family Center where Guiding Star clients in the community can receive baby supplies, gently used clothing, furniture, etc
    • Expand social services for residents and clients including counseling
    • Expand programming for residents and clients including parenting workshops, job training, and mentor support.

    Why does a woman need a place like Guiding Star? It turns out, often because abortion is seen as the only option. Not by the mother, but maybe by the father, who says he won’t love her if she has the child. Or maybe by her parents, who threaten to kick her out of the house if she doesn’t abort.

    These are the unacknowledged realities that Guiding Star exists to answer. I was grateful to be able to visit today for their Christmas party, and to be able to think through the future of this work.

  • Distraction

    Joe Kraus says that “we’re creating a culture of distraction.” A distracted lifestyle, he says, “threatens the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our ‘gap’ time with stimulation.” We’re not present in time.

    In other words, idle time isn’t necessarily wasted time. Similarly, a few seconds spend checking Notifications or whatever isn’t necessary time better spent than gazing out the window on a bright morning as you wait for your companion to return from paying the check in Midtown at a Wednesday breakfast. For instance.

    Watch the entire talk if you can, or read through his rough notes. He hits upon a significant benefit to conquering distraction:

    Imagine the world 10 years from now. My third grader will be graduating high school. What does that world look like? I’d guess that it’s going to be more fast paced than ever. That people are going to be even more distracted, even more unable to pay attention to things for any length of time. Even less able to tolerate boredom. Even less able to pay attention to one another.

    Now imagine your own child in stark contrast to that culture of distraction. Technically literate, but also balanced. A calmer presence. Not distracted. Not constantly seeking out mindless stimulation. An ability to make real human connection by not signaling that there might be something better on his smartphone to look at. An ability to pay attention to a problem for a long time.

    I believe that the biggest gift we can impart on our kids is the ability to be mindful – to pay attention to the things and to the people that are actually around them. In 10 years, that’s going to feel VERY VERY different than the norm.

    How can we be more healthy, or mindful, or intentional, when it comes to being the sort of person he outlines? One approach: improve our stamina:

    One step, I think, is to take a weekly holiday from your devices. Take a break from distraction. I’ve started it. From sunup Sunday to when I put the kids to bed I do no phone, no email, no TV, no radio. Books are fine, but not on my kindle. I want to be open the possibility of gap time.

    Catholics in some places are adopting similar ideas; they’re abstaining from the luxury of distraction and digital devices on Sundays like their brothers and sisters abstained from the luxury of meat in the past.

    Without maintaining clear boundaries, life becomes overwhelming and exhausting. I feel worse physically. Slower. Fatter. Dumber. I feel worse spiritually. Drained. Limp. Dead. I feel worse emotionally. Anxious. Unsettled. Out of balance. So when I see Arianna Huffington advocate sleep, and Sheryl Sandberg’s candor about leaving work at 5pm, and Fred Wilson share his straightforward daily routine, I hear something of an echo. That is: We are human. Focus and consistency and limits can set us free.

  • The social question

    Thomas C. Kohler writes on the importance of Christian tradition. Specifically, on the importance of Christian tradition in creating the conditions for social solidarity in the modern period:

    Among Catholics, sustained and sophisticated reflection on social, economic, and political problems stretches back to the time of the French Revolution, when on the night of August 4, 1789, the National Assembly simply abolished the existing order. François Furet wrote that this night “marks the moment when a juridical and social order, forged over centuries, composed of a hierarchy of separate orders, corps, and communities, and defined by privileges, somehow evaporated, leaving in its place a social world conceived in a new way as a collection of free and equal individuals subject to the universal authority of law.” Those decisions, Furet remarked, amounted to “philosophy’s destruction of a world.”

    The nearly overnight creation “of a wholly modern, individualistic society,” Furet points out, posed a new and monumental problem: Just how would these free, sovereign, equal, and wholly autonomous individuals be related to and united with one another? This is the heart of what came to be known as “the social question,” which raises fundamental queries about human nature and the possibilities for pursuing life in common. It addresses political, economic, and legal relationships; the nature of the family, work, and other social relationships; the role of the state; the institutions of civil society; the anthropology of the person; and more. Thinkers as diverse as Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Herbert Spencer, Max Weber, and the holders of the Chair of Peter, to name but a few, all have addressed the social question in one form or another. It largely defined nineteenth- and twentieth-century politics, with communism and nationalism posing two of the most powerful and dangerous ideological answers. Perhaps more than any other, it remains the most pressing issue of our day as well.

    The humanities in general, and philosophy in particular, are consistently given short shrift. Young people are essentially told not to bother with it, or worse, to indulge exposure to it with a wink. These attitudes are totally contrary to my lived experience. My connection to literature, to history, to philosophy, and to faith are what get me up in the morning. They provide context for my life—for my hopes, for my struggles, for my relationships, for everything. For these reasons, I really like the phrase Kohler uses: “philosophy’s destruction of a world.” Because philosophy can do that. It can seem so innocent, of periphery value, until it reshapes an entire order.

    I also think there’s a lot to the idea that “the social question” born in 1789 remains “the most pressing issue of our day,” because it’s one we’re litigating every day in global politics, if not philosophy.

  • Advent

    Fr. Robert Barron’s brief Advent reflection popped into my iOS notifications earlier this week. 

    Advent is “a time of waiting” and as creatures “by nature we desire something that is beyond our nature.” A contradiction of the heart that Christ answers definitively through his appearance in history and his offer of relationship.

    I’ve been having a difficult year. There has been a lot of good, but increasingly I’ve felt dogged by a loneliness. Advent is a good reminder to be patient, and to remember that love is a gift.

  • Catholic family charity

    I visited 20th and Arch in Center City, Philadelphia earlier this week to visit the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia.

    Shannon Jordan, their executive director, has put together a great community foundation over the past few years. They’ve reached something like 80 distinct funds, but aren’t yet where they’d like to be in terms of total under management. In sitting down with Shannon, we talked both about growing two existing funds I helped start about two years ago, and also what bigger picture growth for Catholic philanthropy looks like.A component that’s presently lacking is intentional conversation among Catholic families about their charitable philosophy. There’s lots of individual giving from Catholics to charities across the country, but how many intentional or ritual conversations about charitable philosophy is happening among family members.

    That’s a component that I hope the Catholic Foundation can start influencing in the year and years to come.

  • When I lived in Old City, Philadelphia I would frequently pass the Natural Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall. This was around the same time that I had joined the board of the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute, which played a central role in the 19th-cenutry creation of the American Catholic school system.

    Growing familiar with the Catholic history of the city, and seeing how American Jewish history was being told in a relevant way to international visitors, started me thinking seriously about the role that a “National Museum of Catholic History” could serve.

    There is no such museum or cultural center for Catholic in the United States today. I think Catholics tend to view their Christian life in a much smaller, humbler, and more parochial way, so this makes sense to a degree. Catholics tend not to see themselves as a national constituency in the same way that other Christian denominations do.

    But it’s also past time we learned to start doing that—seeing ourselves as a people, and curating our story so that future generations can understand their role as Catholics in American life.

    A few thoughts on what such an institution might look like:

    • A museum that tells the Catholic story from its beginning—the one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church
    • A museum and cultural center focused as much on artifacts as cultural conservation—on the living out of the orthodox faith in the present
    • A place for Catholic thinkers, leaders, and educators to serve on fellowship to teach in a coordinated way, developing curriculum that could be used nationally in schools and parishes
    • Not limited to history of Catholicism in America, but that still speaks to it in a special way—speaking to ways that Christianity has shaped the American experiment, and the ways it has to stand apart from the state
    • A headquarters in Philadelphia with sister institutions in other cities that speaks to Philadelphia’s unique role as a “Holy Experiment” and Pennsylvania’s special role in crafting American pluralism and religious toleration
    • A welcoming place for all types of visitors that is nonetheless unapologetic in conveying the particularities of the universal faith

    The Knights of Columbus seem like a natural organization to spearhead something like this. It could, however, be too narrow if created by any single constituency. It’s for this same reason I’d be hesitant about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops organizing it by themselves.

    I’ll probably develop this further as time goes on.

  • Charles Carroll

    On the flight to San Francisco last week I started reading American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll by Bradley J. Birzer. The life of the Carroll family is facinating to me, not only because Charles was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, but also more broadly because of the life he was prepared for by his father, even in the face of a cultural and legal environment that prohibited their participation in the public square:

    In 1757, Charles Carroll of Annapolis finally married his common-law wife, Elizabeth Brooke, officially named Charles his son, and declared them both beneficiaries in his will. No record explains fully the reasons for this otherwise devout Roman Catholic to live with a woman for years without making her his legal wife or declaring their son his heir, keeping him a bastard. Almost certainly, Charles Carroll the elder hoped to avoid penalties as detailed—though rarely enforced—by the anti-Catholic statutes of the Province of Maryland. The Maryland Assembly began passing anti-Catholic laws in earnest immediately following a Protestant coup in the province in 1689. Undoing the Act of Toleration of 1649 and its reaffirmation and restoration in 1658 (perhaps the most liberal laws in the colonies), on November 22, 1689, the assembly forbade Roman Catholic participation in military or civil matters. Three years later, the assembly disbarred all Roman Catholics. In 1704, the assembly legally closed the Church of St. Mary’s, the original Catholic chapel in the province. Additionally, over the next decades, the assembly taxed Irish Catholics more heavily than Protestants, demanded antipapist oaths from office holders, and heavily regulated the education of Catholic children.

    Toleration ebbs and flows.

  • I’ve written from time to time about the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group, an affiliate of the Penn State Alumni Association. We support student broadcasters and student media broadly at Penn State, and I’ve shared some of those stories periodically here.

    Our priority at this point, and for the next few years, is the building of the Michael D. Walsh Student Broadcasters Trustee Scholarship. Mike has committed to be the lead donor for this $50,000 scholarship campaign, so we decided to recognize him in the name of the scholarship. Mike gift serves like a match for every subsequent gift as we work to complete the campaign.

    And in opening a letter from the Penn State Alumni Association this past week, I learned that the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group is being recognized as a “Group of Distinction” among alumni organizations. It’s a small but welcome nod to the passion of our alumni and the contributions that are making this scholarship possible.

    When we’re done with fundraising it will mean, for the first time, that students at The LION 90.7fm will be eligible for ~$7,250/annually to defray tuition expenses.

  • Running in Washington

    I’m on my way back to Philadelphia from Washington this afternoon. I came down last night to run this morning’s 12 K’s of Christmas Holiday Run that the DC Running Club organizes.

    I’ve run at least one official race a year since 2009, but this year I came close to falling away from that habit. I ran today’s Christmas 12K to keep that tradition alive, but also because I generally haven’t been running very much this year, and knew I’d head into Christmas feeling terrible about missing any major run this year.

    It was beautiful, running along Washington’s Canal paths. Lots of great people, some dressed wildly for the holidays, many who were helpful to keep pace with. A red-bearded guy was especially great; we ran along with each other for most of the second half, intermittently passing each other and keeping pace.

    It wasn’t a super run, but it felt good to get it done.