BXVI’s 65 years

“At the moment in which the elderly archbishop imposed his hands on me, a little bird – perhaps it was a skylark – raised itself up from the main altar of the cathedral and intoned a joyous little song. For me it was as if a voice were saying to me from on high: this is well, you are on the right path.”

In the autobiography of Joseph Ratzinger there is also this memory of his ordination to the priesthood, which took place 65 years ago, on June 29, 1951, feast of Saints Peter and Paul, in the cathedral of Freising and at the hand of Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber.

Celebrating the commemoration with the pope emeritus today, in the Sala Clementina, is also Pope Francis.

This comes from a report that shares Cardinal Muller’s remarks on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s 65th anniversary of his ordination as a Catholic priest.

The special spirit and character that he brought to Christian thinking over the past many decades can be difficult to understand for Americans. This is partly because we’ve never recovered a proper ability to take Germans seriously (in a certain way) as a result of the World Wars. It’s also partly because Pope Benedict XVI’s life as a philosopher make his thinking inaccessible for huge numbers of people who aren’t comfortable with a dialectical style.

In any event, John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI were incredible fathers. In them I found personal encourage to a life of faith and reason for deeper thinking and perseverance in the face of sin than any formal class on religion or the specifics of our doctrine.

They were great men who lived what they taught.

Capacity for wonder

Why kids may learn more from tales of fantasy than realism:

One ongoing study is finding that children learn new facts about animals better from fantastical stories than from realistic ones. … [meanwhile] infants are more prepared to accept new information when they are surprised, thus violating their assumptions about the physical world.

What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.

A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction might do something more than hold children’s interest better than realistic fiction. Rather, immersion in a scenario where they need to think about impossible events might engage children’s deeper processing, precisely because they can’t treat these scenarios as they would every other scenario that they encounter in reality.

“A different, and richer, possibility” is that academics forget the fantastical character that is our reality, period. None of this objectively “makes sense,” though we acclimate to the universe as it is, describe the laws that we understand appear to govern it, and more or less succeed in making life tolerable in our corner of the place.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Picasso’s speaking about retaining a child’s instinct for creativity. But the point is that children have talents adults lose. Christ, of course, challenged his disciples to make themselves “childlike” in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s something there…

Logan Circle view

I wrote last week about my experience with the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network leaving Narberth, and moving our headquarters to Center City Philadelphia.

We’re now more or less settled in our Philadelphia offices, and it’s great to be here. Our space overlooks Logan Circle, one of the original five squares laid out by William Penn when the city was still a startup. We can see the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the rise that gives Fairmount its name, we can see 30th Street Station and Cira Center, the Franklin Institute, etc. It’s a beautiful place to be.

It was overcast when I took this photo, but even on cloudy days one of the benefits of this office is that the windows are large enough and let in enough natural light that I don’t have to turn on the fluorescent ceiling lights in my office. This might sound strange, but I place enormous value on access to natural light. I do everything I can to avoid fluorescents especially.

In this sense, it’s priceless.

After Brexit

Megan McArdle, in light of Brexit, writes:

There’s a lot of appeal to the internationalist idea that building superstates will tamp down on war. But there’s a reason that the 19th century architects of superstates (now known simply as “states”) spent so much time and effort nurturing national identity in the breasts of their populace. Surrendering traditional powers and liberties to a distant state is a lot easier if you think of that state as run by “people like me,” not “strangers from another place,” and particularly if that surrender is done in the name of empowering “people who are like me” in our collective dealings with other, farther “strangers who aren’t.”

The EU never did this work. When asked “Where are you from?” almost no one would answer “Europe,” because after 50 years of assiduous labor by the eurocrats, Europe remains a continent, not an identity. As Matthew Yglesias points out, an EU-wide soccer team would be invincible — but who would root for it? These sorts of tribal affiliations cause problems, obviously, which is why elites were so eager to tamp them down. Unfortunately, they are also what glues polities together, and makes people willing to sacrifice for them. Trying to build the state without the nation has led to the mess that is the current EU. And to Thursday’s election results.

If you look at a map of the world just a century ago, things were much more local than they are now. As McArdle points out, so many of the nation states of today—if they existed at all—were really closer to loosely bound territories or colonial territories.

The European project of uniting a continent may very well be the future of the continent’s politics, but it’s a still hazy vision of the superstate.

Americans share a national identity rooted in culture and language and a history largely sprouting from Western European soil. E pluribus unum worked, the melting pot worked, as much because of the nationalistic idea that was America as much as because most Americans were coming from the same place—more or less.

The vision of a federal Europe, it seems to me, has essentially none of the same charististics to roots its own experiment in creating one nation with many states.

None of this is original thinking, but it’s my way of sharing where my head is at the moment.

Local politics is our national oxygen

Gracy Olmstead writes on Why America needs to revitalize its local politics:

…what would happen if at least a few of Washington’s elites returned home and invested in the communities they left behind? What if, instead of running for Congress, some of our politicians considered running for some local office? What if the journalists trying to make it in Washington, D.C., decided instead to invest in a local paper? What if, instead of covering the next Trump or Hillary Clinton rally, they decided to attend their local town hall meeting? What if those of us who live in or near the beltway spent a little less time fixating on the presidential election, and focused instead on city and county politics?

We often think of these things as being not nearly as important as national politics. We scoff at local matters as small and provincial. Where is the glory in covering a school board meeting? But the deleterious idea that what happens in Washington matters more than anything happening in the rest of the country is the root of our problem.

French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville believed America’s highly unique government worked because its citizens were active in the political sphere. They voted and attended town meetings, involved themselves in private associations, and went to church. But all these things have faded in popularity as our news and politics have become more centralized. Many of us don’t take the time to talk to our neighbors, let alone go to a town hall meeting. And when no one shows concern for the local sphere, it’s easy to feel unimportant and helpless, which results either in apathy or bitter anger — both of which we’re seeing in this election cycle.

Where do we think that national leaders take their cues from? They take them from local leaders. Local businesspeople. Local intellectuals. Locals.

Every “big” notion that Washington gets into its head ultimately comes from an experience of what works (or doesn’t) on the level of a state, or a city, or a smaller community someplace across this continent. If we stop cultivating local leaders, and local businesspeople, and local intellectuals—and most importantly if we stop communicating the experiences of the localities to the national leaders—the only place national leaders will have to turn is to their international peers.

If we want to make an impact, it’s easiest and usually the most important to try to do that on a small level. In time, it can filter up on the big stage of national politics if it’s worth holding up as a model for the nation.

Leaving Narberth

I wrote a while ago about the distributed nature of our team at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network—two staffers in Philadelphia, one in Ohio, and one in Florida. It’s a structure that works for us.

When our headquarters in Narberth (just outside of Philadelphia) was opened in 2012, though, it wasn’t opened with a distributed team in mind. It has been a beautiful headquarters, but one that’s too large to serve our mission effectively as a distributed team. This week was our last week in Narberth, and next week will be our first in Center City, Philadelphia in a space better suited for our mission and more geographically exposed to the sorts of allies and contributors we need to build relationships with to grow.

Narberth has been good, and it’s a little town I like—not quite on the Main Line, not quite in the city. Philadelphia will be good too.

Brexit

There’s serious uncertainty in the wake of yesterday’s 52-48 decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I won’t attempt to round up the dozens of reports I’ve read covering Brexit, but I will offer my own small thoughts.

First, my thinking on Brexit and the merits of Britain remaining or leaving the EU has been shaped in a significant way by Daniel Hannan’s optimistic and tireless campaigning for the “leave” cause. Hannan has been a Minister of the European Parliament from Britain since 1999; in effect, he’s been campaigning for his people to fire him as much as “take control” of their own country. This is the principle of subsidiarity in its purest form—that what can best be handled on the most local levels, should be. His “Why Vote Leave” is worthwhile if you’re trying to understand his experience or the perspective of the Leave constituency.

Second, from the little of the referendum campaign I’ve followed over the past 12 weeks, the degree of abusive and arrogant “Remain” campaigning I’ve encountered online has been surprising. I can only imagine what it has been like on the ground, but when a campaign shapes its posture through lecturing and fear mongering over the prospect of reasserting sovereignty, it is asking to lose. And in that respect, shorn of any serious consideration of the merits of either side, Remain deserved to lose. Politicians and politics exist to serve the people, and in the case of this referendum a majority of Britons felt ill-served by their servants.

Third, given the unprecedented nature of an EU member nation opting to leave the union, there will be uncertainty for weeks, months, and maybe longer. Immediate rumblings post-referendum suggest this decision could lead to the functional dissolution of the UK as Scots are calling for a new referendum and Northern Irish are suggesting unity with the Republic of Ireland. These are good things, to my way of thinking. I know my grandmother, who was a descendant of Robert the Bruce, was disappointed when the 2014 Scottish independence referendum failed. She wanted independence for her ancestral cousins.

Fourth, there’s lots of rhetorical acid being thrown at Britain by those suggesting its decision to leave the EU consigns it to irrelevance. This suggests that any EU member state that opts to leave will be abused and disrespected, a poor precedent. It ignores the fact that no EU member state’s voice was less meaningful prior to political and economic union. And it flies in the face of reality—if a country like Singapore can be so globally significant, so can Britain. (Especially if Britain stays together, it’s difficult to imagine that the fifth largest country in the world economically will be worse off now that it’s regained the ability to execute free trade agreements internationally.) Bitterness is an ugly look.

If Brexit results in a smaller Britain of England, Wales, and its smaller overseas territories, it seems like it will result in at least two things: A more just national outcome for the Scots and Irish—who will have their sovereignty, and can join the EU on their own terms if they wish—and a chance for Britain to reforge its ties with its Commonwealth nations.

A smaller Britain with the latitude to partner with its Commonwealth peers would be a bold step into the future.

The perfect town

Joanne Wilson shared Monocle’s insights recently on the characteristics of the ideal community. They’re all worth sharing:

1 – Village Square would anchor the city with grass, flowers, moveable chairs, cafes and a 24-hour kiosk.

2 – Main Street where there would be awnings to keep us from rain or too much sun.  Retail on the bottom and residential homes downstairs creating constant community.

3 – Housing that was small and large from single homes to large family homes with balconies and front lawns for a little outdoor space.  Everyone pays for the upkeep of the public spaces.  The buildings would all be environmentally conscious made with smart materials.

4 – Services that include a hospital for serious situations and a small medical center for smaller injuries.  Certainly a fire department and a police department who would even rescue the local cat.

5 – All shops would be open from 8 – 8 catering to all from a haircut to getting your groceries on the way home.

6 – Local newspaper that reports on everything happening in the town and some national info thrown in too.

7 – Good signs that help brand the village.  Has to be good looking signs from the book shop the barber shop and the cafe.

8 – Weekend farmers markets to buy the farmers vegetables and chickens including home brews and wine.

9 – Local farm where people can always go to purchase from the farm shop on a daily basis.  Keeping the community sustainable.

10 – A beautiful flowing river that moves through the town.  People can fish, canoe and enjoy the river side as well.

11 – Founding myths and folklore about the town to be passed down generation to generation.

12 – A local tennis and bathing club open all year round to the entire town.  More community there.

13 – An artists studio for the young to the old.

14 – A library piled high with books, magazines and easy to download materials.

15 – An artisan quarter for people making furniture or even getting a kitchen chair repaired.

16 – Serious wifi for all.

17 – A grand hotel with amazing food on a leafy terrace overlooking the river.

18 – A primary school that everyone has attended at one point of their life.

19 – Public transportation for everyone.

20 – Festivals held during the year from music to arts.

What do all of these things, more or less, have in common? They’re not the characteristics of suburbs.

Philadelphia Ferry Building

A look back in time to a different Philadelphia, this is the Pennsylvania Railroad ferry terminal at Market Street, circa 1908 and courtesy of the Library of Congress. The instant I saw this, I thought of the iconic San Francisco Ferry Building.

Now, it doesn’t look like Philadelphia’s ferry building was constructed with anywhere near the degree of beauty or care for permanence that San Francisco’s was. I’m basing this purely from what I know of San Francisco’s compared to this photo. Maybe I’m wrong.

In any event, absorbing this photo is an instance when you’re hit with L.P. Hartley’s insight that “the past is a foreign country.” Philadelphia’s ferry building disappeared, of course, replaced by Penn’s Landing’s sprawling parking lots and highway ramps. Replaced by desolation, in other words. And across the river Camden is an entirely different place—almost everything on that waterfront is gone.

The Market Street (Ben Franklin) Bridge wouldn’t be built for another 20 years. When that was finished, I guess the practical need for ferries diminished. It still would’ve been nice if this thing, or something like it, has stayed where it was and become a landmark in the way that San Francisco’s Ferry Building is. Until Penn’s Landing is redeveloped, we’re stuck with this:

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Before Independence Mall

Independence Hall at Chestnut Street, circa 1910. I think this would have had to have been taken from the top of the American Philosophical Society at 5th & Chestnut Streets. This comes from the Library of Congress.

It’s amazing to look at this scene of an earlier Philadelphia and see how different this section of Old City was a century ago. There was no “Independence Mall” yet, and Independence Hall was just a part of the fabric of the neighborhood—not yet something set apart from the city in such a fundamentally distinct way as it is now.

City Hall, filthy, can be seen in the distance. Other than that, there’s not much in this photo that the contemporary Philadelphian would recognize.

It’s fascinating to think about the entire lived experience of so many in the buildings that were eventually destroyed to create Independence Mall—entire lives, entire histories took place there.