Port of San Francisco

I didn’t do a great job capturing the sense of the San Francisco Ferry the other day when I was leaving the city for Vallejo, but I think yesterday’s attempt when I shot a minute or so as we approached San Francisco turned out pretty nicely and gives a sense of what it’s like in real life. It helped that it was such a beautiful mid-afternoon as we were arriving. I’ll be here for another few days visiting with family, and then will be back in Philadelphia on Thursday.


Leaving Napa Institute

The 7th Annual Napa Institute was great, and like last year I’m sorry to be leaving the presence of so many good people. What’s the point of Napa Institute? I think of it simply as helping foster relationships among Catholics from around the country (and a few internationally) while preparing people to go back out into the world with verve and confidence in their personal, family, and professional lives. I’d guess there were around 600 people here this year, but except for the Saturday night keynote dinner, it always felt far more intimate than that number suggests.

This year’s theme was “Strangers in a Strange Land,” and tied in with Archbishop Charles J. Chaput’s recent book by the same name. How should Christians live in an America that’s largely post-Christian in its instincts, lifestyle, and preferences? It’s a big question, with lots of answers that will work depending on your situation and community. One of the things that sets Napa Institute apart from other conferences is the “continuing conversations” that unfold in a beautiful setting with people over 4-5 days, combined with the fact that the speakers, panelists, etc. who tend to be higher profile generally stay throughout these days and are at the same tables as everyone else during meal times and in between sessions. Everyone is approachable, and most people are super friendly. There’s a great vibe.

I spoke on a panel on the topic of “How to Win the Issue of Assisted Suicide” with Archbishop Chaput, Fr. Robert Spitzer, and Greg Pfundstein. Matt Valliere of Patients Rights Action Fund moderated the conversation, which was a good and rewarding one:

Including a few photos from the past few days below, including one I snapped after our Friday panel with Archbishop Chaput and Bobby and Kristina Schindler. I work with Bobby at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.

I hope to be back next year.


Real towns and suburban myths

Rachel Quednau at Strong Towns writes:

Myth #1: The suburbs exist because that’s the way people want to live. The only reason we have the suburban style of development with its large homes, three car garages, big box stores and wide, fast-moving streets, is because people prefer that sort of living, right?

Busted: The suburbs exist because that’s the style of development that has been regulated into existence and funded by governments across the nation. …

Myth #2: Sprawl is the biggest problem with the suburbs. If we just stopped building so many one-story buildings and winding suburban roads, we’d be fine.

Busted: The problem is a development pattern that is financially insolvent. …

Myth #3: Suburban residents are paying for the cost of their lifestyle. However we feel about culs de sac and strip malls, we can at least agree that the people who live in suburban areas are paying for that way of life, so what’s the big deal?

Busted: Across the country, we see that urban areas subsidize suburban living to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. …

Myth #4: We can turn the suburbs into financially productive places if we just try our hardest.

Busted: No. There’s too much suburban development for this to ever happen.

There’s much more in what Rachel writes that I haven’t excerpted, and is worth checking out especially if the “Busted” answers don’t make sense. I’ve written before on this: A public square is built for people, Conservatives oppose ugliness, The perfect town, Suburbs are mostly disposable, and What suburbs do.


Future belongs to those with children

Archbishop Chaput addressed the Napa Institute. I was present for it, and it has been covered in a number of outlets. The full text of his speech is available here. I’ll highlight a bit of it here:

In a world that can sometimes seem disheartening, Christians have a path to the future in lives of joy and love, Archbishop Charles Chaput told those gathered Thursday at the annual Napa Institute conference.

While Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, “we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy that’s our birthright by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

“If we cling to that joy, if we cling to God, then all things are possible,” he added. “The only way to create new life in a culture is to live our lives joyfully and fruitfully, as individuals ruled by convictions greater than ourselves and shared with people we know and love. It’s a path that’s very simple and very hard at the same time. But it’s the only way to make a revolution that matters.”

The Napa Institute, founded in 2010, aims to help Catholic leaders face the challenges of contemporary America.

“When young people ask me how to change the world,” Archbishop Chaput said, “I tell them to love each other, get married, stay faithful to one another, have lots of children, and raise those children to be men and women of Christian character. Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort.”

“The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break,” the archbishop continued. “But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.

In the face of the many challenges of today, he pointed to an idea from St. Augustine: “It’s no use whining about the times because we are the times.

“It’s through us that God acts in society and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carried forward. So we need to own that mission. And only when we do will anything change for the better,” the archbishop said.

… Archbishop Chaput suggested that the modern world is not much different from the Athens that St. Paul visited. The city was “full of idols,” where everyone “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” There, St. Paul disputed with Jews, devout persons, philosophers and other residents. …

The Acts of the Apostles show “the perpetual newness of the Gospel,” the archbishop said.

“They’re also a portrait of courage as St. Paul, Christianity’s greatest missionary, preaches the Gospel in the sophisticated heart of Athens,” he continued. Despite mockery and condemnation, St. Paul persists and “understands that his audience has a fundamental hunger for the Godly that hasn’t been fed, and he refuses to be quiet or afraid.”

“Things rust and break, but every child is a universe of possibility.”


Ethics of sexual relationships

Nathan Smith conveys the classical understanding of sex:

Men are tempted to exploit women for pleasure and prestige, and need to be on their guard against this temptation. Exploitation is worst when the woman is underage or drunk or emotionally unstable, or when the man uses a position of power to intimidate her, tells lies to impress her, promises to marry her, conceals his marriage to someone else, gets her pregnant, or exposes her to a sexually transmitted disease. But the bottom line is that if he serves his own pleasure at the expense of her welfare, that’s exploitation. If he knew, or could have known if he thought about it, that she’d regret it the morning after, that’s exploitation. And if he knew, or could have known, that she’d regret it one year, or five years, or fifteen years later, when she’s wasted some or most or all of her remaining reproductive years on a guy who wouldn’t marry her, that’s exploitation, too. “He used me” is a standard—and just, and accurate—complaint made by women against men they’ve had sex with. … The only ethically safe course is either to marry a woman or else to leave her chastity intact. …

Humans are intensely ambivalent about sex, regarding it by turns as vulgar, gross, and unseemly, or as sublime and beautiful. We place rape among the worst of crimes, while romantic love is one of life’s crowning glories, the theme of half the novels and songs the human race has written. The deceit and damage involved in so much premarital sex—cool dude bangs insecure girl and turns her into a single mom on welfare for life—fully justifies the repugnance that is one side of this ambivalence.

On the other side is the glory of marriage, and while there’s more to that glory than the selfish genes can explain, they shed an important light on it. For when two people marry, “leaving father and mother” as the Bible says and committing to lifelong monogamy, their genetic interests are united, at least approximately, creating a harmony of instincts. Ordinarily, our instincts put us in competition with our fellow human beings. In marriage, instinct is on the side of love.

Children are the large, obvious reason why marriage is good for society and why premarital sex isn’t. Sexual relationships always absorb a lot of people’s energy and attention, so they impoverish society unless they give something back. Marriage makes the next generation, under the most favorable conditions. Premarital sex is usually not intended for procreation, and if it does result in children, they enter life at a disadvantage because they lack stable parental commitments to raising them.

But even compared to childless marriage, premarital sex has an unwholesome character because, by failing to address genetic conflicts of interest through marriage, it allows competition, exploitation, and fear of betrayal to penetrate into the heart of the most intimate human relationships, not stealthily, but openly and as if by right. There is no way to make premarital sex promote the good of society or of the individuals involved. The world would be a better place if it never happened at all.

If this perspective seems outrageous or even just incredibly distant to you, that’s an example of how revolutionary the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s really turned out to be. The ethics of human sexuality can be far richer than our present “consent” culture allows for.


Napa Institute, year two

I’m at the Napa Institute after attending for the first time last year. Napa Institute brings together 500+ Catholics for prayer, fellowship, and enrichment. I’d describe its goal as equipping Catholic leaders of all stripes to confidently re-enter the public square as Christians in a secular culture.

This year I’ll be participating in a panel discussion that I’ll share more about after it happens. I’m also joined this year by Bobby and Kristina Schindler of the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network. If last year was an indication, this should be a rewarding five days in a beautiful part of the country:

The 7th annual Napa Institute Conference will be held July 26-30 at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa, California.  Featured speakers include Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez, former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, author George Weigel, author Mary Eberstadt, Dr. Tim Gray and Dr. Ted Sri, both of the Augustine Institute, Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J., president of the Magis Center and the Spitzer Center, and attorney Alan Sears.

The weekend conference includes fine dining and socializing opportunities.  On Thursday evening, for example, dinner includes a Taste of Napa Valley, which features products from wineries and breweries from all over Napa Valley.  Off-site events for attendees to choose from include a golf outing at Eagle Vines, wine tasting at Mondavi or Domaine Carneros, Trinitas Library Tasting and, for the first time this year, a tasting at the Napa Distillery.


To Vallejo and Napa

I’m traveling from San Francisco to Napa today. Specifically, Ubered to the San Francisco Ferry Building, and hopped on a Vallejo-bound ferry that lasts about an hour. I shot the clip above as we were pulling away from the city.

When I get into Vallejo, I’ll Uber to Napa where I’ll spend the afternoon with friends from Life Legal Defense, which does incredible work providing legal representation for the “little guys” willing to make a statement in defending our constitutional right to life. Alliance Defending Freedom, Americans United for Life, and the like pick up cases that are likely to set precedent on a national level, but groups like Life Legal Defense consider every case to be a precedent, in some sense. That’s how I think of them, at least.

Tomorrow the 7th Napa Institute kicks off at the Meritage Resort. I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends, and making new ones.


Driving a Tesla

Yesterday afternoon after Mass, Eric and I were sitting in his apartment when he turned to me and asked: “Do you want to rent a 2014 Tesla Model S for $45?” I stared at him for a moment before answering, “Of course.”

He had found an incredible deal with a company called Get Around that let us rent for three hours, so we Ubered to the downtown San Francisco parking garage where the car was waiting. Everything was controlled through the app, and the car became available for unlock at the start of our rental time. We drove down the coast, past Pacifica toward Moss Beach where we had a beer on the deck of Moss Beach Distillery before turning around and heading back to the city before our rental time was up. It was a great way to spend a few hours on a Sunday evening.

If you haven’t driven a Tesla, you can’t imagine why any of this even merits sharing. If you have driven one, you’ll know how distinct the experience of driving a Tesla is from any combustion-engine vehicle. Both a Ford and a Tesla are cars, but the former feels much closer to the Model T and the era of the horse than the latter, which feels much closer to the era of space flight and autonomy.


Marin Headlands

Spent a few hours yesterday afternoon with Eric Snyder running in the Marin Headlands. We got a Lyft from Sutter Street in San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge to Bunker Road, where our driver dropped us on the side of the road. It was my first time running in Marin, and the variety of climates and the experience of the terrain was incredible.

After running roughly seven miles we descended from Marin’s overlooks on the foggy city, crossing the Golden Gate and finishing up in Crissy Field a bit past mile ten. The majority of the photos I’m able to snap during the run or only by pausing momentarily, but we did a few dead-stops to take in the scenery at various points:

It’s an experience unlike any I’ve had running; variously shattering and building one’s confidence. At one particularly difficult point I joked with Eric that this is what unhealthy age must be like: difficult even to walk or move without extreme effort.


San Francisco Giants

Caught the Giants v. San Diego Padres last night at AT&T Park. It was a fun 7pm game on what turned out to be a pretty chilly night. The Giants gave up an early three run lead in the fifth inning but fought back and tied it up at nine in the ninth before ultimately falling 12-9 in the 11th inning a few minutes past midnight. We were pretty high before sunset:

But after walking through the concourse in the fifth, grabbing a bite, and standing lower down for a while we were able to move to a better spot as fans filtered out to catch ferries and get home. The seagulls became assertive by the extra innings:

As I was sitting there I thought of this bit in Michael Novak’s The Joy of Sports:

“I have sometimes thought the sports pages print the critical dispatches from the realm of permanent reality. They celebrate the essential human qualities. They sing of the sameness, the cycles, of reality. They tell the truth about human life.”