A Timbered Choir

Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective, the soil bludgeoned, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.

I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective the planners planned
at blank desks set in rows. I visited the loud factories
where the machines were made that would drive ever forward
toward the objective. I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; I saw
the poisoned river, the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered
footfalls of those whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.

Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, according
to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten forget
that they have forgotten. Men, women, and children now pursued the objective
as if nobody ever had pursued it before.

The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
the once-enslaved, the once-oppressed were now free
to sell themselves to the highest bidder
and to enter the best paying prisons
in pursuit of the objective, which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, which was the destruction of all objects,
which was to clear the way to victory, which was to clear the way to promotion, to salvation, to progress,
to the completed sale, to the signature
on the contract, which was to clear the way
to self-realization, to self-creation, from which nobody who ever wanted to go home
would ever get there now, for every remembered place
had been displaced; the signposts had been bent to the ground and covered over.

Every place had been displaced, every love
unloved, every vow unsworn, every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd
of the individuated, the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless
with their many eyes opened toward the objective
which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.

A Timbered Choir, Wendell Berry

In Hayes Valley

Writing from my Uber to the San Francisco airport, where I’ll arrive with about thirty minutes before my Delta flight to Detroit (and ultimately to Philadelphia) departs.

Met up a few hours ago with Eric Snyder after work at this little Biergarten in Hayes Valley, on Octavia Street. Despite a truly hot afternoon, our evening beer time turned out to be in practically November-like Philadelphia conditions: windy, slightly damp, and downright chilly.  “It gets warmer here in September,” Eric commented at one point without any trace of irony.

But it was good to share a final beer with him before leaving. This has been a good visit; two full weeks, the longest time I’ve spent in California so far in my life.

San Francisco streetcars

When I wrote on the aesthetics of streetcars earlier this year, I didn’t realize that San Francisco hadn’t simply conserved some of their streetcars but, in fact, chose to maintain many different types of historic streetcars from cities across the country. I was told that these run specifically along Market Street and loop near the San Francisco Ferry Building. I snapped these photos when I arrived back in the city on the ferry the other day. There are many different types: I noticed streetcars with origins as varied as Detroit and St. Louis, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and of course San Francisco among others.


I particularly lined the gun-metal gray of the Philadelphia streetcar at the top, which I snapped near Fisherman’s Wharf. I like it not only because I think it’s beautiful—as fitting for Philadelphia as a dramatic black and yellow is for sunny San Francisco—but also because it dates to 1938, and that’s the same period that my little 14 year old grandmother was boarding perhaps this particular streetcar on her way to Chestnut Hill Academy in high school.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

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, who I work with at the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.

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.